Thursday, October 29, 2015

DIY the heck out of it. For the love of tapestry weaving.

Why exactly is it that we weave tapestry anyway?

I've thought about this a lot lately given that most of my life is spent in pursuit of excellence in this art form. And really, we'd like to think what we devote our lives to matters in some way.

I think that making things does matter. Humanity has a certain drive to use our hands, to fiddle with objects and create something new out of bits of this and that. My long career as an occupational therapist, a career based on improving function through meaningful doing, taught me that health is intimately linked to doing things that are meaningful to us. It is a profound lesson in health and happiness. People who are able to do things that are important to them are healthier and happier than people who don't. That isn't just something they tell you in OT school. It is true.

Tapestry is one of the fiber arts that allow the yarn fanatics among us to use a treasured material to express something in images. Image-making is something humans have been doing possibly since before we were homo sapiens sapiens. The earliest scraps of tapestry-woven fabric found in the archaeological record were quite sophisticated, indicating long practice. We can be sure that humans have been weaving tapestry for tens of thousands of years. How cool is that?

Making things is something integral to the human psyche. I think that is why we weave tapestry. We do it because we love it. It feels good to make something. It feels even better to make something beautiful or shocking or that expresses something that is important to us.

So if we make tapestry because we love it, why are we so serious about it for heavens sake?
Some of you (especially the younger among you) probably have no idea what I mean by that. But those of you who have decades of tapestry weaving experience know.
Tapestry is serious business. Right? Don't we learn the rules at great cost? Isn't there WORK involved? Effort? Long hours of practice with expensive tools? Aren't there definitions of what tapestry is? And a fear that if we make something that doesn't follow those definitions then our work isn't worthy?

Yep. There is. But I think if we do it for love, it has to be enjoyable also.
So let's lighten up. If I want to use a 12/6 warp at 8 ends per inch by golly, I think I should be able to do that without feeling like I'm doing something wrong! (See my last post about warp HERE.)

And so should you. Learn how it works. Take a workshop. Try out different materials. Just because I tell you that knitting yarn is a poor material for tapestry doesn't mean you have to listen to me. Try the knitting yarn for goodness sake. Especially if it is the only green yarn you have at home and you have to have green yarn right now for the tree you are weaving that needs to go into the tapestry about your daughter's first birthday. Just do it. If it doesn't work out, you'll know soon enough.

Of course I think good materials are important. If you use better materials, you'll have a better outcome and you'll be more likely to make a second tapestry. And good technique is also important. If you make something that falls apart when someone breathes on it, that isn't so wonderful. But the love of it is primary. And we learn by doing.

So go out there and weave some tapestry. I can't wait to see what you make!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tapestry warp: what would you choose?

I did a little experiment a few months ago and wanted to show you the results. I wove these four little samples on a Hokett loom. Speed of warping is a big advantage when you're making samples. Hokett looms are warped in a flash.

I wove these samples with the same weft at 8 ends per inch. The warp was different for each. All four warps were cotton seine twine made by Bockens. The sizes are woven into the samples. 12/15 is the fattest, 12/9, 12/6, and 20/6 is the thinnest. They also make a 12/12 warp which falls between the 12/15 and the 12/9. I didn't have any at the time.

I wove these because my normal weaving practice of 8 to 10 epi with a 12/6 warp doesn't fit the parameters often given for warp and weft sizes. I'd like to suggest that there is a much wider range of possibilities than has been taught in all the basic tapestry texts.

There are many guidelines for figuring out what warp to use. One such authority is Archie Brennan and THIS article on the American Tapestry Alliance website is used a lot.

Archie is certainly correct that the space between the warps is very important. My argument is that when you change that space, you get different effects in your weaving. Most tapestry weavers that I know work closer to the 12/15 side of things. You can see fairly clearly in my photo that the warp ribs in the 12/15 sample are very prominent. We'd expect this from a fat warp. The warp I use the most at this sett is the 12/6. The warp ribs are much less prominent and the surface of the tapestries is smoother. This is something that I like in my work. I also use a weft yarn that is slightly fuzzy and it gives the surface a bit of a bloom. Those bits of fiber further smooth the surface so the warp ribs are not visible unless you're looking very closely.

What warp you decide to use depends a great deal on the sort of image you want to make. A lot of the imagery in my work is created in a very horizontal direction. If you're trying to create crisp shapes that have a lot of verticality, then perhaps you do want to use a fatter warp. If we narrow that space between the warps as we do with a fatter warp, we can get a quicker change in color between two shapes.

I will, at some point, do this experiment again on a larger loom and shift the diameter of the weft used on each warp. There are many variables and if you use a thinner weft you have to weave a lot more, but you get subtler horizontal shapes.

What materials you use depends on what you want to create after all...
(you don't have to follow "the rules")

Monday, October 26, 2015

Love yarn? Interested in tapestry?

I will be teaching three classes at YarnFest 2016 in Loveland, CO alongside some other amazing teachers! I don't know how I am going to be able to teach tapestry when the likes of Jillian Moreno and Kate Larson are teaching spinning right next door. But I will soldier on.

Seriously though, I am teaching one of my favorite classes. It is a one-day class called Tapestry Answers: Do I want to be a Tapestry Weaver? (look HERE and scroll all the way to the bottom. The Weaving classes are at the end due to the vagaries of the alphabet.)

What: Interweave YarnFest 2016
Where: Loveland, CO (gorgeous northern Colorado just up the freeway from Denver AND an awesome view of the front range from the conference hotel)
When: March 31 - April 3, 2016
Why: Because we LOVE yarn and weaving!

Here is the class description:
Have you ever wanted to try tapestry weaving but weren’t sure you were really going to like it and didn’t want to buy new equipment until you were sure? In this one-day class we will explore all your basic questions about tapestry weaving. The morning presentation and discussion will be about tapestry weaving as a practice, what it entails, what looms work for tapestry, and warp and weft yarns to consider. We will look at examples of tapestries and talk about how to use this medium for creative expression. In the afternoon we will try some beginning tapestry techniques, look at ways to warp various looms, and learn why certain looms are great for this weave structure and others are not so good. This class is intended for people who have no experience with tapestry weaving. Rebecca will bring some small looms to borrow and a Mirrix you can try. If you have a portable loom of some kind, please bring it!
Though this class was designed for people who were trying to decide whether to get into tapestry weaving, I have had many advanced-beginner students attend who loved all the information about looms, yarn, and the basics of this great art/craft.

You'll get to experience different warp and weft yarn possibilities and take home yarn samples and information about where to get them.

We'll look at some images of tapestries (and a few real ones) and talk about what you might want to weave and whether this is the direction for you.

And here is the big advantage of taking this class in Loveland: I live just a short distance away. I will be able to bring a bunch of different warped looms that you can try in person. I'll bring some standard looms and you can feel the difference between the tension on a small jack loom, a Mirrix, and a frame loom. I'll have a copper pipe loom (a great DIY alternative) and a few other miscellaneous options. If you have a loom you're having trouble with or want an opinion about, feel free to bring it.

Please come join me! Registration is open now. (Hint: early-bird pricing ends Jan 15th.)

The classes are all short and you can take a wide variety of classes during your days in Loveland. This is a great area of Colorado and the hotel is close to a big shopping area with just about any kind of restaurant you might want.

I'm teaching two other classes that I think are almost as much fun as this one. I'll talk more about those in the next few weeks. And as if that wasn't enough, Clara Parkes is giving the keynote address. It is going to be one grand yarn-y event.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Riveting drama... at less than a snail's pace

I am back at the loom, and it is a wonderful thing. The new online course, Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry, consumed most of my time for much of the last six months. Now that it is finished and I have put out a few other fires caused by inattention, I am ready to weave some tapestry.

I am fascinated to watch my own mind as I'm working. It takes me a few days to get back into it after a long absence. But once I'm hooked again, I'm really hooked.

Sarah Swett talks about the microdramas of tapestry weaving. I sort of knew what she meant when she said it, but paying attention to what keeps me engaged in the long, sometimes-tedious work tells me quite a lot about myself.

What is so interesting about the weaving of a large tapestry is not finishing the whole thing (that takes too long to keep me engaged), but the little things that happen moment to moment.

It sounds boring, but it isn't.
Is this butterfly going to run out before I finish that point?

Is this color going to work with the one next to it?

Oooo! Look how great that eccentric outline worked in that curve.

How am I going to shift the colors to the left by one grade without screwing up my hatching?
(Hint: often it involves a lot of splicing.)

It seems so silly, but the weaving is all about the process. And the process happens moment to moment. I am still amazed at the excitement I feel when I realize that the third dye run was worth it and the colors are perfect. Or how I can hardly wait to start a new design element and see how it is really going to look in the piece.

My progress is slower than your average snail crawls. On a great day I am rocketing ahead on the 24 inch-wide piece at about a half an inch an hour. And that is fast. A snail can move 55 yards per hour (clearly a non-metric system snail). That is 1980 inches per hour. So I suppose that means the snail is about 4000% faster than I am.

Good to know.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015


I am not good at it. Rest that is.
I have struggled for the last week with the need to give myself a break. But it isn't easy. Why is that? Resting should be the thing we're best at.

I finished the Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry online course and it opened October 5th. It took me about a year to make it and I can't set it aside now.

Since pushing the button that made the course live to The World, this is what my brain has been doing:
"You wanted to change that part of that video." 
"That technique would be better explained by ordering it this way." 
"Really? The orange shirt for that video?"
"You spent too much time making those yarn cards. Who wants yarn cards?"
"You did an awesome job! ... do you think people will still want to take this class online even though you teach it in workshops all the time?"  [Heck yeah!]

My brain won't stop.
So I did some spinning last week for Spinzilla. I made some lovely yarn that I am going to knit into something wearable. Today I rode my bike to yoga class. It was 80 degrees and the yellow leaves vibrated against the blue sky in that wonderful it-is-fall-in-the-Rockies way. The leaves fell in my lap as I rode home and I felt the tightness inside loosening just a little bit.

And now I'm looking for some organization. I am not a tidy person. I think more tidiness would serve me well. I like to have things where I can see them. It helps my creative process to have ALL the yarn I'm using for a large tapestry where I can see it. But this is also true with all my other projects from business accounting to color theory research to designing new work. And since my space is small, pretty soon I have to face the facts. I have to clean up.

So the rest of this week I am organizing. And when I'm not doing that, I will be weaving.
Oh the bliss of returning to the loom after far too much time at the computer.

Here is some of the the merino yarn I spun last week.

The good news today is that two of my tapestries were accepted into the juried 2015 Handweavers Guild of Boulder showcase. You can see them November 4-8 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. (Which is actually in Longmont!) These pieces are two of my favorites and they are both for sale. So if you need a lovely tapestry for your home, this is your chance.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The fleecy possibilities

If you read my blog, you could hardly have missed my recent spinning addiction. To be honest, spinning represents fantastic possibilities for color use in tapestry. But more than that, I have learned about yarn. Spinners know about yarn. They make it. They understand sheep and staple length and crimp and grist. I am fascinated. And what makes it even better is the great possibilities spinning holds for making tapestry yarn. Yep. Making the exact yarn I want is my goal. It may take me decades to get there though.

In the pursuit of this goal, I joined a Spinzilla team. If you haven't heard of Spinzilla, it is a contest of sorts where teams compete for the most yards spun in one week. I am on Team Shuttles, the team from Shuttles, Spindles, and Skeins in Boulder, CO. There are some great spinners on this team and I gave up even thinking I could keep up with them at about hour 12.

This is what I thought I might spin this week...

And this is what I have spun so far...
I'm partway through the second 4 ounces of that gray on the left and I hope to finish it tonight. It is Thursday. Spinzilla ends Sunday at midnight.

I now know I am not going to be able to spin my way through that stash. Fortunately it means I'll have plenty to spin the rest of the year... when I'm not weaving.
Because it is time to get back to the loom.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry is ready!

My newest adventure in online teaching is ready. I tell you that with a great sense of relief and just a little bit of angst. You see, I love making courses and I had about four million more ideas for this one. But at some point, it is enough.

Here is the brief outline of what the course contains. You can find out more on THIS page of my website. I will be shooting trailer videos in the next few weeks as well as making my website easier to navigate. In the meantime, if you have questions, please contact me! I recommend taking the entire course either in the version that I teach or the self-directed one. But if you are only interested in one or two of the sections, you can take them separately.

  • Color Theory Basics and Weft Yarn Choices: A basic introduction to color theory and a discussion of weft yarns available for tapestry.
  • Irregular Hatching: I covered this in my Warp and Weft: Learning the Structure of Tapestry course. I go into more depth in this course including using hatching for shading and form creation.
  • Hachure: This traditional tapestry technique was used a great deal in historic European tapestries and is still used by many people today. This class also offers tips on how to make straight lines and shallow curves smoother and how to start to minimize steps in your work.
  • Transparency Effects: This class talks about using regular hatching and weft bundling to create the illusion of transparency. Weft bundling is also an important concept for all color use in tapestry.
  • Pick and Pick: This fun technique was taught in Warp and Weft: Learning the Structure of Tapestry. In this class we take it farther and look at using pick and pick in shapes and for blending colors vertically.
  • Vertical Gradation: This class will show you how to make smooth color shifts up your warp. We will also talk more about using value and hue in color grading and grading with stripes and demi-duite. This is a great companion class to Transparency Effects as we continue the conversation about value and weft bundling.
You can take the course in three different ways.

(1) The complete course. This includes all six parts as well as extra bonuses and a section at the end for feedback on design and practice projects. You can ask as many questions about the course material as you'd like and I'll just keep answering! This way of taking the course is also the least expensive for the most learning. The button on the Pathwright site looks like this:

(2) Self-directed. If you are the kind of person who knows they won't need to ask me questions about the material or get feedback on your progress, this is probably the course for you. It contains all the material of the complete course without teaching from me. The button on the Pathwright site looks like this:

(3) Each of the six parts separately. If you aren't interested in certain topics, you can take any of the six parts alone. They are numbered 1-6 in the Pathwright program and the first module's button looks like this:

If you click the registration link below, it will take you to the Pathwright course site. From the catalog you can browse each of the classes and see a complete list of the videos and materials included in each module.

There are FAQs about my courses on my website HERE.
There are reviews from past and present students HERE.
And the comprehensive information sheet about this course, Color Gradation Techniques for Tapestry, is HERE.

I enjoyed making this course a great deal. I am glad it is completed so I can get back to the studio. However I am sure I will soon be watching for the wonderful things those of you who join me on this tapestry exploration will create. You haven't let me down yet! (see some past student's work HERE)

The course is open for registration. It doesn't have start dates and you can take as long as you want to finish it and ask questions. What could be better? Maybe the fact that you can weave in your pajamas and none of us will even know.

Have at it!
(I'm off for a bit of spinning if you don't mind... Spinzilla started at midnight!)

One tip to help navigate the registration site. Look to the left and there is a menu. If you're looking for the Color Gradation Techniques class options, click that text and it will filter out all my other courses.

Click here to register!

Here is the trailer for the course:
As always, if you receive this blog post via email, you won't see the video here. Please visit this post on my blog HERE to see it.