What’s on the Loom?

My current project is a ‘baby step’ out of the box, for me.  I am still working with my lotus pond source material, but I am doing several things, both design wise and technique wise, that I have never done before. I am about half-way done on this project and I am having fun with it.

1. Multiple pieces make up the whole.  Hardly radical, but still, something I’ve never done. Here is the design:

2. The whole is not a rectangle. I loved these cropped strips of lotus stems crossing and reflecting in the pond. The length of the strips vary to make the shape of a kimono. Still a traditional composition, especially for fiber art. Nothing new here.

3. The warp is a design element. Exposed warps will span the spaces between the strips, so I am using black cotton warp instead of natural cotton.  This is the baby step in a different direction. It seems like everywhere I look on social media it is all about warp these days. 

4. I am using multiple setts. Some elements will be woven at 8 epi and some at 4 epi.

Here is what it looks like in process:

There is not a whole lot I love more than black and white, white on white, and black on black. And diagonals - I dig diagonals. It all boils down to contrast and energy.

I’m loving the texture. There is rayon chenille in the weft bundle. That makes the chunky stuff sparkle just a bit. It also adds an element of irregularity.  My goal is to make this piece more abstract and “weaverly” than my past work.  It is still traditional in so many ways, but I hope in the end that it will have an appealing edge to it.  We shall see!



Hanging the Beast

Recently, I completed the largest tapestry I have ever attempted. By European standards, it is not all that big, but at 60” x 60” it seems downright huge to me. It is twice the size of anything I have ever woven before.  When it comes to hanging tapestries, I have not been very satisfied with the methods that are commonly used. So for this piece, I wanted to try something different. 

The standard way to hang a large tapestry is to velcro the tapestry to a wood batten that is mounted to the wall.  This involves sewing the smooth side of the velcro (or a rod pocket) to twill tape using a sewing machine, and then hand sewing the twill tape to the back of the tapestry.  (For information about mounting tapestries, see this useful article on the ATA website: https://americantapestryalliance.org/tapestry-education/educational-articles-on-tapestry-weaving/mounting-and-hanging-tapestries-a-variety-of-solutions/)  With this method there is often a visible crease line on the front of the tapestry where the velcro has been sewn to the back.  I’m not fond of this crease line.

There are solutions to this problem.  The most common solution is to sew the velcro or pocket to a lining fabric (usually linen) and then attach the lining to the back of the tapestry using loose stitches in a series of “V’s” across and down at least the top 1/3 of the tapestry.  This eliminates the crease and evenly distributes the weight of the tapestry.

It works, but this method involves a lot of hand sewing and if any of the stitches are too tight, it could create puckers so you have to be careful. I hate hand sewing and the thought of doing this over such a huge area…..no.

The brilliant Sarah Swett came up with her own brilliant solution. Last summer I had the privilege to see Sarah’s solo show “Marginalia” at the Museum of Quilts and Textiles in LaConnor, Washington.  Her tapestries are nothing short of mind blowing, but I was also fascinated by her hanging method.  Sarah velcros her tapestries the the BACK of the batten board leaving the front to hang perfectly smooth.  The board is then hung on the wall with picture wire, a feature galleries really like.  When you hang with wire, the tendency is for the board to lean forward. In order to keep the board from flipping over, the it needs to be much wider than a traditional batten.

So I thought about doing this, but in order to stabilize the tapestry the board would have to be a foot wide at least. On a piece 60” wide that is quite a chunk of lumber - Just think how heavy that would be and how it would complicate shipping……. no.

My solution was to velcro my tapestry to the back of a standard 1x4 batten board. Picture wire will not support the piece with a board of this size - it will flip over. D hooks and florets - same. The weight of the tapestry pulls the florets right out of the wall. So I went to Home Depot looking for U brackets to attach to the wall and then “sit” the board into the bracket. I didn’t find exactly what I was looking for, but I did find this 2x6 fence bracket.

The two inch wide channel was too wide for my 1” board, but I went forward with it.  I secured two brackets to the wall with screws.  They have to be level to each other, but other than that you don’t have to worry too much about the distance between them or if they are perfectly centered on the wall. I slipped the batten board into the bracket, and then to hold it tight and upright I slipped some wood behind it, like a shim.

Voila! No crease lines and no hand sewing! You can adjust the positioning by simply sliding the whole to the right or left as needed. 

I hope to refine this method in the future. I’ve found a smaller U bracket online that might hold a board upright without using shims.  And next time I will wrap my board with black fabric instead of muslin as I did here, because the board is more visible from the side than what I am accustomed to. Overall this experiment was a successful one.  If I encounter a situation where a gallery hangs from wires rather than nailing into walls, I’ve left slits in the top of the hem where the tapestry folds over the board where I can attach screw eyes. In that case I think additional hacks might be needed, like lengthening the board by attaching an aluminum plate to the batten board to avoid too much forward tilt, but hopefully I will not have to resort to this.  At least for now, this piece takes pride of place in my living room and isn’t going anywhere.


Je Suis un Lissier

I trace my tapestry “lineage” to the French tradition through Mary Lane via Ruth Scheuer via Jean Pierre Larochette and the San Francisco Tapestry Workshop, active 1977-1988. How Jean Pierre ended up in the USA in the first place is a fascinating story. To learn about this historical period, I highly recommend Jean Pierre’s and Yael Lurie’s recently published memoir “A Tree of Lives.”* (There is also an educational article written by Linda Rees here https://americantapestryalliance.org/tapestry-education/educational-articles-on-tapestry-weaving/the-emergence-of-contemporary-tapestry-an-overview/)

There are two centers for tapestry production in France. Both were once “royal manufacturies” that supplied the aristocracy and the church with tapestries: Paris (Les Manufacture Gobelin) and Aubusson, a rural town in the Creuse region. As an art form patronized by the monarchy, tapestry fell out of favor and declined rapidly after the French Revolution.  However, after WWII the artist Jean Lurçat and others were able to revive and popularize the production of “modern” tapestry in Aubusson. A global interest was sparked that led to the establishment of many tapestry workshops outside of Europe.  Jean Pierre’s father, Armand Larochette, left Aubusson to establish a workshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina (where Jean Pierre was born), and later helped to establish a workshop in Nazareth Israel under the patronage of Lurçat (where Jean Pierre met Yael). 

 

Jean Pierre and Yael first came to the Bay Area in the early 1970s. They found work teaching tapestry in the textile department at San Francisco State University. In 1976 the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco hosted the exhibition Five Centuries of Tapestry. Curator Anna Bennett hired Jean Pierre and nine of his students to weave a Mark Adams tapestry design in the gallery as a public demonstration. From this experience came the founding of the San Francisco Tapestry Workshop.

One of Jean Pierre’s most serious students in San Francisco was Ruth Tanenbaum Scheuer (now Rudi Dundas). She was a founding member of the SFTW with Larochette in 1977.  She went on from there to apprentice at Les Manufacture Gobelin in Paris (I’ve heard she was one of the first Americans to do so), before returning to the USA to establish her own tapestry atelier, the Scheuer Tapestry Studio, in NYC in 1982.  While in the process of setting up her workshop, Ruth Scheuer taught a tapestry course at the Oregon School of Arts and Crafts. Mary Lane was a student in this class and when Scheuer opened her tapestry workshop in New York, Mary was among her original apprentices.


The Scheuer Tapestry Studio was active from 1982 to 1989. They wove numerous large corporate and private commissions.  A gifted teacher, it became Mary’s job to teach the Gobelin techniques to subsequent apprentices at the workshop. Mary and her husband eventually settled in Olympia Washington. She continued to weave commissions and teach tapestry in her studio, and occasionally, in Seattle.

Over 300 artists were trained at the SFTW, so a lot of west coast weavers trace their tapestry ancestry back to France via Jean Pierre.  I am honored to be one of them, albeit three “generations” removed. Jean Pierre Larochette still teaches tapestry in the US and in Mexico. 

What is your tapestry ancestry?

*http://www.lurie-larochettetapestries.com/publications.html

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