Linking the heritage of Indiana’s rich textile history with the heritage of the large Celtic population in Indiana is unique within the Hoosier art culture. Nancy says the tradition has survived centuries and evolved.
A specialist in the designing and weaving of tartans, Nancy Brenner Sinnott combines her love of math with her art and enjoys testing her abilities in both. With such an academic-sounding approach, it’s not surprising her love of textiles as an art form was fostered while a student at the University of Notre Dame and deepened while working with the textiles collection at the Smithsonian Institution.
“Several classes within my American Studies curriculum focused on cultural artifacts, which led to the study of Indiana’s rich history in weaving Jacquard coverlets as well as a study of the Celtic heritage at Notre Dame,” Nancy said. “Graduate school took me to Washington, D.C. and resulted in a position with the Smithsonian, where I learned even more about the art and quality of textiles created here and around the world.
“All my new designs start with a plan, which may or may not be based on an ancient tartan pattern. Next I create five to ten different renditions of a pattern, finding the one that fits my aesthetic for the piece. Each is very personal, based on my interpretation of the design, and each is unique. Color and balance are key to creating a piece I deem successful,” she said.
“Researching, designing, weaving, and selling tartans for several years, especially while living so close to Notre Dame, has resulted in many spirited conversations with hundreds of Indiana residents,” Nancy said. “They share their Celtic heritage and work with me to discover their ancestor’s clan tartan. I can create pieces specific to their tartan or, if that doesn’t exist, they often ask me to design their own new “clan” tartan, often commemorating their past while looking toward the future.
“While many of my tartans are woven using authentic Shetland wool dyed to authentic tartan colors, that is not always the case. I enjoy utilizing cooler natural materials such as bamboo and silk, as both hold the rich colors of the tartan and the sharp lines of the design, and drape well when worn.”
Nancy says authentic tartans are required to follow several specific rules. They are always woven in twill (two threads up/two threads down); the pattern must almost always be symmetrical, which requires that identical colors and material be used in both the warp and weft of the weave; the colors may range from two to as many as the artist wants, but the majority of tartans range from three to seven specific colors; and each color combination is expected to be “pleasing to the eye,” and to blend when seen from a distance.
“My weavings have sold well at retail and at art fairs in Indiana and Michigan for years,” Nancy said. “I enjoy showing and selling at art fairs, and the uniqueness of my work is ideal for the Indiana Artisan brand because it broadens it. At the same time, this special brand now identifies me and my work as unique and provides greater exposure for both, as well as for tartans in the Midwest.”
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