Woven Community: An Invitation To Work Shoulder-to-Shoulder

Vail_WovenCommunity_01My name is Andrea and I hope we’ll soon work together – side by side – on something memorable.

During the spring of 2014, I facilitated just such a project. It began with a 6 ft. x 8 ft. frame loom, plenty of linen warp, a generous assortment of donated crochet goods…and lots of people working together!

(CultureWorks in Richmond, VA helped fund my proposal to create a series of free public engagements positioned within the boundaries of the Richmond Arts and Culture District and inclusive of all interested community members.)


Entitled WOVEN Community Project, it was a 3-part community-focused project, involving

1) collecting donated crochet goods from the community

Vail_WovenCommunity_042) unraveling the goods to reclaim yarn


 3) welcoming Richmonders to join me in a public place to weave the yarn into a new work of art


By collaborating with the community to complete a unique artwork, I strive to create scenarios that nurture diverse partnerships among both individuals and communities. (On a more personal note, it was also a way to get some distance from my thesis during the final semester of graduate school. It was a way to insert myself into the community and do something less introspective.)


The project included 3 months of leading scheduled events at 7 venues in town, including galleries, a comedy club and Richmond Public Library. It was great because people would come to the events as strangers and leave as friends.


When your hands are working toward a common goal, your mind doesn’t have time to realize that you’re doing something socially awkward, i.e. interacting with people you wouldn’t normally have contact with or speak to.

That’s the beauty of this project; it brought people together in very close proximity – yet removed tension or hesitation. 


I find my work teeters between making studio work and feeling an overwhelming need to do something meaningful with others.

Perhaps your intuition moves you to work in a similar way?


It’s a cycle. I usually have several in-progress pieces while planning a larger collaborative piece.

I think my first introduction to socially engaged art was through my friend Renee Garner. She and Lydia Marlon organized america’s 24 hour knit-in in 2003 (Charlotte, NC.) It was 24 hours of non-stop knitting and crocheting for international and local peace. We made several scarves and accepted food donations – all of which was delivered locally to families in transition. Since then my work has become more and more community-oriented.

Vail_WovenCommunity_02I completed by MFA at Virginia Commonwealth University. Social practice was not an overt aspect of VCU’s Craft/Material Studies Department, though the nature of the program is very communal – as is textile culture.

Much of the art that inspires me is activated by the audience – interactive, participatory, or collaborative… Not to mention that many of my classmates and professors were making community-activated work.

Brian Fleetwood’s thesis included gifting unexpected participants with jewelry. Susie Ganch brought the Radical Jewelery Makeover to Richmond. Sonya Clark was working on Hair Craft Project .

As an emerging artist, I find that social practice is extremely relevant and necessary. Hopefully it will continue to be a major focus of the VCU program. Artists help to bring about social change. Granting agencies and professional organizations acknowledge this – from local to international initiatives. Surface Design Association is no exception!

SDA’s upcoming MADE/AWARE: Socially Engaged Practices intensive at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (October 8-11, 2015) will be an amazing incubator for practitioners in our field! SDA’s 2013 interface conference in San Antonio, TX was my first SDA event. I was blown away by the programming, member dedication – and overall energy. This year, I am thrilled to be presenting myself.

I invite you to participate in a new community project called Creating: Conversation & Community at MADE/AWARE in Gatlinburg, TN (USA).


For now, I am keeping the project under wraps. It involves people, handwork and an exchange. Please bring something to be included (fabrics, thread, a garment, a wrapper from your pocket, an old pair of eyeglasses)…anything goes for your contribution! Find complete information on how you can participate here.  

I look forward to meeting you in Gatlinburg – and working, side by side, on something very engaging!

Updates on my MADE/AWARE project will be available at www.andreavail.com/friendge.


Vail_headshot_020Andrea Vail creates collaborative exchange through an investigation of contemporary American society and its objects.

She earned an MFA from the Craft/Material Studies Program at Virginia Commonwealth University (2014) and a BFA in Visual Arts from University of North Carolina/Charlotte (2003).

Her other recent projects include Gathering Clouds: A Quilting Bee with Andrea Vail at VCU Anderson Gallery, Two Plus One: A 5 Hour Creative Interaction (co-organized with Rachel Emily Simpson) at McColl Center for Art + Innovation and ONE HUNDRED CIRCLES with Elizabeth Traditional Elementary School.

Vail has taught at University of North Carolina/Charlotte, Virginia Commonwealth University and, most recently, at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC.

Visit her website at: www.andreavail.com



  • Susan Iverson says

    August 6, 2015 at 5:13 pm

    Andrea - so nice to see this project again and the images are terrific! Can't wait to see your next project.

  • lia flemings SDA member says

    August 7, 2015 at 11:30 am

    Congratulations on this colourful weaving. Like it; great project!

  • Irina Karpov says

    August 8, 2015 at 4:01 am

    How nice! What an idea - this shoulder to shoulder! And what a result!

  • Lizou says

    August 8, 2015 at 9:16 am

    Great !!!

  • Catherine Beckman says

    August 11, 2015 at 4:55 pm

    This whole idea is so positive it will effect change . I wonder a couple of things. How do you transport the looms? Plus, what happens to the finished pieces?

  • Andrea Vail says

    August 18, 2015 at 4:56 pm

    Thank you all for the kind responses! How did I transport the loom? It was on casters and got pushed on sidewalks to the next destination. More than once, friends or strangers offered a hand. Excited to answer more questions at Arrowmont in October and possibly offer a glimpse at the finished piece. Warmly, Andrea

  • Swati says

    August 24, 2015 at 10:51 am

    Really wonderful project. So exciting to see people of various ages enjoying the act of weaving. I am a weaver from Bangalore, India.

  • Judy Carney says

    December 9, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I love this idea. I am trying to figure out how to duplicate it in my community. Any suggestions?

  • Sandra J Vail says

    February 6, 2016 at 7:35 pm

    I was so glad to be included in this art project....Just seeing all the people coming together and working together talking, laughing and using their hands and minds making something beautiful....

  • B20 Artist Interview with Andrea Vail – Wiregrass Museum of Art says

    August 4, 2020 at 10:01 am

    […] “Mounted” is an interesting way to think about my first participatory project. I started hosting Crochet Events around town (Charlotte, NC), probably in 2001 or 2002. I would bring yarn and invite people to hang out and crochet with me. It was usually all outdoors, on lawns or at parks…One time it was at a warehouse transformed into a temporary art space. The idea was to get people together working on one piece without much fuss. That became the way I approach most collaborative works – I facilitate a platform and share it with anyone who wants to join. I would say that my first well-considered collab that has been mounted and exhibited formally is Woven Community. It was an 8 foot, in-progress tapestry on wheels that I completed with people on sidewalks, comedy clubs, galleries, and the public library in Richmond, VA. I talked about it in more detail with Surface Design Association here. […]

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