June 10, 2015
By Zoe McKnight
Carmen Vicente has always been obsessed with fibre. For her 19th birthday, she asked her parents to buy her wool spinning lessons and would drive two towns over to learn alongside women of retirement age. She dreamed of a loom. She once dreamed she saved wool from a burning building.
Now 28, Vicente knits and weaves. Skeins of yarn scatter the weaving studio in her west-end Toronto home, and handwoven tapestries cover the walls. An upstairs window overlooks the garden where she grows indigo and nasturtium to one day dye her own fibre.
Living with a boyfriend and a roommate, she’s no spinster. But one intricate piece requires many solitary hours and until recently, Vicente had few peers to share her passion with.
Today, thanks to social media, a community of young women is growing around weaving. Vicente recently taught an introductory course at The Shop, a DIY hub on College St. Every attendee was a millennial.
Vicente thinks weaving has skipped a generation; young women are increasingly interested in their grandmother’s hobbies. Digital culture and a pushback against it have fuelled the trend.
“Everyone’s lives are on their phone. Everything is online. Everything is in shorter and shorter snippets, ” Vicente said. “I think the reason people come to class is because you do something with your hands and you make it and it exists in the real world.”
On her course handout, there’s a list of Instagram accounts to follow.
It’s a small world on social media and trends bubble up quickly. Wall hangings reminiscent of the 1970s but with contemporary palettes and designs started to appear over the last year. Hundreds of artists and would-be weavers are sharing photos of their processes and pieces, and weaving is having a moment.
As soon as something becomes popular online, demand for workshops surges, said Marissa Gordon, co-founder of The Shop.
Gone are the rust and brown shaggy weavings of the ’70s. The basics are the same — yarns woven across warp threads, knots to produce texture — but endless combinations of materials and ideas are emerging.
The recent trend can partly be traced back to Brooklyn-based Australian weaver Maryanne Moodie, who has more than 60,000 followers on Instagram. Moodie now gives workshops and sells her large wall hangings of vibrant geometrics and dreamy pastels through private commissions.
In the era of wearable computers and binge-watching web series, why are some women spending hours sitting quietly at a loom?
“I think the trend grew organically from the slow movement,” Moodie wrote in an email, adding the resurgence of knitting, woodworking and ceramics was born of a similar impulse.
“We started treasuring the imperfections in handmade items and admiring the time and spirit put into creating things with love and honour,” she said.
To Line Dufour, who has been teaching weaving for 19 years, it’s simple.
“We want greater engagement physically. It’s not enough to connect only through a screen,” said Dufour, who runs classes through the Toronto school board and teaches Vicente. The spring session sold out in 24 hours, with more new registrants than ever, she said.
There’s also been a rapid growth in online sales. A search of “woven wall hanging” on DIY retailer Etsy.com produces more than 3,500 results. Moodie even started a hashtag campaign on Instagram, #weaveweird, to discourage copycatting.
But most new weavers just want to make something cute and colourful to hang on their walls, and to participate in the craft community.
Kalpna Patel, who runs City of Craft events, also caught the bug. (There’s a hashtag for that, too: #weaverfever.) She took a workshop a few weeks ago and is already working on her second piece.
“It’s such a traditional craft but the results can be so modern and contemporary,” Patel said. “It’s possible to do really beautiful intricate work with really simple materials, which is another reason I was drawn to it.”
Vicente, who loves her day job at a local brewery, hopes to somehow weave more fibre art education into her future.
“I think there’s so much value in knowing this stuff,” she said. “I don’t want this language to die out.”
Instagram accounts to follow
Brooklyn-based Maryanne Moodie likely has the largest online following in North America and helped start the trend by posting photos of her loom kits for sale and wall hangings in displayed in beautiful rooms. She has exhibited her textiles in her native Australia and also appeared in Oprah magazine this year.
Erin Riley is known for making sexy, subversive tapestries from selfies on a huge floor loom. She has also woven a series of tapestries based on images from car crashes: highway skid marks, roadside memorials. She has shown her work in galleries across the U.S. and is also based in Brooklyn.
Judit Just creates plush wall hangings in citrus and neon colours full of simple geometric shapes for sale in her Etsy shop. Most of her weavings have a pom-pom-like texture; others are graphically simple but meticulous. The artist, originally from Barcelona but based in North Carolina, posts images of work and inspirations — no selfies.
Colorado-based Sarah Neubert launched this Instagram in May to connect weavers to others in the fibre arts community. Once a month she’ll post an assignment, asking weavers to submit an image of their creation, such as using a single fibre for the weft and creating variety through texture alone, or weaving a piece inspired by cultural heritage.
B.C. artist Lucy Poskitt recently completed a series called Floating Islands, minimalist weavings inspired by Arctic history, including glaciers, icebergs and sunken ships, on exhibit in Vancouver this spring.
Natalie Novak recently finished interpreting the cards of the Tarot deck into large tapestries depicting bats, gnomes, cigarettes, lightning bolts and other graphic designs. According to her website, she studied tapestry and Navajo-style weaving in Oregon, where she is based.
California artist Meghan Shimek makes unexpected weavings: some small and asymmetrical, some with holes and slits, some enormous and cloudlike, others depicting the phases of the moon.
Carmen Vicente learned how to weave about a year ago and quickly moved from the standard fuzzy wall hangings to elaborate, meticulous shapes and clean lines, often made with recycled or vintage materials. She takes a class through the TDSB once a week and recently made her first rug on a floor loom.