World Wide Weave
How did the World Wide Weave project come about?
I’ve been working with natural dyes and textile design as part of my Master Degree and had joined a Facebook group called Eco-dyeing with Friends. It proved to be a wonderful community of eco-dyers from all around the world, who regularly share their creative process and examples of their work, both successful and not so successful. Rita Summers is the group’s creator and we’d been in contact for a few weeks. I’d been developing my own reference of eco-dyed samples from my garden and locality, and have also developed some botanical prints and screen prints with natural dyes. I have recently been exploring the Saori Weaving technique. I begin working by centring and grounding, and often meditate, allowing my being to be still, and to absorb energy from the earth. During one of these morning meditations the idea came to me. Why not host a project where eco-dyers from this group are invited to offer some natural yarns dyed in local natural resources and then send them to me so I can weave the piece together? I’d had some discussions with Rita about whether this was a good idea, and if the project could be rolled out in the facebook group. Rita was very supportive, and so Worldwide Weave 2018 was created.
Tell us about how the project works.
Once I’d decide on the brief - the yarns or fabric strips need to be 100% natural, and dyed in a natural dye local to those who joined - I created an event outlining the project, inviting anyone to join. I wanted to be as inclusive within this group as I could and anyone who didn’t work with yarns could send eco-dyed fabric strips, as these add a wonderful texture to a Saori Weave. I also wanted my collaborators to include an eco-friendly tag with dye process and recourses used for identification of each plant and colour, along with their permissions for use in the projects. Each Eco-dyer then made the decisions about which fibre they would use and what natural dye they could source. The individual story for each eco-dyer, taking the time, energy and commitment to this project, forms the foundations of its creation. Washing, preparing, drying, labelling, writing the address and a message to me, before taking it to the post office and at their own expense, sending these parcels to me.
Every parcel received was a delight - an event in my home, mindfully opening up the package and holding each yarn in my own hands knowing its source and journey. I made it clear that the whole process would be shared and so I would photograph each parcel and its contents and share on the Eco-dyeing with Friends page. It has been really important to connect personally with each eco-friend, and so as well as responding to each persons inserted queries, I have written personal thank you messages and kept in regular contact.
Some have sent me pictures of their work in progress, the field of sheep they have gathered their fleeces from and the landscape and plants they’ve used to dye with. It has been a wonderful sharing of eco-dyeing and natural resources.
I needed to set an ‘aim for’ deadline and this gave us all a time frame to work within. I needed to make sure I had enough time to prepare the warp. I’d asked the eco-dyers to vote on the width and the fibre for the warp. The final outcome was to use a British spun wool, donated by Norwich University of Art, left over from a wool competition. My intention was to offer everyone some part in the project, whether they had contributed yarns or not and to be part of the decision making.
I also needed to prepare the yarns for the weaving as some of them came as skeins. Winding them into yarn cakes was a lovely task and allowed me time to absorb the colours, textures and energy from each offering, before I weaved with it. I was conscious of the hands that had tied each little knot, that I was now untying. Mindful of the process each yarn had been through to get to me. It’s very grounding and at the same time allows for a deeper spiritual connection across the earth.
I’d set aside two full days to commit to the weave. Deciding to weave each eco-dyers offerings in the order they had arrived and also ensuring that each yarn was woven into everyone else. A systematic approach, however, creating a random weave. The whole piece is about 4 metres in length.
I’m looking at exhibiting this along with a narrative in England and then once these exhibitions are complete the whole exhibition will be parcelled up and sent to Tasmania where Rita Summers will be hosting her own exhibition. Following this the exhibition will travel to Cape Breton and Gran Canaria where two other collaborators will host.
I expect the piece will return to the UK after this, however if there are any other offers for an exhibition then it may keep on travelling.
How important do you think eco-dyeing and eco-dyers are to the future of our understanding of the planet and our position within it?
I think the importance of returning to ancient methods of dyeing is essential to the future of textiles and to our connection with the planet. We have an abundance of resources that our ancestors knew and understood - working with the land and the season and cycles to extract what they needed to support their lives. Eco-dyers are leading the way in the work they do, not only for the protection of the planet, but because the knowledge and connection with the plants that grow in their environments, grounds understanding and wisdom in place and time. Knowing what grows, what resource you have in your own back yard is a return to our ancient selves. Being able to use plants for colour and healing is sustainable, eco-friendly and resourceful. The challenge is how to encourage industry to follow and the consumer to question further, the use of synthetics and mass production.
Do you see eco-dyeing gaining ground against commercial chemical dyes?
As our understanding and global networks grow, consumers are seeking alternatives and are questioning ethics, and environmental issues. I don’t know if the global industry will be able to sustain mass production with natural dyes - the very nature of them makes industrial consumption, production and daily use and washing a challenge. However, I do see a growing interest in localities of consumers making alternative choices if they are available - this is the challenge for eco-dyers to be able to offer the other options and to create unique earth friendly textiles. It seems as if there’s an awe around the natural dyes and surprise at the textiles that can be created. Our ancestral history has been lost within the production of the synthetic alternatives. We need to know what we’re wearing, the impact of the synthetic on our bodies and what’s happens to our synthetics once they’ve been finished with. Natural fibres and natural dyes are eco-friendly and if they’re not recycled then they will eventually decompose.
Is there a genuine sense of experimentation and exploration within the eco-dyeing community?
It’s a wonderful journey of explorations, discovery, rediscovery and experimenting -which once you’re in - you’re hooked. There are so many variables for eco-dyeing and there’s always something to try. One person’s experiment may yield a different outcome for another eco-dyer on the other side of the world. Different climates, water, fibres and seasons all add variety and intrigue when you’re exploring the colours of nature. The community is very open to sharing and helping each other out. I’ve learnt so much from my eco-dyeing friends and any questions will always be answered or sign posted. So many ideas and things to try there’s always something new to add to the list of things to do.
You say that you use mindfulness as an approach to your work. Is a sense of mindfulness something you also want to project through the World Wide Weave project?
I have been practicing mindfulness in all aspects of my life and this is a huge part of my own creative process. Being in the moment, living the moment and opening up all senses to really feel the experience. I have approached the project as mindfully as I can, ensuring that every communication I have with each collaborator has been considered and is for the greater good.
The preparation was a really absorbing task and as I wound each yarn cake I was really connecting with the contributor through the yarns, my hands holding fibre they’d held in their hands and thinking about the journey each yarn had made.
The weaving itself was a wonderfully mindful experience, and I was very focused throughout. I am usually quite a chatty person, but for the duration of the weave I didn’t really communicate with anyone as my mind was solely on the task I was doing, the message it was creating, the colours I was using and the systematic approach I had adopted.
I want people who know about this project to be able to take time to stop and feel the textures, admire the colours and appreciate the messages within its creation. Understanding the narrative and the model this work offers is a huge part of the outcomes for creating it. I will be interested in the feedback and the comments I gather from the exhibitions. I think audiences will find it hard not to engage with its creation, message and celebration of natural colours and community spirit.
There is an intriguing relationship that has been formed within this project, one between traditional skills and contemporary technology. Do you see that relationship extending and strengthening as we delve deeper into the 21stcentury?
I will definitely continue to use the tools of technology to generate creative collaborations and to make connections with global peers. We have so many resources both via the internet and within our surrounding environments. I will always be willing to share my ideas and discoveries using social media. It’s been a fantastic way to connect with likeminded artists and without this forum I would not have been able to generate the project and have such a quick and global response. As our community reach extends across the globe I see many exciting opportunities ahead for sharing and learning from each other. The internet is such a huge resource and certainly one in which traditional skills can be celebrated and showcased. I think as more projects like this take place, more people will want to engage with them.
Has World Wide Weave been a truly global experience?
It’s a very good question. The Facebook group I instigated this project on has members from all over the world. Those people who have visited the page and seen the project exists, will know about it. Those who have watched with interest will also know more about it, and those who have fully engaged will have been part of its creation. The updates have been followed by a lot of other eco-dyers who haven’t taken part, but who have been interested. The woven textile piece will be exhibited in 4 locations around the world. It may not have every continent represented, but yarns have traveled around the planet, been handled by various delivery systems to get to me. The project was only shared on one facebook page, so it was exclusive and it was also only accessible to those who have internet or facebook accounts. I guess without travelling to different global locations myself, this is the best outcome I could have hoped for. It would be wonderful to have the resources to repeat this project with a much more inclusive and truly global reach. That said, I have been really happy with the turnout and thrilled by the trust and commitment I’ve had from eco-dyers around the world who have sent their beautiful yarns to me.
How important have you found social media with connection to the World Wide Weave project?
Social media has been the platform for all of the initiation and progress updates for the project. Both facebook and instagram have been regularly updated with yarns arriving, warps being made and the actual weaving of the piece. I have really enjoyed being able to share each key moment with the group, sometimes daily and responding to the reactions and comments from the group. I think this sharing part of the project has been really good for the community of eco-dyers as they have been involved in each step. I’ve used the Facebook site for asking the group to make joint decisions.
Showcasing each yarn has been great, taking the best picture to show the colours and textures adding to the celebrations and inclusive nature of the weave. Every offering has been received with heartfelt thanks, and I have made sure that the group knows this. I think if we ever to get the chance to meet it would be a really special event. I would love to meet all the collaborators and spend time getting to know them better.
But for now I will maintain our online relationships and keep the project in focus for as long as it’s travelling and being exhibited.
Do you see the project as being reused in other formats, perhaps as a means of promoting and enhancing creative global cooperation?
I think it’s a great model and could be applied to so many other collaborations. I’ve proved that all it takes is an idea and some enthusiasm and before you know it you can have parcels of beautiful creative offerings arriving on your door step. People want to connect, they want to create, they want to be part of something wonderful. I think we can all get involved in projects that challenge us to think bigger than our own living spaces. There’s a whole world of creative people out there to connect with.
Where can the World Wide Weave 2018 project be seen?
The Exhibition will initially take place in Norwich as a private view at the Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) at the end of July. It will then be exhibited in my gallery space Botanical Being Studio and Gallery in Wickham Market in Suffolk, UK. I am aiming for a further U.K. exhibition in Diss at the Designer Makers gallery space.
Following this, the exhibition will be in these places.
Ulitasloom, Las Palamas - Gran Canaria - hosted by Ulrike Guse
Mamie Schoolhouse - Cape Breton Island - Canada - hosted by Mel Sweetham Gone Rustic Studio and Gallery - Tasmania - Australia - hosted by Rita Summers
Will there be a World Wide Weave 2019?
I would love to try again next year and see if I can get a greater global response. I need to decide whether to open it out to other groups and include some of the spinners I’ve also been connecting with. It would be a wonderful annual project and is certainly something I would welcome hosting again. I guess all I can do it put it out there and see what the response is. Maybe having seen the outcomes for this year, those who were unsure might hop onboard and start eco-dyeing some more yarns for it. The chance to be part of a collaborative piece of textile work is exciting and transparent and for me, will always be a mindful message that this piece of fabric exists by the work of many hands, who’ve never met, and who live in far flung locations. Many small, significant parts, coming together in one beautiful celebration of nature, community and connection. I think we should definitely do it again.