THE FOUNDATION is black, these fuzzy threads running vertically on a wooden frame (called a loom, in weaving terms) like strings stretched tightly on a harp. They’re called warp yarns, and they’re where the weave starts and ends. “I love black,” Nancy Miller says, giggling while talking, hands working almost automatically. If her mind forgets what she’s doing, her black-nail-polished fingers remember.
She starts with the fringe, a base upon which she builds her weave—from the bottom up, left to right. Nancy cuts a couple of strands about the length of her arm, loops them around two warp threads (a technique called the rya knot) and pulls evenly.
“A lot of people like to use tools,” she says. She raises her hands and wiggles her fingers. “These are my tools.” Around her, on the dining room table of her Fayetteville home, there are skeins of multicolored, loosely coiled yarn. One in particular, made from merino wool, is so seamless and cloudlike that it almost looks like cotton candy.
When she begins work on the tapestry, she tucks the tail of a black yarn under the warp threads. Under and over, again and again, forming a rainbowlike arch, which she presses down when she’s done with that row. It requires practice and patience—lots of it—and a certain awareness of tension. Pull the thread too tight, and it’ll cinch the sides (this is where the arch comes in handy: It controls the tension). Some people think the work is tedious, she says. Boring, even. But it’s her therapy, an opportunity to get lost in the rhythm of weaving, in the textures and fibers—the subtle prickle of wool, the almost-weightless handspun cotton, the tweedy silk.
“To create some texture, I can pull it out like a bubble,” she says, plucking the stitches randomly. “I can manipulate it the way I want to. It’s crazy because I have no idea what it’ll look like when I’m done.” Then Nancy weaves in a new color, wrapping the string over two warp threads in one direction and under another in the opposite direction. There is a sudden mustard-yellow burst of wool. An outbreak of white. Then more colors, until the black is just a background.
The Hands Behind Black Moss
Name: Nancy Miller
First started weaving: 1 ½ years ago
Least favorite part of the process: “I will say that doing the fringe on the bottom, I don’t know why, but it’s my least favorite thing to do. I think mainly because it’s time consuming, and it takes a lot of yarn. [One tapestry I made] for a friend, I mean, I kept having to go buy yarn for it.”
On selling her work: “Everybody keeps telling me to put my stuff up on Etsy, but I do work full time. This is more of a hobby for me, and I just can’t stop creating. Instagram is probably where anybody is going to see me. I did The Little Craft Show in May of 2016, and I really want to put my work in one of the vintage stores in town. I’ve been looking.”
On the wood she uses for woven wall hangings: “Have you ever seen a beaver stick? They are pretty cool. I had one of my friends ask me, How did you do that? I said, I didn’t do it. The beaver did.”