Culture + Style

Made in Chicago: How Dee Clements Weaves One-of-a-Kind Textiles

Dee Clements in her Chicago studio. (Photo: Ten Photos)

Dee Clements is a textile artist who weaves cloth on a wooden loom. It’s an old school craft that she’s making decidely new school. In addition to her limited edition textiles, she creates custom pieces for clients and makes one-of-a-kind works in which she allows herself to deviate from the pattern and improvise while she weaves. Clements’ work is not only beautiful — it’s also ecologically conscious.

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“The goal is to source everything locally, so we have three looms here in my studio, and we work with local dyers and tailors — even the pillow insert is local,” Clements says of the core materials that comprise her pillows, rugs and other woven works. The farmer-dyer-weaver triad is essential to her process.

Clements begins each piece with a small painting that maps out the essence of the pattern. Once she finalizes the design with the client, she purchases the wool spun and dyed to order. Clements and her weavers take their places before their incredibly complex treadle floor looms. Although looms are ancient machines, their brilliant mechanics have withstood the test of time. The weavers use foot pedals to control which set of threads will come to the top for each row of yarn. The wooden boat shuttle glides over the threads, then the yarn gets locked into place when the next foot pedal is pressed. The documentation for each patterns is so complex it looks like strange sheet music. Each step of the sequence requires precision, and after incessant repetition, the intricate pattern emerges.

Clements may keep the process local, but her products have a global audience. Herron, her textile company, has attracted the attention of major retailers like CB2 and The Land of Nod. Popular demand has presented Clements with new opportunities and challenges.

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For one retailer, Clements and her team wove 150 pillows in two months. Those long hours taught Clments much about fulfilling large orders while maintaining her standards (and sanity) in order to grow her business. Like others in Chicago’s Maker scene, Clements combines historic traditions with the latest digital tools. With the advent of the Internet and advanced manufacturing, independent crafters are able work directly with factories in a manner that wasn’t possible 20 years ago.

With a degree in Fiber and Material Arts from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Clements credits her fine art education for the theory and concept of high craft, “but they really didn’t teach you how to weave a rug,” she explains. “I really had to start over.” In a city of starving artisans, Clements’ is a Chicago success story.

Dee’s work is available in these shops around the Chicago area: