Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Michigan League of Handweavers Conference 2012

I had the great pleasure of teaching at the Michigan League of Handweavers conference in Holland, Michigan this past weekend. The conference was extremely well run, the people were all super-friendly Michiganders, and my students were brilliant. They were shiny and happy and cooperative and they made beautiful things. I loved them all immediately....

You may notice a theme here. Michigan is very welcoming. Millie brought me a wonderful gift and was a charming and gracious student. She is a talented tapestry weaver and I wish I was related to her. Thanks Millie!

The class I was teaching was Color Gradation for Tapestry. When you start seeing this on the student's tables, you know they are getting into the material:

This is the yarn palette I brought for this conference. I am still somewhat new to this workshop teaching circuit (and being surrounded by teachers who have been doing this for decades was both intimidating and exhilarating--they were awesome and I got some wonderful advice from a fellow weaver and veteran teacher), and as a newbie I have to continually tweak what I am doing (not tweet, tweak) until it feels like the right thing. The yarn is an evolving experiment. I started with a basic jewel-tone sort of palette and have slowly added colors that I think the students will enjoy more. Every conference or workshop I teach I ask the students what color they would most have liked to have during the workshop that they didn't and I dye that color pick a color I like from all the responses and dye it. This week they said they were missing brown. I think I can add that one though I suspect it will have a hint of purple in it.

The color experiment of the summer was red. I did dye a cherry red, and though it is still not exactly what I am looking for, it is much much closer to what I had before. I was trying to match this paint swatch labeled "Red Geranium". The colors in the photo are not quite right and it is interesting that the light reflects differently off the wool and the paint chip (this is a good lesson for fiber artists! Yarn is different than paint.) The colors of the ball to the left of the paint chip and the chip are actually almost identical.

The whole palette before the workshop began. These students surprised me and just about completely cleaned me out of yarn at the end of the workshop. I will not have to ship a box of yarn home. Thank you Michigan weavers... although now I have to go home and do more dyeing.

This is a wonderful bit of tapestry from Sharon. Her fingers were very familiar with a tapestry warp. In fact, looking at the sample now it reminds me of my time on Prince Edward Island in July and the red rocks and sand against the ocean.

Here is another student's work. Sue really got into the color gradation. This was what I was hoping to see and she really nailed it. She was creative and thoughtful and made a beautiful bit of weaving.

All of the students worked hard and I was so proud of their efforts. Tapestry is a very slow process and they worked diligently on the exercises presented.

This is the talented Jenny Schu. She made her own loom (that tells you something, doesn't it?). She is an amazing bead artist. You should check out her website and blog... and then order some jewelry from her or visit her gallery in East Lansing, MI. Young people in fiber arts? They are out there. We need them. And we need them involved. Jenny is all that (and she is good at tapestry!).

This was the beginning of the end for the yarn table. It was great to see people fired up about color.

I may have to adopt Jeanne and Barb's new name for flat-bottomed hachure: Soggy Bottom Boys. It sounds so much better than some stuffy French tapestry term. We did learn a lot about color gradation including use of hachures. I am not convinced that hachure is a technique I should be teaching however. Does anyone use them anymore? Is there really a point? I started teaching how to make them because other people teach how to make them, but it isn't really me. And perhaps I need to take that to heart and realize that what I teach should be what I am excited about. Soggy Bottom Boys are good mind-bending technique-learning things, so perhaps that is their value. It taught the students about making smooth angles and which way to wrap the up or down warp threads. Beyond that we need to go to France.

I had to give a talk about my work Friday evening to the whole group in an auditorium with a powerpoint and a microphone and it was great. I had some nice photos, but I have to tell you that you really don't want to see yourself 12 feet tall on an auditorium screen. The other teachers at this conference are all very experienced and also all very funny. Chad Alice Hagen had me laughing for 20 straight minutes and I'm not even a felter. Juliane Anderson (owner of Threadbender yarn shop which I detailed HERE), Mary Sue Fenner, and Wynne Mattila all make beautiful things out of bits of fiber this and that--magicians really is what they are. (Wynne was in the Helena Hernmarck class with me a couple weeks ago and we've met again already! ... yes, I know, that blog post is coming. It was a special time and it is hard to put it all together! Have patience.) Donna Kallner is an amazing woman and I wish I had three more days to pick her brain about just about everything including goats, Wisconsin, fabric printing, and looping. She was teaching a class about designing fabric using the computer. Silly string and photoshop make a great combination it turns out. And I was lucky enough to be teaching next door to one of the dearest people I know, Jennifer Moore. She is from my home state, and just being near her made me feel calmer (there is something about being from Michigan and/or the midwest that I don't understand. It isn't personal, it is cultural--I think anyway). Jennifer is a brilliant double weave artist. I highly recommend her book, videos, and most of all a workshop with her. Her art is gorgeous.

And this is my special, Hope College-prayerful, word of thanks to the wonderful cook in Phelps Hall who made these Oreo-like gluten free cookies, keeps them hidden in the freezer so the high school football jocks won't eat them all, and gave me free access to them. You are a goddess of the gluten free baking. These cookies were amazing. We only ate at Phelps hall on Friday and when we transferred to Cook Hall dining room for the rest of the weekend, I was mighty disappointed to find that the weekend cooks there had no idea what I was talking about... "What gluten free secret box of cookies in the freezer? You are crazy, lady. We ain't got no stinkin' Oreos!" ... or that is what I heard anyway.

And as a traveling story aside, I had great connections in Minneapolis... but on the way over I hadn't had anything to eat that day, had been up since 3:45 am, it was nearing noon and I only had about 5 minutes to find something before the next plane boarded and THIS was the only restaurant close to my gate.

With some choice words and a large sigh, I crossed the terminal to a bookstore and grabbed this for lunch instead.
I don't suppose Chick-fil-A is going to care one bit, but I wasn't going to give them any of my money. Plus the sugar rush from the Snickers and the caffeine from the Diet Pepsi held me nicely until I got to Grand Rapids, was picked up by a fantastic woman who used to go to college with my mother and who drove me straight to Arnies for lunch. (Where I had a SALAD! ... but only because it is the only thing at Arnies I could eat. And I had to walk by banquet to get into the place. If you don't know what banquet is, you aren't from Michigan.)

It was great, Michigan! Ask me back sometime soon.


  1. Hi Rebecca. What sort of tapestry frame is that in the third photo down? It looks a really useful size and table top is good for me as I don't have room for a floor standing one.

  2. Hi, I am also interested in the loom which I think maybe
    Millie's. It look really useful.
    Looks like a great workshop as well.

  3. Oh, you are SO ON with your blog posting. I'll be putting mine up soon re your fantastic tapestry class.

    Thank you for the shout-outs too, we certainly hope to see you back in Michigan soon.


  4. Angie and Debbie, Unfortunately Millie said that the loom is not labeled and she doesn't know who made it. Does anyone else know what kind of loom this is? It was a beautiful loom, though I felt like it was impossible to get a high enough tension on it for tapestry. I've been a bit spoiled by my Mirrix though.


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