Skill-Shares in New York City
For the past 6 months or so I’ve been offering free weaving, knitting, embroidery and natural dyeing workshops in public spaces in Manhattan. Most of time we are weaving since people seem to really respond to my lovely Mirrix loom, and I love any excuse to weave so I’ve planned a lot of tapestry skill-shares. They have taken a few forms:
I weave/knit/dye in public spaces, usually on the subway or in a parks and invite people to join me, usually with a sign. These are an attempt to thwart people’s tendencies to isolate themselves, usually via digital devices, with the hopes of complicating their ideas of how public space is perceived and used. My goal is to encourage people to engage, and even learn something instead of tune out of the world around them. Admittedly, I too am often one of these people engrossed in my book on the subway. So, I’m not saying there isn’t a place for tuning out – everyone needs their personal time, and God love you if for you that time occurs on the subway. I do however think it could be good to interrupt people’s habituated actions from time to time.
These are usually the result of no one joining me to learn the respective craft of the day, and this usually happens on the subway. I’m not dissapointed about having the skill-share concept morph into a performance in this way, and am still grappling with the ideas that occur as a result. But, so far it means I feel I’m being perceived as more of a spectacle than an educator or artist, and because it’s such an unlikely place to do this sort of thing I sometimes feel a bit awkward. In my first attempts I even felt kind of pathetic, forgetting my purpose and instead imagining what people must think of this crazy girl with a textile contraption and sign inviting people to join her. But one day, several days after one of my first subway skill-shares, a woman approached me on the street saying she’d seen me weaving on the subway and wondered what I was doing. She hadn’t seen the sign inviting people to try, nor did I make eye contact with her (something I sometimes do so I have an excuse to smile at people in an attempt to invite them to comment on my actions). Her genuine interest helped me forge on and remind myself of my purpose during future attempts.
These are workshops that I advertise on EVERLEA TEXTILES’ group on MEETUP.COM. They are essentially craft groups, where I organize a public location for people to gather, hang out, chat and knit/weave/etc and as an added bonus I offer knitting and weaving instruction to anyone interested.
All these formats allow me explore my personal goal of making handwork skill development as accessible as possible. As a new venture Katie Earle, my partner at EVERLEA TEXTILES, and I are working to gain funding in order to hold free day-long workshops in the future.
Thanks for your interest in my practice! I hope months from now I can say I’m still going strong.
Janna Maria Vallee