In my first days at Lijiang Studio in June 2015, I constructed a standing frame out of found materials on the He family property. Grandfather was very generous, often keeping me company or bringing me better quality tools. After a bit of trial and error, I had a workable loom setup and a decent system for creating warps with consistent tension. I brought mercerized red and yellow cotton thread from my own collection in Philadelphia and bought cheap acrylic yarns in Lijiang city for weaving. I even played with constructing heddles, so I wouldn't have to handpick the shed on every return!
Before and after our visit to Tacheng, I wove a Tibetan knot (also a Dongba symbol) for Wu Zhimi. I thought it would be an interesting exercise to weave such a precise image, since weaving is mathematical and weaving by hand is intuitive. The design had 3 color spaces (solid red, solid yellow, and mixed) and the difficulty and frustration I experienced in the process was unexpected. Between counting threads, building smooth gradients and consistent diagonals, I had to correctly interpret 'overlapping' forms in the image. The effort consistently tested my memory, patience, sanity. So, when I finally finished and moved on to making new warps, I felt brand new.
The blue and white piece (above) came next. I started it as a response to Naxi wings.
Naxi women traditionally wear a type of winglike, padded clothing on their backs, which has a practical function in carrying heavy loads. Grandmother's wings were well-worn, which didn't diminish their symbolic quality. I often saw older women in the city wearing pristine versions of them as a dignified habit. And I love looking at their structure and the way they're secured with crossing straps and their incongruity with modern life. I'm downright sentimental about them. I think of those floppy, padded wings as sacred garments. Women use them to carry the weight of the earth using strength of spirit.
During the wing weaving, the He family received news that Xuemei's brother-in-law was lost at sea. She left Lashihai to be with her sister during that difficult time. After the body was found, I found myself occupied with thoughts for the family as I continued to work. The piece became a gift of love to Xuemei and her family.