She probably never imagined it hung on a wall in a museum

We know what it means to pour your heart and soul into a functional piece

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Unknown Navajo Artist, Blanket, Chief’s Style–Third Phase, 1860s. Wool and dye. Denver Art Museum; Native Arts acquisition funds.

The textile community in Colorado has been buzzing for the last several months about the opening of SPUN: Adventures in Textiles exhibit at the Denver Art Museum this May (it’ll be open through the summer until the end of September). Over 150 local fiberists participated in helping the museum collect materials for the educational portions of the exhibit. And those of you who know me won’t be surprised to learn that I was moved to tears at the media preview. The tears came while viewing these beautiful textiles receiving the honor and recognition they deserve, but rarely get.

We as spinners know what it means to pour your heart and soul into a functional piece and why the makers labored beyond the function of the textile to make it beautiful. We see the textiles and know that the labor of love started with gathering the materials…fleece from sheep carefully nurtured, color from plants sought after and cultivated, tools from saplings grown to hardwoods. We know how the spinner breathed in the heady aroma of the freshly shorn fleece and imagined the yarn it would become between her hands. We know the peace the weaver experienced as the geometric designs took shape under her deft fingers. We know how she savored the memory of her own childhood while her child sat on her lap and learned how to place the shuttle through the shed. We know how each time she unrolled the blanket—her hand smoothing out the folds as she prepared the bed to keep her family warm during cold nights—she thought of those months (maybe years) making this textile that would serve her children and their children for generations to come. She probably never imagined it hung on a wall in a museum so that people like us could come in to see it—our breath taken away by its beauty.


Margaret Stove holding the Bush Bouquet Shawl

 

Margaret Stove holding the Bush Bouquet Shawl, 1982.

The Denver Art Museum received a significant grant from the Avenir Foundation allowing them to highlight their extensive textile collection in a way that hasn’t been possible before—for this exhibit and in perpetuity. The textile wing has been renovated, and there are nine exhibits throughout the museum that look at the intersection of art and textiles in a way that highlights the artistry in textiles from antiquity to the present.


I was already in the frame of mind to see the importance of history in the context of spinning because as all this was coming together, we were working on the Summer issue of Spin-Off. For this issue, we contacted the spinning community and asked them to contribute articles and projects that look at history and spinning. So, if you don’t have the opportunity to see SPUN at the Denver Art Museum, you can take a journey down a similar path when you read the articles in the Summer issue of Spin-Off. We look at a cotton spinning and weaving tradition in the American Southwest, examine textile tools from the Industrial Revolution, challenge ourselves to spin warp on handspindles for a warp-weighted loom, determine how much twist is needed to spin thread for sprang, listen to Margaret Stove's enchanting story about making a handspun shawl for baby Prince William, take a close look at a parlor wheel and antique spindle whorls, among other things. Along the way, we contemplate the role of spinning in our lives—past, present, and future.

 

Happy Spinning! 

P.S. Note that the Navajo chief's style blanket pictured above was created to be worn around the shoulders and was not used for bedding. The red and blue yarns used in these textiles were raveled from trade blankets brought over from Europe and plied to match the weight of the natural colored of wool spun by the Navajo from their sheep. The exhibit Red, White, and Bold included a quote painted on the wall by D.Y. Begay, a contemporary Navajo spinner and weaver, who will be teaching at Spin-Off Autumn Retreat in October.

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