Wednesday, February 17, 2016

How long did that take you to weave?

I get that question a lot.
How long did that take you to weave?
Sometimes the question is half-shrieked. The silence as they wait for an answer feels a little tinged with anxiety, perhaps fraught.

The answer in the past has always been some vague statement about the process being more important than the time it takes. There is undoubtedly some actual number of hours that a tapestry took to produce, but frankly I have little idea what that number actually is. One time I kept track on a medium-sized piece and the number was 210. But I didn't subtract the trips to the bathroom or the making of tea (those two things are related). And I never to counted the months of designing or the weeks of dyeing yarn and winding balls. Or the finishing or photographing. I'm getting a little woozy thinking about it.

All in all, a tapestry takes a long time to be born.

So I have a new answer to that most troubling of questions.
The answer is, "It depends on the number of decisions I have to make." (Frankly it also depends on the number of cups of tea I drink because of the bathroom thing and how many times I get interrupted by annoying life details which usually involve email or money.)

Decisions. Of course they all have to be made at some point. But I can tell you that if I'm in a stretch of weaving where all the colors and forms have been decided, the weaving flies by. So a piece that is part of a series might actually take a lot less time if it is related to something I've done before. I've already made the decisions.

I'm pretty sure most tapestry weavers hate the "how long did that take" question. We're not sure if it is better for it to be a small number or a large one or if the person asking even really understands what any number at all means anyway. Until someone sits at a loom and experiences the placing of pick after pick themselves, the way time flows while weaving won't be something they understand. Time is different at the loom. It is both slower and faster.

And so the length of time a tapestry takes is the time it takes. But I maintain that number of decisions play a big part in it.


There is always that person who won't back down until a they get a number. I now just say something like, "It took 593 hours to make this." Then I smile sweetly and walk away. They shouldn't argue with the price after that.

Don't waste your time with explanations: people only hear what they want to hear.
 -- Paulo Coelho                            

What is your experience with this question? I'd love to hear it in the comments.
If you liked this post, please share it!
You can follow my daily process photos on Instagram at @rebeccamezofftapestry. I am almost done with a big tapestry. No, I don't know how many hours it took. Probably 593.

24 comments:

  1. I now tell people, "many years." I'm self taught for the most part and it has literally taken that long for me to create and weave what I think of as a tapestry. For those who have had the advantage of art school or such perhaps the timeline is shorter.

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    1. This is true! My father says this about music making also. How much time did it take to learn to play that piece? His whole life. Same thing for weaving a tapestry. I don't think school has anything at all to do with it. It is still a process and whether you go to university in art or not, it takes practice of the craft to get anywhere.

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  2. can you imagine what the time would be if the tapestry was hand spun!? (uh hum- initials are SS)

    I do mostly conventional weaving (not tapestry), but that still takes a while. Some people don't understand that when they loose the hand spun, hand woven scarf that I made just for them, I could have just wasted at least 40 hours worth of work. Maybe someone who appreciates it will take it home and love it!

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    1. Uh huh... but if you are spinning every moment of the day (like when you're walking down the sidewalk), perhaps more gets finished. ;-)
      I give handmade items only after a lot of thought. I learned the hard way after giving some knitted items to an in-law for Christmas who didn't understand what they were or that they represented many hours of loving creation. Better to sell them to someone who understands or gift them to people who know than have them lost or uncared for.

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  3. I love the, "593 hours" reply, Rebecca.

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    1. I think I'm going to try that out when I finish this tapestry. It seems like a good number. We'll see what the response is.

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  4. Hi Rebecca,
    I love the 593 hours response too. My coiled pieces take a long time--they're sort of like three dimensional tapestries. More than once, people have suggested I just wrap and glue rather than take all that time. My response to comments like that remains silent--though loud in my head!!

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    1. Hi Lin!.......I know how long your tapestries take as I have taken your class.....:) I think my tiny bowl may have taken me 60 hours!!......

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  5. It also depends on how much "unweaving" you have to do. This from a woman who just finished unweaving a little sky. :(
    But I know I will be glad later.

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    1. Well that is certainly true. Nothing like going backwards.

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  6. I seem to get the comments like you know they sell stuff like that a pottery barn:( no I say they do not they sell things made by machines I'm not a machine I'm a person that loves this outlet for all the stuff in my head that's just flying around waiting for me to grab hold of it and get it down on paper then the fun starts and out comes the fiber.

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    1. That Pottery Barn thing is the WORST. Don't listen to them. They have no clue.

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  7. Pottery barn is a step above Walmart which is what I have heard! I am not a tapestry weaver but do mostly scarves and runners and I get that all the time. I say 35 years which is how long I have been weaving and learning......that said, I should be better than I am after all those years!....:(

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    1. These are not your people... your people understand the beauty of a handwoven textile.

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  8. I keep time sheets, little sticky notes on each loom. I deduct 10 minutes for tea/bathroom breaks for each cup of tea (usually two/day). When I pull out a time sheet and say, "That one took 240 hours" or "This one took 75 hours" people get it. They always want to know how long it took. Then they understand the price better, as in "WOW! That's why it's so expensive!" Yep. That's why.

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    1. You're so organized LaDonna. I could try again, but I fear I'll never get an accurate count. Maybe if I had something like a timer that was triggered when I sit on the bench and stops when I get off and just adds time... that is probably the only way.

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  9. How do you decide that what you're making is worth the time? If you've been struck by the glow of a tree as the gloaming rays hit it, you start a tapestry (a poem, a painting, a story) to convey that beauty.... and three weeks later think, "Hmm. This is nice, but now I could do better. Or, at least, I want to do it differently now." Do you make dozens of little 3 by 3 tapestries, things that get finished quickly so you can absorb the learning, the settling of an idea into shapes and colors - sketches, you could call them, I suppose - and then launch into the 593-hour, 4 foot by 9 foot tapestry? Or have you learned to accept, wallow in, glory in, the time it takes to make a full-sized piece?

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    1. The impossible question. The joy is from making and if the making is joyful, then I think it is worth the time... three inches square or three thousand inches square.

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  10. Wonderful post, Coelho quote and 593 hours! True in the quilt world, too!

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  11. Hey Rebecca, ever since I heard the word "grok" I realized we needed more words like it: Words that convey the deeper process required to understand something. That you can't reduce creation of art into the typical capitalistic "value of my time". Perhaps this is just such a place to have a new word. Something that would shift people's perspectives enough that instead of thinking; hmmm, 593 hours, that works out to x dollars an hour for her time, they could appreciate all that you describe of what has gone into making it. You talk with such beauty and insight as to how it is about so much more than hours, how time shifts and becomes something else. As someone who knows you from your "previous life" that was spent in billable hours (minutes even!), your ability to transcend the concept of work constructs (GDP, 40-hour work week, etc) has convinced me even more than the beautiful art "works" (there is that word again!) you create that you are so in your element now.
    Soooo...too bad no such word exists, perhaps you can condense all of that in your blog and give it to the world (but don't give it more than a few minutes thought!--Sue

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    1. Fantastic Sue! You are right. We need a new word. And yes, my world was defined by billable hours for so long that it is hard for me to step away from that kind of measurement. I think we need to stop that kind of keeping track all together. I'll measure the piece in joy (and perhaps months instead of hours)... cheers!

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  12. I've had this question too...about my art quilts, which often include beads and hand-stitch. I did track 16 hours' worth of time to apply beads to one piece, but yes...the designing, pondering, letting it "percolate" in the sketch or on the design wall...as well as the cups of coffee and the resulting BR time... ;-) I like the idea of measuring the piece in 'joy'...

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  13. Rebecca, I'm enjoying your blog. Thank you. I wrote about this exact topic in 2009, if you are interested... http://jeanevogelart.com/2009/04/28/how-long-did-that-take-to-make/

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    1. Great post Jeane! I love it. Thanks for sharing. I love that your dad thought to tell you that when you were a kid.

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