I have been weaving place mats--something I never use myself, but they seem like good ground for the collaboration project. Liz and Holly and I talked, and the idea that each place setting could be unique fits my way of working. Instead of weaving sets of one design, each place mat can be different. So that is how I am proceeding so far. For years I have had several types of paper yarn on my shelves, and I decided to try them. The first weft, which I wound on a bobbin that fit in a boat shuttle, was too stiff and unpleasant to work with. I didn't even complete a full mat. Then I decided to try the yarn shown above on flat shuttles. I haven't used this type of shuttle in years and when I was setting everything up in my studio, I admit to thinking, now why do I still have these? So now I know. They don't work with the fluidity of a boat shuttle, but they definitely fit this yarn better than a bobbin. The moral of course is "never throw anything out," right?
At first I was weaving with one shuttle, throwing it again and again for repetitive shots of structure, but then I decided to try one shuttle as a single weft, and the other shuttle with four strands. It made weaving much faster and easier, and I couldn't really see a difference in terms of the yarn lying next to itself. Maybe with a different type of yarn the single shots would have lain side by side, smoothly, but this yarn was not so cooperative.
After weaving with the paper yarn, I looked more carefully at the Mexican bag I have recently been using as a purse. It is woven from plastic yarn. I have new appreciation for the patience of the weaver, since this yarn must have been difficult to use. It probably wasn't woven on a hand loom, but then, maybe it was. I think I got this in Oaxaca in the mid-90's. Thinking about different material for art work, made me remember someone I met in Mexico forty years ago. I have no idea who he was, but I remember him boasting about his work which was woven from film strips. It sounded interesting but I have never been impressed with novelty material as the sole interest of a piece. He must have shown me a picture or an actual piece, because I then became totally dismissive of him and his work. So what if it was an unusual material--it was boring, ugly, uninspiring. On the other hand, I have also been thinking of Dorothy Liebes, who was an inspired and inventive designer. When I taught at Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, there was a study collection of her work that students could see and handle. Though they often seemed dated to me (a study that was totally innovative in the 1950s had become the curtain treatment of a fast food restaurant by the 1990s), they also offered possibilities for experimentation and creativity to both me and the students.
Some of my concerns with the place mats are important to functional work--how will I finish them? How can they be cleaned? Are they large enough for the plates that will sit on them? Maybe when I do enough of them, I will want to choose one as a production item, but for now, the intrigue remains in the exploration.