by Kaylin Brian // photography submitted
Indiana weavers carry old craft into new times
From baskets to dwellings to clothing, humans have been weaving as far back as the Paleolithic era. These Hoosier artisans weave history, heritage and modern-day mind-sets to bring this beautiful art form a little closer to home.
A Wee Bit Warped
Mishawaka-based Nancy Sinnott finds joy in color. “I design based on things like the Northern Lights and other things out of nature, like fire rainbows and even the picture of the black hole that was published online. I try to embody what’s in that picture,” she says. “But mostly it’s the color, the combination I might not have put together if I didn’t see them in the photograph.”
Sinnott got her start with weaving when she and her husband were on vacation in West Virginia, where she saw a demonstration of people working on a variety of looms. When she returned home, she took classes with her local parks and recreation department and learned how to weave using a small table loom. She later moved on to a larger floor loom. But that trip to West Virginia wasn’t her first encounter with weaving.
“I’ve always been interested in textiles,” Sinnott says. “I did some work when I was in college on coverlets, specifically about weavers from Indiana and other locations in the United States who were using these French Jacquard looms in the 19th century. This loom was created in 1820, and there were a number of weavers in Indiana. It was one of the states that had quite a few of these looms.”
Sinnott’s love of color, an appreciation of math and the history of weaving drove her to specialize in the making of tartans, the crisscross pattern seen in Scottish kilts. “It’s fun to be able to do some kind of weaving that people need; (for) those who have a Celtic heritage and want to honor that heritage, it means a lot to them that I can help them feel closer to their historical roots,” she says. Sinnott prides herself on following rules for making Scottish tartans, such as weaving them in twill and ensuring the pattern is symmetrical.
Her work can be found in the year-round South Bend Farmers Market and both Indiana Artisans stores (in French Lick and in Carmel), and annually at the Indiana Artisan Marketplace at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, at the Michigan Fiber Fest in Allegan, Michigan, and at the Fine Art of Fiber at the Botanical Gardens in Chicago.
Brenda Schori Handwovens
When the average person thinks of weaving, a computer and a love of mathematics probably don’t immediately come to mind. But as Granger-based Brenda Schori explains, “There’s a mathematical element to weaving that appeals to my brain, especially the type of weaving that I do.”
Schori weaves on something called a computer-controlled dobby loom, or a compu-dobby. “I can design using a piece of software on my laptop. Then I take it down and plug my loom into the side of my computer. I still have to sit there and thread it all up, throw the shuttle and raise the harnesses, but every time I put my foot on that pedal underneath, it’s the computer that tells the loom which combination of harnesses go up,” she says. This type of loom allows her to create more complex patterns that incorporate circles into the weaving.
Colors and textures have always held an appeal for Schori, who began weaving 31 years ago when she was living in Ontario, Canada. “I was new to the area, and I was driving down the street and saw a sign outside a little shop advertising knitting and weaving supplies,” she says. “Right inside the door in this alcove was a beautiful little loom. It was warped up in all these gorgeous textures and colors.”
Schori says she has always felt challenged to make her handwoven pieces look special, artistic and unique so that they reflect the amount of time it takes to create them. “We have fabric around us everywhere, and it’s really something people take for granted. They don’t realize how much work actually goes into it,” she says. However, despite her love of complex patterns and the challenges of designing, her favorite types of garments to create are simple and unstructured.
And no matter the complexity of the weaving, the basics of the craft are not lost on her. “Those basic weaving styles, like twill, overshot and satin weaving, are building blocks in so many different cultures. It’s a craft that has come from our ancestors that has so much to offer,” she says.
Schori’s work can be seen in Indiana Artisans stores in French Lick and Carmel.
Heron Point Weaving
Sherry Studebaker’s grandfather bought his first loom in New York in 1963. “He only made rugs. He used multicolored warp threads, and if I go to an auction or to an antique shop in this area, I still see his work,” she says. You could say that weaving is in her blood; she has happily carried on his craft since he handed it off to her in 1980.
“For me, my historical connection to weaving is through my grandfather, but it’s also part of our Indiana heritage. It seems to most people that it’s a lost art, but it’s really not,” the Geneva-based artist says. “Everything that we wear is woven. People don’t really think of that.”
Like her grandfather, Studebaker weaves for functionality, creating rugs, scarves and table runners. Still, that doesn’t stop her from being particular about her work. “I like my selvage edges to be perfect. I’ll braid the edges all the way across, which takes a lot of time,” she says. She also appreciates that even functional pieces are beautiful: “Some people will say, ‘That rug is so beautiful, I wouldn’t want to walk on it.’ So I tell them to use it as art and hang it on the wall.”
In addition to the functionality of her pieces, Studebaker says it’s important for people to have access to woven items. “I try to make lower-priced items, based on the type of fiber I’ve used. I want all people to have access to my craft. That’s a big deal for me,” she says, adding that her pieces are machine washable and line-dry for further accessibility.
Helping to spread the love and importance — and always the functionality — of weaving, Studebaker has volunteered at the Swiss Heritage Museum in Berne, Indiana, demonstrating for students. “We would always try to weave with bluejeans material to make a bluejeans rug,” she says. “It would dawn on the students then that it was a form of recycling, years ago. It was showing them the educational part of weaving.”
Studebaker’s work can be seen in Indiana Artisans stores in French Lick and Carmel.
Naturals by Marla
Weaving has historical roots in the Hoosier state, but Ellettsville’s Marla Dawson appreciates the modernity of the craft as well. “I will never go to the demonstrations with my loom dressed in the clothes from the time,” she says. “It’s a historical craft, but I am a modern artist.”
Dawson started with knitting at the age of 10 and went on to own a yarn shop. Her love of yarn spills over into her weaving, which she learned in 1989. “I have always loved the feel and the color of yarns,” she says. “My process often starts with the yarn, and then I decide what to do with it.”
Working with fibers such as rayon, chenille and mohair, Dawson’s ability to blend it into unique patterns has become something of a signature for her woven items, from scarves to table decorations. “I particularly love to create wearable art. It’s very fulfilling,” she says.
But it’s not just the creating she enjoys. “I love to teach,” Dawson says. “I love when people ask me how they can learn.” She has taught weaving on and off over the last 20 years, and both the historical and modern aspects of the craft are important to her.
“In the past, it had to be done. It was a family enterprise so that you had clothes. Weaving was really important in the community, and I love that aspect of the history,” she says. “But I enjoy educating people that it’s a modern art craft. It’s no longer a chore.”
Dawson’s work is sold at the Brown County Craft Gallery in Nashville, and her work is shown at two craft shows a year: the Indiana Artisan Marketplace and the Bloomington Spinners and Weavers Fiber Art Show.
Rose Poe Handweaving
As complicated as weaving is, Nashville-based Rose Poe understands the importance of practice. “I used to weave baskets, and the lady who sold me supplies also sold looms,” she says. “Every time I went there to buy supplies, I would see these looms, and they always fascinated me. She gave me a week of lessons, and that was it for my formal schooling in weaving. From then on, I just kept practicing.”
That was close to 30 years ago, and Poe still loves the art form. She is inspired by the handwoven bed coverlets from the Colonial era. “If you’ve been to historical sites and seen the handwoven bed coverlets, they’re usually in an intricate pattern.” She uses a 26-inch wide loom to make table runners in a type of weaving popular in the 19th century. She also weaves scarves, vests and sleeveless jackets. “I really like doing it all,” she says, “but kitchen towels are my staple.”
With her interest in early American life, it’s no surprise that Poe finds the history of weaving important. “Weaving’s been going on for thousands of years, and I like to carry on with tradition,” she says. “And I like to see young people get into weaving, too.”
Equally important, Poe says, is her close-knit community of artisans. “Nashville is a great place to live for a weaver because there are a lot of them in this county, and we’re all very supportive of each other,” she says.
Poe’s work can be seen at the Spears Gallery in Nashville, the Indiana Artisan Marketplace and select art shows in the area.