Friday, May 29, 2015

Branching Out to Chaos

I am very linear, which of course is a good attribute for a weaver. I like being involved in a big project, which gives me focus and a reason to get out of bed in the morning. Long ago, when I owned and ran a restaurant in Panajachel, Guatemala, I understood that I liked knowing everyone and being friendly, but also that the responsibilities of the restaurant kept me too busy to do anything that wasn't involved with running the restaurant, and it kept me out of trouble. I suppose this is another way of saying boundaries can be helpful.

The keeping out of trouble refers to my own mind and my inclination to activities such as computer games and reading. Reading is okay, but that other thing..... Anyway, I don't have any big projects on my calendar right now and it is a perfect time to explore. Which if you have read my recent blog posts you know I am doing: card weaving, taqueté, tapestry, reading, and yes, that other unmentionable activity. So this story begins with my trip to Conway, MA to purchase a small Mirrix loom from Elisabeth (Lisa) Hill

Lisa Hill and some of her amazing fabrics
I walked into an old barn, with an amazing studio, and met the most wonderful enthusiastic woman who brought me across to her house filled with more looms and piles of incredible alive textiles. I wanted to touch everything, and if I had realized where I was going, I would have planned my day to have time with her. But I didn't, and had to rush away, loom in hand, determined to return as soon as possible.

Details of four scarves woven by Bhakti Ziek for Wild Hair Alpacas
One of the things I had to do was weave some scarves for Wild Hair Alpacas from yarn spun from the fleece of their animals. (Full disclosure: my brother and sister-in-law own Wild Hair Alpacas and have named most of their animals for someone in the family, so I never know if they are taking about a cousin or an alpaca when they say things like "Nancy isn't feeling well these days".) You would think that 45 years of weaving would make an assignment like this simple--but keeping track of my hours is almost the antithesis of making art. Also, the yarn I had on hand was limited, of different weights, and I knew probably not what they were having spun up for my use in the future. Still, it was a beginning and I do know that experience is my best teacher. So I wove five scarves, washed them, twisted the fringe and ironed them and decided to bring them to Lisa for some input.

Laurie Autio, Ute Bargmann and Lisa Hill--all three are master weavers with certificates from The Hill Institute
Lisa made arrangements for a power lunch with her, Laurie Autio, Ute Bargmann, and me. The three of them are Master Weavers with certificates from the Hill Institute. This is no small feat, and I was thrilled to be there with them. Ute's expertise includes card weaving and she brought a display of bands she had woven in conjunction with some historical research to be published. (You can purchase another book she contributed to on Amazon.)

Laurie showing some of her lace work (left and right); Ute in the center with her tablet woven bands, many of which are brocaded
Laurie Autio is a respected teacher of weaving who offers a study program for intermediate to master level weavers called Explorations in Advanced Weaving. This course goes on for years, and her students are devoted to her because of her kindness, clarity, and breadth of knowledge. She is about to start a new group this fall, so if interested (and you should be) contact her at <>. She also brought cloth with her and again time did not permit us to see everything--so there must be another luncheon soon. Laurie is going to be the newest TC-2 owner (maybe the loom has arrived by today) and I can't wait to see what she does with that loom.

Lisa Hill modelling alpaca scarves and a shawl woven by Bhakti Ziek
Even though we were at Lisa's house, we didn't have time to go to her studio and talk about what she is doing. Instead she modeled my scarves and an alpaca shawl that I made. They gave me good feedback, positive and helpful, and I felt encouraged. (Here is a plug for my work--it will only be available through Wild Hair Alpacas--which has an online store that includes felted alpaca products and children's books starring alpacas.)

Pilgrimage to Vävstuga Weaving School, next to the Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, MA and then to their offsite location where the drawloom class was in session
Lisa teaches at Vävstuga Weaving School in Shelburne Falls, MA. Since moving to Vermont I have meant to go there, even had it planned a couple of times but it never materialized. Becky Ashenden owns and runs the school (she's pictured in the two bottom pictures above) and she also has a fantastic store that will make you pull out your credit card (I know what I am talking about). So when Lisa made arrangements to take me there after lunch, and the drawloom class was in session that day, it felt like a pilgrimage. Which is sort of funny to me because I have actually gone to Shelburne Falls a couple of times to do ten day silent retreats at the Vipassana Meditation Center, Dhamma Dhara (that should have a line above the last a but I can't seem to make it happen here). If you can't make it to one of her classes there, she has many workshops scheduled around the country and maybe you can meet her there. 

First deflected double cloth woven by Bhakti Ziek, unwashed top left and washed, bottom right
As soon as I got home from that inspiring day, I set up my macomber with my first deflected double cloth. I am indebted to both Lisa Hill and Madelyn van der Hoogt for sharing information with me on this wonderful type of cloth. Madelyn, founder of The Weavers' School, editor of Handwoven, and author of many books, including The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers, which should be on every weaver's shelf, has been a hero of mine for years. I can pretend to be a beginner, and it wasn't hard while doing this scarf (I had no idea whether I was suppose to beat my weft loosely or hard), but the fact that I can send an email out to friends all over the country when i get in difficulty is a sign that I have been doing this for a long time. I will just say that all my scarves feel heavenly, and they probably will improve as I keep going, but the graphic quality of this scarf makes it really nice to wear.

Small sample of Bhakti Ziek's deflected double cloth but beaten tighter than the scarf
I want to keep good records of what I am doing but I barely had enough warp to do one scarf; yet somehow I did manage to get a small sample off the warp. I beat the weft much harder on the sampler and when I washed it the cloth came together in a way that I liked. Next scarf I should have enough warp to make it large enough to allow for shrinkage and a tighter beat.

Gilmore inkle loom--old style with weaving by Bhakti Ziek
Here's another branch to the confusion of my life. I wanted to follow up the card weaving study with an inkle loom band. I pulled out my old Gilmore inkle loom--can you see the faded ink label on the loom near the shuttle? I love that loom, maybe because it was the first one I purchased. It is so simple to use; a really smart tool. I looked online to try and find images of how to warp it because after all these years of disuse, I wasn't sure. I sort of knew but wasn't positive. I am surprised that I didn't find a good picture with the flap, which is for tensioning, and all the pegs. Finally I just bit the bullet and warped the loom, following draft one in Anne Dixon's book, The Weaver's Inkle Pattern Directory: 400 Warp-Faced Weaves. Guess who did the forward--Madelyn van der Hoogt! I started at one because I was thinking it would be nice to do all 400 bands. That was before I started. Now I think I will finish this and put the loom away. 

It's not that I don't think the process is perfectly wonderful. In fact, I am totally inspired by what Daryl Lancaster does with her inkle loom. She uses the bands for her incredible handwoven garments--it makes sense for her to make the cloth and the bands. And she has written a book on using the inkle loom that I plan to order (and when I was in doubt an email to her got an immediate response with a diagram of the old Gilmore loom like I have). But I feel fractured by all this exploring and long to return to my TC1 and the taqueté and samitum study that I have neglected (and to continue with the tapestry lessons). There are so many avenues one can go down as a weaver, but my birthday is next week, and I better start pruning myself so I am not just rambling around as I near the end of my 60s.

Dimity studies, above face and back of a study by Lisa Hill; below a study by Ute Bargmann
Oh, but I didn't mention the study of dimity that Ute Bargmann and Lisa Hill and others undertook, did I? It was Lisa's notebook of small swatches like the ones in the photo above that got me determined to return to her barn soon. These are three shaft weaves--or at least based on three shafts. Plain weave. Now three shafts and plain weave do not go together--so I am confused. Maybe it isn't three shafts? I really don't know. But I have to find out. So pruning some branches, but adding others. Weaving might be linear but it also is a mysterious web.

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.