A Question of Belonging in the Weaving Community

Handwoven MagazineAsk Madelyn

[email protected]



Dear Madelyn,

This isn't really a question about weaving; it is a question about weavers. I often feel intimidated by the weaving community because many do beautiful work and call themselves artists, and I don't identify myself that way. For me, I weave ordinary, functional pieces and I aspire to produce "fine craft" as a weaver. I guess what I'm asking is do you know if others (in any majority) feel this split or am I just needlessly isolating myself from the weaving community?

Thank you for your thoughts,

Hi Monica!

Yours is a question that I have wrestled with many times over the years. Definitions of “art” and “craft” vary considerably. I’m sure that university art classes discuss these issues and perhaps have resolved them in ways the academic world accepts. Not knowing what these definitions are, I have come over time to look at them in a way that rings true for me. First, I don’t think “art” necessarily means good, better, or best. There can be “good art” and there can be "bad art." I’ve come to think of art as  an image or object created to communicate something or to generate a response.

With this definition, tapestry definitely qualifies as art, and scarves, shawls, table linens, rugs, and towels don’t (at least for the most part). And since I don’t try to communicate anything with what I’m weaving, I don’t think of myself as an artist and am uncomfortable when I’m introduced that way.

I remember an argument during a recent dinner with friends about this very subject. One of them said that a definition of art (given by an expert of some kind) is anything created for viewing and not for use, anything you’d hang on a wall, for example. I do, as I’ve mentioned before in this column, hang dish towels on walls and on fancy racks so that their purpose is for viewing only (which guests often don’t get). I still wouldn’t call them art.

However, whether you think of yourself as an artist or a fine crafter, weavers share something more unifying than any difference between those two roles might suggest. We all know the joy of watching a cloth grow and making that happen with our movements. It’s something you can’t appreciate until you’ve experienced it, and it unites us all.


Post a Comment