Jenny Valloric described weaving as a slow, laborious, orderly process punctuated by the occasional moment of chaos. She called it a “spaghetti nightmare” when a few pounds of cotton yarn clumped up as she washed it after dyeing it. As for the thousands of yards of translucent monofilament she wound onto bobbins, she joked, “Look at it wrong way and it explodes.”
“Weaving is maddening,” she said “It’s not something you can sit down and just pick up in a day. There’s a lot of ins and outs to it. It’s a love-hate relationship.”
Over the last several months, Valloric has been preparing for an exhibit at Sierra Arts, meshing the dyed yarn and monofilament together into semi-translucent panels that are about three by 9 feet. She thinks of these works as abstracted landscapes, records of her travels, distilled down into the colors of a place—or even down to the detail of a particular tree or plant. In 2015, for example, when she was an artist in residence at St. Mary’s Art Center, she used locally collected sagebrush as a dye ingredient. For the upcoming exhibit, the hues are a brighter green, resembling the area around Christchurch, New Zealand, where she studied sculpture for a year.
Valloric first got hooked on textiles as an art student at Colorado State University in the early 2000s. She was especially taken with historical textiles—indigo dyeing techniques from ancient Japan and “traditional Persian carpets, full of process and technique and, really, loads of stylized symbolism.”
“I’m enchanted with the old things that dictate human culture and the development of humanity,” she said. She pointed out that up until the Industrial Revolution, textiles were of front-and-center concern to the average person. If you needed a new sweater, for example, you’d be far more likely to make one than buy one.
In Valloric’s mind, however, even though most of us are removed from the process of making everyday necessities such as cloth by hand, we’re still intimately connected to the fabric itself, because we use it daily.
For that reason, she said, “Textiles are really personable. They’re an intimate medium.” Viewers tend to relate easily to the textures and optical effects of Valloric’s panels. They fit into two worlds at once—the austere realm of galleries and the universally recognizable realm of cloth.
“I’ve seen people sneaking in and rubbing their faces on them to see what they feel like,” Valloric said.
“I’m not saying run around with greasy Cheeto hands and touch everything,” she added, but as someone who finds a lot of satisfaction in handling each piece for 20 or more hours as she weaves each thread, she can easily understand the appeal of experiencing the pieces tactilely, even in a gallery, where that’s typically prohibited.
Sometimes Valloric takes full advantage of modern technological efficiency, say when she’s ordering fishing line in bulk from Florida, or buying cotton directly from a mill in North Carolina. Other times, she’s likely to take on everyday tasks the slow, pre-industrial way, “using a fork instead of a mixer,” for example. When it comes to making large panels of fabric—something that could also be accomplished by sending a schematic to a commercial weaver—she’ll do it herself.
“I think it’s important to keep the creator’s hand in there,” she said.