Crimson Clad

She sits in her tower, bound by a curse, weaving tapestries of the view in the mirror. Perhaps we know her best from the Waterhouse painting that illustrates the fourth and final part of the poem, where she is clad in white, having brought about her own demise by looking away from the mirror towards Sir Lancelot. But here and now, in this time before the mirror shatters, she still weaves purposefully: bright and singular moments of the outside world shining loudly in the story she weaves.

I’ve bound these words by Tennyson into her girdle like the yet unbroken spell: “but in her web she still delights to weave the mirror’s magic sights […] and the silent isle embowers the Lady of Shalott.” Chains of mirrors in the border of the band hold the curse steadfast.

The Lady of Shalott, still in her tower, speaks to me as an autistic weaver and artist. I’m destined to indefinitely observe, ever driven to interpret life in my own nonverbal languages of pattern (a particular refraction). There is an indelible separation between myself and the world. I’m compelled to follow the rituals of predetermined rules, to translate the complexity of my environment into cross sections – slices of this roll of the dice into this stretch of cloth.

Process and Construction:

I designed the burgundy fabric of the main dress using the colors most referenced in the poem. I then wove the cloth according to an original algorithmic draft, wherein random input from actual dice during weaving determined the treadling and placement of the main motifs: circles for the Lady’s mirror, and waves for the river around Shalott. The handwoven fabric for the underskirt was woven using a similarly dice-driven draft.

The finished overdress is made from two pieces of handwoven fabric – a pleated back skirt panel with an attached girdle, and a longer panel with tapered hems that is draped in place before securing with the girdle. The under dress is a black linen shift with pin on sleeves drafted in the style of a bliaut, based on the Foundations Revealed article “12th Century Dress: the Bliaut.”

I wove the girdle and sleeve bands in silk and tencel using Baltic-style pickup and lettering from Anne Dixon’s “The Weaver’s Inkle Pattern Directory.” The ends are finished in a 7-loop Spanish braid dating back to at least the 17th century, with instruction from All bands were attached by hand sewing with silk thread.

The silhouette of the dress is inspired by the time of Lancelot (12th century as per  Chretien de Troyes) but is influenced by other eras in the hall of mirrors that color the path from the character to this dress: Waterhouse and myself interpreting Tennyson, interpreting Arthurian legend, interpreting lived history. All through the mirror, of course.

[Crimson Clad an was exhibition entry for the Foundations Revealed 2021 contest and received a Wild Card prize from the panel of judges]

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