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July 2, 2015

First days back at Westtown– Emily Winter, Textiles MFA 15

by emilywinter

I arrived in Chicago late last week, and started working at Envision on Monday. Envision is a social services agency here in Chicago which serves adults with developmental disabilities in a number of day programs and community homes. I worked in their art studio at the Westtown Center for two years prior to grad school, mostly working on textile and fiber based projects with clients.

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Having been gone for two years, it’s pretty incredible to come back and see the progress some of these clients have made. Lillian Davis, pictured above, is a great weaver and a lovely lady as well. When I was last here, I often worked with her at the loom, practicing the basic steps of raising different harnesses, getting a sense for the weft thread’s tension, and so on. It was always a one-on-one collaborative weaving event, often with both of our hands on the shuttle or me moving her feet across the treadles. I came into the studio today to see her sitting at the loom, winding a shuttle, and weaving by herself at her own pace.

This summer, I’ll be working in a different part of the Westtown Center: the weaving workshop. Several years ago, a local weaving business partnered with Envision to bring more production work into the day program. In recent years, that business has ceased operation and the mill has been sitting quiet. My project this summer, simply put, is to get it going again. Learning how to run the industrial weaving equipment, designing new fabrics, finding potential partners, and developing sewing workshops for Envision’s clients are all a part of this.

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Clayborn, Timothy, and Santiago

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Mario, Timothy, and Santiago

The workshop has become a de facto storage space recently, so my first task is to clear it out and make it more conducive to production. Lamont, Clayborn, Matthew, Santiago, Mario, and Timothy helped me move many boxes of files to a different part of the building and had some great ideas about reorganizing some of the fabric stock we have in the building.

So much of the success of the art program is the way in which the studio director, Monika Kimrey, has this uncanny ability to make spaces inviting. To create a space which asks something of an individual is so much more powerful sometimes than asking them to do it outright. I can ask a hundred times for someone to work with me on a sewing machine, or to sit with a canvas, but they are so much more likely to do so if the space asks them to as well.

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The lovely warper

I was thinking about this while vacuuming the pin warper. This piece of weaving equipment is from 1919, it’s an incredible hulking cast iron wheel, onto which you wind the many hundreds of warp ends. You pull dozens of threads off the creel onto the pin warper to wind the warp with (hopefully) even tension. I was vacuuming this oily dust off the legs of the warper, and thinking about what a beautiful piece of machinery it is, and how it really is just an enlargement of the weaving tools I use in my studio, and how this dust has been collecting on it, and how excited I am to start winding warp threads onto it. And I was thinking about all this in the moment of vacuuming, because I was reminded of how the space of this workshop is so important. Before we start producing fabrics which contribute something new to the many heaps of existing fabrics, this space has to get dusted off, the machines need to be attended to, and it needs an infusion of attention and care.

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The looms, behind the warper

Tomorrow I have my first loom training session, and will continue working on the sewing program curriculum. I cannot wait to see this space in operation again.

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