A New Way of Weaving

Big Projects, Beginning to End, Dirty, Filthy Fun, Exploring New Techniques, Industrious Women, Inspiration, Lift, News from the Shop

I’ve just returned from Arizona and am happy to announce Lift is complete and has been installed in Scottsdale! Thanks to you, the Scottsdale Public Art Program, and many friends who lent a hand at the end, we did it!

I’d hoped to coordinate a brief local exhibition before transporting the piece out west, but ran out of time to do so and I do deeply apologize to my local supporters. I wish I could have personally invited each of you to see the piece you helped create first-hand before packing it up. I’m not sure where I will exhibit next, but if Lift returns to Florida you all will be the first to know!

Before I show you the results of our hard work I’m going to rewind a few weeks and catch you up on what happened before we crossed the finish line!

Weaving the metal baskets proved to be one of the more challenging and rewarding aspects of this project. I knew this section of the piece would push my skill level and require me to do a lot of problem solving while building. The resulting metal basket/ benches are more lovely than I could have imagined and I’m excited to show you how they came to be.

Taken at the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque, NM
Taken at the Anderson Abruzzo International Balloon Museum in Albuquerque, NM

Above is the weaving pattern seen on actual hot air balloon baskets and is the inspiration for the pattern used in Lift.

The entire shape of the basket is influenced by the shape of these metal spokes.

I shaped each basket’s spokes before I began weaving. Look at how fast I got!

After pre-bending, cutting, and de-burring these spokes I welded a few to two rings of metal (one will be the top rim and one will be the bottom rim of the basket).

I then welded the long metal bars (1/4″ round) to the spokes and began to weave.

I’d anticipated using a rosebud tip on an oxy/acetylene torch to heat the metal up when weaving it. For a couple days I did and the weave looked great, but the cost of gas was really outrageous, so I began looking for a cold bending solution. I really liked the weave pattern I was getting, and the metal was thin enough to bend by hand anyway, but I needed to support the spokes while I bent the metal around them so I could get a tight weave without bending the spokes by accident.

I began tack welding pre-bent flat bar to the spokes I was working near. It would support the weave and the spoke while I bent the metal. With this new process I could work the majority of the basket cold and save a lot of money doing so (which was great because when it was all said and done other aspects of the project cost more than I had expected).

You can see the light changing in the stop animation I made. This is because it’s an all day affair. By the time I got to the third basket my process was pretty streamlined and it still took me a solid 12 hours just to weave the basket. It’s really hard with these large projects to predict your time and a good rule is to triple whatever you think it will take. In this case things definitely took longer than expected and if it wasn’t for copious amounts of coffee and amazingly talented and dedicated friends I would probably still be working!

Once the weave was complete I tucked the ends of the metal bars inside the basket and welded them in place. Karen Tharp took the photo below of me inside the largest basket, finishing off the weave.

The original basket designed looked a little different than the final piece. The first design looked more like an upside down basket, with the weave pattern tapering at the top and looking sorta like the bottom of the basket. I’d been dissatisfied with the upside down look and lack of handles of this design and after talking with an artist friend, Jasper North, I decided to alter the baskets to look more like upright baskets, with literal handles on the side.

This slight change in the look of the piece spared me the agony of tapering the weave as it transitioned into the sitting surface. It also allowed me to incorporate mounting pads inside the baskets, where they aren’t seen (or unbolted) by the public after they’re installed.

The tops of the baskets are made by first building a framework (as seen on far right basket) that will support a coiled twist. The majority of twists were made in the forge by heating two pieces of 1/4″ round, clamping in a vice, and using an adjustable wrench to grasp and twist the metal together. These 5′ long bars of twisted metal were then coiled and welded to the seat frame. The twisted sections along the rim of the baskets and on the handles use 4 pieces of metal for the twist.

Once all the parts were built and welded together it was time to grind and smooth all the welds down with chisels, files, dremels, and angle grinder. This is the last step in a project before it can be finished and it always takes forever. Thanks to Jasper North, Andrew Lapetina, Karen Tharp, and Nathan Grimes, who worked alongside me in my tiny little shop for days and days every inch of metal was meticulously reviewed.

Here they are ready to be sandblasted at Gainesville Iron Works.

Next stop: Powder Coating of Gainesville!

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I create large metal sculptures for public art, smaller items for you and your home, and teach hands on metal workshops in Gainesville, FL. Visit LeslieTharp.com