SINCE 1973, I've had a continuing love affair with the art of weaving. It has offered times of accomplishment and failure, constant inspiration and challenge. Scandinavian weaving, in particular, appealed to me so strongly that I went to Sweden in '73 and studied intensively for 3 1/2 years.
Meeting Swedish designers and artists Margareta Grandin Nettles and Hans Krondal on Nantucket Island in 1971 first attracted me to weaving. Nettles directed a weaving school, and Krondal conducted classes on textile design. After completing a summer of design and weaving classes, I began a series of apprenticeships--in rug weaving with Nettles and later in fabric for Nantucket Looms, a gift store specializing in handweaving on the premises. While there, I saw the Flemish unicorn tapestries at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, becoming so inspired that on my return I was able, in exchange for organizing their yarn room, to use their materials to weave two small tapestries.
My initial 1 1/2 years of weaving on Nantucket gave me a sense of accomplishment, confidence and the commitment to obtain the most comprehensive education possible in Scandinavian weaving techniques. Thus, with Nettles' assistance, I enrolled in a six-month intensive weaving course at Saterglentan in Dalarna, Sweden.
Having barely recovered from jet lag, I started classes in full force. My brief experience hardly prepared me for the Swedes' highly sophisticated approach to weaving. The purpose of the course was to take all guesswork out of weaving. Pre-weaving of a maquette, or sample, is often necessary to achieve the best quality work. I took away from the course a thorough knowledge of materials and techniques, establishing a firm foundation in weaving expertise.
The language of weaving becomes richer with increased ability; the more I understood designing and the use of colors the fuller my expression in weaving became. Just as important as my intellectual development was the spontaneous enjoyment I discovered in the rhythmical and sensual elements in weaving. The pleasure of the process adds an extra vitality to a piece.
This realization came when I was trying to weave fabric with painstaking care. Frustrated by tediousness and effort, I remembered the scene from Zorba the Greek, when Zorba taught the American how to dance. I began to move, forgot myself and each individual step and soon found it effortless to move my feet and arms simultaneously, row after row. Since then I have tried to discover a comfortable rhythm for each piece, for weaving's enjoyment satisfies a special need to be primitive and unintellectual.
The interest in textiles is so extensive in Sweden that after completing the course (in spite of "pidgin" Swedish and English communication), I decided to continue my studies there. I was accepted at Capellargarden, a respected school of handcrafts on the island of Oland, in southern Sweden, founded by Carl Mamlsen (one of Sweden's most respected furniture designers). Together with his wife, Siv, he had transformed a wonderful old farm into a school. There, I found in addition to extensive knowledge in handcrafts a deep respect for the colors and form in nature, which served as a source of inspiration in product-designing. Nature also served as a resource for natural dyes, which our class used in preparing all woolen materials. Before any weaving, we spent two weeks collecting an assortment of plants and dying our yarns in copper pots over open fires; dye sources included lichens, flowers, heather and leaves, to mention a few.
Capellegarden offers the opportunity for a student, with weaving background, to experiment and pursue preferred projects. Thus, I was allowed to focus on tapestry techniques used in producing floor rugs and wall-hangings, applying those techniques to achieve both durability and emphasis on designs.
By the end of the course I had gained enough information to be able to weave on my own. Over the past 5 1/2 years, I have established a successful weaving business called Sunami Studios, in a farmhouse outside of Potomac. The studio accommodates a tapestry loom with an 80-inch-width capability, a 9 1/2-foot heavy-duty Scandinavian rug-and-tapestry loom and two smaller looms. We specialize in large-scale wall hangings and fine textiles in the Scandinavian tradition and design.
By no means do I think I have reached the limits of my capabilities. Weaving is a lifelong development. As I continue to live a full life, so my work will be enriched.