Week 3: Handwoven Shawls - Why Bother?

I'm not sure if the heatwave is gone or we're having a short reprieve; at any rate, the last few days have been cooler and I've been able to think. No, that's not entirely true; the second week was very quiet at the gallery and I had plenty of time to think, but it was too hot to do anything when we got home. So here's what I've been thinking.

Marketing research prior to the Exhibit(ion) said after school starts, Kiwi families will be busy trying to get back to normal life, but oldies with disposable income and several thousand tourists facing a return to the Northern winter would materialize and buy up my Exhibit(ion). I think they missed a turn on State Highway 6. Yoo hoo!!! Over here!!

But seriously, Lloyd warned me that I won't sell too much at Gallery 203, so I don't feel too bad, but it would still be nice to sell one or two just to make it worthwhile for Arts Council and for all the time Lloyd has spent and continues to spend guiding/coaching/advising me, and for my ego. I'm not sure if mine has turned out to be a particularly unpopular Exhibit(ion) at Gallery 203; I must ask Lloyd; and I have no other experiences to compare this to.

Handweaving is still seen as some kind of a crude, cottage craft in Nelson. I've seen more than a few women pull my shawls in a way one would pull or shake wet sheets before hanging them on the clothes line. Geez, my shawls are stable so they will withstand the treatment, but it says more about you than about me or my work, Lady! And some of these people are... weavers. I encourage people to touch my shawls, but not if you be have like a cavewoman!

While utility is important in my work, I aim for something different from hand-spun (nothing wrong with that!), 5 DPI (nothing wrong with that!), natural colored (nothing wrong with that, either!) throws and wraps. I don't use big mohair boucle to fluff up the cloth. I'm not saying mine are better, but they are different.

Nelson used to be famous for pottery, and as recently as two or three decades ago, I understand, people were producing mostly mugs and bowels and tea pots and baking dishes. While some potters continue to make these beautiful but largely functional pieces (and we are big collectors of their work), there are a few who have successfully made the transition to ceramic art. And command none-to-shabby prices.

Handweaving, in Nelson, hasn't achieved this dichotomy, or the coexistence of different points on the art/utility scale, in the minds of the consumers as well as some weavers. That is why, when the topic of outlets comes out, weavers and other art practitioners suggests souvenir shops in the region, tell me to get a stall in the Nelson Market, or advise me to "load your stuff in the back of your car and drive down the West Coast (to visit tourist shops)".

In the end, the onus is on us weavers who to raise awareness towards more delicate and artistic handwoven cloth. This is a gradual process, but the change of perception cannot come from the consumers, nor even the critics, unless we can get their attention. I think I had this in the back of my mind as one of the reasons I wanted to have a solo Exhibit(ion), now, in Nelson.

The difficult part is, I an a newbie; what I am weaving now is relatively basic as far as techniques go. Far more accomplished weavers would be better equipped to lead the way in this perception revolution, but they are too busy weaving. I look at the American textile magazines and envy the respect the well-made cloth and their makers command. What do I do next, in Nelson, in New Zealand?


Meanwhile, I've been productive on the small loom; I got four Fibonacci color change scarves from the second warp, and on the third, I've started a combination of 1/3, 2/2 and 3/1 twills in Fibonacci sequence; there is no color changes, but the proportion of warp/weft colors showing changes with the different twills. I'm looking forward to how this one turns out.


  1. Meg

    I really enjoyed your description of the attitude in NZ. I am currently trying too put together a small market research survey on handwoven shawls as part of a college course and finding the price , in these days of disposables is a huge stumbling block for many purchasers.

    From another Meg !

  2. Meg,
    If one can fine-tune and really target the target market, then you can command high prices, I think. That's by having really nice galleries sell your wares, etc. However, what I'm told by many weavers in NZ is that so many galleries don't want to bother with fibers any more; they prefer ceramics if not just flat (painting, photographs, prints) works. At least in Nelson, there aren't many fine galleries I can approach, and so far I haven't really approached galleries elsewhere.

    Handwoven is seen as a tourist-souvenir item, and I was mostly complaining about the types of work and prices in these shops. Many weavers are capable of creating beautiful work, but some elect to dumb down their work for the tourist market, and because they are seen more often by the public, it creates the perception that that's all weavers are creating.

    Disappointing. But then I shiver to think of weavers weaving very fine works on more basic looms in other parts of the world.

    Thanks for visiting.


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