So you know how just over a year ago I went away for a weekend and did a little experimenting with a backstrap loom?
And remember how I gave a little report at the end of July about my month (a whole month!!!) of weaving on this loom -- only to find myself writing again and again, and again about the loom and the cloth I couldn't stop making, not to mention the upcoming show at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center in Tillamook, OR where said cloth would actually be hanging on public view?
Well all that cloth is now there, and both it and I will be at the opening reception on 9 July, 2017 from 12 - 4 PM. Be great to see you! And for those of you for whom it is just a teensy bit too far, I hope to to have pics of how it looks in real life, rather than just how I imagine it to be, for the blog post after this.
In the meantime, Weave on!
What is it?
A collection, yes, but a collection of what -- similar objects?
How do you know when you have one?
Can long narrow strips of metaphorical fabric
in a three panel needlepoint comic about chasing dreams
that I stitched several years ago and blogged about here
--a comic that at the time seemed complete unto itself--
morph into other work that is seemingly different
but actually, oddly, the same in spirit?
Well yes, I think it can.
Not that I was thinking about connections as the work unfolded.
I'm rarely that organized.
But looking backwards,
and drawing another comic
leads me to see that work that felt new and wildly unconnected while I was making it
is actually just another step on an undulating path.
So when the deadline looms (pardon the pun),
ready or not (and I'm not, quite),
it feels perfectly reasonable to fit things together,
make an inventory list,
label the tapestries,
roll up the panels of comics,
press the translucent panels of cloth,
bundle it all up,
take off my boots,
and cross the river.
Then eventually, when all is unrolled
and hanging on white walls,
or sweeping through the air
in a light-filled gallery,
we can call it a body of work,
or not -- can't know for sure till it is up.
But either way
it'll be time to lace my boots
and continue on,
where ever it is that I am going.
Or maybe next time I'll just go barefoot.
One of the things I really love about the third floor gallery at the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Textile Museum is the slanted ceilings which allow the tapestries to hang slightly out from the walls, so they can move with the air and cast shadows in all directions.
Indeed, I was so taken with the dynamic feel of this that I mostly took videos rather than still photos, completly forgetting that I can't post them here--
for why else do I take photos if not to share them with you?
Here are a couple of links to Instagram videos though:
Casting Off (@sarahcswett)
Rough Copy (@sarahcswett)
The show itself is lovely.
I can't thank the staff and volunteers at Pacific Northwest Quilt and Textile Museum enough for their kindness, generosity and the glorious job they did hanging the work.
Do visit if you have a chance - and be sure to check out the fantastic thread drawings of Kristin Loffer Theiss on the first floor, and also her website and the video of her drawing with her sewing machine.
One of the best things about exhibitions of course, is the joy of getting see, and even have the odd conversation with friends, old and new, who made the huge effort to come to the reception..
I can't thank you all enough.
I also got to spend extra time with extraordinary artist and friend, Carolyn Doe
and the marvelous Rebecca Mezoff , tapestry weaver and teacher who flew all the way from Colorado so we could share our delight (and ideas and techniques and gossip) about this marvelous thing we happen to do.
My heart is filled with Gleeful Gratitude.
ps -- The air b and b cabin I rented was heavenly,
and the rocks on the shore did not seem to mind me gathering, arranging and then returning them to the beach (I try to be a catch and release rock collector).
Or if they did mind, they were polite about it.
are strewn across the flat surfaces of my studio.
23 individual pieces.
Though by no means all I have woven in the recent past,
together they represent years
of gazing into the warp,
of tapping bits of weft into place,
of making decisions about structure
I'm always after something -- a feeling
a mood, an idea, a story,
and there is so much I could say--
so much I probably already have said--
about finishing edges
and the importance of drape,
about choice of yarn, choice of technique
about slits and joins and hatching and
avoiding the dreaded nipple effect when weaving circles,
about simplicity and complexity (how many bobbins do I want to manage at once?).
and the amazing textures one can imitate with a pile of yarn and a grid.
I actually had a plan earlier this morning to write about the bliss of weaving in the ends as I go so there is virtually finish work at the end and absolutely no "dark side" to any tapestry (I so enjoy the lovely 'clean' backs that I want to share the love...),
but now that I'm here, I'm content
to take funky photos of a few bits of my beloved work--
not neatly pressed,
or beautifully lit as it will be next week,
but sprawled and relaxed,
out of focus, barely illuminated,
imperfect and at ease and perfectly lovely as the cloth that it is--
the cloth I want so much to let it be.
So that must be what I really had to say today!
Two things before I go, however:
1. I probably won't write a blog post next Tuesday as I'll be in La Conner awaiting the opening of the show with these 23 tapestries at the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Art Museum (reception 3 May from 4-6 Pm), and I haven't figured out how to use the portable Weebly app. There is a good chance, however, I will post things to Instagram so if you want to see the tapestries out in the world and can't get to La Conner this summer, that's the place to go.
2. This show will be the last time that all thirteen of the Rough Copy tapestries will be exhibited together as they will be for sale individually for the first time at and after this show. One, indeed, has already sold. Making the decision to break up the series five years after finishing it is probably worth a blog post all of its own, but for the moment I'll just say that if you are interested in owning one you can contact the Museum starting next Wednesday, or, after the show comes down at the end of July, you can contact me!
sarah.swett1 (at) gmail.com
A couple of minutes ago I found myself standing in front of the ice box
eating cold, leftover brussels sprouts.
They were delicious, the sprouts, and will still be delicious at lunch time,
but right now it is 10 AM and I've already had breakfast.
The thing is, one month from today, 4 May, my exhibition at the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Art Museum will be open (opening 3 May from 4-6 PM),
which means between now and then
everything on my to do list will have to be done.
There will be 23 tapestries in this show,
including the 13 Rough Copy pieces --
quite a pile, and I am excited to see them there
for I love these works.
Indeed, I have a lot of confidence in them
and it is great for them to get out into the world --
some, perhaps, even to head off to new homes afterward.
It's just that suddenly, there in front of the ice box,
It all seemed a bit of a muddle.
This part of the list, at least, is clear:
--place to stay in La Conner -- check
--all tapestries ready to hang -- check
-- and in my possession--(almost)
--oil change for the car-- (tomorrow)
--Tapestries pressed, labeled, wrapped -- (too soon)
I do have several weeks before I leave after all.
I guess it's just that the process of getting ready feels a little messy
since I'm simultaneously preparing for the second, overlapping show
at the Latimer Quilt and Textile Center in Tillamook, OR in July.
And for that one, things are less clear.
--list of works (??)
--work complete (??)
--ready to hang (oh yea-- that. No idea)
--title of works (nope)
--artist statement (huh?)
--time to panic (plenty -- but I don't want to as making the stuff it is still too interesting)
I do suddenly remember what I'm supposed to do today --
Write a blog post about the delights of the textile life.
EEK. And all I've done is whine.
But I can check it off the list!
Thanks for listening.
I feel better already.
In 1989 I learned to weave because I wanted to sew clothing from yardage I had woven with yarn I had spun myself.
It seemed a simple goal.
But Shirley Medsker, Professor of Textiles at the University of Idaho and reigning monarch of the massive light and loom filled expanse on the the third floor of the College of Home Economics (now family and Consumer Sciences) building, made it clear that quite a few scarves and placemats and dishtowels would have to go on and come off various looms before I would be ready to think about yardage.
And every scarf and dishtowel and placemat and baby blanket and shawl had annoying warp ends that needed to be managed in some way or other.
We (Shirley's students), could hide them with a hem or elegantly emphasize them with hemstitching.
We could braid or twist the warps into sinuous clumps
or experiment with knotting techniques from around the world. None really appealed.
Warping was fine. I liked to warp the looms. But this business of dealing with the ends -- Ugh. Yet there they were, on every single warp.
Obligingly (I was an anxious student with ideas about going to Vet School), I tried many of the suggested methods but never quite got over my knitterly affection for a clean selvedge.
Perhaps weaving wasn't really for me after all.
But I had a wedding dress to make, and I still liked warping, so I persevered. Then Shirley insisted that I take a tapestry workshop with Joanne Hall who was coming to town.. I fussed a bit (this was so not what I cared about), but eventually succumbed and,
needless to say, Shirley was right and I was sunk. Weaving images was just so interesting.
Joanne taught us to weave from the front, drop the weft tails to the back and use linen warp as in the Scandinavian tradition, so this was what I did for the next few years.
Eventually, however, dealing with the warp at the end of each project made me crazy once again. The Linen was lovely to work with and smelled delicious, but all that effort at the end of a tapestry to hide the cut ends was horrid. Tacking the strands to the back, weaving hems to hide them (always unsightly and bulky), or otherwise managing them in some fashion seemed both makeshift and un-worthy of the textile I'd just woven.
And I won't even go into my discomfort with all those weft ends dangling at the back--a different kind of seemingly unavoidable fringe--that wore away at my affection for what I was making.
Perhaps tapestry wasn't really for me after all.
Luckily I came across a couple of books--for how else would an isolated tapestry weaver gather information in the days before the internet? From Working With The Wool by Noel Bennett and Tiana Bighorse I learned to
1. Start with a wool warp (hand spun because who would trust anyone else's warp and anyway where would I buy it?), and
2. Weave in in all the ends while building shapes (wool on wool holds together so well).
Perfect. Two problems down.
Then from Peter Collingwood's book The Techniques of Rug Weaving, I learned a twined edging that leaves a clean edge with just a little braid at the corner as a reminder of the clothness of the thing and entirely eliminates those unsightly and bulgy hems I hated so much.
This kept me quiet for the next five years/ fifteen or so tapestries.
But you know how it is -- a gal can get in a rut and needs the odd jolt.
In my case, I think I was tipped into a new direction by one too many people complimenting my work with some variation of the phrase: "It's almost like a painting!"
And though I know they meant it kindly, this phrase began to feel like sandpaper on my skin.
"Thank you so much," I would invariably say.
But inside I began to fume: I'm not a painter. This is not a painting. See that cute little braid in the corner? See how I have not tortured it by stretching it permanently on a frame? See how nicely it moves and flows when you walk by? See how I can roll it up and tuck it under my arm or use it as an extra blanket when shivering on a cot in a motel? See how it looks good in all light levels? See how it absorbs sound? Tell you what. I'll weave a series of pieces where the fringe is essential to the composition--now, just try to find painted fringe that looks as good as the real thing. I dare you! You could paint a better match box, for sure, but not the fringe.
Clearly I had something to prove, which is always energizing. Plus it was exciting, a time filled with new techniques to learn and 'unvent' as Elizabeth Zimmerman used to say: how to weave out over nothing and still make sure that the woven shapes stay in place, for instance. I also loved that the grey fleeces I was using for warp could show themselves in all their glory.
During that time I also wove a lot of nudes, though perhaps this was merely a parallel evolution.
At any rate, I worked this way on and off for the next three years until new ideas took hold, as new ideas invariably will.
Eventually, too, I decided to give myself over to paint for a chunk of time (egg tempera), so i could see what all the fuss was about. This too, was interesting and surprising but didn't take in the long run. Painting is so...so... wet. But I did discover that some tapestries could be paintings, which was useful. And that others could be novels. This was even more important because the novels led to comics which in turn led to a four-selvedge tapestry workshop with Susan Martin Maffei when I needed an infusion of brilliant tapestry energy, and that in turn freed me at long last from the quandary/ tyranny of edge finishing.
Indeed, insofar as I seem to have some kind of big revelation/ shift /fit about my work every five years or so, this business of incorporating four selvedge warping into my practice was seismic.
The lack of warp ends that had to be 'dealt with' in one way or another, led me to fall in love with the physicality of the objects I was making in a whole new way.
Their distinct edges and clean backs have, for me, a visceral integrity I find difficult to articulate, but which has allowed me to get the work off the wall and into the air where the cloth can interact with the world (mobiles, books etc) in what feels to me a truly textileish way.
Which, if you're a regular blog reader you'll know, has accidentally and almost against what I thought was my will, led me to the super simple, translucent and utterly textileish lengths of cloth I have been weaving for the last few months,
lengths of cloth I am now sewing into larger swaths,
lengths of cloth every one of which
I wonder how this will turn out...
Sometimes I write and talk as though the things I am weaving now
are inherently different from the tapestries I have woven before.
But the more weft I tuck into warp
the more I see the work as a continuum--
an endless series of questions
about time, texture,
and the feeling of the breeze through a window.
There are just so many ways to play with light,
so many ways that light plays with us.
And how might a particular piece of cloth really feel?
STRING HEDDLES and SHED STICK
- quick and easy to make
-super simple yet secure
- does not require pre-threading
-can use any sett you want
-fabulous for tapestry/ discontinuous weft (like using leashes, just reach up, grab and lift to open specific warp threads).
-traditionally used for warp faced-fabric rather than balanced structures, and can see why as I found it hard keep the warp spacing consistent, particularly with linen.
I had better luck with wool warp, and no trouble at all when weaving tapestry, so perhaps it is a matter of experience.
note: actually, this inconsistency is also an advantage as I rather like the look of the wonky fabric I've made...
-shed stick sometimes wants to fall out and, even if tied in place, can have a mind of its own. Experience again, I'm sure... maybe make one and leave the bark on?
-consistent and even shed
-works as shedding mechanism and beater
-a variety of sizes available
-doesn't fall out when rolling up the warp
-easy to use with very pleasant rhythm
-ability to store a long piece of unwoven warp in a chain because the heddle spreads it out well before the fell
-lots of stuff I don't know about yet but hope to learn
-stuck with the sett of the heddle(s) you have (unless using two at once which I have yet to try but is on my project list)
-harder for very fine setts (see above)
-awkward for discontinuous weft -- again, this is personal but like most shedding mechanisms other than leashes/shed stick/ fingerpicking, the heddle feels too separate from the area of action and slows me down.
-have to cut the warp to thread the heddle (unless doubling fine warp) so can't weave from both ends with 3 selvedge edges.
-quick and easy to set up
-the system I'm used to
- warp/loom rocks in an irritating fashion when scooping the picked shed, something that doesn't' happen on a fixed loom.
I am only a yard or so into its first outing so far, but can see many advantages, not least that the piece can get really really long without having to deal with an ever-increasingly and eventually awkward cloth roll at my belly. I've just ordered the larger size (this is the medium), so stay tuned!
So much for using only what is at hand, but who wants to be consistent?
Eventually, I hope to talk about the linen/wool question,
my anticipated band lock exploration,
and of course the bliss of needlepoint on my own canvas,
because backstrap is apparently no longer just a distraction,
but a part of my practice.
Proof: I just added a new post category.
what I call the cradle.
In the case of the 'e' in progress here,
that means building the curve below the e with as much attention as I will subsequently apply to the letter it self, taking advantage of the highs and lows where I can.
allows the wispy weft tail (never bluntly cut, but always untwisted, broken or frayed with scissors as with the linen ground weft in the photos below), to be anchored/trapped between the warp pairs and then wrapped.
I still love how they look.
Sarah C Swett
hand spun yarn.
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