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Stories and patterns: The art of weaving

Stories and patterns: The art of weaving

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This year’s Flag Wool and Fiber Festival, an annual celebration of fiber arts, wool dying and more, appeared online at the end of May instead of the usual in-person gathering due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The nonprofit hopes to return to its normal festival format next year in the beginning of June, and participating artists are honing their craft in the meantime. Philip Singer, one of the festival’s artists, focuses on the fiber arts, specifically weaving tapestries. Singer began studying printmaking at the university level before he found himself at the loom.

“Each has its own tools and equipment,” Singer says of the two art forms. “Attention to detail, precision and accuracy is key for printmaking. Then add patience and I am ready to weave. This is the foundation I use when weaving. Are my edges straight? Are my designs looking like what I envisioned? As meticulous as I am about my work, I found that these principles apply just as well and helped me produce better quality tapestries.”

Singer brings attention to the way the solid lines interact with narratives, weaving stories into his art. He is inspired by everything around him.

“The mountains, mesas, sand dunes, ocean, vegetation, clouds in the sky and the ever-changing light that visually transforms all things I see,” he lists off. “There are also manmade structures like architecture, bridges, airplanes or automobiles. In some instances, a current event or stories associated with Navajo weaving has helped me produce a tapestry conveying the story.”

A portfolio of his work covers the symbolic representation of the Diné dragonfly, a tribute to Bears Ears and Escalante and an abstract landscape. In Diné culture, weaving was primarily taken on by women in the tradition of Spider Woman, a helper and protector of humans. Like a spider that weaves webs, Spider Woman is said to have taught and introduced looms and weaving to the Diné.  

“I use the tools and the equipment that is still part of our culture. I just weave what I want to weave. Diné weaving goes back generations and has a storied history that makes it unique for our indigenous group. That is tradition,” Singer says. “I make every attempt to be true with the construction method and listen to my teacher as far as what should not be woven.”  

Singer acknowledges that he is an artist first and foremost.

“I am not restricted when it comes to exploring different possibilities. Doing art is limitless. When I was a student, my instructors always said to think outside the box and be unique and always stay one step ahead of your competitor,” he says.

 Singer remarks on early weavings found in museums. The simple lines and solid patterns present a jumping off point for many weavers today. He’s excited that people like himself are creating and expanding upon the art form. However, it took years for Singer to realize his passion for weaving.

“First it was learning the process, then understanding what it meant to weave in my culture,” he says. “There are days when I am not passionate about my weaving. When that happens I step back and refocus before resuming the process. Being passionate means I need to focus with my creativity and have positive thoughts. It is meditative and relaxing. If I don't have that then it is not good to be sitting at the loom.” 

For those taking on the task, Singer suggests constant practice.

“As a teacher, I often find that novices assume weaving is easy and want to weave an intricate pattern not knowing how to do it,” Singer says. “Somewhere they realized it isn't something they want to do and they give up. To avoid that I suggest weaving simple horizontal strips and pay attention to how everything is evolving. This helps them acquire the knowledge of manipulating and layering yarns. With each new project it is wise to attempt to create something new using the skills they learned. Learning anything new requires time and practice.”

Thinking positively can lead to beautiful creations. Weaving tapestries spans generations across the world, finding importance in most, if not all, cultures. Through weaving and careful attention to detail, we might better understand patience.

Margarita Cruz holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Northern Arizona University. She serves on the Northern Arizona Book Festival board and as editor-in-chief for Thin Air Magazine. Her work has been featured in The Tunnels and Susquehanna Review, among others.

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