This last Sunday, my husband and I took our son to the Annual Origami Festival at the CSULB Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden. The normally tranquil space, its large pond filled with jewel colored koi, had been transformed into a bustling garden full of happy, paper folding families. Origami aficionados and amateurs alike were busily creating flowers, boxes, cranes,… hats, brooches, pterodactyls,… whatever their fingers could fold.
I was killing time, wandering around while my son tried to convince a very overstuffed koi fish to take one more piece of fish chow, when I ran across a lovely sight…
A loom! Now, I’m not a weaver, but I did once take a class, and I find the whole process fascinating. As I stood in front of this loom and stared at the work in progress, I wondered what on earth the yarn was made of. I couldn’t figure it out. Was it jute? No, not rough enough. Was it wool? No, no fibers sticking out. Well, what the heck was it??
Through an painstaking process of carefully cutting rolls of Japanese mulberry paper into long strips, winding them up into a cotton thread wrapped yarn, and then hand dyeing them in tea to attain a warm, aged color, she was able to make a beautiful, natural fiber for her latest work.
As we stood and talked, my son became completely fascinated with the working of the loom, including the foot peddles Susan Lei used to lift and lower the warp threads. He had a barrage of questions for her about how everything worked, and in the end, I had to practically drag him away. That loom might as well have been a Wii game system.
It got me to thinking about how distanced we have all become from the way everyday things are made, much less works of textile art such as this. Many people, perhaps most in fact, don’t even know what the terms warp and weft (woof) mean, even though without weaving, we would all still be running around in animal skins.Musings on our cultural disconnects aside, I wanted to take a moment to show you just how lovely Susan Lei’s work is. The piece on her loom is the very beginning of a kimono she is creating for a show at CSULB. The kimono takes its motif from a tree, hence the beautiful knotholes and leaves. I hope I get an opportunity to see the finished piece, as I’m sure it will be breathtaking.
Susan herself is also lovely, but I’m afraid the one image I took of her managed to be one of those “oops you blinked” moments, and if she’s like me, she would probably not appreciate it being made public. So you’ll just have to imagine a tall, slender, talented woman in a beautiful blue kimono, standing by her loom, enticing adults and children alike into learning the warp and woof of life.