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Episode 125: Weaving and Tufting with Jessie Mordine Young

In this week's episode, LaChaun is speaking with Jessie Mordine Young. Jessie is a textile curator, teacher of traditional textile techniques, and maker living in New York City. She is an MA candidate in the History of Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. She also graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with a dual degree in Art History and Studio Art in Fiber and Material Studies.  Comment below to keep the conversation going! 

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The New Fashion Initiative Lauren B FayThe New Fashion Initiative Lauren B FayThe New Fashion Initiative Lauren B FayThe New Fashion Initiative Lauren B FayThe New Fashion Initiative Lauren B FayThe New Fashion Initiative Lauren B Fay

Weave Podcast Transcript: Episode 125 Weaving and Tufting With Jessie Mordine Young 

 Sarah Resnick: I’m Sarah Resnick.  

 LaChaun Moore: And I’m LaChaun Moore.  

 Sarah Resnick: And we are the hosts of the Weave Podcast, a project of the weaving yarn shop, GIST Yarn & Fiber.  

 LaChaun Moore: Hello. Hi, everyone. I hope all is well. In this week’s episode, I’m speaking with Jessie Mordine Young. Jessie is a textile curator, teacher of traditional textile techniques, and a maker living in New York City. She’s an MA candidate in the history of decorative arts, design history, and material culture at the Bard Graduate Center in New York City. She also graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago with a dual degree in art history and studio art in fiber and material studies. Hey, Jessie. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you for joining us today.  

 Jessie Mordine Young: Hey. Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.  

 LaChaun Moore: Can you start off by introducing yourself and telling us about your fiber and textile practice? 

 Jessie Mordine Young: Definitely. I am a textile artist and scholar, so I make, teach, research, and write about textiles, and I’m currently in graduate school in New York City for textile history. In terms of where I’m from, I’m kind of from all over. I guess some would say I’m a Bay Area native, but I was born in England, and then raised in between the Bay Area, California, New York, and New Delhi, India. I first started researching textiles when I was in high school, actually, so over 10 years ago at this point. My family was living in India at the time and we would visit different towns, and through that I was introduced to these various textile practices and communities that use them as a part of their livelihood.  My mom is also involved in the textile medium and so her interest introduced me to that direction, and it was a way of supporting me in pursuing this path, in a sense. And so, I was not only able to observe and participate the various processes that they use for textile techniques and surface treatments, such as block printing, weaving, and working with natural dye, but I also really learned the social significance of these practices, as well. And so, it was where I became really inspired by firsthand seeing these things and wanting to learn about it, and then also wanting to make through these processes.  So, I began by kind of implementing a small textile practice in trying to construct cloth on my own in high school, but at the time I was also focused on how painting could be used as a way of portraying textiles, so I was creating super detailed patterns within my paintings that were referential to textiles, and then that really propelled this idea of wanting to construct clothing. And so, through that experience and through that exploration and my artistic practice, I decided to graduate high school early and I went and worked in a factory for five days a week, and it was a textile factory that made home furnishings and clothes for a lot of brands in India, the U.S., and the U.K., and this was at a time when I was trying to decide what I wanted to pursue in college.  So, I was working in this factory and they had hired a ton of migrant women from all over India that had left their families to come work and then send money back home as a way of creating an income for themselves and to support their community in these rural villages, and the women would hand stitch the clothing that you see on the racks in some of the higher end fashion brands in the USA. And at the time that I was interning, it was starting to get really hot in India, and the power would go out consistently throughout the day, and when that happened, the women would start working on their own projects. They would be creating blankets that they could give to their children at home as kind of like a memoir, or a way to connect with their families while they were not able to be present.  And they would actually teach me how to hand embroider through broken Hindi and English, and I learned that these stitches that they were implementing in the cloth were something that their mother had taught them, or their grandmother had taught them, and while they were being paid very little to put them on clothes for us to wear, it was such a part of their identity and it was a strong marker of their cultural heritage. And so, it became really clear that I wanted to focus less on a career of fast fashion and more so in cultural preservation by looking at the history of textiles and their current role in society today, and how we can kind of promote the learning and understanding of these textiles and these cultures as a way of creating community and supporting others.  And so, I’m still trying to get to that point where I can really help create a greater impact in these communities through different kinds of initiatives, but I think that’ll come in time. Once I am done with graduate school, I can really get more hands on with supporting these communities.  

 LaChaun Moore: Amazing. I have to say I’m incredibly impressed with the level of work that you just described before you even made it to college. That’s really… It’s really phenomenal, honestly, to sort of go into college already thinking about the cultural significance of textiles and working with these materials, and also just hearing you talk about your experience working at the textile factory. Can you talk about how some of those early experiences fused some of the topics you may have covered in your research that you have completed while at the Bard Graduate Center?  

 Jessie Mordine Young: Yeah, so I think to kind of start out, it really became clear through my undergraduate study at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where I double majored in art history and textiles in fashion with a studio practice, how I really enjoyed how the school really thought about textiles. Not only in its historical context, but also in a conceptual context and placing it into different situations, like they’re so effective in having students learn hands on in museum settings, and then also work with curators, and work with people in the field, and so when I was looking at pursuing a graduate degree, the BGC, the Bard Graduate Center here in New York is also really effective in that way.  The school is very closely tied with the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the school also puts on some amazing exhibitions in various mediums, and so it became very clear that that would be the right choice in terms of a program in studying textiles at a deeper level, and the school itself offers a master’s degree or a PhD degree in object study, design history, and material culture, and then from there you can pick your focus. And so, while we do have a couple of kind of base courses, you really have the freedom to select the courses you’d like to take, and so the ones that I’ve been taking have predominantly been in textile history, but then there’s some courses where it might focus more on for instance dye materials and how dye materials circulate around the globe.  So, it might not be as related to one specific… the woven substrate, but it might kind of cross into other forms of making and design, as well. And so, I think that having the studio practice next to this more scholarly research has been a really incredible way to bridge my two interests, because I’m seeing the textiles in a museum, I’m reading about them in books, but I have the ability to have that kind of tactile sensibility and that knowledge and embodied knowledge within me as a maker, and I’m able to apply that to my writing, or apply that to my research and projects as a way of really having a more intimate understanding of the history of textiles. And so, that’s been I think a really, really fulfilling part of the program, is kind of bridging my making practice with my research practice at a deeper level. Definitely.  

 LaChaun Moore: And can you speak a bit about your studio practice specifically? What types of textiles do you use mostly? What type of materials do you use? How do you source them?  

 Jessie Mordine Young:Yeah. So, I’m a weaver, and I use a floor loom predominantly. Currently, while I’m in graduate school, I’ve been using that less, just because I don’t have a fully established studio space while I’m in my studies. So, I’ve been working with actually a tufting gun to create rugs, but I also really love to use the medium of natural dye, and these are all techniques that I learned while at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. They have an incredible fiber and materials studies department and the teachers were so informative. Excuse me, the professors were so informative and supportive of their students, and I just feel like I had such a hands-on learning experience that really allowed me to embrace these processes and I think that some people may sometimes question why not go to more of a production-based practice if you’re trying to be a designer and an artist sometimes and outsourcing the work that you’re making if it is in the textile medium, because we have access to these processes at an industrial level.  And I just don’t think that really coincides with my practice, and there’s nothing wrong with people going that path, but I think through being able to learn hands on at a SAIC, it became clear that me making was one of the most important parts of the process.  Yeah, and I think that in addition to that, I come from… My family is actually, a large part of it is from India, and so a really important part of my upbringing was witnessing my family engage in hands-on making, and so it’s really a part of kind of who my family is, who I am, so to kind of give more context to that, my parents, when they were living in California, coincidentally remarried people of Indian origin, so my stepmom’s family is from the state of Gujarat in India, which has a really rich textile history, and my stepfather’s family is from the state of Punjab, which I feel makes some of the most beautiful textiles I’ve ever seen in my life.  Those are called Bagh and Phulkari textiles and those are all hand stitched, and so while my family isn’t necessarily engaged in a weaving practice, seeing relatives use their hands to make things, they’re really engaged in knitting practices, or they come from villages where hand weaving is a really important part of their culture. And so, it’s really created this kind of intimacy between needing to make myself, and so that’s kind of where my practice lies.  

LaChaun Moore:It’s really interesting to hear you talk about India as being such a huge influence in your work, because when I look at your weavings, I see a lot of different weaving styles. One in particular that I’m curious about, and I’m not sure if I’m pronouncing it properly, but it’s called Jamdani 0:12:32.8, and we had a person on the podcast who spoke about this particular type of weave. If I were to point out specific pieces that you have, it would be the Soft Spoken Wall Weaving. I’m interested in what type of weaving style that is.  

 Jessie Mordine Young:Yeah, so I think it’s interesting, because over the more recent years, my structures within the weavings have become a lot more simple. I’ve been using a lot more plain weave just because I feel like it’s serving its purpose in the sense that I wanted to create kind of a series of more minimal surface treatment as part of a reflection of what I was being inspired by at the time. And so, there was a time there where I was really focused on creating a ton of texture in my pieces, and using a lot of different weave structures, like honeycomb, and using waffle weave, and using Huck Lace, and so those became a really important part as I was exploring the intersection between textiles and architecture.  I was specifically looking at a lot of mogul architecture in India and how there seems to be this connection between representation of architecture within textiles in India. And at the time I was doing that, my pieces were a lot more structural. You’re totally right when you look at the Jamdani weavings, and I do feel like it’s kind of a reference or reflection to these processes, as well. It’s kind of this paying attention to what techniques are being used on the subcontinent and trying to incorporate it in a way that is my own, is respecting that, and not necessarily trying to mimic it entirely, but it’s a form of inspiration, definitely. I think you’re right about that.  

 LaChaun Moore:I’m also interested in your Fog Weaving.  

 Jessie Mordine Young:Yeah, so yeah, the Fog and Rain Weaving are some newer pieces. That is a really simple structure. That’s actually just plain weave. I was weaving at the Textile Art Center in Brooklyn this past winter as I was creating a series of works for Warp and Weft Magazine, which is currently an e-publication run by my friend, Rachel, of Weaver House Co., and so I was making a series of works, some of them on my site are titled Casa, and Oaxaca, and that’s a different series, but while I was there, I also worked on doing these smaller studies, and they serve as kind of like sketches to me. I’ve been really interested in thinking about how thread can serve as a drawing tool.  I know that Anni Albers has referred to that, as well, as like taking a thread for a walk is referential to Paul Klee and taking a line for a walk, and so how weaving can be a form of drawing, as well. And so, this Fog Weaving was just kind of a play with material, a play with texture, and I was using found yarn that had been basically discarded warps in a scrap bin, and just playing with a material that seemed to be almost like forgotten, or not desired, and trying to create something new with that.  And so yeah, I like these pieces. I think I want to kind of explore this even further and make bigger pieces, make pieces that are a little bit more kind of sculptural in that sense. Definitely.  

 LaChaun Moore:I can see the sculptural aspect of it because it’s almost like it’s 2D because of the texture in it, so I’m excited to see how you continue to follow that style.  

 Jessie Mordine Young: Thank you. Yeah. I’m excited, too. 

 LaChaun Moore: In your most recent body of work, you spent time in rural landscapes, one of them being Ireland. Can you talk about what inspired this work and your experience there?  

 Jessie Mordine Young:Yeah, I moved to Ireland for a year. I was kind of out of college, or had been recently out of college, and was trying to figure out that transition into what I wanted to do. And so, I took that time to move to Ireland and I worked for a screen printing studio part time, and helped them organize kind of workshops, and classes, and I was also interning at the Craft Museum in Kilkenny, and then also worked part time doing administrative work. But through that experience, I was able to really spend a ton of time really getting to know the country. So, I was spending my weekends traveling all over and hiking alone, and going camping on my own, and through that I just had this kind of… I don’t know how to describe it. It was just like a- 

 LaChaun Moore: An epiphany?  

 Jessie Mordine Young: Yeah. It was just like I had been spending so much time in huge, urban landscapes, going from New Delhi, to Chicago, to L.A., and it was kind of this moment where I had missed being in land. I grew up in Northern California, where my parents took us on trips to the rural parts of the country to go camping, and so much of my childhood was based off of being in connection with the land, and so I just had this… It felt like a reconnection to the land after being away from it for so long. And so, I was also just so inspired by the ruggedness of it. Seeing the crazy cliffs, where the waves crash onto it, and it just inspired this series of work that was very tranquil, and minimal, and I think it was just because of the sensation I got within these landscapes, spending a lot of time thinking, and a lot of time just observing very barren areas of the world, specifically just how nature interacted with each other.  And at the time, I was really, really inspired by the work of Heather Day, who’s a painter out of San Francisco, and so I really loved her conceptual work of the interaction between water and rocks, and I think that shows in those weavings that I made during that time. And actually, right after Ireland, I did a residency in Iceland at the Textile Art Center… Excuse me. It’s called the Textile Center, and it’s in the northwestern part of Iceland. It’s in a town called Blönduós, and I spent two and a half months there, and spent a lot of time also traveling on my own, traveling with friends as well, but through that I think the body of work was a reflection of my time both in Iceland and in Ireland.  And yeah, I think that it’s interesting, because it has very little color, and more recently my work has started to incorporate color a lot. There’s a lot more color in my more recent body of work. Yeah. 

 LaChaun Moore:And would you say that you had any huge takeaways from that experience and if that has informed some of the research that you’re doing?  Jessie Mordine Young: Definitely. So, I would say that first and foremost, through my ability to be involved in the screen printing studio, it confirmed my passion to teach. I think that I was trying to kind of straddle between more of a curatorial approach, which is really exciting, or more of an educational approach, and I think that through having the ability to interact with students face to face, that became really exciting for me. And so, through my time at the BGC, I see this as an opportunity to become a better teacher, a better educator. Whether that be at a college level in the future, or more freelance, both excite me, and it’s still a matter of figuring out how that will happen when I’m done with my graduate studies, but it definitely became clear when I was there.  And then also, just I think I needed this body of work to push me into the direction I wanted to go. I think that I was making work while I was in Ireland, but the Iceland work was where I really felt like a shift, and that work is a reflection of my time both in Ireland and Iceland, but it really allowed me to kind of push my work. I was reengaging in my practices in a really in-depth way. You know, weaving for 16 hours a day, going on hikes on my own, and walks on my own, and I just really needed that time to grow in my practice and also reflect on my experience.  And so, yeah, I think it was really pivotal. I think that it also just really made it clear that I want to continue to pursue my textile practice throughout my life, and I knew that at the time, but I just needed time to recenter. You know, as an artist we have these doubts of like, “Am I doing my practice right?” Or, “What does it mean to do my practice right?” Or, “Am I making work that I love?” And I really love the work that I made at the time, so yeah, I think it was a really, really important experience and I’d love to do another one again in the future.  Actually, I’m supposed to be… I was supposed to be leaving for Ireland tomorrow to go for a three-week long residency there in a very rural part of Ireland, and obviously that’s not happening anymore because of COVID. You know, it’ll happen in the future, but so it’s interesting how when I think about the work that I have been planning on making at that point, when I would be there, it relates. It’s definitely related to one another.  

 LaChaun Moore:And you kind of touched on this a bit, but I’m curious if you can go a bit more into depth about what it’s like to sustain, whether it be environmentally or financially, as a textile artist. Have you had any challenges starting and maintaining your fiber projects? 

 Jessie Mordine Young: Yeah. I think it’s something that we all kind of struggle with, you know? In a sense, first and foremost just  getting yourself to a point where you feel financially secure with your practice. I think it takes a lot of time and a lot of hard work and dedication, and I’m feeling like it’s starting to happen for me, but I also am very well aware that I have pursued other things, like I’m in graduate school, so that’s an amazing and fulfilling experience, but it does take away from that building your portfolio and creating more work. And so, that’s something I struggle with, because I’m getting myself to a point in a different part of my career right now. It’s growing it there while I’m also growing as a textile artist, and it’s growing pains for both, in a sense, just making sure that you dedicate enough time to both practices and continue to believe in yourself as you’re going through it.  And then I guess in terms of sustainability, it’s something I’m always considering. I think growing up in Berkeley, California, I think we’re taught at a really early age how to be environmentally conscious, and be respectful of the Earth, and try and as we are on this planet, how do we insert ourselves into that conversation? How do we participate in that? And so, it’s something I’m always trying to think about, because I know that natural dyes aren’t always more sustainable. They use up a lot of water. They sometimes can be toxic. So, making sure that I try and as I’m trying to figure out a way to make myself the most sustainable, how do I continue to make choices that better serve my practice and better serve the planet?  And I think that’s something that as I’m growing I think more and more about, and it’s definitely something that I’m always looking to kind of try and find new ways to be better at that. But in terms of the material I use now, I try and source locally. I try and support smaller farms that I think are doing ethical production of materials. I think that’s really important to me. And yeah, I think it’s something, too, where I’m still at a small scale, where I look at some of these fast fashion brands that I kind of had mentioned before, and it's I try and do my part, and I just hope that with their impact and their responsibility, they can try and also strive for those things, you know? Try and be more sustainable and ethical.  

 LaChaun Moore: Absolutely. And do you have any new projects that you’d like to share with our listeners?  Jessie Mordine Young: Yeah, so I’m really excited for this summer. I’m doing a couple of collaborations that I cannot wait to share. It’s still in the works, and so I’m not fully able to disclose everything just yet, but some are educational, some are more writing based and research based, and so those are things with other organizations and companies, and so that I will definitely be sharing more about on my website and on my social media when I get the go ahead.  And then in terms of my own practice, I plan on spending a lot of time in the studio with my partner, and I’ll be making a ton of rugs this summer. They’re hand-tufted rugs made with naturally-dyed yarn. And then also learning to, or not learning, but working on making some of my writings that I’ve been doing this year at the Bard Graduate Center available for people to read online, because I haven’t shared those just yet. And there’s a couple of essays that I’m just really excited about that I think the textile community would enjoy reading. Definitely.  

 LaChaun Moore:Wonderful. And where can people go on social media and the internet to follow your work?  

 Jessie Mordine Young: So, you can see my website at JessieMordineYoung.com. That’s Jessie, J-E-S-S-I-E, and then Mordine is M-O-R-D-I-N-E, Young, Y-O-U-N-G dot com, and then in terms of Instagram, it’s @JessieMordine and @Jessie_Weaves, and that second one, that Jessie Weaves, is where I share more of my textile research, where as my Jessie Mordine account is for more own artistic practice.  

 LaChaun Moore: Amazing! So, before you go, we have a question that we ask everyone that joins the podcast, and that is do you have any advice or words of wisdom to share with weavers and textile enthusiasts?  Jessie Mordine Young: Yeah. I think someone once said this to me, but always be open to pushing your work in new directions and continue to cultivate a community that will support you in your process. And also just believe in what you do. Something that you give dedication towards will culminate in what you want it to be, so just keep giving to your practice. 

 LaChaun Moore:Amazing. Thank you so much. I really appreciate you sharing your story and all of the wisdom and research that you’ve done, that you’ve contributed to the overall canon of textile art. 

 Jessie Mordine Young: Thank you so much. I really appreciate it. This was so fun.  

 LaChaun Moore: That’s a wrap. If you’re interested in supporting Jessie’s work, you can find links in the show notes at www.GISTYarn.com/Episode-125. I highly suggest you check out Jessie’s website. She sent me a really cool Weaver Babe pin, and I think you all would really enjoy and appreciate them, so check it out. In next week’s episode, I’m speaking with Chawne Kimber, an African American mathematician and quilter known for expressing her political activism in her quilts. I’m excited for that episode. Thank you for tuning into this week’s episode. Until next time, happy weaving.   

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The music for this podcast  is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International LicenseThe musical section is an excerpt of the original: The Beauty of Maths by Meydän.

1 Response


October 07, 2020

Jessie Mordine Young is so dedicated, articulate, and knowledgeable, I was totally blown away by this ep! So worth a listen to hear her and LaChaun talk about her weaving and scholarship practices

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