Weaving the world
Tapestries by Sola
ITwas 1983, and Sola Fiedler, known professionally as Sola, was sitting in a dentist’s chair in a tall building overlooking Vancouver, which would soon be transformed for the World’s Fair, three years away. She wanted to create an image of how the city looked before everything changed.
“I didn’t have a camera. I couldn’t paint or draw. But I could knit,” she told Pasatiempo. “I figured I could paint a picture with yarn. There was no internet, and I didn’t think to get a book. That’s when I taught myself how to weave tapestries.”
Traditional European tapestry features images and pictures in the weft that completely obscure the warp threads. Large-scale tapestries require tens of thousands of hours of labor, and often a number of weavers work in tandem on the same piece. A drawing, called a cartoon, of what the final tapestry should look like is placed behind the warp so that weavers have something to follow. Sola didn’t know any of this and wove her first 30 tapestries alone and freehand before she was enlightened during a visit to the Australian Tapestry Workshop in Melbourne. “I discovered I wasn’t doing it the same way everyone else was.” She decided she was far enough along in the art form to continue with her own process.
Sola primarily weaves cityscapes, which are accurate down to the number of windows on buildings and trees on surrounding mountains. She often focuses on locations at the precipice of change, especially those selected to host the Olympic Games, including Salt Lake City, Utah, and Sydney, Australia. “It’s a wonderful feeling, sharing in the joy and excitement that takes place in a city that’s invited the entire world to celebrate there. Just talking about it, the hairs on my arms are standing on end. I choose to document what the moment in time looks like for the entire city, because 30 years later — even five years later — everything will look different.”
Not only does Sola eschew cartoons, she doesn’t take photographs or use maps. When she weaves a city, she lives in that city, as close to the center as she can. Every day she takes a walk and fixes in her mind the next section of the tapestry, and the day after that she adds it. “It’s that simple. I do a whole city street by street, until I’ve completed the whole thing, and then I put in the background, which is usually mountains, and the foreground, which is often water.” Her fiber comes from resale shops in the form of sweaters she unravels and balls of yarn discarded by people who abandoned their knitting projects.
Two of Sola’s tapestries are on display at Art Santa Fe. Salt Lake City (7 feet by 10 feet) is a bird’s-eye view from about 15,000 feet above the Wasatch Mountain Range, on which you can see every meticulously woven ski run. Las Vegas (7 feet five inches by 11 feet) shows the strip and grid of the city at night, highlighted with metallic thread. Now seventy-nine years old, Sola is in good health, though repetitive stress injuries are common among weavers, and she’s been set back twice with a frozen shoulder. She keeps in peak physical condition with daily weight training and cardio and said she plans to live to be one hundred. She has dreamed her entire career of weaving the Grand Canyon, and she has finally decided to make that her next project. On her way to Art Santa Fe, she and her daughter are stopping off for a rafting excursion down the Colorado River so she can begin to envision the tapestry. “I didn’t used to have the upper body strength for that,” she said, “but I do now.” — Jennifer Levin
Sola: Salt Lake City, 2002, cotton, silk, and wool;
Las Vegas, 2009, wool, silk, cotton, metallic thread, and beads