Written and Photographed by Koa Kalish
Jennie Henderson is a prolific textile artist on the wild northern coast of California. Nestled in the small town of Point Arena, is Jennie’s home studio that she and her husband designed specifically for her weaving: with good light and room for all her many looms and tools.
“I make all of these things because I have to,” Jennie says, adamantly. “Gotta feel it, gotta do it.” Once Jennie makes a piece, she says she has to sell it to make room for the next creations on their way. “I’ve always said that these things are just kind of inside of me and they want to get out. I guess that’s probably my biggest drive — these ideas come to me and I want to see if they will work. If they work, I say ‘okay fine, let’s go on and do something else!’” It seems that most of Jennie’s ideas work, as her creations are exquisite.
Jennie first learned to weave when she attended university in Denmark, the land of her grandmother. “There, weaving was everywhere,” Jennie says. She took one introductory class, bought a loom and shipped it home. It’s been decades, and she hasn’t stopped weaving since.
When Jennie first started weaving, she sourced all her fiber from New Zealand, since it was impossible to source any good, local fiber from where she lived in northern California. Now, with the support and trending of Fibershed, Jennie is able to source wool exclusively from Mendocino and Sonoma Counties. She buys the raw fleeces and works with it every step of the way — washing, hand-spinning, and finally, weaving. “I used to send the fleeces to be processed at a mill, but I would rather do the work myself, often spinning them off the stable,” she explains. “The machine is too consistent for me.”
“Maybe I was born 100 years too late,” Jennie says, shrugging. “I just love the feeling of the wooden tools and the textures and smell of the wool.” Alpaca, however, is not used nor favored by Jennie. “That stuff is too slimy and slippery,” she says. For this weaver, it’s the hardiness of the sheep’s wool that has her heart, and hands.
“Handspun rugs are my thing,” Jennie says. Indeed, they are! Her rugs are beautiful, simple, elemental and elegant. “People say they are going to hang them on the wall, but I say they really need to be on the floor, under the feet!”
Her designs are completely intuitive, as she does not make any sketches or cartoons beforehand. Often implementing diagonal lines in a tapestry style, she is completely present and simply “follows the lines.” Jennie says she instinctively knows when she needs to shift directions, or turn the angles of the lines. “I just go,” she says. “I won’t know until I feel it.”
Although her work is intuitive, she also implements geometrical elements. “The Fibonacci formula balances stripes nicely,” she explains. “And the Golden Ratio is a proportion that is excellent with rugs.” Jennie’s largest rugs are woven on her sixty-inch wide Glimakra loom from Sweden.
When not weaving rugs, Jennie weaves hand-spun wool throws with a simple tabby weave on one of her looms, or chenille scarves on a different loom. On yet another loom sits a half-woven silk scarf, and then there’s a section for her eco-dying experiments with local eucalyptus. Jennie takes her looms to workshops and also teaches weaving out of her home.
Eight years ago, Jennie had the privilege of doing a residency in the legendary weaving village of Teotitlan del Valle in Oaxaca, Mexico. She has won several awards including the American Tapestry Alliance award for Excellence and shown at the National Textile History Museum in Massachusetts. Jennie’s expertise and artistry is a treasure in our local Fibershed. You can find more about her at www.HendersonStudiosPointArena.com.