Footpath and the Midwest Weavers Conference


Footpath.  The design for this moebius scarf was inspired by one of the patterns in the WGM’s 75th Anniversary “A Thread Through Time” book.  I used the basketweave tie up pattern on page 56 and translated it into a colorful geometric design, created with bits of colored and patterned paper pulled from junk mail and catalogs.  I assembled the geometric design, scanned it and created a seamlessly repeating pattern that was digitally printed on to fabric.

This last week was the Midwest Weavers Conference here in Minneapolis.  This is a regional conference hosted every other year in a different city.  Our local Weavers Guild were the hosts for the conference and I was asked to teach two technology classes as part of conference seminars, one about marketing yourself online and one about photo editing.  The piece above was my submission to the Instructors Exhibit.  Since I am only a little bit of a weaver, I didn’t want to have my little pieces on display with the masters, so I decided to go with what I am good at, but with a weaving twist.

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Our Weavers Guild is celebrating their 75th birthday this year.  As part of the celebration, they put together a book.  For years, as I understand it, the guild newsletter included a weaving draft and a tiny swatch of fabric made by volunteers, so in each newsletter, you not only got the pattern, but an example as well.  For their birthday, they pulled drafts from the archives and had guild members make contemporary pieces based on those designs and they put it altogether into a book.  So I decided to do the same, but with my twist.  So, I used the tie up pattern from a basketweave draft and translated it into color.  The design was made with paper punches and recycled paper from junk mail, receipts, newspaper and an Art-A-Whirl catalog glued to a piece of black card stock.  I call it Footpath because the tie up pattern is the part of the draft that tells you how to tie up the treadles, which are the pedals you control with your feet when you are weaving on a floor loom.  So I made this design into a piece of fabric and stitched a cowl scarf to be a part of the exhibition.  I love that it is fun and bright; I think I might keep this one for myself.  I didn’t get a photo of the finished piece, but that is the printed fabric in the top photo.

The conference was awesome!  I volunteered for several days at the Guild to help with their fiber shop and I taught two classes with really wonderful groups of students from all over the country.  I met a lot of cool people and the sense of fun and enthusiasm throughout the conference was infectious.  Everyone seemed to be really enjoying everything about it.  I am so glad that I was invited to be there.  Thanks to the organizers, advisors, attendees and volunteers who made it great!

My 7th Spoonflower-iversary!

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June 20th is my 7 year Spoonflower-iversary.  That was the day I uploaded and ordered my very first fabric.  I remember getting my invitation to join the site.  At that point, you signed up to be on a waiting list and Spoonflower would invite groups of people to join at a time.  They only had one printer and I think you could only order a yard or two at a time.  I remember reading about Spoonflower in someone’s tweet and Googling to find the site and signing up that minute.  Printing my own fabric?  For real?

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When it came time to design my very first fabric, I had no idea what to draw.  I don’t usually suffer from the “fear of a blank page”, but I was truly stuck.  It was intimidating. I wanted to love it, I wanted it to be mine.  So I decided to do something practical.  I made a fabric that matched my Etsy shop banner, thinking I would make some gift bags to send Etsy orders in.  Smee the fish and bright colored bubbles.  I even did a top-to-bottom seamless repeat of the bubble pattern, which when I look back on it now seems pretty sophisticated for my first design.  I didn’t end up making gift bags from that fabric, because I couldn’t do it.  When I unwrapped the package a few weeks later and I had my first yard of fabric in my hands, it was perfect.  It was like the best Christmas present ever. It was my design and it was real fabric.  I couldn’t cut it up and give it away.  I still have that yard and it’s still my very favorite.  I bring it to class with me sometimes and show it to my students.

I didn’t know it then, but that was the day I found my niche.  I had been working at an art center for years, and I had taught hundreds of people how to do all kinds of fiber art, but I didn’t really feel like I had an art form to call my own.  I wasn’t a quilter or a fashion designer or a felter, although I could do all of those things.  I wasn’t really passionate about any of them.

I ordered several more designs and tried all kinds of things, but it took me a couple of years before I really figured out what to do with my own fabric and that was this dress.

Glaciology.  Digitally printed silk from engineered photo.


I wish I could remember exactly the inspiration for this.  I had a couple of events that fall I needed to dress up for.  I loved those two photos the design is made from. I had a brainstorm.  I meticulously re-drafted all of the pattern pieces for this in Illustrator and placed the photos on each piece.  I had to figure out how to make files that were each exactly 1 yard of fabric so I could place all of the pieces. I wasn’t sure what it would look like when it was printed.  Would the colors look right?  Would it look too much like a photo billboard?  I had no idea if it would work.  After I ordered the fabric, I realized that I had made 2 left skirts instead of a left and a right and I had to redo and reorder that piece.  I wasn’t sure how much it would shrink or even if it was the right weight for a dress. I had never even ordered this silk-cotton fabric before.  (It turned out to be perfect.)  It was a leap of faith and the worst that I figured would happen was that I would end up with some random silk scraps and no dress.

It maybe sounds cheesy to say Spoonflower changed my life, but it’s kind of true.  I loved designing fabrics but it wasn’t something I could just do, except by hand.  When I was in college I worked at a summer theater and I costumed an entire show with costumes made from muslin, drawn on with sharpies and colored with crayons.  I wanted them to look like they were out of a coloring book.  Completely impractical (not washable), but such a great concept.  I block printed borders on satin fabrics for another show because I couldn’t afford the fancy fabrics and trims I wanted to make the costumes look lush and “royal”.  I could print fabrics on my ink jet printer, but only 8 1/2 x 11 inches at a time. I never could find the fabrics I wanted in my head because they didn’t exist.  I now have a whole gallery of fabrics that exist because I designed them.  This September, almost exactly 5 years from the day I ordered the fabric for that dress, I am going to have an exhibition of my work and our new book is going to be released and it is all about digitally printed fabric.


So, cheers to Spoonflower and Stephen and Kim and Darci and all of the creative and wonderful people I have worked with at Spoonflower.  When you are a painter, you don’t think about the people who make your paint or your brushes.  I am lucky enough to have a whole fabulous team that is helping me do what I do.


I’ve got T-shirts!

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Today is the day!  I am launching a brand new line of designs printed on t-shirts and coffee mugs.  I took some of my most popular 1 inch button designs with fiber art puns and have turned them into t-shirt designs.  These are printed by a company called RedBubble on a variety of different t-shirts.  You choose the design, size, style and color and they will print and send it to you.  There are a lot of different companies that will do this, but I like the selection at RedBubble and their customer service is totally top notch. I have several t-shirts from RedBubble designed by other artists and I just got my own “Knit Long and Prosper” shirt to celebrate my own new designs.  These have been SO FUN to design and I am planning to keep adding more.  (Let me know if you have a special request!)

I am featuring my “Reed Me” design in this post to celebrate the first day of the Midwest Weavers Conference here in Minneapolis.  I did a volunteer shift for the conference this morning and I am teaching some workshops on Saturday.  I wanted to time the opening of this new online shop so that I can talk about it in my “Marketing Yourself Online” class at the conference as another way of having your work for sale by making coffee mugs or notecards or even t-shirts with images of your work.

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Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 9.16.14 AMI have added a link in the sidebar (over there to the right) so that you can always find your way to my shop from here, or you can search at RedBubble under “beckarahn”.


Fiber Art meets Technology Reading List

A close up of woven computer memory. So cool! (via

I taught a “textiles & technology” class last night.  We had so much fun and we will definitely do it again!  Soft circuits, moldable plastic, thermochromic paint and a bunch more.  I told the class that rather than type all of these in a handout that they would have to try to type in to find them, I would just make their handout into a blog post.  These are a collection of recent articles and posts about textiles intersecting with technology.  Interesting reading and full of inspiration.

Core Rope Memory.  It’s like beaded ropes of wire that are actually computer programs. Completely cool.  This article also talks about an awesome woman programmer who worked on the Apollo mission computers.  So there’s lots to love.  Watch the video at about the 22 minute mark.  This article, also about core rope memory, has some amazing photos of the woven wires up close.  SO COOL.

Embroidery patterns translated to music.  I have a little music box at my house somewhere that you can use with punched paper like this.  I wish I could remember where I put it.

Not specifically textiles, but fascinating.  The museum in Prado is 3-d printing paintings so that people with visual impairments can “see” them.

A t-shirt that reacts to people nearby and tells you what you have in common.

A 3-d knitting machine that adapts a pattern to fit your size and shape.  I think any good knitter can do this, but it’s still an interesting article.

A scholarly article, but some neat ideas about all different kinds of soft/wearable circuits.

An interactive fur mirror.  Or one made of stuffed penguins.

Weaving with conductive thread and LEDs.

An iPad game based on a William Morris textile.

How textiles have revolutionized technology.

Google’s new Project Jacquard initiative.

The future of fabric.  Fashion design meets some new textile technologies.

Laundry that can clean itself?

A whole blog dedicated to fashion and technology.

Bring your multimeter to the fabric store?

A 3-d printed dress added to the collection at MOMA.

Electroluminescent wire.  Cool.

She’s a knitter.  She just does it with glass.

Patterned knits via a voice interpreting knitting machine.


Attention Fiber Geeks: Amplify your Art

This week I am teaching a class at the Weavers Guild of MN called “Amplify your Art”.  It started as a question: “Could you teach a class about soft circuits?”  My answer to that was “No, not really.  But what I can do…”

Part demonstration, part inspiration. This session will give you dozens of ideas for how to incorporate technology into your fiber art projects. We’ll cover a range of techno-possibilities, from electronic components like LED’s and conductive threads; to digital, 3-D printing and laser cutting; to chemistry with thermochromic and phosphorescent paints. Becka will show samples, provide sources, and do short demos to show how you can incorporate technology of all kinds into your weaving, spinning, and sewing projects. Thursday, June 11: 6:00-9:00 P.M.

I’m not really an expert in soft circuits.  I have built a couple.  I get the gist of it.  But I decided to take the incorporating technology theme of the class and run with it.  Because that I do know a lot about.

George (up there in the video) is made with a little traditional wiring (in the box) and some felt beads and conductive thread.  He’s really friendly, but a little shy.  If you hold hands with him, his nose lights up.  We will talk about how he is made.  I have also made three really fun examples with thermochromic pigment.  That means it changes color when you change the temperature.  I have an embroidered elephant embellished with LEDs.  I also have some UV reactive yarn.  We are going to make some sticker circuits in class. That’s right a little hands-on fun!  We will watch some videos of other artists doing cool stuff.  We will talk about 3-d printing and laser cutting and digital fabric printing and what works and what doesn’t and where to get it.  It will be 3 hours of discussing, exploring and getting inspired.

There are still spaces available if you want to join us.  You can register online or call the guild.  If you are interested and can’t make it to class, I have collected a whole bunch of articles about how fiber artists are using all kinds of technology in their art.  I will post those here after class so you can join in the reading if you are interested.

Do you have any really great examples of technology intersecting with fiber art?  Share in the comments and I will add them to my resource list.


Collaborating: An artist and two museums

Last night I was the guest artist at a special event for the Hennepin History Museum.  It was an event to thank donors and the museum wanted to have me there to talk about ways that contemporary artists can work with and be inspired by museums.  The curator pulled out the feather fan that I photographed and created a skirt design from.  I also brought this skirt, which is a photograph of a woodwork detail at the museum.

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This isn’t my only museum collaboration though, and I am thrilled to pieces to be able to show you this one.  I have been keeping it under wraps for a while.

I was approached by a graduate student intern at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum in Chicago with an inspiring opportunity.  They were trying to find a way to bring some modern relevance to their collection and had invited a group of contemporary artists and community members to create works in response to pieces in their collection.  They would give me photographs of a piece and then I could do anything to respond to it: write, create, curate.  They had a textile piece and wondered if I might like to respond.  YES!

Hull-House Sash

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They sent me several photos of the “sash”.  I am not sure what this piece is for sure.  It is woven and beaded and embroidered.  It is about 22 inches wide and 30 long.  In consulting with various textile geeks I know, our best guess is that it was a sampler type project, maybe using small samples or scraps of techniques used in classes and was meant to be decorative, like something to adorn the front of a podium.

My contact at the museum said,

“What is the role of the textile arts in an age of modern textile technology. Why do so many people make / construct their own textile clothing, garments, etc. ? In the early 20th century the HullHouse offered many textile, weaving, and sewing classes that were extremely popular at a time of tremendous factory expansion. The people taking those classes didn’t need to hand-produce their own articles, yet they did. What similarities exist between then and now? “

I decided to respond to the piece in two way: by making a contemporary piece and then writing a short essay to talk about the two pieces together.  I decided first to make a textile piece to reflect the parts of the sash I found striking:  the long fringe, the zig-zag trim, the gold sequins, the bold colors.  I wanted something that was modern and fun and wearable, but that had a real tangible connection to my inspiration piece.  I wanted people to look at it and immediately see the connection between the two.  I decided to go modern and make it from digitally printed fabric using an “all digital” design.  I very often work from photographs, but for this I didn’t want to print an adapted photo, but I wanted to use “modern technology” to create the design by drawing it all in a very virtual and non-tactile way, with vector art in Adobe Illustrator.


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I call this skirt “Sashay”.  I pulled colors out of the photo to create the design.  The zig-zag motif makes a yoke on the skirt and is echoed with a peek of ric-rac trim at the hem.  On each yellow bar on the design, I hand-stitched vintage gold sequins so there are subtle lines of sparkle.  It is digitally printed on to linen/cotton fabric.

The Hull-House Museum has put together a website to feature all of the response pieces for this project called “Look At It This Way”.  You can read my essay about the two pieces by visiting the site and checking out the other responses from musicians, poets and more. I am delighted to have been a part of this project and I had a great time working on it.