Levon Kafafian, who worked with our parent company, Hagopian, for six years, recently joined the restoration team at Detroit Rug Restoration. A weaver and an educator—Levon, 27, runs Fringe Society Studio, a community weaving studio in downtown Detroit—he is apprenticing part-time in the repair department, learning the skills to get rugs to a state of stability. Welcome, Levon!
DRR: Share with us how your love of fiber arts and weaving developed.
Levon: I had been working at Hagopian for three years, first as a Stock Assistant, then Receptionist, then finally as a Rug Care Specialist. When I asked to apprentice in rug repair, Sue Hagopian’s response was to take a course in weaving at Wayne State University (where I was already a student) as 'one must learn how to make before learning how to repair'. I signed up for a class in weaving as well as a fiber arts survey course and fell in love immediately. I badgered my professor to teach me techniques in rugmaking and took my first few works back to Sue, who received them well. After a year of fiber courses at Wayne State, I decided to pursue a degree in textiles seriously and transferred to the College for Creative Studies (CSS), where my work was pushed in a conceptual direction. I spent a total of six years at Hagopian before leaving to open my own community weaving studio.
DRR: As an artist, the drive to teach is not always there, but yours seems strong. What moved you to get serious about the educational component of weaving?
Levon: Early in my schooling in textiles I was offered a position as work-study in the Fibers department at Wayne State, where I assisted in cleaning and maintaining the studio while also assisting students who were my juniors. I continued working in this capacity after transferring to CCS, where I came to find that pushing students to reach their potential both excited and inspired me. The turning point came when I realized that so few of the people in my network knew about weaving, much less had access to the institutions where weaving was being taught. I became obsessed with collecting pre-owned looms and once I had enough, led my first introductory weaving class in my studio. The experience confirmed that I had a strong desire to continue bringing the craft of weaving and the unique perspectives on the world it provides to a community that would otherwise not be able to engage with the process.
DRR: You’ve been working alongside the master craftsman at Detroit Rug Restoration for a month now. What have you learned?
Levon: I've learned new ways to finish woolen textiles that are totally different than garment-grade or decorative wovens. In re-weaving I am able to apply my existing skill and knowledge in new ways by learning how to tension existing pieces on frame looms, recreating the conditions when the piece was originally being worked. In my own work, I have greater freedom to decide on color, design, material, form and technique, but in the process of restoration, I've had to pay greater attention to detail and develop the discipline to replicate designs and finishes.
DRR: Fringe Society Studio, your community weaving studio, has been open for three years now. Describe a typical session.
Levon: A typical session for a beginner involves a brief introduction to loom anatomy before being thrown headfirst into the process. Formula-driven calculations give way to the repetitive, and meditative tasks of organizing lengths of yarn and threading the various parts of the loom. Once the loom is "dressed", students experiment with many different textures and colors of yarn and explore various weaving techniques. All the while, professional weavers are busy working on their own projects and visitors of diverse background mingle about the studio. Just before the end of a session, students, weavers and visitors share a home-cooked vegetarian meal and get to know each other a little better.
DRR: How do you hope to combine the creativity of weaving with the work you’re doing at Detroit Rug Restoration?
Levon: I'm excited to start artistically restoring rugs to bring new narratives to the ones already contained in these old works. Taking inspiration from the Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, in which an object broken and repaired is more beautiful than a perfect specimen, I seek to draw attention to the areas repaired through new colors and different patterns. These new stitches not only add greater strength, but also bring new meaning to the material.