Friday, November 11, 2016

Working with students... a way forward

I began writing this post earlier in 2016 and was waiting until I could add photos to it before publishing.  However, I'm going to continue it now and post with out the photos because it describes positive things.  I, for one, could use some positive thoughts right now following the election.  Teaching and making art are a couple of the ways I hope to make forward motion toward a more hopeful future.  Is this burying my head in the sand?  Perhaps.  But I have to keep anxiety and dread, despair and hopelessness at bay in my mind, as best I can.  Staying busy doing the things I love and that I'm somewhat good at is the way I must proceed for now.  So... here goes... thoughts about working with students!
In 2016, I've been able to visit and share about my passion for weaving in seven different places in the Southeast.  The students I've worked with range in age from young college students to retirees. All of the people I've encountered in the classes and workshops are excited about their discoveries in weaving, no matter what their age.  This was so heartening to see and I hope their excitement will turn into a continuing passion for learning about textile techniques and creating works in fiber methods.  Of course, I hope that at least some of that creating will be in tapestry--but whatever they pursue will be grand as they'll be expanding the ranks of people carrying forward traditional textile techniques and making them their own. 

In March, I visited Berry College students who are part of the Viking Creations enterprises.  Joy Johnson, who works with the Berry students, loaned me one of the old Berry tea towels with the Dogwood motif, so I could examine it.  I wanted to be sure that my understanding of plain weave inlay (or laid-in as it's sometimes called) and what had once been woven was the same.

The sett of the towel appeared to be around 30 to 34 epi, with a very fine linen warp and the inlay with a cotton that was just a bit larger.  I decided to magnify the whole process so that it would be easier to demonstrate the method.  It would also be quick for the students to work through the whole dogwood motif and so I set up a practice loom for 10 epi to take to Berry for the workshop.

I left the loom with the students to finish off the rest of the warp.  A few weeks later,  I returned for the loom and was able to see the first of the towels they'd woven on their loom with a 30 epi sett.  (The students have now gotten the Berry Dogwood back into their production line--you can read more about it in the latest issue of Shuttle, Spindle and Dyepot.  Here's a link to the Berry College Weaving Facebook page.)

A week after I was at Berry, I visited Penland School of Crafts to spend a day with Mary Zicafoose's spring concentration class.  Mary had invited me to visit to show the students about setting up a frame loom for tapestry and to introduce a few of the techniques I use in my work, as well as to show examples of my tapestries.  We got the looms set up the evening before our full day of work, we spent the next day with meet and separate and hatching on a small sampler,  then I showed my slides on the following morning.

On my way home from Penland, I stopped at Warren Wilson College to visit the weaving studio and see what the Fiber Crew students had created with the small tapestries they'd begun when I spent a couple of days with them in January.  I was very impressed with the little tapestries they'd finished that were going to be part of a larger hand painted and handwoven linen fabric to be displayed in their library.

Later in the spring, I had a visit at my studio from the students in the weaving class at UNG.  I invite Jo-Marie Karst, who teaches weaving at the university, to bring her students to my studio each semester.  I also usually visit them at the school for a presentation or demonstration,  and I did so a couple of weeks later to show a Power Point about the Berry College student industries and their progress to bring back the Berry Dogwood motif to their weavings.

This fall semester I was invited to make a presentation to the students in the Appalachian Art Class in which I showed Power Points of both craft resources in the southeast (including the schools like Arrowmont, John Campbell Folk School, and Penland), and also images of my tapestries.

This year I've also had the pleasure of working with people who want to learn about tapestry in short workshops.  In February, I went to Raleigh for a brief workshop at ArtSpace with about a dozen people.  In May, I visited the Appalachian Arts and Crafts Center for a workshop, again around a dozen folks.  And in September, I shared about tapestry to eleven people at John Campbell Folk School.

All in all, I think there have been about a hundred people with whom I've shared my love of weaving during this year in classes.  That might not sound like many--but when you consider what a small field hand weaving is (with tapestry being just a teeny bit of that small field) and how many others these individuals may also share with... on and on it goes!

Breath deeply, think positive thoughts, weave tapestries, teach about tapestries ...  and move ahead! 


  1. Thank you Tommye. You are such an inspiration to me as a teacher, an artist and a person.

  2. Sharing your love of tapestry with a hundred students is a wonderful accomplishment. Don't forget how many people see your blog posts, instagram, and facebook entries where you generously share your painting and weaving experiences. Also the two one-man shows this year where people could see many of your tapestries and paintings and sketchbooks all in one place. I thank you for this from the bottom of my heart.

    I think there is only so much we can do in the public/political sphere, but we can take every opportunity to make a difference in our individual interactions with people. Kindness and sharing have got to win out over time. This thought has given me a lot of comfort in the past few days.

  3. Thank you, Janette... and right back at you!

  4. Nancy, thank you so much for your generous thoughts. I think that sharing has to be the way we make a difference.

  5. Good Morning Tommye - Thank you so much for writing this blog and for sharing your experiences as a teacher.

    Taking time to look back on our class this past September is like having a very good dream/fantasy from the past to escape to during the events of the past week (and future years...). The setting was incredible, the fellow students collaborative, and we were all able to focus on creating and working with our hands. And your teaching and sharing was simply wonderful.

    Your instruction, experience, and demeanor modeled what what it's like to be a person, teacher, and artist that is open minded, generous with their knowledge, and - non apologetically intelligent!! I very much appreciated your encouragement to create a daily practice, especially when that time can be used for a time of reflection and intention as well as having a little fun making a mess.

    Your daily “trumpet” paintings are a wonderful example of expressing despair through the heart, the arms, the hands – and onto the canvas. Thank you for sharing that process – and so many others.

  6. Debra, thank you so much for your kind comments about the JCFS class. It was truly a special group of people who came together that week. It will also remain in my mind as a place to "revisit" when other things seem overwhelming.

    I won't probably post much here about the trumpet diary but will continue to do so at Instagram. And I'll only continue that until I feel that it's become trite. It's not there yet... I still wake up with despair. But brighter days will come. It's all a circle after all.

    I haven't said thank you for those amazing close up views of black walnut! I'll get an official thank you off to you soon... but they're revealing, to say the least!

  7. Dear Tommye, I would like to send you a private message with questions about how I should pursue my tapestry studies. I admire your work, and I have been following your blog and instagram posts for the past year. If you prefer, I can send you a postal letter. (I looked around on your blog and couldn't find your email address). I had the great pleasure of seeing your piece that is currently in the ATA biennial show in Topeka (the docent used a gloved hand to show me the back!) Please let me know how you would like me to communicate with you. Best Wishes, Sharon Elliott

  8. Sharon E, Thanks for your nice comments. I don't list my email at the blog but you could contact me at bittersweettapestrystudio at gmail dot com.