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Episode 44: Cultivating a Creative Weaving Practice with Andrea Carpenter

This week on the podcast, I’m talking to Andrea Carpenter, a weaver in Southern California. Andrea has gravitated towards fiber and texture since she was a young child learning to crochet from her mother, and she stumbled upon woven tapestry in the summer of 2015. Andrea has a powerful and evocative weaving style, and I’ve been looking forward to talking to her about her work for the podcast for a long time. In this conversation we talk about how she cultivated a creative weaving practice to help her through a very challenging time, how she sees her work as a feminist and an artist intersecting, and lots more. See a full transcript of this podcast below the photos. 

This weeks episode is sponsered by the amazing folks at The Crafter's Box. Use coupon code GIST20 for $20 off any full workshop from the Marketplace  or on the upcoming January project. 

Andrea Carpenter
Andrea Carpenter
Andrea Carpenter
Andrea Carpenter
Andrea Carpenter
Andrea Carpenter
Andrea Carpenter
Andrea Carpenter
Andrea Carpenter


00:18 Sarah Resnick: Welcome to the Weave Podcast. My name is Sarah Resnick and I'm the host of this podcast, and the owner of the online weaving yarn shop GIST Yarn & Fiber. Thank you to the Crafter's Box for sponsoring the podcast this week. I'm so excited to share about this wonderful business with all of you. The Crafter's Box finds an experienced maker each month, and asks them to curate a unique box of tools, and materials, to create something beautiful and teach you how to do it.

00:46 SR: Their featured boxes have included weaving projects, quilting projects, even spoon carving projects. They're currently hosting a holiday market place for all of December, where you can explore and purchase a variety of curated workshops, including punch needle art with Arounna of Bookhou on Instagram and chunky Marino, arm knitting with Elise Joy. You can use the promo code, GIST20, for $20 off any full workshop from the Marketplace, or to sign up for the upcoming January project. Find out more at www.thecraftersbox.com/marketplace. And there's also a link to that in the show notes.

01:33 SR: This week on the podcast, I'm talking to Andrea Carpenter, a weaver in Southern California. Andrea has gravitated towards fiber and texture since she was a young child learning to crochet from her mother, and she stumbled upon woven tapestry in the summer of 2015. Andrea has a powerful and evocative weaving style and I've been looking forward to talking to her about her work for the podcast for a long time. Welcome to the podcast Andrea, thanks so much for coming on.

02:00 Andrea Carpenter: Hi, thank you for having me, I'm super excited.

02:02 SR: Can you start out by introducing yourself and sharing how you found your way to weaving?

02:06 AC: Sure. So, my name is Andrea Carpenter of the Winter Phoenix. I found my way to weaving, I was actually about six months pregnant with my son, and I was on Instagram kind of looking for a project to do. I don't know if I was actually looking at the time, but I had found Maryanne Moodie's Instagram and I saw her woven wall hangings and I had never seen anything like that before. And I just thought, "Oh, that's really cool. I think I could probably do that." And so I ended up ordering her kit and it came in the mail and it had a little instruction booklet in it and I followed that, and I made a little kind of messy first little weaving and I didn't know how to tie the ends or how to hide those.

03:07 AC: There was all these little things that I didn't know how to do that I just I was just stumped by. So, she actually happened to be having a class in LA that October, which was actually four years ago this year, or this month, so that's interesting. It's been four years. I hadn't even thought about that but... But yeah, I took her class and that really kind of cleared up a lot of my questions and after taking that class, I kinda just sort of like dove right into it. And I made a little weaving for my son's nursery and that was kind of I thought, that's all I was gonna be doing and then I just kept going.

03:53 SR: And where did that journey continue to take you? I know you weave on lots of different kinds of looms and do all sorts of different things now.

04:00 AC: Yeah, yeah. It kind of... I just sort of... I guess I just kept going and going, I couldn't get enough of it, and I wanted to learn more. I was just so fascinated by weaving and actually had learned to crochet when I was young, and I always was really drawn to Fiber Arts. I tried knitting and I tried needlework and embroidery, sewing, needle felting and cross... All of the things I could get my hands on that were yarn.

04:34 AC: But for some reason, with weaving it just, like... And I've heard other weavers say this too, but it clicked with me in a way that it didn't with any of the other fiber arts that I was into before. And so yeah, I just, I kind of just went with it. I keep wanting to learn more and more about weaving, and I've found that there's always more to learn. I think as a weaver, you just kind of never stop learning and that's kind of, I think, one of the things that draws me to it.

05:12 SR: What kind of materials are you most drawn to working with these days?

05:18 AC: I try to stick to natural fibers. Well, I do, as much as I can tell, everything I get is... I don't use anything synthetic or plastic, or anything like that. When I first started weaving, I would just get yarn at the craft store, and not really think about what was in the yarn. But then once I got more involved in the weaving community online, I started to notice other weavers talk about the importance of using natural fibers. Like Sarah Neubert, she talks a lot about that.

05:51 AC: And I also just kind of really preferred the feeling of the natural fibers, as opposed to the plastic-y feeling of the acrylic yarns and stuff. So, that's kind of what I'm most drawn to. I'm also drawn more to earth tones. Black and white, those are kind of my... That's my color pallet. I can't seem to get out of it. It's just, those are the colors that I'm just really drawn to.

06:21 AC: And as far as looms, I started off with the frame loom of course, and I have a few of those. I think everybody, every weaver has a few frame looms. And then I moved on to the rigid heddle, I got a cricket and really loved that. So, that was kind of like the gateway drug into floor looms for me and I just really, really wanted a floor loom and I got the Saori, I can never pronounce it, Saori floor loom. And that's predominantly what I work on now is my floor loom.

07:03 SR: And you have a new series of work that is mixing weaving with pottery, which just looks so stunning, even on the phone, on Instagram and I can't even imagine what it looks like in person. How did those pieces develop and how are you making the clay pieces and what's your thinking behind that? I just wanna hear lots about that.

07:22 AC: Yeah. So I actually, really like... I've realized that I like to mix different materials with my pieces. I kind of just wanted to experiment with something new. And my friend Alissa, who is also a weaver, her Instagram is aceoteric, she started working with polymer clay in a few of her pieces, and it really looked like ceramics to me, the way that she would like... She would roll it in some dirt and make it look earthy and it was really cool and I was like, "What is this?" And she told me what it was. And also, I kind of had that in the back of my mind and I was at the craft store and I happened to walk down the aisle where all the polymer Clay is, and I thought, "That might be... I should probably just try it."

08:15 AC: So, I bought some and I just started experimenting with it and I really liked it. It was just kind of fun to experiment with that and make new shapes and then I found my way to making the pieces that I've been using the most, which are just these like... I don't even know what to call it, they're just these little strips, I guess, of the clay and they have sharp edges and I just really am drawn to the juxtaposition of the soft fiber and the hard clay and I think it looks cool.

09:02 AC: I like the juxtaposition of the color as well. I really like contrasts. So, even if it's like a contrast in color, 'cause I used to do a lot of just black and white. Or if it's like a contrast of material in the softness and the contrast of the soft and the hard. So, I guess I kinda just started experimenting, I didn't really have a plan for this new collection, I kind of just really decided to just go, just experiment and do whatever felt right and whatever kind of my hands and my body were telling me to do.

09:45 AC: Normally, I'll do sketches and kind of plan out a piece before I make it, but this new collection I've just been sort of not planning it and just taking the materials and then just weaving them together or somehow just putting them together. I'm not really having this major idea, I'm kind of just going with the flow of it and that's kind of... That's kind of just what I've been doing, is playing around with the different materials. And I would really like to work with ceramic someday. But for this collection, the fiber that I'm using is pretty... It's light and airy, and the ceramics are too heavy to hold it and so the polymer clay is perfect because it's a very light, once you bake it but it looks heavy. So, I really like that kind of... That look of this heavy piece that's just like woven into this light, light air-y fabric.

10:56 SR: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that, of how you attach something that seems like it would be so heavy to fiber.

11:03 AC: Yeah. Well, the kind of strips, I guess you would call them, that I have, those pieces, I either just weave them in... As I'm weaving, I'll just put it in there as I'm weaving, or I'll weave the piece and I kinda have to plan ahead the ones that are kind of sitting on top of the piece, those before I bake them, I poke little holes in them so I can sow them on to the pieces. So yeah, it just kind of depends on which which route I'm going. So, that I guess I have to plan ahead a little bit, but I experimented to get to that point, so yeah.

11:49 SR: You have another piece that I was really mesmerized by, recently. I don't know if this is part of the same series, or it was something different, but it has what looks like raw flax. I don't know if that's what it is. Just water falling over the piece, tell me about that.

12:04 AC: It's actually hemp.

12:04 SR: Oh, wow.

12:05 AC: Yeah, it's just pure hemp. Yeah, that is part of the collection. I've actually... I decided to incorporate some hemp as another kind of opposite type of material, as the fiber I have been using, which is that linen cotton. And with that particular piece, I'd actually had just come back from a trip. I went to Salem and New York for a couple weeks. And during that time was stuff with the Kavanaugh hearings going on, and that was kind of in the back of my mind a lot when I was on my trip and I just couldn't get that out of my head. And I don't know for some reason, when I started, when I sat down to work on this piece, I was thinking about that and I was also listening to the book, Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. And I also had recently watched this documentary on feminism on Netflix and I just...

13:17 AC: These are things, these are themes that are really important in my personal life, but I've never actually talked about it in terms of my work or my weaving. And so, this piece kind of just... As I was kind of ruminating on all of those issues, and feelings that I was having around those issues, it just, again, I kind of just let my body do the work and let the material and my hands just tell me what to do. I kind of just wasn't even like... I just was letting it flow out of me. And I think that that's kind of what came out of that.

13:54 SR: Yeah, it's a really powerful piece that I think does speak to this time that we're living in. And I'll put a picture of it up on the show notes, so that if people haven't seen it and they wanna see what you're referring to, they can go check that out.

14:07 AC: Cool.

14:09 SR: So, one of the things you share on your website, is that weaving helped you deal with anxiety and postpartum depression that you experienced after your son was born. And I'm wondering if you could talk about how you created a weaving and artistic practice that supported you in this.

14:24 AC: Yeah. Well, I'd have to say that I didn't even really get to weave anything until my son was about five or six months old. I had learned... I had gotten kind of obsessed with it right before he was born, and I thought, "Oh, this is great. I can do this while he's sleeping," and it turns out he never really slept. And yeah, I ended up developing the postpartum depression, and it was just a really hard introduction into motherhood, very different than what everyone kind of says it's gonna be.

15:04 AC: And so I didn't have time really to weave. But then after I had kind of started to feel a little bit better, after I had been medicated from the postpartum depression and after my son actually had... We had a hospital scare, he stopped breathing when he was two months old, and we had to go to the hospital and he had some health issues. He's fine now, he's totally fine now. But yeah, it was a really scary time and that kind of, all of that really pushed me towards that, postpartum depression and anxiety. And so after the storm of all of that had started to settle, I decided I really need to make time for myself and I need to really take time to weave because I kept thinking about it. I couldn't stop thinking about how I wasn't weaving, which sounds really selfish, but I think when you become a parent, and especially a mother, your life just kind of changes drastically, you kind of have to grieve your old life a little bit.

16:18 AC: And that was part of the grieving process for me. There was wonderful things about it, too, but I think in my case, it was just like a really harsh introduction into motherhood. So yeah, I decided, "Okay. I really, really need to carve out the time to be selfish," I guess. And when I was able to finally carve out that time, I found that the practice of weaving was very calming, very meditative and it also gave me a sense of purpose outside of being a mother. I think that was something that I was looking for and craving, and the more that I dove into my weaving practice, the more I wanted to learn about all the different aspects of weaving.

17:16 AC: It kind of became this Pandora's box of fiber that was opened to me and I just couldn't get enough of it. And then around... I kind of just kept experimenting and learning. I think that was a really... That first year or two was me just learning and trying to figure out my voice and find my voice and find what I was drawn to. And so I kind of used that time to really experiment and learn. And around my son's second birthday, my husband and I kind of hit a crossroads in our marriage and things had actually been pretty difficult for us for a few years, but especially after having a child. And I mean, kids don't really... They don't fix problems, they kind of amplify them.

18:14 AC: So, we ended up separating for about six months and he went to rehab for alcoholism and some drug use. And through intense therapy, he became a whole different person, and thankfully, now we were able to rebuild our marriage and our family and everything is so wonderful between us. It's like total 180. But during that time when we were separated, I really turned to weaving to help me through that time. I created an entire collection around that time and that reflected my emotions and my pain. And each piece in that collection represents a different emotion or stage of grief. And I found that weaving as an art form has been therapeutic and cathartic for me. So, I mean, that's kind of a round about way to answer your question. But yeah, I've just found that through these really difficult times in the last four years, I've been able to...

19:25 AC: I think if I didn't have weaving, I would be in a very different place right now, I think I would be a lot more anxious than I am. I think that weaving has helped me kind of stay focused and grounded and it has helped keep my mind off of things at the same time. So yeah, I think that having this practice for me, really helped me develop... I guess keep my own individualism. It helped me not get lost in being... Just being a mom, or just being a wife, it really helped me find my own way and my own path and yeah, that in and of itself has been hugely important to me. So yeah.

20:22 SR: You have such a beautiful and powerful way of sharing your journey and as... It's something that I have noticed as a theme among some weavers and artists that I talk to is that weaving can truly be an anchor that helps bring people through some of the hardest times in their life. I don't know if it's the mix of both artistic expression, and also just a very physical art form that... Yeah.

20:50 AC: Yeah. Yeah, I think so. I think when you're working with your hands, when you're creating something, it's intensely personal but I think that it's almost as if... And I think this is something I've been thinking about a lot with my current collection as your body is kind of saying what your words can't sometimes. So I think that might be part of it.

21:17 SR: That's a really beautiful way of putting it. I'm wondering if you have suggestions for other people who might be listening and struggling with anxiety and depression and amidst many other important ways that they're working on healing themselves. If you have suggestions for how to develop an artistic practice that can help ground them.

21:37 AC: Yeah, yeah. I'd say... Well, first of all, make the time, [chuckle] if you are struggling to find the time you have to carve out that time even if you have to be selfish, and I don't like that word because I think that it has a negative connotation, but I think that we need to be selfish, sometimes in order to be better [chuckle] for ourselves and for other people. But make that time, do it every day, even if it's just for a couple of minutes. If it's not working for you, try something else, don't feel like you have to force it or if it feels like it's a chore, it's not the thing for you and you need to keep looking for that thing. I think that's what's interesting about weaving is... And I've heard other weavers say that kind of like how it clicked with them or there's just something about it that I think part of it might be a bit of an instant gratification when you're first learning to weave, you can kind of make a piece relatively quickly. Once you've got down the basics of the stitching and the stitches and the different techniques, it's pretty...

23:05 AC: You can make a little weaving in a pretty short amount of time and once you finish that weaving you're like, "Oh my gosh, I made this thing." And you feel really good about yourself and you feel like you've accomplished something. And so I'd say that as far as weaving, if you're specifically trying to get into weaving, then that's one of the great things about learning how to weave. But yeah, any kind of art form, I'd just say, do it every day. And again, if it's not working for you, try something new. And also experiment. Experimenting is a big one, I'd say.

23:42 SR: Yeah. So your business is called The Winter Phoenix where does that name come from?

23:47 AC: [chuckle] Well, I actually thought about it for a really long time. My husband was like, [chuckle] he'd probably get so annoyed every time I'd be like, "What do you think about this name, what do you think about that?" And none of them worked and I finally... I just, I don't remember how it came into my head, but the Phoenix part of it is that I, throughout my life, even since I was a child, my dad passed away when I was nine and... And so, there's been things throughout my life from a young age that have been really hard and difficult just like everybody. But through that, I've been drawn to the legend of the Phoenix, like that story of the Phoenix being reborn, and rising through the ashes, and I just really, identify with that, but I'm not drawn to... I mean, that's kind of being reborn through fire, but I'm not drawn to those kind of warm colors, I'm usually drawn to the darker side of things, and I really love the winter time. Like autumn and winter are my favorite times of the year. I'm not a summer person. [chuckle] And I also... As I was kind of studying the Phoenix I realized that the Phoenix constellation in my area, it rises in the autumn and winter time and so that's kind of how I came up with the name of The Winter Phoenix.

25:30 SR: That's beautiful.

25:31 AC: Thanks.

25:32 SR: So, what is on your loom right now and what are you dreaming of weaving in the coming year?

25:37 AC: Well, right now I am working on my new collection that's pretty much all that's on my loom right now. I have an upcoming show with my friend, Alissa of ACEoteric, we're doing a two women fiber art show. And so I've been working on that collection and that has been... That collection has been kind of inspired by... Well, over the last six months I've been personally struggling with, this new wave of depression and anxiety. I think after going through everything I went through with my marriage, and all of that really heavy stuff, I think it kind of opened me up, kind of opened up another Pandora's box of these old wounds and it really forced me to examine all of my relationships because I had to really intensely examine my relationship with my husband and that kind of just... I think I entered into this, "Well, if I'm here, I'm going to just dive in and work on all the other stuff that I need to deal with." And it's been something that I've been examining in the current collection. I've been going through a lot of really huge changes in my life over the last few years, but especially in these last six months. It's kind of, sort of forced me to face those changes and I've been pouring all of that into my current collection as well as my thoughts and my feelings on, I talked about earlier on feminism and on intersectionality, which is actually something that I don't...

27:39 AC: Again, I don't really talk about much in my work or my business but it's something very important to me in my personal life. And so I've been kind of dipping my toe in to that with this new piece that I did. And also just these themes of I guess major loss in my life, even though I've rebuilt my marriage with my husband, I've realized that I've kind of lost a community that I was a part of for many years and I've had loss in relationships recently.

28:19 AC: I've had... Well, I guess more of a deconstruction of my faith that I've been going through over the past couple of years that has been kind of building and... There's just a lot that I've been kind of ruminating on in the last, just several months that I've been kind of pouring all of that into my work. And there seems to be a lot of layers and a lot of themes in to what I'm working on right now. And I think something I did wanna say that I forgot is something about weaving is that it doesn't exactly take away my anxiety, but it helps me deal with it better. It helps me express my pain and my emotions in a way that feels safe and it also helps take my mind off of the things that are giving me all that anxiety.

29:14 AC: I think people like me, who struggle with anxiety, tend to over-analyze and over think things, to the point of madness [chuckle] and weaving has this calming effect on me. When I sit down at my loom I need to be in a certain head space, so it sort of forces me to get those to, I guess set those big emotions aside and instead of not exactly ignoring them but kind of dealing with them in a healthier way, I should say. So yeah, I mean, again, that was sort of a round about [chuckle] way of answering your question.

29:54 SR: No, it was very eloquent actually. I'm curious, you've mentioned I think at the beginning of this conversation, and also just now, that feminism and issues of intersectionality have played a really big part in your personal life. But up until now, haven't entered so much of your artistic life. And I'm curious both what is it about this moment in the world and also this moment in your artistic journey, that made you feel ready to address those in your work?

30:23 AC: Well, I think it really wasn't until I wanna say, I think I've always been a feminist, but I didn't really know it [chuckle] until the last few years of my life. And everything that's been going on politically, has really forced a lot of us to face a lot of things. And I've learned... I've been fortunate enough to have people in my life who have helped me learn more about intersectionality. I'm a white woman, and so my lens of feminism was different before and now... Now, I see it through a different lens. And that's been really important for me as not only as a feminist, but just as a person to just really be more aware of intersectionality and how... I guess just be more aware of my privilege and actually do something about it instead of just being aware of it. And so in my personal life, I've been really learning a lot and really, I'm not an expert [chuckle] at all but I've been open to doing my part as much as I possibly can. And so that felt like a separate thing for me, for some reason. I don't think I really... I don't know, I think it's just something that I had to kind of learn about before I really started to express it through my work. And also I think the timing is different because before I was going through other things that I needed to, I needed my weaving to help me through those things.

32:23 AC: And I think, like you said, that the time that we're in right now, is just, it's kind of this storm that we're all in, and it's something that I constantly think about. It's for the good or the bad, it's in the back of my mind, or the front of my mind all the time, and so I can't really... I feel like... How can I not use my weaving or my work to express my feelings and my thoughts on those things? It's just gotten to that point where it's like, what am I... Why am I not talking about it through my weaving, why am I not thinking about it through that lens? So yeah.

33:11 SR: Absolutely. Well, Andrea, I really appreciate the vulnerability and openness with which you shared your art and your journey with me and I'm wondering before we close up, if you could do two things: The first is share where on the internet and on social media, people can find out more about your work. And the last is, if you have any closing advice or words of wisdom for weavers out there.

33:34 AC: Sure, well you can find me... I'm most active on Instagram, which is just thewinterphoenix. And also my website is www.thewinterphoenix.com. I also have Facebook and Twitter, I'm not as active on there, definitely, especially Twitter. [chuckle] But on Facebook I have, if you go to The Winter Phoenix Textiles and then on Twitter it's @thewinterphoenix_. But definitely Instagram is where I am the most active and visible and then my website is pretty much where you can... I don't have anything in [chuckle] my shop right now, but when it's time to, when I have things that's where I sell my work.

34:31 AC: And as for advice... I'd say don't be afraid to fail. That's something as an anxious person, someone with anxiety. I've let fear stop me from doing a lot of the things that I wanted to in my past and with weaving, weaving has really taught me, personally, how to face some of those fears and really just like say, "You know what, I'm just gonna do it and if I fail, I fail." And honestly, those little failures, you learn so much from those failures.

35:14 AC: There's been times where I've with warping, I've just made huge mistakes and I've had to start all over again or I've definitely almost finished or even completely finished a piece and taken it off the loom, and it just doesn't work off the loom, and I've had to either take it apart or just set it aside and not look at it [chuckle] again. But I learn, every time I learn something and I think that failure's good. I think it helps you grow, and it helps you be better. So yeah, I think that'd be one of my biggest pieces of advice is just don't be afraid to fail, just experiment and go for it and if it doesn't work, you can take it apart, and reuse the materials for something else, and it's okay, it'll be fine. [chuckle]

36:05 SR: Very good advice. I like it a lot. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to come on the podcast too.

36:11 AC: Thank you so much for asking me, it's been a real pleasure being on the show.

36:18 SR: That's a wrap. To see photos of the pieces Andrea described, you can go to www.gistyarn.com/episode-44. And really, you do want to go check out those pieces to get a full understanding of what Andrea was describing in this episode, that's gistyarn.com/episode-44. Thanks again to the Crafter's Box for sponsoring the podcast. If you're curious about learning new crafts, January's box looks like it's going to be fabulous. They are combining a love of all things fiber making plus oversize knitting needles, plus a soft chunky yarn to make beautiful knit poofs for your home. I can't wait to get my box. Use the promo code GIST20, that's GIST20, for $20 off at the www.thecraftersbox.com/marketplace. Next week on the podcast LaChaun is talking to Angela Wartes-Kahl of Fibrevolution. Fibrevolution is a seed-to-seed producer of high quality organic bast fiber, yarn and cloth, born of regenerative processes, sustainable systems, carbon farming practices, regional manufacturing and community education. In their conversation, they talk about the history of growing and producing flax for linen, in their region and how they hope to revitalize the industry.

37:46 SR: Tune in next Monday for that one and until next time, happy weaving.

1 Response

Lynda Wells
Lynda Wells

December 11, 2018

Awesome artist and my favorite weaving podcast. I sooo look forward to Monday’s new episode of Gist

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