Wednesday, March 31, 2010

News from John Campbell Folk School teaching week

I'm at John C. Campbell Folk School this week to teach a class called "Tapestry Weaving: Begin With the Basics and Move Beyond". There are eleven students from all over the U.S. in the class and because the class is full I was able to have a teaching assistant for the class. I asked one of my former students at North Georgia College & State University, Lena Grace Adams, if she could assist me this week and she was able to work it into her schedule. She used tapestry as her medium for her senior exhibit at the university and so she's comfortable with basic techniques. Her degree was in art education so she's also a very capable teacher. I'm very happy she was able to join me at JCFS this week because she's adding so much to the class with her knowledge and her spirit.

Here are a few photos from the first couple of days of the class. We laugh among ourselves that it seems each day is really two days because what we did before lunch seems like yesterday when we get to the end of the day!

The class began on Monday as they warped their looms and I introduced meet and separate, using two colors. After weaving an inch or so of that, they were introduced to hatching--still with only two colors. Next came the conflict of interruption of sequence to the meet and separate of two color traveling in opposite directions in the same shed (as originally set in place) when a third color comes to play. Which word--STRESS or ARGGG or YIKES! or something UNPRINTABLE!! -- adequately described the feeling they had when that terrible interruption happened. Yet, that particular terrible interruption is what has to happen, over and over and over and over again in tapestry weaving.

My goal for the week is that these students will depart on Saturday with the knowledge that they will never "solve" once and forever the continuing challenges that tapestry will present to them. They will always have to be doing a constant assessment of where the wefts are in relation to each other, and they will always have to analyze what the next weft to be entered must do to "play well with others." There's no SOLUTION to what will always work right in tapestry weaving... it continues to present problem-solving opportunities every time a new color/shape is introduced.

More to come tomorrow (maybe!)

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Necessity is the mother of ... adaptation

Not invention here, but adaptation.  Although I've been spending most of my studio time in the past two weeks getting ready for my upcoming class at John Campbell Folk School (starts on Sunday), I've also worked a bit on the kudzu tapestry.  Mostly what I've been doing with the kudzu is making some changes to the design.  As I was nearing the top I realized there wasn't a resolution to the image that I felt good about.  The original whole drawing from which this section was cropped and then enlarged made visual sense--but I wasn't clearly aware of losing that clarity as I did the selection earlier.  So rather than finish the weaving and feel badly about not resolving the design, I cut off the cartoon (after marking it with red Sharpie on the reverse side of the Mylar to show me where to align it again).  I took it,  along with several of the earlier drawings and a few photos to my cellar where I have a work table large enough to lay it out, overlapping on an extending piece of white drawing paper.  I have enough warp on the loom to increase the length by 20" or more so worked until I felt OK with the new ending.  Now, rather than 48" long the piece will be right about 60" long (which is really 60" wide since it's being woven side-to-side).  I'll describe what I did a bit more under the photos below.

I've also modified the loom with leashes to finish weaving the last of the piece.  I've been having hip and lower back problems for almost seven months now and yesterday the physical therapist told me I should not use the treadles of the loom for awhile until the muscles are happy again.  I like using leashes on frame looms so after calling the Shannocks and talking to John for a few minutes for his advice I was able to go ahead and adapt with a method I though would work to hang leashes on this loom.

Original cartoon on Mylar lays on the left side of the table and overlaps the new version of the ending that's drawn on paper at the right.  

I overlapped the Mylar onto a few inches of the white paper and using pencil, drew and erased until I felt I had a solution that joined with what was in the original design and what I was adding new.  One of the things that was very evident at the left (bottom) was a simplified leaf shape and shadow and there was really no image that was easily identifiable as leaf to repeat that motif in the design.  I choose to add several leaves from a cluster at the right (top).  These will be darker in value than those on the other side but the shape will echo what's there on the left (I know, it's confusing when I say "left" when it's really the bottom edge of the tapestry right now... or say "right" when it's the top part that will have to be woven.  But it will all be clear eventually, I hope).

Once I was satisfied with the new drawing I traced onto a new sheet of Mylar, giving a few inches at the left that will overlap the woven area and into which the new cartoon was stitched in place -- the red line is the top edge of what was woven when I cut it off.  I made a few notes to myself of what the heck it was that I was seeing in those new shapes that were drawn:  "leaf"--means just that, of course; "bkg"--means background.

The loom with leashes added and new cartoon stitched in place.  I used 12" threaded rods placed at the upper most hole of the loom frame, attached with two nuts and washers, one at each side of the frame.  Two more nuts were screwed onto the rod near the end and just a tiny bit apart so that the cord from which I hung the leash bar could be secured.  I'm using the eye bolts Kathy Spoering recommended for the cartoon hanging bar to tie the leash bar cord onto.  I'm back to the hooks to hang the cartoon bar but can get another set of eye bolts, if I need them, as the cartoon gets shorter.

Here's the threaded rod extending forward with the leashing bar attached.  I've place an open shed rod between the heddle bars by treadling one shed and slipping the rod into place.  Now I'm able to weave without having to use the treadles.  Of course, I could have picked the sheds... but....

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ballad of The Weaver

Ballad of The Weaver

Old Margot, the weaver,  
Grows slow at the loom
As the thread flies over
The shuttle of doom.

Her fingers have guided
The pearly wool thread
Her house keeps alone.
He rode from her humming
A tune full of tears;
And she waited his coming
and counted the years

That she had waited,
And he not come,
Till five had freighted
Each finger and thumb.

She speaks through the whirring
Of shuttle and thread,
And the cat, on hearing,
Has lifted his head:
"The thread is thinning;
My shroud is spun;
The weaving and spinning
Are over and done!"
The thread of her will
Has snapped in the loom;
Her foot has grown still
On the treadle of doom

I re-read this poem by Byron Herbert Reece yesterday.  Reece was a native of Union County, Georgia where I also grew up and when I was in high school he was one of the local claims-to-fame, although he had been dead several years.  He gained national attention when his first books of poems were published but he was never able to move beyond a small devoted following.  He died young, taking his own life in 1958.  However, over fifty years after his death there's an active effort to commemorate his life and writings.  The Byron Herbert Reece Society was formed a few years ago and is working to build an interpretative center at the site of his last home, near Blood Mountain in Union County.  Bettie Sellers, who has been the State of Georgia Poet Laureate, has been a champion of Reece for many years.  Betty Smith, a musician, has set the poem, Ballad of the Weaver, to music and it's found on her compilation, Psaltry Concert

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Post to another blog: Tapestry Share

I started another blog last year along with several others who have been students of mine at one time or another as fellow contributors.  For the first few months we shared the blog privately but then decided to open it for others to view.  I haven't publicized it through this blog, although I've had it linked at the side bar of "Places to Visit" for quite awhile.

The blog is called Tapestry Share and is intended as just that... a place where we can put thoughts, links, ideas, helpful hints and more.  I've just posted some new photos at the blog that I've recently taken for my class handout, asking for any readers to give me feedback, if they wanted to.

I use small copper pipe frame looms when I teach workshops, as I'll be doing in the upcoming John Campbell Folk School class.  These looms are adaptations of Archie Brennan's frame loom design that he's graciously posted to his website.   The ones I take to classes for students to use while they are there are made of 1/2" copper pipe and are smaller in overall dimension than those in the diagram Archie has shown.  For the amount of weaving done in a week's time and the weight of the 14 looms I take with me, these have worked just fine. For individuals who want to build one for their own use, I'd certainly recommend following Archie's design to the letter.

Warping for tapestry weaving sometimes is daunting for folks as they begin, especially if they have no other weaving experiences.  Although having previous weaving experience certainly is NOT necessary for beginning with tapestry, sometimes it seems to be helpful.  Kathe Todd-Hooker has taken on the task of reviewing many existing tapestry looms and methods for warping those and has written a new book about that.  Her book, So Warped, will be available in May and she describes it in more detail at this link on her Fine Fiber Press website.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

back to the kudzu once again

I'm getting a few more inches along in the kudzu tapestry.  The top edge of the cartoon is barely hanging over the supporting dowel (the dowel isn't visible in this photo).  Soon I'll tie a supporting cord from side to side on the loom to help hold up the top of the cartoon.

I'm using handy wrought iron hooks of a couple of lengths to hold the dowel in place behind the warp and the cartoon.  These have worked just great.  I used the single pair early in the weaving when I had more length to the cartoon, then dropped the dowel down by slipping a second hook on each side as the weaving grew longer and the cartoon shorter.

The dowel holding up the mylar cartoon is resting on a couple of wrought iron hooks.  I've taken the tool tray off for the photo and it's sitting on my sheepskin covered bench in the foreground of the photo.

The hooks also turn out to be a great place to park the bobbins to get them out of the way when I'm not using them.  

I'd like to get this off the loom before I leave for the class I'm teaching at John Campbell Folk School--that starts on March 28--but I'm not sure I'll make it before I need to begin prep work for the class.  I want to do new photos for some examples in my handout; my teaching assistant for this year will be coming to the studio on Monday to work with me on that.  She's a graduate of the art department at North Georgia College & State University (her degree is in art education), has woven quite a bit of tapestry, and was an assistant at the Folk School a couple of years ago.  I'm looking forward to working with her and those who'll be there in a few weeks.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Enchanted Pathways

My entry to the small format, non-juried exhibit to be held in Santa Fe, NM later this year is now in the mail--and a big "PHEW!" sends it on its way!  The young man at the post office assured me it would arrive on Friday (deadline for receipt of the work is Monday) so I'm hoping for the best.

You might say, "Why did you send it so close to the deadline?" or "Aren't you pushing your luck?"  or "Why are you always rushing to meet a deadline?"  or any number of other questions about my seeming sloth.  And I'd reply, "But I've been working on the design for months! "  Yes, I have--in my head and in my sketchbooks--but that doesn't put weft into warp.  And I was getting near panic mode since I haven't missed an entry into the small format, non-juried tapestry exhibits that have been held every two years since initiated in Portland, Oregon in 1996.  In fact, I was part of the committee that made sure the exhibit once again happened in Atlanta during the 1998 Convergence.  I was darn sure not going to miss this one--although I pushed it to just about the limit for actually getting a new piece done (had a fall-back small piece I could have sent but didn't want to resort to that).

I sent a title of "Long Road Home" for my entry and have been considering the way to exemplify that since then.  My work is very much about time and the passing of time.  The nature themes I base subjects of tapestry upon are really about time.  As I considered the title for the exhibit--"Enchanted Pathways"--the title for the piece I wanted to do occurred to me.  And over the past two months I've thought about that idea and how to show it.  I've made several drawings of symbolic ways to represent the passage of day to night.  But after a few attempts I realized that it would take more concentration to develop the design than I was able to devote now.  So I began to look through my thousands of iPhoto images for a roadway view that I could adapt.

A couple of years ago I was returning from Johnson City, TN, driving down the long, sloping I-26 toward North Carolina.  I was shooting with my digital camera as I drove, holding up the camera with one hand and clicking over and over again, not looking into the display to see what was being captured.  Later when I downloaded the photos I saw that several might be able to work into a tapestry--but didn't do anything with them then.  On Sunday I looked at those shots again and picked out one to crop further into a long horizontal composition.  That's what I worked from, simplified and interpreted with 8 epi warp and four fold strands of wool.  I decided to leave the warp ends exposed because I liked the effect of the "trapped" roadway between the bare warps.  Half-hitches hold the weft in place; warp ends were trimmed to about 1" length at top and bottom.  The little tapestry was sandwiched between a couple of pieces of foam core board, rushed to the P.O., put into a padded envelope and... PHEW!

I'm using up left-over warps on the 45" Tissart loom.

The woven area is 10" wide x 3" high.

Finishing work before pressing and then trimming the warps.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Final thoughts about the cloth--and where it's taking me

On my last day in Knoxville the museum was alive with the sounds of preparation for the weekend's big fundraising event--metal poles would drop on cement outside as the rest of the tent preparation continued; vacuum cleaner busily sucked at the red carpet in the lobby; and many other unidentified activity noises filled the day outside of the Local Industry gallery space.

Inside the Local Industry gallery was the sound of the shuttle being thrown and the weft being packed into place on the every-growing cloth; the gentle whirring of bobbin winders as visitors filled more quills; the voice of Nick DeFord discussing a future project with his students as they sat to wind bobbins.  Calm.  The rhythm again of the work of winding and weaving being done.

I'm back at home now and it's several days after my last session at KMA.  It's been hard to find time to post my final thoughts of this experience but my mind is still filled with the images of the spectrum of colors hanging and pooling at the yarn wall.  I'm still amazed at the cloth that's being created on the loom--how many ways bands of color can be made.  Each band beautiful in its own way and even more so as it interacts with what came before and what will come after.

So... here are some final photos taken on my fourth day of weaving at KMA this session--more to come in late April near the end of the exhibit.

the prototype cloth woven last summer by Anne Wilson and her graduate students

one combination of the ever-changing video display of three areas of striped or banded fabric that was playing in a continuous loop outside the Local Industry gallery

the video display above the reception desk at the entrance of the museum

stacks of threads for winders to choose from for their quills

pools of quills at the base of the yarn wall

quills I selected from those wound by visitors on this day

and my contributions as I ended last day of weaving on March 4, 2010.

I mentioned in an earlier post that this experience has caused me to reconsider the place of the work of the weavers in our world... the work of those who are still connected with weaving as a way to earn part or all of their livelihood.   I've known about organizations that work to assist with fair wages and decent working conditions, and to help find markets for textiles produced by handweavers but I haven't yet made contributions to any of those.  This experience at KMA with Anne Wilson's exhibit has caused me rethink this and to do a web search for one I've know about--Weave a Real Peace (WARP) --to learn more.  As it so happened, I also was listening to WeaveCast today as I wove and happened upon a past episode about WARP.  After listening to Syne Mitchell's interviews and also visiting the WARP website I made the decision to become a contributor.   

What a wonderful few days.  I don't use the word "magical" often or easily.  But I guess that would just about sum it up.  I'm grateful to have taken part in this cloth.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I thought I might title this post "Control" but rhythm fits it much better.  Today was a day of activity all around the museum as tents are being assembled for a major fund raiser to be held this weekend.  Some visitors might have thought the museum was closed, in fact, since a large enclosed tent has been erected from the front door all the way to the sidewalk.

There were a few visitors throughout the day and I also got to talk to a couple of the volunteers who work with KMA.  One is documenting the progress of the exhibit including the yarn wall and the weaving as both develop.  Here's a shot of her photographing the stages of my progress through today.

Another of the volunteers gently guided several visitors through the winding process, including helping a young man who's bobbin winding skills were indeed challenged as he used a slippery orange thread and overzealously filled his bobbin.  She unwound quite a lot into a pool of beautiful orange on the floor.  I took his offering once it was under control and entered those bright spots into the weaving.  I used only bobbins wound by visitors today--not as many as yesterday when the UT students came in, but still I feel it might make an even more connection to the exhibit for the visitors if they know that something they participated in is really being put to use in the cloth.

During the afternoon there was a lull and Chris Molinski, the curator, came up to prepare quills for winding.  The ladies at the reception desk were also working on that task.  Anne Wilson's concept of "Local Industry" is certainly being fulfilled--there is indeed a small industry involved in this exhibit.

At the end of the day there was a videographer in the gallery interviewing and filming Chris Molinski.

He was filming several things throughout the exhibit, including the weaving being done... here's my photo of him filming me as I wove.

I asked the volunteer who was photographing for documentation if she'd put an image of me at the loom on my little point and shoot digital camera so I could put it on my blog ... here I am at the loom as I began the day by entering the small band of bright red-orange (and, Anne, if you see this post--the temple was taken off for the photo op... I did indeed put it right back in place--no weaving was done without it!).

So back to my thought of rhythm being a better title than control for this entry.  The videographer asked me today if I got bored with the weaving process.  My answer was, "No.  But I sometimes get frustrated."  He then said that having a hobby that was enjoyable must be rewarding.  I replied that weaving wasn't my hobby, it was my work.  And I feel that everyone should enjoy their work and that I am sorry for those who are in a situation where they can't.  I truly believe that--all parts of that interchange.  I do not weave as a hobby; it is my work in life--and of life.  I do enjoy my work.  And I sometimes am frustrated in the process.  Usually I find the frustration comes when the rhythm isn't there.

Rhythm.  Throw the shuttle, place the weft.  Straighten out any loose threads from the assorted bobbins being used for the weaving.  Close the shed.  Beat. Change the shed and beat again.  Throw the shuttle, place the weft., beat ...  Move the temple up to near the fell line.  Throw the shuttle, place the weft and beat.....  Advance the weaving onto the cloth beam.   Set the temple; throw the shuttle, place the weft, beat.  The rhythm has begun--at least for a few minutes.  The rhythm is mesmerizing when it happens.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Cloth of memory

That's what this cloth is becoming... why didn't I realize that before?  Of course it's a memory cloth -- it is holding a record of every weaver who's making it.  But it also holds the record of the winders of the bobbins. I realized that today when I wove 13 one-half inch passages that used bobbins wound by students in an art foundations class from the University of Tennessee who came to visit the exhibit.  The room filled with young people at 10 a.m. and their teacher described what they should do with the winding.  She pointed me out at the back of the gallery along with the loom and said that later they might want to see what I was doing.  She asked me if I would mind that and I said that of course I wouldn't and that I would be glad to describe what I was doing to use bobbins like those they were winding.

The students wound for 15 or 20 minutes.  I got to a point when I needed to advance the warp so I walked up to the teacher to mention what was about to happen and that it might be a good time for some of the students to take a look at the cloth, if she wanted them to.    All of them came around the loom while I moved more warp forward and rolled up what I'd woven.  I showed them how a bobbin was placed in the shuttle and then thrown through the open shed.  I talked a bit about Anne Wilson's concept for the piece and the weft-way stripes or bands that the sixty or so weavers are doing, each woven part having a transition by made by the new weaver in response to the previous weaver's work.  Their teacher had mentioned the Exquisite Corpse to them--seems they'd done something like that in class--so they seemed to related easily to a response to a small known area.  I asked if one of them would like to contribute a bobbin that they'd wound--I needed a new one at that point so thought that might be a good way to involve them in the cloth in a direct way.  A bobbin was quickly provided--by an eager young man--and I wove a 1/2" with it.  Another person had another bobbin and I move to it next.  As the rest of the hour progressed the students moved back to the winding stations and continued to wind.  I overheard one girl tell her teacher that she was really enjoying the process--that it was very meditative.  As they wound, I walked around and picked up a bobbin from the bins in front of the winders and collected thirteen to use.  I wove 1/2" with each, separated by a very thin stripe of black. 

Their bobbins were used in the thirteen bands that are bordered by the dark blue and white/gray blend.  Almost everyone of the group chose to blend at least two strands together for their winding.  Some of the winding was a bit over-eager and resulted in bobbins that exploded in use:

(some were actually much worse than this poor guy!)

A long and full day with the public coming in to see the exhibit.  Here's what I saw as I cleaned up my work area and got ready to put the weaver's tool box back in the closet as I was leaving for the day:

These are the stripes that I will meet at the loom tomorrow morning and begin the process all over again.  Will I use up the UT students' bobbins?  Will I choose from the almost finished bobbins box left by past weavers?  Will I go to the beautiful yarn wall and select a new palette for the day?  Tomorrow will tell.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Weaving at Knoxville Museum of Art at Anne Wilson's exhibit

I was so excited today to be finally at Knoxville for my first experience weaving on the loom as part of Anne Wilson's exhibit, "Wind/Rewind/Weave"--the "Local Industry" part.

I don't know how many weavers have volunteered and been coordinated through the project manager, Libby O'Bryan, to weave on the 50 yard warp. When I came to the museum in January for a weavers meeting as the exhibit opened there were probably 30 to 40 people attending.  There's a core group of weavers in and near Knoxville who are coming in regularly, I believe.  I think Libby has the loom scheduled to be in use almost every day of the time the exhibit is running.  That in itself is an amazing task--and to have been done from Chicago, several hundred miles away is even more amazing.  All of this just is one more aspect of the exhibit and how Wilson's concept honors the fact that the fabric that we use (and often take for granted) is the product of many people and much labor.

This was what I saw as I arrived... the previous day's weaver's work.  My task was to begin by responding to what I saw.

I began with a beautiful red bobbin that the previous weaver had left.  I used it for several inches with some breaks with the band separating color, black.

We who are weavers by choice are so far removed from the back breaking hard work that is needed to make fabric on the scale that it is consumed in our society today.  Yes, industrial looms are pounding out the millions of yards needed for the majority of our fabric needs.  But there are still individuals in the mills, daily working with the cloth.  And there are still thousands producing by hand and very hard labor the more specialized cloth we use daily.

Are there other products of our daily lives that we take for granted more than the textiles that clothe us, that cover us at night, that wipe our mouths--then our dishes after we've eaten, that cushion our steps, that shield the sun from our eyes at our windows, that even are with us as we fly into space?  If there are I'm not aware of it.  Textiles, cloth, weaving... the products of an elemental process: the interlacement of threads.  In classes I usually point out that the creation myths of several peoples have weaving at the core.  Anne Wilson has taken the complexities of weaving and reduced them to the very basics as she presents her exhibit.  She's had yarns donated from many sources, being wound into paper quills by visitors to the exhibit (she also has the visitors making the quills).  She's assembled a work force of volunteer weavers from across the Southeast (and points beyond) to do the weaving of a plain weave cloth.  Plain weave, the simplest of structures, becomes the basis for this beautiful banded fabric that many weavers are having a hand in creating.   I'm so glad to be having a chance to be part of this cloth by my days of weaving.

Here are more shots from today; it was Monday and the museum was closed to visitors so I wove alone for about five hours.  Nick came in to hang bobbins in the morning but otherwise there was no activity in the gallery other than my weaving and when the curator, Chris, came to check with me once this afternoon.  Tomorrow will be a different story and, from what I read today in the weavers' log, there are frequent and vocal visitors!  More about it all tomorrow.

Nick, hanging bobbin ends from a reed mounted near the ceiling.

Here's Nick and the yarn wall--my view from the loom.

This view shows the loom and the pile of yarn from which bobbins are wound.  The tables in the two photos above are the the bobbin winding stations (one is for making quills).

A view of the roll of cloth that's been woven since late January.  This is a weft-faced fabric that is probably about 30 or 40 pick per inch.  

Here's the end of my session today--17" from the beginning of the day.