I grew up in a large family that relied on building, mending, and problem-solving. My father and brothers were handy with power/hand tools while my mother was very resourceful with her sewing and mending skills. I often retrieved tools for my father and pointed a flashlight into unlit spaces during various building projects. In addition, I went with my mother to Cloth World many times, where I was introduced to the wide variety of fabrics. As a result, there was no shortage of fabric scraps to experiment with. There were also many nights that I fell asleep to the sound of the sewing machine, as the sewing area was located just outside my bedroom door. Being around tools and seeing how things were made were formative experiences that fed into my attraction to textiles and weaving.
When I was 5 years old, my father arranged for a Japanese man to stay with us for several weeks, through a cultural exchange program. During his stay, he showed me how to fold a simple origami form that I have never forgotten how to make. This early exposure to origami also plays an important role in my love and curiosity of structure, form, and process.
In school, I was drawn to art classes and also took home-economics, woodshop and drafting in junior high while taking computer programming in high school. I was introduced to weaving in an Indian Arts and Crafts class at Fort Lewis College in Durango, CO. I had also become aware of textile design through my aunt, who taught high school art for many years, and made beautiful silkscreens and batiks.
Weaving was the first thing that awakened me as a young adult and merged my interests of art and structure. My attraction to weaving started with the loom as a mechanical tool that could produce cloth. Setting up the loom and the process of weaving is very physical and yet it is very intellectual and often intuitive. The process engaged my whole body. I remember describing it as something that allowed me to use my right and left-brain, right and left hands, and right and left feet. The process of weaving is as important to me as what I produce.
I formally studied weaving at Kansas City Art Institute (BFA) and later continued my explorations at UCLA (MFA). I focused mainly on doubleweave pickup and multi-layered structures. My early influences were M.C. Escher, Paul Klee, pre-Columbian weaving, Isamu Noguchi, Lenore Tawney, Kay Sekimachi, Anni Albers, Virginia Davis, Richard Landis and jacquard weaving. Sadly, I didn’t feel that I had a mentor during college and the program at UCLA was being phased out. As I worked on my thesis show, I was the only graduate student in the textile department. Not having peers to bounce ideas off of was bittersweet. Looking back, the isolation allowed me to develop a unique voice.
Triangular double woven pockets with found objects, 1994, linen. Photo credit Andrew Neuhart.
After UCLA, I pursued a career in the textile industry, specifically designing jacquard upholstery fabric. My first job was at Weave Corporation located in Lancaster County, PA. I worked with Klaus Flock, director of Design, who taught me the ins and outs of jacquard design. He had been recruited many years earlier, from Germany, and was himself trained on point paper. I admired Klaus’ deep understanding of jacquard structure and his ability to delicately finesse any curve or shape with weaves. He became my mentor and I have not met anyone since that I consider a better technical designer than Klaus. During this time, I continued to weave on my own and developed a discontinuous pleat structure that would later become my woven origami.
First discontinuous pleat sample, 1995, cotton. Photo credit Susie Taylor
I also worked in New York and New Jersey for other mills and distributors. It is important to note that weaving on shaft looms and designing for jacquard are very different. I had a limited understanding of shaft weaving when I came into industry, mostly weaving hand-manipulated structures (doubleweave pickup and doubleweave pockets with a smattering of twills). Jacquard weaving taught me a whole new vocabulary and way of problem-solving. It was an education unto itself and I thrived in the fast-paced environment of a mill and loved the entire design process.
I left the textile industry to raise my kids, at which point I returned to shaft weaving but doubleweave pickup didn’t excite me as it once did. I joined a weaving class, at The Newark Museum, led by Pam Pawl. The group was mostly experienced weavers looking for community and new challenges. I became aware of the many gaps I had in my understanding of loom-controlled structure and had heard about the Certificate of Excellence program offered through the Handweavers Guild of America. I saw this self-directed program as a curriculum that could fill in the many holes. The problem-solving skills that I developed working in industry along with the COE gave me a whole new understanding of weaving. I could imagine a path moving forward that combined loom-controlled structures with hand manipulation techniques.
Around this time, origami had resurfaced as an interest. I began folding the usual forms (birds, flowers) but was captivated when I discovered tessellation origami. The folded and twisted, geometric compositions stirred my curiosity. As I folded simple tessellations, I wondered how to incorporate weaving and origami together. I had an epiphany, which helped me understand that my previously mentioned discontinuous pleats could be folded into origami-inspired shapes and compositions. This was the bridge between origami and weaving that I was looking for.
Simple origami tessellation, 2010, folded and twisted paper, photo credit Susie Taylor
My method of weaving origami is unique, therefore the descriptive words that I use like “flaps”, “loops” or “discontinuous pleats” are made up to describe the woven, structural elements that get folded into the origami shapes. I have never seen anyone weaving in this way so I will do my best to describe the technique using the weaving terminology that I know.
Many people think this work is double cloth but in fact, it is a single layer cloth construction unlike other double-layered structures used to weave full-width pleats and other dimensional forms. The technique is to wind separate, longer warps for the origami flaps to account for the take-up. The flaps are discontinuous strips of cloth woven with small cardboard shuttles. Once I reach the desired length for each row of flaps, the tension is released and the strips are pulled toward the front of the loom creating the flaps. The trick is to secure the flaps by slipping a flat aluminum rod through the loops and tying the aluminum rod to the rod at the base of the apron so that I can put tension back onto the warp to continue weaving. Each row of flaps requires an aluminum rod that gets tied onto the rod from the previous row. When the cloth comes off the loom, I remove all of the rods and the weaving resembles a cloth with a field of loops springing from the surface. I lay the cloth flat and begin to fold the flaps into the origami shapes that hover over the surface of the cloth.
Keeping the correct tension is the biggest challenge but with slight modifications, I have found the right formula using my second back beam or warp weights. In my experience, the flaps work best as plain weave because it is a tight and tidy construction with clean edges. Initially, the ground cloth was primarily plain weave but then I started to see the potential of adding complexity to the ground cloths. Linen is an obvious choice to weave with because it creates a nice, crisp fabric that holds the folds well.
Weaving discontinuous strips using small cardboard shuttle. Photo credit Susie Taylor
Detail of the progression of discontinuous pleats. Photo credit Susie Taylor
I weave on a 16 shaft Macomber floor loom. It’s not a simple loom yet it’s not the most complicated loom either. There is a lifetime of different constructions to explore within the limitations that I have to work within.
All weavers understand the limitations they are up against but for me, limitations offer the chance to focus and find solutions that push up against what is possible while still honoring the traditions of weaving.
It is challenging to place this work in a larger context. Obviously, it is dimensional weaving but my ambitions are to show my work alongside any artwork, including paintings. I don’t like all of the labels that get thrown around. I look at and am inspired by abstract and minimalistic painting and sculpture. I look to masters like Frank Stella, Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin, Jan Schoonhoven and especially Josef Albers. What I like about these artists is that they were able to tap into the inherent and universal beauty of geometry.
Like many artists, I strive to capture the imagination of the viewer. I weave to solve visual and structural puzzles.
Untitled (W17 Primary Black), 2017, linen, 20″ x 28.5″, Photo credit James Dewrance
My sketchbook is graph-lined paper because I feel that the grid relates so well to weaving and geometric composition. I also work in Adobe Illustrator to manipulate digital motifs and make a variety of compositions quickly. Once I have a visual design in mind, then I will work on the weave structures within Fiberworks weaving software. I don’t leave much to chance, so I rely on my computer software to simulate the look of the finished product. I spend a lot of time planning, thinking and looking before I weave. This work requires solid design, engineering, and execution.
The possibility of origami continues to inspire me. I currently look at a wide variety of artists that explore pattern and dimension. Fabric manipulation, resulting in unusual pockets, pleats and/or ruffles is a source of inspiration that I would like to explore in the future. It is fun to imagine dimensional structures that I could weave without the use of any cutting or sewing. I am looking forward to my upcoming class at Penland School of Crafts (May 27-June 8, 2018) where the students will learn my origami techniques and we will explore other dimensional possibilities made on the loom. Adult schools like Penland are an excellent opportunity to build your network of peers while learning from seasoned artists in your field. For more information visit www.penland.org/workshops/textiles/
I will also be teaching 2 classes at the Complex Weavers Seminar this summer in Reno. Please visit www.complex-weavers.org/seminars-2018/ for more information.
Video made in 2016 by Susie Taylor.
Every artist has his or her own unique journey. The path that led me to combine origami and weaving was long and circuitous. I do feel that my curiosity for structure and pattern led me to handweaving. Then my love of handweaving led me to jacquard weaving. The skills I learned from jacquard weaving then opened up new worlds when I returned to handweaving. My best advice is to develop your own voice and your own style and to find mentors along the way.
Please visit my website www.susietaylorart.com or follow me on Instagram @weaving.origami to keep up with all of my current projects. I am pleased to announce that I will be having my first solo exhibition (Sept. 2018) at Textile Center in Minneapolis. Visit www.textilecentermn.org for more information (the show will be listed later in the year).