Sunday, January 31, 2016

January 2016 flows right on by...

Yes, I count down the days and the months.  Every bit of time is precious even though sometimes I don't stop to notice the quality of the time that's passing as I probably should.  Maybe I have too much focus on the quantity of time that flows by.

Last week I did very much notice the quality of time being spent.  I was at Warren Wilson College in Swannanoa, NC from Tuesday until Friday to work with the Fiber Arts Crew* there.  Jo Anna Hickman, the Fiber Art Fellowship/Crew Supervisor, asked me to come to teach her crew members about tapestry.  They have a commission to make a piece for the college's library and they've decided tapestry may be a major part of that.  I met Jo Anna when I taught at Peters Valley in the summer of 2014.  I love how the fiber art network can weave people and places together!

The original schedule was that I'd arrive on Thursday, January 21 and stay until the morning of the 29th.  However, Winter Storm Jonas had other plans.  While the north Georgia area didn't have significant snow or ice there was enough that fell and froze in Western NC for Warren Wilson to cancel classes on Friday and have a delayed start on Monday.  I didn't want to add to the burden of the wrecker services by getting on the road to head up that way until I was sure all was clear!  Once upon a time I probably would have done it.  But... that was then; this is now.

I drove up on Tuesday and arrive just fine.  My stay while there was at the St. Clair Guest House on campus:

Jo Anna and some of the Fiber Crew met me there and help get my bags upstairs.  Then we drove over to a parking lot that was as close as we could get to the Fiber Studio (the gravel road to the house where the studio is was still covered with ice and snow).  They helped me tote all my stuff for the class along a path through the woods to the studio... here's the level of the snow scraped to the edges of the parking lot!

I'm 5' 3"-- not too much taller than this snow mound!
I really wasn't sure how much we'd be able to accomplish in my shortened time with the students--and since the crew has work hours scheduled throughout the day around their classes and other obligations I didn't see the eight of them all together except for one brief meeting on Wednesday afternoon.  Over the two and 1/2 days I was there I worked with a few of the students at a time as they set up the Schacht tapestry looms owned by the program.  In spite of the schedule, all were able to warp for 4" wide at 8 epi and begin weaving a small techniques sampler that will be about 6-8" high.  Bit by bit, I was able to demonstrate and discuss most of the techniques I normally cover in a beginning class with all of the crew members.  Jo Anna has woven a bit of tapestry before and I think that with her guidance and with the peer teaching that they're used to doing they'll be able to accomplish what they hope to for their commission.

Here are some photos from the sessions:

Jo Anna is working on her sampler.
Jo Anna's sampler in progress.
I really, really enjoyed spending time with these amazing young people!  They were all so intent on learning about tapestry and serious about the importance of their work as part of the Fiber Arts Crew.  In addition to making woven works for different areas of campus (like the commissioned tapestry for the library) they also produce items for sale.  Here are a few of those objects.  Much of the weaving includes handspun and hand dyed yarns they've done there:

By the way, one of these scarves went home with me!

I'll return to spend another day with the students in early February.  I can't wait to see their progress by then!  Maybe they'll have their looms re-dressed with some of their handspun wool and be well underway with small tapestries that will be used in their commissioned piece.  Thanks, Jo Anna, for asking me to Warren Wilson College.  And THANK YOU all Fiber Arts Crew members for being such fabulous learners!

*  Warren Wilson College is one of only seven colleges in the U.S. that has this sort of work program for students.  Read more about it here.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Brrrrrr! Blustery day here in north Georgia!

No, not the snowfall that's happening to the north and northeast of here but enough to keep me in the house and not at the studio today!

Big black walnut outside as seen from an upstairs window.
View across the back yard toward the studio (the little house at the left).

I've been keeping busy here at the house as I'm working my way through the first month of 2016 in this year's tapestry diary.  I mentioned my plan of action in an earlier post.  Here's where I am today and I should be able to finish it tomorrow--in my month-long time limit.

The image of the black walnut coming out of its hull... based on the photo I'd taken a few weeks ago and barely visible at the lower right behind the weaving.  The painting from the photo is clipped at the back of the warp as reference.  The darks within the hull and the nut are very close in value and hard to photograph, I notice.  They're more apparent when seeing the actual piece.  The colors below and to the sides of the image are the record of the days that have passed.  Each day of the year will be woven with its own bit in bands, squares, or rectangles of color.  Although you can't see it in the photo there's a metallic thread incorporated with yesterday and today's entries--representing the snow and sleet we've been having.
I had a wonderful visit from Rebecca Mezoff earlier in the week.  She'd been in Atlanta to teach a workshop for the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild and I invited her to stay a couple of days afterwards.  I picked her up on Monday and then on Tuesday we did a driving tour of some of my favorite places in the area.

We first stopped in Clarkesville at Grace-Calvary Church where Pat Williams' beautiful tapestry kneelers are installed.  You can see the individual kneeler tapestries at Pat's website at this link--scroll down through the commissions to see them near the bottom. Here's Rebecca taking a look at those:

We drove on north and visited the Lillian E. Smith Center near Clayton where we took a walk around the grounds and peeked into the buildings.  Next we had lunch at Grapes and Beans and then on to Hambidge Center.  It was a beautiful sunny (and chilly) day as we drove across the mountain to Brasstown to visit the John C. Campbell Folk School.  Too bad there wasn't a weaving class going on but we were able to peer into the weaving studio through the window of the door.  After walking around and stopping in the craft shop we headed south toward Dahlonega.  On the way we drove by to see the petroglyphs at Track Rock Gap near Young Harris.  I gave Kathe Todd-Hooker a similar tour a few years ago... here's a link back to a blog post about that jauntSeems the slide shows I had at that post aren't showing now--think I changed some settings in my flicker or picassa account... will have to look for those, I guess. 

Rebecca wrote about her Georgia trip at her blog posts here and here.  Thanks for coming to the South, Rebecca!  We hope to see you again in the future--for a longer visit.  And maybe an artist residency at LES Center or Hambidge will be in your plans in the next year or so!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

American Tapestry Biennial 11--acceptance!

I was very excited a couple of days ago to learn that my tapestry called Because of Memory has been selected for the ATB 11 exhibit.  Here's a link to the upcoming venues for 2016/2017.  I'm not sure if I'll be able to make it to any of the locations although South Bend sounds like a possibility.  Maybe.

This tapestry is very special to me since it was designed based on inspiration from the stones of the chimney ruin at Lillian E. Smith Center where I've had artist residencies several times in the past years.  The quote on Ms. Smith's grave that's beside the chimney is one that I read every day that I spend there:

"Death can kill a man; that is all it can do to him; it cannot end his life.  Because of memory...."

In an earlier blog post I talked about the chimney and her grave, as well as the painting I did while there that was the basis for the tapestry.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

New Year--New Tapestry Diary

I'm underway with my next year's tapestry diary... I mentioned it in the last post and now, ten days into 2016, I have 10 days woven.  I'll weave a rectangle or square each day and continue to use from my yarn remnants for the daily entries.  However, this year I've decided to devote each month to a larger image, sort of like the weekly ones I did for 2015.  I don't have sizes worked out for each month--I'll determine that as each month rolls around--but I do know my subject for the year--the black walnut tree in our yard.

We have several black walnut trees living near us and one is quite large.  I love all of the black walnut trees, but especially the large one with the twists and turns of its limbs and its dramatic presence.  I see the tree each morning when I look out the kitchen window.  On winter nights I can look at the moon from my upstairs window as it shines through the filigree of limbs.  When walking through the yard in the fall I hope to not be pelted when nuts tumble down.  And I've stumbled on nuts and fallen--only once but it was a good one!  Watching the squirrels busily dig holes in the yard to hide nuts is always amusing, too.  Wonder how they know where they are later?

I've used the black walnut tree as subject in one month of the 2015 tapestry diary and I devoted a larger tapestry to the tree a few years back.  Here's that tapestry, called To the Essence of Every Nature.


It occurred to me last Sunday that there might still be some of the walnut hulls in the yard to use for dyeing and when I looked around it seemed I might have enough to at least get a few light values.  I picked up about half a bucket full and soaked them for a couple of days and then started cooking up dye from the hulls on Wednesday.  And I'm still at it!  I've dyed almost three pounds of wool now, doing about four skeins each day.  I'm getting a variety of light, medium and dark values of both browns and greys, depending on the pot I'm cooking the dye in.


It's been a years since I've done natural dyeing so I looked through a couple of my dye books for help.  One was an old classic, The Dye-Pot, by Mary Frances Davidson.  She was a long-time member of Southern Highland Craft Guild and was who first taught me about natural dyeing in 1974 at a workshop we invited her to conduct at North Georgia College.  Another book I used as reference is Want Natural Colour? by Jeanie Reagan.  She self-published the book in 2003; I don't know if it's still available or not but it has lots of useful information.

Black walnut is what's called a substantive dye because the material contains tannins and so it doesn't need a mordant for dyeing.  Several parts of the tree can be used for dyeing: leaves, bark and hulls--what I'm using.  I've used stainless steel pots for browns and an iron kettle to get the grays.  The kettle is from my grandmother's things and probably dates to the 1920s or 1930s.  The colors coming from it are wonderful shades of grays--almost the color of the black walnut bark, in fact--those iron pot skeins are at the top of the photo.

I have five pots going today, four on the stove and a crock pot that's now devoted to dyes.


 I picked up more (probably the last) walnut hulls today and have them soaking.



I've started winding the dyed, dried skeins into balls and weighing them.


I think, by the time I finish the dyeing adventure in a couple of days that I'll have enough yarn to carry me through the year as I celebrate the black walnut tree in all its changes through the seasons.

Friday, January 1, 2016

How long did it take you to do that?

A year.

Easy answer to a question I frequently get if showing my work when a tapestry diary is among them.  Tapestry weaving takes a bit of time no matter what size or complexity.  But when there’s a self-imposed limit to the time to do the weaving—as there is in the daily practice I call Tapestry Diary—it easy to say how long it took to do it.  A year to do the weaving and then sometimes many more months to finish it, working on it occasionally to tidy weft ends at the back and to do the mounting for it.

My first foray into doing a daily bit was in 2008.  I decided to commit myself to a month of time, taking an idea I’d had for awhile and making it a reality.  I wanted to begin with few plans and weave a small area of tapestry each day within a set time frame.  As I started the adventure, I made some “rules” for myself.  I didn’t want to have an image to weave but I did want to have some sort of direction.  One of my rules was that I’d dig through my bins of past wefts and use only from those yarns, not get anything from unused skeins.  Another thought was that I’d mark the date in some simple way by using the structure of tapestry technique as my means. 

I set up a loom with sufficient warp length to allow about an inch high each day.  I made the warp only 4” wide since I thought that surely I could weave an area of 4” x 1”  for thirty one days without a plan!

As simple as it sounded on May 1 of 2008, the month-long daily weaving was challenging. I had a trip scheduled and so the loom had to be with me if I wasn’t going to fail the project!  Thus, I wove a daily bit in a motel room and another couple of days were woven while on an overnight visit with friends. 

A challenge that I hadn’t anticipated (and should have) was that indicating each day’s date would become harder and harder as the days added up!  Since I’d made the rule of using a “weaverly” method for the date marking I couldn’t let myself resort to weaving digits—I felt I must use structural aspects of weft-faced weave in some way to accomplish it.  Pick and pick became my good friend—as did individual passes of contrasting colors.  Yes, it’s hard for others to see the date but I know it’s there.  I can count the marks indicating each day by the way I’ve done the weave.

The rest of 2008 passed and I didn’t do another a daily tapestry in that year.  I wanted to give myself a longer time for a daily tapestry commitment and so I decided to wait until the beginning of the new year.  A whole year!  Could I do it?  Would I do it? 

With 2009 approaching, I set up a tapestry loom with linen warp and length enough to weave throughout the year with ten days of varying heights across the 12” warp width. Why ten days across rather than seven days of a week?  I don’t remember why now—seemed to make sense at the time.

Again, as in the earlier month-long tapestry, I created rules to follow but had no particular plan other than continuing those simple guidelines of space allotted to each day and using scrap wefts only.   I wanted to again mark the date and since pick and pick had been so useful in the monthly venture I decided to use pick and pick throughout the piece.

I began 2009 and the tapestry diary with high hopes—got to the 6th of January and FORGOT to weave the day.  Well, I’ll say in my defense that I was still teaching weaving at the university in 2009 and that happened to be the first day of class for the semester.  I’d spent the day in last minute preparations, met the students at the night class and was tired when I got home.  The next morning when I went to the studio to weave the day I realized I’d forgotten to get to the loom the day before!  After some choice words to myself about the lapse, I arrived at a solution.  I knew this wouldn’t be my only missed day of the year because I’d be out of town with teaching and other travels.  If I was truly going to think of this weaving as a diary of sorts I should figure out how to acknowledge those times.  My solution was that I’d weave a white “blank” for each day I was gone, putting those in place upon returning home.

The year of 2009 passed as slowly as any other year but I kept the faith with the piece.  By the end of the year I’d actually done it--stayed with the commitment to weave a discrete bit that recognized every day.  With the year-long tapestry diary unrolled from the loom, I could look back to see that I had many white days to show my trips, yet over-all the year was filled with color.  It was a happy record of a year in my life.

I've been posting about my tapestry diary adventures in my blog since 2008.  Here's a link to one.  If you're curious to read more about this obsession, use the search tool at the left side and type in tapestry diary.  It will take you to at least ten previous posts, some of those linked above and others after that.

I finished my tapestry diary for the year of 2015 yesterday, December 31.  You saw me holding it at the top of this post after cutting it off around noon.

Here's my new warp, tied on now and waiting for me to add the first of 2016.  What will I do this year?  Well, I have a few thoughts about it…

May your days be filled with daily makings of any and all kinds that 
cheer your souls and spirits.