The Element of Time In Tapestry

Time is a huge, invisible component in tapestry-making, in addition to skillful hands, technical virtuosity, artistic vision, and the universal, non-verbal language of the loom. The long haul of 1200 hours over many months involved in weaving large format tapestries can be a daunting commitment, requiring additional courage, dedication, belief in oneself and the idea that needs to be articulated. 

The Veils of Time  tapestry in process on the loom. ©2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley

The Veils of Time tapestry in process on the loom. ©2016 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Interruptions are a fact of life for all of us weaving tapestry.  I work seven days a week.  I juggle studio time with the schedule of an itinerate art teacher and the necessary advance preparation of materials for each workshop and powerpoint lecture, plus write articles, proposals, and blog posts, produce videos, share on social media and other marketing activities, in addition to dealing with the surprises and necessities of daily living.

 Over the years, I developed strategies to help me to sustain connection with the work in-process over the days, weeks and months, whether it be a small or large format tapestry:

— Weave every day whether it is for thirty minutes, four hours or all day. This helps the connection with the work in progress to be vibrant and energized.

— Keep a notepad at the loom, and end each weaving session with a sentence, phrases or a diagram of what to do next.  I find this especially helpful when I am away from the studio teaching workshops.  When I return, reviewing my notes helps me to re-orient myself and more easily pick up where I left off.

 — Go to sleep each night thinking about what needs to be woven next on the tapestry.  This is especially helpful if I need to problem-solve which techniques or color mixtures to use in order to achieve the desired effect.  Usually I awaken in the morning with a clear sense of how to proceed.

 — When the weaving gets sluggish, take a break.  Usually the tapestry is telling me something, and I need to pay attention, look at the area with a fresh eye to see more clearly what needs to happen next.  Maybe it is a different color or value in the weft bundle.  Maybe I forgot to put in a detail I had intended to include. 

 — Get up from the loom frequently, to change body positions, stretch, roll shoulders, shift from close-up to far way focus for the eyes.  Often I do this when I need to wind a bobbin, change the music CD, etc.

Notepad at loom ©2019 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Notepad at loom ©2019 Elizabeth J. Buckley

 I track my time spent on each phase of creating tapestries so that I have a more realistic sense of just how long it does take me to create new work around my salaried teaching schedule and everyday living.  This is especially important when doing commissions, as well as when large ideas need to become large format tapestries.  I know that a realistic estimate for works measuring 60” x 60” is about 1,200 hours spread out over 18 – 24 months.  Unless this is a commission piece, this is unpaid time until the tapestry sells.

Yet the documented hours tell only part of the story of tapestry-making.  What goes unmeasured is gestation time for ideas to brew, the mulling over time when taking a walk or driving, the problem-solving time until the solution comes.  All of this emerges out of a lifetime of our experiences, unique to each of us.

 Carol K. Russell aptly puts it in her introduction to Contemporary International Tapestry, p. 21

Never ask a tapestry artist, ‘How long did it take to weave this tapestry?’  He or she will respond quite correctly, ‘It took my entire life up to the point at which this tapestry was cut from the loom, and the same for the next tapestry and the ones after that.’