The Tapestry Cartoon as Road Map

A tapestry cartoon becomes a “you are here” guide, a road map for the overall design that helps me to keep track of where I am while weaving.  This is especially helpful when I am working on a large format piece in the traditional manner of Aubusson tapestry, which entails weaving from the back as well as with the design turned sideways.

I use Dura-lar Matte (comes in 25" x 40" sheets, 0.005 weight), a type of opaque velum that is strong enough to withstand sewing without tearing and works well with black permanent markers, in that their lines are clear and do not smear or bleed.  With my drawing flat on a table, I place the Dura-lar on top, and trace an outline of the curves and shapes in my design, using a combination of solid and dashed lines with fine and ultra fine point markers.

To ready the warp for weaving, I first weave a heading out of the warp thread, which is either 12/9 or 12/12 cotton seine twine. I then use my awl to even the spacing in the warps.  It is critical that the spacing between the warp threads is the same all across the width of the warp. This establishes the foundation of a consistently woven, sound cloth.  Next, I put in a row of twining to hold the spacing in place, as well as to insure that the weaving will not unravel when the tapestry is done and removed from the loom.

Now I am ready to weave the hem of about 3/4 - 1 inch for the tapestry itself.  Rather than use one bobbin and weave all the way across, I divide up the width into multiple sections--anywhere from 6 to 8, depending on if I am weaving the full 60-inch width.  This helps to maintain the full weaving width and prevents the hem from drawing in. 

Heading, hem, sewn cartoon on my basse-lice loom    © 2015 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Heading, hem, sewn cartoon on my basse-lice loom    © 2015 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Now, I am ready to sew on the cartoon.   I use clothes pins to clip and anchor the cartoon square to the warp, and a curved upholstery needle of quilting weight thread to sew large running, or basting, stitches across the entire width of the woven hem.

My basse-lice loom has a built in cartoon tray on which the upper part of the cartoon rests. 

Cartoon tray on basse-lice loom, with the already woven area of cartoon rolled up next to front beam.    © 2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Cartoon tray on basse-lice loom, with the already woven area of cartoon rolled up next to front beam.    © 2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

For my counter-balance rug loom, I make a support for the cartoon out of lease sticks, tied to the castle of the floor loom, and anchored to the front beam with a heavy chord.  For this, I need a hole in each lease stick at about the width of the front beam. (A power drill comes in handy for creating holes in the right place).  I do not use the loom's beater, as I weave by building shapes, rather than row-at-a-time.

Cartoon support with lease sticks on counter balance rug loom.  Note how the cartoon is rolled near the front beam, as well as near the beater.    © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

Cartoon support with lease sticks on counter balance rug loom.  Note how the cartoon is rolled near the front beam, as well as near the beater.    © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley photo

When advancing the warp, it is important that the cartoon does not roll around the front beam along with the completed weaving, as this will cause it creep and shift.  Before advancing, I stitch the cartoon to the weaving about an inch below the fell line, again using clothes pins to anchor the upper part of the cartoon square to the warp. After the new row of stitching isin place,  I remove the first stitching at the very beginning.   As I advance the woven area around the front beam, the beginning part of the cartoon separates away, which I later roll up and hold with clips.  It looks a bit like a scroll.

There are many sections of the cartoon where I am filling in the details of the design as I weave, without having drawn it out precisely before hand.  Usually I do not yet know all the details until I am weaving each area.  The tapestry talks to me a lot during the weaving process about what needs to happen next, which colors to transition to, which techniques to use for specific effects.  Since I tend to work in layers of images, I also am keeping track of which image layer is in front, and what is receding.  I find that I must engage in clear and attentive listening to what the tapestry is saying, while the cartoon guides me with the overall design. 

When the weaving gets sluggish, or I cannot figure out exactly what I need to do next, I know it is time to take a break, step away from the loom, so that I can return later and look with fresh eyes.  Then I can see what needs to happen next, and the weaving proceeds more smoothly once again.

 

Questioning Limits: Explorations in Tapestry

December 16, 2016 - January 6, 2017, featuring works by:  Ann Blankenship, Elizabeth Buckley, Mary Rawcliffe Colton, Cindy Dworzak, Linda Giesen, Naomi Julian, Dan Klinglesmith, Vivian Skadron, Jaye Whorton,  and Nancy Wohlenberg.

Opening Reception:  Friday, December 16th 5:00 - 8:00 pm

Elizabeth Buckley Ocean Memory                           Ann Blankenship Petrichor

Elizabeth Buckley Ocean Memory                           Ann Blankenship Petrichor

The idea for this show began with an invitation to the Tapestry Artists of Las Aranas Spinners and Weavers Guild from University of New Mexico College of Fine Arts' Dean, Kymberly Pinder.  Mary Rawcliffe Colton spearheaded the idea of pushing the limits of our comfort zones in tapestry, whether it be with conceptual or experimental work or with design and technical challenges.  The venue space, located at the end of a six-story parking garage, was also a challenge with its main 70 foot long rectangular room of 11 foot walls,  with a small entrance area on the north end and a small 14 foot alcove at the south end.

North end of west wall;  Mary Rawcliffe Colton Ghost Bike Memorial, Elizabeth Buckley Dialogues Through the Veil; Entry area north wall:  Cindy Dworzak Circles;  Elizabeth Buckley Ocean Memory

North end of west wall;  Mary Rawcliffe Colton Ghost Bike Memorial, Elizabeth Buckley Dialogues Through the Veil; Entry area north wall:  Cindy Dworzak Circles;  Elizabeth Buckley Ocean Memory

Juried and curated by Mary Colton and Nancy Wohlenberg, with input from gallery director,  Lara Goldmann, Questioning Limits ultimately became an opportunity for each of the ten exhibiting tapestry artists not only to create new tapestries,  but also to show multiple pieces from their body of work. 

Entry South Post: Jaye Whorton Jaguar vs. Blood Moon; West wall continued:  Mary Rawcliffe Colton Roadsides Bloom Plastic, Ann Blankenship Sundance with Alisha, Naomi Julian Myriad Pathways

Entry South Post: Jaye Whorton Jaguar vs. Blood Moon; West wall continued:  Mary Rawcliffe Colton Roadsides Bloom Plastic, Ann Blankenship Sundance with Alisha, Naomi Julian Myriad Pathways

Mary Rawcliffe Colton's Roadsides Bloom Plastic uses strips of plastic bags on ramie warp, Ghiordes knots.  Ann Blankenship's Sundance with Alisha incorporates wire, prayer ties, and wool.

Elizabeth Buckley Crane and Fossil, Feather and Light;  Ann Blankenship N-1:  Dumpster Diving and Invasive Species, Naomi Julian Creation, Ann Blankenship N-1:  Turning Sixty

Elizabeth Buckley Crane and Fossil, Feather and Light;  Ann Blankenship N-1:  Dumpster Diving and Invasive Species, Naomi Julian Creation, Ann Blankenship N-1:  Turning Sixty

Ann Blankenship found piles of slides in a dumpster, which became integral to her two pieces:  N-1:  Dumpster Diving and N-1:  Turning Sixty (the sculpture on the floor)

Elizabeth Buckley Fossil, Feather, and Light;  Ann Blankenship N-1:  Dumpster Diving, Ann Blankenship Invasive Species

Elizabeth Buckley Fossil, Feather, and Light;  Ann Blankenship N-1:  Dumpster Diving, Ann Blankenship Invasive Species

Ann Blankenship's Invasive Species incorporates wire, wood and wool. 

Middle West Wall:  Dan Klingelsmith Plieades,  Elizabeth Buckley Crane and Fossil, Feather and Light;  Ann Blankenship N-1:  Dumpster Diving and Invasive Species, Naomi Julian Creation; Ann Blankenship N-1 :Turning Sixty

Middle West Wall:  Dan Klingelsmith Plieades,  Elizabeth Buckley Crane and Fossil, Feather and Light;  Ann Blankenship N-1:  Dumpster Diving and Invasive Species, Naomi Julian Creation; Ann Blankenship N-1 :Turning Sixty

Elizabeth Buckley                   Crane                      copyright 2016

Elizabeth Buckley                   Crane                      copyright 2016

Elizabeth Buckley wove Crane off-loom, utilizing tapestry, macramé, and warp-faced finger weaving so that she could be free to manipulate, fold, knot, or weave the threads and woven areas.  "Some of the threads served as warp for awhile, then weft.  There was no tension on the warp, although I did tape it down to keep it orderly.  I improvised a lot, breaking many rules!"

Mary Rawcliffe Colton Lamplight Mosque, Cindy Dworzak Matrix, Dan Klinglesmith Constellations series:  Orion, Gemini, Winter, Summer, Plieades

Mary Rawcliffe Colton Lamplight Mosque, Cindy Dworzak Matrix, Dan Klinglesmith Constellations series:  Orion, Gemini, Winter, Summer, Plieades

South Wall:

LInda Giesen Desert Dunes and Shifting Sands; Ann Blankenship Route 66

LInda Giesen Desert Dunes and Shifting Sands; Ann Blankenship Route 66

East Wall:

Linda Giesen Wired--the Inside and Outside of Anxiety, Naomi Julian Enchanted Mesa, Vivian Skadron Sunset Over Albuquerque, Nancy Wohlenberg Rift Valley Center Place I and II; Blue Tree ;  Naomi Julian Stormy Skies Over Ranchos de Taos, Jaye Whorton A Tip of the Hat to Ms. O'Keeffe

Linda Giesen Wired--the Inside and Outside of Anxiety, Naomi Julian Enchanted Mesa, Vivian Skadron Sunset Over Albuquerque, Nancy Wohlenberg Rift Valley Center Place I and II; Blue Tree ;  Naomi Julian Stormy Skies Over Ranchos de Taos, Jaye Whorton A Tip of the Hat to Ms. O'Keeffe

Linda Giesen   Wired--The Inside and Outside of Anxiety  photo credit:  Nancy Wohlenberg

Linda Giesen   Wired--The Inside and Outside of Anxiety  photo credit:  Nancy Wohlenberg

Alcove north wall:

Elizabeth Buckley Portal, Jaye Whorton Wedge Weave I,  Mary Rawcliffe Colton Bumps in the Road, Jaye Whorton Kaotic Klown;  pedestal:  Ann Blankenship Four Directions Photo credit:  Nancy Wohlenberg

Elizabeth Buckley Portal, Jaye Whorton Wedge Weave I,  Mary Rawcliffe Colton Bumps in the Road, Jaye Whorton Kaotic Klown;  pedestal:  Ann Blankenship Four Directions

Photo credit:  Nancy Wohlenberg

Mary Rawcliffe Colton's Bumps in the Road incorporates pulled warp with use of smaller and smaller wefts to reduce the weaving width from 5 to 1.5 inches.  In Ann Blankenship's Four Directions, the metal cube is the loom.

Alcove east wall:

pedestal:  Ann Blankenship Four Directions, Nancy Wohlenberg Five Sisters Song Series: Hot Flow, New Earth, Soil;  Mary Rawcliffe Colton Primroses, Nancy Wohlenberg Substraction:  Flow and Tangledoodle , Dan Klinglesmith Pathway photo credit:  Nancy Wohlenberg

pedestal:  Ann Blankenship Four Directions, Nancy Wohlenberg Five Sisters Song Series: Hot Flow, New Earth, Soil;  Mary Rawcliffe Colton Primroses, Nancy Wohlenberg Substraction:  Flow and Tangledoodle , Dan Klinglesmith Pathway

photo credit:  Nancy Wohlenberg

QuestioningLimitsShowPoster.jpg

If you cannot make it to the opening or closing receptions, the gallery is open on Wednesdays and Fridays 10:00 am - 6:00 pm.


Special thanks to Nancy Wohlenberg for use of her photos, as well as for her photo-editing skills on my images.  Photo credits:  Elizabeth Buckley, unless otherwise noted.

Drawing As Pathway

 Drawing for Petroglyph and Prairie tapestry © 2012 Elizabeth J. Buckley 

 Drawing for Petroglyph and Prairie tapestry © 2012 Elizabeth J. Buckley 

I teach drawing to many adults who have had discouraging experiences in previous art classes, often in their youth.  It takes courage for many to even sign up, and invariably they tell me that what helped them to decide to register was the phrase:  "there is no such thing as an awful line” in my course description.  Whether my classroom is in my studio, at Ghost Ranch during the July Festival of the Arts, or in conjunction with a tapestry design workshop, many arrive with the unease of being outside their comfort zone, hoping to have a better relationship with drawing.

Feather drawing by Laura Nelson 2013 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

Feather drawing by Laura Nelson 2013 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

Leaf drawing by Emily Flores 2014 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

Leaf drawing by Emily Flores 2014 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

We begin by getting acquainted with the pencil as a tool, and all the many lines and marks that can be made with it.  We do warm-ups with the pencil, for just as a dancer or a singer must warm up and stretch the body or vocal chords, so too must the artist warm up the drawing muscles and neurological connections between the hand, arm, eye, and brain.  We play, explore, experiment, and try new things. Then, one-by-one, each student settles into the act of hands with pencil creating marks on paper, following and describing what the eye observes.  A quiet concentration comes over the room, and I know that the deeper component of drawing is at work.

Drawing is about engaging with the world and truly seeing the shapes, textures, patterns of light and shadow in front of us.   The more we focus on a blade of grass, a leaf, or a tree, the more we can understand through observation the essence of leaf, tree, or cloud.  We connect in a deeper way, through the pencil in the hand and the focused eye and mind.  We enter into the eternal moment.

Moonscape drawing by Jan Boydstun 2014 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

Moonscape drawing by Jan Boydstun 2014 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

Once my students get this component of drawing, it changes how they see and engage with the world.  They have found a pathway to a deeper connection with what they observe, and it helps them to be more fully present. For some, it becomes part of their daily journaling practice.  For others, it is a way to begin expressing something that has no words. 

Tree and Mesa drawing by Marie Dixon 2013 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

Tree and Mesa drawing by Marie Dixon 2013 Drawing as Meditation class at Ghost Ranch

For my tapestry students, they discover that they can see and subsequently better understand the connection with shape, line, form and value (the degree of lightness and darkness), and how these can translate to tapestry technique.  The mantra becomes:  “If I were to weave this, what techniques would I use to describe the essence of this?” 

Marie Dixon was in the 2013 Drawing as Meditation:  Sharpening the Eye to See  class at Ghost Ranch.  Already an accomplished watercolor painter, she kept a journal of each class day.  Several months later, Marie shared this with me:

As I followed along each day during the “ Drawing as Meditation,” I conscientiously took notes and posted samples of my work in my journal. I wanted the notes and artwork to remind me of the special instruction and mood created by the daily exercises designed by Elizabeth Buckley. I had my favorites like the tearing paper landscapes, the movement and drawing day, and making my marks to show my mood. I thought to myself, I wanted to remember each day and someday share with others.
Coming back to Sacramento, I had a neighbor who was very sick with cancer and her daughter had asked her to draw her feelings. She was intimidated by the process so I brought the art supplies over and my journal from the class and took a few hours to explain to her that drawing and painting can be very meditative and she had nothing to fear. Each of the exercises could be easily done by someone who had never drawn or painted.
 The drawing as meditation transported my friend from the weight of her illness, allowing her to get in touch with her feelings in a way that was freeing rather than frightening. My neighbor was successful and very grateful and has continued to use my journal. This is a very peaceful approach to art where everyone is successful in their own way.
2015 Drawing as Meditation class field trip, Ghost Ranch, NM   photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley

2015 Drawing as Meditation class field trip, Ghost Ranch, NM   photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley

Drawing truly can be accessible to everyone.  With pencil and paper, one can enter a pathway into the pulse of life. 


Appreciation to Marie Dixon, Jan Boydstun, Emily Flores, and Laura Nelson for their permission to use their images and words in this post.


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.