Line Dufour’s Weaving Class
“I’ve gone into it kicking and screaming, like why can’t I just be a normal person with a normal job? Maybe I was about 24 or 25, just walking down the street, and I saw a weaving loom in a store window. It chose me is all I have to say about that.”
Line Dufour is an internationally renowned weaver. Her hand-woven tapestries are in collections across North America. Although lack of funds dictated that she pass up that particular loom, the seed was planted for her to pursue the craft in earnest when she enrolled at OCA years later.
Opting for such a pain-staking venture may seem strange, but the medium has been enjoying an upswing in popularity. She teaches weaving through TDSB’s ongoing education classes. Massive looms fill a bright, sunny classroom in Toronto’s west end, with a row of smaller table looms lining the windows.
“All the colleges have given up their weaving programs because its not a financially viable thing,” explains Dufour. “It’s not like a computer,” she says of the practice’s financial viability. “Once you’re on the loom, you’re on it.” In other words, you can’t use the looms interchangeably. The intricate apparatus look like inside out pianos, or a medieval torture devices. The larger floor models can cost anywhere between $1200-$100,000 brand new.
She begins by winding the threads on a warping board. The longitudinal threads – the warp – are woven through the lateral threads – the weft. The loom functions by holding the warp threads in place during weaving. These threads are passed through heddles.The number of heddles determines the warp thread count (and the fineness or width of the weave). By raising and lowering the pedals of the loom can determine the pattern – which sections are raised, and which are not.
“There are thousands and thousands of patterns that you can do, even on the most basic loom,” says Dufour. For an upright tapestry, she demonstrates, the warp is backgrounded by a picture, separated into color sections (like a paint by number). She deftly demonstrates on her latest major project, the Ontario Art’s Council-funded collaborative tapestry; Fate, Destiny and Self-Determination.
The massive tapestry will eventually be “co-created by people all over the world. Already there are 150 people from 20 different countries participating. They are weaving little shapes that I send, either by email or regular mail. So they’re starting to come in. This piece will be woven by anyone who wants to come weave it, you don’t have to have any weaving experience at all.” This collaborative piece will eventually be melded together with a portion that she herself is completing in her home studio. The two sections “can be placed as close or as far away as you want. They can take up the whole wall, or take up a small space. The shapes are going to be floating, as though they are coming together as one piece, or breaking apart, whichever way you want to look at it.”
She has completed pieces for both utilitarian and decorative purposes. She’s working on a series where she uses children’s painting as the pattern for her tapestries. “I love children’s painting. It reminds me to stay spontaneous.” Weaving is not just something you can just wing – even the most abstract works have some measure of pre-meditated pattern. Even making a simple scarf is a serious time commitment. A scarf could run you up to $4000 if you were to take into account and pay a living wage for hours invested.
The renewed interest in weaving points a love affair with all things home-made: the Etsy-styled, DIY products. While mass production has cheapened factory-made materials, they leave something to be desired when it comes to tactile connection. People want to make their own.
The history of weaving goes back millennia, and it has been found, in some inception or other, across cultures. In western culture it was used initially for practical reasons. “Tapestry weaving actually preceded painting as a decorative process. So it kept the castle walls warm, and kept the walls warm because the stone walls were so cold and damp. So it evolved a decorative function as well, because pigments for painting had not been discovered. Oddly enough, the history of art never acknowledges that. There’s a hierarchy.” She thinks weaving has been historically looked down on as mere ‘women’s work’, whereas painting and sculpting are still considered to be loftier artistic ventures – the domain of men.
The participants in this class work methodically and pause for a snack of potato cakes midway through the morning, while harpsichord music plays softly in the background. You could think of worse ways to spend a morning. “It can be very relaxing, if there’s stress in your life – for sure. It is.”