5 Questions with Courtney Watts

Fibers artist Courtney Watts creates unique works out of yarn.

Her body of work includes large-scale weavings, knitted blankets, and other fiber works. Watts has always been around knitting and crocheting thanks to her grandmother, but she originally came to SCAD for photography before discovering fibers as an art form.

We visited Watts’ studio last week.

1. What’s the weaving process like?

Most people think it’s outdated or ancient, and it is ancient. It’s one of the oldest techniques ever; looms have just gotten more and more complex over time. But this loom is a four-harness floor loom, and it’s operated by the foot pedals. I step on a pedal and one of these raise and that lifts the strings. It’s very time-consuming, because even getting to the stage where you’re actively weaving, you’ve already put in hours of work.

First of all, the process starts out with some math, because you have to calculate how much yarn you’re going to need in your warp. Your warp is the vertical threads that wrap around. When you calculate how much you need and how wide you want your project to be, you come to this pegboard. The way in which you wrap it around these pegs measures it out for how long it’s going to be. Then you just do round after round of that until you have a very long warp and all the threads are the same length.

Long story short, you thread each thread through these little pedals in a very specific pattern, so the threads you want to lift, lift when you want them to. That’s how you get patterns. It’s a lot of counting, and when you’re weaving, you’re kind of counting which foot pedals you’re pressing down at what time to make your pattern.

2. Did you go to school for fibers?

I did not know how to weave before I came to SCAD. My first introduction into anything in textiles at all was through my grandmother, because she’s a really avid knitter and crocheter. The patience that goes into that... I will say, my grandmother is more patient than I am. She’ll knit sweaters and she loves to follow all these patterns, whereas I get a little more impatient. I just want to make up my own thing.

She taught me how to crochet and knit because I spent a lot of time with her. I don’t remember at what age she taught me to knit, but I feel like for as long as I can remember, I was doing that, but I just thought it was a hobby. No one even brought to my attention that you can do more with that medium than I was aware of. I didn’t come to SCAD for fibers because I wasn’t aware [of it as a medium]. I came for photography because that was the only art-related thing I had any experience with that I could actually imagine a career with. When I came here and saw at SCAD all the textiles and fiber work happening, I was like, “I’ve always done this and never thought I could do anything with it.”

3. What’s your style like?

The running theme between my work, even though they may look a little different, is the technique is the same. It’s less bound by a specific pattern, it has more of an open tapestry type thing. I’m able to decide, as I go along, where I want each thread to go.

The technique is called the Theo Moorman Technique, and that just means it lifts up these invisible threads so I can put any color of any yarn in any spot I want, and these very thin threads will drop back down and hold it in place. That allows me to create an actual image.

There’s a lot more labor that goes into this technique, but I think it’s more unique and intentional because it makes me more invested in each step along the way to create something that is more spontaneous than a set pattern. I find that if I put this much work into creating a pattern like this, then that’s something I would like to frame and put on a wall.

4. Tell me about working with fiber as an artistic medium.

I think it’s a little overlooked. My husband, who’s an oil painter, does amazing work, but I feel like everybody is much more familiar with interacting with painting as art, whereas textile art, people aren’t quite sure what to do with that. You see textile and any kind of yarn work as more crafty. I like to play with the idea of, “How can I take this medium that’s actually very practical in some ways and associated with practical craft and turn that into an artistic point that people can embrace?”

I’m definitely not the first or only artist to do that by any means. I’m learning from so many other fiber artists who have come before me, wrestling with that same question. I think people really want to embrace textiles as art, but maybe I think they just may not know how.

5. What’s next for you?

On the loom, I’m very restricted to one project at a time. Unless I’m going to scrap it all together, I have to finish it. The loom holds me accountable to finish things, which is probably good for me!

On the side, I’ve been doing a lot of knitting, and I’ve also been doing mini weavings. I also have these small framed oyster shells. These are all at Abode Studios—it’s a co-op between artists and they have a retail space on Skidaway Road.

This isn’t all textile related, but I like to experiment with different mediums. There are things I want to work on here that are in my head and I just have to see what’s going to come from them. [My husband] Hampton and I really want to collaborate; we’ve been talking about embroidering onto an oil painting. But that’s in the beginning stages of what even looks good together.

I’d love to do another large piece. It just takes some planning, but I’m itching to do another. If I could just do big pieces all the time, I would.