Woven Words: Slow Literature

Slow Literature, detail | photo by Brea Black

In our Joy of Making blogs, we talk about some of the reasons that people like to make things by hand. That made me think of a weaving exhibit I saw this summer called Slow Literature. Tapestry artist Sarah Swett not only likes to make things by hand, she likes to make things that take a really long time to finish. On her website she says, “The ideal project takes over my life and requires a season or two to complete. Or three. It demands time but not money.”

In her Slow Literature series, Swett found a new use for her unfinished novel. She was inspired to tell her story through tapestries and based her designs on the idea that life’s moments aren’t always captured in a neat diary.  

tapestry in progress | www.sarah-swett.com

The tapestries that Swett wove look like scraps of paper with handwritten or typed text on them. Some of them have coffee or ink stains, some look like they are torn, and one even looks burnt. Swett was able to create all these effects using only wool. My favorite one looks like a library check out card for a book about needlework.

What amazed me is how she wove these pieces. First, she enlarged words that had been typed with an old manual typewriter. Then, she used a slit-tapestry technique to weave them. This technique requires the weaver to build up each section, each letter by hand. When I did a little more research and saw photos of how Swett wove the tapestries, I was in awe.

I really admire her dedication to the painstaking process of weaving by hand, the problem-solving that goes along with it, and the determination to finish a project that was started. If you ever have an opportunity to see handwoven tapestries in person, I encourage you to go and take a closer look. These works of art are best experienced in person.
Sources: www.sarah-swett.com
Handwoven, Nov/Dec 2010, pgs. 32, 50-52.

Interested in trying tapestry weaving for yourself? Check out these books to learn how:
Tapestry weaving : a comprehensive study guide
The tapestry handbook : an illustrated manual of traditional techniques
World textiles: a concise history
Textiles, 5000 years: an international history and illustrated survey

Brea Black is the Art Librarian and Book Arts Curator in the Alice C. Sabatini Gallery. Her favorite thing is to share the wonderful world of artists' books with the community. She also leads the Arts & Crafts team and teaches workshops on bookmaking, altered books, and a variety of crafty topics.