The Threads of My Life...
A Fiber Art Coral Reef Advocacy Exhibition
Imagine a young girl, 8 years old, out at recess. But instead of running and playing with her friends, I am standing up against the schoolhouse knitting. Any free time I had (and this is still true today) I was stitching, sewing, knitting and embroidering all through elementary school. I learned a lot from my mother and grandmother, but my passion for fiber started early in my life and has been the dominant “thread” throughout my life! No matter what stage I have been in (adolescence, young adult, married with a child) I have always created with yarn, fiber, and fabric. Nothing has stopped me!
I am a life long fiber artist with experience in many processes and techniques: embroidery, knitting, crochet, basketry, needlepoint, sewing, felting, stitching, and weaving. And, of course, great pairs of scissors are at the heart of any fiber process or technique! But it is at the loom where my heart beats the strongest, and I have been weaving for over 45 years now. The act of constructing fabric, one thread at a time, is exciting and always has an element of surprise to it. I have woven almost every type of item you can imagine – clothing, household textiles, art concept wall hangings, and even one 3’ x 5’ rug! For many years, I loved creating cloth, and I bought and sold looms as my varying interests changed about weaving. Throughout my weaving career, I have had two computer aided looms that allow me to create more complex structures by designing in the computer software.
My love affair of weaving with wire started more than 25 years ago and I have been creating woven metal fabric ever since. My local weaving guild, the Dallas Handweavers & Spinners Guild, hosted a Weaving with Wire workshop taught by Donna Kaplan in the mid-90s. I didn’t think I had the money or time to take the workshop, but I remember a deep need to play, so I signed up. What a difference a day makes! That workshop completely changed my life and for the next 20 years, I ONLY wove with wire and yarn!
The woven metal fabric I create is so versatile and sculptural! In the early years of weaving with wire, I created jewelry and vessels using basketry and other sculptural techniques. Gradually, the scale of my work became larger as I started pushing the limits of the materials and process. Wire is a lively material that has to be controlled at every point, but once the loom is warped with the wire it weaves up very much like other kinds of cloth. I haven’t actually found a limit yet, but the wire has to be evenly tensioned to be able to weave a beautiful fabric. I regularly put 12’ long warps on at a time, and maintaining the tension over the width and length of the warp can be tricky sometimes.
I retired as a visual arts educator in 2018 and had one year to prepare for what would become a two person show – Beneath the Surface: A Coral Reef Installation. Ever since I saw the hyperbolic crochet coral reefs in the early 2000s, I wanted to create one of my own. When retired, I had a venue booked for November of 2019, and initially thought I would create the entire show out of fiber. But my husband had begun experimenting with resin painting, and when I saw his watery, blue paintings I knew they needed to be the 2D backdrop to the exhibition. I literally got down on bended knee and asked him if he would collaborate with me on this project, and he said YES! We were off and running.
For the exhibition, I used primarily crochet, felting, and woven metal fabric to create the organic forms of the coral reef. I did not slavishly try to replicate actual coral, but instead thought of myself as the Dr. Seuss of the coral reef, and let my imagination go. The synergy of our work really caught both of us by surprise! When you look at the groupings, the 2D and 3D work just dances together! The installation also brings awareness to the fragility of the globe’s coral reefs, and a bleached reef in the installation that adds to the advocacy nature of the exhibition. Through my experience as a visual arts educator, I not only learned for myself, but exposed my students to the power of art as a tool to make significant change in the world. Even though I am retired, I find that I can still educate the public about the beauty and power of art, and help them see how their individual acts can make a difference in the world.
Being able to be in the studio full time is so fulfilling and productive! I am grateful that I have been able to work in my home studio to prepare for these large installations. And, during the time of COVID-19, it has been a huge blessing and grounding space for me. Our family lost one of our own early on in the Pandemic, and it was a huge, psychic hit for us. As the emotional clouds flowed in and out of my psyche, being grounded at the loom has provided me great comfort during this incredibly challenging time.
Having such big blocks of uninterrupted time has also allowed me to begin delving even deeper into the woven metal fabric. After taking a traditional double weave workshop that used yarn as warp and weft, I have been exploring double woven cloth using wire and yarn. It is SO exciting and invigorating! And, in April 2021, I taught my first 3 day Zoom Weaving with Wire Workshop! It was a hit, and though we were distanced, I was able to take the participants through the entire process of warping their looms with wire, creating woven metal fabric, and playing with the resulting material to make jewelry items. Though we have all had limitations during the Pandemic, new doors and opportunities have been opened for continued learning and exploration.
I have often given Visiting Artist presentations to student audiences. Though I taught high school in my own career, I have conducted many projects with elementary school children. I tell them about the early discovery of my passion, and let them know to be on the lookout! You never know when a life passion is going to show up! I am so grateful that I found my passion so early in life! When I lay my head down at night, I have visions of woven metal dancing in my head! And they all get created one wire and one thread at a time…
About the author
Life long fiber artist and retired visual arts educator - color and fiber spin my world! Your donation helps me continue to use my art as an advocacy tool through my exhibitions. More about me and my work at https://christinekmiller.com.