Ideas for weaving with abandon

Weaver teaches how to turn surrounding sights into designs

Posted: Monday, March 12, 2001

Marcia Stier's workshop audiences might be characterized as groups of eager weavers.

The challenge facing the veteran Auke Bay weaver last Saturday and almost any time she conducts a workshop is quantifying inspiration and its sources - passing on how she gets from ocean waves to yarn borders and from swallowtail butterflies to Northwest Coast designs.

Flipping through her pocket notebook, Stier demonstrated how she has been inspired by actions as diverse as fiddle bowing and legs clogging, and by objects as varied as spruce twigs and skylights.

To put everyone attending her "Patterns in the Neighborhood" workshop on an even footing, Stier asked the participants to name their passions. Painting, the outdoors, drawing dogs and cats, photography, Navajo rugs, macram, crewel, clay, ballet, biology, Swedish weaving, Pomo leatherwork, art as therapy for the chemically dependent, "scribbles, dirt, gardens and people" were among the answers.

The centerpiece of Stier's workshop was a work in progress, "Inspiration Point Robe," a Ravenstail weaving on its frame. Stier is secretary-treasurer of the Juneau Ravenstail Weavers' Guild, which helps to revive the ancient Southeast Alaskan Native art of twining what are often called "Chilkat blankets." The blankets are actually dancing robes, ceremonial capes.

Stier began planning this robe a decade ago when she took a class from author and Chilkat weaving expert Cheryl Samuel.

The point of Steir's workshop was that almost any thing is grist for an artist's design mill. She showed sketches of pelicans, frigate birds and palm trees observed in Mexico, and how she reduced them to stick figures she could use in geometric ways with wool.

Another design grew out of seeing Athabascan fiddler Tony Sam of

Huslia last November. She reduced his bowing motions to slanted lines and V-shapes, and then sketched what might happen if these were arranged in a hollow diamond.

Shadows of mountains seen from a plane over Cordova became another design, which might be used in "pottery, beading, a wall hanging? - I don't know what, but I would love to see somebody doing something with this," Stier said.

In the ferment of Stier's creative imagination, the black moraines and blue ice of Mendenhall Glacier as seen from a hiking trail were reduced to a V-pattern reminiscent of bargello needlework.

"Inspiration Point Robe" seeks to encompass all the things she has seen at Tee Harbor, both as a scuba diver in the water, and on top of and around the harbor. She settled on humpback whales' tails and sea pens. Sea pens are invertebrates which resemble giant golden feathers. She saw them 50 feet down in Sunshine Cove, and came up with a stylized golden tree shape.

At the top of the robe, Aaron Island and its reefs, Cohen Island and Shelter Island appear in black profile, with the snowy Chilkat range in white outline above them.

"I can't weave it unless I know what it looks like," she said. "I find a realistic picture (a photo by her husband, Ed, or a National Geographic page). I sketch it and reduce it to its essence. I work it down and down and down."

The steps for finding patterns in any environment are:

Collect ideas with abandon, which Stier defines as "unrestrained freedom" and "having no plan."


Adapt design to medium.

She researched the lives of scallops and other sea creatures at the library, in books and on television specials. She studied sea pens at the DIPAC aquarium. For her wave borders, she researched wave dynamics. Next, she adapted her design with graph paper. Then she wove four preliminary samplers. Finally, she created a full-size paper pattern.

To complement her robe, Stier also is weaving leggings and a dance apron. She hopes to finish the robe by Celebration 2002, so it can be "danced" - make its official debut.

Saturday's workshop was the first of two, so naturally there was "homework." Next Saturday, Stier expects her students to return with designs from their own environments and share them with the class.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

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