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Sitting on the floor to weave the first shots, the students appreciate the coolness of the cement ,
on a typical ninety-something degree Texas summer day. The cartoon has not yet been hung behind the loom.




TAPESTRY, PAINT BY NUMBERS WITH YARN

A call from Wanda of Woolenworks triggered the creation of the collabrative, "A TIGRESS IN TEXAS". She had accumulated a sizable list of enthusiasts wanting to learn to weave tapestries. Would I teach them? "But of course!"

The classes were billed, "Tapestry, Paint by Numbers With Yarn". I wanted a format that would provide the students with instant gratification, allowing them to experience the weaving aspect, blissfully oblivious of the ugly truth ... that you must first warp what you intend to weave ... and that is a tedious, humbling exercise.

Most tapestry classes start with students wanting to design a project with little grasp of the demands of the medium, potentially a recipe for disappointment. Next they are introduced to the process of dressing (preparing) the loom, which few even experienced weavers enjoy. Only then (if their spirit hasn't yet been broken) can they finally start to weave (the fun part).

Tapping on my own learning experience as a "laborer" at the studio of Winston Herbert in Fort Worth, I felt it was best to just push the students into the deep end. They could learn the dog paddle when they surfaced for air.


Winston had a deadline on the Magnolia Tapestry for a bank in Shreveport and one of his weavers was on vacation. I was enlisted and plunked down in front of a partially completed wall hanging, sharing a weaving bench (elbow to elbow) with a talented artist. It was intimidating at first despite my weaving background in other disciplines, but Pam was a great teacher and we got along famously.

Unlike A TIGRESS IN TEXAS which was woven on a frame loom, the Magnolia was woven in Gobelin technique, with numerous inherent challenges. First, we wove from the back of the piece, peering between the warps into a mirror to see our progress. EEK! Also the work was advanced after every foot or so from the top horizontal beam to the bottom, much as film moves in a camera. Consequently, we couldn't view the piece as a whole without unwinding it ... which is always a scary proposition. Next, because of it's size, the piece was woven sideways to accomodate the width of the loom. (Imagine squinting through the warps with your head tilted 90%.) Then, Winston had devised a color coded cartoon that hung behind the loom near the mirror. ("Coded" meaning that we interpreted the unrelated colors on the cartoon into pre-determined blends of yarns.)

Trial by fire! If I ever do another Gobelin it won't be for $5 an hour! Give me a frame loom any day!

Soon, Mary returned to work (another great teacher) and we all worked on many projects together. Most important was that our weaving styles blend imperceptibly in the finished piece.



But I digress ...

I hoped that by working together on a group project that was already designed and warped, the students could focus on refining the techniques that make tapestry unique. If they chose to pursue it later, they could tackle the "behind the scenes" grunt work with enthusiasm, better prepared and already knowing it's rewards ... the hands-on experience of manipulating colorful yarns to form textile illustrations in an ancient art form.



But there was just one problem. Now I had to come up with a design worthy of such a large project.



The three photos below show the early progress with the cartoon slightly visible behind the weaving. (Unfortunately, the camera's flash has created a confusing "moire" pattern with the shadows from the vertical warps.) Note that as the weaving progresses, the weavers must elevate themselves by sitting on progressively taller surfaces, because the weaving itself is stationary. Eventually, the work will be done while standing. Towards the top, the weavers will use step stools to be at a comfortable level. This is typical of using a frame loom. With a more sophisticated (and expensive) loom, the weavers remain at one level while the weaving surface is advanced (not unlike film in a camera) to accomodate the work.
















These two photos were superimposed to create the cartoon.