Thursday, April 12, 2012


I found a beautiful poem by Adrienne Rich which transported me to a cosy spot beside the Aga in a farm kitchen long ago. I picture a woman sitting with head bowed over her handwork. Perhaps she is weaving or crocheting, sewing, sketching, collaging .... or even carving.

"..... Vision begins to happen in such a life
as if a woman quietly walked away
from the argument and jargen in a room
and sitting down in the kitchen,
began turning in her lap
bits of yarn, calico and velvet scraps
laying them out absently on the scrubbed boards
in the lamplight, with small rainbow-colored shells
sent in cotton-wool from somewhere far away,
and skeins of milkweed from the nearest meadow -
original domestic silk, the finest findings -
and the dark petal of petunia,
amid the dry dark brown lace of seaweed;
not forgotten either, the shed silver
whisker of the cat,
the spiral of paper-wasp-nest curling
beside the finch's yellow feather.
Such a composition has nothing to do with eternity,
the striving for greatness, brilliance -
only with the musing of the mind
one with her body, experienced fingers quietly pushing
dark against bright, silk against roughness,
pulling the tenets of a life together
with no mere will to mastery,
only care for the many-lived, unending
forms in which she finds herself ..... "

- Adrienne Rich, Transcendal Etude

When fiber artist and bush sculptor, Janine McAullay Bott first began weaving she recalls that "Something came over me. I'd never weaved an object in my life, yet it felt like I'd been doing it forever. That feeling went from my heart right through to the tips of my fingers. I haven't been able to stop since."

"I like to call a weave a thought I had. Sometimes I'd just sit there and think about my grandfather or my mother and my hands would keep going - like they had a mind of their own" - Jane McAullay Bott

If you are a basket maker you have probably visited Tim Johnson's studio photo blog, here. Not only are his baskets wonderful but his photography is outstanding too.

Woven bottles by Mary Giles

Gurage basket, Ethiopia

If you would like to see more images, visit my WEAVE board at Pinterest, here.

See video, Gapuwiyak's Women With Clever Hands, here.


  1. "such a composition has nothing to do with eternity, the striving for greatness, brilliance- only with the musing of the mind" ... the way all art should be made I think... and with the intention of pleasing no one but oneself...
    beautiful post as always... xx

  2. My art life began as a basketry artist and lasted 20+ years. Thank you for this post. It brings basketry to life.

  3. What a wonderful post - Just reading Adrienne Rich's poem transports you to a place I think all women retreat - beautifully & visually said.

    And these baskets are amazing! It made me think of a basket maker whose work I admire:

    Robyn your posts always leave me feeling a little richer in spirit. xxoo

  4. Ah yes, that neutral palette and tons of texture. Just beautiful.

    Do you know the work of Lissa Hunter?

  5. Cat, I fell in love with this poem! So glad you like it.

    Jennifer, blogging teaches us so much about each other. I'm intrigued about your basketry history. Perhaps I will find more on your blog?

    Judy, thank you. I've just followed the link. Elizabeth's work is so full of energy isn't it?!

    Karen, I posted about Lissa Hunter a few years back and actually wanted to post one of her pieces in this post but there were just so many beautiful images to choose from.....

  6. Elegant! My favorite poet and a favorite poem. Thank you.

  7. This post is a treat for a basket-lover like me. Thanks so much.

  8. Robyn,
    I love this poem and will read it again after my comment - when I was in Ivory Coast 30+ years ago I collected nesting baskets made by women in nearby weaving villages (cotton burial cloth) they now contain some of my collections - holy stones and such...
    what a wonderful post as always
    I hope that your carving is envisioning you...

    xox - eb.

  9. Wonderfully inpsiring post for me Robyn! I so love the textures and patterns of weaving.

    I need to find some time to play with fibers again. I used to make baskets - did a project once in college with a Native American basketweaver. There are so many urges in me for artwork right now, but my time seems consumed with business things.

  10. Such a beautiful poem and wonderful work. I will have to come back and look at all the links. Makes me want tp weave :-).
    I hope you are doing well. xoxo

  11. Amazing. Absolutely amazing poem. As always with the art to match.

  12. Beautiful post. I think that from now on when I look at weavings..whether it be baskets or wall art or whatever, old or new, I will think of this post. I realized today that I don't pay enough attention to woven is truly special. I appreciate too how you wove in the spiritual fiber to this lovely post today. : )

    Have a great rest of your week.

  13. As always, once again you've outdone yourself putting this post together.Thank you for doing this.
    Love the Adrienne Rich poem, and the Bott quote!
    Each basket you've shown is unique and oh so special!

  14. Incredible post. It's as if you wove all the pieces together with your curation artistry. Curation creation.
    Thanks once again.
    xoxo Kim

  15. Ha! I have been thinking heavily about baskets and weaving these last few weeks! It's been manifesting itself here n amusing the universe thinks it is. :)

  16. the transcendental etude is so much a story of a life evolve and revolving around the art/artist/hand...i think weaving too shows the hand in such a unique way. the hand forms, holds, turns, folds, sculpts and hopefully if all is done as it should the piece will stand on its own. how like a life lived is that. in the end if lived as to form it hold itself. with a mother's love we have to let it go. thank you.

  17. i am so moved by this poem - you share such beauty in so many forms - and the weaving caught me in the throat - it is something i am feeling pulled to learn...
    hope you are well...

  18. Like Jennifer earlier in the comment stream, you have transported me to back to an earlier time in my life when the work of Adrienne Rich was writ large and basketry and all things textile were the fabric of my life. Thank you for this tribute and journey back.

  19. I visted an exhibition & demonstration of woven work here in Sydney called Women with Clever Hands: Gapuwiyak Miyalkurruwurr Gong Djambatjmala
    and it was so good watching the weavings grow before our eyes and having a go too, touched the pandanus felt like coming home...

  20. Another inspiring post! Hope that you are pulling out of limbo. I imagine so! :)

  21. avec les doigts de fées...l'art textile et la vannerie ..magnifique!

  22. This is one form of art I highly admire. I could never even braid my daughter's hair to suit her. I have watched basket makers weave. It is amazing and confounding.

  23. That poem is so beautiful (I will copy that into my journal, as I know I want to read it over and over).
    Life is like weaving isnt and out, up and down. and, I love the thought process when you are weaving (and stitching), how your mind wanders, yet stays focused on the weave.

    Have a lovely weekend!

    Jacky xox

  24. There is a special place in my heart for woven vessels and forms.

    The more natural looking the better.

  25. So wonderful, I love all the texture ! It reminds me why I was a textile major in college. I hope you are feeling inspired thank you so much for inspiring the rest of us.

  26. ohhh, Robyn, This poem is lovely... reminding me of days past when I collected old clothing and cut it into strips for my weaving.. and made scrap quilts from tiny bits of fabric .... those were special days. living hand to mouth and not knowing i was poor.

  27. "such a composition has nothing to do with eternity, the striving for greatness, brilliance- only with the musing of the mind" ...
    A timely reminder that sometimes this is exactly the state of mind in which we need to reside :)

    The Alexander Calder piece was a beautiful surprise and brought to mind a wonderful piece of cloth with a big red circle being worn by a Kikuyu in a documentary I saw a couple of days ago about (ex-)British colonies.

  28. My favorite part of basket making is gathering in the woods and along the shore. I love these textures. Thank you Robyn.

    Also I love what EB said

    "I hope that your carving is envisioning you..."


  29. In Adrienne Rich's passing we lost one of the most powerful female minds, as a poetic voice and essayist. There is irony: "as if a woman quietly walked away from the argument and jargen in a room"

    She may have walked away from the
    "jargon" (to make her own voice) but she walked into the "argument" of her time with all the force of her mind and body and life. The rest, or end of this poem brings her to a shard of glass slicing light (her mind), then the bandage as healer, then "the rock shelf forming underneath everything that grows." She knew her mind was a knife, her love a healing balm and her work would hold up and strengthen the future... even back in 1977 when she wrote this. Art knows its own power, even if we do not.

    a bit of a rant, but a lovely place to feel awake to one.

    Thanks for the lovely links.

  30. dear mansuetude,

    your "rant" sings in my heart today

    thank you for taking me more deeply
    into the song...

    xox - eb.

  31. Ms, this poem conjures up so many images in my mind. I've only just discovered it and love it!

    Sand Hill Art, I have never tried basket making but as a child on the farm I used to spend many hours watching the African women weaving reed sleeping mats in the sun and I've been fascinated ever since. I was gifted with many sleeping mats for my dolls. Cherished gifts indeed!

    eb, I would love to hear more (and more) about your time in Ivory Coast. Some of my favourite African artefacts in my collection come from there. in my lounge is a small chief's chair which fills me with awe. it is not something you stop seeing... if you know what I mean. When you become used to seeing something everyday you stop noticing it, but this piece really speaks to me.
    My carving is envisioning me ..... oh I really hope so !

  32. Valerianna, it's surprising just how many artists in the blog world have been basket makers at some stage in their lives. I hope a big space of studio time opens up for you soon.

    Annie, you are right.. images like these make one want to weave :-)

    Priya, glad you enjoyed the poem. Amazing indeed!

    Lisa Graham Art, these pieces have my fingers drumming on my desk, yearning to touch. So glad you mentioned the spiritual fiber ...

    Babs, so glad you enjoyed the post!

    Numinosity Kim, perhaps curation will lead to creation .... I like that!

    Little Brown Sparrow, what do you think of Sue Lawty's woven lead? I imagine you will combine weaving with your gorgeous jewellery unless you are wanting to do something completely different for a while.

    Henrietta ..... I think of one's life sewn or woven into handwork such as patchwork, slow cloths, weaving etc. Feeling old hand sewn quilts often effects me emotionally. This poem had the same feeling for me.

    Mairedodd, it is such a moving poem isn't it?! Reading that the weaving caught you in the throat ... After reading the poem several times I was aware of my hand resting on my heart. It effected me so much.
    I imagine Sue Lawty's work is quite interesting to you from a jewellery aspect.

    Hannah, this poem seems to transport so many of us back to an earlier stage in our lives.

    Mo, I followed your link and wish there were more photos but I am imagining the feel of the weavings and how enjoyable it must have been to watch the pieces grow.

    Catherine, though I'm not carving I have made a 10 or 20 minute collage every day and I've thoroughly enjoyed doing this post so .... maybe the spark is igniting :-)

    Helena, glad you enjoyed these beautiful images!

    ELFI, textile art is something I'm drawn to. I love that your art includes fragments of clothing.

    Lisa at Greenbow, my daughter loved having her hair french braided but it always has me "confoxed" and confused. It's so simple and yet I make a mess of it.

  33. Jacky, definitely a poem for the quote book! Have a glorious Autumn weekend!

    Grrl, I've found so many exquisite natural woven vessels on Australian websites and feel a very strong connection to them.Also love Mavis Ngallametta's bright baskets.

  34. Lori, I can't resist texture! Feeling inspired .... everywhere but carving.

    Gwen, oooo I would love to try strip weaving with old clothes! yes those were the days ... struggling artists, living hand to mouth and not worrying about it too much.

    Wild C, a timely reminder :-)
    I have been thinking about you and will email soon. Seeing Alexander Calder's piece was a lovely surprise for me too and I know the Kikuyu cloths you are talking about. Black, red and white cloths are so typical of the Kikuyu.

    Leslie, gathering in the woods would appeal to me too. I used to gather reeds at the rivers edge, "helping" the African women on the farm.

    Mansuetude, this poem is new to me so I'v found your "rant" very interesting. (Actually I was expecting some wisdom from your direction). I wish i could persuade you to do a post about Adrienne Rich ;-)

  35. here's another couple of links with more images of the baskets and the women with clever hands who made them-

  36. Hand Eye Magazine has a good article with much better photos of the women with clever hands baskets and materials here-

  37. Mo thank you so much for going to all the trouble of finding the links for me. I'm gobsmacked after watching the video. Very moving!! I had to smile at the woman who phoned her husband to say, if you see me on TV tonight you can phone me back. It was wonderful to see all the women suddenly realizing that their work was appreciated which then revived their enthusiasm for weaving with hand dyed fiber. I LOVE the earthy colours and the stripes. Just stunning!

  38. Dear Robyn, this poem is beautiful, that such works are created in quietness. Love all the woven treasures. So inspiring.

    1. Thanks Roxanne. I don't weave myself but I'm inspired by the poem and these beautiful artworks.

  39. Wow, what a poem! So many ways to relate and be transported. I love that you chose weavings to go with it.

    Thankyou for your kind comment on my blog.

    1. Hi Lisa, the poem makes one think of all the women who have created some sort of handwork next to the fire.

  40. There is something wonderful about nests and weaving Robyn and your images capture it and send us there. That poem speaks so quietly and strongly of the experience - thank you.

  41. My mother is a weaver. That poem suits you so well. I can see why it called to you with the woman in it a gatherer of scraps, seaweed and shells. Lovely.

    1. Do you ever feel like weaving? I wish you would write a post about your mom and her work.

  42. this post is stunning. vessels, baskets, weaving in three dimensions, your photos are stunning. when i read your post i went off on a tour of the places you sent me to, and forgot to come back to say thank you. wow.

  43. I am currently knitting and crocheting bits and pieces for my family. Kinda like weaving. Thank you for all the textile eye candy. Love it. Love you. x

    1. Rachelle I can see you so clearly with work on your lap, looking serene while the children play around you. Love you too.

  44. your blog posts are like a showcase.. a virtual exhibit of the finest artists of whatever theme or idea or poetry you connect them this case weave.. the surface textures are divine.

  45. I'm reminded that some of my most treasured possessions are woven forms... baskets and lidded boxes. They might not always grab my attention....but I recall so many times packing to move house and each time I handle these woven pieces I am touched by their utter humbleness and the fact they posses an eternal quality...they are not transient ... not things to be cast off. There is beauty and function and more....the perennial quality they have from being a continuous thread in culture across time and place.

    I shall love visiting your Pinterest board Robyn... the other ones too!

    1. I can say the same about your Pinterest boards, Sophie.