Selfishly, I have several interviews that I have not had the opportunity to publish on the site. These haven’t been published for one reason or another, the timing wasn’t right, my schedule was too crazy to transcribe it, or simply and most honestly I wanted to keep them to myself. Sometimes an interview changes me and I’m not ready to talk about what I’ve learned from it with the rest of the class. But in the time of quarantine, I thought it would be good to revisit those interviews, finally, share them with all of you, and also test out this new interview style. Let me know in the comments below if you prefer to just read the transcript and maybe when things go back to normal so will these posts. Up first is an in incredible weaver named Sarah Neubert. I’m going to break down our conversation into four essential parts in hopes that you’ll walk away with as great of an appreciation for her and her work as I did.
Social Media & The Mutual Reciprocity Of Vulnerability
I first talked to Sarah around this time last year. I remember feeling nervous as the phone rang. I had been a fiber fan of Sarah’s for some time at that point and I was still struggling to find a good ice breaker question. We hadn’t been on the phone for more than a minute when I asked her how she was doing that day… she replied “Well, I’m in the middle of getting divorced and I spent the morning filling out divorce paperwork. But other than that I’m fantastic!” at that moment I remember feeling twenty times closer to her and more at ease. We skipped past the fluff that I was going to start the interview with and instead we dove right into the heart of her story.
Those of you who follow Sarah won’t be surprised by that story at all. She has a knack for being authentic, vulnerable, and open with her followers on social media. She says that her openness is a result of doing a lot of therapy and self-work. She talked about how she was practiced in being vulnerable in her real life. At the time she was part of an organization that gave women the space to speak openly about what they were going through in a round table setting. Sarah said, “I wanted to be the same person in every space that I occupy. If this is the person I’m trying to be then this is the person I’m going to be on social media as well”.
This wasn’t always the case for Sarah. After going through a series of difficult experiences she realized how much she needed to reach out and talk through her feelings with the people around her and do what can be the most difficult thing to do…ask for help. She shared that after being in a place where asking for help was her only option she had no choice but to be open. “People are a lot kinder than you expect them to be when you show them your true self.” she continued “That’s not always the case but for the most part when I’ve been forced to step out of my comfort zone and reach out to people the overwhelming response has been compassion, acceptance, and a want to help. There’s something about being vulnerable and telling your story. It gives other people permission to do the same thing. I feel that’s another way to heal. That mutual reciprocity of vulnerability… and somebody has to start it off. So it might as well be me”.
Sarah also shared that her vulnerability on social media has lead to developing real friendships with people she might not have otherwise connected with. Which was a surprise to her since she originally thought of her account as a way to share and promote her weavings. But for Sarah, it has developed into a two-fold platform where she has the opportunity to get her work out there but also build real connections.
There has been a downside to this open approach though. She explained, “I have had people say ‘I followed you for your weavings, not your opinions’ and to that I say well I am a human sorry to disappoint you”. The idea that someone can feel like they have the right to censor another person baffled us both. Social media has so many benefits but the downside as Sarah puts it, is that “people think they can say things on social media with impunity. Things they would never say to your face”. Neither of us could imagine walking up to an artist in a gallery and after a few minutes of hearing them speak, telling them to stop talking so that we could look at their work. No one would do that. But somehow a screen can give a stranger the perceived power to tell another human to shut up. I may never understand that.
There’s an old wives’ tale that says you should always leave one mistake in your work. Otherwise, a piece of your soul will get stuck in there forever. I find that to be true of Sarah’s work. When looking at it you can almost see a piece of her soul in every weaving. There’s an energy to her work. They never feel like a stagnant warp. When asked about her creative motivation Sarah replied “The thing about weaving is that I’ve always been drawn to making things with my hands, I’ve always loved the fine art side of things, and I have this desire to put things out into the world… but there’s also this sense of hesitation because I often wonder what is the point of all of this. I could be volunteering at a soup kitchen or doing social work”. Despite that hesitation, her work is her way of having a conversation with herself. It’s a way for her to get to the root of what she’s going through and feeling at a particular moment in her life. “It’s my way of telling a story. I have to do this. It’s not optional for me”
“There are times”, Sarah expressed, “that I approach the loom as my time to sit, think, and process whatever comes up and then a lot of the time I’ll have something that I’m working through and I will create a piece around that. Both ways are effective for me and they almost always take a direction that I didn’t necessarily expect but that’s also part of the process”. When looking at Sarah’s work you can almost see the conversation play out throughout the warp.
One of the things that drew me to Sarah’s work in the first place was her choice of materials. She only uses natural fibers and natural fibers that are as close to their natural state as possible. There’s an element of her work that can’t be controlled or tamed because at a certain point the fiber is going to do what it’s going to do. Sarah described her work as “a collaboration with nature”.
Sarah admitted that even though this wasn’t intentional her weavings started to take on the characteristics of landscapes that she spent time in as a kid and then later returned to as an adult. Specifically, the high plains in Colorado, which she described as “mainly dead grass, sky, and clouds”.
Sarah grew up drawing painting, crocheting, and knitting. She always felt as though knitting and crocheting were too restrictive but when drawing she missed the repetitive nature of those crafts. Weaving was the middle ground. In weaving, Sarah found the repetition but also gained the freedom to break away from the plan and explore creatively. Sarah explained that she has a problem with “authority, institutions, and with anybody telling me I have to do something a certain way”. Because of this she refused to take a weaving class and was instead determined to teach herself how to weave. “As a result, it took me a lot longer to learn basic weaving techniques but at the same time I didn’t get stuck in any of that”. She bought herself a 12″x18″ frame loom and experimented on it for about a year and a half.
However, when she found weaving she didn’t immediately know that she had found her voice. She knew that she loved it and wanted to continue but it took her a long time before she felt comfortable enough with her abilities and with the creative voice that she was developing, to share her work with anyone. It took her about a year and a half before she made a weaving account and told her family and friends about it in August of 2014.
Most of the time inspiration comes from random textures that she finds in the world. She described one weaving as being “inspired by a trickle of water going down a dirt road and the impression that it left in the ground behind it”. Sarah tends to shine a microscope on the moments and occurrences that the rest of us don’t even notice in our everyday lives.
Her process is messy and she starts out a weaving by pulling out all of her yarn and grouping them all over the room. She then changes her mind a thousand times before feeling settled enough to begin. “I have a disaster area of debris around me as I’m working”. Personal pieces can take her a long time to finish and many end up getting unwoven if she is unhappy with the direction a warp is going in. She once took out 12 inches of weaving on a 4-foot wide piece after not liking how it turned out!
She isn’t sure of the exact amount of time that one of her larger weavings takes her to finish. She once tried to time herself weaving a piece that ended up being 4 feet wide by 3 1/2 feet tall. At the end of her process, it was about 60 hours, but she says “that includes the weaving, unweaving, and reweaving”.
The theme of deconstruction is heavily prevalent in Sarah’s work. I asked her where that comes from to which she simply answered: “that comes from my life”. Growing up in an extremely evangelical family Sarah struggled to balance the world view that was given to her with the feelings, thoughts, facts, and beliefs that she was beginning to develop for herself. Sarah’s father was the pastor of her church and she was homeschooled until high school. Growing up Sarah says she “was given a very black and white map of reality”. This developed into anxiety because she never really felt as though she belonged or would be accepted in that world.
From that place of questioning came, her need to take things apart, examine them and understand the why. She said that she had to get to a place where she was “no longer afraid to ask questions and was ok letting things fall apart”. It took her a long time to get to that place and there were many circumstances in her life where she was “forced into deconstruction”. When faced with those challenges, weaving has become her safe place. It has helped her cut through the lies we all tell ourselves and reach what’s truly on her heart.
At the age of 13, after spending the majority of her childhood in Colorado, Sarah’s parents told her and her 3 siblings that the Lord was leading them to move to Austria to start a church. In Austria, homeschooling is illegal. Sarah and her brother, having been homeschooled up until that point, were enrolled in an International English-speaking Christian school. While her two younger siblings went to an Austrian school. Sarah met her lifelong best friend at that school but found it to be a challenging experience. Despite having a facade of being extremely conservative with a strict dress code and rules, Sarah says she experienced more sexual harassment there than she has in any other space in her life. The response from administrators was one of “Boys will be boys”. This paradox was just one of the catalysts in Sarah’s life that lead her to start looking at the world more closely and began her journey of deconstruction.
After high school, Sarah moved back to Colorado and her family remained in Austria for another 10 years. “Austria is amazing but I couldn’t see my way to making a life there. I felt like I never really fit in”. Back in Colorado, Sarah went to a community college for a little while before attending a technical photography school. Sarah went on to make a living as a photographer for almost a decade after college. “I knew I wanted to make a living as an artist and photography seemed to be the quickest way for me to do that”.
However, Sarah found the client work to be creatively exhausting. She never had time to pursue her own work. Sarah explained, “I fell out of love with the medium. At the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. I got sick of the hustle”.
As of the time of this interview, Sarah said that her current practice is made up of 70% commission work 30% personal practice. But that with her ability to do art shows even that 30% is able to be sold and make a profit. Even though Sarah hates the word “brand” she does have a very recognizable brand and style. She has gotten to the point with her art that when people do come to her for a commission it’s because they want her work. This helps make the 70% feel less like a chore and more like an extension of her creative practice. This was not the case with her photography but she learned so much of what not to do from that experience. “You have to learn how to build the career that you want”. Often times doing what you don’t want can lead to finding out what you do.
Making & The Relationship With Our Bodies
Sarah grew up with a belief ingrained within her that was “anything having to do with the spirit was good and anything having to do with the flesh was bad”. This lead Sarah to have a negative relationship with her own body. As she got older she started to appreciate everything that her body does for her. Sarah began to see her body as something sacred instead of looking at it as a source of shame. That’s when she began making her jewelry. Wearing her woven jewelry gave her a new way to adorn her body and express appreciation for her body. Her jewelry pieces feel very similar to her weavings and she looks at them as an extension of her weaving practice.
As someone who has spent a large amount of time knitting, crocheting, and weaving I can say that while all three make you aware of your relationship with your body, weaving is the one that causes me to appreciate my body the most. I used to be a dancer and weaving, especially when you are weaving on a larger floor loom, feels very close to a dance. The relationship between weaving and the maker’s body is so closely intertwined.
Sarah has done a lot of work around weaving as a meditative practice. Once she began weaving Sarah says that she “started feeling better, sleeping better, and having less anxiety”. She continued “In weaving, you are using so many parts of your body that you don’t use in your normal life. You’re doing the bilateral movements, you have to be able to do all the movements with both sides of your body, you’re crossing your midline, and your eyes are going back and forth. You’re dropped into that flow-state rather quickly. You can forget what time it is and whether you’ve eaten or not. The way weaving moves your body is part of why I fell in love with it so quickly and why I think I will stick with it for life”.
It was at this point that I was reminded of an interview I once heard with an employee who was working for MarthaStewart.com at the time. Their job consisted of coming up with new crafting projects for the site and all-day they would create. This maker described reaching another plain of awareness after getting into a flow of crafting. They said that their days would fly by and often they would forget to take breaks, to eat, and move from their spot. I find this particularly true when knitting stockinette stitch, weaving a basic twill pattern, or a double crochet blanket. Sarah recommends looking into the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi if you’re interested in researching this deeper.
Another thing that Sarah and I discussed is the constant struggle to find a work/life balance. Sarah, like so many makers, had trouble finding this. But she explained “If I overtax myself that can lead to anxiety attacks and it takes a physical toll on my body. I can not do that to myself anymore. My body has been a big teacher in this area. I had to start asking myself ‘is my heart in what I’m doing’, ‘what is going to give me life in the long run’, and even if I’m excited about something ‘is it going to cost me more than it’s worth’. I don’t write out schedules but I do go through that process before I start something and that seems to be mostly working… mostly”.
The structure of these interviews might have changed but one thing will always remain the same. And that’s my need to know what Sarah binge-watches or listens to while she crafts! After a chuckle, Sarah replied “I really like Law and Order! SVU’s my favorite but I watch all of them because I do A Lot of crafting. I sit there with my Werther’s Originals and my lemon zinger tea, Law and Order, and my cat. That’s how it goes down… I don’t really do the tea or the Werther’s Originals but I am an old woman and I do have the cat”.
Who should I talk to next? Leave your suggestions in the comments section along with any thoughts you have about Sarah’s interview. I’m always on the hunt for inspiring crafters. Also, don’t forget to follow along on my Instagram account @bobbleclubhouse for your daily dose of all things fiber. Until next time, happy crafting!