Weaving

Abraham's Stars Part 3

And after all that preparation, after sharing our stories and playing together, it got hard. In order to stabilize the weavings we had to sew every warp piece to the one next to it—by hand. There was no other way, no short cut. We had to show up and put in the work, we worked side by side and we built relationships. We were in the lobby every day except Sundays, for 7-9 hours a day for 4 weeks. 67 different people showed up to volunteer. Many came numerous times.

This is the part that scared me. I knew it would. Much of my work I do alone. Community pinches me. At this point the tapestries held my fears: that I don’t belong and would never be able to break in, that I would fail. But early in this process someone came and she sewed quietly. I worried about how to entertain her, what to say? After several hours she thanked me for providing a space where she could sit with women and just be, where she didn’t have to talk. And just like that the Lord released me. Instead, I prayed every morning that He Himself would offer hospitality, that the lobby would be a safe place and that everyone would feel welcome here. And every single day He brought people who needed one another to sew next to each other. We shared lives, good books, good movies, recipes...

While I stitched in the lobby, a man came by. “You’re listening to stories? I have a story.” “It’s too late to write it into the tapestry,” I told him, “but if I can keep working while you tell me I will stitch it into this piece.” A total of 73 people over 4 weeks stopped by just to tell their stories. Their stories are just as much a part of this work as the ones written and they bring the total number in the tapestries to almost 400.

The lobby became a sacred space. One woman walking through said, “There is a stillness here, a peace. I can hear the women talking, so it isn’t quiet that I am feeling. No, it’s stillness.”

 
 Part of a stitching crew. Each of the three looms could accommodate 4 sewing volunteers at a time. The Navajo-loom-inspired-Olivia-and-Larry-designed warp tightening mechanism worked well for rolling the large pieces and keeping them tight while we worked.

Part of a stitching crew. Each of the three looms could accommodate 4 sewing volunteers at a time. The Navajo-loom-inspired-Olivia-and-Larry-designed warp tightening mechanism worked well for rolling the large pieces and keeping them tight while we worked.

 

Someone said, “When you get these pieces up no one will know how much work really went into them.” But isn’t that true for every single ministry in the church? How many people really know how much work is done behind the scenes to pull off any act of love or kindness, any ministry, or even a sermon?

This started as an offering to the Lord, and a project to illustrate community. It became a love letter to my church:

To all those people who said, “I would never put so much work into something” as they walked through on their way to put just as much work into preparing for their ministry. I see you. To those people whose stories filled my heart. Yes, it was a love letter. But, in the end, I was the one most blessed. By your courage as you face every day. By your faith as you hold onto God’s promises. By your love for your families and neighbors. And by the dear people who came and sewed beside me, offering their friendship. Thank you. I see Jesus in you.
 Some of the dangles made by the children. I was just getting ready to put them on when teenagers started arriving in the lobby for youth group one night. A few asked if they could help, which inspired the rest of them and the job was soon finished. Their spontaneous generosity rounded out the statistics for this project. Now every single demographic in the church could claim to have had a hand in it!

Some of the dangles made by the children. I was just getting ready to put them on when teenagers started arriving in the lobby for youth group one night. A few asked if they could help, which inspired the rest of them and the job was soon finished. Their spontaneous generosity rounded out the statistics for this project. Now every single demographic in the church could claim to have had a hand in it!

 The weavings in place in the main lobby above the doors into the sanctuary.

The weavings in place in the main lobby above the doors into the sanctuary.

 Our stories woven into and through God's story.

Our stories woven into and through God's story.


praying twice

This is the playlist we used off and on while we sewed. In many ways our songs were prayers. The songs are related to the stories, people and hopes invested in the weavings.

Abraham's Stars Part 2

And then we played...

See, the thing about three gigantic looms in the lobby is that they are hard to ignore. They are, in fact, so hard to ignore that people who would normally avoid involvement in such a project became caught up in it.

We had God's story in God's words written out on the warp fabric, our stories written on the weft fabric, the looms were warped and the weft pieces rolled and organized into baskets. Here is a portion of the email instructions I sent to volunteer loom monitors and paint helpers:

Thanks so much for agreeing to help out! This is a true community project! So many people have contributed stories, time and effort already and this Sunday we get to help even more to participate. What we are doing is offering hospitality. The default word is, "Yes!"
Here are the general guiding principles:
* We want to include everyone. Please encourage cooperation. Shorter persons can weave the lower end and from underneath, those with mobility issues can weave from the side, etc. The looms are large so it will be very difficult for someone to weave the entire length alone. That is intentional. We are all a part of one another's stories.
* Have FUN! Lots of it!

There was so much joy in that lobby. Both weeks, people lingered long after each service. Adults and kids played together, crawling under and into the looms, others weaved from the outside. We laughed a lot, caught up with people we hadn't seen in awhile and talked to some we had never met. Did I mention that we laughed a lot? Yeah, that's a beautiful sound.

 Little hands sticking through the tapestry help the fabric along. In this project, everyone made a valuable contribution!

Little hands sticking through the tapestry help the fabric along. In this project, everyone made a valuable contribution!

Meanwhile, on the patio Leslie Dugas led kids in a painting project. I wanted people to look at the tapestries later and know that they were "in" them, that the weft pieces represented their stories. I felt that adults would be able to make that leap, but that kids might need something more concrete to understand the concept. I asked Leslie, an amazing watercolorist who has a heart for sharing art with children, if she would help kids to create dangles for the finished tapestries. We had plywood stars, circles and swirls. I was hoping that each one would be distinctive so that kids could look at the finished project and find their pieces. Leslie has always come through in a big way. She helped kids find their voices and translate them into unique and beautiful painted pieces. I love them so much! Thanks Leslie!

There were four older men who had not turned in stories, and made it clear that they did not want to weave. However, they were fascinated by the loom construction and had lots of questions about the fabric preparation. I answered all the questions to the best of my ability and then became involved in something else. Later, I noticed that they had deputized themselves as unofficial docents and hosts.  All four of them had little groups in tow and were giving tours filled with loom construction and fabric preparation trivia. I heard them call this "our project," "our looms," "our tapestries," and it made me so happy. We all participate in our own ways!

If you missed Part 1 you can find it here.

Abraham's Stars Part 1

The leadership team at CMBC asked me to come up with a project that met this criteria:

  • include people of all ages and skill levels in a large art project
  • correlate with the sermon series on the life of Abraham
  • illustrate and encourage community
  • fill a large empty wall over the sanctuary doors

I offered them several ideas for a community project and they decided on this tapestry weaving project. Everyone of any age or skill level can weave. The colors represent the night sky and the stars that Abraham saw when God told him that his descendants would be like the stars. The entire piece would be approximately 40 feet wide (including the white spaces between) and 25-30 feet long.

 
community quilt mock up20150624_18231960.jpg
 

I sketched a design for 20ft by 10 ft looms on a napkin and asked Larry Haggin if he could build three. He answered with the most magical word, the word that opens doors and gives wings to ideas, he said, "Sure!"

 Loom #3 in the hallway.

Loom #3 in the hallway.

 Loom #1 in the lobby, loom #2 would be in the gym.

Loom #1 in the lobby, loom #2 would be in the gym.

I mixed white acrylic paint, pearl interference paint and fiber medium in a squeeze bottle and wrote out the story of Abraham from the book of Genesis onto 1500 feet of fabric. God's story in God's words would become the warp for each loom.

We invited the congregation to participate by sharing their answers to any of the following questions:

  • Describe a moment of revelation.
  • Describe a time when you felt strong even though you were clearly weak.
  • Describe an experience that made you feel like part of something larger.
  • Describe a time when you knew you were in the right place.
  • Describe a time when you felt called to something other people considered strange or silly
  • Describe a time you gained or lost someone or something important to you.

We received 244 submissions and we wrote them on the fabric that would become the weft. There were stories about miraculous healings and the mighty power of God, stories about long suffering with no end in sight and the carrying presence of God, stories that asked where is God in this?

Olivia and Larry devised a warp tightening mechanism for the looms based on a Navajo-style loom, and then she, Nick and I warped them:

 
 Sweet Olivia, my favorite art intern (don't tell the others), warping a loom.

Sweet Olivia, my favorite art intern (don't tell the others), warping a loom.

 

When we warped the looms, we didn’t worry about keeping the story in order. God is outside of time. However, we saved out the first and last line to use as binding. The first tapestry binding furthest to the left is the first line of Abraham’s story: “Terah set out with his son Abram from Ur of the Chaldees…” The last binding, the one furthest to the right is the last line of Abraham’s story: “And Abraham breathed his last…”

I sorted the stories submitted by the congregation into baskets that went with the parts of Abraham's story. I started doing this because I noticed how relevant Abraham's life and experiences were to today and saw some similarities in our stories. ALL of the stories submitted fit into the Genesis story! We rolled the weft pieces into manageable rolls and set the baskets by the correct looms and we were ready for Kid Friendly Summer Sundays!


Take Me Deeper: Beginning the Journey

I am one of the moderators over at His Kingdom Come, a social site for Christian artists. One of the on-going projects for 2015 titled Take Me Deeper, is a weekly Bible study with artistic response. There are various and varied groups of artists using different mediums to respond to what they hear God speaking in them. My task is to create sample projects for the Textile and Fiber Art group. The theme for January is Transformation and the verse for Week 1 is:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. ~Romans 12:1-2

As I started to pray through this, the very first thing I thought of was that I wanted to portray transformation as gradual using an ombre pattern in some way.

Next I got caught up in a (not so tangential) tangent: transformation is possible because Christ broke our chains. We are no longer slaves to sin and death, but can choose to make ourselves available to Him. We offer ourselves as living sacrifices and He changes us, right? If my shackles have been broken--all of them--then why am I still wearing some of them? What is keeping me from shaking them off? Exploring this question in prayer this week has been really quite eye-opening.

I wanted to portray the broken shackles/chains in some way and making a cuff seemed like the best visual. The problem was that the shackles had to be broken. I considered various options for a "broken" cuff that was sufficiently intact that it could be worn. I settled on a loom beaded cuff using a broken warp technique. Here is my project page:

 
 

I applied the ombre-like effect to the broken warp sections on the cuff. The beads start brown at the bottom (from the miry clay), transition to topaz, then a matte metal, silver and eventually gold to symbolize how we are washed and refined. Each section on the broken warp has 40 beads on it for the 40's of transformation (40 days and nights of rain to transform the earth, 40 years of wandering in the desert to transform the hearts of God's people, etc.) The solid sections (representing the old shackles) are woven using a confetti mix of the brown, topaz and matte metal with RED mixed in (for Christ's blood that set us free) and GOLD to represent God With Us through it all.

I like the result and it reminds me to question those shackles I needlessly carry. I also love wearable art that is spiritually symbolic. It reminds me of all those verses in the Bible about wearing the Word of God (on your head, on your wrist, as a garment, as armor, etc.).

I wrote out the pattern with a confidant beginner in mind. It is available on my etsy shop for $6.50.

Transform Bracelet on Creator Spiritus Shop on Etsy