The Wefts Still Have Things to Teach Me: A Living Serape Weaving

29 June 2022
Bookmark This (0)

Sponsored in part by:

Ad description: The words, "The socks you knit won't last forever, but you can make them last for years and years. Shop now." Also featuring the cover image of the Sock Mending Guide.

I’ve always thought of my memories as threads—moments spun together to create some form of continuity. When I think of Mexico I see threads, too: fragments of a culture that I am a part of but absent from. Strands of connection that I must decipher.

When I was a kid, my family would go out on warm summer days and, under a shady tree, we would set up picnics atop a serape. I would lay down, put my eye close to the ground, and gaze at the cacophony of colors beneath me. I was enamoured by the geometry of the serape, its boldness of tones, its thoughtful design. As my eyes grazed the miniature canyons of thread that made up the serape, I spotted imperfections. Inconsistencies in the dye, nicks in the weave, impurities between the fibers. It was full of shortcomings but still, as a whole, the cloth was exactly what it was. Nothing more and nothing less than the fibres that made it, the strands of imperfect moments and memories that came together.

image descripton: a close of up a multi-coloured handwoven fabric

The serape has become very important to me. I see it as an object that always took on any form my family needed. Whether it was a blanket, scarf, tablecloth, shawl, or bag, the serape would transform itself to fit our needs.

In 2020, I set out to create my own serape; my serape was to be a living textile. Using a rudimentary variation on tapestry weaving, I tried to weave grass as it grew. I wanted to explore weaving in relation to Mexico by using native grasses, fibres, and traditional techniques. By weaving the living grass, I wanted to explore how identities form out of living memories. It was my way of explaining my relationship to Mexico as a complex system of changing moments that come together.

Then the grass died.

image description: dried grasses, woven together to create an open fence-like structure
In 2021, I began weaving again. The piece now became about trying to hold on to something that felt lost. The grass felt like it was grieving, laying in wake for what it could have been. Weaving became difficult as the strands snapped and the roots rotted. Then, when the pandemic hit, my motivation to weave faded. But I didn’t give up. It was not what I thought it would be, but the more I wove, the more it became something new. The grass is a memory held together with twine, just trying to make sense of its place—its identity. I realized I had viewed memories as living and still changing, but perhaps they change because they are decaying. My serape had died, but maybe that was exactly what I needed, perhaps the serape was transforming itself one more time to show me what I needed to know.
Berlanga Whiletheweftswere1

In 2022, I finally cut down the old growth. After two years of having it in my life it felt like a bittersweet goodbye. Letting go is always hard but I think it’s about time I made space for some new growth and let go of what might have been. I have learned from my mistakes, and I think that I’m ready to try and make my living textile again. I’m hoping to keep the grass alive this time, but I guess that’s really up to the serape. I was once told that a gardener must be willing to lose their seeds in order to grow, and that’s exactly what I’m doing now: putting my faith into all I’ve lost and knowing it will grow into something even better.

I recently came into possession of a floor loom and have been trying to learn how to weave in a more traditional sense. The act of weaving—its repetition—allows me to have time where I can think and reflect. The motions themselves teach me something; I can feel the materials revealing themselves to me. I think about how I usually approach my culture and how I often over-complicate myself. I don’t need to come up with justifications for why I am allowed to speak about Mexico. I don’t need to convince myself when Mexico is undeniably a part of me. I think about Mexico often in a sense of distance. I am far from Mexico in time and space, and with every minute that passes I get further away. But when I’m weaving, every weft puts me a little farther from the first strand I started with, yet that strand is no less a part of the weaving than the one I just added. Sometimes I lose sight of that first thread in the maze of fibres of a serape, but it’s still there. I just need a new perspective. Maybe if I get low to the ground and gaze closely at the fibres across the canyons and valleys of weaving, I’ll be able to spot the strands I started with.

image description: two weaving projects lying together on a small rock; the first is a brightly coloured fabric woven fron thread, the second is woven from dried grasses

All images by Francisco Berlanga.

Copyright © Francisco Berlanga except as indicated.
image description: a young Hispanic man sits crossed legged on a colourful blanket

About Francisco Berlanga

Francisco Berlanga is a contemporary textile artist who studied at Simon Fraser University. He obtained his BFA in Visual Arts and he is currently working towards completing his MFA at UBC. His practice is based on questioning identity, particularly his connection with his own Mexican culture and how one can inhabit a culture while being partially absent from it. He engages in discourse with his own identity through the creation of traditional Mexican “manualidades” that often take the form of textile works, weaving has become essential to his practice. His work makes connections between traditional Mexican aesthetics and contemporary visual language. His practice engages with concepts of inaccessibility and the role memory and language can play when someone is distanced from their own culture. He attempts to bridge the gaps between his personal and cultural identities by forcing connections between them and trying to understand the limitations that these identities impose upon each other. Francisco was also a founding member of Withintensions, a monthly Vancouver based artists magazine, he is currently artistic director for the magazine. His goal through the publication is to cultivate an accessible space for art theory that engages local arts communities through publication.

Related Posts

Stitching Symptoms: The Anatomical Embroidery of Lia Pas

Stitching Symptoms: The Anatomical Embroidery of Lia Pas

For many months, artist and Digits & Threads Studio Member Lia Pas has shared her embroideries-in-progress during our monthly Studio Hours. We’re thrilled that she agreed to share more about her extraordinary anatomical embroideries with D&T readers.

Learning Through a Lifetime

Learning Through a Lifetime

Designer and instructor Kim McBrien Evans on how she challenges herself to keep learning and growing. Kim shares some of her most powerful and exciting learning experiences, as well as a few of her favourite creativity prompts!

Get 10% off!

Join our mailing list to get special Studio Membership pricing! PLUS hear about new Digits & Threads content and community news.

Subscription success! Well done, you.