Weaving is a solitary art.
On any given day Patricia Burling spends seven hours standing at her loom. And it can take days, weeks, even months for her to coax myriad spools of yarn to come together as one. It takes focus and concentration to thread lengths of yarn over and under and over again until they are no longer discernable as lengths of yarn but rather a rug, throw or wall hanging. It’s repetitive to say the least, yet Burling never tires of it.
But she does welcome an opportunity to chat. In fact, the energetic artisan who runs her business, WillowWeave, out of her Monroe home, loves company. “I did the Architectural Digest Home Design Show in April and I talked to so many people, literally, I talked nonstop for four days,” she says. She discussed art in general and weaving in particular; she answered countless questions and entertained possibilities for her work. Her passion paid off because she came away from the show with six orders for custom rugs.
Burling’s new clients will be in good company. Her work has been commissioned for use in corporate offices, private residences, medical buildings and hospitals (she recently completed a series of wall hangings for the Smilow Cancer Center at Yale–New Haven). She has been invited to exhibit at juried shows and her work has been shown/hung/displayed in museums and galleries from New York City to Carlsbad, California.
Burling’s rugs are singular in construction, color and pattern. Known as warp-face weaving, her technique incorporates forty-eight warp yarns per inch; by weaving wool into dense, seemingly impenetrable ridges, she produces extraordinarily durable reversible rugs.
Function may come first, but form—and a striking use of color blending—is a very close second. Bold and geometric, many of Burling’s patterns are evocative of Native American and kilim designs. Her palettes often come from nature, but she is an attentive traveler whose visits to foreign lands have imprinted colors in her memory that she will use months, even years, later.
Rich, subtle variations of color define Burling’s work. She takes pains to get shades exactly right, asking clients to send pictures, swatches, threads—anything that will help her to understand precisely what colors she’ll use in a given piece. She describes the gentle gradation of hues that distinguishes her rugs as “pointillism with yarn.” She says that the light-and-shadow quality of her work is “Moresque,” or characteristic of Moorish art.
Burling loves to tell the story of how weaving “found” her. Originally from Cromwell, she found herself in an unfamiliar place, with three small children, when her husband took a job in North Carolina some thirty years ago. Aching for something to occupy her time, she befriended a woman who happened to be a weaver. Intrigued, but never having been trained as an artist, Burling just watched, until her friend suggested she buy a loom and try it herself. So she did.
Never mind that she had to sell her family room furniture, two of her husband’s suits (“he looked ugly in them”) and his collection of country music records to pay for the small loom on which she made nothing but cranberry-and-rust-colored scarves for a time. It was done. And she was just beginning.
Today, Burling has three looms (including her very first). The largest will accommodate a rug six feet wide; seaming allows her to double, triple, even quadruple that. Thus far, the largest rug she’s made is twenty-seven feet long.
Burling finds it hard to sit still. She couldn’t sit and work even if she wanted to because she’s so petite her arms won’t reach from one end of the loom to the other. That doesn’t bother her, though; standing and stretching all day has kept her limber and ache-free.
How many pieces has she made, standing at that loom for hours on end over thirty-two years? “I don’t really know. People think I’m crazy, but while I do keep an inventory of every job, I’ve never added them all up,” she says. “I want to be surprised when I retire!”
That’s not likely to be anytime soon. Burling says she won’t stop working as long as clients want her rugs. •
Editor’s Note To see more WillowWeave rugs, visit www.patriciaburling.com
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