Artist Interview: Bonni Backe

Bonni Backe is a new and very welcome addition to our teaching roster this year.   Here’s a peek behind the curtain of class jurying…whenever an instructor application comes in with an unfamiliar name, the first thing Astrig does is jump on Google to find images and stories behind the instructor.  The images Bonni’s name were attached to were splendid in the world of miniatures.  We’ve been aware of the fiber work burgeoning in the miniature world for a while (our Emma is quite active in the Maine scene)…this was our chance to offer students a new twist on a very old tradition.  Bonni, we welcome you warmly!  Bonni will be teaching Miniature Punch Needle Rugs on Friday from 10 to 1 and Adventures on an Inkle Loom Saturday from 9-1.  The class descriptions are here.


What is your background? When I lived in New York City in the early 80’s, I took evening woven design classes with Nell Znamierowski at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After I got my first floor loom, I worked as a production weaver, weaving for a couple of designers who sold in boutiques nationally. From there I progressed to weaving handloom samples for the textile industry, which led eventually to being the head designer at Franetta Fabrics in the Garment District. When my then husband relocated us to Syracuse NY, I found myself with lots of fine yarns from the sample weaving and long winters. I began weaving 1/12 scale dollhouse miniatures, partly because I’m not ambitious enough to weave a full sized coverlet. I also did full-sized craft shows, mostly scarves, but maintaining two inventories was just crazy. I left the world of craft show tent-set-up, is-it-going-to-rain/blow/heat stroke and never looked back.

Backe_all scales blankets

At a party, how do you introduce yourself in response to the inevitable question: “So what do you do?” I tell them I weave dollhouse scale miniatures and watch their eyes roll back into their heads, or they suddenly realize they need another drink. Occasionally, I find someone who “gets” miniatures and that’s a delight.


What project has given you the most satisfaction and why? I was commissioned to weave 1/12 scale duplicates of 4 of the rugs found in Mt. Vernon, George Washington’s home, for the scale model Mt. Vernon in Miniature that was refurbished for the opening of a new visitor’s center. Working with the staff, I received jpegs of the actual rugs and scaled them down and wove them. Now my rugs are seen by hundreds of visitors daily. Sadly, I was unable to attend the special reception and viewing they held for the artisans who contributed to the project.


What wouldn’t you do without? Audio books to keep me company while I dress the loom or weave what seems like miles of tiny tea towels, 60 shuttle throws per inch.


How do you develop your own style? Designing has always been my favorite part of weaving, playing “What If” with different weaves or color combinations. I do read lots of shelter magazines to gather ideas for new rugs or table linens, but since the illusion of scale requires not only reducing the size of the weave but the color as well, my rugs are never the same as the work that inspired it.


Tell us about your studio and how you work. My studio is in my basement, the only place my 2 16 shaft floor looms would fit. I have shelves and shelves of fine wool and rayon yarns, sorted by color. It makes great insulation! I stitch boat canvas during the day, so I weave evenings and weekends.

Backe studio

What is your dream project? I went to Norway 2 years ago, with a study grant from the International Guild of Miniature Artisans because I’m a Fellow of the Guild. I studied Norwegian doublecloth coverlets, but they’re all woven pick-up, and I’m a loom-controlled structure kinda gal. I’d love to try some of the other Scandinavian weaves in miniature, and I will. I also dream of 24 or 32 shaft looms, but that’s another story.


How does your early work differ from what you are doing now? My early work was entirely full-sized, and I weave almost exclusively miniatures now. But even my miniatures have gotten more refined and less clunky as my exposure to what other artists are doing in miniature furniture, dolls, pottery and metalwork has expanded.


What kind of creative patterns, routines or rituals do you have? One of the most important things I learned with Nell Znamierowski at FIT was keeping inspiration notebooks – nature photographs with wonderful color combinations, great textures or patterns. Or pictures of full sized rugs, blankets and table linens I will weave if I live to be 100. And as a result of my days as a textile designer, I keep meticulous notes on my rugs, so I can go back and either weave more, or pick up where I left off when I had that great idea and no more warp left!


If a good friend were to describe your style, what would he or she say? Bonni’s style is definitely eclectic, and has a strong tendency toward blue, but mostly the hallmark is her dedication to creating pieces that feel as good as they look, drape nicely and look in scale with a 1/12, 1/24 or 1/48 setting.



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