Thursday, 31 December 2015

Tex 1 Assignment 5 - Starting to weave the tapestries

Having had a longish break to undertake some study and exams for work I have started weaving a couple of final pieces for assignment 5. I had originally wanted to weave four pieces to make a small series suggesting trees changing through the seasons, but due to the delay and the slowness of the weaving process I have decided to make two pieces - one designed aorund the magnolia stellata in our garden, and the other an improvised green piece using a technique I learned, but have never woven.

This latter piece is an improvisation on the theme of green leaves and light flitting through leaves and branches in the breeze, as in this photograph:

In this image the greens are quite bright and yellow hues feature strongly, however my green yarns, homespun and commercial in wool and silk are not necessarily going to be of these shades, although some are.

Here are some of the yarns I have used, and as you can see, some are quite similar to those in the photographs, but others are softer and colder with blueish tinges:

I am now in the process of weaving this piece. The technique draws on a method that Fiona Hutchinson taught us on a summer school some years ago. She uses it to great effect, weaving very finely, inspired on the theme of sea and sky. I have chosen a slightly wider sett than she uses for her smaller pieces, and improvise choices of greens and browns, weaving both block colours and colour blends. The piece is woven in longlish strips with some attachments between each strip; and each strip is woven separately, so that I can work colours vertically and can choose blends and colours as I go along. I had planned this work for some time, and hopefully the final thing will evoke the movement of leaves in dappled light.

Here is the piece in progress on my Mirix loom - the pictures does not really represent the colours as they are in reality, they are more clean somehow, and the blueish hues suggested here are really green:

This piece is woven mainly in wools in the weft, some plied with silk on a warp of blue linen. I like dyed warps. Traditional tapestry weavers speak of weft-faced weave, as indicative of tapestry, but very good tapestries have been woven showing the warp, and a dyed warp can help in the finish of the piece. If it is of a certain colour it might add someting to the end result. The final piece will be quite a textured sample, with a three dimensional feel to it, so in order to make this a good size I need to weave quite a bit more than is seen here.

A bit about process and materials

As this piece is process driven and designed in the course of the making I thought I might add something about how this work has proceeded. When I weave I think a bit about what is happening with the work as it grows, what decisions I need to make and so on. One obvious thing to consider is the materials and how they work together. As each strip is made up of either a single thickish yarn or blends of different colours and thicknesses I have tried in most instances to create similar thicknesses across the piece. That has not always been possible and so occassionally, where strands have been thin, I have needed to adjust the weave by adding additional passes. It won't matter once the thing has been drawn together as will be clear later, but another issue was also how soft some yarns are. Tapestry yarns should ideally be firm and worsted spun to ensure they create clean beads on the surface of the woven fabric. A bead in a tapestry is the spot where the weft crosses the warp and is the visible dot of colour on the surface of the weave. Some weavers use this when they design photographic realist pieces where a bead is used as a pixel of colour in a digital image.

And yes, as a diversion, it is interesting to note that the language of a craft has its own terminology, for processes, ways of setting out the work in progress and each element of the weave. I have never really bothered with this type of language before as I was self-taught in the Danish language and so just got on with the process, but I guess that when you need to describe something accurately these terms become useful.  Anyway, on the softness of yarns: soft hairy yarns do not necessarily create clearly defined beads and may leave the surface as bit indistinct, and I am sure there will be areas like that on the final thing. 

This leads to the issue of whether a final piece should be designed using a single yarn type across the whole piece. In the past weaving workshops wove large tapestries to certain designs, and places like the workshops at Aubusson continue to weave in this way, creating tapestries that can be reproduced in small batches and so need to have consistency in yarns and colours. This means that careful planning of yarns and colour matching is necessary to enable reproduction. There is an excellent film on Youtube that demonstrates this: The Art of making a Tapestry. If you have more time I have gathered some films together on tapestry that may be of interest, check my Playlist out: Tapestry and more.

So, commercial tapestry studios and some professional weavers use particular yarns and manage their works by careful calculation of yarns and dyed batches. Although I do buy some new yarns, rovings for spinning and do dye some of these, the bulk of my yarn store is made up of oddments from other people's stashes when they have had clear-outs, charity shop purchases and whatever offers I find on e-Bay. The world is already full of stuff, of perfection and reproducability and I think that collecting discards, secondhand and left-overs from other people's projects is probably a solution I would prefer to work towards. This allows me to feel that I contribute a bit towards sustainability of the environment and a way of working that weighs re-cycling and re-use with consumption of the new and mass-produced. Work created through improvised, yet reflective making, considering the use of the already-extant and not necessarily using materials purposefully designed for a project makes more sense in a world full of readily available stuff that often ends up on a fire or in a landfill (consider the waste of fleeces that have become of so little worth that farmers just burn them if they are not sold).

Using space-dyed yarns

Some of the yarns I have are space dyed (purchases from stash clearances) and I have been wondering how this would work in tapestry. One book I read said one should not use space-dyed yarns as the colours go grey and muddy when woven, and it recommended using only pure colours, possibly in blends. But in weaving narrow strips or short lengths, the space-dyed yarns come into their own, as short lengths of the colour sections in the yarn may become a single width in the weave, which means you can do 'automatic' pick and pick weaves without worrying about weaving with two different strands. It is of course not necessarily a controlled weave, but when the design is as fluid and flexible as the one here, it is almost preferable that unexpected colour mixes happen - nature is not calculated when shades moves across leaves and the ground is covered in budding new sprigs. Also, by using a continuous second colour throughout in a blend with the varigated yarn the whole is synthesised and melds together well.


Choosing yarn and colour is part of the decision making early on in designing a tapestry, but throughout the weaving decisions have to made at different stages of the process. The best representation I have seen of this was a silent film Joan Baxter made of herself weaving (it can be found here, but it is a bit pixellated). In it she wears a camera on her head and you can see how she chooses colours she had previously blended and wound onto bobbins, how she then decides where they would go on the tapestry and how she then weaves, occasionally adding colours, judging how the colour would lie in the work. In my sample I have had to decide where the merged sections would lie, whether to retain a single hue per strip (I did not choose this going with colour mixes across the whole piece), and decide how to finish and start each new colour section, whether to use soft and harder yarns, how long to weave it, and I now need to decide when to stop and how to finish each strand, as I am not sure yet what to do with the warps once the whole things has been pulled into place.

Here's the final sample/piece cut off the loom


Having now cut off the sample and drawn it together I realise that I shouldn't have used the type of join I have. In fact, in revisiting Fiona's web-site and looking at her pieces on it, I think she makes joins that just involve twisting adjacent weft strands together, which gives a clean join and enables the pulling of the warps to be more easily done and for the resulting waves to be lighter. Anyway, in my piece, due to the many greens and heavier yarns it has not made much difference, and the weight where the joins sit just adds to the wavy nature of the tapestry. If I make a different piece in the future I will try the other joining method to check for the result using that. Now I need to think about what to do with the warps - there are a lot of them and they are very visible, although the blue warps look good as a compliment to the greens in the woven area.I see that Fiona has in most cases kept the warps, sometimes cutting them short, other times just letting them hang when the waves lie at the bottom of a larger piece. I think perhaps I should leave the warp, at the length they have from the final weave, but I will still need to think about how to then mount the final thing - should it lie on its sides to let the warps hang down? Will I mount it and set the warps on the surface of the background? These are the types of questions that lead to decisions to be made during the process. I usually leave the work a bit and look at it occasionally to enable me to think about these questions, and this is what I will do with this work as well to find a final solution.

In the end I have now decided to keep the warps hanging donw from the woven section, using the longer lengths of the warp from the top to fall behind the piece and add to the thickness of the blue warps hanging as a sort of fringe. These 
Detailed photographs of this piece shows how the joins are not too noticeable, and in drawing together the warps the wefts have been tightly drawn together as well. The wavy undulation the surface is hopefully now visible:

The colours are inaccurate in these pictures, the warp is actually a muted blue.

On the above picture you can see exaples of blends using a variegated yarn in blues and browns, as well as other variegated yarns, some homespun I dyed in Koolaid (an American children's drink that can give quite interesting results).

This is a fairly simple tapestry and so I have not had to make too many colour-choices, as I have kept to the green theme throughout. However in the second piece, the Stellata tapestry piece, I have had to make careful choices about colour and where they were going to be placed, side by side, in relation to other colour choices and balances across the whole and so on, that was a much more complex thing to decide on, and I also had to decide what to do with the petals of the flowers, but you will see this work on a separate post.