Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On Inventing Ancient Weaving #1

[Check out Eberle's exploration of ancient textile arts thru the media of found junkyard objects & silk from Nepal!]

Actually it was as much a process of discovery as invention. First of all, I needed a lunar calendar. It was one of the first cold days of fall and I was still getting over a virus of some kind that made me slightly dizzy to go outside. But I had decided that the timpani which had spent ten years in the garden should make the voyage up to my studio. Since I was outside, I gave the llamas some oats and saw, in the shed with the oats, the familiar heap of objects, remnants of several years’ expeditions to the dump (the turkey buzzards and crows, the heat in high summer and the mysterious trailer where the dump man lived, reported to have used the county backhoe for hanging deer he had shot.) I noticed a collection of bicycle wheels I had gathered but had never found the perfect way to use as garden sculpture. The shape would go well with the timpani, I thought, and I brought a few upstairs.

Once the timpani and one bicycle wheel had found their places among the fruit crates and silk
hangings and cushions that were part of the oratory I suddenly started building one summer day in my studio, I realized that I wanted color on the bicycle wheel and it struck me that I could weave strips of fabric in among the spokes. I went to my closet and found a gauzy concert dress I no longer wore and tore it up into long strips. I had already cut pieces out of a bright silk shirt to use for some forgotten project and tied the remnants onto my djembe. I took these off and also tore them into long strips.

I don’t actually weave, though I remember the cat’s cradle and pot-holders of my girlhood, also the intriguingly square friendship bracelets we all made by weaving long thin plastic sort of stuff. My experience with textiles finds its apex in sewing the occasional button back on a shirt. My mother loved to weave and sew and knit, but I had never learned how to do either of these things before I left home (too busy refusing to brush my hair for weeks on end and wearing only black…ah youth.) But I found that the general principle wasn’t too hard to execute. I added a large metal bee and some beaded ornaments that had been on the dress and I thought it was lovely.

Time passed. The need for a lunar calendar became more pressing. And weaving as well as
embroiderey had become very important elements in the book I’m working on—in fact I had begun to have a terrible premonition that I was not going to be able to avoid inventing ancient embroidery as well…(this did eventually happen.) I had been very excited about a lunar calendar I had started to build out of the silver lid to a chafing dish the man at the local junk store had set aside for me and the bottom of a bleach bottle. I loved my design, but I could not figure out how to attach this to the wall and had come to a dead end with it. I looked at the remaining bicycle wheels and decided I could weave a lunar calendar.

I had already discovered that a wheel, divided in four for the four phases of the moon, with markers for seven divisions in each phase could indicate where the moon was at in her cycle if you turned the wheel one notch each day. I had spent quite a bit of time writing out the lunar calendar for the whole year and deciding for myself, in the 13 months of the lunar year, where spring, summer, fall and winter would start and end, given the climate in Indian Valley. I have always been annoyed by the standardization of the seasons.

The word “menses,” I was charmed to discover, was rooted in the word for moon and month. It also struck me as quite interesting that a deck of playing cards has the same general structure as the lunar calendar—52 weeks divided into four suits for the four phases of the moon, each phase (suit) having 13 expression over the course of 13 months… I had never noticed this before. This gave me the idea for drawing a set of moon cards connected to this structure, but that’s another story.

During this period my already tenuous sense of time became a complete ruin, and in fact these
were the ancient ruins I discovered I must walk through in order to invent ancient weaving. Very early on in the process of weaving I came across the ancient need for a shuttle, although I had woven over 100 yards of ribbon onto the wheel before I finally discovered a shuttle. It was in the little sewing kit I had used for years for sewing buttons. There were these odd tools on one side of the kit that I had never removed from their tiny collars of elastic. One was a wide, flat blunt sort of needle that was absolutely perfect.

The ribbon I used I ordered through Etsy—a woman (and I thank her warmly!) who sells—among a number of wonderful things
ribbon made by a women’s collective in Nepal out of remnant silk from factories that produce material for saris. Check out her stuff here. Stay tuned for Part 2 to see the completed calender and hear more strange and intriguing details about my journey into the primitive textile arts currently being invented by my hands, my girlhood, and my imagination. You might also be interested to learn how all this connects with the poet Henri Michaux…

Eberle Umbach


  1. Eberle, nice post and intriguing idea. Interesting ideas is why you are the artist & I am the "appreciator". In my 30s I was a weaver, but gave it up mostly for lack of ideas & inspiration, which is a long story. I look forward to Part 2. Hi to John.

  2. This is so cool (and such a gorgeous result, so far).

    Eberle, I never would have guessed it, but it seems we may have some similar early life-experiences—what with the plastic friendship bracelets, the compulsory pot-holders, the black garb and the over-teased/unbrushed hair. Huh!

    We also have approximately the same textile repertoire, although in Grade Nine I did attemptto weave a wall-hanging on a wooden loom for an Art class. It was not a success.

    Was it perhaps a darning needle that you discovered in the sewing kit?


  3. Lizzy: Thanks for your comment-- as far as this artist is concerned, "appreciators" are the most prized among humans!

    Poetikat: I am so charmed that someone else made those plastic friendship bracelets and pot-holders (as I recall, the colors of the materials for pot-holders were quite strange.) I never worked on a wooden loom, but I remember some sad attempts I made at macrame...a special hello from my girlhood self to yours!

  4. The phases of the moon pop up when I open my home page, thanks to the almanac people, but I'd much rather have a Nepalese silk moon wheel. I have a clock in my dining room that tells me where the tide is. Maybe there's some more interesting way to get that information too. Can't wait for the end result.

  5. I love the way the post takes us on the journey with you - discovering and rediscovering weaving and the importance of the moon.

  6. Hi Mairi & Alan

    Filling in for Eberle here--thanks to you both for stopping by!

  7. Hi Eberie
    By coincidence my friends Margaret & Don fly towards Nepal today from Manchester (England,England!).They go for 3 weeks .Its the first visit for them.We hope to keep in touch & they will be sending photos for my blog enroute (if the technology works as it should!).Let me know if they can research for you.

  8. Hi Tony: I'm referring that on to Eberle--she might be interested. We're having a crazy couple of days with a lot of traveling! Thanks as always for stopping by, & have a good one!

  9. Alan and Mairi: thanks so much for commenting and being interested in this lunar and silk journey!

    Tony: I'm interested in anything that has to do with the production or use of silk or anything that has to do with the traditions around raising silkworms. Thanks!


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