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Textile Artist, Teacher, Traveler
By Holly Brackmann

Handwoven, Issue 113, January/February 2003, p. 96

Textile Artist

My life as a weaver began in childhood. I made potholders on summer vacations, and gave them to relatives until their drawers were full. However, my real fascination with textiles began when I was a student at San Jose State University. Even though my first warp in a weaving class ended up in the trash when the instructor lost the cross---resulting giant snarl---I persevered.

It was the 1960’s, and the yarns available to us were all in the oh-so-popular colors of rust, avocado-green (never to be used by me again!), and gold. Funky, chunky weavings were the norm.

Later, during graduate school at UCLA, I became interested in sculptural and architectural forms. I began creating what I called "three-dimensional forms from flat woven pieces." This focus developed into many pieces and a series of lectures and workshops that I presented at conferences and guild meetings.

By the late 1980’s my palette was brighter (we had all tossed that avocado green carpeting!). I was still weaving sculptural pieces, but my scale had begun to shrink. I began weaving my sculptural pieces with sewing thread.
Weaving with fine threads and creating smaller-sized objects paralleled my love of the minutiae in fifteenth century Franco-Flemish paintings I had studied in graduate school. By the 1990’s my scale was even smaller, and my setts ranged from 80 to160 ends per inch!

I am still using sewing thread and still get excited about textural, three-dimensional weaving. But although I used to think of polyester as a dirty word (as in polyester double-knit pantsuits), I have grown to appreciate the heat crimping and pleating characteristics this synthetic fiber has to offer and I’ve found myself on an entirely new path.


My weaving life is full of the turns and changes that come from trying new things and discovering new techniques. I owe part of that growth to teaching. Teaching about textiles and weaving has challenged me and kept me growing as an artist over the years.

When I was hired as the first art instructor at Mendocino College in Ukiah, California, challenges abounded. For twenty years the textile classes were housed in temporary facilities, including a fairgrounds (next to the duck pond), former car dealership (students could get their car repaired while in class), and warehouse (we rolled up the door when the weather was nice, but the reeds rusted in wet winters). Today, the weaving studio at the college holds over thirty looms, including some that are computerized, and a dye studio with stoves, photo screen-printing equipment, thermofax, and heat press.

Developing new courses and techniques has meant that students often return to update their skills---which keeps me looking for more material. Nurturing students, educating administrators and the public about textiles, persistence, and participating in the community all play important roles in my teaching life.


When I’m not teaching or weaving, I’m traveling. Weavers have special reason to travel---to meet and be inspired by craftspeople all over the world---and the rewards are also special. Meeting weavers and dyers in other cultures adds to your appreciation for the time, effort, and love we all give, inspires you with new ideas for your own work, and makes you feel connected to the world community of people who create textiles.

Whether it’s seeing a Guatemalan backstrap weaver in Santa Catarina Palopo sitting in a courtyard on a dirt floor weaving in brilliant colors, or watching a wood block printer in India, your strong kinship with other fiber people is reinforced.

Visiting a master dyer in Aubusson, France and watching him color wool with acid dyes also reminds me of the international scope of many textile projects. He was dyeing New Zealand wool for a tapestry to be woven in France based on a design by a San Francisco artist for a commission from the United States.

I feel lucky that through these three intertwining threads of my life---as a textile artist, teacher and traveler---I am endlessly tantalized and challenged with directions to pursue. These are the gifts from my community, from weavers around the world, and especially from my students.



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