Name: Francesca Capone
Studio location: Portland, Oregon
Website / social links: francescacapone.com, @franny_capone
Loom type or tool preference: 4 Harness Folding Jack Loom(s)
Years weaving: 13
Fiber inclination: Found objects / waste materials / invented wefts
Current favorite weaving book: Anni Albers On Weaving & Sheila Hicks Weaving as Metaphor are my all-time favorites, current favorite is Sheila Hicks & The Dutch: Why Not?
1. How did you discover weaving and was what your greatest resource as a beginner?
I discovered textile design and thereby weaving through my mother, Carolina Amato, who is a fashion designer and a painter. Both my parents are designers (my father is an architect), and the environment I grew up in had a combination of drawings of structure/systems as well as patterned fabrics and tactility. Having my family’s support from the very beginning of my creative journey has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, they were my very first art community. Studying at the Rhode Island School of Design was also formative for me, and it was there that I learned how to weave and also affirmed what my two greatest resources were & still are (1) books/ libraries/ archives and (2) art community. It has been primarily from books and historical textile collections that I’ve learned about the aesthetics, craft, structure, function, & meaning of textiles. Albers’ On Weaving has been both a foundational tool in design-thinking and a dictionary of critical information. Finding my place within an art community has taught me that contemporary art dialogue is exciting and challenging, full of feeling, politics, logic, and constant change. I don’t think I could ever survive as an artist in an isolated environment! It’s important for me to have tension in my practice, and I find myself continually reconciling craft traditions with contemporary dialogue.
2. How do you define your practice – do you consider yourself an artist / craftsperson / weaver / designer / general creative or a combination of those? Is this definition important to you?
Professionally I am an artist and a designer (I am also a writer and an educator but these are aspects of my profession and not necessarily separate titles). I believe art and design are two very different types of work, and that each one can inform the other. As an artist, my studio practice is rooted in my individual response to the world and within my community — my personal inquiries and vision distinguish my work and voice. As a designer, my sense of contemporary aesthetics and technical knowledge are conduits for the creation of materials and textiles that are relevant for the global consumer market — my personal creative vision is a tool that I use to design materials for a vast number of individuals, and is not a defining factor in the work (that would be extremely limiting, as my personal tastes may differ from the people I’m designing for). I’m sure this dichotomy wouldn’t suit everyone but it has been useful for me to see these two jobs as separate. Both practices demand for me to stay inspired and connected, and to be both open minded and critical.
3. Describe your first experience with weaving.
I first learned how to weave on an 8 Harness Countermarch in the RISD Loom Room in 2006. The course was rigorous and assignment-driven, we covered warping and dressing the floor loom, drafting, all the primary weave structures, and even some complex ones. I loved learning a new craft but I felt that I couldn’t be free to express myself within a medium that required so much planning before executing. I quit weaving and turned to writing, printmaking, knitting, and painting. A year later I came back to focus on weaving, and I learned that there are many different approaches to creating woven cloth, and that a strong knowledge of the fundamentals is also a license to freedom of expression and innovation. There is definitely a high commitment level involved in the craft of weaving. You have to be willing to put the time in and truly enjoy the process.
4. What is your creative process, from the initial idea to the finished piece? Are there specific weave structures, looms, or fibers that are important to your process?
My art process starts with inspiration, dialogue, and reflection, and often manifests initially as writing, drawing or quick physical swatches or prototypes. Referencing & riffing on textiles and materials from the past and recontextualizing to take them someplace relevant & new - and also through failings in doing so. Sampling and sketching are important for me to iterate quickly and find new creative pathways. The products of this process are idea seedlings, some of which grow into bigger longer term projects. I’ve been working on Weaving Language for about 8 years, while other projects have come up and run their course much faster. My design process starts with a purpose or observation within the ever changing cultural zeitgeist - essentially, what are people dealing with and what do they need? Materials designs are conceived of within the context of a particular product, and form gives way to function, price, value, and marketplace relevance. As both an artist and a designer I am energized by a collaborative process, as I feel that an open dialogue can spur new inquiries, discoveries, and ultimately a better & more relevant result.
5. Does your work have a conceptual purpose or greater meaning? If so, do you center your making around these concepts?
My work to date has been consistently focused on language and communication through textile. I continue to obsess over the methods and modes of this kind of record-keeping, as well as the history and future of the craft of weaving and material production, and how it continues to evolve. I believe that every aspect of a material (including the matter that it’s made of, the method in which it is produced & by whom, and its final aesthetic and/or function) carries a message or meaning. In the near future, with the development of conductive/ responsive threads, this function of textile becomes even more relevant.
6. What is your favorite part of the weaving process and why? What’s your least favorite?
I love being in the middle of a weaving, after I’ve plotted my course and am feeling my way through the execution of it. I often get the sense that my body is part of the machine, and the cloth is emerging from the inside of me like a baby - the ‘labor’ aspect of weaving is truly visceral. After completing my first large piece, I cut it off the loom and rolled it up to take it home, and I remember instinctively carrying it like a swaddle. The theme of weaving as a metaphor for creation (fertility, genetics, childbirth, etc.) has deep historical and spiritual roots, and there’s really no surprise there. My least favorite part is winding the warp, because I’m terrible at number retention, I always have to recount warp threads over and over.
7. Where do you find inspiration?
Time in nature (specifically near large bodies of water), traveling to new places, keeping up with fellow artists & writers, visiting libraries, archives, art museums & galleries. What I find most important though, is combining all these things with consistent hours spent alone and focused in my studio. I need to clear my mind in order to tune into my practice. Even if I’m just sharpening my pencils or winding a warp, I need to be in there thinking & making for some solid chunks of time every week. It’s important that I open up space for my creative spirit to flow out of, so that I can be a vessel for true inspiration when it passes through.
8. What other creatives do you admire – weavers, artists, entrepreneurs – and why?
Anni Albers, Rosmarie Waldrop, Cecilia Vicuña, Jen Bervin (some favorite artists/ mentors), Laura Dekker (the sailor), Carolina Amato (my mother), my friends. I admire women who forge their own path in life despite preconceived notions for what women should do, and who build their careers around doing what they love.
9. If you could no longer weave, what would you do instead?
I would sail around the world and work on boats at sea.
Do you have any upcoming exhibits, talks, or events the community should know about?
My most recent book, Weaving Language: Language is Image, Paper, Code, & Cloth published by information as material in York, UK, will available through Printed Matter at the MoMA PS1 New York Art Book Fair in early September. I will also be discussing the book at the &Now Conference at the University of Washington Bothell in September, the panel I am speaking on is called “Text in Textiles”.
photo credits: header by Liam Gillies, gallery and weaving images by Mario Gallucci, studio and portrait images by James Ryan Jones.