Alyssa Dumire, Director of Children’s Education
When exploring the current Year of Making Meaning exhibition, FWMoA’s annual chance to showcase its acquisitions from the past year, it can be difficult to identify themes. There are sub-groupings, yes, like the prints and drawings focusing on the growth of the American city and the sculptures by the forefathers of the Studio Glass movement. What, though, connects all of the works in the exhibition? They all help tell the story of American art, often through “forgotten” but highly talented artists. Can we find any other common themes?
I immediately noticed many works with a connection to fiber art! There is Karl Petrunak’s Feathered Stars and Gee’s Bend quilter Mary Lee Bendolf’s Hope, an etched version of one of her quilt designs, along with the actual textile work of Liz Whitney Quisgard. Her Lots of Circles is just what the title describes, and when viewing it after a walk through the other galleries, I realized there are a lot more circles here than just Quisgard’s! In fact, we could round up all of the other recent acquisitions that focus on circles and make a mini exhibition with that same title. There are Karen Fitzgerald’s tondos, Lino Tagliapetra’s Saturno, Jill Levine’s drawing and collage (both entirely composed of circles), and many more.
What draws so many different artists to this simple shape? On the surface, circles are pleasing to the eye, and they may remind us of certain objects (bubbles, the sun, a wheel), but they can also be symbolic of perfection, continuity, and unity. They appear in art throughout history, as well as all around us! How many circles can you count from where you sit?
Inspired by these connections to both circles and fiber art, today in the Studio, we’re weaving (again)! I took my inspiration from Quisgard’s fiber work, but you might base your color scheme on another circular work or experiment with different designs in your weaving. See below for the basics on how to weave in a circle.
- A paper plate OR a piece of cardboard and a circle to trace
- Yarn in various colors and thicknesses
- Optional: a yarn needle or weaving shuttle, embellishments and glue
Prepare your loom
If you don’t have a paper plate to use, find something round to trace onto a sheet of cardboard and cut it out. A paper plate is great because it means there will be space under the warp threads, making it easier to weave.
Once you have the base circle (plate or plain cardboard), cut notches around the edges. Make sure they are somewhat evenly spaced, and keep count! We need an odd number. I ended up with 31.
Wrap the warp
Now, choose a color of yarn you have a lot of, and pull the end into a notch, leaving a tail on the back. Wrap it across the front of your loom and through a notch on the opposite side. Wrap it along the back, into a notch next to the first one, across, and into the opposite notch again. Continue wrapping in this manner until you have one notch left. Cut a long tail (at least a couple feet, but not so long that it will be difficult to work with!), and wrap it around the middle where all the warp threads cross. Tie it in a knot around them. The tail will now become your first weft thread! Start weaving over, then under, then over the warp threads. This is easier, especially in the beginning, if you work closer to the outer edge of the loom then push and pull it in towards the center. You can use a yarn needle to weave if you like, but your fingers work just as well!
As you weave, be sure not to pull too tight. If you do, you’ll end up with a bowl shape when you remove it from the loom! It is better to err on the side of too loose; “too tight” is really not that tight in this case.
Once you run out of yarn, simply tie another length onto the first, changing colors if you like, and keep going! Pull the tails to the back side of the weaving.
When you’ve filled your entire loom, or reached the desired size, tie your weft onto the nearest warp thread, then flip the loom over and cut through the warp threads in the center back. Tie them together in pairs. It would be the weaving “best practice” to weave these into the back of the work to hide and secure them, but I decided to knot mine together another time to make a sort of decorative edge. You could also glue your weaving onto a backing (either stiff fabric like felt or cardboard) to hide the loose ends (trim them first to reduce bulk).
Now, add any extra embellishments, depending on your inspiration! In true Liz Whitney Quisgard fashion, I had to add some sparkle, so I glued on a few sequins, then sewed in contrasting orange dots. Now I just need to make about 32 more to fill a whole wall!