Oklahoma Contemporary
Rachel Denbow
A figure with long black curly hair speaks off camera in a fiber arts studio

New Light

Sept. 16, 2020

#ThursdayThree with Rachel Denbow

The fiber artist and Studio School Online instructor on loom weaving, natural dyes and the value of arts education
Detail photograph depicts hands working on a fiber arts project
Rachel Denbow's Introduction to Loom Weaving will help students learn basic skills and techniques throughout the 10-week class.

If you see fiber artist Rachel Denbow walking on the side of the highway — don't panic. She's probably just foraging for wildflowers to make natural dyes. The Oklahoma City-based maker often relies on materials found in nature to create her dazzling woven art, a process she describes as "a kind of therapy."

That passion for the craft carries over to Denbow's teaching practice, which you can experience firsthand by studying virtually with the artist through Studio School Online. Her Introduction to Loom Weaving will help students learn basic skills and techniques throughout the 10-week class. Planned with beginners in mind, this online, project-based course will teach students to create their own woven wall hangings.

"Frame loom weaving is something that's become more popular and mainstream over the last five to 10 years," Denbow said. "There are people who want to do it for fun and people who want to learn more about weaving in general. Wherever you land on that scale, we want to draw people in to become part of the fiber arts community here."

Students will design and complete three woven wall hangings while learning how to warp their looms, choose fibers, design from inspiration and use fundamental stitches and finishing techniques. Repetition of weaving basics will build confidence, and critiques and group discussions will offer constructive feedback and further inspiration.

In today's #ThursdayThree installment, Denbow talks about her art practice, working with natural materials and the value of Oklahoma Contemporary's mission to bring unforgettable arts education experiences to the public.

Can you tell readers about your journey to your art practice?

It's always been in the background of my life. I grew up in a pretty great home, with my mom supporting any artistic endeavor. I took art classes when I was in elementary school and forgot about it until I graduated college. Since then, it's been a major focal point, career-wise. I'm currently traveling around teaching people how to weave, working with natural fibers and dying. It's changed shape over the years. I used to do scrapbooking. That's what art looked like in my life. Now it's educating on things that are a little more in depth and teaching people how to work with their hands in other ways.

As a kid, I was very creative and artistic. I always had that mindset, looking for random metal screws in the street and saving them in a shoebox under my bed. I saw potential for everything to be used as a material. I've always tried to repurpose things to meet a need. There was little instruction as a kid, but it was more about figuring it out and working through the process. It was very intuitive sometimes, so I was naturally drawn to things with weaving and building and with my DIY projects — figuring out how to meet a need. That's always been a part of my life.

A photograph depicts colorful fabrics stretched across a weaving loom
Intro to Loom Weaving students will check out a loom and purchase a yarn kit in person, prior to the beginning of the course.

To that point, can you talk about working with natural dyes?

It started with a book. I'd been weaving for a while, but the idea that I could create color from plants? That made me feel like a kid again, as far as the curiosity went. I knew I had to learn more about it. I really just did a lot of reading and experimenting and made a lot of messes. That became part of my practice with weaving. It's like a symbiosis. They just pair well together. So now I dye a lot of my own fibers for weaving and continue searching the side of highways for wildflowers I know have color I can use.

I'm really inspired by colors and textures. I sit down and I might have a few sketches, but it's just a matter of sitting with an idea, maybe pairing two or three ideas. I like to see what way I can push a set of shapes, what way I can use a stitch in a way that's not been done before. I like to be innovative when I can, and sometimes that means messing up and starting over. But I enjoy the process of getting my hands on natural fibers and dying them myself so I have a lot more control over the colors.

I like to be innovative when I can, and sometimes that means messing up and starting over.

— Rachel Denbow, Studio School Online instructor

What about Oklahoma Contemporary's mission speaks to you as a teaching artist?

It's a great resource for anybody who's already artistic but doesn't know what to do with it. They don't know where to take the next step. This is a place for them to come and take classes, but it's also a place to come and see what other people are doing locally and across the nation with different exhibits shown here. And it's also just a great way to build community. Especially with these 10-week courses, there's going to be a lot of community that comes out of this.

I really love that Oklahoma Contemporary is working with teens. As a kid, there wasn't a lot offered at my schools. It was something they'd kind of done away with. So I love there are resources available here for that age group. And also for veterans. My former partner was in the Army. Some veterans might need a place where they can talk about what they've gone through or how they've served, but also just get out of their head for a little bit and used their hands for something to put that energy toward.

Editor's note: Intro to Loom Weaving students will need to check out/return a loom and purchase a yarn kit in person. Oklahoma Contemporary therefore recommends that only students local to the Oklahoma City metro register for the class. Check out our complete course listings here, and register by Sunday, Sept. 20.

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