The Wonderful Weaving of Tanis Melville
Tanis Melville loves the feeling of something tactile between her fingers. A crafter from a young age, she has always sewed, knitted, and crocheted.
After Melville’s mother passed away, there was the necessary job of going through her belongings. Amongst them were some of her sheets that Melville just couldn’t part with. Searching the internet, she found a weaving process called twining that makes use of old sheets. Weaving wasn’t new to Melville. She’d had a small loom as a young girl. She discovered that this method of weaving goes back to Celtic times. “This Scottish redhead felt her ancestors were speaking to her,” says Melville.
After looking for looms online, she determined it was simpler to make one. So, she did. Before tackling her mother’s sheets, she practised on some fabric she had handy. She learned from YouTube, and a lot of trial and error. At first, there were lots of errors, but soon there was a rug. A good rug. Melville was hooked immediately. When she felt more confident with her technique, she wove her mom’s sheets into an heirloom rug.
Four years later, she’s made almost 60 rugs, all unique, using primarily recycled or reclaimed fabrics. She also makes decor items like mug rugs and placemats. Twining takes time; a basic striped rug takes 40 hours, while an intricate wall hanging takes a minimum of 80 hours.
The patterns and colours are what speaks to Melville. Her mother was an accomplished artist and passed along her keen colour sense. “One of the joys is choosing the colours and figuring out how they’re going to combine,” Melville says. For example, she was asked to make a “sea and sky” rug, and as she began weaving the horizon, she knew that the Sleeping Giant should be there. Being self-taught, she didn’t know that you aren’t supposed to be able to do designs like that with this technique. But she did it, and it worked. The customer loved the rug, and Melville loved the challenge.
Since then, Melville has made nine Sleeping Giant rugs, and no two are alike. “I like that the Giant is always changing. I work from a picture in my head, and I don’t start until the picture is there,” she says. “I can’t explain where it comes from or how it gets there. When it is, I go to my fabrics and put the colours together.” All nine have different colours and different perspectives—as with all her work, there’s no pattern, and nothing is planned out. “I don’t sketch anything out. I don’t write it down,” she says. “It’s free-weaving. I know when to change colours because the colours tell me when.”
Between inspirations, she makes rugs from scraps to keep honing her craft and exploring techniques. “I often start a piece a few times,” she says. “It’s a fixed frame, so everything has to fit into those dimensions. You get the effect through colour. The picture in my head is never exactly what comes out.” Twining is very forgiving because you can pull it out if you make mistakes. On a good day, she can weave four to six inches. Once done for the day, she keeps the loom visible and considers her work. In the morning, she decides if she’s going to carry on or rip it out.
Melville emphasizes that learning and mastering technique is valuable, but it isn’t everything. “Don’t let not knowing the rules get in your way,” she says. “Try. Do something creative. Don’t denigrate your abilities. You’re going to have ragged edges and make mistakes. That will happen. But what can you get out of it? Pure joy.”
“Everyone needs some form of creativity in their life,” she continues, her hands alive while she talks. “There’s a lot of me in my work—in every little thing I make. I love that. When someone buys or receives one of my pieces, I take that as an affirmation. I can’t tell you how much joy it’s given me.”
Melville was close with her mother, who always encouraged her in her creative exploits. “She would have loved this. It’s so perfect that she and her fabrics inspired this. It’s become one of the greatest passions of my life.”
Melville’s work can be found at Fireweed Crafts at 182 Algoma Street South, or visit her Facebook page, http://facebook.com/TeezGloves.
Story by Amy Sellors, Photo by Dead Name Studios