Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tapestry diary progress

Back in early December I wrote about how I decided to start a tapestry diary, a piece in which I would weave a little bit every single day for an entire year.  I started my diary with the start of the church liturgical year, on Nov. 29, the first day of Advent. 

 Many tapestry weavers much more accomplished than I have done amazing things with this daily practice.  You can see some of them HERE.  Recently, Tommye Scanlin posted a photo of the spectacular 2015 diary she had just cut off her loom--it's every bit as tall as she is!  I love how she developed large images of seasonal natural motifs, images that may have taken a week or more to weave, but she also marked the passage of each day with small bands and blocks of color that fill in the spaces between the larger images.  A really brilliant twist on the conventional grid-like approach to the diary.   

Well, my diary is not nearly so gorgeous or original.  But I thought I'd share it with you, as encouragement for any tapestry weavers out there who might be thinking of starting one but might be just a tad intimidated by the impressive examples posted online.

 So far I'm mostly sticking to the rules I set for myself.
  • I'm following a grid format, seven rectangles across for each week.  On days I'm away from home I'm leaving blank warps.  I was just putting in a row of half-hitches to support the next week's weaving but now I'm also inserting thin strips of matboard as a more stable foundation.  I've been away a lot lately so there are a lot of blank warps.  
  • I'm using the colors of the liturgical calendar, for the most part.  On Christmas Eve, I used pink to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus, rather than sticking to traditional white.  I allowed the white of Christmas day to spill over into Christmas Eve's space as well.  And I threw in some silver yarn with the whites and off-whites for the 12 days of Christmas.
  • Now we are in Ordinary Time, a green season that is a time for spiritual growth.  Basically, it's the church's default season, when there is no special holiday or holiday season being observed. In keeping with the idea of growth, I'm allowing myself to learn the pick-and-pick technique that yields alternating vertical stripes.  This week I'm playing with shaped pick and pick, trying to follow the gentle curves I've sketched on the white paper behind the warp.  I am learning more about it every day, with every little mistake I make.
In some respects I've broken the rules I set.  A few times I've allowed myself to use fresh new yarn off the cone rather than limiting myself to scraps and thrums.  A few times I've even worked ahead, like this week when I've been exploring the technique of shaped pick and pick.  I got so caught up in it I couldn't stop!  And during the white Christmas season, it seemed right somehow to break out of the grid and allow the weft to climb up the blank warps in gentle curves.

I really debated about whether to even share this since, as I said, this is hardly worth looking at if you're searching for visual beauty.  But it has been a very useful daily practice for me, and I am excited to see where the rest of the year takes me. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Why take a workshop?

In one of those moments of serendipity, I returned from a fabulous 3-day workshop with one of my tapestry heroes, Rebecca Mezoff, to find a post by Elizabeth Barton, quilt artist, entitled "The Value of Workshops vs. The Love of Learning" .  Apparently there's been some debate online about whether workshops are worth the time and money if one doesn't see immediate improvement afterward in one's own work.   It's a wonderful, thought-provoking post, so I recommend you go there right now and read it.  Read the comments too.  I'll wait.

Are you back?  I've taken bunches of workshops over the years, from teachers of tapestry, weaving, quiltmaking, beadwork, surface design, bookmaking. . .you name it.  I've learned something in every one--and not always what I went in expecting to learn!  Sometimes I learn, OK, this particular technique is not for me--and that's useful information to have, going forward.  Sometimes I'm gobsmacked by an artist's approach to design and art-making that is so far removed from my own that I'm forced to look at my process with more critical eyes.  And yes, often I do learn things that directly improve my own work. 

Sometimes, as with Rebecca the past few days, I receive so many things: 
  • tweaks to my tapestry weaving technique (e.g., beating on a closed shed) that actually do immediately improve the quality of my weaving;  
  • new weaving techniques (e.g, shaped pick and pick, vertical gradation, approaches to transparency) that I will practice and refine at home and eventually add to my toolbox of useful tapestry strategies.

Sample showing experiments in (bottom to top) eccentric weaving and outlining, and (left to right) matching color to value, vertical color gradation, seed stitch variation of pick-and-pick, and transparency effects.
I also received:
  • encouragement and advice about how to put flesh on the bones of the design of my next Mary tapestry;  
  • suggestions about designing for tapestry so that it can be more than simply a slow and antiquated way of reproducing paintings or photographs;
  • the chance to connect in person with many far-flung, gifted and wonderful tapestry weavers.
Rebecca is a fun, knowledgeable, and inspiring teacher.  You can check out her in-person and online workshops by clicking HERE and HERE.  Pictures of lots of happy tapestry weavers can be viewed on Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild Facebook page.

Here's the key thing, though, about workshops.  Part of the problem is that they can remain self-contained experiences in time and space, especially if you have to travel to take the workshop.  You go to the workshop, you immerse yourself for a few days or a week in a heady, exciting, intensive learning environment, and then you go home, resume your daily life, and the project you started and the things you learn can end up on a shelf somewhere, never to be seen again.  I've found that it's helpful if I spend some time soon after I'm home, digesting what I learned, pulling out the significant nuggets for me and my way of working, making notes.  As another of my tapestry heroes, Tommye Scanlin, once said in a workshop we both attended, "Take what you can use and leave the rest."  Very wise words!

My "take-away" notes, culled from Rebecca's handouts and my own workshop notes

And then the crucial connection between the workshop and your own practice is to figure out how to incorporate what you learned into what you actually do in your studio from day to day.  That's where the rubber hits the road.  For myself, now I'm going to work on better ergonomic practices and on practicing several new tapestry techniques.

By the way, I'm offering a full slate of workshops in designing for fiber media this year:
These workshops offer you the chance to deepen your knowledge of how to use the elements of art and principles of design in your own fiber medium, whatever it is.  You learn to move beyond intuitive, hit-or-miss approaches and begin to make deliberate, well-informed choices that give you greater control over the results you get in your work.  In my workshops, you get detailed handouts, lots of hands-on, approachable exercises, a clear understanding of what to expect in the design process--and always a few laughs with your fellow fiberists!

Please feel free to share your workshop experiences by commenting below, or let me know if you want more info about my own workshops.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


Janus:  Roman god of transitions, beginnings and endings, doors and gates, movement and time

Like many of you, I've been spending time lately looking back at the past year and forward to the next, figuring out what worked, what didn't, and what I'd like to change in my artistic life.

2015 was a year of creative growth.  I learned to use computer software that allowed me to plan my weaving designs more quickly and with more originality.  I experimented with different types of yarn and am learning to weave tapestry on a large vertical loom. I was fortunate to travel to places that were rich new sources of inspiration.  I have new designs in progress for tapestries that I can't wait to weave.

In business terms, both the production and the sales of my handwoven garments were stronger than ever.  I am humbled and grateful for the support of family, friends, and customers.  It is immensely gratifying to make things that people want to wear and give as gifts.

I was privileged to teach at Southeast Fiber Forum at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in the spring.  I love to teach and always learn so much both in the preparation and in the actual class time of every workshop I do.  I'm very excited to be on the teaching roster at HGA's Convergence weaving conference in Milwaukee this summer.

Here's the thing, though.  My shoulders are yelling at me.  Apparently this 50-something body has its limits, and all the production weaving I've been doing has helped me to find out exactly where they are.  I'm learning the hard way that I can no longer just dive into every project that occurs to me (and to be honest, the side projects I've picked up here and there, the crochet and quilting and whatnot, aren't exactly helping).

So, this artist who normally starts the new year with a page-long list of goals and projects and plans has instead a half-page of . . .suggestions.  A provisional plan with humble goals.  It is a strange and unsettling place to be.  Appropriately for January, possibly some things are ending and others beginning.

Maybe, like the camellias that are blooming here out of season, there are new, even beautiful possibilities out there that I can't predict or control.