The Problem with Tea Towels
by Deborah Payne
“What? You can’t be weaving tea towels, Debbie. They are so beautiful nobody would want to use them. And besides, you can buy tea towels for less than 5 bucks. Don’t waste your time and energy weaving them – make shawls and scarves instead!”
A frequent response from family and friends when I tell them I’ve decided to weave tea towels, again.
And therein lies the problem with tea towels for a handweaver. So beautiful, so many threads, so much work, yet so little perceived value.
I challenged myself to delve into this contradiction by designing and weaving a series of tea towels. My inspiration came from beautiful textiles that I have collected or admired from around the world. I studied designs and patterns, especially those created by colour choices and weave structures that have been woven on simple looms in so many cultures, where more sophisticated equipment is not available to most people.
As I created these tea towels, I was enthralled with the beauty of the woven cloth. And yet, I still experienced frustration that this cloth would “just be a tea towel” and not something of greater (perceived) value. So strong is our perception of a utilitarian domestic textile.
The Problem with Tea Towels situates weaving in a social context that is ambiguous and problematic. My hope is that this exhibition will tease and prod you to consider the place of “domestic” art – often made by women – in the art/craft spectrum, and especially, how we name and frame the handmade.
A very special thanks to Artsnb for the Creation Grant that gave me the funds and time to explore this subject. This exhibition is very much my tribute to the quiet grandeur of handweavers around the world who find value in beautifying the every day.
About Deborah Payne
I grew up in Edmonton in a household filled with paper and cloth. Dad, a pressman, would bring home end rolls of newsprint from the Edmonton Journal. And that paper served us well: for drawing; weaving mats to sop up winter slush; creating magnificent gowns for the Annual Newsprint Ball. Mom, a Ukrainian farm girl, sewed and created dresses for me and my sisters, costumes, outfits for herself, curtains, etc. My love of rich lush fabric with patterns and textures came naturally.
So it is no surprise that textiles and fibres are the media that chose me. I weave, felt, stitch, and paint. Colour, pattern, and texture draw me in. My process is slow and tactile, allowing me to create art at a pace that invites contemplation and musing – a magical meditation, really, as I am deeply moved by the sense of touch. I am inspired by the beauty found in traditional designs across cultures, in nature, and in our everyday surroundings.
My work has also been influenced by two years of study at the New Brunswick College of Art and Design, by many workshops in many media, and by extensive travel.
I have been a juried member of Craft NB since 2008, and an active committee member. I participated in Craft NB’s 2017 Beneath the Surface Residency at Fundy National Park. My work has been shown in a number of galleries here in the province, and currently one of my tapestries is in the 2019 Beyond the Edge: Small Tapestry International 6 Exhibition, travelling in the USA. I have received grants from ArtsNB, including the Creation Grant for this exhibition.
After having lived in Edmonton, Quebec City, Barcelona, and Montreal, I am happy to call Saint John NB home.
Vibrant imagery in this article by photographer Rob Roy.
See the exhibition at Sunbury Shores until August 24th.