Saturday, September 4, 2010

Weaver Profile: Jane Stafford

We are on the eve of our 2010 workshop series. For the weaver's among us that means we get to welcome back Jane Stafford from Jane Stafford Textiles on Salt Spring Island. Jane is one of the most sought after instructors in weaving today. It is one of the high points of the workshop series when she arrives and we unload a number of looms from her van into the Maiwa Loft. It is wonderful to have textiles being created next to all the items from the Maiwa Textile Collection.

Jane Stafford's weaving studio on Salt Spring Island.
In preparation for her workshop (a few spaces are still open) and to share her perspective with a wider audience we've interviewed Jane about her start in weaving and how it has formed the centre of her life.

M. - What is your weaving history? How did you get started?

J.S. - I grew up being taught the "gentle arts," learning to sew, embroider, mend, repair, make useful again and reuse all things 'textile'. I saw my first loom when I was 19 and became fascinated with the idea that I could make my own cloth. It only took me a few weeks to find a way into that world - once I had a shuttle in my hand I knew that weaving would be my life. I know that sounds corny but it is true.

At 19 when everyone was asking what my future plans were, I started saying "Well, I'm going to be a weaver". I wanted a loom so I got a chattel mortgage on my little car and bought my Leclerc Fanny. We still use that loom today to weave all the mohair blankets. I went to university, took a few basic design courses and started to weave some of the worst cloth you have ever seen in your life! However, I have to say that every piece of bad cloth was an opportunity to learn how to make things better.

In 1981 I left Thunder Bay for Banff, Alberta to study weaving. The Banff School of Fine Arts had just changed their textile programme to a more artistic vein, one which I had not even been aware of. Art textiles were just coming into their own and I was offered a one year residency with full scholarship.

It was pretty daunting being a kid from Thunder Bay with little awareness of what was happening in the bigger world. I think I had a little angel on my shoulder because I spent the next seven years at that school. I was weaving large sculptural pieces and installations; doing collaborative work with dancers and theatre folk.

During this whole period I was torn between the artistic, large-scale work I was doing, and my desire to weave functional cloth. Mildred Constantine was a frequent lecturer at the centre during that time (she was the curator of decorative arts at MOMA) and as we spoke of my confusion she emphatically said "Well, you know Jane, their was a time when cloth was worth it's weight in gold".

For me, this statement was a validation that simple cloth could have great value in our lives. For most people, cloth in this day and age means almost nothing. We ask little more of it than to be able to throw it in the washer and the dryer. We get new clothes every season and we fill thrift shops with our clothes from last season - or worse, we just throw them all away. I knew that cloth needed to have a much more special purpose in my life.

Around that time, Jack Larsen came to the centre and taught a workshop called "The Consummate Cloth" and I got to be his studio assistant. This was a pivotal event for me on many levels, but the most interesting thing for me was to be in a position where I just had to listen and to assist.

When you are in the 'student position' you have to perform, you have all the psychological issues around performing for your teacher and other students in your class and I never learn well in those situations. However, when you are simply assisting, you get to watch how the teacher imparts their knowledge and you can be a sponge. I didn't touch a shuttle during the entire 3 weeks but I learned more about aspiring to create a perfect piece of cloth than I had in all previous years of study. "The consummate cloth" - has a perfect sett, is designed to function and endure, has exquisite drape and hand, is simple and beautiful to the eye. To me, a bolt of plain white cloth, exquisitely woven is like the perfect loaf of bread. It is life!

M. How has weaving become the vital part of your life?

J.S. - I moved to Salt Spring Island in 1988. I started a family and I started teaching what I knew. My little business JST is the result of the last 22 years. Those years have been very organic. I have walked down roads that have failed, I have taken little paths that have opened to whole new fields. I have woven thousands of yards of fabric, taught hundreds of weavers, raised 3 beautiful boys and grown lots of vegetables. Weaving, family and farm, are my life.

M. What is your "take" on weaving? Why do you think people start?

J.S. - I think that all North Americans start weaving because of a general interest in textiles. Some are drawn to the technical end of it, and some to the design end of it. Some use it as a type of therapy. I'm fine with whatever reason they have - because we all need things in our lives for different reasons.

M. In which directions do you encourage your students ?

J.S. - The one thing I encourage all my students to do, is to, 'do it as well as you can'. I know for a fact that everyone can learn the skills necessary to create good cloth. Design and theory can be taught. Good technique can be taught. And with good technique and good design you are able to realize your dreams. These things are concrete.

I encourage my students to start with a small box. To learn about what is in that box, for example; Plain Weave. Plain Weave has got to be one of the most diverse and exciting weave structures that I can think of. The ability to transform itself into different, unique, amazing fabrics is infinite. We can create simple canvases on which to paint with a billion colours; in stripes, wide and narrow, then crossed with themselves, or other colours to create checks and plaids. We can use our reeds to change the density of the cloth; to create warp faced or weft faced fabrics. We can use our reeds to create crammed, dented and corded fabrics. We can weave multiple layers of plain weave simultaneously to create double cloth and triple cloth. We can throw different yarns into the mix, some that shrink and some that don't - to create 3 dimensional cloth. It is endless.

Once you have explored your plain weave box, then try exploring your twill box. When you stay in one box for awhile, you begin to know it. Once you know it, it is yours.

Weaving is a metaphor for life. The warp threads are what we have been given through our ancestry, they lengthen through our experience and as we weave our weft through them. Sometimes the structures we weave are complex and difficult and sometimes they are simple and elegant - just like life.

M. What is it about Bengal weaving that intrigues you?

J.S. - I am so drawn to the Bengal weaves because they are simple and elegant, multi layered, architectural and every time I look at them I am reminded of how much I have to learn. : ) They are 'consummate cloth'.

M. How is it you have a loom named after you?
J.S. - I have worked for Louet North America for many many years. I have done training for them, designed fabrics with their yarns, and co-created the DVD on all their looms. Every 2 years I used to go to the Convergence Conference with them to demonstrate their looms and at one of these conferences Jan Louet and I were talking about table looms. I told him all the things I liked about their looms and all the things I didn't like about their table loom. Jan asked me for a wish list, which I gladly provided.

A year later, I received a box in the mail with the first prototype for a new table loom. Everything that had been on my wish list was on the new loom. Jan made several more prototypes and in the end we have … The Jane.

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After the interview we chatted a bit about production weaving and teaching. Jane told us that she found there was such a demand for the patterns and designs of her weaving that she changed her emphasis to teaching. Being liberated from the repetition of production work has enabled her to put more energy into the creative aspects of weaving. "And I love sharing the skills and techniques in a teaching environment."

Spaces are still available for Weaving in the Maiwa Tradition with Jane Stafford. The workshop explores the woven techniques of Bengal, India.

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