Thursday, August 27, 2015

A day at Rebecca Mezoff Tapestry Studio, LLC

6:45. Alarm. Fuzz. I am so slow to wake up.
Then I remember. Whoot! Another day in tapestry-land.

Walk. Breakfast.

The grueling commute down the hall to the office takes all of two seconds.

Arriving at work, the team meets to review the plans for the day.
Today is a video day. Do I need wardrobe? Heck yes I need wardrobe. I always do, but alas, that position hasn't been filled yet so whatever is in my closet that doesn't have pizza stains on the front is what I will wear. I might even iron. But not today. Today the video includes only my hands (quick check for dirt or gross hairs, pimples, moles, or anything that needs to be covered with a bandaid... looking good).

Today I'm finishing a shaped pick and pick video for the Color Gradation Techniques online course. Then I'm weaving two transparency examples for another section of the same course. Think I can finish three small tapestries in one day? We shall see!

But before the video shooting commences, there is teaching to be done.
Heading to the classroom...
I answer questions for the ongoing online classes. Sometimes they are all-consuming and it takes me much of a day to do a good job addressing them. Other days, and today is one of these, it takes just a few minutes to catch up. Thursdays and Fridays are the slowest days in my virtual classroom.

Today it is just some feedback on a regular hatching sample (well done) and some tips about weft tension (warps drawing together for a few inches in one spot of the weaving which is beginning to cause other problems). I take a close zoom in on the student samples I'm examining looking for problems that they don't know might be coming down the road. If I can head off some frustration, I have a better chance of helping them feel successful.

Quick troll through the email inbox for anything that has to be answered right away. Another 2017 conference scheduled, a webinar outline reviewed, a few random answers to questions about upcoming online classes sent off and I'm done with the computer for a few hours.

Then I'm off to the video room in the basement for my day of weaving pick and pick and transparencies.
Some days include long long stretches of computer work. Mostly video editing and writing. My boss sometimes lets me do a little spinning or knitting when waiting for a video to upload or if I get too cranky.
8 pm update:
I had an unexpected trip to the grocery store (out of eggs, milk, cereal, vegetables, fruit, yogurt... pretty much all food). So the weaving workload was not completed. I made a good dent in it though.

I finished the pick and pick sample. See evidence below, and it was woven from the front(!!) Next sample I'll actually use a cartoon.
And I did 2/3rds of the first transparency sample. This is clearly the back.
All things considered, I got quite a lot done today.

I'm off to do some spinning and read a fascinating book by Deborah Chandler: Traditional Weavers of Guatemala. I highly recommend it!

Tomorrow is another day.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

The teacher... tapestry mostly

I love weaving tapestry. I hope that much is obvious.

I also love teaching. I have been a teacher in one form or another for most of my life. My younger sister and I played "school" when we were kids*, my undergraduate degree was in music with a focus on piano pedagogy**, and my graduate degree and 17-year career was in occupational therapy. That is in-the-trenches kind of teaching in every sort of situation you can think of.*** There has been plenty of continuing education since then in teaching practices, but the actual work and feedback from students is the best instruction.

I love the two sorts of teaching I do now. The online courses are wonderful. I have the luxury of focusing on one student at a time without interruption. I love watching someone progress over months. Initial stumbles and frustration slowly move into a little confidence and finally to work they are proud of.

I will also admit that I love developing curriculum. I've learned a lot from my students and have a lot more to learn. Nothing I do is static. It changes and becomes better all the time. When a module isn't clear to someone, I make extra videos and handouts until they understand it... and eventually the whole thing is updated.

I also love teaching workshops. The chaos of twelve or sixteen people all interested in different results, all with different questions, and the challenge of moving all of them through a body of material I am prepared to teach in a few days is exhilarating... and exhausting. But I won't stop teaching workshops because I learn so much there. (I am particularly excited about the workshop line-up for next year and I can't wait to tell you all about it! But it'll be a few more months.)

Sometimes the stress of teaching online while developing new courses is pretty high. Right now I'm working as hard as I've ever worked to finish an online version of Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry. I have taught this class in workshops for years and somehow I thought I could just basically teach a three-day workshop in front of my video camera and be done. Ha! Nothing could be farther from the truth. I should have known better. It took me over a year to make Warp and Weft: Learning the Structure of Tapestry (my beginning techniques course) and that is about how long I've been working on this course.

I'm the kind of person who likes to tackle big projects. This is dangerous when creating something out of my head because I tend to make things rather large. Those of you who have taken all of Warp and Weft online understand that I am like this. I can't just leave some particular explanation out. I have to weave it into a video or draw a diagram or somehow include it because someone is going to need that information.

This isn't always the best way to teach. There are people who like things shorter. Neat packages. In and out in a few tight videos.

So in converting the Color Gradation Techniques class to an online version, I have done both things. It will be offered in one large course. That is for those of you who are like me. Who want to dive into something big, revel in the commitment, and find yourself somewhere entirely different after you've put in the work of the entire class. You all are my soulmates and this one is for you.

For those of you who want the neater packages, I will also offer the class in another way. There are six modules and each one will be offered as a separate class. This has added a lot of time to my completion of the course as I'm now working on making each of those modules stand alone.

So know that I'm working as hard as I can. Some of you have been waiting oh-so-patiently for many months now. It will be ready in (she takes a deep breath) ... September. I promise. I will announce the opening date in my newsletter on 9/3/15. (Sign up HERE if you don't already get it!)

PS. Warp and Weft: Learning the Structure of Tapestry, my beginning tapestry techniques course starts again September 14th. You can find more information and a registration link HERE. Don't worry, you can take it in three separate parts and there are no due dates. You can take five years to work through the material if you want to!
* I might have even let her be the teacher sometimes, you'd have to ask her.
** I wrote a preschool piano method as an honors thesis for goodness sake. It seemed ground-breaking at the time. People didn't teach three-year-olds to play the piano. It was 1994 and the computer graphics program I had to use was limited to basic shapes and text. You can image what it looked like. (Nevertheless, magna cum laude!!!)
*** New SCI (spinal cord injury) in the ICU? Been there. Rancho Level IV head injury in a 35-year-old on a locked unit with fifty friends and family members all individually wanting to know when she can get back to her job as a lawyer? Been there. Non-verbal autistic kid whose parents don't want "special" classrooms for their daughter but want her to function exactly like her classmates in the regular first-grade (and second and third and sixth-grade) classroom? Been there. The stories go on forever... or at least seventeen years.
Teaching Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry in a live workshop in Michigan.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

"What IS tapestry these days, anyhow?"

A few months ago I spotted a comment by Sarah Swett on the listserv for the American Tapestry Alliance, ATA-Talk. She had been to an estate sale of a weaver and found an issue of Interweave from 1979 which mentioned a woman named Marian Mezoff. Sarah brought the magazine home and wondered if Marian was related to me. The question Marian asked in the editorial was and is a good one.

Marian Mezoff is indeed my grandmother. She doesn't weave anymore, but I have discussed her past weaving antics on this blog. (And here.) I absolutely believe she was a charter subscriber to Interweave. That is exactly who my grandmother was. In on anything weaving from the beginning.

Interweave was the first magazine. Before Handwoven, long before F+W Media bought Interweave from whoever bought it before them, before there were a thousand daily emails and a hundred magazines... back when Linda Ligon first started the whole shebang. This issue was called Tapestry.

Here is the quote I am interested in in Linda Ligon's editorial (Spring 1979). Linda is talking about the column, Interweave is People, and wanted to talk about "some of the folks who have invested a piece of themselves in what you see before you."
Well, there's charter subscriber Marian Mezoff over in Tulsa who bothered to write a year or so ago and ask, "What is tapestry these days, anyhow?" And when that had simmered long enough to be announced as an issue theme, Nancy Crump, up in Whately, Mass., wrote up to say that she's been developing a lot of ideas about designing for tapestry, and could she share? And Ann Hunt down in Littleton, Colo. called to say she knew this neat lady working in the Gobelin tradition. . . . 
What I am interested in is my grandmother's question and also the fact that she asked it. We, as humans, always think that our time is the end time, or the worst time, or the best time, or that our ideas are all new. But clearly in 1979, questions about what tapestry is occurred to my grandmother. She was 56 years old then and about to start her bachelors degree in fiber art. (She graduated when she was 60.)

Aren't we still asking these same questions about tapestry? What is it? Why do we do it?

Archie Brennan is sometimes quoted as saying that tapestry is “an indulgent, elitist, economically farcical and frequently boring, 20th century activity”.* With the humor Archie undoubtedly stated it, I think we can recognize some of the truth in that. Tapestry is slow and many of us use practices that prolong the time even more (spin or dye our own yarn, work at very very small setts, make massive pieces we'll never sell, fill our houses with looms, work high on scaffolding, the list could go on and on). I know of few tapestry weavers who made a living just by selling their work (economically farcical?), and in the history of tapestry, it is clear that the art form was elitist... largely because only the rich could afford to pay someone to make such a labor-intensive work of art to hang on a castle wall.

For me, it all comes down to this. I can't NOT do tapestry. I suspect the answer, for those of us who choose to spend our days making and teaching tapestry, is the same. It is what we do because we love it and we can't imagine using another art form.

My grandmother had some strong opinions about what art is and is not. That definition undoubtedly changes with the times. Many of us who weave traditionally-based tapestry have questioned the new craze among weavers using frame tapestry looms, many of whom are young. It is easy to criticize the lack of skill (perceived) and the belief that seems prevalent that they invented this mode of expression. (If you are interested in seeing some of these weavings, look on Instagram under the hashtag #weaving or #weaversofinstagram.)

But it isn't new. There is nothing new under the sun. Tapestry has been around as long as people have been weaving which is a long damn time. Does it really matter that we follow certain rules? That we subscribe to a certain school ("I weave in the Aubusson tradition." "I use bobbins and weave up in shapes"). Tradition is likely important, but so is encouraging new interest in a very old art form.

How can we do that the best? How can a group of tapestry weavers who has been around for decades making gorgeous things, showing them in the same shows, loving each other's work, selling it for far too little, and teaching when we can, encourage a crop of newly interested weavers who want to make textiles that hang decoratively on the wall?

What is tapestry these days, anyhow?

It is a good question grandma. I don't know that there is ever going to be one answer. I think we have to embrace all of it, make what we need to make, teach what we know, and enjoy learning from each other. Is that too inclusive? Do we need to create a dichotomy where contemporary tapestry is a revered art form which came from certain European traditions (and I argue that that in itself is not the case) and push to have it auctioned at Sotheby's and shown more frequently at MOMA? I guess I don't know and each of us will have our own opinion on the matter. Those of us who make a living in tapestry certainly do want it to sell, and perhaps selling is linked closely to the image of the art form in the public eye. But I don't think we can push the professional image at the expense of the craft, if only for the sake of the new learners.

Perhaps some of an answer comes later in that issue of Interweave in an article called,  An Approach to Tapestry, by Laya Brostoff.**
Tapestry art serves a greater purpose than mere reproduction, whether abstracted or representational. It helps us understand ourselves and our place in the world. Each of us experiences reality in a different way and our realization of it, our weaving of it, in a tangible form, will also differ. No one style is right for everyone and new styles and their variations and mixtures with old ones will continue to act as avenues for new expressions woven in new ways....
Most contemporary tapestry practice is done by weavers who are also the designer of the work. That means that a tapestry weaver needs a huge skill set from the initial design idea through creating the actual design to being able to manage all the techniques needed to successfully render a design in tapestry. I won't even get into marketing the finished work!

Some people don't have or don't want all those skills. I maintain (don't shoot me!) that learning tapestry weaving as a craft and a hobby is absolutely valid and that most people who weave tapestry are not interested in having their work shown at the Tate. And that is okay. The difficult thing is how we talk about it. If professional tapestry artists talk about tapestry in reverential tones, it is not going to be attractive to new weavers. Why not knit instead? The knitters have their culture nailed. Knitters are everywhere.

I think tapestry has the ability to push people to learn about design and color and form. And it is just challenging enough to push the learner to expand themselves. And in that way it is a good thing for a hobbyist to pursue. My question is, can we as professional tapestry weavers embrace those newly interested and especially those who do not want to be professionals? Can we share the word tapestry with them and love their experiments and learning? I think we have to. At least it'll be a happier world if we do.

Thanks for asking the good questions grandma. I love you!

*I have heard Archie quoted thus before, but have never heard it straight from his mouth or found a written source. This particular quote came from an interview with Sarah Swett on Syne Mitchell's Weavecast.
UPDATE: Exact quote from Archie Brennan in the World Tapestry Today catalog in his artist statement is: "I work in a minor art form. Tapestry is an indulgent, elitist, economically farcical, and frequently boring 20th century activity." I bet this is the Archie statement that is most often repeated. The catalog is from 1988.
**Brostoff, Laya. "An Approach to Tapestry." Interweave Spring 1979: 27-35. Print.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

A little handspun for tapestry

I never thought I would consider handspun that I made my very self for tapestry. Heck, I never thought I would be a spinner. I avoided all things spinning for about a decade. I was too busy with the actual weaving. And honestly, I thought my tendency toward OCD would kick in big time with a task like spinning. It is kind of true as is evidenced by last week's five day spinning bonanza.

It turns out that spinning is a fantastic way to learn about fiber. I have learned more in the last six months about how different fibers act than in the rest of my fibery life.

I had a little time in the mountains last week. And I took my new Turkish spindle. I love it more than I ever thought possible. In fact, I did little else besides spin and play with these urchins.

This particular get-up was my favorite. The backpack was mandatory and she was the one who wanted the hat backwards. And her favorite sandals with socks of course.

My niece and I are making willow weavings. This first one was for her Mom. For three and a half, she did a great job with the knots.
We took a couple hikes. I was pretty impressed these littles could hike a couple miles. The youngest is 19 months!

I took the spindle on the hikes of course. How could I not?

I even finished these little weavings from our last backpacking trip in preparation for doing a mini-tapestry with the handspun.
As soon as I can find some time on the deck with a Hokett loom, I'll start!

After five days of spindle spinning, I can definitely say that I'm getting better. I had a lot more trouble spinning the CVM roving (the brown) than the unidentified Brown Sheep Mill end roving (the blue) I think because the staple length of the CVM was much shorter and I had more trouble controlling the drafting with it. But I'm getting better and soon I'll have a little brown and blue tapestry to show for it.
Spending time with kids is a good way to remember this. A piece of bark was never so exciting as through the eyes of a toddler.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Rebecca's 8 Tips for warping a tapestry loom

Travel Warping hacks!

Okay, many of these hacks refer to warping a Mirrix loom. But most of my students are using them and these are the questions I see come up again and again. A few of these ideas apply to any tapestry loom.

The video below shows some of the things I do to make warping this loom easier. It isn't a hard loom to warp, it is just different than the big floor looms many of us are used to. There are no warping boards in Mirrix-land.

Here are some of the points I cover in this video.

  1. Leave at least three inches of threaded rod for stability. You don't even want to know what happens when you don't do this.
  2. Which direction do I start warping, up or down? I know you're on the edge of your seats waiting for the answer for that one!
  3. How to keep warps from getting twisted with their neighbors. (no alcohol is involved here--and can I just say that if this particular thing drives you nutty, just buy the bottom spring for your loom. Seriously.)
  4. Double selvedge warps. I'm not the only one who does this... and I love it!
  5. Using a guide thread. Nope, I don't do this, but it can be helpful if you struggle with your selvedges or weft tension.
  6. Moving the warping bar down. Don't forget to do this... or your warp will be much shorter!
  7. How to put the heddles on without throwing the loom through a window. To be honest, I like putting heddles on the Mirrix. The texsolv heddles are wonderful and somehow I don't have trouble seeing the pattern or getting them on without mistakes. Of course that could also just be because I've warped a lot of these looms. Don't resort to violence (I always advocate a glass of wine if you're allowed). Here are some easy hacks to help.
  8. Block the second layer of warp from view. So easy. So helpful. Just do it. I like gray but any color works.
As usual, if you receive this blog post via email, you need to visit my blog in your internet browser to see the video. Go to Or go see it on my YouTube channel and subscribe while you're there!

My last tip is that perhaps we all need a studio assistant as helpful as Topaz.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

All the tapestry bits... pieces from around the world in Line Dufour's Fate, Destiny, and Self-Determination

I was invited to participate in Line Dufour's Fate, Destiny, and Self-Determination installation at Regis University in Denver, Colorado. I have been excited to see this show because the thought of hundreds of little colored shapes made by all different artists all over the world and put together in one exhibition is pretty exciting. And I got the chance to see it in Denver this weekend and  to show one of my large pieces.

The main Fate piece has two "ends" which you can see in the first two photos here. All the little pieces from all over the world are scattered between them.

Fate, Destiny, Self-Determination (detail) and Rebecca Mezoff, Emergence I
This project was created by Toronto tapestry artist, Line Dufour. She was interested in the impact of social media on our practice as artists and its ability to connect people working largely in isolation. It also allowed her to bring together artists who contributed pieces to the project. She is also thinking about issues of physicality and the actual making of objects.
Tapestry weaving is a slow, laborious and manual practice, a contrast to the speed at which social media weaves word threads of connection to others.
You can read the rest of the above excerpted article in HandEye magazine HERE.

Rebecca Mezoff, Emergence I

Sarah Swett, Line Dufour, and Alex Marriott

David Johnson

Margaret Sunday, Penelope Dissembling in Fracutopia
Penelope Dissembling in Fracutopia (detail)
Viewing this piece was delightful. I walked around and around it and every time I saw new things. It is great fun. Bring a child for the best viewing. They notice everything.

Visit the project's Facebook page HERE, and if you are a weaver, make a shape for the project!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Dragonflies are handy that way... weaving curves with Sarah Swett

Much of the time life just hums along, the same as usual. But now and then there are a few days that shift that regular world a little or a lot. Last week's workshop with Sarah Swett was one of those seismic shifts. The workshop was called Follow That Line! and it was held in Golden, Colorado, at The Recycled Lamb. It was put on by the American Tapestry Alliance.
Sarah Swett, Dinner Dazzle (detail)
I have tried and tried to put words to the experience that was this workshop and I just can't sum it up in any way at all. Here are a few snippets and some photos. I guess this is my journey, so go find your own!

I learned not to hold the way you do things too closely. Opening fists clenched tightly around "the way I do it" opened me up for immediate experimentation and, I quickly found, fun. It wasn't really hard to let go. No one could resist entering Sarah's world of imagination... and I'm not much of a closed fist kind of person anyway.

The truth is, there are a million things about tapestry. There are so many ways to go over and under a set of warp threads. So many things we debate--warp, weft, looms, finishing, starting, selvedge technique, tension, image.

Just over and under. Really.

This is some of what Sarah said. But mostly she lives by example.
I want to know what is going to happen and I don't... until I weave it.
Set things up so it is impossible not to do what you really want to be doing.
Try to be really clear.
Start the day as you mean to go on.
Dragonflies are handy that way...
Be consistent.
There is too much information in a photograph.
Jack Lenor Larsen's "unfortunate fringe" might be just the thing.
Try it. (She didn't say that one. But she might have. I think it is what she meant by the whole workshop.)

Sarah Swett, Cucumber Sandwiches, 14 x 12 inches, hand-woven tapestry, wool, natural dyes

Sarah Swett, Scribbles, 14 x 18 inches, hand-woven tapestry, wool, natural dye
Sarah Swett, margin notes

Cheryl Nachtrieb (Recycled Lamb owner), Sarah Swett (tapestry artist, educator), Barb Brophy (ATA Education Board Chair), Rebecca Mezoff (resident goof)

Rebecca Mezoff, workshop sampler
By the way, the rumors are true. The tapestries pictured here of Sarah's are all woven with her handspun weft. A significant portion of them also have handspun warp.
And yes, as shocking as it is to some of us, she wet finishes them. That means they are washed. In water. Given a bath. Wet. And spun in the washer.
Whew. I'm still trying to open the fists clenched against the weft finishing ...

You can find Sarah's virtual world on her website here:

Now go weave something.