Thursday, July 17, 2014

Owning your work aka weaving that looks like it's yours

Last July, I was fortunate to take a tapestry weaving workshop from Sarah Swett in lovely Garden Valley, Idaho. What a treat! Sarah is a weaver of words, an imaginative powerhouse and an absolute hoot. The class focused on four-selvedge tapestry weaving and the value of value. Sarah weaves with a wool warp and weft and washes all of her tapestries. They have a really fluid, beautiful drape that really adds to the appeal. 

After warping our copper pipe looms following Sarah’s four-selvedge warping technique, our first exercise was to weave a small four-selvedge piece, paying particular attention to value…light to dark and vice versa. Sarah provided scrumptious hand-dyed and hand-spun singles yarns for us to work with and they were an absolute joy to weave.  After taking my loom back to my cabin at the Wander Inn and working on my piece in the evening, I returned to class the following day, shared my little tapestry and wondered aloud: “Why is it that everything I weave looks like I wove it?" Sarah laughed and replied, "Isn't that a good thing?" My short answer was that I didn't really know. 

My little value tapestry taking a bath.

I was reminded of this as I finished weaving my little tapestry for the American Tapestry Alliance's small format unjuried show, “Untitled/Unjuried”. My tapestry study group decided on a theme of "Virginia Blues", so I gathered up some variegated blue handspun and other tapestry yarns in blues, purples and greens and wove some windblown, leafy shapes. I had a loose idea of the shapes but didn’t really bother to follow a cartoon as I wove. Wouldn’t you know it, but it turned out looking like I wove it...and I’m still not sure that’s a good thing.
"So Bleu", wool weft on cotton warp, still on the loom.
Once off the loom, I decided I liked the green leaf on the bottom and flipped it for presentation.

Back of the tapestry, little stitches holding down warp threads. Archie Brennan taught me this technique.

Beauty shot. For the first time, I used a crochet chain of handspun to begin and end the piece. 

I have always admired the work of accomplished tapestry weavers whose weaving has such a specific voice and look that I am able to identify the weaver just by looking at the piece. These weavers have a body of work that expresses their individual style, be it in theme, technique or subject matter. I have long felt that this is what all weavers strive for.

Now that I am weaving what I recognize to be from my hands, I am left a bit conflicted. It is sort of like catching a glimpse of your reflection and thinking to yourself, “is that really me?”

I am having an especially difficult time with the piece that’s on the loom right now. What I see sure does look like I wove it and I am simply not happy with what I’m seeing. It is in time out right now. I haven’t done any unweaving yet, but that still might happen.  

There is a quotation from the singer/songwriter Bill Withers that I seek out at times like this:

"It's okay to head out for wonderful, but on the way to wonderful, you're going to have to pass through all right. And when you get to all right, take a good look around and get used to it, because that may be as far as you go."

I've been on this road to wonderful now for the better part of a decade. My steering can get iffy and I might veer off onto the shoulder for a spell or even make a huge detour but I guess sometimes I have to be content to just be on (or in the vicinity of) the road. Cheers to others on the same journey!

“Untitled/Unjuried: small format tapestry 2014” will run until August 8 at the University of Rhode Island FeinsteinGallery, 80 Washington St, Providence, Rhode Island with a reception tonight from 5-9 pm. I won’t be there, but my tapestry will!

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