CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

An Interview with Syne Mitchell

The intersection of creativity, innovation and the internet formed a powerful paradigm shift that has defined late 20th century culture.  This new paradigm is not the defining last word!  It is an infrastructure that fed an explosion of creativity when all facets of the fiber world discovered it as a powerful tool to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  At the forefront in our 21st century is Syne Mitchell – who created and serves as editor of WeaveZine – an online magazine and community of weavers.  Among its features is a monthly interview in audio form WeaveCast, a podcast for handweavers, which Syne hosts.  Based in Seattle, Syne is an accomplished writer in multiple venues, the most recent being “Weaving the Web” a regular column published in Handwoven.

CNCH is proud to have Syne as their Keynote Speaker, where she discusses the world wide web.  Before the conference we were able to take a few moments to discuss the internet and its role in a “World of Creativity.”

CC: What was your inspiration when you recorded your first podcast for weavers?

SM:  I had been listening to some of the great knitting podcasts (Cast-on, Knitcast, and others) and really enjoyed them.  But when I went looking for a weaving podcast, there wasn’t one.  I had no experience with audio recording or production.  But I love learning new things, so decided to give it a try and see how I liked the process and… I did!  At first I wondered if audio would be a good medium for interviews, after all, so much of weaving is visual.  But it turns out, what’s compelling about the interviews is the stories.  The emotion of the artist, their relationship with their work, that comes across in audio in a way you just don’t get in print…or even video.  Taking away the visual lets you hear the timbre of the speaker’s voice, and connect with them in an intimate way.  No one else was collecting these stories, so I became the de facto archivist of modern weaving’s oral history.

On the practical side of things, another inspiration was the Seattle Weaver’s Guild grant.  Preparing my application forced me to focus my mission and come up with justifications for the work I was going to undertake.  Taking WeaveCast seriously from the get-go, even before I started recording, was key to its success.

CC: Had you been weaving for a very long time when you came up with the idea?

SM:  I started weaving in 2003, and the podcast in 2006, so not long at all, no.  Interviewing weavers about their work, however, is an excellent education in the fiber arts.  I’m grateful to all the folks who’ve shared their stories on the show, many of whom have gone on to become dear friends.

CC:  You recently celebrated a birthday -Happy Birthday!- in a creative and very community-minded way.  Would you like to talk about your inspiration for your 40th birthday blanket project, and how the internet was instrumental in its success?

SM:  For my fortieth birthday I wanted to celebrate the work I’d been doing in the weaving community, and I wanted to give something back to the world.  I had tremendous fun shopping for charities until I settled on MSF/ Doctors without Borders.  I can’t imagine a project like this would have been possible without the internet.  I’ve received yarn from all parts of the world: US, Canada, Germany, Australia, the Netherlands, Greece and more.  Being able to connect to a global community of weavers and to let them follow the progress of the project on the blog is just wonderful.  It exemplifies the best of what the internet has to offer: quick, global communication in a variety of digital media

CC: Is the project challenging your concepts of structure and color in weaving?

SM:  I’ve always loved creating random warps, ever since the “garbage can” project I described in a recent Handwoven article.  So in a sense, this is a very familiar process.  What’s different this time is my self-imposed goal of using at least one strand of every yarn sent to me.  And some of them are real challenges: fluffy mohairs…even beaded yarns.  I’m going to have to be creative with those.  My secret weapon, however, is a 5-dent reed.  The other interesting thing I’ve gotten from this project is a lot of practice putting colors together and being forced to work with colors that aren’t usually on my palette.  I may even warm up to beige!

CC:  In some recent podcasts with James Kohler, Mary Louise VanDyke, Sharon Alderman and others, weaving is repeatedly referenced as meditative.  Do you think that tapping into that perspective of the craft is important  for a successful creative experience?

SM:  Is it necessary to fall into a meditative state to have a successful creative experience?  No, I don’t think so.   I think success comes in all forms: peaceful and blissful, and fiery and frustrated.  Sometimes it’s the thing that infuriates us the most, the unintended byways, that force us to come up with creative solutions…if only to get out of our current mess.  That said, I do savor moments during weaving when my mind quiets down and I become part of the loom, weaving effortlessly without conscious thought.  Is that creative?  I don’t know; but it’s good for my soul.

CC: Is there an area of fiber arts that you haven’t explored yet – and what is keeping you from exploring it now?

SM: Surface design.  It’s one of those things I just haven’t gotten around to yet,  But I expect I will one day.  Surface design…and tatting.  Everything else I know of I’ve played with  at least once.  I’m a mental magpie.  If I hear about a new technique, I want to learn how to do it.  The next thing I’m playing with are sewing and eTextiles.  I want to make electronic garments.  It’d be a way to bring two of my favorite things together: fiber and geekery.

CC: Are there undeveloped capabilities with the internet as a tool for weavers that you would like to see developed?

SM: Yep.  I’m working on them.

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Also check out Syne’s blog about conference, a great photojournal of her CNCH 2010 experience.

Next: A dye project