Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Journey: Tapestry, Life in Process

Peter Collingwood was one of the foremost textile experts of his time.  His books on weaving and textile construction remain among the best sources for fibre artists.  In one of his works, The Maker's Hand, published in 1987, Collingwood presents examples of beautifully constructed textiles. The photography is spectacular; the power of the human hand is inspiring (and somewhat daunting); Collingwood's examination of each object is precise and detailed. It's a treasure of a book, but I have a confession (sorry, Mr. Collingwood)-after I studied the book, I put it away, and haven't looked at it much in all these years past. The problem for me, you see, is that the precision in these pieces makes them, in the end, rather remote.  I admire the works, and I'm impressed by the skills involved in their making, but ironically, these textiles are so well-done, so perfect, that the maker's hand, rather than being in evidence, actually disappears. I stay on the surface of the pieces rather than engaging with them. There is no sign of process, no flaw in the fabric that traces the mark of the maker's hand.

Don't misunderstand me. I enjoy the mastery involved in perfection. Several people I know produce works of such precision and beauty that I am in awe of their abilities and I know full well that I have neither the vision nor the sight (nor the patience) to make such textiles. I approach my own work quite differently. I like to draw with pen and ink because once a mark is made, there's no turning back. When I knit, I don't use other people's patterns; I devise my own or knit free form pieces where I set myself a rule that there is no ripping out, only building stitch upon stitch. My tapestries loosely follow simple cartoons or simply grow. Everything I do is an experiment. If I ever achieved perfection (which is simply not possible for me, thank goodness), I would have to stop doing that thing that attained perfection.  I don't want to stop. For me, Process IS the journey, the goal and the destination.

There are problems with this approach, of course. Things never go quite as I expect.  I have many discarded pieces and, sometimes, my work looks downright sloppy. There are times when I've lost out on opportunities because juries, experienced textile people, have shaken their heads and wondered, "What on earth was she thinking?" I no longer do commissioned work because every time I did, my clients have been disappointed; I'm unable to translate my pieces into the images they see in their heads. My works languish in the closet; I never quite get around to displaying them because once a piece is complete, I can't be bothered to hang it.

Despite the drawbacks, I love working this way.  I want people to look at my tapestries (on the occasions when the pieces do make it to a wall) and discover the glorious mess of Process.  I want the observer to wonder, "Why did she do that? What WAS she thinking?" I hope that you or anyone can look at my work and think, "I could do this." Because you could, if you wanted to, not as I do, but as your unique self.

The Garden Tapestry is done. She turned out quite well, especially given the fact that she sat on the loom for six years.  (She was the last piece I was weaving when I had a sharp shock to the head, mind and body.  For many years, I couldn't bear to touch her again. In these past few months, her appeal became irresistible and I rediscovered how much I love weaving tapestry.) She held a few surprises for me-she literally changed direction, which seems appropriate for a piece whose images are lively. The comic-like images I drew became slightly more serious, although still playful, probably due to the changes I've had in my life.  She's full of flaws.  I won't point them out. If you're not a weaver, those flaws won't matter.  If you are a weaver, you'll spot those flaws right away. A weaver will notice my experiments within the piece; she'll see what worked and where something didn't quite go the way I planned, but decided to let the misplaced marks stand. She'll wonder why I used the yarns I did or what happened to that bit over there.  I doubt that she'll find my technique inspiring or be impressed by the beauty of my edges, but she may look at the work for a while and explore. In other words, she'll pay attention. She'll engage. At least, I hope she will.

I weave the same way as I practice yoga or meditation or life, really.  I never seem to take the straight road or the smooth path.  If there's a fork, a side path or rocks to scramble over, I find that way too enticing to ignore.  Off I go, sometimes stumbling, sometimes crashing to the ground, battered and bruised. Sometimes, I leave a wreck of something behind. Sometimes, I discover hidden beauty. Whatever I discover, good, bad or indifferent, I'm practising to be content with what is. It's not an easy practice, but I'm convinced it's worth the mess.

My yoga informs my tapestry weaving; my weaving (and spinning and knitting) informs my yoga. It's no coincidence that I began to work with both textiles and yoga at the same time. It's no coincidence that I'm still intrigued by both paths. To paraphrase Dr. Seuss, when you don't have a destination, just think of the places you can go!

So this journey ends.  I have some thoughts about the next one, but there's no plan at the moment.  I will sit and wait.  In process.  In Being.  And all will be well.

Front of tapestry before finishing

Back of tapestry before finishing

Back of tapestry after finishing

The Garden (11 in. x 22 in./ 28 cm. x 56 cm.)
Hand spun wool, mohair on cotton warp

The Garden: Detail Front



  1. Your tapestries inspire me! :)

  2. I really enjoyed your blog post and your beautiful new tapestry! Interesting that I was writing something similar about how drawing and tapestry inform one another for me. I guess many of us are all about the connections we make.

    1. Thank you, Janette. I read your blog this afternoon and found it very thoughtful. Your images are lovely.