My Mother Tongue is Tapestry

Elizabeth Buckley's hands weaving   photo credit:  Lany Eila

Elizabeth Buckley's hands weaving   photo credit:  Lany Eila

When I sit at the loom, absorbed in the weaving growing before me, all words fall away, and I am in my mother tongue.  Tapestry is like breathing for me:  automatic, and the air that sustains me.

My college French teacher, Marguerite Hessini, spoke of la langue maternelle, one’s mother tongue, the language one first speaks and the language one automatically uses to articulate one’s thoughts. She, herself, grew up speaking three languages: Alsacian, French, and German, then subsequently learned and became fluent in English, Arabic, and Spanish.  She later completed her doctorate in Linguistics and spent one summer living in the desert, assisting a Southwest Native American culture in documenting their mother tongue and in developing educational materials written in this language.

For me, the term, la langue maternelle, goes beyond the verbal linguistic realm to that of hand woven tapestry, and the language of the loom that I was well-versed in by the age of 10. It made so much sense to me, and I loved how my hands could make vertical and horizontal lines, hills, valleys, angles, and shapes in the warp.  For me, la langue maternelle of tapestry also literally did come from my mother, Esther J. Kolling.

As I developed my verbal language skills in English as my primary language, and in French as my secondary language, my eyes and hands also were becoming fluent in the non-verbal languages of woven structures and color.  In many ways, the language of the loom became my mother tongue, as my initial thoughts tend to come as images, colors, textures and techniques before I translate them into words. I automatically think in this non-verbal language, and my hands often know things before I have the words for them.

Book Cover

Book Cover

I recently came across the term, mother tongue, again in the book written by K. David Harrison, entitled: The Last Speakers:  The Quest to Save the World’s Most Endangered Languages. Here he describes how:

Everyone values their mother tongue, and few people would be willing to part with it. (p.13) ...language not just as a way of speaking or a domain of cognition.  It is an entire conceptual universe of thought, compactly and efficiently encoded into words. (pp. 55-56)

In the case of tapestry, the conceptual universe of thought is encoded in thread and technique.

One of the amazing things about tapestry is its universality, across time, cultures, and how it transcends words.  We look at a tapestry, regardless of where or when it was made, and can read it, study the technique vocabulary, and marvel at what is said in this language of discontinuous wefts.

Harrison goes on to say that:

...language’s proliferation doesn’t stop with just having a word for something.  Once in a lexicon, the “mental dictionary,” a named concept takes on a life of its own.  It contributes to organizing thought and perception.  We have no idea how deep this effect goes…. how deeply (or shallowly) language may influence thought and perception.      (pp. 47 – 49)
Book cover of Huari and Inca textiles, a Dover publication

Book cover of Huari and Inca textiles, a Dover publication

I am reminded of how Susan Martin Maffei has described the Huari culture of pre-Inca Peru, where everyone—children, adults, men, and women—was expected to participate in the various phases of tapestry weaving; of how tapestry was the language, the form of currency, as well as served to define social status. The dead were wrapped in up to 20 layers of tapestry fabric, to assist in the realm of the after life.  What would it have been like to live in such a cultural environment!

Book cover

Book cover

In K. David Harrison’s book:  When Languages Die:  The Extinction of the World’s Languages and the Erosion of Human Knowledge, he takes an in depth look at what we lose when languages vanish. To put it succinctly: 

Language disappearance is an erosion or extinction of ideas, of ways of knowing, and ways of talking about the world and the human experience.  p. 7

Again, I relate this to tapestry knowledge, since it has been vulnerable to disappearing over the centuries.  Here are a couple of examples in my lifetime:

The week of November 17, 1991, the French government announced its decision to uproot and disperse Les Gobelins Tapestry Manufacture from Paris, including:  Gobelins vertical warp tapestry weaving, Savonnerie rug weaving studios, in-house and foreign student training programs for both studios, the dyeing studios, and the restoration studios for rugs, tapestries, and furniture (IFROA, the French Institute for the Restoration of works of Art).  Weavers not willing to relocate would have to retrain for other work.  Micala Sidore wrote a page report about this in the December 1991 newsletter of the International Tapestry Network (ITNET).   The global community—tapestry weavers, museum curators, textile conservators, citizens, and countless others-- responded by sending air mail letters and postcards of protest. (This was before we had the internet).  The world outcry was large enough that on January 29. 1992 the Minister of Culture, reversed this proposed plan, although it did terminate the training and education program at Gobelins, shifting students to the Aubusson Ecole National des Beaux Arts and also moved the restoration studios to Aubusson.

Book cover:  The Song of the World Tapestries       Angers, France

Book cover:  The Song of the World Tapestries       Angers, France

In addition to writing my letter of protest, I also knew that I needed to go to Aubusson to learn what had not yet been documented, before it vanished.  In the case of the atelier Tabard, which wove the bulk of Jean Lurçat’s Chant du Monde (Song of the World), it was too late.  Their technical knowledge died with the death of the last tapestry weaver of that family.

But it was not too late with Gisèle Brivet, a fourth-generation tapestry weaver who worked collaboratively with her husband, Henri, who also had recently retired from teaching tapestry design at the Aubusson Ecole National des Beaux Arts (which is now closed and is being converted into a tapestry museum, renamed Cité internationale de la tapisserie Aubusson).  No one in their family was interested in learning tapestry, so they went against the centuries-old atelier tradition of never sharing tapestry secrets outside the family, to pass on some of their love, process, and technical skills to me and two other weavers from the United States.  I wish I could have stayed longer, to learn more.

In June of 2005, Tapestry Weavers West celebrated its 20th anniversary with a symposium:   Tradition in Motion:  New Forms, Attitudes and Approaches to Tapestry.  Here Phillipe Playe, director of the Beauvais Tapestry Museum and Mobilier National in France, announced that their six-year training program was no longer going to accept new students as they could no longer guarantee jobs for its graduates.  He suggested that like the grape growers in California and in France helped each other out in times of drought, perhaps the same could be done in tapestry as well, with the weavers here in the United States carrying on the knowledge.  Phillipe Playe taught two workshops in the United States with Jean Pierre Larochette and Yael Lurie to textile conservators, tapestry teachers and artists, myself included.

A number of us who studied with these and other tapestry masters now teach and pass on this knowledge. Many of us do so as itinerant instructors at our studios or retreat centers, through weaving guilds or arts centers.  Over these past decades, most university institutions in the United States have eliminated their fiber arts programs, some of which did include hand woven tapestry.  Many of us tapestry artists are in the second half of our life spans, producing work that few art galleries are willing to represent because there are no guarantees of sales.

We live in an era that embraces high-speed internet, computer technology, and the encyclopedic form of knowledge in mainstreamed, dominant languages.  It is ironic that with all of this information at our finger tips, we also are facing the extinction in our lifetime of over 500 oral human languages, and all of their accompanying vocabulary, thought systems, cultural and environmental knowledge. This is the world of the coming generations, who’s fingers are trained to text message and to type on keyboards, and who may or may not have interest in learning that there is so much more one can do with one’s hands. 

Is the language of tapestry and the knowledge of weaverly hands going to survive?

I have great hope that it will.  Over and over again, I see where one person can and does make a difference, be it through teaching, curating exhibitions, making videos, writing and publishing books, establishing organizations and study groups, building websites, and creating new works in tapestry.  I am doing my part, as are so many others.  We each do make a difference.

detail of weaving process©2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

detail of weaving process©2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Esther J. Kolling, Fiber Artist

In the spirit of Women’s History Month, I write of Esther J. Kolling.  It is time to begin telling her story…

As an artist, you have to find what speaks to you.                              --Esther J. Kolling

Fiber Artist, Esther J. Kolling, had an infinitely curious mind that lead her to create works ranging in techniques from macramé, sprang, and basketry, to ikat, double weave, complex weave-structures, inlay, and tapestry. During the 1970’s – 1980’s her award-winning works were exhibited nationally at the Museum of Contemporary Crafts in New York City and at the Denver Art Museum, as well as regionally at Midwest Weavers Conferences and Kansas Artist Craftsman.   Esther Kolling was also my mother.

When I was about 3 years old and Esther Kolling was in her late 30’s, she discovered her artistic leanings through ceramics, mosaic, drawing and painting classes that she took at the local college.  During the height of the 1960’s, she pursued her masters degree in art education over the course of six summers at the University of Colorado in Boulder, and at the end of each summer, she transitioned back to her life in small town Kansas.

How difficult it must have been to go from the spirit of the 60’s in full swing, classes that stretched her, and studio space to work in to none of that.  There was no separate room available for her to work on art in our 800 square foot home totaling five rooms: the kitchen, living room, bathroom, my parent’s bedroom, and the bedroom my older sister and I shared. 

Esther often did art on the kitchen table or at the living room desk during the day while my sister and I were at school, or late at night, after everyone had gone to bed. I remember going to sleep to the sound of the brayer squeaking while she made wood block prints.  She also kept taking art classes at the local college, to have access to studio space, and stay artistically active in between summers.

“pre-Cambrian Forms”   33” x 9"  ©1972 Esther J. Kolling, Macramé using wool/mohair blend, horsehair, wooden sticks

“pre-Cambrian Forms”   33” x 9"  ©1972 Esther J. Kolling, Macramé using wool/mohair blend, horsehair, wooden sticks

Toward the end of her degree, she joined the Wichita Weaving Guild.  There she discovered her love of fiber:  macramé, sprang, vegetal dyes, spinning, weaving, and later complex weave structures, ikat, and tapestry. Soon I was joining her in slow drives along country roads, helping to collect dye plants growing along the ditches and on hillsides. The house began taking on the peculiar odors of dye bathes out of mullen, coreopsis, sedges, walnut hules, onion skins, and marigolds. Evenings would find her carding and spinning wool. 

 

She made a place for her 48” width Macomber loom after measuring an area on the edge of the living room that bordered the kitchen. She removed a chair and shifted over a plant stand.  Not a room of her own, in the sense of Virginia Woolf, but an area for her to work, with light from the west picture window.

 

I was fascinated by watching her weave, and wanted to learn.  She showed me how to warp up a cardboard loom and the basics of over and under, gave me an assortment of yarns and a large needle, then left me to explore on my own.  When I finished that weaving, she put together a frame loom out of canvas stretchers for me.  I was all of ten years old, and I felt a kinship, a contentment when weaving tapestry that I never before had experienced. I loved how my hands could make hills, valleys, angles, and shapes in the warp.   As my mother learned new techniques, so did I.  By the time I was in my early teens, I was her teacher’s assistant in the community continuing education classes she taught at the local art center. Together we taught macramé and non-loom techniques, as well as beginning weaving.

 “Om”  28” x 13.5” ©1986 Esther J. Kolling, ikat of linen 30 epi     

 “Om”  28” x 13.5” ©1986 Esther J. Kolling, ikat of linen 30 epi     

Over the years, Esther Kolling taught workshops in dyeing through the Wichita Weaving Guild, and weaving at Southwestern College. She regularly juried into and won awards in the Kansas Fiber Directions exhibitions, as well as the War Eagle Arts and Crafts Fair in Arkansas. Her gallery representation included The Sign of the Acorn in Wichita, Kansas and later in retirement, the artist coop gallery in Socorro, New Mexico.

 

“Magenta and Gold”  27.5” x 14.5" ©1982 Esther J. Kolling, Inlay in linen at 20 epi

“Magenta and Gold”  27.5” x 14.5" ©1982 Esther J. Kolling, Inlay in linen at 20 epi

Esther Kolling’s creative process involved working from sketches or a thumbnail design, taking a small section and expanding it or superimposing it onto another design.  The composition would evolve and change as she kept working with it. At the loom, she would add or delete design elements as she wove. 

 

 

 

In the tapestry, Flight, she used slits to create vertical lines, and combined woven shapes with some irregular hatching, using both commercial and her handspun yarns, as well as weft bundles of varying textures. 

Flight29” x 29”  ©1985 Esther J. Kolling, tapestry of handspun and commercial wool, cotton bouclé weft on cotton warp at 6 epi

Flight29” x 29”  ©1985 Esther J. Kolling, tapestry of handspun and commercial wool, cotton bouclé weft on cotton warp at 6 epi

 “Reflection”  16” x 16”   © 1988 Esther J. Kolling, tapestry of hand-dyed wools in weft bundle mixes on cotton seine twine warp at 8 epi

 “Reflection”  16” x 16”   © 1988 Esther J. Kolling, tapestry of hand-dyed wools in weft bundle mixes on cotton seine twine warp at 8 epi

In Reflection, her vertical lines are woven and double-weft interlocked.  She blended via weft bundles of her hand-dyed yarns with some pick-and-pick and irregular hatches.

Later in life, after moving to Socorro, Esther Kolling’s entire townhouse became her studio, filled with multiple looms, spinning wheels, an extensive textile library, and a sizeable yarn stash, with inventory including her hand-dyed wools, cottons, silks in varying weights and quantities.  These she kept saving for “special projects” that she never lived long enough to create.

Esther Kolling's Socorro studio,  main room

Esther Kolling's Socorro studio,  main room

She had six years in this space, exploring a range of techniques in textiles from Africa, Japan, Indonesia, Peru, Guatemala, and the desert Southwest. Her later work became a blending of ethnographic elements into her own designs and sketches, evolving an idea through many steps until it became a reflection of her own consciousness.

After her death, I sorted through the 57 file boxes of yarn she had in her stash.  Her hand-dyed yarns are now part of my inventory in my studio, which is about the size of the house I grew up in.  I make sure to include something from her “special projects” stash in each of my tapestries, so that her artistic legacy continues in the flow of yarn that her hands touched and now passes through mine while I weave.

Esther J. Kolling in 1971, her hands doing macramé   Photo credit:  Bill Stephens

Esther J. Kolling in 1971, her hands doing macramé   Photo credit:  Bill Stephens

 I find myself drawn to the weavers who sat behind looms in other times and places.  I like what the individuals made for their own use in prehistoric times, and what we can learn from them.  You can’t separate the ethnographic textiles from the cultures of their people.  I’m drawn to this because of the mastery these people had.  When I’m weaving, my mind seems to merge with the mind of the weaver who’s work I am studying.  I appreciate their minds, their patience, their mastery, their hands…                           

Esther J. Kolling                                                                                      November 19, 1925 – January 5, 2000

Color Blending Using Multiple Wefts

Four sequential color blends on Aubusson bobbins

Four sequential color blends on Aubusson bobbins

I love blending colors by using multiple strands of thinner yarn in a weft bundle. Instead of having only a few colors, the palette opens up to a broader spectrum of possibilities. The French tapestry tradition has been using this approach to color blending for over 900 years. In the Gothic era, typically only 15 – 20 colors were used in one mural-sized tapestry or series of tapestries. The additional shades and blended colors were made through the use of up to 5 strands in a weft bundle.

My warp is 12/9 cotton seine twine sett at 10 ends per inch.  For weft, I am using 3 strands of a crewel weight, worsted needlepoint wool.

Blend A (top):  1 white, 1 light gray, 1 light mauve with 3 bobbins of each of these colors

Blend A (top):  1 white, 1 light gray, 1 light mauve with 3 bobbins of each of these colors

First, let’s look at using strands of similar values, (value meaning the degree of lightness and darkness. More about this in week 6 of the Blog Tour).  I have picked a light gray, a light mauve, and a white (Blend A).

Bottom stripe of Blend A.  Weaving the low hill out of solid gray.  Note parallel wefts of solid gray in shed.

Bottom stripe of Blend A.  Weaving the low hill out of solid gray.  Note parallel wefts of solid gray in shed.

I have woven the base stripe—about half an inch-- of Blend A, and now am weaving the shape of a low hill with the solid light gray on the right.  (More about weaving shapes, in week 4 of the blog tour).  When weaving any solid color with three strands, in order to have a smooth woven surface, the strands need to lie parallel in the shed, as any twists in the strands will result in a bumpier looking surface.

Two hills of solid light gray and light mauve on each side of the warp, before weaving the center.

Two hills of solid light gray and light mauve on each side of the warp, before weaving the center.

Next, I weave a steeper hill with the light mauve on the right. 

The center will begin as solid white. 

 

In the solid white area, I am next going to add in some of Blend A, by doing some irregular hatching (from week 2 of the blog tour).  Irregular hatching can be woven row-by-row, or it can be woven by creating a series of steps with one bobbin of color and then filling in those steps with a bobbin of a second color.  Here, I weave a sequence of short and long steps with the solid white area, and then fill them in with Blend A

With solid white, creating the first steps for hatching, going from left to right.  Note first step is small--6 warps wide--and the second step is longer--14 warps wide.

With solid white, creating the first steps for hatching, going from left to right.  Note first step is small--6 warps wide--and the second step is longer--14 warps wide.

Weaving with Blend A, filling in the short and longer steps created with the solid white.  This is another way to weave irregular hatching.

Weaving with Blend A, filling in the short and longer steps created with the solid white.  This is another way to weave irregular hatching.

Notice how the lines of the irregular hatching are creating a slight angled area of transition between the woven areas of solid white and Blend A. Gradually, I will weave smaller lines of the solid white as I work my way over to the right edge. I end the solid white, and weave a row or two with Blend A.

Blend B:  1 light mauve, 1 white, 1 bright yellow

Blend B:  1 light mauve, 1 white, 1 bright yellow

Adding Blend B, filling in the short and long steps created with Blend A.

Adding Blend B, filling in the short and long steps created with Blend A.

Next, I make a new weft bundle mixture, adding in a bright yellow, and dropping out the gray for Blend B.  Again, I use irregular hatching,  first by creating a short and long step with Blend A.  Then I weave with Blend B, the short step--over 11 warps--and the longer step over 25 warps.  Because these are mixtures of different colors, I allow the separate strands to randomly twist as I place the weft bundle in the shed.  It helps to create the slightly stippled look.

Blend C:  2 bright yellow, 1 white

Blend C:  2 bright yellow, 1 white

Beginning the hatching of Blend C on left with Blend B on the right.

Beginning the hatching of Blend C on left with Blend B on the right.

I make a new weft bundle mix, dropping out the light mauve and adding a second strand of bright yellow, so that I have 2 strands bright yellow and one strand white for Blend C

Blend D:  1 yellow-orange, 1 pale yellow, 1 bright yellow

Blend D:  1 yellow-orange, 1 pale yellow, 1 bright yellow

On left, Blend D hatching with Blend C

On left, Blend D hatching with Blend C

For Blend D, I drop out the white and combine one yellow-orange, one bright yellow, and one pale yellow.  Notice how vibrant this makes the color, by having three different, but closely related colors mixed together.

Blend E:  1 light blue, 1 yellow-orange, 1 bright yellow

Blend E:  1 light blue, 1 yellow-orange, 1 bright yellow

Now, let’s look at creating weft bundles using strands of contrasting values

For Blend E, I am dropping out one strand of bright yellow and adding a light blue to combine with one strand of yellow-orange and one strand of bright yellow.   Notice how the coolness of the blue and its darker value contrast with warmth and the brightness of the other two strands in this bundle. 

Hatching with Blend D on right and Blend E beginning on the left.

Hatching with Blend D on right and Blend E beginning on the left.

Here, I am starting the small hatch line of Blend E on the right edge.  Notice that I am continuing to allow the weft strands to twist, so that they visually appear as small dots and dashes when woven.

Blend F:  1 bright yellow, 1 light blue, 1 bright blue

Blend F:  1 bright yellow, 1 light blue, 1 bright blue

Blend G:  2 bright blue, 1 light blue

Blend G:  2 bright blue, 1 light blue

For Blend F, I keep the strand of bright yellow and blue, and add in a slightly brighter blue strand.  For Blend G, which will be all blue, I have 2 strands of the slightly brighter blue and one strand of the lighter blue.  I find that by mixing the 2 different blues, it gives the color more vibrancy and life.

Thus, I have created a sequential color transition from Blend A to Blend G.  This is one example of how the use of multiple wefts opens up many possibilities for creating new colors, as well as blended areas that transition from one color or value to the next.  

The finished sample with 7 different mixed color blends and 3 solid colors.

The finished sample with 7 different mixed color blends and 3 solid colors.

The type of yarn that is best to use is thin but firm.  Two-ply crewel weight needlepoint or lace weight wool yarns such as Appleton, Anahera, or Mora work well, as do the Norwegian yarns such as Alv and thin Vevgarn.  Hand spun singles weight wool yarn is also good to use.  Some weavers use cotton embroidery floss, which is available at fabric and crafting stores.  Click here for more information on yarn sources, and tapestry weaving tools.

Bobbins and Shuttles for tapestry weaving

Bobbins and Shuttles for tapestry weaving

Now, let’s look at the tools that can help in weaving with weft bundles.  There are an assortment of bobbins, small flat shuttle, netting shuttles, yarn bobs that can be used.  When winding the bobbin or shuttle, it is important for all the strands to evenly wrap onto the bobbin or small shuttle.  If one strand is looser, then it will make for a bumpier woven surface. 

I prefer using the Aubusson bobbin, sometimes called bone or flute bobbins. These can be wound on a Swedish bobbin winder--the one with the smallest shaft will work for these bobbins. 

 

Aubusson bobbin on Swedish bobbin winder

Aubusson bobbin on Swedish bobbin winder


And the winners are....

Ruth J. Rowell for a free entry to the Tapestry Unlimited Exhibition and a one-year membership to the American Tapestry Alliance.

Nina Kennedy for a one-year membership to the American Tapestry Alliance.

congratulations! 


Every week of this blog tour, you have a chance to enter to win one of two prizes: a one-year membership to the American Tapestry Alliance or a one-year membership to the American Tapestry alliance AND a free entry to the Tapestry Unlimited ExhibitionTo qualify to win, just leave a comment on this post. We will randomly choose two winners on Tuesday, January 26, 2016.  Current ATA members are not eligible to win.

The Blog Tour: 

Week 1:  Vancouver Yarn The Basics of Tapestry Weaving

Week 2:  Rebecca Mezoff Color Blending with Irregular Hatching

Week 3:  Terry Olson Weaving Slits to Create Vertical Lines

Week 4:  Mirrix Looms Weaving Shapes

Week 5:  Elizabeth Buckley Color Blending Using Multiple Wefts 

Week 6:  Sarah Swett The Value of Tapestry

This blog tour is in celebration of ATA's annual unjuried exhibtion. Tapestry Unlimited; 11th International, Unjuried Small Format exhibition is open to all weavers. We are expecting upwards of 250 participants who will show their work at the Milwaukee Public Library this upcoming summer. Everyone who signs up to participate by January 31st, 2016 will be included in the exhibition, and your tapestry does not need to be mailed to us until March 2016. There is an exhibition fee of $40 which pays for both the return postage for you tapestry, as well an exhibition catalog, in which everyone’s tapestry will be featured.  We invite entries woven within more traditional definitions of tapestry, as well as ones which expand upon them, including multimedia work.

The American Tapestry Alliance (ATA) is a nonprofit organization that provides programming for tapestry weavers around the world, including exhibitions, both juried and unjuried, in museums, art centers and online, along with exhibition catalogs. They offer workshops, lectures, one-on-one mentoring and online educational articles as well as awards, including scholarships, membership grants, an international student award, and the Award of Excellence. They also put out quarterly newsletter, monthly eNews & eKudos and CODA, an annual digest.
 

Sett Considerations in French Tapestry

Recently, I was asked to write about sett in French tapestry, based on my observations and experience of working in the Aubusson and Flemish traditions.

Sett in tapestry is about more than covering the warp with the weft.  Sett is also about the shape and size of the grain, or the bead, created in the weave and how it impacts the visual texture of a tapestry. The grain, or the bead, of the weave is always in relationship to the scale of the tapestry and the complexity of the design. 

In general, the French use of sett is characterized by the bead being rounded and smooth to produce a flat surface, so that light can reflect evenly off of the weaving.  Light also affects the visual impact of sett and grain in how it reflects differently off of the ribs of the warp when a tapestry is hung with the warp running horizontally than when hung with the warps running vertically.  This is especially noticeable in the use of techniques like hachures, which read differently when viewed vertically, than when viewed horizontally.  This is one of several reasons why Aubusson tapestries are designed and woven to be hung sideways, by the weft, with the warp running horizontally.

Pelican study detail

Pelican study detail

Pelican study detail, rotated with warps running vertically

Pelican study detail, rotated with warps running vertically

A smooth, rounded bead in sett can be achieved by several means.  First, is by the classic ratio used in French, Flemish, and many European tapestry traditions, where the diameter of the warp = diameter of the weft bundle = the space between warps.  Second, is by the type of wool yarn used in the weft bundle.   Firmer yarns will yield a rounder grain. Softer, loftier yarns will produce a more flattened, or oval grain.  For a more squashed and linear grain, either increase the space between the warps, or reduce the size, or diameter, of the weft bundle.

In historic mural tapestries of the Medieval and Renaissance eras, (such as those recently on exhibition at the Met) the sett is quite fine, averaging around 22 – 24 epi.  These works usually depicted scenes from history, Christianity, or mythology in highly detailed epic narrations. Weft bundles were of firm, thin wools, and sometimes silks or even gold strands.  Often the depicted garments worn by human figures included the drape of fabric reflecting the woven structure of the cloth (twills, brocades, etc.). In order to have enough warps in an inch to weave all of this detail, the sett had to be quite fine. 

Pelican   Elizabeth Buckley's study woven in Aubusson

Pelican   Elizabeth Buckley's study woven in Aubusson

When I was weaving in Aubusson, Gisèle Brivet warped the loom with cotton at around 11 epi, and we used fine, firm wool yarns (similar to the now discontinued DMC Medici wools or about the size of the 18/2 weight of worsted wool yarn currently available through Weavers Bazaar in the UK.) in weft bundles of 5 strands. I marveled at the range of possibilities in the palette for blending and mixing five-strand weft bundles.

In considering sett, it is important to gauge the size of the overall piece in relation to the amount of detail in the design. Often I use 12/9 cotton seine twine warp at between 11 and 12 epi, although my current large format tapestry, which will measure 4’ x 5’, I warped with 12/12 cotton seine twine warp at 10 epi, for just a slightly larger grain in proportion to the scale of the finished piece. My weft bundles of 3 -5 strands combine various weights and firmness of worsted wool yarns:  Appleton crewel, Anahera, plus those from my stash of discontinued yarns-- DMC Medici. Paternayan crewel--and some of my mother’s hand-dyed silks and wools. 

Elizabeth BuckleyDialogues Through the Veil  detail    sett is 12 epi,  ©2010

Elizabeth BuckleyDialogues Through the Veil  detail    sett is 12 epi,  ©2010

Generally, small format tapestries need a more refined sett, to avoid a lumpy-looking image. Kathe Todd Hooker works at 20 – 22 epi, using Dual duty craft thread, button hole twist for warp.  An example is below, her tapestry:  And He… Her weft bundles are of sewing thread and/or embroidery floss. She divides out the 6 strands of embroidery floss to get at least 6 different color changes.  In areas she wants more refined detail, she will use thinner weft bundles, just as I also do with wool at 10 – 12 epi.

Kathe Todd Hooker   And He...     26.5" x 18.5"      sett is 20 - 22 epi

Kathe Todd Hooker   And He...     26.5" x 18.5"      sett is 20 - 22 epi

Kathe Todd Hooker  And He...   detail

Kathe Todd Hooker  And He...   detail

Does sett disappear when viewing the tapestry? Or does your eye catch on the patterned texture it creates? 

Barbara Heller    One Way   border sett is 4 epi, interior sett is 8 epi

Barbara Heller    One Way   border sett is 4 epi, interior sett is 8 epi

Barbara Heller uses two sett sizes in her tapestry, One Way:  4 epi for the border area, and 8 epi for the interior.  Notice the two different textures and how the light reflects differently off of the two surfaces.

Barbara Heller   One Way  detail    Note the two sett sizes

Barbara Heller   One Way  detail    Note the two sett sizes

For warp, she uses 8/4 or 8/5 linen at 8 epi because she likes the slightly stiffer hand it gives. For weft, she uses Le Mieux or Briggs & Little 2ply (or equivalent), or three strands of Paternayan crewel (or equivalent) at 8 epi.  At 4 epi her weft bundle can have very different yarns, including her own handspun (or equivalent) for producing the more textured effect. At 8 epi she will sometimes add a thinner strand of another color, as in the water areas in the tapestry, One Way, and is careful about how this thin strand is laid in for every bead so that the yarns do not twist.

Tommye Scanlin often works at 8 epi, using either the 12/12 or 12/15 cotton seine twine, depending on the bead she wants and the wefts she plans to use.  An example is below, her tapestry:  Because of Memory.   At 6 epi, she will use 12/18.  She will do smaller format tapestries at either 10 or 12 epi, using either 12/9 or 12/6 cotton seine twine warp.

The ratio of warp, weft, and spacing that both Barbara Heller and Tommye Scanlin use is based on Archie Brennan’s recommendations of wrapping warp around a cm to determine ends per inch. It is similar in nature to the diameter of the warp=diameter of the weft bundle=space between the warps. (Archie Brennan’s on-line article on the American Tapestry Alliance website: http://americantapestryalliance.org/education/educational-articles/the-space-between-the-warps/ ).

Tommye Scanlin   Because of Memory  63" x 60"   2014   sett is 8 epi

Tommye Scanlin   Because of Memory  63" x 60"   2014   sett is 8 epi

The number of strands in Tommye Scanlin’s weft bundle varies from two to five or six, depending on the yarns she is using together as well as the sett.  She uses Vevgarn, a 2-ply wool from Norway, available through Norsk Fjord Fiber, and Alv Norwegian wool that Kathe Todd-Hooker sells through Fine Fiber Studio, that is a 2-ply worsted about 14/2 in size.  (Smaller than the Vevgarn but not as small as the Mora wool from Glimakra.  She will use these together or separately, and sometimes throw in a thin linen, as well.  Tommye states, “I like a ‘whole wheat’ sort of yarn for weft, one that's firm and not flabby. I like to have a pretty defined bead to the weave.”

Tommye Scanlin Because of Memory detail

Tommye Scanlin Because of Memory detail

For additional technical information on sett, visit Tommy Scanlin’s blog post: http://tapestryshare.blogspot.com/2012/06/warp-sett-few-options-and-opinions.html

Thank you to Kathe Todd Hooker, Barbara Heller, and Tommye Scanlin for their permission to use these photos of their work and for their generous sharing of technical information included in this blog post.  Thank you to Rebecca Mezoff for the initial inquiry.

Beacons of Light

As artists, we have a unique role to be Beacons of Light with our work. 

Jane Chu , NEA chair, recently was quoted as saying,

“As a young person, I couldn’t have survived without the arts.  It was something that allowed me to be struck by beauty, a place where time stood still.  The aesthetic value of art is essential to civilization.... and can guide us through this time of transitions. "

In order to create the work that allows others to enter into a place where time stands still, we need to be very protective of our head and heart space, our way of tuning in and being present to the our environment and to the sources of inspiration, of beauty, and that to which we respond in awe.  How we are able to make the world a better place through our artwork, our teaching, our keeping alive another way of viewing and being present to life--all of this is dependent on our ability to stay connected and clear, tuned in to the pulse of life beneath the chaos and negativity.

Recently, one of my students said, “Has the world gone nuts or what?!”

We live in especially negative and chaotic times, where religious fanatics and self-righteous zealots are escalating hatred, anger, brutality, and human suffering.  Much of our politics is ruled by corporate greed, corruption, and exploitation of the earth.  In the age of the internet, we can learn of the latest incidents in an instant.

As artists, especially, we need to take great care with how much of the chaos and negativity of the outer world we take into our lives, for it can be so contagious.  It is a delicate balance between staying informed enough to know what is going on in the world, and letting it intrude too much into one’s head space.

Where we focus our thoughts and energy grows. 

Morning light on cottonwood leaves outside my studio. photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

Morning light on cottonwood leaves outside my studio. photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

What is your beacon of Light, a lit candle in the darkness guiding your way?

Sandhill Cranes in migration, circling above my home and studio this past February.   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

Sandhill Cranes in migration, circling above my home and studio this past February.   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

For me, it is the call of Sandhill Cranes or Canadian geese in migration, the way sunlight glistens on cottonwood leaves moving in the breeze.  It is also the deep and profound silence found when walking in remote wilderness, where the overlay of human energy is minimal and the deep memory of the Earth’s epochs is within reach.  I bring back to the studio treasures that beckon me:  dried grass heads, particular bits of sandstone, quartz, or even petrified wood; a weathered bone, seed pods, the feather left by an owl.  Reminders of beauty, that there is another way of being in the world, and of my role as an artist to articulate that which is invisible, make tangible that which is sacred.

Northern New Mexico clouds.  photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

Northern New Mexico clouds.  photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

Sunflower in my garden. photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

Sunflower in my garden. photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley ©2015

Be Beacons of Light, Peace, and Kindness. 

The world needs this from all us.

 

Flash Flood and New Visions

When Suzanne Halvorson walked into the newly refurbished Fiber Arts Center at Ghost Ranch to begin the first day of her Weave and Wander class on Tuesday morning, July 7th, little did she know that this also would be her last day to teach in this space.  Her's was the first class held in it.

Storm clouds approaching                                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Storm clouds approaching                                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

At 6:30 that evening, a shelf cloud had settled in over the mesas surrounding Pedernal, moving swiftly toward Ghost Ranch.  By 6:45 she and her students began gathering for the evening session, continuing with warping their looms, some at the warping board and others tying on and tensioning.

By 6:50 pm the rains began, a sprinkle followed by pouring rain, winds blowing sheets of rain at a 45-degree angle.  By 7:00 pm, further up the arroyo that runs along the eastern edge of the campus, a 20-foot wall of water had almost peaked its bank near Long House and the Art Building. Teachers and students heard the roar of water, quickly scooped up art supplies off the floor onto tables and left.

Further down the arroyo, Suzanne looked out the window of the Fiber Arts classroom and noticed water coming toward the building.  She told her students that they needed to leave immediately.  Moments later, Maureen Fitzgibbon from Ghost Ranch staff stepped into the classroom and told everyone they had to get out now and head for higher ground.  Within the few minutes it took for everyone to pile into their cars, including one blind woman with her seeing-eye dog, the water was halfway up the tires on all of their vehicles.  They drove up to the Welcome Center to wait out the storm. 

West wall of fiber arts studio                              photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

West wall of fiber arts studio                              photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Five minutes later, the raging water, now several feet high, knocked down the west wall of the classroom.

Another view of west wall                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Another view of west wall                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Churning waters pushed looms into a log jam against the French doors, which then blew out. 

Looms jammed in the French door opening         photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looms jammed in the French door opening         photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looms jammed in French door opening...another view      photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looms jammed in French door opening...another view      photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looking over the log jam of looms to west wall          photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Looking over the log jam of looms to west wall          photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

The Rio Grande loom that had been newly tied on and tensioned ended up in a tree 10 feet away.

Rio Grande loom upended in cedar tree                   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Rio Grande loom upended in cedar tree                   photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Inside, flood waters crested at about three feet, bringing in mud, tree branches, debris.

Interior view of studio, Suzanne Halvorson's scarves draped on front table                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Interior view of studio, Suzanne Halvorson's scarves draped on front table                           photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Further up this arroyo, three other class studio spaces had already been flooded.  The stained glass studio, known as Short House, walls had collapsed and its roof had been propelled yards away.  All equipment and stained glass inventory gone.  Tom Nichols’ van of welding tools disappeared down stream, and propane tanks were ripped from their foundations.  Pottery wheels, kilns of Pot Hollow were swept away in the currents.  Fortunately, no class was in Short House, and both the welding and pottery classes had decided to meet in the afternoon instead of the evening.

Meanwhile, I had been monitoring the torrential storm while I was teaching Drawing As Meditation in the museum classroom.  When the rains slowed, more of my students arrived dripping in their wet rain gear.  We all knew that this was no ordinary thunder shower, but did not know until later the full extent of the flash flooding in the arroyo on the opposite side of the campus.

By 7:45 pm, the rains stopped and within minutes the sun broke through the clouds, lighting up the cliffs of Orphan Mesa to a glowing orange against the remaining gray clouds.  I called my class to the windows and outside to witness this brilliant sunset, as I knew that the light would fade within minutes. Soon, a vibrant and full double rainbow appeared.

Sunset, double rainbow after the storm                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

Sunset, double rainbow after the storm                        photo credit:  Elizabeth J. Buckley

After devastation comes stunning beauty and the opportunity for a new vision.


For more information on how you can help Ghost Ranch rebuild

To donate specifically to the arts program:  make checks out to the Ghost Ranch Foundation, and designate the arts program.


Step Into the Rhythm

Sunlight on grasses   photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley ©2015

Sunlight on grasses   photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley ©2015

Many months ago, this next tapestry began in the deep recesses of my mind, like a nudging.  It gradually emerged through the pencil in my hand, sketching and studying that which fascinated me, grabbed me and insistently said,  "Pay Attention:" 

Grasses and mesa   Photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley ©2015

Grasses and mesa   Photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley ©2015

A combination of sunlight on grasses and a wind-eroded mesa, plus so much more.  Each day, I spent time with the pencil, adding more lines or shading more areas that suggest shapes, textures and layers.

Two months ago, I reached the point in the drawing when I could go no further.  It was time for my hands at the loom to move into the idea, the vision.  I had enough sense of the piece that I could begin selecting the yarn palette, wind bobbins of different yarn mixes, and prepare the cartoon.

Finally, I began to weave the heading, the fold-under part of the tapestry. I was eager and nervous about starting to weave the face of this tapestry.  The idea now was about to come forward in thread, color, shape, but not quite yet, as I must weave this part of the tapestry that will be hidden on the back.

Woven heading with cartoon      Photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley ©2015

Woven heading with cartoon      Photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley ©2015

 Anticipation and waiting, not unlike standing backstage, placed and ready for the cue to go on, the pause in the music, the intake of deep breath before I enter and become visible in the dance, my part in the choreography of loom, thread and image. 

Now, each morning I step into the rhythm that already is there, the place of no words, but of strong connection with the emerging shapes and forms.  Thus, the dance begins.