You know how sometimes an off-hand idea turns into a time-sucking project? I had no idea I would spend so much time tying knots over chicken wire in the past year and a half.
It all started on a summer afternoon in 2014 at the Weavers Guild of Minnesota, when I decided to test out making a rya using chicken wire, in order to create a piece as a community project. I decided that chicken wire would be the best base for a group project after testing a number of fencing materials; the hexagonal openings of the chicken wire are big enough to get your fingers through and loop the rya knot. I bought a roll, grabbed a bunch of fabric strips from home, and brought it to the Guild. Serendipitously, a woman from the neighborhood stopped in with her daughter Jojo, who loved tying knots and and had to be nearly dragged away with the promise she could come another day. Watch Jojo describe her imaginative ideas for rya patterns. She returned with two friends — an instant focus group. Here, seven-and-a-half year old twins Lucy and Marigny focus on their tying.
It was pretty easy to tie the knots onto the chicken wire. It looks very sparse to begin, and as I found out later, takes an enormous amount of time to fill in completely. When working on a piece, the chicken wire can just be bent over the ends of a table to hold it in place. It’s a good idea to cover the dangerous cut edges with masking tape or duct tape.
I marked a circle on the piece in yarn, and the girls decided it should be purple. “It’s like a magical field,” Lucy told me, “and the purple is the power.” They had ideas for other patterns. How about making it all blue with some yellow dots for stars?
For the upcoming National Night Out and Cocktails at the Cabin events at the American Swedish Institute, I started another piece which was loosely based on old Finnish ryijis on display at the ASI in the exhibit, The Living Tradition of Ryijy – Finnish Rugs and their Makers. I started with the designs in the middle, and eager volunteers (LOTS of them) tied the background color knots. Jan Mostrom and I manned the booth, and provided the fabric. It took way more fabric for the strips than we guessed.
This photo was taken at the National Night out event.
After the ASI events were over I finished up the piece. After hanging in the Weavers Guild office for many months, it was given to the American Swedish Institute.
MEANWHILE, the original test piece was awkwardly stuffed in the top of a closet, and every once in a while I would take it out and add more knots. The process was more like painting than weaving, in that I could take out and insert knots at will. I would step away and look at it from a distance, or take photos and look at it in my cell phone window, to determine what colors needed to be added, and where. I kept the purple circle, but it became more squarish. I still liked the idea of the magical field of purple. I finally committed to just spending many hours and finishing it, as I had already invested a lot of time. It is now hanging at the Weavers Guild as part of an exhibit of our “Rya Exploration Group.” This was a group of people who were inspired by the exhibit at the American Swedish Institute, or by the rya weaving classes taught at the Guild by Jan Mostrom. I am happy to have it completed, and it was definitely an exploration!