Category Archives: weaving

Figuratively Speaking

I have woven expressive faces for 9 months now, and have received baffled, amused, indifferent, and engaged responses to them.

It is always difficult to bring a new body of work into the world that has no apparent genetic connection to all the other work one has made in the past. It causes all sorts of uproar, breaks gallery relationships, and even upsets friends.

Every time I indulge in making figurative work in textiles, I reap trouble. When I was an undergrad in Fibers at Kansas City Art Institute, circa 1974, I wove a large tapestry of a reclining, yellow nude, part of a number of figurative pieces I had produced that semester. It hung in the school cafeteria for a week with some other fiber work. I got so much derision from painting students I was mortified (“why don’t you just paint, then?”), and abandoned the human form for many years.

I wove beautiful, engaging, thoughtful series of garden and architectural themes for many years to happy acclaim and good sales. (https://lfntextiles.com/gardens-and-architecture/)

When my marriage fell apart in 2010, I embarked on a series of figurative works to try to express the personal, spiritual transformation I had to undergo to find peace. It resulted in my being asked to leave the gallery which long represented me in Santa Fe, as it simply didn’t sell like my other work.

And now, I am weaving and drawing and printing images of faces expressing bewilderment, surprise, dread, anger, pain, and all the multitude of emotions that I am going through in this tumultuous cultural and political climate in my country now.

Many people have responded with comments that these are even “fun”. Some have suggest d they would make great pillows (well, why not?). Some gallerists have indicated that this is not their “favorite” work from me. And two members of my family have demanded why I am making such painful images.

I wonder, is it me? Am I just supposed to make pleasing things?  More soon…

thoughts on weaving and drawing

I have been weaving faces for several months. I began with small works, about 8” square each. Simple sketches, gestural and to the point. The idea is to give quick studies of the kinds of feelings which occur in a time like ours. 

Dismay, Handwoven, 8” square, wool and cotton, 2018

My artmaking, when I was young, was mostly about drawing faces, and i longed to get back to the direct expressivity and engagement of personality and opinion.

Working like this now, in weaving, is about the precision of line necessary to make subtle changes in expression. It gives me a new way to interact intimately with my process and examine each thread to see what it will do.

I have envisioned a roomful of large faces like this, suspended, not necessarily nailed to walls, 36”x 30”, or so.  I am working on these now, along with a set about 12” x 18”, which, annoyingly, are proving more expressive.  What’s size got to do with it? Most likely, it is easier to control the image at that scale.

Ooooh, Handwoven, 16”x12”, wool and cotton, 2018

Ferocity, 2018. 16” x 12”, 2018

Howl, 2018. 35” x 30”, wool with cotton.

I am amazed by the difference in working between these scales.  What works as a small gesture seems, well, sometimes silly, translated to a larger scale.  How do I draw at that scale to keep it real? What is astonishing is the technical dexterity that I need for this translation.

Worry, 2018. 27” x 24”. Handwoven, acrylic and nylon.

Everything becomes exaggerated.  Lips, when small, nearly inconsequential, a mere mark , but then 6 times as large? Silly?

The small pieces seem gender neutral. The big ones seem more female. And perhaps cartoonish?  It seems I always come back to the face I know best, my own.

This is all good information to ponder, as I make. I often find that I do not know what I am actually making until after I make it. This is new territory for me.   Feedback is so helpful. Please comment, if you are so moved.

Artistic “Expression”

I have been hunting for a way of manifesting a body of work which would be rigorous, exploratory, and pleasurable in the execution. I am into the third set of small weavings of faces and face-like items. (I wrote about Sad Mango a few weeks ago)

I supposed this was sparked by my adventures in the woods at Bloedel Reserve a year and a half ago. The trees were full of eyes, watching me with a benign interest. I have been struggling ever since to determine what to do about this perceived watchfulness.

Eyes of Alder (above) becomes The Man in the Moon (below)

I finally determined, after quite a bit of waffling, that I have a great interest in faces. I want to express that interest.  The challenge in weaving is (as always), just how to manifest the subject. And why even make them?  It took my head a long time to settle down over these issues and just allow me to weave simple faces, but full of expression.  I am working on economy of marks but full expressiveness.

Here are a few recent ones, (each handwoven, wool with cotton, roughly 6″ square).

Terseness, handwoven tapestry, 2018.

Skepticism, handwoven tapestry, 2018

Pain, handwoven tapestry, 2018

Wail, 2018, handwoven by Laura Foster Nicholson

Sanguine, handwoven tapestry, 2018

Divination in the Dark

One of the nicer hats I get to wear is as a freelance designer, and I work regularly with Crate and Barrel.  Generally I meet with my person there twice a year, and she is incredibly creative.  I show her ideas, and she takes what she thinks will work off for sampling. Her input results in really beautiful and imaginative ways to make those designs into some kind of textile. We work on primarily pillows, throws, and rugs.

The drawback (for me!) is that she does not have the final word on what goes into the line each season.  A group of creatives from all of the various departments must meet up and select from among the samples. They choose things which will work well together in the stores, and later in homes.  This means my person and I might absolutely adore my pillow, say, but it still won’t go in the line if it can’t be reconciled with someone else’s sofa. 

A lot of expert research and thought goes into preparing for this, and a trend report is issued to vendors like myself to get us started along their path in the right direction.

I am currently preparing my portfolio for fall/winter 2019 (and here it is, the first day of spring 2018!). But the company is working against ever tighter deadlines. I have not yet received my trend report, and I will be up in their offices a week from tomorrow presenting my portfolio full of design printouts and woven samples for FW 2019.  So yep, I am working int the dark!

Much as I love designing textiles, right at this moment I feel at a creative standstill. So I am telling you about it all rather than banging my head against the wall.  I am waiting for their Oracle to speak any moment now.  Thanks for listening!

Below, find a throw in the current line at C&B, and my samples which inspired it.

Orion Throw, designed by LFN Textiles for Crate & Barrel

handwoven samples for Orion throw, LFN Textiles

animated objects

Sad Mango

Sad Mango, 2018. Handwoven tapestry, 9” x 8”, Wool with cotton

When I was very small, riding in the backseat of my father’s big Chevrolet, I started digging away at the rather worn upholstery. I dug out a piece of foam cushioning, roughly in the shape (I was sure) of a little Scottie dog.  I pocketed it and treasured it as a toy, but it disappeared. No doubt my mother found it and tossed it, not recognizing its significance.

I always seem to animate, or anthropomorphize, inanimate objects, and it gives me a great deal of pleasure.  Lying on the sofa post-nap, I gaze out a bare branches and find faces. I make dolls out of humanoid kinds of objects — clothespins early on, now seedpods and finials. I was about to cut open a mango a few weeks ago and noted its sharp vertical fold, with a brief v-shaped indentation two thirds of the way down, and found a face.  Accentuating that with a marker, I was no longer able to cut it open, so watched him shrivel away sadly on the sideboard until it was time to bury him gently in the compost.

Today, I decided to make a series of portraits of my found friends.  Weaving them is, as always, a translation. I consider these portraits to be sketches, 8″ wide by roughly 10″ tall.  More to come!

Looking for Vision

alder eye

Bird Marsh, Bloedel Reserve

Bird Marsh, Bloedel Reserve

For me and for many people I know, 2017 has proven, so far, to be a year full of dread.  The hope and creativity I reaped from an artistic retreat at Bloedel Reserve on Puget Sound last October remains a fragile flame to protect from howling winds of change around me.  I am grateful, so lucky, to have had the opportunity for that beautiful and thoughtful time, just before the election, to focus on what was important to me as an artist, and to sharpen my ability to see, and to manifest what I see in my art.

My work for many years has been more about pleasure, contentment, finding the good in my world.  It has felt solid, providing a vision of beauty as a way of making sense of what is important to me. That no longer seems to be enough.

weaving a river

Weaving a River

I recently began a weaving which, in spirit at least, felt totally new to me.  Some of the visual techniques are familiar, some  are stretching, as I struggled to manifest something deeply felt and ineffable.  I have decided that it is the world of the feeling and the spirit that have meaning for me now. How to show them?  

As I was trying to focus on how to go about the new work, I was doing my morning crossword and hit upon a clue to both a word, and to what I was thinking about: “river of forgetfulness”.  Aha. It resonates.

Crossword clue

New York Times Crossword Clue

The resulting tapestry refers to the sad, longing eyes in the alder trees which watched after me on my daily walk through the woods.  They were growing around a gloriously evocative bird marsh at Bloedel Reserve, and the knots where limbs had been were all eye shaped.  This image spoke so strongly to me I knew it was a big metaphor.

alder eye

the watching alder tree

I know it seems to be a dark work.  It hurts me to look at it.  The silver river winds among the watching trees, trying to distract from what they are seeing.

River Lethe

The River Lethe, 2017
handwoven textile 34″ x 27″

Rural Landscapes: Power and Light

Small Tank Batteries, 2014.  Handwoven, wool, cotton & metallic, 18″ x 19″
Since moving to southwest Indiana in 2006, I been mesmerized by the flatness of the landscape in this region.  Beginning with a series of tapestries depicting simple farm structures – grain bins and barns, I made a woven language of great simplicity, concentrating on color and composition, and light, highlighted by the textures of the weave.

During this time I have become increasingly aware of the American food situation and how that is illustrated so accurately by these landscapes.  I am surrounded by fields which grow corn for livestock and for ethanol, not for humans; my food arrives on trucks from great distances.  Moving from elegiac work about the beauty of the landscape here, I see it now as a perfect manifestation of the modern ethos of Form follows Function.

We are trained by culture to regard the sleek simplicity of modernism to be beautiful, elegant, and so I have experienced quite an Aha moment in realizing my work has celebrated the very thing I have fought against in in our hyper-rational food culture.  What made sense at the beginning, now has become the height of absurdity.

As I continue to drive through this landscape I have begun to notice all of the architecture of energy generation and how that interacts with the simplicity of the farming structures.  From wind turbines, which radiate their simple elegance of hope for a new energy, to power-line towers, to the aging battery tanks for storing crude oil and the small oil pumps dotting the landscape, these structures modify that original simplicity with their own functional lines.  I am seeking with this most recent work to come to terms with what this landscape means for us in this region, using the loom’s simple, rational methods to try to make sense of a strange new composition.

Spring Field, 2014, 26” x 27”, wool with cotton & metallic
Uneasy Sunset, 2014, wool, metallic, 27″ x 29″

Midsummer; 2014, wool with cotton and metallic,  26” x 35”

Pumping A.  2015, 26” x 35”, wool, metallic, cotton, nylon

Battery Tanks, Wadesville. 2014,  24” x 28” wool, cotton, nylon, metallic

All work is handwoven by Laura Foster Nicholson, and copyright Laura Foster Nicholson 2014-15.  Please do not re-use without permission.

The Freedom of Weaving Samples


 I rarely take the time out of my regular studio work to weave samples.  Every once in a while I get a commission for a specialty fabric and it is a pleasure to follow the road of the client’s ideas to find a lovely woven idea.

The last two weeks, however, I decided to weave a series of samples on spec, for products that would eventually be handwoven by someone else.  Flying without any clear plan, I have put multiple warps on the loom (trying to keep up with the legend that Jack Lenor Larsen wove off a warp a day when he was at Cranbrook).

I remembered early weaving classes where I resisted understanding weave drafts, and had loads of fun with the simplest renditions of summer & winter or honeycomb with unusual materials and colors.  So I went back to my worn old copy of Marguerite Davison’s A Handweaver’s Pattern Book to begin, and spent a couple of days playing with simple twills and honeycombs, using linens and wools and odd knitting yarns.

Trouble is with shuttle weaving, I get bored easily, so samples are great for me, with their short lengths and narrow widths.  Just about the time I think I will scream with boredom, well it is time to start the next one.  I never have a set plan, because the fun is in the ideas that stream out as I go along.  What about this color combo?  How about varying the treadling this way?  How will this look in metallic?

Friday I began a new warp with flat weave rug samples.  I spent an inc and a half doing weft faced tapestry and quit from boredom; went back to shuttling stripes in colors which fascinated me.  I hope to finish those tomorrow — pulled out Peter Collingwood’s The Techniques of Rug Weaving for some pattern based weaves to try.

My guess is that at the end of the rug samples, I will be very happy to return to my half-finished tapestry.

Muddling to Enlightenment

“Mid Summer”, 2014, Laura Foster Nicholson (copyright). 28″ x 35″, wool with cotton and metallic

Tomorrow marks the opening here in New Harmony of my first show of all-new work since 2010.  I have been in a major hiatus away from weaving after the last exhibition of new work opened in Santa Fe in 2010 failed to sell anything (yes, I am accustomed to making my living from the sale of my artwork). I had thought it was wonderful work, and it crushed me that Nothing Happened.  I have continued to show that work, and I have sold some of it as well, so my ego has recovered somewhat, but in the process came a deep examination of what I expect from my artwork beyond making a living.

The time off was spent working very hard to find alternative, creative, means of support, which mostly involved textile design and hand-crafted objects.  Both are processes I greatly enjoy, but neither nurtures my soul the way that art making does by invoking  the voice of the individual speaking what is true.

I wrote about all of this at length in my last post so I will get to today’s point.  As I drive back and forth across the midwest from here to Chicago mostly, I spend the hours contemplating how I can make weavings that talk about the amazing and significant architecture that is springing up wherever I look, in juxtaposition to the modernist, “conventional”, swaths of endless agriculture.  These are the enormous, awe-inspiring and scarily anthropomorphic power towers for transmitting electricity. Along with cell phone towers and the occasional, beautiful and bright wind turbine, they punctuate the rural scene with an insistent hubris, and are reminders of our addiction to power.  I recently asked a friend who knows more about these things than I, why does it seem that I see more of them every time I drive?  He responded that even with renewable wind energy, we still need the power towers to transmit the electricity.

Am I the only one who ponders these things when I am driving through the fields?  Ah, then I find this inspired design as I scroll through Google images:

“The Land of Giants”, Choi+Shine Architects

So I am inspired to try to make sense of these through my art, and the best way I know to make art is to weave.  Even though these power towers seem like giant textile constructions, they would be murder to make as woven (all those non-90 degree lines!).  For a while I fantasized about learning to make Batternburg lace and making them that way.  (Here world, I throw this idea out there for someone else with more time to figure this out!)

But I digress.  I like to use weaving the “easy” ideas to ponder how I will move along, as well as to ponder where I am going.  The hands at work makes the ideas flow like clear water.  I have found that color is thrilling me again.  I wove several pieces on a not-to-waste 6-yard warp I had wound on a year ago (!), when I was thinking of doing something else entirely.  (For those of you who don’t weave, this is a major investment of materials and time, as a 30″ wide warp at 30 threads per inch is 900 threads carefully handled throughout the whole process…).  As I fought the predetermined color and fineness, I started experimenting on another loom with scaled up thread, same weave, still wool, but heftier (and thus carrying less ability to hold detail).  I find that for where my head is right now, the heavier threads are giving me a new language of color, and I am thrilled.

But the Power Towers?  ach. Not yet.  As I drove through Posey county regularly this summer, however, in addition to enjoying watching the color waft through the spectrum week by week as time worked on the crops, I began to notice our own interventions.  This area is part of the Illinois Basin, a deep midwestern oil resource that brought us an oil boom in the middle of the 20th century.  The landscape is full of oil storage tanks, small oil pumps, flames shooting off gas exhaust at night.  I realized that this is all part of the story, and part of my current weavable vocabulary as well.

“Uneasy Sunset”, Laura Foster Nicholson, 2014.  Wool with metallic and cotton, 27″ x 28″

I rushed to complete this work in time to hang the show yesterday.  I am thrilled with the color (though this is a hasty photo), less thrilled with the craftsmanship (haste makes waste…) On we go. Watch this space!

How I spent my summer hiatus

I have not written on either of my blogs for several months.  I have been a period of fairly deep transition — no, let’s say self-examination.  It’s been a few years of most of my studio work being design and craft based, while avoiding the issues and depth of the fine art-making that I associate with my woven work, and in the spring I began to feel that I was spinning off center.

Spring Field, detail.  2014, wool with cotton & metallic, 26″ x 27″
Laura Foster Nicholson (copyright 2014)

Ever since I began weaving I felt an almost mystical connection with the process.  For many years I worked almost like a demon, taking few breaks, focusing on weaving as my most important means of communication in art.  I strayed off the path in the early 90’s when I bought a computerized knitting machine, and substituted knitting jacquards with deep focus.  Then in the mid-90s I learned to design for and weave on the jacquard loom, and eventually segued that knowledge into founding a ribbon business, which for a number of years took up a great deal of my time.

Generally when I work through whatever it was that sparked such intense curiosity I come back to the loom full of fresh insight.  After machine knitting, I rediscovered the joy of slow hand manipulated weaving with a lot of detail.  After jacquard, the investigation of color re surged with great urgency.

Each time I take a break of any significance from my woven thought, I come back to it with a changed point of view, which seems to amplify the expressive powers of my chosen medium.

Now, after spending 7 years expanding my practice of textile design through ribbons and home furnishing textiles, I am finding that I need to let the artist gain precedence once again.  Here is my thinking.

For me, design, while a great discipline with which I have barely come to terms, remains something which is tied to someone else’s needs.  I began by working with smaller companies which, like me, valued individuality and creativity for their own sake, and the interaction with the market was a happy one, where (as it appeared to my admittedly naive eyes) the customer came because she valued what we put out there under our own terms.  But now (after having read hundreds of posts and comments and opinions about the value of promotion and marketing), I feel impatient with the fickle customer, for whose favor I must fight constantly.  It would seem that it is not only essential to have a broad range of styles, but one must be able to work completely in disguise as some other creature.

Maybe I am just to old and stubborn, but I see that in art, one of our primary tasks is utter honesty about what is being made, the voice that is speaking; whereas in design for the general market (I should qualify that to say “surface design”), the job seems to be to do anything to stay the most popular girl on the block.

I am aware this could seem jaded or bitter.  I still very much enjoy designing ribbons and rugs, and value the support of my clients who want my work in its fullness, not a pastiche of trend.  But the reinvention on a seasonal basis of style, palette, and trend are making me crave the solitude and thoughtfulness of my studio and my loom.

All this thought takes introspection, and I don’t like to write when I have nothing to say.  But I’m back, and will try to stay here!