Friday, May 1, 2015

Studying Tapestry Weaving

Bread and Puppet 2015 Calendar
I know I said I would do a new post in a week, and that was three weeks ago, but really, three weeks is much better than a year--and I do say I am an "erratic blogger" right up there under my name. So here is my tale of how I came to my current study of tapestry weaving--a meandering story of course.

Taqueté study by Bhakti Ziek, 2015
Taqueté is a weft-faced structure using two warp systems and multiple wefts, and it is one of the structures I taught last summer at Belinda Rose's studio in Scotland using her Thread Controller loom. The basic structure of taqueté is always plain weave, like tapestry, but the wefts travel from edge to edge, unlike the discontinuous wefts of a tapestry. The wefts should completely cover the warp, and you can see in my study above, that my warp is definitely showing--especially at the bottom. So I began to think I could learn something from tapestry and tapestry weavers and contacted a few friends who are experts in tapestry.

Emergence II by Rebecca Mezoff, 40"h x 40"w, hand-dyed wool tapestry, in the permanent collection of Craig College, Craig, Colorado
It seemed like everyone kept pointing me to Rebecca Mezoff and her online tapestry courses. I wasn't really thinking to take a class, and as a former teacher of weaving (well, I still do teach sometimes but not full-time) I have taught tapestry--but Rebecca has posted some wonderful free videos on the internet and I began to watch everything that was available and realized I could learn alot from her. So I signed up for her Three-in-One Course. You can read all about her different courses and options HERE.

Front (left) and back (right) of Bhakti Ziek's Part 1 sampler from Rebecca Mezoff's online tapestry course.
What works for me, besides the fact that she has made professional videos that are in focus, clear to follow, and funny (so you enjoy watching the videos), is that these are self-directed courses. There is no meet-up time when all the students and Rebecca are online together--you work at your own speed, whenever you want, and you can ask as many questions as you want. Rebecca tries to answer everyone within 24 hours, but my experience is that she responds much quicker than that. I can watch her videos over and over--and I do. In fact, I watch so often that Mark and I think we have a roommate. You also can see what the other students have done in any section--after you post what you have done. That is a really nice feature because you get a sense of sharing without feeling competitive.

Tommye Scanlin's mirrix loom, on loan to Bhakti Ziek
Okay, here is the truth--I wanted a new loom. I saw people using the Mirrix loom in one of the workshops when I taught at the ANWG Conference in Bellingham, WA in 2013. I loved what everyone was doing, and I loved the looms. So for two years I have been wanting one of those looms, and I got it in my head that if I got one, I could work downstairs at the kitchen table by the woodstove at night, instead of going to bed and reading. And Rebecca demonstrates most of the steps so far on a mirrix loom--and that tap tap sound of her beating the weft into place is very enticing. You can hear that tap tap sound at about minute 2:30 of her splicing video.

Macomber loom set up for tapestry in Bhakti Ziek's studio
But I have this perfectly wonderful 24" 8-shaft Macomber loom in my studio and I haven't used it for a long time, and I knew it was a great loom for tapestry--so I couldn't legitimize buying a loom, especially if I didn't know if I was going to be serious about tapestry or not. So I started Rebecca's class and put seine twine cotton (I didn't know about this wonderful yarn before watching her videos) on my macomber.

Start of Part I of Rebecca Mezoff's Online Tapestry Course being woven by Bhakti Ziek
What I was totally unprepared for was my reaction to doing tapestry. I was completely mesmerized and engaged and loved it. My friend Sandra Brownlee explained it perfectly: she said "my fingers were thirsty." (You can experience Sandra's wisdom in The Tactile Notebook workshop she is teaching at Longridge Farm this summer.) I am going to write more about this in a future blog because I think it is an interesting topic, about the differences I perceive between the jacquard work I have been doing and the hand manipulation of tapestry--but it is a big topic and I think I should leave it for a future discussion. Let's just leave it that my hands, which have done so much brocade in the past, and yes, I have done tapestry before, felt at home with the butterflies and moving of weft threads that is part of tapestry.

Tapestry rug woven by Bhakti Ziek about 45 years ago with holes carefully chewed by her beloved dog when she was a puppy--and now is gone but the holes remain
Of course, the same week that I set up the macomber for tapestry, my brother and sister-in-law who own Wild Hair Alpacas in Colorado Springs called to see if I could weave some alpaca scarves for them (that too will be another post). Suddenly my macomber loom was in high demand. And that is when my friend, Tommye Scanlin offered to lend me her Mirrix loom--so I could test the loom in person to see if I wanted one and also free up my macomber for the scarves. The mirrix is pictured above, and yes, I do want one.

Front (top) and back (bottom) of Part II sampler from Rebecca Mezoff's Online Tapestry Course as woven by Bhakti Ziek
I had to finish the warp on the macomber before I could start the scarves, and you can see my work from Part II of Rebecca's course. We are weaving from the back and in Part III I will learn how to deal with all those tails hanging down, and then the back will be almost as clean as the front, and I will be sure to post it for you to see. 

Area of different ways to join wefts in a tapestry, part of the lessons in Part II of Rebecca Mezoff's Online Tapestry Course, as woven by Bhakti Ziek
I am constantly amazed at how the smallest detail can change the effect of the weaving. I pulled out my Peter Collingwood The Techniques of Rug Weaving (the weaving books are all coming off the shelves these days and piling up by my bed for night time reading) and just couldn't understand how the difference between one weft going over the other versus the other going over the first could make a difference, but when I tested it at the loom I saw that he was completely right. That is another thing--tapestry is an ancient process and one that has been used by cultures all over the world--so there never is one way to do anything, and what is right for one group is wrong for another. I really like how even-handed Rebecca is about all the variations. She is quick to point out what others do, and often sends us to videos by other artists, and she is very clear about why she does something, and of course she is teaching us her way, but she always leaves it open for the student to decide what works best for them.

Sisyphus, a seven panel weaving by Bhakti Ziek, 2015; each panel is 88.5"h x 28"w, silk, cotton, metallic yarn, handwoven satin damask; woven on TC1 looms
I didn't have enough warp on my loom to finish all the exercises in Part II, so I will either finish them on Tommye's mirrix or--isn't it funny how things happen-- I met some friends at Brattleboro Art Museum last week so they could see my weaving Sisyphus (I will do a blog post soon about this piece), which is up until Sunday, May 3rd in their current exhibition. Of course I went on and on about studying tapestry, and one of my friends who is moving her studio soon offered to give me her tapestry loom, which she isn't using.

Nilus Leclerc Tissart loom now residing at the home of Bhakti Ziek
So yesterday Mark and I drove over to her place and got the loom. Although she had sent me a picture, I was rather surprised in person to see it is really a sturdy big loom. Luckily we had the topper off the truck, and it just fit perfectly. This loom makes me think I had better get serious. I actually don't have any idea of what I want to do in tapestry. Right now I just love the process of learning and understanding. At the moment I have the sense that despite all my years as a weaver, I know nothing, and there is so much to learn that I am never going to get "there." Of course, I also know there is no "there" and that one of my pleasures right now is that I do know something about weaving, and can grasp the nuances of the differences I am being taught--and this was not something I could have understood when I did tapestry in the past.

I have more to say--and obviously I have many more blog posts that I have to do, since I have promised them to you in this post--but I think I will end by saying, I could finish up Part II and do Part III on my Nilus Leclerc Tissart loom OR I could do it on my own mirrix--since I am buying one from another weaver next Monday. This story has a happy ending.

And thank you Rebecca Mezoff for being such a wonderful teacher and artist and a generous soul. Rebecca also blogs--so go here to see more. The color work she is doing for a new class is totally inspiring. 


  1. I enjoyed this post so much, Bhakti! I enjoy learning what you're up to. It's inspiring to me. I'm working on fabric weaving right now, but will get back to tapestry eventually.

  2. Thank you for this post on your experience with Rebecca Mezoff's tapestry class (3 parts). I'm reading the reviews and expect to sign up before long, and looking forward to a nice winter of beginning to learn about a new (to me) area of weaving.

  3. I love the "third tapestry woven by Bhakti Ziek for an online course". Fab!