“Over one, under one,” Sharon Crary intoned as a group of women watched her guiding yarn across a loom during her weaving demonstration in the Napa Main Library last week.
Crary, a prolific weaver whose tapestries are on exhibit at the library this month, responded to questions from the group.
“Most people who do tapestries use bobbins. I’m primarily self-taught and I learned this with the tapestry needle, and that’s just the way I do it. I’m a rule breaker,” Crary said, laughing as she worked and explained her technique.
“This area here,” she said, pointing to a section of her nearly finished tapestry. “It is called a wedge weave.
Though Crary’s work has been featured on the covers of several prominent tapestry magazines and juried into international exhibitions, this is the first time her tapestries have been shown at the Napa library.
To honor Crary’s exhibit, the library is hosting a wine and hors d’oeuvres reception with live music from 6-7:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 21. An artist talk is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.
Both her large and smaller wall hangings depict mountains, fields, water, Napa landscapes, the swamps of Louisiana, as well as microscopic images of butterflies and flowers
“There is really nothing off limits to inspire me. I take photos or sketch ideas that dance around in my head,” she said. “I can get totally lost in those planning hours of designing before I even sit down to weave at the loom.”
Crary is also influenced by painters. She has done tapestries inspired by the “unusual colors Vincent Van Gogh put together” and she said that much of her work appears similar to pointillism in painting.
For more than 4 decades, Crary has been weaving original, one-of-a-kind designs into tapestries, rugs, wall hangings, pillows, scarves and more.
Though she was raised in an environment in the Midwest that encouraged sewing and the appreciation of fabric arts, weaving wasn’t a part of her childhood. Weaving wasn’t an interest until a spinning wheel came into her life. Crary and her husband were collecting antiques prior to moving from Ohio to Baton Rouge, Louisiana where he was a university professor at LSU. In their quest to find “primitive” pieces, the couple went to estate sales, and at one, found the object that was to change her life.
“I don’t know why my husband bought me this spinning wheel he found,” she said. “They called it a big wheel or walking wheel. By the time we moved to Louisiana, I thought I’d learn to spin.”
In Louisiana, she joined a spinning guild and before long bought her first loom for weaving.
“Throughout my life, I’ve done all kinds of crafts—mostly fiber – but when I got to weaving, I knew I’d found my place,” Crary said.
Crary said people tell her that she must be patient to weave. To this, she replies, “No, I’m really not patient.”
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“I’ve thought about it and I think it has to be something you’re passionate about,” she said. “You really, really like it or you wouldn’t be doing it. I find weaving rewarding. It is slow. It is calming. I get in a zone and lose track of time. It is a meditative thing.”
When asked how long it takes her to complete a tapestry, Crary said that her woven creations take a long time – even though she is a fast weaver.
“It is almost as slow as watching paint dry—well not quite,” she joked. “I had one piece for an exhibit that was 30 by 30. I must have worked on it every day during the month of October and November and part of December last year. I did keep track of the hours and I haven’t had the nerve to add them up.”
Though Crary is self taught, she credits the “excellent teachers in classes and workshops and the textile books that focused on color, design and technique” for her weaving skills.
Her focus is color, texture, movement, and the dimension.
Crary conceptualizes before weaving. She often begins with crayon color blending exercises because she says the crayon on paper more closely resembles what happens when different colored yarns crisscross.
“When the colors appear that will express the idea, mood or emotion I’m looking for, the question then is what weaving technique will I choose,” she said.
One of her favorite steps comes next when she makes piles of different colored yarns to be used. She weaves with many strands of various yarns in multiple and unusual color combinations.
“After warping the loom, the fun part of the actual weaving begins,” she said. “Frequently as I weave the piece, it takes over and leads me to places I hadn’t planned to go.”
Sometimes, she dyes the yarn while it is still the in the skein, which gives a variation of color. The inside comes out much lighter than the outside yarn.
Occasionally, she uses an embroidery floss because floss is shiny and reflects the light differently.
“I am a happy and willing student in the ‘what if’ continuing education school,” Crary said, good-naturedly.
She can usually be found in her Napa studio, where she has several looms, “continuing” her weaving education. Her original design rugs are woven using a shaft switching technique with three or four end block designs. Her tapestries and other work are also woven from her original designs.
These days, Crary has more time for weaving and is a member of many weaving organizations. For years, her weaving time was split between working in public schools with communicatively-challenged children and raising her two daughters.
Crary has been married to her middle-school sweetheart for more than 50 years and the couple now have “delightful granddaughters.”
In addition to her library exhibit this month, her work is also currently being exhibited in San Francisco in the Impact Climate Change Tapestry Weavers West show through March; Yountville’s Contemporary Tapestry at Yountville Community Center through April; and as part of a Handweavers Guild of America show currently touring.
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