Jessie Mordine Young

From learning about your academic journey and rigorous art practice it's clear that textiles as well as textile history are a passion! Where did your journey with textiles begin?

I love to talk about textiles — their history, place in society, and how they are created. I love to learn, research and write about textiles — exploring the social, political and emotional dynamic that informs and inspires. 

My sincere interest in promoting the preservation of traditional textile practices and supporting makers began when I attended high school in New Delhi, India. There, I interned at a textile factory. When the power outages frequently occurred in the hot summer days, I would join the embroiderers on the floor. Through broken Hindi and English, the women would teach me stitching techniques that they had learned from their mothers and grandmothers in their home villages. These methods were initially learned for matrimonial and domestic goods, but are now used as an autonomous practice, their primary form of income. These processes had so much meaning, and the imagery they stitched on their personal works told stories. From this experience, I quickly realized my interests lay less in large scale commercial production and more so in cultural preservation by looking at the history of textiles and textile art and its current role in society today.   

Do you believe a good understanding of textile history is important for textile artists?

Weaving is fundamentally an experiential process based on tactile and bodily engagement and a woven object is the culmination of repeated actions that produce a structure embedded with knowledge. I am a maker who engages in the conceptual understanding of weaving and critical thinking about craft. In examining textiles in a gallery or museum, it is clear to me that my own embodied knowledge and understanding of tactile sensibility allow me to access the material in an intimate manner. My identity as a weaver, textile scholar, and educator has been shaped by the many makers who lived before me and the many weavers who are alive today. My understanding of this art form would not exist without their dedication to their practice. I am greatly indebted to them.

What part of textile history interests you the most?

This is such a tough question to answer, because I appreciate how expansive the medium is and how you find such different styles and themes across various cultures, communities and individual artists and designers. Textiles were developed to solve one main problem: protecting the body, both in the form of garments and housewares. Over time, they have become works of art in their own right. And what I think I am interested in most, is what these textiles have become. 

In addition to their materiality, the global routes by which textiles circulated is extremely interesting. Textiles held enormous cultural importance in global trade during the 16th through 18th centuries with the demand and value of textiles used to control other industries such as the lucrative spice market.

Tell us about your process, start to finish how you make your pieces.

Many of my artworks are direct connections and references to my experiences in nature, where color and texture become tangible references to memory. 

I often source my materials relatively locally and when I become immersed in a new place I experiment with and incorporate found objects such as plants, rocks, shells or rope into my work. Immersing myself in coastal and forested environments allows me to expand my visual and tactile language as well as think beyond the confines of urban life. Each time I leave my immediate surroundings, I push my practice further which intrinsically informs my daily thread drawings. The “quiet” and peace that comes with existing in these spaces also significantly shifts the work. 

How did the daily practice, 100 day series come about? 

In the beginning of December 2021, I embarked on a 100 day weaving challenge, where I committed to making one weaving a day on a portable frame loom, which I call “woven drawings” or “thread sketches.” I initially thought of doing something like this after I attended an art residency with Thread Caravan in Oaxaca that August. While there, I had tried to make 30 weavings in 30 days but I did not complete the goal. I decided to focus more of my attention to learning about textiles processes in the area rather than completing my own art. It was the most incredible way to be informed and inspired, and when I returned home, I thought I would re-commit to the challenge, but for a longer duration. Extending the project over the course of several months would offer more versatility. 

The 100 Day Weaving Challenge was an incredible learning opportunity. I was able to create an entirely new body of work while pushing my practice forward in new and exciting ways. Each day I arrived at the loom with little expectation, and instead I granted myself permission to play and experiment. I developed a new personal style and visual language within my work. I explored material, pattern, texture, color and form in ways I had not done before, and I learned to work comfortably with a frame loom. I also let go of perfection, taking the woven drawings that didn’t go exactly to plan as new learning opportunities. The project was humbling but I found that starting each day with the laborious and meticulous task of weaving to be both a soothing rhythmic ritual and a challenge in self-discipline and commitment.

As you’re currently endeavoring a 365 day series, How does the previous series inform this new work?

I am excited to see how I can become even more intentional with the techniques I employ and the materials I use. I will be creating a visual diary through weaving - where the 100 Day Series was quite intuitive and improvisational, this will be intentional and reflective. I am also testing out new materials and forms. There are very different elements and themes that make the two bodies of work distinct, and I feel as if the latter project  is a progression from the first.

What are some of the themes or concepts expressed in your work?

I have been working with quite a bit of rope in my latest works. I am interested in how this material has a lot of symbolic meaning. Rope is a historically utilitarian good, often associated with labor but it also can have sensual and intimate connotations as well.

What are some challenges to a project of this magnitude?

The largest challenges I face are documenting the process, consistency and time. I have big goals and a vision for how I want to record this journey, but I am struggling to achieve this part of the project, as it is extremely demanding in terms of time. It can already be a challenge for me to find a consistent routine for making. While I weave everyday, I work full time, and some days I have to weave late at night or in between meetings. Occasionally there are pieces that I don’t love, so either having to rework them that day, or create an entirely new piece is a lot in addition to making the original daily work. Saying no to many things so that I can put my creative practice and this project first may be the most difficult challenge, because I really value the friendships I have in my life, and already feel that our time here on earth is short and our moments spent with loved ones is limited. 

How do you imagine your pieces being enjoyed or showcased outside of your studio?

I am excited to see how I can become even more intentional with the techniques I employ and the materials I use. I will be creating a visual diary through weaving - where the 100 Day Series was quite intuitive and improvisational, this will be intentional and reflective. I will also document my process through photography, video, and written word as a way of exploring each piece in more depth.

You refer to these works as “woven drawings” or “thread sketches”. What relationship do you see between drawing and weaving in your practice?

I think of thread’s potential just like I think of that of a pen or paintbrush; it has the ability to make a mark, to offer information, and to create visual (And tactile) language. I see the warp often as a blank sheet of paper and each weft insertion in a handwoven textile can be different, and thus has potential for creative expression. 

What role does color and texture play in your work?

For a long time, I shied away from color. This was particularly apparent when I lived in Chicago, and just after moving back from India, a place that truly stimulates the senses, that I felt less compelled to explore a wide variety of hues. I returned to color after recommitting to my dye practice where I became more aware of my relationship to particular plants and the hues they can produce. 

Texture is an intrinsic element of textile art, and there is so much I can say about this topic. In weaving, structure and fiber quality can influence the texture, making for endless combinations. We touch textiles every day of our lives. When you think of our first and last experiences with touch, textiles are often involved - being swaddled in a blanket as a baby, wearing clothes that often represents one’s personal style, and at the end of life being wrapped in a burial shroud.

Can you talk about your use of natural dyes and the inclusion of natural materials like dried flowers in your work?

Flowers are feminine and sensual and I see a lot of my work also as such. When dried and meant to last for longer periods of time these objects are still ephemeral which can call the viewer to think of the temporality of life.  

I am enamored by the alchemy of the dye vat, and I paint my yarn and woven fabrics through a natural dye process, where I create my own visual language with color by thoughtfully sourcing plant matter. I think of natural dye the same as mixing colors or a painting. There is a science/chemistry/strategy to it. 

With the 365 project, I have less time to dye my own fibers, as it is much more demanding, so I instead collaborate with other dye artists. I like this aspect of collaboration.

I saw the quote, “Textiles are evidence of humanity” in another interview with you and it really struck me. How do your creations reflect that idea for you?

Here is an excerpt from the my thesis that I think encapsulates my thoughts and ideas about weaving and textiles, and how they are evidence to humanity:

Weaving is a highly physical act. It is a form of embodied knowledge—the realization of a body’s understanding of how to move and engage with loom and thread. This form of knowledge can only be acquired through a hands-on approach to learning, in which the maker actively performs a process over and over again until it becomes routine—memorized and incorporated into the body’s movement repertoire. For the weaver, repeated practice of the tasks of weaving—winding the warp, threading the loom, creating draft patterns, and manipulating the treadles—creates embodied knowledge. 

How do you imagine your work evolving in the future?

It is in our nature to categorize the year into sections such as weeks, months, and seasons. I see this as a way of organically creating groupings or series within the “A Weaving a Day” series. I am planning on weaving one month’s worth of woven drawings on ceramic frame looms that I hand-build and glaze - an idea that I have wanted to explore in my practice for quite some time. I hope to scale up again once the “A Woven Year” challenge is complete, making works that are more expansive and can take up more space on walls. I hope to make a book at the end of this year, full of my writings and reflections from the series.

Jessie's kickstarter has just been fully funded! Check out her video below:

Photography by Lynn Hunter