By JB Clark
Shadow McKnight is obsessed with textiles.
At work, where she designs office, hospitality, RV and healthcare furniture for Flex Steel, McKnight works with durable, high-end textiles, designed to hold up under constant use. But at home, the 27-year-old artist takes textiles back to their most primitive forms through weaving.
McKnight weaves yarn—mostly wool and cotton—into patterns and textures hung from decorative dowels. The finished woven tapestries have a quality reminiscent of Native American dream catchers while remaining their own, wholly unique thing. The patterns evoke the primitive American Southwest, but the colors are much more varied and modern.
In 2014, McKnight began noticing wall-mounted woven tapestries online.
“I talked about them with my friend, Mackenzie Pettit, who was also an interior designer and a kindred spirit,” McKnight said. “She said, ‘I would love to have one, but they’re so expensive.’ And they are.”
McKnight got the idea to make her own. “I thought, I can do this. I’ve always been a crafty person, and I love doing things and making things with my hands.”
So she researched looms, and one weekend she drove from Memphis to her parents’ home in Weir, Mississippi, to find her mom had ordered her a small lap loom. “I think she just ordered it because she had Amazon Prime and I didn’t,” McKnight said. “It was like Christmas morning. I opened it immediately and sat on the floor with nothing but the 10-page booklet that came with the loom and started weaving.”
She was utterly captivated, finishing her first tapestry before the weekend was over.
As she dedicated more and more time to her new craft, her dad built her a full-sized loom she could sit at and weave larger pieces. Four years later, she still weaves every day.
The thing that drew her into weaving was the fact that she is working with fabric.
“Obviously, my passion is design, specifically textiles,” McKnight said. “I get to work with them at work and also, create textiles at home. The thing that’s different is, at work, I’m on the computer non-stop, and at home, I leave the computer. I don’t need any new technology to do what I do with my weaving. I love that—just me, my hands, and my loom. It’s a great feeling to be able to create something from nothing.”
While the fabrics she hangs on her wall are much less functional than the designs she uses at work, McKnight said she still sees them as useful design.
“Even though this is just an art piece, it has a function while I’m weaving it,” she said. “I joke that it’s my therapy, but it is calming and meditative.”
McKnight is also interested in the storytelling function of her art and the art that inspires her. She doesn’t directly draw inspiration from Native American culture, but there is no denying its influence. She has long been an admirer of the storytelling nature of Native American art—their dreamcatchers and colorful textiles with layers of story hidden in each pattern and color.
McKnight isn’t the only artist in the woven tapestry scene, but her pieces stand out. She weaves colors tightly together toward the tops, pulling tufts out here and there for added depth and texture, before letting the colors and yarns deconstruct themselves toward the bottom.
“Mine add another element,” she said. “Normally it comes off a little boho, and hippie-dippy, but I like to have fullness in each of my pieces—some flare. I like there to be lots of really full fringe at the bottom of each tapestry.”
She has also pushed herself to experiment with smaller, framed pieces that are much more tightly constructed and succinct. The glass of the frame, she said, adds a layer of preservation and class to the art.
She wove her largest tapestry for her own wedding, a 3-foot piece suspended from a piece of driftwood she found while hiking with her husband, Jake.
Her tapestries got enough attention that she started Kaleidoscope By Shadow, an online shop to sell her wares and take customer orders. The word Kaleidoscope has always been McKnight’s favorite word, partly because of its appearance in The Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and partly because of its meaning. The word is derived from two Greek words, Kalos, meaning beautiful, and Eidos, meaning form.
Not to mention, the colors used in McKnight’s works certainly resemble a glance through a kaleidoscope.
Her tapestries, wall-mounted or framed, can be purchased on Instagram at kaleidoscope.byshadow.