Designer Feature: Hannah Ruth Levi

Textile artist Hannah Ruth Levi uses weaving as a physical means to explore concepts of the planned versus the adapted. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Levi received her Bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington in 2011. She currently splits her time between Seattle and Whidbey Island.

We visited Hannah in her cozy apartment located right on the shore of Lake Washington. Her loom sits prominently in her living room, a testament to her dedication to the craft.

Photo: Rachael Lang & Hannah Ruth Levi

Tell us about how you got into textiles.

Ha, hmm…well my Ma is great at sewing and used to make my clothes, quilts, various utilitarian items for our home, etc. My Dad also supported us growing up as a glass blower, so my own creativity has been encouraged my whole life.

When I was in school at the University of Washington, I randomly took a fabric dyeing class, which sparked my interest. From there, I took all the textile classes I could, and quickly found weaving. Weaving challenged me in a way that nothing else had. It is so structured and involves thinking in three dimensions to create something two-dimensional. I don’t know, something just clicked.

What does a perfect day in the studio look like?

So, it depends a bit on where I am—if I’m in Seattle working on my little loom as opposed to Whidbey, where I work on larger projects.

Seattle:

Wake up, make coffee, open the windows, sit around, stare at my loom for a while, put on podcasts about murder or some sitcom on my computer to keep me company; then I go to my loom and work until I can’t anymore, either because the piece is finished or I’m too physically/mentally spent.

Whidbey:

Drive up late at night to skip the ferry traffic, wake up with the sun, put on my house clogs, make a pot of coffee, go downstairs and open all the barn doors, sit for a while looking at the blackberries and the wetlands. Then I’ll get to work, either dyeing or weaving until it gets dark, and after, I’ll make a pizza and play the Sims until I go to sleep then wake up and do it again the next day.

Walk us through your creative process. How do you approach an idea for a new design? 

There are so many ideas floating around in my head at any given moment. But the nature of weaving is slow and meticulous, so I’d say only about 25% of what I think of actually comes to fruition. I’ll start with the yarn: for example, right now I’ve been really into this un-dyed organic cotton that is so soft. I’ll start winding a warp which determines the length of the weaving, the width and the number of threads per inch (fewer threads means a looser weave/less structured) Once I have the warp wound and sectioned off into 1 to 3 inch increments, it’s ready for dyeing. Usually I’ll try to have several warps wound just because each step takes quite a bit of energy and it’s easier to dye multiple warps at once.

Once dyed, I have a pile of warps that are ready to go on the loom. From here it’s pretty straight forward (though not quick): put a warp on the loom, weave it, cut it off, put another one on and so on (this can last months). I stick to natural fibers, and for the weft yarn I usually stay pretty neutral so that the dye job can really shine.

How does the Pacific Northwest inspire you? The color blue is noticeable in your work, is that a nod to the tones of the region?

The PNW inspires me endlessly, and yes, I would say the blues in my work are indeed a nod to the region—namely the water, though also the sky and mountains—and how all three melt into one another. I will say for the record, I didn’t intend to spend so much time with blue. Last summer I made up a big indigo vat and dyed a bunch of warps, and it’s taken me nearly a year to finish them all.

I think my weavings are markers of space and time. I end up absorbing what’s around me and then creating textiles that represent those moments through a very obscured filter. I usually step away from a weaving after it’s finished and upon my return, I can see how my environment and my mood impacted the work. 

What is in store for the future? Are you working on any big projects?

The future, the future …well, I just got back from West Coast Craft in San Francisco a couple weeks ago—that was a big project! It was my first time exhibiting my work so publicly, I spent months preparing and honestly, I was blown away by the positive response.

Now that I’m back I’m just trying to catch up and, dare I say it—relax this summer? I’m planning on spending as much time as I can on the Island, I’ll do another big batch of dyeing, maybe I’ll make some tapestries for fun, and read. My goal for the summer is to finish three books.

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