Friday, 23 February 2018

A Polish tapestry

Recently a Polish tapestry came up for sale on an auction site and I bought it as I have been interested in various former Soviet countries' tapestry cultures for a while now and have been gathering a few books on the tapestries of Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Russia. So finding a tapestry from 1975 or so seems to fit very well with my readings of that era.

You may ask what it is in these tapestries I like - I was introduced to tapestry weaving in Denmark as a teenager in the mid-1980s. This was a time when the aesthetic of the fibre arts movement had been disseminated for a while through various publications and books, mostly of a 'how to' nature and I went regularly to the local library to explore the latest in tapestry weaving books. Of course these books did not deal with Eastern bloc tapestry, but the aesthetic was hinted at in the use of natural fibres, natural colours or vegetable died yarn. I don't really remember what the iconography related to - probably themes such as butterflies, abstraction, or evocations of folk tapestry motifs - like in Sweden Danish folk textiles used a type of kelim type of design, and my mother has such a weaving from 1906 or so.

Whatever it was, I was hooked on tapestry and used homespun coarse wool, explored exposing the warp, used dog hair yarn and other experimental elements. And now, decades later, as I slowly re-engage with tapestry weaving, and with experimental art work, I find going to the Eastern European weavers as they were then, now Baltic, Polish, Hungarian and so on, there is much to learn from them. There is just a tiny hint of the innovations from the Polish art weavers of the 1960s who came from art colleges and the unique experimental tapestry culture they experienced there.

This may all sound a bit rambling, but I don't want to pursue a major exposition on the last 50 years of tapestry weaving, just to say that I think the 1960s and -70s fibrearts continue to be a great source of inspiration and freedom of thinking about the medium. Much focus on the tradition of tapestry and a purist frame of mind around the perfect surface and reproducibility can be useful in commercial work, but I prefer the freedom and openness to possibilities that the medium can also provide and which was proven so well by the fibre artists of the mid 20th century.

So here is the main body of the tapestry - there is no maker's mark, no label on the reverse:

When it was shown on the auction site it was very difficult to see the proper colouring, the details and full scale of the piece. It is around 99 x 124 cm large, a good size, and the weft is thick. There is a pale yellow border down the sides and the image is of flowers - not sure what they are meant to be, but you can see that the flowers are made up of small round details that either sit in a plant arrangement or are scattered on what might be the ground. in any case there is good use of colour, nice shadowing techniques and it deserves to be seen as a whole. I took a picture of it outside to show the colours better, but indoors I suspect it will have a warmer feel, those oranges, reds and brown will provide a warmish glow.

Details of the tapestry

A detail of the back of the tapestry that shows how thick the weft is. The warp is linen and a hem has been woven to enable the top and lower edges to be folded back. It looks as if the tapestry was glued(!) to something for hanging purposes which is not great, and I will be sewing on a strip of fabric to enable it to be hung with a pole.

Perhaps not the greatest work of art but still a decent and robust piece and I do like the flower details a lot. I am hoping that it will continue to spread a little inspiration as I walk past it or sit and mull over what to do next. In a way it would have been nice to know who the maker was, I do not think it was necessarily a hobbyist, but it could have been I suppose. A professional would have left their mark, or perhaps someone took off the label which would have told us more.

Designing for felt and tapestry

Recently I have been working toward the Open Studios event in May in my local region. My studio is very cold at the moment so I have not spent that much time there, but there has been time to felt at home, and do some drawings to start thinking about composition and texture.

I am interested in the regenerative forces in nature - the way nature reclaims spaces, breaks through even in the hardest and most inhospitable urban environment or how plants can be dependent on what might at first seem like devastating fires to regenerate. But at the same time I am continue to interested in process and materials and I still wonder how you bring the two together. For that I look at certain artists on Youtube, who are generous with tutorials and ideas, and I am very grateful to them for the time they spend explaining things.

The felt I have been making is actually more a manipulation of existing fabric - a woollen scarf I cut into pieces and added wool and silk to the surface.  because the fabric was quite tightly knitted it has not picked up the felted wool to merger the materials together and currently the merino and silk fibres sit on the surface to some extent. the plan is that I will be working onto the surface with stitch and applied materials, so it won't matter and will add to the depth of the final pieces.

In photographing this work the light was a bit hard coming onto the pieces so the colours are not accurate:

These are work in progress. There is still much to do on them. I am working up four different pieces to have a small series although I hope that they will also work well independently.
To work up a plan for the next steps I have started drawing some outlines of the pieces which I plan to use  as 'templates' onto this which I can add textures, other colours and so on. These drawings are themselves work in progress as they are not complete in terms of colour etc, but some of them are in themselves not too bad as drawings and I may just leave them as they are. This process takes time and needs to be revisited several times.

An unfinished sketch to look at texture

Using wax resist, watercolour, water soluble graphite - working out texture and may use as foundation for further work on what textures, materials to apply t the textile pieces

Detail of the above

This drawing seems more of a complete drawing, various textures, marks and colours seem to balance more as a complete entity, and just suggests the felted piece - I will return to this drawing to look at how I can improve its textile sister. I don't seem to get away from a painterly type of expression.

A detail of the above
Tapestry designs
I have also been designing for tapestry. I have been interested in using oil pastels for tapestry design as my weavings are usually quite textured and the strength and weight of the colours and textures you can derive from oil pastels feel as if they would be useful. So I started a sketchbook for these designs. whenever a drawing was done there were a lot of crumbs left from the pastel and I picked these up and used them in another type of drawing which is light and is more about a mood. These may be useful sometime in the future.
The designs are based around the colours I want to concentrate on: the dark browns of wool and alpaca, orange and green. Perhaps some dark blue added to the brown.

Some designs may seem a little unadventurous and I think they could be livened up with some additional elements such as speckles of colour in the brown, textured weaving and the like. Certainly I would like the orange to sing against the brown and so I hope that a few tapestry samples will start showing how this effect could be developed.

The next images are some examples of the pictures that used the crumps from the pastel, I rubbed and dragged them across the page in different ways and the use of fingers as a tool is great and enjoyable to work with - there is a degree of serendipity in how the pastel ends up being bound to the paper. The softness and openness of the way the colours lie on the paper with a great deal of the white paper showing through is suggestive and on one I used a thin pale blue-grey wash to see how this would affect the atmosphere of the image.

And finally a simple sample of my first ever weft-faced weaving on a rigid heddle loom. At my Guild we had some workshops at the January meeting and this was the option I chose - I have a rigid heddle loom which I have not yet used, and this was a bit of a taster to get a feel for what might be achievable. The sample is shown with the warp threads showing, these will be attached to the back to make the sample a bit more tidy looking.

Spinning and dyeing

Throughout the autumn I have been spinning. My working life is very busy at the moment so when the evenings and weekends come I have been trying to do stuff that will be relaxing. And Spinning is always relaxing, soothing and still productive. I was given around 3 kgs of carded Jacobs sheep wool by someone. It was very old but still good, although the carding was pretty ropey and there were lots of lumps in it. I decided to dye it and had a great dyeing day doing mostly greens and blues, but also some rosy reads. This has provided the bulk of my spinning resource from October to now, and I also spun some staples in a variegated colour scheme (blue-green and yellow-red) which I have spun as novelty yarns, either plying it with a handspun or a commercial single wool.

Here are some of the examples of what I dyed and spun:

The top skein is the novelty yarn, a thin version using some left-over staples, I also made a different yarn that had much thicker staples in it. The skein below is the spun yarn from the slightly lumpy Jacobs wool. It too the dye very well and as most of it was quite course and I am not that good at spinning knitting yarn I decided that I would just spin lumps and all and then use it in tapestry weavings.
Here's a detail of the novelty yarn. I have this thin commercial single wool yarn in blue (not sure it is indigo, but it is that sort of colour) and used it to ply with the staples of the blue-green. This was a very satisfying process and the  result looks and feels great, now I need to see what it is like in a weaving.

The colours in this picture do not reflect the livelier green of the actual yarn, however you can see how coarse the Jacobs is and you will see that I spun it very hard and so it is not a perfectly balanced yarn - my plying technique could be improved a bit.
I also have a fair bit of very dark alpaca. In tidying up some of my stash I unearthed even more of it, and this needs to be spun. At my Guild of weavers, spinners and dyers we had a bit of a stash-share and I got some dark brown silk noil which complements the alpaca very well.
So I plied these fibres in different permutations - pure alpaca and alpaca silk plied, which has created some smooth yarns with a bit of sheen. I also had some dyed silk which I spun into some of it to create interesting textures.
The alpaca-silk yarns.

The silk-alpaca yarn is to the right here, and the other green yarns are spun from left-overs, merino, more silk, something I don't remember.
This is a close-up to show the textures of the different mixes, you might be able to see that the merino yarn on the left is Navajo plied so it is a bit thicker.
The silk-alpaca in detail to show the different thicknesses, this was also Navajo plied which was not easy as I was spinning in the silk as I went along which turned into a knotted mess at times along the way.