Handweaving as Performance Art

I’ve been reading and hearing a lot lately about “yarn-bombing.” In this fusion of textile, street, and performance art, public objects such as trees, statues, fire hydrants, lampposts, buses, and bridges are adorned and sometimes covered with knitted or crocheted fabric. (A particularly infamous crochet yarn bomber in Los Angeles operates under the alias “Captain Hook.”) Which raises two questions. First, whence comes this urge to cover surfaces with textiles, and, second, where is the handweaving form of public performance art?


Victorian knitted pincushion from Weldon's Practical Knitter
Victorian yarn whimsey abounds in
Weldon’s Practical Knitter

Today’s yarn bombers are not the first people to go wild with fiber. Doilies have draped furnishings and been the pride of lace-makers since the 17th century. The pages of Weldon’s Practical Knitter abound with Victorian yarn novelties such as night-dress cases, toilet table and tennis-ball covers (not to mention boas for babies and reins for children). Knitted, hooked and felted tea cozies have become an art form, and you can still find crocheted toilet paper covers at holiday craft bazaars. We are driven to create with our hands and to challenge our minds creating structure and design. But, for many women especially, the time spent creating would have been seen as indulgent if the results were not put to some practical purpose.

The medium is different, but the same urge drives weavers to take weft to warp and cover our walls with hangings, our dressers with scarves, and our tables with runners. However, I think this “bombing” thing comes from a different place, an urge to take these crafts from the home and workshop to the streets, to claim their place as art. No longer will textile skills be taken for granted. We are moving our image from quaint to bold, perhaps even visionary.


Which brings me to the question, where do we, as weavers, take our stand? Spinners have their “art yarn,” which is definitely as much about process as product. Woven textiles are not unknown in the world of performance art. Yoko Ono and other notables performed acts of textile art at the Textile Museum in Washington, D.C., last summer. Former Alvin Ailey dancer Nick Cave dances in Soundsuits, bodysuits made of unusual fibers such as human hair and adorned with found objects that produce a rhythmic cacophony to accompany the dance. And few can have missed the monumental works of Cristo and Jeanne-Claude, the artists famous for draping skyscrapers, Roman walls, rivers, valleys, and islands with miles of fabric. But none of these are handwoven.


I say it’s time for handweavers to stand up and be recognized for the artists and iconoclasts that we are. I don’t know what form our activism should take. A flash mob with workshop looms beating out a weavers’ anthem in perfectly timed percussion? A ring of backstrap weavers tied up to the Washington Monument? Anyone who’s ever seen the Wade in the Water section of Alvin Ailey’s Revelations could imagine a troupe of yarn dancers performing public interlacement, plain or twill. (The daring could attempt 3/1 twill, though it might take the leaping prowess of Baryshnikov to accomplish the floats.)


So here’s my challenge to you. Do you know of someone who performs public acts of handweaving art? Do you have an idea for a handweaving performance and some adventurous friends to stage it?  (And at least one friend with a camera to record for posterity?) If so,  post your idea, a picture, a link, or a video here on Weaving Today to inspire us all. Rise up, weavers! You have nothing to lose but your (warp) chains!


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