Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Color Me Colorado... or New Mexican?

About a month ago I drove through the interior of Colorado. It was a beautiful sunny day. The ski resorts were all holding their breath... probably still are though I'm sure they have made a pile of snow.

I am not a skier. I know it is hard to believe. I have lived a fairly significant amount of my life in Colorado or within a short distance of Taos Ski Valley. But I don't ski. I'm too afraid of the trees and am a big wuss about broken legs and necks--mine or other people on the hill.

Nope. I'm the one waiting for this trail to open. Just six and a half more months. I am the plodding sort who likes to walk all day long on bare ground.

I was in the art supply store recently and I was looking at the stencils. I occasionally use geometric ones for designing, but this one caught my eye. I looked twice and realized that the dividing line between New Mexico and Colorado was missing (you'll also note that Kansas and Oklahoma have joined forces).

I have spent many years now moving back and forth between NM and CO and I wish they would just issue a drivers license and car registration for both states already. This is, I think, the fourth time I've had a CO license.

CDOR agent: Weight?
Rebecca: [hesitates. thinking, 125 right? I am sure if I held my breath I could fit in those skinny jeans.] Sigh. [Guilt, fear of derisive looks for lying because clearly I am NOT 125. Regret for being a bit chubby, though happy!--marriage does that to you.] Sigh. 150.

If I still had that first Colorado license I'd weigh 25 pounds less! Heck, if I still had the NM (slash CO) license from when I was 16... well, lets not go there. I didn't even wear glasses then.

Really I care not a bit about my weight. Like I said, I'm perfectly happy. But the pain of going to the DMV every year for the last I don't know how many to get a new license and registration has worn pretty thin. While waiting, I finished knitting an entire baby hat greatly pleasing the elderly woman watching me knit it. After we'd been there 30 minutes or so, she leaned over and said, I'm afraid you're going to have time to finish that while you wait. I leaned back and said, ma'am, I'm afraid you're right. I left the licensing bureau two hours later, finished hat in hand... probably a few pounds lighter too.

Nope. If Colorado and New Mexico are not going to join forces and help me out with this one, I'm going to have to stay here. 

Here are some trees I'm not afraid of. This is my obsessive holiday knitting project of the year. Pattern by Julie Tarsha. You can get it HERE. I have run out of wine corks and there is still a forest of trees coming. I am sure the solution is to drink more wine, but I'm a lightweight (ignore weight sited above) and I can't possible drink as fast as I can knit.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My holiday gift to you is this short video expressing my joy in tapestry

Happy holidays. We say it over and over. This year I wanted to make something that expressed my love of making things. So I made this little video for you. Enjoy it!
Peace and joy,

Hint: Some of you get these Blogger posts in an emailed format. Videos don't work in email so you have to go to the internet and look at my blog there. The link is: http://rebeccamezoff.blogspot.com/2014/12/my-holiday-gift-to-you-is-this-short.html

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Which tapestry hand beaters are the best?

Tapestry weavers love their tools. A much-loved beater is a necessary companion for the long hours at the loom. Several years ago, Lyn Hart introduced me to beaters made by Magpie Woodworks. These beaters are hand-made in small batches by an expert woodworker. The handles are wood and the teeth are made from dog combs. This makes the teeth smooth and strong. I love my Maggie beaters and guard them rather jealously. Because they are made in small batches they can be hard to get at times, but they are worth the wait.

The same is true for a new company I discovered recently. Threads Thru Time sells a similar sort of beater on their Etsy shop. These are also made with dog combs. (As seen here stamped with Thomas Creations)
It remains to be seen which of these beaters becomes my absolute favorite--you know, the one I don't bring when I teach workshops because I am petrified it will walk. That one. But it doesn't really matter because they are both fabulous tools.

Below is a video showing you these beaters in more detail. I also show you a Snipes beater and some small tools made by Jim Hokett at Hokett Would Work.

A little video tip: If you want to see this video larger (and I do recommend it), click the YouTube icon to see it there or the square icon in the lower right corner to go to full screen. Or you can click HERE.

Snipes beater
Beater from Hokett Would Work
Do you have another favorite hand beater? Perhaps one I don't know about? Please leave a comment below!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A dozen gift ideas for tapestry weavers. (So you don't have to get your tinsel in a tangle!)

Life gets a little nuts around the holidays. It is a beautiful time of the year but it can be hard to stop long enough to find the still joy of it. Buying things for other people can be a happy practice in gratitude and giving or it can be a frustrating proposition. If you are a tapestry weaver or you have a weaver on your gift list, here are a few suggestions. You tapestry weavers might want to forward this post to your main gift-buying love.

1. An online class with Rebecca Mezoff. (You knew that one was going to be first, right?) What better gift could there be than education. My introductory tapestry techniques class is designed to give tapestry weavers a solid foundation in the basic skills. It is offered in several formats and you can find more details on my website HERE. Registration is open now for the class that starts January 5th... just after we've all recovered from the festivities.

2. A membership to the American Tapestry Alliance. ATA is a wonderful organization that every tapestry artist should belong to. The organization works hard to further the knowledge of tapestry in the world. Membership gives you access to a wonderful quarterly newsletter, scads of learning opportunities including workshops and mentorship programs, an online list discussion, juried shows, online exhibitions, educational articles, and the ability to be part of a vibrant community of tapestry artists. Go HERE to sign up!

3. A handbeater. Every tapestry weaver needs a hand beater regardless of the kind of loom they weave on. Threads Thru Time makes lovely beaters that are for sale in their Etsy shop. They are beautiful piece of art that will be a cherished tool for decades. I just got a new set a couple weeks ago and am already in love.
4. A small tapestry loom. A brand new Mirrix loom under the tree is pretty much a dream come true for any tapestry weaver. These sturdy versatile looms are made in the USA. I love them and own more than I will admit to.
5. A large tapestry loom! If you are in the market for a fantastic, solid, American-made piece of equipment, I can't recommend the countermarche Harrisville Rug Loom highly enough. It is my main loom and I will never part with it (though I may have Harrisville Designs make me a larger version!). There are two things on this loom that most floor looms don't have which make it excellent for tapestry: a warp extender (amazing, even warp tension) and a worm gear (infinite ability to loosen and tighten the warp). See the loom HERE. Check out this great video about Harrisville--woodshop shown at the end.

6. Jim Hokett is a woodworker who married a weaver. He makes wonderful small weaving tools (and some wonderful large ones too!) in his workshop in Magdalena, New Mexico. I teach a class using his small looms. These little lap looms and the tools that go with them are a fantastic gift for someone who already has a fleet of tapestry looms or for someone who is just starting out and wants to see what tapestry is all about. Take a tour of his blog to see some of the wonderful things he makes. Hokett Would Work (he also has a great sense of humor). Jim sells some of his things through The Woolery or you can contact him directly. I love these little 7 x 8 inch looms, his 7 inch shed stick, and his small turned beaters for starters.
7. Yarn. Every weaver needs yarn. Sometimes the best policy if you don't know what to get someone is to get a gift certificate so your weaver can choose their own fiber. The basic tapestry yarn I use for my students and online classes is made by Harrisville Designs. I buy undyed Harrisville Highland (color #44) and dye it myself. So if your weaver is a dyer, this is a great base yarn. You can also buy this yarn already dyed in cones or skeins.

One of my new favorite yarns (used in the above picture of the little weaving on the Hokett loom) is made by Weavers Bazaar. This yarn is made in England, but the shipping over the pond for small amounts is incredibly reasonable. Matty and Lin are the friendliest people and they can help you choose a good sample bag for your weaver. They even have gift packs all made up in various colorways.

There are a few other ideas about yarn sources in this blog post of mine.

8. An umbrella swift. Every yarn user needs a swift and a ball winder. If you buy yarn in skeins, it has to be made into balls before you can use it. Yes, you can have your wife hold it on her hands while you wind it into a ball by hand, but that may eventually lead to some marital tension due to the length of time it takes to do this. I use THIS ball winder (available in many places). There are various swifts out there of varying cost. I like THESE little metal ones. HERE is another wooden option.

9. A few fun gifts.
What weaver doesn't like to send cards with sheep on them? HERE are some cute ones. And HERE is another set of holiday cards picturing weavers.
Does your weaver put stickers on their car or elsewhere? HERE is one of a floor loom.
How about a T-shirt with weaverly stuff on it? THIS one is especially good. Weavers ARE warped.
HERE are some tote bags with various funny things on them.
What about THIS one?
I think this weaver needs to take up tapestry in retirement. I frequently say that tapestry weaving is a hedge against dementia and possibly insanity.

10. Bobbins. Many tapestry weavers use them. These brassy bobs made by John Moss and sold by Kathe Todd-Hooker at Fine Fiber Press are absolutely beautiful.
11. BOOKS! Books are always a good choice in my estimation. There are so many great books about tapestry out there. Here are a few of my more recent suggestions and a few classics.
  • Jean Pierre Larochette's recent book The Tree of Lives. See THIS blog post for details.
  • The Thread's Course in Tapestry by Mete Lise Rossing. See THIS post for details.
  • Any of Kathe Todd-Hooker's tapestry books. I especially recommend Tapestry 101 and Line in Tapestry.
  • If your tapestry weaver is interested in color (and who isn't?), I recommend a study of Joannes Itten. The Art of Color: the subjective experience and objective rationale of color is perhaps the best book about color out there--at least it is the one everyone should start with. The full version costs more than $100, but it is a gorgeous large-format book and I highly recommend it. If you can't swing the big book, there are smaller versions with less text and just a few plates. Here it is on Amazon. Try bookfinder.com for a good used copy.
  • Woven Color by James Koehler. This is the autobiography of a tapestry weaver from the southwestern US. James was my mentor and teacher and this is his story from growing up in Michigan to his life as a benedictine monk to his career as a tapestry weaver. It is full of color plates of his work and pictures from his life. He finished this book in 2010 and passed away unexpectedly in 2011. This book is his voice now. See THIS video for more about James.
  • Tapestry Handbook: The Next Generation by Carol Russell. This is an old standard. This second edition is full of gorgeous tapestries. The text is about tapestry technique and while it isn't a super comprehensive manual, it is extremely solid and a book that all tapestry weavers should have on their shelves.
  • This is a book my mom got me for Christmas a few years ago and it has an honored place on my tapestry bookshelf. The Art of Modern Tapestry: Dovecot Studios since 1912 by David Weir. I most certainly want to visit this swimming-pool-turned-tapestry-studio, so if anyone has some extra frequent flier miles and a time-share in Edinburgh, I'm open!
12. An in-person workshop -- make a trip out of it! If your weaver loves to travel and take event workshops, I am teaching my popular Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry class in Golden, Colorado April 30 - May 3. Registration for that is now open and you can find out more HERE. If that class isn't the one, I'll be teaching a color theory class and a few others at the Michigan League of Handweavers conference in Holland, MI in June. Registration for that is not yet open. And there will be more classes offered in Crested Butte and Golden, Colorado in the fall.

Have a wonderful holiday season. Drink the egg nog. Go see the Christmas lights. Play in the snow with some little kids. Love each other. Weave something!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why would you weave a tapestry from the back?

"Really? You weave your tapestries from the back? How do you know what it looks like?"

I get this question a lot when students come to one of my classes for the first time. I try to let them know ahead of time, but many miss the message. I let them weave from the front. I even teach them how to do it. But I continue to make my work woven from the back.

If that isn't bad enough, I also use a low-warp loom. Yes. I weave my tapestries on a horizontal loom with treadles. And it even has a beater. And I use it. I know. Crazy.

For those of you who don't understand, I can only list the reasons why... and then shrug a little and tell you that this is how I learned.

Let me give you a few reasons why you might want to try it.

1.  For the first I'll defer to a true master. When reading Jean Pierre Larochette's new book The Tree of Lives recently (see excerpts in this post), I came across this passage. Given the well-deserved reverence for the name Jean Pierre Larochette in tapestry circles, I feel just a little smug in quoting this from page 317-8 (just in case you have the book and want to make sure I wasn't making this up).
I do not intend to eulogize low-warp weaving. But feeling the urge of a vanishing species -- the low-warp, weaving-from-the-back tapestry weaver -- I have to point out that there is an experience, regardless of the merits of the outcome there is a physical and mental experience that is unique to the practice of weaving from the back. Of course I am thinking about the weaver's experience, but to some extent this is perceived by the viewer, too. It is part of the enchantment and attraction that tapestry exerts on us. Weaving from the back allows for the inclusion of the intuitive, that which transcends the individual effect of any artist, beyond the analytical eye-driven decision making process. The sensorial wholesomeness of the traditional approach has inspired weavers of all ages. As in any art form, weaving is an attempt to capture and communicate an idea. The idea in the artist's mind, always elusive, can be expressed only by approximation, lyrical suggestion. The tapestry expression is best fulfilled when it retains its poetic spirit. In the effort toward visual control the woven image is often dissected to such an extent that, although we may admire its well-crafted quality, that which speaks to our emotions is lost.*
2.  Another giant of contemporary tapestry weaving, Archie Brennan, began weaving from the back. Somewhere along the way he switched to weaving from the front. He has frequently stated (or at least it is frequently repeated by tapestry weavers) that weaving from the back is driven by technique and weaving from the front is driven by image. In a world where WYSIWYG**, perhaps this is the way it should be. All I know is that mysterious quality that Jean Pierre talks about in the quote above is something that is important to me.

3.  Technique. Several techniques I use frequently are easier from the back. One is a jump-over technique which is just a form of regular hatching. I hate trying to fish those pairs of butterflies out from behind every other sequence and have much more success with their placement and color change from the back. Another is splicing. I love having a clean back to my tapestries. It makes them float in the air, means they can be thin and flat, and sometimes seen from the back. So I like to splice my tails so I can snip off the ends instead of sewing them in, and it is easier to splice with the tails coming toward you. And the one interlock join I use (see this video) leaves a flatter join when woven from the back. Other people use joins like the double weft interlock which also are easier from the back.

4.  When weaving from the front you are in constant contact with the front side of your work which makes it harder to keep it clean over the length of a project. This is probably more of an issue on a low-warp loom where the fabric goes across the breast beam than a high-warp loom.

5.  I get the surprise of seeing a piece I have never seen before when I cut it off. No matter how I think I know what it will look like, I don't. Fun, right?

6.  It is hard to teach an old dog new tricks. I like it my way.

I suppose the unfortunate majority of you who weave from the front will come back with something like, "but I can see exactly what I'm doing!" And in response to that, I send you back to Jean Pierre.
*Larochette, J.P., Lurie, Y (2014). The Tree of Lives: Adventures Between Warp and Weft. Berkeley, CA: Genesis Press.
**What You See is What You Get

Monday, November 24, 2014

The process... so much happens before you start weaving a tapestry

Do you ever get completely carried away with something and just don't want to stop? I started dyeing yarn for my new piece a few weeks ago and I just kept finding new colors I wanted to try. I was forced to stop by sudden sub-zero temperatures and freezing fingers, even in the garage. I considered cranking up the heaters, but decided the universe was trying to tell me, enough already.

Though I like to think that a new tapestry is something I can just jump into, it turns out my process is somewhat ponderous. Slow. Doesn't so much turn on a dime as pivots like an 18-wheeler. My current piece is no exception.

I wrote a bit about the design and cartoon process in THIS blog post. I had the first version of this piece ready to go when I had my studio in Santa Fe. Actually, I even started the piece last spring and had to cut it off when we moved. Then change happened and the design evolved and the new piece took awhile to arrive out of the ether or wherever new designs come from. (Hint: They come from a lot of very hard work.)

Once the design was largely finished I started the process of finding the right colors. I have quite a lot of yarn on my shelves, but it is all leftover from old pieces, dye experiments, and teaching. Most of the balls are no longer tagged and I have no idea what dye formulas I used to create them. In a large piece like this, I have to have enough yarn and I wanted to be able to replicate the colors should I run out (frankly unlikely since I dye enough to cover castle walls though I don't have a castle).

I was having so much fun dyeing, it went on and on.
Eventually I created this matrix of purples. This are three different purple formulas with two further options for each color, one toned with black and one with brown.
I did some sampling with these yarns and eventually I decided on the specific combination for the piece and dyed five more intermediate colors for a gradation for four of the sets from that matrix.
I also dyed a bunch of these fall-like colors for another aspect of the piece.
The weather has gotten warmer again and there were a "few more" colors to dye (turns out a few is 30 for me). There was a large part of the design for which I was going to use a set of colors from another tapestry. After sampling, that idea went out the window. There was too much black in it and I needed something lighter.

So today was a 12-pot day. Thirty colors, three days. Normally I wouldn't do 12 colors in a day, but I couldn't bear one more day of it. The glittery fun that is dyeing my own yarn lost its luster about 15 pots ago.

Monday, November 17, 2014

My Untitled/Unjuried piece... Personals

I think I got exactly zero comments on my piece in the American Tapestry Alliance's Untitled/Unjuried show in Rhode Island last summer. Perhaps it puzzled people. Perhaps it wasn't interesting. Or perhaps they just didn't want to ask if the word "lesbian" was really woven into it.
The answer is yes.
The piece is called Personals.
I wove this piece years ago and for whatever reason felt that this was the opportunity to put it in a show.

Posting this piece on my blog is a bit of a risk. It shouldn't be, but it still feels that way. I haven't made the fact that I am married to a woman a secret in this space, but if you really wanted to ignore it, you could. It is a risk because my livelihood rides in large part on people respecting me and what I do. And lets face it. There are many people out there who don't understand people like me.

People like me.
You know. The LGBTQ (sometimes there are more letters added... just go with it) people. Fortunately the world in general has lightened up a bit in the last decade on this "issue". Thank goodness for that. (Frankly, I just hope that we've finally realized there are FAR more important things to spend time debating than the gender of someone's partner.)

This piece was woven quite a few years ago. It was conceived of years before that. Before I met the love that I spend my days with now. Back when I was lonely and wandering through northern New Mexico wishing for connections of some kind somewhere. In one of those lonely swirling moments, a friend I worked with saw me pumping gas at a little station in Taos, pulled up next to me and said (though she is fiercely straight), "Lesbians. Wanted. Here." It was a lovely, sweet, friendly thing to do in a moment I really needed someone to tell me that I was okay.

I scribbled this little design down in my journal a few days later and there it lived until I resurrected it on my first Mirrix.

So there you have it. Lesbians wanted here. It was intended as a question. One design of this piece had a large transparent W at the beginning of the word here, which is, you may have noticed, already backwards.
Where indeed?

Perhaps this was exactly the perfect piece for a show called Untitled/Unjuried. Personally, I'd prefer to be both.

The Untitled/Unjuried American Tapestry Alliance show was lovely. A huge thanks to Janet Austin and her team for putting it together and displaying it at Convergence in Providence last summer. It was a show full of delightful things and I recommend, if you're a catalog collector like me, that you get one for yourself and see what marvelous little things people made for it. I wrote more about it HERE.