want paint on them.
what a gal's got to do.
Some of the long narrow pieces of cloth I've been weaving
want paint on them.
Not sure why as the cloth is interesting all by itself.
But sometimes a gal's got to do
what a gal's got to do.
If I were to claim an historic textile practice,
I would be needlepoint.
After nearly 30 years as a tapestry weaver I have spent far more hours in front of a loom than with needle and canvas,
but for as long as I can remember,
the marriage and yarn and image has been a given,
and that certainty began with with needlepoint.
My grandmother, unless she was driving somewhere very fast in her pink Volkswagen bug or cooking something with lots of butter, always had a piece of stitching (needlepoint or crewel or sometimes knitting), in her hands.
So did (and do) at least two of her five daughters (my aunts, not my mother who was otherwise occupied getting a masters degree, learning to program computers back and teaching mathematics). Grandma's stitching was an endlessly compelling and yet unknowable backdrop to many of my youthful imaginings.
Once, in my youthful innocence, I asked her why she stitched other people's drawings instead of making up her own. Apparently that was a ridiculous question,
but I was left with a longing to give form to my own ideas--
if only I could figure out how.
My Mother and Aunts now have most of Grandma's work (rugs, bags and more cushions than I can possibly imagine), but I've never needed the physical manifestation of her stitching to know that, should I ever need it, permission to draw with yarn and needle was already granted.
Not, of course, that one should make a career out of it.
Except, well, I did.
For all the goodness that has come from tapestry and knitting however,
stitching on canvas has remained in the background--
a secret hobby the mere mention of which causes some tapestry weavers to draw back in horror if the two words appear in the same sentence.
"Needlepoint is NOT Tapestry!!!!!"
Of course it is not.
But neither is it a lesser medium.
(It probably has not escaped your notice that my needlework and tapestries look an awful lot alike....)
Truth to tell, for most of my tapestry life, other than mending and sewing the occasional garment, there hasn't been time for needlepoint.
In the midst of constant weaving, knitting, teaching, spinning, dyeing, drawing, hanging out with my husband and son and doing the dishes, the last thing I needed was another thing.
Indeed, I don't recall quite why I picked up needle and canvas 10 or 11 years ago,
though I know a conversation with Sarah Haskell about embracing the grid of warp and weft (she loved it, I spent my weaving life trying to defy it), had something to do with it, as did learning about Knotted Pile from Sara Lamb.
I do remember that the desire was fierce and immediate, and that the moment I found a piece of blank canvas I snatched every second to stitch, enthralled by the sound of the yarn swishing through holes, riveted by the the glow of the stitches -- so different from tapestry even though I was using the same yarn.
I made some bags, and cushions (as one does).
Then I began to study comics.
And that, for a time, was that.
Stitching, sewing, storytelling,
dyeing, drawing, dreaming,
wild and magical and playful freedom to do as I pleased --
I'd never seen or done anything quite like it before.
When not tied up in knots about where the story was going
or how best to tell it once I knew,
I was entirely at my ease.
Needlepoint Comics provided a kind of elbow room I was not, at the time, getting with tapestry,
though those familiar with my work may notice that Stripes is connected to the tapestry book Casting Off, picking up where that book ends.
None of this stuff happens in isolation.
In fact, most of the work on these comics took place as I was writing the novel that would become the Rough Copy series of tapestries -- sequential narrative finding its way into tapestry in a different form.
When I began to actually weave those 13 pieces though, I had neither time nor creative energy for anything else -- and certainly not something as demanding and compelling as needlepoint.
But now I'm back.
And it was those tapestries that are responsible --
the addiction to words that was not entirely (even remotely) cured by weaving them,
led to unscripted writing at the loom (no cartoon),
which generated an idea that I might be able to write longer sentences on a backstrap loom,
and sucked me down the rabbit hole I'm currently in (discussed in myriad previous blog posts),
and then the lightbulb moment (lights are good down in rabbit holes),
that I have been weaving the linen grid I longed for back when I was making those giant comics panels above, but couldn't figure out how to do without a floor loom.
Sometimes I am so dense.
Now, alas, I've gone on and on,
the work is calling
and I have not addressed the technical aspects of the thing
-- yarn, sett, materials etc--
which is what I meant to talk about.
Maybe next time.
I'll know more by then anyway.
But what does work look like?
And how can you identify a distraction when you meet it?
What are distractions anyway, if not the first tiny steps -
in pursuit of a dream?
Where they begin
and where they go
(if anywhere at all)
is the great mystery.
But the only way to find out, is to begin.
in love with fabric.
Made or modified,
knit or woven
hand spun --or not,
opaque or translucent,
all fill me with joy.
Cloth in the raw
can be as compelling as fragments that have done their time
Once, I think, I assumed a hierarchy--
accepting this object to be more valuable/ compelling/ worthy than that.
not so much.
Last night I wound a warp.
This morning I added weft.
I normally finger pick my sheds
so string heddles feel unexpectedly welcoming.
This yarn it was flat when I bought it,
the linen a paper tape and the silk an almost invisible strand at its side -- scarcely twisted.
Ball winding, however, and failed attempts to knit with it (which resulted in more ball winding), added twist which made it difficult to decide on a sett.
Measuring the warp twisted it even more
and for the first few inches I couldn't get comfortable.
As I wove however, the warp untwisted, relaxed, flattened,
and by the end
the warp/ weft relationship made more sense,
at least to me.
Weaver Sarah deplores my casual beat and uneven selvedges.
Artist Sarah finds it beautiful.
Wonder what it'll do when I wash it?
I slipped off to the canyon
and with me I brought:
a very old dog,
and a pocket knife.
In the decrepit orchard I found some straitish apple branches.
In a drawer I found some chute cord.
On the way to the outhouse I found a rattlesnake basking in the yarrow.
This last is neither unusual nor an essential part of this story,
but it did serve as a reminder to watch my step--
and to start weaving inside where I could keep my eyes on the task at hand,
rather than outside among the sun soaked grasses.
I'd not woven on a backstrap loom before,
but since tapestry is what I know best,
II started with that.
The new position
(horizontal instead of vertical warp
and sitting on the floor leaning against the backstrap),
was astonishingly comfortable--
so pleasant that when the first warp was done,
I put on another.
Finer yarn and a closer sett led to a tidy surface.
My ever-so-slightly increased proficiency led to straighter selvedges.
Soon, however, I wanted to see what else this amazing little loom could do.
I turned it around,
shoved the warp closer together,
and tried a balanced plain weave.
Turns out I'm better at keeping my beat even
and my selvedges straight
with a weft faced structure.
No surprise there -- I haven't woven a balanced plain weave in over 20 years.
A little more practice time is definitely in order.
A few days ago, Summer Larson just wrote a thought provoking blog post about time.
"How," she asks, "will you spend yours?"
Making cloth, methinks.
The day before yesterday I planted lettuce.
Today I hope the drippy weather
will encourage the seeds to sprout.
Planting seeds and believing they'll become food
So too, is learning a tune in the hope of playing it with others,
or buying a fleece and imagining a garment.
It's even amazing when I am doing the work.
Perhaps I am easily amazed.
I'm certainly easily amused.
These photos show a few of the willow people I've made in the last decade or two.
Some have gone to to fund-raising auctions.
Others I've given away.
And a few have ended up outside my house
serenading passers-by until the time came
to retire to the woods
to hang out with birds and coyotes
and other shrubby things like themselves.
This year, the brown willow outside my house was really tall
so I decided to make something I could go inside.
Yanking grape vines out of our lilac bushes nearly tore my arms out of their sockets--
each was so long I could spiral it around the entire structure
and pin it into place with lengths of red osier dogwood.
I don't quite know what to say about this little time machine--
or staycation hut, or bird watching blind, or whatever it is--
except that I wish all of you could hang out in it for a little while too.
Next week it'll go off to a fund raising auction at the Pritchard Gallery in Moscow
leaving a big hole (or free space) in my studio.
Till then, I'll hang out in it as much as I can.
I do love Winter Willow.
It changes the way I see everything.
PS: The ATA Blog Tour continues:
Tomorrow (Wednesday 13 January 2016) = Mirrix!
Sarah C Swett