Karen Gelbard is a seasoned textile designer who uses the power of the loom to craft fabrics rich in texture and color. Her work is inspired by the rhythm of the Oregon Coast. Karen has a unique approach to weaving, where handwoven garments extend beyond fabric, incorporating pintucks, quilting, and edging, that make her creations stand out in the weaving community.
Why weaving? How does that medium best express what you want to communicate through your art?
I look at the loom as a tool to create fabrics rich in texture and interlacement of color.
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How does weaving best express what you want to communicate through your art?
Creating the fabric is only half of the task.The second half of the task is creating the garment for the human form.
Tell us a little about your journey to become a weaver and textile designer.
I have childhood memories of looking up at bolts of fabric towering over me like a forest while in the fabric store with my Mother. We were looking for a Dotted Swiss. I was very young and that experience left an impression.
Later, while in high school, I started sewing my own clothes. It began with sewing outfits required for orchestra. I opened up the sewing patterns and started figuring things out. In college, I pursued a Fine Arts Degree with a major in Ceramics. I started incorporating hand-dyed, knotted fiber elements into my clay sculptures. Shaping the clay and adding textures with the use of fiber became a theme. Today, I still look at yardage rolled out on the cutting table as if it were clay, waiting to be shaped and other textures added.
What do you do differently?
Weaving, like playing an instrument, requires practice and patience. Once you get past the mechanics of weaving, then the loom becomes a way to achieve ideas in cloth.
What is your signature that makes your work stand out as yours?
My handwoven garments are not limited to just the woven fabric, but often other textile techniques are added. Pintucks, quilting, and edging are often found in my work.
Why wearable art?
I like to think about it as my ABCs of why I make wearable art. Wearable art moves out in the world. It influences people.
A. Handwoven garments are a kind of armor that enhances.
B. Handwoven cloth puts beauty in the world.
C. The drape of the handwoven fabric gives comfort, not unlike a hug.
The warps on the loom are my canvas and are rich with color and texture. Never content to follow a weaving draft, I push the boundaries to achieve an effect or tell a story.
Where do you find your inspiration for your designs?
I find color inspiration in the landscapes around me. Those color stories are told in warp and weft.
I use color as if I were a painter and I often am inspired by the palette where I live or places I have visited.
How has your creativity evolved over the years?
I have gotten good at looking at flaws in a fabric and seeing ways to use those flaws as a design opportunity.
What triggered the evolution to new media/kinds of work/ways of working?
I realized the importance of embracing technology during the Pandemic.
What inspires you?
I have learned to listen to my inner creative muse.
Do you plan your workout ahead of time, or do you just dive in with your materials and start playing?
It seems like I am always working. Weaving cloth, finishing the fabric, creating patterns, and sewing garments all take time.
What does a typical week look like for you?
Tuesday- Thread the loom
Wednesday- Warp the Loom
Thursday- Tromp the Treadles
Sunday- Sew some more
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I have two spaces. One is dedicated to weaving, the other to sewing.
Here is a video of me at work weaving.
Do you use a sketchbook or journal? How does that help your work develop?
I do keep notebooks with pictures and articles on subjects that I am interested in. I do a lot of research on ways to use a technique to achieve an idea I have in mind. Creativity is a process. Design decisions are made at every step.
Can you tell us about the inspiration and process of one of your works?
Fog on the River tells a story with the palette of the cool gray fog rolling down the river and shrouding the landscape in grays. The river appears silver, the trees are muted greens, and the landscape is wrapped in mist. The bound edges on the coat are a motif used to symbolize “at the water’s edge”. Wherever this coat goes, it will tell an Oregon story.
Which part of the design process is your favorite?
I look forward to rolling out the yardage on the cutting table and “seeing” the design possibilities.
Which part is a challenge for you?
Wear and tear on my body from the repetitive motions have taken a toll. I am now using mechanical assistance to do some of the heavy lifting with the loom.
Is there an overarching theme that connects all of your work? How does your environment influence your creativity?
Turn that question around. How is my work different from other weavers and designers? There are stories behind the work. Many of the stories are about living on the Oregon Coast. There is a heartbeat rhythm to the loom that is echoed by the waves beating on the shore. Rhythms, colors, and patterns are all woven into the cloth and make the cloth unique.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
“If you want to participate, then throw your hat into the ring”. I compete with other very excellent weavers for a place in juried art fairs. I hesitated to apply, not knowing if my work was ready. I was more ready than I realized. That advice from a fellow weaver and juror was what I needed to hear.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
Please visit my website to see my show schedule and the classes that I teach.
Interview posted November 2023
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