The thread of women’s history
All the women on my mother’s side of my family were always actively involved in various types of needlework, sewing, quilting, etc. My grandmother in particular was very accomplished at Hardanger embroidery, a form of Norwegian needlework that involved a fine eye for detail and a lot of patience. And my mother is a champion quilter. As a child I was very artistic but I felt no interest in any of these “traditional” womanly arts (or is it crafts?….they didn’t seem to consider themselves artists). To me they seemed boring and stuffy ways to be creative. Throughout my childhood I knew I wanted to be an artist, however, and was very drawn to photography, fashion and modern design.
It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I had my lightning bolt flash moment about wanting to be a weaver. I happened to see an exhibit on Scandinavian handwoven textiles, most of them woven in the “rep” technique with bold colors and striking graphic designs. I immediately had this intense inner knowing that seemed to awaken from a very deep sleep: “I want to do THAT”.
Very soon after that I began taking beginning weaving classes and have not stopped weaving since.
Although I have had many other interests and passions that have come and gone in their own time, I know without a doubt that I will be exploring weaving for the rest of my life.
And I do feel this thread of connection now to my lineage, although the medium I have chosen to work with is different than what I was exposed to growing up. All the women in my family seem to have a knack for creating complicated designs with thread of various sizes, and I feel proud to carry on that tradition.
The Magic Language of Weaving
One of the things I love most about weaving is the physicality of working with the loom. I adore the whole body experience of controlling the pedals with my feet and beating with my upper body, moving in sync with the rhythm of it all. I love the sounds the loom makes as it beats and clacks. I enjoy being a “dance partner” with this machine that allows me to create cloth.
I am also drawn to what to me often feels like magic….Because to me, magic happens at the loom when the threads line up, move in their ordered formation, and with the fly of the shuttle and clack of the beater, fabric unfolds before your eyes. I feel that there is an ancient relationship between the weaver and the “Unseen World”. This relationship is seen in the archetype of the Weaver, who in cultures around the world is a figure who can control destiny, create realities, and bring meaning, language, and/or connection to the world. The weaver brings the unseen into this dimension.
This theme is a driving force behind my work. As a weaver I strive to connect through symbolic threads to other realms that I bring into this reality as cloth. And as a weaver I realize that I am also just one of the threads in the larger picture.
I love that cloth, unlike art that is simply visual, like a painting, is a tangible item that has been with humanity for ages and which not only has aesthetic value, but is useful and necessary to us in so many ways. There is also a way that pattern can be seen as another language, in a similar way that rhythm can be a language. One of my favorite books is called “A Pattern Language” and speaks of how information or feelings can be conveyed through patterns in a more universal and deep way than words can.
The world of weaving is immense, with so many styles and materials to explore. For many years I dabbled in all of them I could….wanting to explore and learn and experiment. It seemed almost impossible to choose just one style to focus on. For 4 years I studied in a comprehensive weaving program at the Hill Institute in Florence, Massachusetts. This program required us to complete projects in an extensive variety of weave structures, and so I was exposed to and had the opportunity to explore the wide world of weaving.
During the time we were studying overshot I was introduced to the concept of “code drafting”, a traditional technique where a name or phrase is converted to a series of numbers which corresponds to the shafts on the loom in order to create a unique overshot pattern. I was very enchanted with this idea and knew immediately that I needed to explore this concept further. My first independent project in this technique was a special altar cloth using an encoded draft that was used in my wedding. For me, the idea of embedding messages into patterns holds endless intrigue. I have always been very interested in language (I speak 3 languages other than my native English) and so this intersection of words and meaning with pattern is a rich playground for me.
And so I have finally come around to choosing my focus in my creative explorations in weaving. During the last year I have created a body of work exclusively focused on encoded patterns. I have been extending the technique to include weave structures other than overshot, and have been deepening and evolving the method of interpretation of the numeric codes based on the words.
My process usually begins with a general feeling I want to convey along with the words that go with it. Once I choose the phrase of words I want to use, I start experimenting in my computer drafting software with the design. There are various options for how to assign the coded numbers and I explore different designs until I choose one that I like best. Then I continue to “tweak” the basic coded design until it corresponds with the size and scale of the piece I want to create. This can sometimes be the most time consuming part of the whole process and it involves a rather mind boggling amount of detailed calculations in order to reach symmetry, the right number of threads, etc. I usually spend countless hours perfecting and meditating on the design before even beginning to touch the yarn. Included in this “meditating” part is being open and aware of “messages” I receive in dreams, from things around me, and during my meditation practice. And, alongside that process I am also finalizing the colors and other details of the yarn. More and more I am choosing to dye my own yarn, which adds an extra step to the process.
Once I have finalized the design I start measuring out the yarn and dressing the loom. Then the fun part begins and I begin the actual weaving. There is always a feeling of magic when I see the pattern I have been working on both in my mind and on the computer come to life in cloth on the loom. Usually there is surprise (or a mistake!) in there somewhere and something is different than what I had planned. That’s when improvisation comes in as my creative partner and I often end up making changes that were not in my original draft.
As much as a part of me loves “geeking out” on designing the complex encoded designs on the computer, I love even more playing around with the treadling design once I get it on the loom. I usually start out weaving one round of the pattern as I originally drafted it and then I make other versions that are designed as I go at the loom. Some of my best work, including the piece “We are the Dreamers “, which has won numerous awards, was improvised at the loom.
Read more about this piece in The Common Thread Gallery online exhibit, Transformation: Fiber as Medium where it received a second place award.
In most cases the presentation of the final piece is decided on only after the piece is off the loom. Although weaving requires a lot of precise calculations that must be decided on before beginning to weave, I feel most creative when I have room for spontaneity as I go, and so I always try to leave room for the creative muse to work through me in ways I can not plan in advance and can only discover while I’m in the process of creating. The “tension” of this interplay of creative spontaneity with the calculated grid of the loom is very satisfying to me.
Advice for Artists
I would advise aspiring artists to give themselves the time and space to explore and experiment, and not be too hard on themselves if a project doesn’t turn out, but to chalk it up to a learning experience, and move on with the creative exploration. Trust that your artistic voice has value and merit and stay true to it. The world needs our authentic voices!
About Lita Love
Lita Love was born in South Dakota and has traveled extensively before choosing Costa Rica as her home. Interested in art since childhood, it wasn’t until she was introduced to weaving in 1997 that she became clear on her artistic path. She completed the four year Master Weaving Program at the Hill Institute in Massachusetts and has been committed to pursuing her weaving even while she and her husband lived aboard a tiny sailboat for two years. She eventually shipped two looms to Costa Rica, where she now works in her home studio. Primarily working with Overshot weaving, she explores the limits of traditional weave structures, creating her own signature style in her wall art as well as her line of art-to-wear clothing.