Completing the Circuit
LAURA MACCARY MAKES
BY SYNE MITCHELL
Laura MacCary’s work explores our relationship Between Us, a tubular-woven theremin that plays
with aspects of life so pervasive we overlook spooky tones when you pass your hands through its
them: textiles, electronics, trash, even the lowly cock- electromagnetic field; Connection, a gorgeous blue
roach. Her work combines fiber arts and electronics cloth woven with squares of silver wires that light
to draw out the extraordinary in the everyday. different LEDs when touched; and Plutarch, an
“I’m interested in how we interact with technol- instrument that plays various tones depending on
ogy,” says MacCary, 41, of Tacoma, Wash. “Its fields how it’s handled.
pass through our bodies — radio signals, cellphone MacCary’s most recent work, Nest, appeared in
signals, TV — and we never think about them. the Seattle Dorkbot exhibit Strange Things. Inspired
“Weaving is another technology that’s very inti- by a set of antique candy molds, MacCary cast
mate and that most people don’t think about. I’ve three fist-sized bug bodies in crystalline sugar.
met people who, when I tell them Embedded inside each is an
I weave, say, ‘Nobody knows how electronic circuit that causes
to do that anymore.’ And I say, a red LED to glow and pulse in
‘Look at your clothing.’” a heartbeat rhythm when you
The first of four pieces in her lift one from its red satin nest.
Dialectric series, I and Thou is a “I wanted people to consider
25" square of cloth woven from the fact that even a cockroach
¼" reel-to-reel audiotape. When has a heart and can be sweet,”
you touch it, your skin completes MacCary says.
a circuit and it generates a series MacCary’s 500-square-foot
of clicks. The pitch and rate of studio is an enviable treasure
the clicking vary with the surface trove of eclectic materials. “It
area of skin that you press against the cloth. increased my productivity when I was able to get
Dialectric, which has shown in one California and everything out of boxes in the attic,” she says. “Now
six Washington state galleries since 2002, is a play I look at my stash every day and that sparks ideas.”
on words — a combination of dielectric, a noncon- On her loom now are feather-boa-like scarves
ductive material used in electronics, and dialectic, woven out of cassette tape discarded by a local
a logical discussion. recording company. Loops of black-and-brown
While the piece was on display, people responded film rustle like a living thing when you pick one up.
to the circuit in intimate ways, pressing their faces, Part garment, part Slinky, it’s almost impossible
hands, or forearms against it, trying to get new to put down.
sounds. They reacted to it as if it were an interactive What lies in the future for this champion of over-entity instead of an object. looked wonders? MacCary is currently taking
“When I saw people interact with the prototype, sewing classes, with an eye toward producing art
I got excited,” MacCary says. “We, as humans, anthro- garments. Her first impulse: to make jeans. Once
pomorphize everything. I was interested in that.” again, elevating the everyday.
A malfunction in the electronics of I and Thou
caused MacCary to seek technical support from
her father, Lawrence MacCary, a lifelong electronics
tinkerer who lives in Spokane, Wash. This led to additional collaborative pieces in the series: The Space
Photography by John Keatley
Syne Mitchell is the editor of WeaveZine (
a new online magazine for handweavers, and also produces
a monthly podcast, WeaveCast (
weavecast.com). She is a
weaver, science fiction writer, and former physicist.