Artist, academic and brain injury survivor Deb Brandon showcases international stories through textile art in “Threads Around The World”


PITTSBURGH, Pennsylvania – In her upcoming book, “Threads Around the World: From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe,” author Deb Brandon weaves together the stories of 25 diverse world cultures by showcasing their unique take on textile art.

Using original methods, modern fiber artists continue an age-old tradition of cultural story-telling. “Threads Around the World” (Jan. 28, 2019, Schiffer Publishing) examines everything from espadrilles to mirror embroidery, and offers well-researched context on the histories behind the wall-hangings.

Brandon –– a weaver, writer and mathematics professor at Carnegie Mellon University –– is a decade-long contributor to Weave A Real Peace (WARP), a nonprofit networking organization dedicated to improving the quality of life of textile artisans in communities in need. Her enthusiasm for the craft and its community brings an open-eyed understanding of textile arts, appealing not only to textile devotees but also to those interested in understanding diverse cultures through heritage crafts.

“The essays touch briefly on technique but this is not a how-to book,” Brandon says.
“The focus is on the beauty, artistry, and people who create these traditional textiles.”

Her other books include the memoir “But My Brain Had Other Ideas,” which follows Brandon’s brain injury story all the way through to long-term recovery, revealing without sugarcoating or sentimentality her struggles — and ultimate triumph. Her essays have appeared in several publications, including Hand/Eye Magazine and Weaving Today.



From Arabian Weaving to Batik in Zimbabwe
Deb Brandon | January 28, 2019 | Schiffer Publishing
Hardcover ISBN: 978-0764356506 | $23.74
Nonfiction | Arts and Crafts






Handmade textiles are personal, no matter where in the world they’re created, and these photos and explanations of 25 diverse world cultures’ techniques vividly share the details. Take a voyage through the pages to see how today’s artisans continue to create traditional fiber arts with age-old methods.

Blending well-researched information, engaging style, and inspiration, Brandon shares fascinating stories about region-specific crafts—for example, espadrilles, flatwoven rugs, mittens, voudou flags, mirror embroidery—and the histories they hold. This open-eyed approach offers new ideas for textile devotees and for anyone who’s interested in heritage crafts and cultures.


DBrandonAuthorPhotoABOUT THE AUTHOR: Deb Brandon

DEB BRANDON is a weaver, respected textile artist and enthusiast, and writer. She’s been an active volunteer with Weave a Real Peace (WARP), including serving multiple terms as a board member as well as writing the long-running “Textile Techniques from Around the World” column for the WARP newsletter. Brandon is a popular speaker on textiles and other topics. She’s an avid traveler and has competed nationally and internationally in dragon boating, and she’s been a professor in the Mathematical Sciences Department at Carnegie Mellon University since 1991. Her other books include the memoir “But My Brain Had Other Ideas,” and her essays have appeared in several publications, including HandEye Magazine and Weaving Today.



In an interview, Deb Brandon can discuss:

  • The importance of textile arts to the global community
  • The relationship textile traditions have with grassroots economies and global communities
  • How textile arts tell cultural stories and broadcast our humanity
  • The textile traditions still being used today
  • Overcoming brain injury and its impact on this project
  • The long-term recovery from a traumatic brain injury and navigating the immediate aftermath


An Interview with Deb Brandon

Can you talk more about the modern weaving community and your involvement in it?
It seems like a very supportive niche group of artists.
WARP is a wonderfully supportive group, and it includes all kinds of textile artists and enthusiasts. I also belong to various guilds, and I’ve submitted pieces to exhibitions. Guilds are essentially a community of like-minded people who come together to learn and share. WARP also does this but extends it to a global community; guilds tend to be local or regional and focus on one particular craft or art form. Often, people are surprised to learn that guilds and similar groups are out there; there’s a belief that those kinds of groups are part of our history. But they’re here today too, and they’re supportive and welcoming. I have personal ties with textile artists across the globe, I’ve taken a variety of workshops and classes, and I’ve also taught textile techniques, for both adults and children.

Your memoir, “But My Brain Had Other Ideas,” goes into detail about your experience with a traumatic brain injury, but can you tell us briefly about that part of your life?
I have clusters of thin-walled blood vessels in my brain called cavernous angiomas. Two had bled, causing symptoms (seizures, blinding headaches, sensory and balance problems, and more) that interfered with every aspect of my life. I couldn’t work, couldn’t drive, and I couldn’t be the mom I wanted to be for my son and daughter, who were young teens at the time. To prevent additional bleeds, I underwent three brain surgeries, which left me with a number of challenging symptoms, including fatigue, headaches, balance and vertigo problems, and short-term memory issues, among others. As I recovered, I began writing poetry and other creative work, something I had never done before or been interested in—but I became passionate about writing, and writing became part of my recovery and now, part of both ongoing recovery and my work.

How does your narrative of long-term brain injury recovery differ from those written in the immediate aftermath of a brain injury?
There’s a lot of drama in the story of injury, immediate aftermath, and acute recovery, but no one truly recovers 100% from severe brain injury. What I found for myself, and learned is true for many (possibly all) brain injury survivors, is that after that acute phase, there is a lot of tough work, and ongoing adaptations and adjustments—and a lot of amazing and positive life to be lived. Some of the challenges—mood disorders such as depression caused by the injury itself (as opposed to situational depression) are a good example—are common but not talked about, not well-known or acknowledged. Issues around returning to work and dealing with the realities of living with an “invisible disability” become more important over time, as family and coworkers may not understand that what they’re seeing is a result of injury, not malingering or excuses.

I felt it was important to share my experience with this process—with this life I now lead—because these are the stories I needed to hear as I was going through the recovery process myself. There’s still plenty of drama and discovery over the long-haul!

What impact did your brain injury have on writing “Threads Around the World?”
“Threads Around the World” is based on articles and essays I wrote for the WARP quarterly newsletter. The WARP community was very supportive through the ordeal of my injury and recovery. One of the “side effects” of my injury is that I became much more aware of my surroundings and much more compassionate. My dedication to WARP and its members had already enriched my life, and that enrichment deepened even more post-injury. So when the idea to develop the book in part as a fundraiser for WARP surfaced, I was all for it.

In addition, after my injury, my interest in textile techniques shifted from strictly technical to a stronger interest in the artists and artisans and their world, their cultures. Also, as my brain began rewiring itself after the injury, I began writing poetry and other creative work, something I hadn’t done pre-injury. Writing became a passion, which spilled over into my WARP articles, resulting in a richer, fuller approach to the pieces that ultimately became “Threads Around the World.”

You’re releasing an audiobook of your earlier work, “But My Brain Had Other Ideas.” Can you discuss the importance of offering an audiobook?
Many brain injury survivors have difficulty reading, and audiobooks are an important way for them to “read.” In addition, my father is now blind (macular degeneration), so I’d been thinking about an audiobook because of that, in addition to the overall growth of audiobooks in general. I believe the book is important and audiobooks are a great way to expand its reach.

Your personal and professional interests are so diverse –– mathematics teacher, weaver, brain injury survivor, dragon-boater. What advice can you offer young creatives with varied interests, who are sometimes encouraged to streamline their interests into a professional path?
Don’t! Resist that advice! The varied interests enrich each other. Clearly, you’ll have to pick and choose to some extent (there’s only so much time in the day), but keep your hand in varied interests. I’ve seen people who single-focus or streamline, and they lose something; it feels to me like they perhaps lose a little humanity. Through the varied interests, you make connections with a variety of people, you experience a variety of ways of thinking, you get a better grasp of the bigger picture in life. There’s no down side to any of that.

Now that we’ve mentioned it: What is dragon boating and how did you get involved in it?
Dragon boating is similar to crewing. A group of people work together in a boat, powering it by paddling it. There are 10 seats per standard boat, two paddlers per seat (one on each side), a steersperson, and a drummer. The boat looks like an oversized canoe except that in addition to being wider and longer, the bow reaches up in a glorious dragon head and the stern has a dragon tail. The gunnels (outsides) of the boat are covered with painted scales. Unlike rowing, the paddles aren’t fixed to the boat, another similarity to canoeing. The paddlers paddle in unison, following the beat and directions of the drummer. Dragon boating originated in China; today, there are festivals and races on lakes and rivers around the world.

I got involved when my son was 11 years old. One of his friends invited him to participate in a practice. When he told me about it, my eyes lit up and I knew I had to try it—and that was it. We both became avid dragon boaters, which also deepened our mother-son bond, through that joint interest.

How did you decide to pursue a career in mathematics education? What was it about the subject that interested you?
I was always interested in math at school and enjoyed it. My thinking style was always analytical back then. I received a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering, but I lost interest in the engineering part and became more interested in math. I liked the creativity, too, the form of creativity that goes into math. When I decided to get my PhD in mathematics, I felt like I had found my community, and I enjoyed both teaching and research. After the brain injury, my love of teaching deepened, and I discovered that I was better able to connect with students. As my brain rewired itself during my recovery and I relearned mathematics, I became better able to address different styles of thinking. As a result, I became better able to empathize with the weaker students and became a much better teacher. I continue to improve my teaching as I teach, so it’s always challenging and intriguing and fulfilling. Teaching has become a passion.

Do you see a connection between what you teach (mathematics) and your textile art?
At first, the connection was that I enjoyed the fact that they were very different, but I found that there’s actually a strong connection between math and textile arts in creating new patterns. Unlike many other textile artists, I enjoy the preparations for weaving and dyeing especially, tasks that involve a lot of math. Post-brain injury, more self-aware, I enjoy the variety and diversity that requires exercising different ways of thinking. In that way, it connects with my approach to teaching now, too.

What’s next for you?
I’m focusing on both writing and speaking, as I develop a career that encompasses public speaking about brain injury and about textiles. I’m working on several new books, too. Oh, and I am still traveling to interesting places and discovering more about traditional textiles!