Tien Chiu

Tien Chiu

This blog is a little late because I was polishing up this very special entry for this week. It is snippet into the life and creative mind of a weaving artist that I am extremely fond of: Tien Chiu. She is an inspiration to me to push harder and think more critically about my own hand weaving. I sent her an email correspondence with a list of questions that I always want to know about weavers (or other textile artisans) that I read about, and she graciously sent me back some great insights into her work and what she is passionate about. Below is a short bio that can also be found on her Creating Craft Blog.

Tien Chiu has been crafting for over three decades, specializing in complex, multidisciplinary fiber arts projects. She has won many awards for her work, including “Best in Show” at the Conference of Northern California Handweavers, and has had her work featured on the cover of Handwoven magazine and inside Shuttle, Spindle, and Dyepot. Her wedding dress is part of the permanent collection at the American Textile History Museum, and will be displayed in their wedding-dress exhibit in spring 2013.

Tien writes regularly for Handwoven and Complex Weavers Journal, and is a member of the Editorial Advisory Board for Handwoven. She has also written for WeaveZine and Shuttle, Spindle, and Dyepot, and is a co-founder of Weavolution, the social network for handweavers.

Tien maintains a personal website at tienchiu.com, where you can find images of her work, a blog about her artwork, and photos/commentary from her many adventures around the world. (It also shows off her wicked sense of humor!)

What originally drew you to hand weaving?

I had just finished spinning and knitting my Spiral Shawl, a handspun ring shawl that I designed, spun, and knit as a meditative experience. It took me about a year to spin the ultra-fine yarn, design the pattern, and knit the shawl, and afterwards, I felt I had conquered all the mountains I wanted to in spinning and knitting, and that it was time to move on. Nancy Tepas, whom I knew from various fiber lists, told me, "Weaving is the most intellectually challenging of all the fiber arts." Shortly afterward, I found an 8-shaft Baby Wolf on sale on Craigslist, bought it, and was instantly hooked.

I love weaving because the possibilities are so endless and the horizons so broad. I found knitting boring after a few years, but I don't think I could ever get bored of weaving - there are so many things you can do with weaving! Weaving also goes a lot faster than knitting, which is great because for me, the joy is in designing. I love designing and I love puzzles, so working out the physical and artistic design of a piece of cloth is super exciting. The weaving - throwing the shuttle - is interesting too, because I constantly work on my ergonomics and technique, trying to smooth out and connect my movements. It reminds me of Tai Chi.

Every aspect of weaving is intriguing to me; I could never get bored.

"Wedding Dress", silk, French Alencon lace, and Ayoka pearls, 2010.
"Wedding Dress", silk, French Alencon lace, and Ayoka pearls, 2010.

What weaving/textile techniques are you most drawn to? Why?

I like working with fine threads and making garments. I love fine threads because I enjoy complex, delicate patterns. It's difficult to make something dainty in thick yarns, so my craving for detail draws me to very thin yarns. My first project was made using Jaggerspun Zephyr, which has five thousand yards per pound (a very fine laceweight yarn). Shortly after that I went to 30/2 silk, which has 7500 yards per pound, and these days I usually work with 60/2 silk, which is about the weight of sewing thread (a bit finer). My latest sample has a background warp in 140/2 silk - 35,000 yards per pound, about 1/3 the weight of sewing thread.

Another reason for using fine threads is that I like to make garments, and it's difficult to make garments from thick yarns - the fabrics are thicker, so harder to sew, and also ravel more easily. Plus, the fabric has to be appropriate to the garment. Most blouses are made with very thin fabric, for example.

Other than that, I don't have a favorite technique. I only started weaving a bit over 6 years ago, in October 2006, so I'm still exploring different techniques and structures, and expect to continue exploring for awhile.

"Autumn Splendor", wool and silk, 2011.
"Autumn Splendor", wool and silk, 2011.[/caption]

What other crafts or hobbies do you do and how does that work into your weaving (how do they inspire your work? do the other hobbies support your weaving?)

Most of my hobbies are textile related. I made a conscious decision several years ago to channel my energies into weaving and crafts that mesh well with weaving. I'm in my 40's - still young relative to most weavers, but acutely aware that my time is limited, so I want to focus on making textile art. So most of my time is spent either weaving, dyeing yarns to weave with, or sewing my handwoven cloth into garments - with occasional excursions into other fiber arts. I gave up several non-textile hobbies in order to focus, but it wasn't really a wrench to do so, more an acknowledgment that my priorities had changed.

I do have one thoroughly unrelated hobby, which is chocolatiering. Once a year, around Thanksgiving time, I lock myself up in the kitchen and spend four days making chocolates - usually about 90 pounds, but one year I teamed up with another chocolatier and made 133 pounds! I usually make about 30 flavors of bonbons, caramels, and chocolate dipped candied citrus peels (which I also make myself). It takes about a month to prepare and then several frenzied days in the final push, but it's marvelous fun. I offer twenty boxes per year as my "Chocolates for Charity" drive - people who donate more than a certain amount to the charity of my choice get a box of chocolates. I raise somewhere between $2000 and $2500 in most years. The remaining boxes go to friends and family.

What are a couple of your favorite craft/design/art books that are in your library?

The most important book in my library is Kimono as Art: The Landscapes of Itchiku Kubota. Itchiku Kubota was a shibori artist who made stunningly beautiful kimono (which is a little bit like saying Van Gogh was this guy who painted). I had dabbled in fiber arts all my life, but never thought of it as a serious avocation. I opened this book and it was like seeing the face of God. I had not realized that a textile work could be so complex, evocative, and beautiful. In that moment I realized that I had found my calling: I want to make something - anything! - as powerful and beautiful as Kubota's work. Even though I work in a different medium, I consider Kubota to be my inspiration, a manifestation of the Muse.

On a slightly less elevated plane, I love to collect books on weave structure. If I had to be stranded on a desert island for all time with a single weaving book, it would be Doramay Keasbey's Pattern Techniques for Handweavers. It is a dense book and probably not for beginners, but it covers a very wide cross-section of weave structures. When I come across a structure I don't yet understand, it's where I reach first. Other books I love are Bonnie Inouye's Exploring Multishaft Design, Sharon Alderman's Mastering Weave Structures, and anything by Peggy Osterkamp.

Design-wise, my favorite book is Picture This: How Pictures Work by Molly Bang. It's small but mighty. It starts out by walking through the construction of a picture of Little Red Riding Hood being threatened by the wolf, all done in simple geometric shapes. It demonstrates design principles by showing how small changes can make a big difference in the "feel" of a picture. It also gives a number of design principles at the end, but to me the big value is that it shows you how to "tinker" with a picture - gives you insight into the thought process.

I also like A Fiber Artist's Guide to Color an Design by Heather Thomas -a very thorough coverage of color theory and two dimensional design in a fiber arts context (art quilts).

Finally, there is a special place in my library for The Complete Calvin & Hobbes, which is an archive of every Calvin & Hobbes comic strip ever published. I consider Calvin (and Hobbes, too!) to be my inspiration for life - a zest for mischief coupled with a wonderful imagination. Get those two together, put in a little dedication, and you'll go far.

What is one tool that you could not work without?

My computer-driven dobby loom. It enables me to do vastly more complex weaves than I could on a treadle loom - both because of the limitations of a treadle loom, and because I can now do very complex patterns without worrying about losing my place. I love my little AVL Workshop Dobby Loom!

After that, my next favorite piece of equipment is the end-feed shuttle. It makes for wonderful selvages.

"Wedding Coat" silk, wool, and gold thread 2010.
"Wedding Coat" silk, wool, and gold thread 2010.

What are you currently working on?

Right now I have two projects. The first is a book on the creative process which I've been writing in blog format, at http://www.creatingcraft.com . It's titled Creating Craft: A Guide to Designing Original Pieces and discusses the process of getting from inspiration to a finished piece: gathering and organizing ideas, generating designs from ideas, refining your designs, and then making the piece. It's primarily intended to help people who are new to design, but even experienced designers will find useful tools there. And the blog version is free. Once I'm done writing it, probably in another five or six months, I'll revise it and publish the finished piece as a book.

The other piece I'm working on is a handwoven garment, titled Phoenix Rising, that I've been noodling on for the last year or so. I've been sampling phoenix designs and fabrics - you can see one of the phoenix designs here - and experimenting with different colors, textures, etc. for the last several months, but it wasn't until last week, when I saw a dress by Jean-Paul Gaultier on Style.com, that it all started to come together. I now have a design in mind (not sketched on paper yet, though) and am starting to move into sampling and making muslins. It will likely involve 24 yards of very finely woven, phoenix-patterned cloth, and another 16 or so yards of an equally fine fabric - so it will probably take a year or two to make. That's OK; anything spectacular takes time.

And finally is there anything that you have been dying to try but you haven't been able to get to try it yet? (Could be weaving related or life related)

Surprisingly, I don't think there is. I've already traveled to lots of exotic places, and tried a lot of different things in weaving (and life generally). Sometimes both at once. I'm always exploring, always weaving, but I can't think of a particular thing that I'm dying to do and haven't gotten a chance yet. Except maybe jacquard weaving. I'd love to have a jacquard loom, to be able to control each warp thread individually! That would be great fun.But if I died tomorrow (hopefully not!), I'd be satisfied with what I'd experienced and seen; I don't feel there has been anything missing in my life. I have a medical condition (now under control, thankfully) and never expected to make it to thirty, so I decided early to try everything now, instead of waiting. That's true in my weaving life as well as life in general.

Weave on!

I am so fortunate to have Tien Chiu as the first weaver and textile artist profile to feature on this blog and I look forward to continuing the conversation with her and many others in the future. To follow Tien's progress as she creates and learns, please go to her website and read her blog. Also follow along her creative processes on her book development blog, Creating Craft.

Is there a weaver or textile artist that you are interested in learning more about? Let me know!

  1. Wanda Milwee
    I enjoyed this interview and look forward to others. It was interesting to know what books have been important to Tien Chiu. Sharon Alderman is a friend as well as a fellow weaver. Have you interviewed her yet? I recently moved to Florida (from the Pacific Northwest) and have not met any weavers of this area who have national recognition. I'll be interested to see if you interview someone from the Southeast.
  2. Kitty
    With havin so much written content do you ever run into any issues of plagorism or copyright violation? My blog has a lot of unique content I've either created myself or outsourced but it looks like a lot of it is popping it up all over the internet without my permission. Do you know any ways to help reduce content from being ripped off? I'd really appreciate it.