Business partners Matti Sloman 07 PT/MFA 14 TX and Emily Winter MFA 15 TX knew from the get-go that after earning their MFAs at RISD they wanted to be able work with their hands and think conceptually about design and production. “Textiles offer a really wonderful nexus of tangible and more abstract ways of thinking and working,” says Winter. “But there are a lot of different ways to work with textiles in the world,” she adds, “and you can easily get divorced from the actual making of the fabric.”
Right after graduation, Winter moved back to Chicago, where she had previously worked with Envision Unlimited, a social services agency that serves adults with developmental disabilities. Sloman moved to Chicago that summer and they worked together on cleaning up the workshop, learning how to use the weaving equipment and developing a textiles curriculum for Envision’s clients with the support of a Maharam STEAM Fellowship from RISD.
That fall, funding from a RISD Graduate Studies Research Grant enabled them to set off on a three-week tour of mills, studios, individual weaving establishments and arts organizations, rounding up information and inspiration to launch their own venture. The outcome: The Weaving Mill (TWM), an experimental, community-based production mill.
“We make projects of our own—textile and otherwise—that respond to the practice of running a small industrial mill,” says Winter. “We also provide textile workshops for Envision clients and design and create fabric in collaboration with other artists and designers as part of our artist residency program.”
One of the first artists they collaborated with was fellow alum Rebecca Atwood 07 PT. She came up with a series of drawings and cut-paper collages exploring an off-set stripe concept she hoped to pursue. “Figuring out how to translate Becca’s design prompt into a blanket was a good challenge for us,” says Winter. “We learned through the process of doing.”
Sloman and Winter have since collaborated with a number of other RISD alumni, including most recently Sarah Wertzberger MFA 13 TX, a friend from the Textiles grad program who’s now based in Portland, OR. She partnered with TWM to produce a series of cotton and wool engineered plaid and “tromp-as-writ” blankets and pillows, designs in which an element of the warp layout is replicated in the weft. One of the blankets was recently acquired by the RISD Museum and will go on view at the end of May.
“Sarah’s project was about using the machinery to do what the design needs,” Sloman explains, “pushing into the limitations of the loom in whatever way these fabrics called for.”
“This project helped us quiet the voices of conventional production inside our heads,” Winter adds. “Sarah’s engineered design meant starting and stopping the looms constantly, changing the yarns, changing the files, pushing back against that desire to adhere to the norms of large-scale production.”
Another limited-edition series of blankets, Churro Churro, focused on the material used: highly prized Churro wool produced on Navajo reservations. But sourcing new materials is always a challenge because every variation affects how the machines run. “We initially intended to use tons of different yarns,” Winter notes, “but now we understand why people don’t and we take a more measured approach.”
With every new project, the duo learns more, “sometimes leaning into the rules,” as Sloman puts it, “and sometimes breaking them.” As they help to shape the future of small-scale textiles production through TWM, Sloman and Winter continue to ask themselves tough questions and attempt to answer them using the critical thought processes they developed at RISD.
“The great thing about RISD was having the space to fail,” says Sloman. “We treat The Weaving Mill as a studio in which there’s time and space to experiment, fail and try again.”