Cynthia Schira’s Woven Mark-Making

Carla Tilghman

Our class chatted about putting up blog posts sharing our research inspired by the exhibition An Errant Line at the Spencer Museum of Art on the University of Kansas campus. I’m going to be researching the installation work of Cynthia Schira, focusing particularly on the woven pieces. Schira’s use of digital technology in her weaving process allows her to create some quite distinctive pieces, pieces that would be much more difficult to create without the computer-assisted looms that she uses. Since the 1980s, Schira has been experimenting with computer-assisted looms, first in Germany, then in Canada and the U.S.  Some of the looms are completely automated and Schira spends most of her design time using computer programs such as Photoshop and JaqCad Master to create binary files that are then sent to the looms.  Other looms (such as the one in Montreal, Canada) are not completely automated and Schira physically does the weaving. For An Errant Line, Schira partnered with Oriole Mill in North Carolina to design pieces for two different automated looms. These looms allow Schira to have a lot of control over threads in order to create large, distinctive weavings.

For this exhibition, Schira explored two ways of creating imagery. She continued to work on the notion of codes and ciphers, motifs that she’s been playing with for several years. She looked at writings about weaving and terminology applied to fabric to create a large piece filled with words that repeat and overlap. Viewers can read parts of words and sentences and create their own meaning out of traditional textiles terms. For other weavings in the exhibition, Schira used works from the Spencer collection for visual inspiration. She scanned presepio figures from the collection and used details from their clothing, blown up large to create textural and idiosyncratic hangings. Another eighty-foot-long, six-foot-tall black-and-white weaving incorporated motifs from maps, quilts, ceramics, whatever caught Schira’s eye when she was exploring items in the Museum’s storage (with curatorial help.)

Schira’s decades of experience with computer-assisted looms show in her facility with woven mark-making. All of the works are made with black and white threads, the junctions of which create subtle grey tones and textures. There’s no overwhelming color to distract from the patterns, symbols, and subtle textures created through the intersection of soft, cotton threads.


Carla Tilghman is a weaver and a graduate student in American Studies at the University of Kansas.


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