Barbie and Beyond
Laurie Williams is a textile artist who has lived in Kenmore for more than 35 years. The Kenmore Heritage Society had the opportunity to meet with her and hear about some of her work and her inspirations. In addition to a BS in Fisheries, a career in the fishing industry in Alaska, raising a family, and managing a bookstore, weaving and other textile arts have been a theme throughout her life. Laurie’s mother made clothes for her when she was a child, and began teaching Laurie when she was 8 years old. Laurie’s first sewing project was a sleeping bag for her Barbie doll, to go along with matching outfits her mother made for Barbie and Laurie. Besides sewing for most of her life, including clothes for her own children, as an adult Laurie readily took to weaving after taking a local class with a friend. Over the years she’s acquired five looms, of different types. The first loom she got was built by Seattle loom maker Charles Murphy in the 1950’s.
Top: Diorama of the Roman village of Lucretia, in the Paris Archaeological Crypt of Notre Dame Cathedral
Bottom: Woven dish towel by Laurie Williams
Laurie has always seen patterns in her surroundings: art, nature, cityscapes, stories, or just walking through the neighborhood. Colors inspire her to think how she could weave them into a piece that both blends and separates the hues to provide physical texture, but also to give the eye a sense of depth and movement. On a visit to Notre Dame Cathedral she was inspired by a diorama of a Roman village. Back home, the pattern of the town emerged in a woven representation, with every house varying slightly from the others, but also an integrated component of the whole array. Historical patterns became modern design.
Shapes cut from worn-out kimonos are used to create a wall hanging where the colors, material, and energy of fabrics from a by-gone era are presented in a new setting, in a new time, for a new audience.
One of Laurie’s primary motivations for her work is to connect people, places, and ideas across media and generations. Historically, weaving has a central position in many narratives. Laurie reminded us that in the Odyssey, Penelope wove a “story cloth” shroud for when her father-in-law would pass on from this life. And while weaving may seem to some to be old-fashioned, it is actually a skill that is very current, and applied in ways we might not even guess. For example, Laurie noted how woven synthetic polymer yarn has been used to replace diseased arteries. Moreover, she described how almost any material can be used for weaving and applied to a modern purpose: plastic, grasses, paper, bread dough, and (would you believe it?) spider webs. Another instance where Laurie brought old ideas into the present is in a textile called “I, Create.” Here she used shapes cut from worn-out kimonos given to her by a friend to create a wall hanging where the colors, material, and energy of fabrics from a by-gone era are presented in a new setting, in a new time, for a new audience. Viewers may consider that those who wore the kimonos may not have known each other, and may not even still be alive, but here they are united in this piece for us to reflect on their possible histories, and also to share and enjoy together now.
Connection to the Past
Laurie has been an active member of the Seattle Weavers’ Guild for 26 years. Besides helping them to modernize their newsletter and get it published online, Laurie is currently running mini-workshops for members of the Guild who share their variety of skills and specialties with each other.
Laurie describes weaving as a creative process that is meticulous, as well as very tactile. You are touching and adjusting the yarn all the time. It takes planning, preparation, and patience. What Laurie would like people to understand about weaving is that it is as modern and relevant today as it was in the past: “There are still many home weavers around the world, and people of all ages are weavers. Weaving is my connection to the past. I love watching the fabric grow under my hands and I feel proud and happy when someone uses what I made for them. Be it a dish towel or a vest.”
Two of Laurie’s Creations
Laurie says that a beginner may spend a lot of time emulating others’ work until they feel confident to create their own original designs (and there are many resources for beginners). And besides being creative, working the loom can be meditative. Moreover, she likens working on a project to writing poetry. As she describes it, for poetry you have syllables, rhyme schemes, and all the mechanisms you use to put your words in the right places. For her, weaving is very similar ¾ for each piece she starts with a set of parameters, like what her loom is able do with the yarn, what materials she has available, and how she envisions the design; and she brings them all together. Laurie also says that sometimes you end up with something different than what you originally imagined, but those “unplanned design elements” can be very rewarding, too!
Some Weavers’ Words
Sheep to shawl – a contest where multiple teams shear a sheep, spin the fleece into yarn, ply the yarn, and then weave it into a shawl
Stash busting — completing a project with the deliberate intention of reducing your stock of materials
SABLE – when you have a lot of “Stuff Accumulated Beyond Life Expectancy”
Major loom components — Front and back beam, harnesses or shafts, heddles, reed, take-up reel
Yarn processing steps — grow it (animal or plant), collect it, process it, spin it, measure it, dress the loom, weave it, cut it off, finish it