Saturday, 28 March 2015

Tapestry weaving - thoughts

I am quite interested in tapestry weaving and am currently working on a presentation on 20th century tapestry and fibre art for my local guild of weavers, spinner and dyers. I wove tapestry in my teens, teaching myself by using some of those weaving books that followed in the wake of the 1960s-70 fibre arts movement, when more parochial textile artists opened out the techniques to a wider audience. In Denmark at that time (mid-80s), and currently, there was some recognition of tapestry art, and at that time experimental tapestry was a key feature. It seems to me that now tapestry has returned to a more traditional expression with an emphasis on imagery, narration and representation, where the yarns used are pretty much the same throughout and experimental techniques are kept to a minimum in the same work - see the work from the British Tapestry Group, Dansk Gobelinkunst, European Tapestry Forum and Norwegian tapestry via absoluttapestry.

Of course that is not the case for all weavers and artists such as William Jefferies uses different techniques throughout his pieces and one of my favourite weavers, Aino Kajaniemi, may use the gobelin technique, but she will use different materials in very subtle ways, such as using human hair for example. With the introduction of digital photography and manipulation techniques there is a movement to use photography as the basis for some tapestry designs, with motifs of a social or personal nature. The American Tapestry Alliance has some examples of these on their web-site. And otherwise very experimental work come out of design and art colleges, moving into conceptual and metaphorical understandings of tapestry - see for example the neon work by Astrid Krogh, whose work is described as tapestry but is equally work with light.

It is often said that tapestry is a weft-facing weaving technique. I guess this is said to distinguish it from cloth weaving, but when it is held dogmatically as a definition an interesting aspect of using the warp in the design is lost from sight. I would point to the work by the art nouveau weaver Frida Hansen, whose work sometimes used the warp in designs to suggest a kind of lacy effect, others let the warp show through over the whole of a piece as part of the language of the work, and this can be very beautiful, I particularly like the work by Berit Hjelholt, whose work is often large scale, but has a still centre - hers is the large piece hanging in the Danish Folketing, Som en Rejselysten Flaade.

On my bedroom wall I have a Wissa Wassef tapestry in yellows, oranges and reds with a few blue birds and white flowers on it. It is woven using mainly eccentric weft and so the surface of it undulates softly as the weave has pulled the fabric out of shape; perhaps not an intentional distortion but it fits well, organically, with the overall design of a large plant.
The strength of tapestry weaving is that as a beginner it is fairly straightforward to get some interesting results and I guess that may have been why Wissa Wassef used this to encourage locals in his town in Eqypt to express themselves through that medium.

Weave structures have been developed in many cultures using various materials, whether protein based fibres such as wool or alpaca or cellulose fibres such as various leave, reed or branches. This allows for structures in all manner of sizes and scales - even wattle and daub walls have a foundation of a woven structure of wooden lattice onto to which the wet earth of clays would have been laid. For a project in the past I looked at basket woven vessels and found that native American people had made watertight vessels to carry fluids. However I guess this assignment on weaving requires a focus on fabric-based weavings, but combining harder materials and textile based materials can create interesting things. North American fibre arts include basket making as part of its definition, and a famous example of an artist-basket maker was Ed Rossbach.

I have collected some interesting tapestry related videos into a playlist collection on youtube - there is a good one from France that shows the set up of the warp and the weaving of a tapestry, La Lesson de tissage.

So, what about my own work? Well, until now I have been working in the more traditional vein and even more just admiring other's works vicariously. Although there may be a lot of work to admire that others have made, I am not sure I have found my own language in the technique. Tapestry takes a long time to make and I am easily diverted - by knitting mainly.

1 comment:

  1. Be your own curator of canvas art prints in your home when you decide on whether you would like to decorate with canvas paintings or photography, modern or romanticism, big or small, wall26.com has it all! nice wall tapestry

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