Meet the Maker: Johana Cordero
For this weaver, the warp and weft of life is much more than a metaphor.
The afternoon sun streaming into Johana Cordero’s white-walled, cork-floored studio illuminates a pale wood spinning wheel, warping mill and loom. One could be forgiven for thinking these are decor pieces, so seamlessly do they enhance the minimalist esthetic of the small space. These beauties are functional; however, their purpose is to make textiles – handcrafted art that invites touching.
“People are used to art being beyond reach at a gallery or museum,” says the weaver. “I love textiles because they often have a function, such as with scarves, rugs or blankets. Even wall hangings can usually withstand a light caress.”
Johana enjoys the process of weaving, including the extensive preparation required. Size, fabric, density and balance are all factors – a rug must be rigid, a blanket or scarf malleable.
Once Johana makes those decisions, aided by a pattern and a sample, the preparation begins in earnest. The required length of strong yarn for the warp – threads that provide the foundation of a piece – is wound on a warping mill. Then it’s time to “dress” the loom.
Dressing is the painstaking, step-by-step process of threading the warp strands through the loom. From rollers to reeds, and heddles to treadles, the names of a loom’s parts sound a bit like a magical spell. And, in truth, some high-level sorcery seems to be required to get things just so.
Then it’s time to prepare the weft by winding its fibres onto bobbins. “I prefer to use natural fibres for both the warp and weft – cotton, wool, linen or bamboo,” says Johana, adding that synthetic fibres also have their place.
Once the bobbin is inserted in the shuttle, she starts the sequences defined by the pattern. Johana presses the treadle, or foot pedal, like an organist coaxing out a sacred hymn. She passes the shuttle through the shed, a space between the warp threads, and pulls a beater bar forward to lock in the row, repeating the pattern’s sequences until the piece is complete.
It all seems to require great skill, but Johana is quick to say that even young children can easily master simple, smaller looms. She offers various workshops, including kids’ birthday parties and courses for retirees, and is happy to see an increasing number of teens drawn to the craft.
“I always knew that I wanted to have a teaching studio,” she says. “So when I moved back to Ontario six years ago after attending Nova Scotia College of Art and Design University, that was my focus.” She and her partner, Tyler MacKenzie – the two met at Sheridan College where both studied craft and design – moved to Toronto’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood where she opened Loom Studio. Three years ago, when Johana was eight months pregnant, the couple bought a house in Bolton.
After the pandemic moved everything online, she migrated her studio to the Alton Mill and now her primary studio space is in her in-laws’ house, also in Bolton. But she still has a pop-up studio in Toronto, as well as a smaller workspace at home.
Though Johana appreciates the beauty of nature that is more accessible in Headwaters, she also misses the city vibe of Toronto and Bogotá, Colombia, where she was born. Her family moved to Mississauga when she was 14.
“Textiles, like many other crafts, play a huge role in the history of Colombia, and there are still many artisans making handmade goods and passing on their skills to their families,” she says. “Colombia is an inspiring and beautiful country with so much natural beauty and vibrant colours. That’s why I’ve always been drawn to nature and have wanted my craft to include natural elements.”
Both the black walnut tree and the dye garden in her backyard provide a readily available source of natural dyes, which yield beautiful results, such as the ombre-blue blanket spread gracefully over a midcentury modern armchair in a corner of the studio.
Along with her own projects, Johana is also busy with commissions, such as the wall decor for Summerhill Market in Toronto and various hotel lobbies. Other clients, often families, ask to have their life experiences immortalized in a hanging woven in her modern, abstract esthetic.
But she also derives satisfaction from making traditional rag rugs. “Clients often give me fabrics that have meaning to them, like their mother’s quilt or their dad’s shirt. I love weaving a whole family’s story into an item that can be used and passed on.”
Johana considers herself fortunate to make a living from an activity she loves. “I take joy in honouring fabrics and fibres by giving them an ultimate purpose. This is why I went into craft versus art – so that people can touch, use and benefit from my creations and participate in the story the end result embodies.”
Find Johana at loomstudio.ca for classes and at johanacordero.ca for commissions.