Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Feathers in tapestry

I had the idea I wanted to insert actual feathers into a small tapestry.  I had stumbled across an envelope with three feathers, one red, one blue, and one yellow and black, that I had saved who knows when, a long time ago.  I thought it would be a simple matter just to insert them in a shed and weave around them.  It seemed important to do this improvisationally, without a cartoon or samples, in the spirit of the collages I've been doing lately.

A couple other artists' work was in the back--or maybe the front--of my mind.  Tommye Scanlin's large tapestry of larger than life feathers, recently on view in her show at Berry College, made a powerful impact on me.  And I've been looking lately at the work of Lenore Tawney, that giant of fiber art, who frequently used feathers in her weavings and collages. 

Early composition idea.  Frame is resting on a black table.

Well.  Turns out that it's not as easy as it looks.  The small feathers just didn't want to stay put in my 8 epi warp.  I ended up stitching the two small ones in place with tiny tacking stitches, but that made the fine filaments of the feathers stick together in clumps.  Not great, but nothing I could do about it. I told myself it was OK and plowed ahead, in the spirit of experimentation.  The last feather, the large black and yellow one, was easy to insert and I got it to stay more or less in place while I wove a rather open weave around it.  

In fact I really enjoyed transitioning back and forth between traditional weft-faced weaving at the bottom and a more open web that allowed the warp to show and gave a more airy effect. Note to self:  explore this further.  Again, Lenore Tawney and others were here first. 

Weaving in progress. You can see I changed the position of the feathers. 

It looked rather good, so I flipped the frame over to finish the back.  Since it's a small piece, only about 10" by 6", I thought I'd weave the weft tails back in and finish the warps by knotting fringe.  Somewhere in that process I dislodged the yellow feather, and had to reinsert it.  It looks OK, but not as good as it did the first time. I'm telling myself I like the open warps at the bottom of the feather and the way the yellow spine sticks out at the top. 

It's not exactly what I expected, but I learned a lot, and I think it has a certain kind of quirky charm.

Have you done any experimental work lately?  How did it go? 


  1. Yes actually!! I just spent a few days with a friend in California and I played with "ecodyeing" on silk. I started out with good success, then a major fail and then got down to basics and loved the last piece I made. Like you, learned a lot even on the "fail".

    1. That sounds like a lot of fun! Hope I get to see your favorite piece one of these days.