His fingers guide the threads with perfect patience, mixing color and pattern to form a story, a feeling, an idea. He loses himself in the rhythm, letting any frustrations or worries fade away with each pass of the yarn. Here, at the loom, David Pipinich, junior double major in art education and fibers at Colorado State University, is completely at home.
By Pipinich’s ease and confidence at the loom, you would guess he has been weaving his entire life. Up until three years ago, his experience with fiber art was limited to repairing his couch cushions. However, that all changed his freshman year of college when he took his first fibers class, one of the art program’s core studio introduction classes.
“I just remember starting the weaving process, going back and forth, and just flying through it, and it was just so easy and natural,” Pipinich says. “By the end of the day, I was almost the furthest one in the class. I was just like, this is my home; it feels so right.”
Through dedication, practice and a lot of mistakes, Pipinich quickly learned and began to master the weaving process – a process that begins well before the threads even touch the loom, a process that all starts with a spool of yarn.
Using a warping board, a wooden frame with short wooden poles lining three edges, the thread is pulled off of the spool and wrapped around the poles. This sets up the warp, or the threads that will eventually be attached to and strung through the loom to form the basis of the cloth. It is at this point that Pipinich decides how much thread is needed to achieve a desired size of the piece at a certain thread count, or how many threads are in one inch of fabric.
Straight and organized off the warping board, the yarn can now be threaded through the loom, a process that takes an immense amount of patience, especially for Pipinich, as this is his least favorite part of the weaving process, he says.
First, Pipinich must tie the thread to the back of the loom. Once tied, he cranks the excess thread to be used later around the warp roller, separating the thread layers with cardboard so they do not roll against each other.
The loose ends of the string are then fed through the heddles, long thin metal pieces with a hole in the center.
“This is at the point that you can start to dictate the pattern that you want to use because how you bring [the threads] through the heddles is what helps shape the pattern,” Pipinich says.
Dozens of these heddles are attached at the top and bottom of a wooden frame, known as a harness. Depending on the size and type, looms can have more than one harness, forming rows and rows of heddles. The row Pipinich selects a heddle from helps dictate the pattern. For example, using a straight draw threading technique, Pipinich threads the first thread through a heddle in the first row, the second thread through a heddle in the second row and so on until he has threaded the fourth thread through a heddle in the fourth row. The fifth thread he will string through a heddle in the first row, repeating the pattern down the line of heddles until he runs out of thread.
“This is the part that takes the longest because if you make a mistake here, it ruins everything at this point,” Pipinich says. “You just have to be patient and kind of work your way through it.”
Finally, after all the heddles have been threaded, Pipinich has to repeat the same process, but this time, threading the yarn through the tiny comb-like openings of the reed. Once all the threads have been pulled through the reed, Pipinich ties the loose ends to the front of the loom, much like he did at the back, creating an even tension between the back and the front.
“Tension is probably the most important thing because if you start to lose tension in any area, your pattern will pull as you are weaving, and it will mess you up entirely,” Pipinich says.
However, even after pulling the threads through the reed and tying the warp taut, the thread remains unevenly spaced. To close the gaps between the strings, Pipinich weaves spare pieces of old cloth, known as sheeting, into the warp.
Finally, with the threads even and the warp taut, the “fun part,” as Pipinich says, can begin. Foot petals at the bottom of the loom, called treadles, control which harnesses the loom lifts up, and thus which threads lift up. The space created between the lifted and non-lifted threads forms what is called the shed. Using a different bobbin of thread, or the weft, Pipinich places the yarn inside the shed and releases the harnesses using the treadles. Then, using the reed, part of a mobile mechanism on the loom known as the beater, Pipinich pushes the thread down against the sheeting to form a straight line. Using the treadles to create the shed again, Pipinich passes the yarn through once more, going in the opposite direction as the previous row, closes the shed and uses the reed to press the yarn tightly on top of the row before it. By controlling which harnesses he raises, Pipinich can control the pattern. He is now officially weaving – his favorite part of the process, he says.
“After the warp threads have already been brought in and tied, just when you first start to bring in the weft back and forth in [is my favorite part] because you just get to see what the pattern is starting to look like, and it’s really rewarding after having to thread the entire loom,” Pipinich says.
As he weaves, Pipinich takes his time, making sure the tension is tight, the weft is straight and the edges are clean. It has to be perfect.
“You kind of have to be [a perfectionist] when you are weaving because if things aren’t lined up exactly how you want it, it’s not going to turn out the way you had in mind or it won’t look even throughout it,” Pipinich says.
With this perfection comes an extreme amount of patience – a patience that Pipinich, who dedicates about 30 hours a week to his fiber art, has learned to develop over the years.
“You just have to be patient with the threads; if you try to rush at any point, you can really screw up your whole project,” Pipinich says.
Pipinich has full creative control now. Every choice and move he makes with the weft, the treadles and the reed determine the look and feel of the piece.
“I like how much control you have because it can be drastically different. Everyone can be working on the same thing; you could do a piece that is four inches wide, that uses this color at this set and everyone’s could look different because of how you control the thread,” Pipinich says.
To take a finished piece off the loom, Pipinich has to weave in another row of sheeting. He then cuts the threads connecting the cloth to the back of the loom and unties the threads connecting the cloth to the front of the loom. After pulling the sheeting out on both ends of the piece, he can choose how he wants to tie the ends of the loose string. Finally, the piece is finished, and Pipinich can use the piece for whatever suits his needs.
Pipinich’s favorite pattern to weave? Houndstooth, an interlocking pattern of shapes usually done in black and white.
“It’s the pattern that I feel most at home with,” Pipinich says. “I think it’s a really elegant look and you can do so much with it … it’s one of the pieces I feel almost has illusion and movement to it, which is interesting.”
It is this same desire that inspires most of Pipinich’s work, a desire that drives his curiosity and fearlessness for experimentation.
“What do I think of [David’s] work?” asks Thomas Lundberg, CSU fibers area coordinator. “I think he is always putting himself into it; he is always testing. He doesn’t play it safe.”
Some of Pipinich’s experimentation comes in the form of weaving with unusual materials, such as wire and cassette tape. Other times, Pipinich tests different ways to use the fabric he creates after he has taken it off the loom.
“I like being able to take the piece and then shape it afterwards,” Pipinich says. “Then it’s not just a piece of fabric; it becomes art in a different way. I am not as interested in, ‘oh I wove this and now I’ll put it up on the wall.’ I want it to do something. I want it to move.”
Although Pipinich favors the loom, he has also tried experimenting with other fiber processes, including wet processes like hand dying, and other dry processes like crocheting, knitting and sewing.
“I have noticed that even though he is very excited and at home at the loom and really identifies as a weaver, that doesn’t limit him,” says Lundberg, who has worked with Pipinich for two years. “I have seen him stay curious about possibilities outside of his own area of comfort.”
Pipinich’s willingness to try new techniques and experiment with new materials can be seen in his group capstone project. Pipinich and two other seniors, Victoria Arias, a double major in art and theater, and Amber Witzke, an art major, are in the process of developing a fibers display revolving around the theme of recycling to be showcased in the Visual Arts Building mini gallery the week of Nov. 18.
Although all three students have fiber concentrations, each has their own particular style and fiber preference, challenging their abilities to create a comprehensive show.
“Since all three of us are graduating at the same time and we work well together, we all just decided that it would be easier if we showed together and more interesting if we could get all of our work together and figure out a common denominator between them,” Witzke says.
The students are looking forward to thinking outside of the box to find that commonality.
“Fibers lends itself to doing a lot of things,” Arias says. “Fibers isn’t just about thread; it can be a lot of things.”
Art & Life
With patience, practice and curiosity, Pipinich has become a true artisan of thread. But, where does he plan to take his passion? Education.
“I would like to teach elementary school kids art, like in a kindergarten/first-grade classroom, maybe do the textile work on the side, but use some of what I have learned here in teaching younger kids,” Pipinich says.
Pipinich, who has always had an attraction to the arts since he was young, also plans to incorporate the skills he has learned in other art classes and mediums to his teaching.
“In each class, certain people excel more – like in pottery, some people just have better hand reflexes and they understand clay better, while some people in fibers understand thread better, and to be able to understand that people learn differently, it’s definitely great to have that as a background going into teaching and further on in your life,” Pipinich says.
To Pipinich and Lundberg, having an education and background in art means understanding the human connection.
“[Weaving] was like a life skill not too long ago, to be able to weave your own clothes or take care of yourself, sew, to prepare things, and most people today can’t. It’s an art and a life skill that I don’t think should be lost,” Pipinich says.
Lundberg agrees, saying, “I think that especially considering our textile lives now, we don’t need handmade things, but there is another kind of need. Like all the crafts, there is this connection to human history and human survival that is elemental to who we are as people … There is something elemental about [fibers] that relates to comfort, the seasons, warmth, and we are at a time in our history where people could benefit from those qualities.”
As Lundberg has noticed, Pipinich has the skills to translate these qualities into his art, embracing the oldest concept of humanity itself: storytelling.
“Great textile art conveys meaning and expression,” Lundberg said. “I know that David understands that. David is very excited about methods and processes but he understands that those are tools to say something or convey expressive feelings and ideas.”
College Avenue Managing Editor Ricki Watkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org