Wednesday, April 22, 2015

A fabulous Southeast Fiber Forum

After nearly two years of anticipation and planning it's hard to believe the 2015 edition of Fiber Forum, held at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, is now in the rearview mirror.  Kudos to Southeast Fiber Forum Association and to Southeast Fiber Arts Alliance (yes, they are two different groups!)  for pulling off a wonderful conference.  Over 100 fiber artists from throughout the Southeast U.S. and beyond gathered to learn, share, connect and re-connect. I especially enjoyed the chance to meet and to get to know better artists and teachers I have long admired.   Kay Faulkner, Australian master of woven shibori, gave a fascinating keynote address about the universal patterns she has discovered on her travels worldwide and how she has used them as inspiration for her latest woven work.  (Luckily for me her talk dovetailed perfectly with the themes we were considering in my class on design.)  Conference faculty taught 12 workshops and exhibited their work.  A number of vendors sold stunning yarn, handwoven garments, and a wide range of tools and equipment.  The weekend concluded with a fashion show of members' work that was both inspiring and hilarious.  You had to be there to truly appreciate how Cassie Dickson presented her stunning woven coverlet.  Remember Carol Burnett's classic version of how Scarlett O'Hara transformed velvet curtains into a dress?

Personally, I was absolutely thrilled with my students, with the stimulating class discussions we had and the hard work they did in their sketchbooks.  They work in media ranging from bobbin lace to quilting, weaving, and 3D felt.  They all plunged right in, gamely doing exercise after exercise to hone their skills in line, shape, value, color and composition, concepts that apply to all art media.  Based on the start they got last weekend, I can't wait to see the work they do. 
Here are Linda DeMars

and Myrriah Lavin at work.

And then there was Gatlinburg.  Arrowmont is truly an oasis

in a sea of

The great thing was we didn't really have to leave the Arrowmont campus at all to enjoy a blissful immersion in fiber and textiles.  We'll do it all again in two years.  I hope to see you there.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Things that Can Go Wrong in Weaving #1

Among the most frustrating things that can go wrong, because it's so stupid and takes so long to correct,  is that the yarn can become hopelessly tangled. 

We had long wondered what breed(s) made up our rescued mutt.  With this escapade, Harry confirmed that he is part cat.  I no longer store my yarn in baskets on the floor.

And here is what happened earlier this week when I tried to measure out yarn that was wound in balls instead of on cones:

I'm sure these yarns, hand-dyed with natural dyes by Mayan women in Guatemala, will make beautiful towels . . .but this sure was frustrating to untangle!

Stay tuned for future posts on the theme of Things that Can Go Wrong in Weaving.  There are so many. . . .  Leave a comment and share yours below!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Designing for tapestry

A word of warning:  Not much eye candy in today's post until the very bottom.

Weavers know that working at a loom is a meditative practice.  Throw the shuttle--or, in tapestry, carefully place the wefts--and the slow, rhythmic pace of the work slows your heartbeat and calms your mind (at least when the weaving is going well).  You shift into the creative zone where hours pass like minutes.  Weaving is bliss.

But then there are the times when meditative calm may shade over into obsessive brooding.  So lately I've been wondering, as I contemplate how many hours I spend making tapestry, and how to begin my next project, Why do I do this?  How do I do this? 

Regarding the why, There is the bliss.  We weavers are addicted to the feel of fiber between our fingers.  We are drawn to tapestry in particular because we want to make images that are the cloth, not superimposed on it.  But what sort of images?  And how do those images come to be there?  

In the past 24 hours I've come across two articles about historical tapestries that highlight for me the ongoing discussion among tapestry weavers about what sort of art form it actually is, or should be, for the contemporary artist-weaver.   Rebecca Mezoff wrote yesterday about her chance to observe the conservation work being done on a historical tapestry at the Denver Art Museum.  She points out that 500 years ago, tapestries were designed by painters and the weavers' job was to translate the painting--usually a scene from history, myth, or scripture--into woven thread. Rebecca writes:

"All this discussion of medieval tapestries brought me back to the conversation I had recently with Archie Brennan as I was writing my article for the Spring 2015 issue of Fiber Art Now.** Archie talked both to me and in many talks and articles you can find if you dig a little about how tapestry became a reproductive medium in the middle ages. That means that weavers were trained to copy a painting in thread. This brought tapestry weaving away from the lovely improvisational work we see in the Coptic tapestry fragments to something that was stiffer and less creative from the weaver's perspective. Of course those weavers were and are incredibly skilled. But somewhere in that practice of copying paintings, tapestry lost its ability to be an art medium in its own right. It is my opinion that we need to regain the standing of the work of the artist/weaver as an art form before tapestry can even hope to become recognized as more than a 'decorative art' or craft."


Historic tapestries done in this "reproductive" mode are the subject of today's New York Times review of a show at the Frick Collection that features Coypel's Don Quixote Tapestries.  The show features three wall-sized narrative works commissioned by the king of France as gifts for other monarchs and two large Flemish tapestries also inspired by Coypel's paintings and engravings of the Spanish novel Don Quixote.  The artist Coypel designed the image, and the mostly anonymous artisan-weavers crafted it, with great skill, in woven threads.  These tapestries are meaningful on several levels.  In their day, the French tapestries were in-your-face status symbols, emblems of the king's immense wealth and of French craftsmanship.  They brought to vivid life stories that people would only have known from texts.  Today, we notice that these pieces are not just translations of the artist Coypel's work, they are translations of translations--woven versions of paintings that illustrate a work of fiction.  Very meta, we might say.  And as Rebecca indicates in her discussion, today there is a sizeable contingent of tapestry artists who do not want to weave woven versions of paintings, even their own paintings.  These artists mostly skip the design stage of preparing a painting or cartoon that will guide the weaving, and simply sit down and start weaving improvisationally.   


Of course if like Archie Brennan or the late Silvia Heyden, you have been weaving for decades, it is probably not too daunting to simply sit down and weave.  The rest of us, especially relative newbies like me, tend to make multiple sketches, collages, and samples, to plan and prepare obsessively, because mistakes can be extremely time-consuming to repair.  This is the way tapestry is conventionally taught.  In my own practice so far I have discovered the truth of the late James Koehler's words, that you should make your cartoon as detailed and specific as possible before you start weaving.  


And yet.  I have found in all my fiber work, including tapestry, that some of the work that draws the most positive comments, are my samples--the pieces intended as trial runs, the ones I didn't overthink or stop to repair mistakes on, the ones I initially did for my eyes only.  They have a freshness, a looseness, even awkwardness, that seems to appeal to folks.  

Here's one early piece in the Mary series:
The central woven image, only about 4" square, was intended to be a sample for figuring out how to weave Mary's face on the for-real, "final," piece.  This sample is neither flat nor square.  . .  but it somehow works.  

And the piece below I also did as an experiment.  I took the same simple design and made an embroidered version and a woven version, to see which I liked better.  This is the woven one: 

 Again, it has flaws--now I might handle those slits differently--but on the whole I like it.


Of course every individual weaver and artist is entitled to their own way of working, and for most of us that process will evolve as we develop skill, confidence and new approaches to our art form.  Ultimately the way the image came to be woven, whether from following a cartoon or weaving improvisationally or something in between, is less important than the power of the image itself.  While I am impressed at the scale and workmanship of historical tapestries, I am most moved by the work of my contemporaries who design and weave from their hearts.




Friday, April 3, 2015

What's looming

This week it's been a pleasure to finally get to weaving some dishtowels I promised to a friend in December.  (In my defense, there were other commissioned projects in the queue ahead of him!)  This friend loved the fact that the towel I had given him at Christmas was made from sustainably grown cotton in which the color is grown in the cotton boll; no dyes are used.  Much easier on the earth than conventionally grown and processed cotton.  And this cotton is grown and spun right here in the USA.  The yarn comes in five colors:  natural, two soft shades of green and two of brown.  The coolest thing is that the color deepens and the towel becomes even softer and more absorbent with each wash, especially if you put a little baking soda in the wash cycle.  (I have no affiliation with the producers or retailers, just a happy customer!)

You can see all the shades of the yarn here in this towel.  I put on an 8 yard warp so I should get 8 towels from it.  Two will be plaid, like you see here; the others will have lengthwise stripes but the weft will be a solid natural, brown or green.  Email me if you want to know more.
There's something very soothing about weaving a towel.  It's a humble, functional object.  Once your hands and feet learn the dance of the treadles and the shuttle, your mind is free to wander and plan other projects.  When I first learned to weave I swore I'd never weave something as ordinary as a towel.  Never say never. 
I was tickled to see in last Sunday's New York Times magazine T a full page touting "pieces for the home that bring elegance of form to the most basic functions."  There was a photo of some beautifully simple ceramics, and the caption affirmed that "Glazed pottery in soft colors, crafted by a person, not a machine, makes everyday acts special occasions."
Couldn't have said it better myself.