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.’

Phyllis Hoge Thompson and The Practice of Deep Listening

Letters from Jian Hui  by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

Letters from Jian Hui by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

The poet, Phyllis Hoge Thompson, died recently, after a long life filled with raising four children while pursuing her doctorate, teaching at the University of Hawai’i, writing volumes of poems, plus a memoir.  She relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico upon retirement “to experience the four seasons, among other things.”  She lived a year in China, teaching English.  She regularly went to Yaddo to work on manuscripts that subsequently got published. In 1995, she was awarded the Hawai’i Award for Literature by then Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano.

Words were her métier.

Phyllis also loved art, and supported many artists, like myself, by not only buying their work, but also by valuing what we, as artists, bring to the world.

Putting Up Art

As I hang up a painting, once again I know Why I need art. There are things words cannot say, Thoughts that the eyes can see.  My paintings show Ideas invisible any other way… 

Today, McCauley’s French window: the rose-fallen light Echoes a lost aubade, a way of being I lift the picture, position the wire just right, And drift off into the life I live by seeing.

—from Hello House, p.54

Hello House  by Phyllis Hoge illustrated by Maxine Hong Kingston

Hello House by Phyllis Hoge illustrated by Maxine Hong Kingston

Sunset Over Albuquerque  3” x 2” ©1996 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Sunset Over Albuquerque 3” x 2” ©1996 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Her home was a modest two-bedroom, with hardwood floors that were covered with worn oriental carpets.  Family furniture—mostly wood—crowded the rooms, and shelves filled with books lined most available walls.   Above and around them art:  paintings, two small tapestries, photographs, ikat weaving, sculptures, drawings, art quilts, turned wooden bowls, and cobalt blue glass balls of varying sizes. More books in a pile on the floor by her reading chair, as well as stacked on the living room coffee table and on the end table by her bed.  

Window and Grass  ©2000 Elizabeth J. Buckley Mixed media: Handwoven tapestry with couching

Window and Grass ©2000 Elizabeth J. Buckley Mixed media: Handwoven tapestry with couching

In 1987, shortly after I moved to Albuquerque, Phyllis initiated the Friendly Writers Groups, critique groups of four people that met once every week for two hours, to listen and respond to 4 or 5 pages of prose, either fiction or non-fiction, that each brought for review.  We took turns reading our work aloud and responding to each other’s.  The format was simple.  One person would read aloud what s/he brought, while the other three would listen.  When that person finished reading, the other three then would write down overall first impressions.  The same person would read aloud the same writing a second time, and the other three would listen as well as make further notes.  After the second reading, one-by-one, each of the three listeners would give feedback, such as:

“My overall first impressions were….”

“The place that really grabbed my attention was…. “

“I wanted to know more about …..”

“You shifted tense around the beginning of the second page.”

“You repeated the word… four times in three consecutive sentences.”

The Painted Clock  by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

The Painted Clock by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

“I found myself fading out after …. and then returning when… “

“I am confused about where this is going.  Do you intend this to be…?”  Or do you mean..?

“I noticed the use of passive voice, which made the scene feel less immediate for me.  I would like to experience the action more directly.”

“I really liked the ending sentence, and I wondering how it would work at the very beginning as your opening line.”

Invariably the responses helped me to re-think passages, trim out excessive words, say more about specific areas, as well as to know what really worked well.  It felt like a gift, even when I needed to set aside a draft and start fresh again.

Over the months, we read articles for publication, chapters of books, and excerpts from our journals.  We listened carefully and deeply. We responded with honesty and tenderness. We grew to love each other.

I carry the spirit of the Friendly Writers Group into my teaching. I listen carefully to my students, to both the asked and unarticulated questions.  I encourage group feedback on designs, and make suggestions of options to think about.

I also bring deep listening into my own creative process, in the initial designing stage as well as when weaving on the tapestry in-progress on the loom.  Often I work in silence, allowing it to enter and expand through me into images flowing from the pencil in my hand onto the paper, as I sketch layers of shapes and textures, as I observe and study what is before me.  Early each morning before weaving, I will sit in silence and wait.  Invariably, ideas emerge about use of color mix choices in yarn bundles, and technical decisions for what needs to happen next at the loom.

 On occasion, Phyllis and I would talk about how the living silence, that we often experience during unprogrammed silent Quaker Meeting for Worship, also informs our creative process and ultimately our work.  She wrote the following:

“When I write, when I think a poem is ready to come, I sit still for hours waiting for it to gather slowly and speak to me.  After the waiting in silence comes the writing, which I love.  I love figuring out which words sound truest and best.  I love how they fit into a line or a sentence or a phrase.  I love their weight.  I love all they assemble of thought or feeling, what they remind me of apart from what I have chosen to say.  I love how they are spelled and where they came from. I love working out in lines their music, which is for me very securely based on the old fashioned metrics I learned before I grew up.  I love fitting everything together, and I love finding out what the poem says when at last it feels right.  Whatever my poems mean in particular, they begin and end as celebration of the world entrusted to me by my life.  Poetry—my own and that of others—helps me to understand how things are for me and to live more peaceably with what I have.  It is my common prayer.”

Phyllis Hoge Thompson November 15, 1926 – August 26, 2018


The Ghosts of Who We Were  by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

The Ghosts of Who We Were by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

Books by Phyllis Hoge Thompson:

Artichoke and Other Poems

The Creation Frame

The Serpent of the White Rose

What the Land Gave

The Ghosts of Who We Were

A Field of Poetry

Letters From Jian Hui and Other Poems

The Painted Clock:  A Memoir of a New Mexico Ghost Town Bride

Anthologies including Phyllis Hoge Thompson:

Only Morning in Her Shoes:  Poems About Old Women

Edited by Leatrice Lifshitz

The Spirit That Wants Me:  A New Mexico Anthology

            Edited by Dianne Duff, Jill Kiefer, Michelle Miller

PhyllisHoge_Book_OnlyMorningInHerShoes.jpg
PhyllisHoge_Book_TheSpiritThatWantsMe.jpg

 

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.

 

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.


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   
  
 
  
    
  
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  ©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.

 

Step Into the Rhythm

Sunlight on grasses   photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley   
  
 
  
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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.

Partial palette of wound bobbins    Photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley  ©2015

Partial palette of wound bobbins    Photo credit:  Elizabeth Buckley ©2015

Beginnings....

With this my first blog post, I revisit and expand on my post of September 18, 2013 on Kathe Todd Hooker’s Tapestry List, which has been in conversation since July 1996, with now over 575 tapestry weavers all over the world.  

Where does the nudging to begin a new tapestry come from?  What is the spark that lights the initial idea or thought that has to find form and expression in tapestry?  What guides the choices of yarns and colors and starts moving the fingers in the warp?

My Tai Chi teacher talks about how out of stillness comes movement, and out of movement comes stillness.  I carry this into my tapestry practice as well.  I find the inner place of deeper knowing within, and that guides my beginning.  It could be a particular line or shape; it could be a color or a sense of movement.  What I love about the process of tapestry is how it can provide a way for me to tap into the essence of something, the kernel of an idea that somehow flows through the fingers and into the threads I am weaving.

Out of stillness comes the impulse to begin.  Then see where one thread can lead to another, one color can interact with another.  One shapes suggests another.  See where the flow takes you.