Brittany McLaughlin: The road to the Weaving Workshop
An artist, textile designer, and educator, Brittany McLaughlin is the creator of the online creative weaving studio, The Weaving Workshop,.
She has gained experience teaching weave design at her alma mater, Philadelphia University where she was a Visiting Assistant Professor. She maintains a design studio where she creates artisanal weavings using a variety of materials and colour palettes. Swatches are used to create textile patterns for woven production, used as further investigations for other artworks, or they are simply artworks unto themselves.
Schooled in Philadelphia, she holds a BS in Textile Design from Philadelphia University, and a MFA in Sculpture from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, PA, USA.
In this interview, Brittany tells us about her passion for weaving and where this fascination began. We learn about the roots and inspirations for her artwork and how she developed her ‘Ground. Path. Fruition.’ system of logic, which she teaches at The Weaving Workshop.
Creating a sense of well-being
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Brittany McLaughlin: Textiles are essential in our lives. The process of creating textiles intrigues me; from the transformation of raw materials into yarns and then into fabric. I love the tactile nature of cloth, the interactions of colour, and the understanding of how construction influences their use. Textiles are also embedded with meaning and history.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by weaving?
The process of hand weaving is simultaneously meditative and laborious. It is an art and a science. There are at once a million design possibilities and many decisive constraints. I love the systems, methodology, and order of weaving. I love how closely weaving makes you pay attention and see. I love the rhythm of it. And the colour interactions and textures of the various yarns and materials.
What or who were your early influences and how has your life influenced your work?
It seems like everyone in textiles sights influences from their mother or grandmother who created with their hands; who sewed, crocheted, knitted, quilted and crafted textiles into family treasures. My story includes these women in my family as well as influential artists and designers that have mentored and inspired me throughout my career.
During my undergraduate education, my mentor Sigrid Wortmann Weltge, a notable scholar in the Bauhaus and its weaving workshop, helped me develop my writing and presentation skills. I completed an independent study under her guidance titled, Women of the Arts & Crafts Movement. Much of art history neglected to document the women and their importance in artist movements. She taught me how to do thoughtful, meaningful research, and empowered me to believe in my work and say my words with confidence.
Artist and Educator Bhakti Ziek encouraged me to take my work beyond textile design and into the realm of fine art. She introduced me to Buddhist concepts and provided countless hours at both the handloom and industrial jacquard loom explaining complex weaving structures.
After college graduation, I was employed as a designer working with KnollTextiles under the creative direction of dynamic product designer Suzanne Tick. Her vision for how materials transform spaces, and the meanings and value of reused and recycled materials shaped how I approach my art and design practice to this day.
For a brief time, I worked as a sales associate for America’s Leading antique sampler and needlework dealer in Philadelphia, M. Finkel & Daughter. Morris and his daughter Amy, showed me the value of the story, the meaning of the stitches in schoolgirl needlework samplers, and the importance of preserving and sharing textile history.
And now, my children influence my work. It is now that I am a mother that I understand the importance of creative self-expression at all ages. I understand how art heals, engages the mind, and creates a sense of well-being.
The feminine experience
How would you describe your work and where do you think it fits within the sphere of contemporary art?
Text and textiles are rooted together. As a woman in the arts working in textiles, my work can be easily marginalized as an extension of domesticity. By classifying it in the realm of fine arts as sculpture, the narrative of the work is prioritized, and the material and method of making are a means to express it.
When I was in graduate school earning my MFA in Sculpture, my work became less about the method and technique of making and more about the message art can communicate. In my thesis exhibit, called Subtext, I created edited versions of a book written and published in 1966 by Henrietta Buckminster titled, Women Who Shaped History.
The intention was to find a text that could be mediated: to express the ideas of a diary using the words in a historical account of notable women in the United States. It is an approach to gain wisdom and knowledge.
The book tells the story of six 19th and 20th-century women who were instrumental in attaining women’s rights. Borrowing language from this previously published text neutralizes it for my contemporary interpretation. The women illustrated in the text contributed to the education of women, the suffragist movement, the civil rights movement, and their advancement in the medical professions in the United States.
In this sculptural commentary using the book as the symbol of the importance of education, the identities Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Elizabeth Blackwell, Prudence Crandall, Harriet Tubman, Mary Baker Eddy, and Dorothea Dix, are obscured and my own story is revealed.
This mediated text exposes layers of similarities of personality characteristics of women who have shaped history. They used their lives in a useful, purposeful way. The unifying characteristics: they lived in faith, had perseverance, tenacity, vision, and commitment to purpose. The impact of education is paramount in many of their pursuits and successes.
But each woman experienced her own pain, sorrow, struggle, insecurity, vulnerability, and marginalization. There is a scar, a flaw, an imperfection. There must be acceptance of this and the ability to sculpt around the scar. To plan it as it lies. Whatever the circumstance – use it for good purpose.
In my effort to distil the characteristics of these women, I selected lines from each page and masked them off with tape – strip by strip. The pages were then painted with chalkboard paint: reminiscent of the countless lessons learned in and out of the classroom. The transferring of knowledge and information empowers. The universality of the book form is a methodology and commentary about feminine experience, rather than my singular voice.
These statements transcend time and individuality as timeless text illustrating experiences and emotions of women. Although steeped in anonymity, autobiographical references are reconfigured in this poetry of text. All artwork means something beyond the material and speaks of its maker.
My art now involves writing, researching, and weaving meaning into cloth. I look for new ways to use materials and present forms in order to express artistic narratives.
Do you use a sketchbook?
In weaving, sketching takes on another form. Drawn lines represent yarns; graph paper makes patterns. My sketchbook is a tactile notebook where drawings, technical notes, yarn wrappings, photographs, and collages are combined to document and illustrate the how and why of a fabric’s construction and meaning.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
Weaving is a meditative practice and the process enlightens me.
Rooted in Buddhist teachings, ‘Ground. Path. Fruition.’ is a three-fold system of logic used to understand a subject clearly.
Ground is the situation as we find it. It represents the seed of enlightenment within us. In my creative weaving, Ground is my inspiration. It is explored through studies in collage, material gathering, and images of textures and colors.
Path evolves from the ground. It is the result of the effort that is applied to the conditions of our ground. My path is the process of making at the loom.
Fruition is the outcome. Fruition is the manifestation of my creative vision.
What currently inspires you?
The textures and patterns found in nature are an endless source of inspiration for me.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
Experiment and trust in process. Find a community to show and share your work. Follow your heart and be open to creativity. Let the work feed your soul.
The Weaving Workshop
You run a popular online weaving course. Could you tell us a bit about that course and how you’ve used the methods you teach in your own work
The Weaving Workshop offers online creative weaving studies to motivate, inspire, and provide practical tips for time spent at the loom. The e-course ‘Ground. Path. Fruition.’ provides lessons to inspire swatch development, practical information and review of basic woven structures, along with readings and discussions for the group to share thoughts and connections in The Weaving Workshop Facebook group.
Through this learning journey, weavers work on developing their personalized weaving practice while engaging with a like-minded community.
The name of The Weaving Workshop is inspired by the book written by Sigrid Wortmann Weltge, Bauhaus Textiles: Women artists and the Weaving Workshop
The Bauhaus methodology and approach from craft to design in the early 20th century was very influential in my education. I wanted to create a community online where textile artists and designers can talk about weaving and craft and art and design; where they intersect and how they inform one another.
The Weaving Workshop was the obvious name for me to choose because of the influence of the women artists at the Bauhaus have had on me and my work and textile design of the 20th and 21st centuries.
The approach to finding ground, working along a path, and realizing the fruition of efforts is the method I use when I approach my creative work at the loom.
What made you want to take your classes online? And what are your ambitions for the course?
After leaving my teaching position at Philadelphia University, my desire to teach art and design remained. Given my rural location and the strength of my roots that ground me here, creating an online studio became the solution for me to teach and learn from a community of like-minded creatives.
My ambition is to share my artistic voice; to focus on the process of making art; to incorporate various materials and weaving methods as a means of expression; to investigate the importance and significance of textiles both historically and presently; and to share my knowledge of art and design.
My goal is to create an online community of weavers on a quest to ask and answer questions, share insights, and express themselves at their looms.
I think because of my background in art and design, I bring a very practical aspect to teaching weaving, where the construction is very important. I think a lot of weavers are interested in the intricacies of weave structures, but also want to be able to approach exploration at the loom and not be limited by a set pattern, design, or weave draft.
It’s about each individual artist finding and refining their creative voice. The root of the course is to be inspired and expand one’s creativity.
Inspiration and motivation
Tell us a little about some of the students who have completed the course (what kind of experience did they have beforehand? How they have progressed as a result of the course? And any other feedback you’ve received?)
Any other info about previous students success stories would help too.
Many of the weavers in the workshop have years of experience, some are professional designers, others are self-taught, and some are beginners. There have been different motivations for joining The Weaving Workshop, but one thread is consistent. We all want inspiration and motivation at the loom. We want to find our creative voices and have confidence making design decisions at the loom.
‘Ground, Path, Fruition’ was the push I needed to get back at the loom and get weaving again. A perfect class for a beginner, or advanced weaver, the course guides you to use the skills you have in a new and creative way. I was so excited with my woven compositions that I immediately put on another warp. I especially loved meeting weavers from around the world and sharing our work with one another.
I’ve taken other weaving courses. Each has been helpful. Usually they have focused on a pattern as a goal: follow the steps and you will create something with this look. Choose your colours, your fibers, your width and your sett to vary it.
What I so appreciated about ‘Ground, Path, Fruition’, is the opportunity to have creative problem-solving as my first goal. Look around the world. What images do you see? What do you love or find eye-catching? What textures do the images hold or suggest?
Ok, for your tools, here are some simple weaves you might play with to create the textures. In each, be sure to incorporate some materials you possibly never considered for weaving, and here is a list of some suggestions. Now, have fun, and share your results.
The course formally consisted of some Buddhist concepts (briefly); the philosophy of slow cloth, with a number of models from around the world; seeing and feeling textures in images; some basic weaves and how to do them; using on-line social media to share textures and finished samples; weaving the samples; creating a book for the samples; and plenty of help, encouragement, sharing, and feedback at every stage throughout.
As a result of taking this course, I felt liberated. I may choose to recreate a traditional draft, but I don’t have to rely on that. I am free to choose any image, consider it artistically, and play with materials and weaves, on my own, to recreate the aspects of the image that stand out for me.
Some of my sampled textures are: airy (sunset); berries; farm fields; icy; mossy; neutral; smooth; and terraces at sunset.
The ideas presented and worked on during the course widened my thoughts on designing and weaving fabrics.
For example, I had never changed the tie up in the middle of a piece of weaving before. This allowed for a wider range of patterns within a single piece.
Looking around for inspiration was fun, and also made for interesting challenges in taking the inspiration through to a loom controlled weave.
My time at The Weaving Workshop was a great learning experience. I am a self taught weaver and had not done anything of my own, just worked from kits, they were an easy way to try different types of weaving and different yarns. The class, The Weaving Workshop was an opportunity to branch out and start to find my own voice in weaving.
That is not to say the class was easy, there were many times of great joy when everything came together the way I wanted it to, and many time I wanted to bang my head against my loom trying to figure out what to do to interpret a picture into fabric. I also seemed to only figure things out as I was trying to get to sleep at night, so lots of nights ended late but inspired.
Anyway I loved my class, learned many new things and really feel more confident as a weaver.
Thank you Brittany for showing me a new way to look at my work and find the joy of sitting, weaving, and creating.
As a surface pattern designer I work in different mediums but my finished designs all end up in digital form. I was missing texture and that is exactly what Brittany gave me, along with a new mindset in the form of the slow cloth approach that is introduced in the course.
Why not take advantage of Brittany’s free online course Getting Ready to Weave.
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