Handmade: Weaver enjoys custom-built studio on the lake

Jocelynn Brown
The Detroit News

As an artist/crafter, imagine, having a house built on the lake, designed with a 600-square foot studio where you're able to unleash your creative energy for hours at a time!

That's what Carol Irving, a self-taught weaver, is now able to experience since she and her husband, Bruce, moved into their dream home back in July, after having it built on the lake along the "outskirts" of Escanaba.

Carol Irving prepares a warp for her loom in her studio.

Irving, who was born in Detroit and grew up in Southfield, taught herself to weave 45 years ago, using a floor loom she purchased in New Mexico where her husband's first teaching job was located. They later moved to his hometown of Escanaba where her dining room became her work space, later followed by an area in their basement. Then, about six or seven years ago, it was moved above the garage.

But these days, Irving, who weaves mostly rugs for the floor and wall, is able to enjoy a more spacious work space, equipped with three floor looms, one table loom, a sewing machine, laptop, and all her weaving material and supplies. It's accessible through a door off the main living room of their 2,900 square-foot home. She has an amazing view out the window of her studio of the nearby lake, and looks forward to her work being inspired by its beauty. 

"Everyday, I've been trying to get out there and take photographs and start creating an image and color library that I can keep going back to for inspiration," she said.

Carol Irving in her studio.

But, no matter the space she worked out of over the past years, Irving was fast becoming a highly skilled weaver, honing her craft and even receiving a scholarship in the early '90s to take a class with a master weaver from Great Britain whom she said was brought here to teach a workshop in Rockford. 

"We learned all about shaft switching and tips and best practices for weaving rugs -- specifically, weft faced rugs, woven with linen warp and wool for the weft," she said. 

Irving, who holds a degree in botany from Grand Valley State University, designs much of her work around nature and geometric shapes done in black and white in various fibers, including cotton, cotton blends and wool. She occasionally, uses cotton and wool fabrics, as well, however, most of the work she's currently focusing on is made with wool yarn. 

A lot of her pieces are easily recognized because of the "bold" signature look she's created. "I'm kind of drawn to two different lines -- one is nature-inspired, and the other is contemporary and geometric," she said. "I started a whole line of what I call 'Black & White.' I love the boldness. I love the block imagery. They're not all symmetrical, but there is some (symmetry) going on when I design them. I love the way the images come out on their own. I design on a computer, then print it off and take that to a loom."

Her work is priced roughly from $250-$1,500, depending on the size and technique, and is sometimes sold in galleries and at exhibits. She also does commissioned pieces. "I don't do many art shows," she said. "They're difficult to do -- all that lugging and driving around, especially if you're doing an outdoor show."

Panels from Irving's "A Weaver's Journal of Endangered Flowers."

Irving recently won first place ($1,000) in a multi-media juried art show at Crooked Tree Arts Center in Petoskey for one of her wool pieces, "B & W Elusive Perfection," which is part of a series she's working on called "Black & White." 

She's gotten a number of requests from individuals suggesting lessons. She said, "I'm opening up my studio to teachinig someone one-on-one. One person can come, and then I can give that person my full attention." 

Irving will be one of two artists with their work on exhibit at DeVos Art Museum, Northern Michigan University, in Marquette, Jan. 17-March 28, 2020. Her “A Weaver’s Journey of Michigan Endangered Wildflowers” series will be on display. The artists' reception will be held Jan. 17, from 6-8 p.m. Inspiration for this series stems from her degree in botany. "That was the driving force behind it," she said. 

Also, as a participant in the "Furniture, Fiber and Sculpture" exhibit at Oliver Art Center in Frankfort, Irving's "Contemporary Series" will be on display. The exhibit runs from Jan. 10-Feb. 7. A reception will be held Jan. 10, from 5-7 p.m., followed by a "Gallery Talk by the Artist," on Jan. 24 at 4:30 p.m. 

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or Facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Carol Irving Fiber Artist at carolirving.com.