Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Sunday, 30 August 2015

Smoke From a Distant Fire: Sea of Joy Continues

I live nowhere near a forest, except the urban one planted by my house, but this has been a summer of haze and smoke. The northern part of the province burned earlier this summer. British Columbia, Washington and Oregon are burning now; the smoke from those fires has made it difficult to be outdoors for days at a time. We do not suffer like those caught in the middle of the disasters, but the smoke is a reminder that everything on this planet is connected and that we would be wise to acknowledge and accommodate this. 

I've spent the last two days hiding from the smoke, heat, humidity and mosquitoes, which means full days of working on "Sea of Joy." She's coming along - there has been some unweaving, but only a bit, and I'm past the quarter mark of the piece. Here she is after Day One:

The little Sea Creature wasn't working. He looked rather frightening, a strange head stuck on a different body and he didn't flow the way I intended:

So, "Off with his head!" Here is he now, much better, I think:

There were some problems with value; The lighter green of the long vine disappeared into the light blue behind it. I spent part of this morning cutting out the light blue background and needle weaving in a darker blue. 

I'm working more embellishments into my tapestries - stitching small details onto the work to highlight images and add texture. The catch is not to use embellishment as an excuse for laziness or to fix something which doesn't please me. Anything added to a piece must add to the design.

In addition to viewing each day's work in black and white, it's important to study it as it will be presented. By flipping the image on its side, I can see what will need to be reworked: 

One of the things which delights me about tapestry weaving is the way it demands my full attention. Sections of the cartoon which seemed fine in the drawing surprise me when they're woven. If my mind wanders, if I shift into lazy weaving, it will cost me hours of unweaving. Tapestry weaving is always an exploration, an excitement about the process. In "Sea of Joy," my willingness to weave on the fly gives the sense of movement I'm looking for here. Whether or not my weaving is a success matters less than the fact that I have fun while I'm doing it. I make my best effort in every piece I weave and that's enough.

As I weave the images into this tapestry, as I connect foreground with background, I'm reminded that, on a tiny scale, I'm giving physical expression to the connection of all Life. What happens any place on Gaia drifts into and affects everyone. Which is Figure and which is Ground? Yoga tells us that they're One and the Same.   


Friday, 21 August 2015

Sea of Joy: Expanding Horizons

I ventured out to Open Fibre Night last night. My friend, Michele M-H, started this event a couple of years ago. OFN is held monthly; it's free, open to anyone with an interest in fibre work of any kind. I haven't attended for some time and there were many new faces among the group. (Then again, perhaps I was the new face. It's always a matter of perspective.) Another friend, Carla D, drove halfway across the city to transport me and most of my fibre room contents, or so it seemed. I'm moving away from using commercial yarns, so a few skeins for dispersal came with me and I decided to work on my tapestry, which meant packing my 16 inch Mirrix and a basket of singles weft yarns. This smaller Mirrix is designed for workshops, but compared to knitting or spinning on a spindle, taking it on tour is a big deal. (Getting everything back home is just as fun - Young Mr. DD found two balls of yarn beside the house this morning, escapees from my basket. Fortunately, he discovered them before Morris did.)

As it turned out, I didn't get much weaving done. There was visiting to catch up on, admiring of completed and new projects, demonstrations of unfamiliar techniques and snacks to keep us energized. I came home with two garden cucumbers, one for Mr. DD and the other for Morris, less yarn than I arrived with and a few passes completed on my weaving. I was out past ten o'clock, an outrageously late night for me and while I'm dragging my butt around at the moment, I'm feeling reconnected with my fibre world.

I warped the loom for a larger version of "Sea of Joy" earlier in the week and have been making steady, if slow progress. Here's the the basket of yarns I've chosen for the project. Behind it is the loom with the hem and a double row of twining in hand spun linen in place:

Here's the story so far:

Here she is on her side, as she will appear when completed:

At the moment, I'm not loving the larger version. It seems less spontaneous, joyful and free than the sample. I often have this reaction when I expand a small thought into a larger idea and it's really too early to judge what will happen. There may be a problem with the values; the images may need more contrast. Actually, they most certainly will require stronger value shifts, but since this piece will be approximately 12 inches x 24 inches or slightly longer and I have but a couple of inches completed, I have plenty of time and space to introduce what's needed. This is how the values appear now:

You can see by the ink on the cotton seine twine warp and the scribbling on the cartoon, that I'm revising the images as I go. I love this part of the process - never knowing whether my ideas will work, exploring the interactions of the colours in my weft, discovering what works in a cartoon and what does not.

In a recent blog post, Rebecca Mezoff says this about tapestry:
 "For me, it all comes down to this. I can't NOT do tapestry. I suspect the answer, for those of us who choose to spend our days making and teaching tapestry, is the same. It is what we do because we love it and we can't imagine using another art form."  ((Linked here. You should read it.),
Rebecca's words resonate with me. For me, it's always about the journey and never the end product. Even when I had a long stretch of non-weaving, tapestry informed my choices in spinning and design. I never lost sight of the road to returning to this process and I'm happy to be back on the path. Meditation and yoga influence my weaving, but for me, tapestry weaving is both meditation and yoga. When I'm in the process, time stops. I become one with the materials and the medium, a small speck of the universe united with all the other specks of our existence. I can think of no better place to be.


Saturday, 8 August 2015

Sea of Joy: A Small Study, a Big Change and a Glimpse into the Process of Designing

I finished another small tapestry this week, "Sea of Joy," a study from a tiny sketch I'd done years ago while drinking white wine and listening to CBC Radio. She's approximately 7 x 7.5 inches, slightly larger than the pieces I've completed this summer. I'm pleased with her; she's telling me she would like to be a larger work and the ideas for a cartoon, what size best suits her and what yarns I should use for warp and weft are rattling round in my head. At the moment, I'm thinking that she should be a companion piece to "The Garden," woven on my 16 inch Big Sister Mirrix Loom in a cotton warp with hand spun and dyed wefts and that she's likely to be around 12 x 24 inches. With those things settled, I'm now waiting for my drawing skills to kick in so that I can work out a cartoon. This may take the rest of the summer, but I've learned that there's no use in rushing. As I wait, I can admire this little piece - her colours are vibrant and her composition is strong, although not perfect. Overall, the tapestry works and she is worthy of a larger weaving:

One of the best ways to determine if a tapestry is working is to take black and white photos of the weaving as it progresses and when it's finished. Removing colour from the equation, especially when the colours are as bright as they are here, allows me to spot areas where I may need more contrast or sections where my composition is weak. In this case, my composition is stronger than I had anticipated. My contrasts are good, although I may need stronger contrast in the small sea creature at upper left. I'm undecided about that now because I rather like that the creature isn't readily apparent and only shows up after closer viewing, just as a sea creature would if she were camouflaging herself among the flora:

This is the back of the piece. I have a few ends tied off and there are several knots, but overall, I like my tapestries to be reversible. When I do mount my pieces (another summer project), I find that a smooth surface on the back of the work gives a flatter, more finished appearance on the front:

With two small studies completed and a larger piece ("Battle Fatigue") still on loom, I'm feeling another strong calling, one outside my comfort zone. Something tells me it's time to begin a large tapestry, much larger than I usually weave and to do it in natural colours of hand spun wools. Yesterday, I hauled out my large Zeus Loom:

This Big Boy, a gift from Mr. DD many years ago, will weave a piece up to 35 inches wide and 61 inches long. I've woven on it twice. The first piece was the banner I use for my blog, a study for the larger rug I wove next on Zeus. I seldom weave large pieces. The biggest tapestry I've ever woven was "Yellow Leaves Hang From Your Tree," started in 2005 and completed in 2008. She was woven on a loom made of iron plumbing pipes: 

Commercial wool singles warp, commercial mixed wefts, hand spun and dyed wool wefts. Approximately 24 x 36 inches.

After she was completed, I stopped weaving for a while. Since I've begun weaving again, my tapestries have all been small, bits of ideas worked out (or not) on simple frame looms. Now, all this summer, I've had the urge to resurrect Zeus and weave another rug/magic carpet. The images for that are coming as flashes in dreams, as I meditate or sit at my spinning wheel. There's nothing to draw, yet, not much of an idea as to what warp to use or how large this thing should be. She just sits and waits and nudges me. At first, that nudging came now and again, but in the past few weeks, she's been poking  and whispering at me on a daily basis, so yesterday, I gave in and did some spinning for my potential, future work:

That's 8 ounces of Icelandic singles spun up, along with a bin full of other weft yarns, from black to white. There's another 36 ounces of Welsh Mountain top on its way here. There's a voice, stronger and stronger by the day, saying "Weave me." We shall see where it all leads.


Saturday, 1 August 2015

Badlands: Continuous Strand Tapestry Weaving

I finished weaving my Badlands sample last night. I'm pretty pleased with it at the moment. The colours are lovely and the spontaneous design worked out nicely. I can see things I wish I'd done differently and areas which could use improvement, but that's always the case, is it not?

The interesting thing about this small tapestry (approximately 7 inches x 5 inches on loom) is that it is woven with a continuous strand of yarn from a single ball. When I speak of "continuous strand weaving," I don't mean to say that the yarn was never broken, as I needle weave using short strands of yarn. Continuous strand weaving - I haven't found a better term, yet - means that I weave with the yarn using the colours as they present themselves, either from the outside end of the ball or the inside of the yarn package. I align the colours in the order they come and I don't remove any colours which may be problematic. If I were to unpick this weaving and rejoin all the ends, I would have a ball of (very knotty) yarn whose colours would be the same as the original skein.

Just to remind you: I wove using the outside end of the ball to start, then worked with yarns from both ends of the package, transitioning into weaving with the yarn from the inside of the ball:

I've searched for information on other weavers who use their yarns in this fashion. Although there are many sites and works on weaving with hand spun and dyed yarns, including a few which demonstrate judicious placement of the colours, I haven't yet found a source in which a tapestry weaver worked using a continuous strand. I'm sure there must be others who have tried this and I'd love to hear from them/you.

The question which arises from this study is, "How will this technique work in a larger piece?" I have a frame loom warped with cotton which has been waiting for a project for a while now. Perhaps I've found one for it.