Thursday, July 17, 2014

Owning your work aka weaving that looks like it's yours

Last July, I was fortunate to take a tapestry weaving workshop from Sarah Swett in lovely Garden Valley, Idaho. What a treat! Sarah is a weaver of words, an imaginative powerhouse and an absolute hoot. The class focused on four-selvedge tapestry weaving and the value of value. Sarah weaves with a wool warp and weft and washes all of her tapestries. They have a really fluid, beautiful drape that really adds to the appeal. 

After warping our copper pipe looms following Sarah’s four-selvedge warping technique, our first exercise was to weave a small four-selvedge piece, paying particular attention to value…light to dark and vice versa. Sarah provided scrumptious hand-dyed and hand-spun singles yarns for us to work with and they were an absolute joy to weave.  After taking my loom back to my cabin at the Wander Inn and working on my piece in the evening, I returned to class the following day, shared my little tapestry and wondered aloud: “Why is it that everything I weave looks like I wove it?" Sarah laughed and replied, "Isn't that a good thing?" My short answer was that I didn't really know. 

My little value tapestry taking a bath.

I was reminded of this as I finished weaving my little tapestry for the American Tapestry Alliance's small format unjuried show, “Untitled/Unjuried”. My tapestry study group decided on a theme of "Virginia Blues", so I gathered up some variegated blue handspun and other tapestry yarns in blues, purples and greens and wove some windblown, leafy shapes. I had a loose idea of the shapes but didn’t really bother to follow a cartoon as I wove. Wouldn’t you know it, but it turned out looking like I wove it...and I’m still not sure that’s a good thing.
 
"So Bleu", wool weft on cotton warp, still on the loom.
Once off the loom, I decided I liked the green leaf on the bottom and flipped it for presentation.

Back of the tapestry, little stitches holding down warp threads. Archie Brennan taught me this technique.

Beauty shot. For the first time, I used a crochet chain of handspun to begin and end the piece. 


I have always admired the work of accomplished tapestry weavers whose weaving has such a specific voice and look that I am able to identify the weaver just by looking at the piece. These weavers have a body of work that expresses their individual style, be it in theme, technique or subject matter. I have long felt that this is what all weavers strive for.

Now that I am weaving what I recognize to be from my hands, I am left a bit conflicted. It is sort of like catching a glimpse of your reflection and thinking to yourself, “is that really me?”

I am having an especially difficult time with the piece that’s on the loom right now. What I see sure does look like I wove it and I am simply not happy with what I’m seeing. It is in time out right now. I haven’t done any unweaving yet, but that still might happen.  

There is a quotation from the singer/songwriter Bill Withers that I seek out at times like this:

"It's okay to head out for wonderful, but on the way to wonderful, you're going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you go."

I've been on this road to wonderful now for the better part of a decade. My steering can get iffy and I might veer off onto the shoulder for a spell or even make a huge detour but I guess sometimes I have to be content to just be on (or in the vicinity of) the road. Cheers to others on the same journey!


“Untitled/Unjuried: small format tapestry 2014” will run until August 8 at the University of Rhode Island FeinsteinGallery, 80 Washington St, Providence, Rhode Island with a reception tonight from 5-9 pm. I won’t be there, but my tapestry will!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Crownpoint Navajo Rug Auction

The Crownpoint Weavers Association holds a monthly rug auction in Crownpoint, New Mexico, every month. Here, Navajo weavers bring their rugs to auction directly to the public. 

Held at the elementary school in Crownpoint, the auction gives buyers the most direct access to rugs from the Navajo weavers. With no middle man taking a cut, the auction purchases benefit the buyers and weavers alike.


The drive to Crownpoint is one of the loveliest in the state.

Crownpoint Elementary School. Don't bother to arrive before 4 pm.
They really won't let you inside earlier than that. 

Weavers registering their rugs for the auction.
Each rug gets a lot number and is labeled with the weaver's name and where they are from.
Once registered, the rugs are then sorted by size and put on different tables for buyers to touch, measure, examine and admire.
Things are piling up on the medium-sized rug table.

Little treasures on the small rug table.

Inspecting the rugs. Canny buyers come equipped with measuring tapes to check size and notebooks to note lot numbers so they can be ready to bid when their desired rugs are on the block.

The XL rug table holds room-sized rugs that will become the centerpiece of any decor.

A contemporary design in a modern colorway is coveted by many.
The young weaver is there to tell her story and add some nice history to the rug.
More weavers waiting in line outside to register their rugs for the auction.

Buyers examining the rugs while weavers await the auction on the bleachers.

See anything you like? 

There's a style, size and colorway to please everyone!

The auction begins at around 7 pm and continues until all lots are put up for auction. The weavers put reserve prices on their rugs, so they are sure to get a minimum for their efforts or the rug is withdrawn. It's a lively Friday evening and worth a look for anyone who appreciates expert weaving and textiles.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Shifty, a saga


This warp has been on the loom for entirely too long. I wasn't happy at first with my weft choices and it sat until I found a weft that was thin enough to show the pattern well, but not too thin that the fabric is sleazy. "Sleazy" is a weaving term that is used to describe a fabric where the warp and weft relationship is too loose and the threads can shift, ruining the structure of the fabric. A sleazy fabric is not a sound fabric. My fabric is just straddling the sleazy/sound line right now. 


Shifted warp being woven with end-feed shuttle and pirn filled with thin weft.
Woven fabric on the loom

The weft is a very fine coned yarn of unknown origin that I discovered in my stash. It is probably a 30/2 unmercerized cotton. The color is a very pale lavender and I have a huge cone of it that weighs close to 7 lbs! It works to give a gauzy effect to the cloth that I am liking at the moment. And if I can use up some of that huge cone, I'll be happy.

Detail of spot "floats" on fabric

The weaving started okay and I like the effect of the Spot Bronson lace threading on the ikat pattern. But my tension brake on the loom was too loose and every time I beat in the weft, the entire warp would advance a little. It became very frustrating and I put a time out on the weaving until I found a solution.

Aerial view of shifted warp fabric, waiting to be woven

More spots on ikat fabric

I figured that I had to weight the back beam so that the tension brake would hold better. This is the temporary fix.


It uses ankle weights and an old antique iron tied onto and hanging off the back beam.  I have an antique loom in Paris that uses ropes and weights on opposite sides of the back beam to provide tension to the warp. This is a variation of that idea.


No, it's not particularly pretty, but it is effective. The weaving is going much faster! According to my notes, this is a 9 yard warp, so fast is relative in this case. 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Get tapestry out there! American made nominee Kathy Spoering

Please vote for tapestry weaver Kathy Spoering in Martha Stewart’s American Made competition. http://www.marthastewart.com/americanmade/nominee/82222#
  
Kathy’s blog, "My life is but a tapestry" (Best tapestry blog name ever!) follows her artistic process. Her blog is the first tapestry blog I found and began following many years ago. Kathy has been such an inspiration to me over the years with her wonderful work.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Paris Journal: Flax in the city


The summer in Paris often brings interesting displays in different squares, places and open spaces around the city. As we ride our bus 67, which originates just a block from our doorstep in Pigalle, we pass through some of the popular parts of Paris. One day, I saw some people setting up a huge tent-like structure in the little place in front of the northern border of the Louvre. This temporary installation turned out to be a fantastic promotional display about the "Incredible Harvest" of the flax plant or lin for the French linen industry, complete with a field of flax! 

According to the literature, "seventy percent of the world's linen crop is produced in Europe with 10,000 companies from 14 European Union countries participating in all stages of the fiber's production and transformation." 


Behind (or on the south side of) this building are the famous Pyramides of the Louvre museum.
And we walk in fields of flax.

The presentation was impeccable and informative. There was a timeline and description of all of the stages of the the flax plant from sowing through harvest, retting, scutching and weaving plus new and innovative uses for this versatile material in surfboards, planters and vehicles...





and these very unique scarecrows, dressed in all-linen garb with flax coming out of their necklines (sort of drives the point home, does it not?)!







The tent featured more of the industrial process of turning the flax into linen fabric with photos of the spinning and weaving industry and videos of the fashionable uses for flax.





Hanging from the ceiling as you entered the tent were swatches of colorful linen fabrics. 

They handed out a clever little "Be Linen" map which traces the linen industry and production in the European Union. Did you know that one hectare of European linen can equal 1,500 kg of fiber, 900 kg of thread, 1,375 pieces of composite furniture, 431 household textiles, 4,000 pieces of clothing or 3,750 square meters of fabric?  There were also complimentary postcards with photos of the stages of flax harvest and its production process to take to spread the word about linen. The campaign was financed with the participation of the European Union and France. You can find out more about it at Masters of Linen.

I really liked that the installation asked the question: What form of linen will you wear or use today? The fiber is everywhere!


From a fiber-lovers point of view, this installation was a true gem to be found in the bustling summer of Paris.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Paris Journal: More Gobelins par Nature


The gallery at the Gobelins is in the front of the campus of the Gobelins tapestry studios. The tapestries which bear the name Gobelins woven for the government of France are woven on site. There is a studio tour offered which is wonderful. I believe the tour is still given only in French, but it is well worth it to see the working areas of the Gobelins manufactory. 

Gobelins tapestry is typically defined as high-warp or haute-lisse tapestry woven on a vertical loom, but the campus also has a studio which weaves low-warp or basse-lisse tapestry and another which weaves pile carpets or savonnerie.

View of the Gobelins campus from the rear windows of the second floor of the gallery.

As you enter the Gobelins campus. (I want to say that this is a statue of Colbert, but don't hold me to it).


Christophe Cuzin, Le jardin des Gobelins, Gobelins tapestry, 2012, wool, H: 2.48 m x L 1.75 m. 


When I went on the Gobelins tour in the spring of 2007, a version of this Christophe Cuzin design of a pixelated view of the garden at Gobelins was in the process of being woven. Since then, we were told that many versions have been woven, all with slightly different views into the garden. The one in the exhibit was completed in 2012, has a sett of 5 ends per centimeter and uses 35 colors.

Le jardin des Gobelins, detail.
A hem visible on the back of the Le jardin des Gobelins tapestry, you can sort of see the logo with the bobbin.

This lovely Milva Maglione-designed tapestry, Vent de printemps dan l'apres midi (Spring wind in the afternoon), was in the dark stairwell before the entrance of the second floor gallery. What a shame since it was so poorly lit and couldn't be admired properly. I took photos anyway and have adjusted the brightness once I got the images home. Particularly striking and effective is the thin line running diagonally through the field in the tapestry. The line is woven in a shinier yarn, as is the "G" in the logo. The sett is 3.2 ends per centimeter and uses 6 colors.


 Vent de printemps dans l'apres midi, Milva Maglione, Gobelins tapestry, 1985, wool,  H: 1.95 m x L: 2.56 m.


Vent de printemps dans l'apres midi, detail.

Vent de printemps dans l'apres midi, detail of signature/logo.

Vent de printemps dans l'apres midi, detail.

This 1989 Beauvais tapestry from Mario Prassinos really must be admired from a distance to see the trees that the splotches of color represent. It is a masterful monochromatic piece that uses 11 colors of wool. The tapestry is listed as an "essai" or study. That's some study! The sett is 3.8 ends per centimeter. There are two Prassinos the exhibit, his Parc ou Verdure Contemporaine is the other tapestry, so large that my photo just didn't come out. His designs are like Rorschach tests of tapestry.


Les trois arbres, Mario Prassinos, Beauvais tapestry, wool, H: 3.01 m x L: 1.56 m.


Les trois arbres, detail.

Les trois arbres, detail.


Verdure, Samuel Buri, Beauvais tapestry, wool, 1992.


Another Beauvais tapestry, Verdure designed by Samuel Buri, was so large I could hardly get a photo of the entire piece. A riot of 64 colors, the wool tapestry is sett at 5 ends per centimeter and is 3 meters square.


Verdure, Samuel Buri, detail.

Verdure, Samuel Buri, detail.


A real discovery was Paul-Armand Gette's L'embellie. a wool and silk Gobelins tapestry. Such beautiful use of color and framing. It is woven with 25 colors at a sett of 4.8 ends per centimeter.

L'embellie, Paul-Armand Gette, Gobelins tapestry, wool and silk, H: 2.07 m x L: 2.66 m.

The nuance of color is so striking. L'embellie means a clear spell or beauty revealed following rain. These details show how the little things really add up to a sense of atmosphere.


L'embellie, detail.

L'embellie, detail.

L'embellie, detail.

L'embellie, detail.


Ah, Jacques Monory, and his seductive blues. The exhibition ended with this version of Alice in Wonderland by Monory. 45 colors in wool and silk were used in the tapestry at a sett of 5 ends per centimeter. The wool and silk combine to create the sumptuous world of Alice. 


Velvet jungle no. 1,  Jacques Monory, Gobelins tapestry, wool and silk, H: 2.25 m x L: 1.85 m, 2012. 

Velvet jungle no. 1, detail.

Velvet jungle no. 1, detail.


I have many, many more photos but they simply don't do the exquisite works justice. It is such a fantastic exhibit and there are more amazing tapestries in it than I've been able to show here.

The Mobilier National website is a great resource on the show. Please try to go see it in person!