Ellen Ramsey
Contemporary Tapestry

The Big Hack Revealed

In my last post I wrote about getting started on the first large(ish) tapestry in a new series of work. After four months on the loom, I finished weaving the piece on New Year’s Eve 2021 with a rather solitary cutting off with my husband and the dog. I dragged by feet getting the finishing work done and getting it professionally photographed, so it’s past time for “the big reveal.”

Ellen Ramsey, Hacked, 2020, hand woven tapestry, mixed fibers, 48 x 54 inches

I decided to title the piece “Hacked.”  It is 48”x54”. The materials used include silk, wool, rayon chenille, retro reflective fiber, and metallic viscose.  It was woven at 8 epi (background/text) and at 4 epi (large black circuit lines).  It is the first major piece in a new body of work that explores digital culture using the shared visual languages of circuit boards and textiles. I am tentatively calling this work the Material Intelligence series, although it is hardly a series yet. By one definition, “material intelligence” refers to the making of physical objects and the possibility for objects to serve as a bridge between different perspectives.* The different perspectives I’m working with are the analog versus the digital.

There were four major creative decisions involved in this piece. First, scale. I want the circuits to be larger than human scale in order to reflects the outsized impact of technology on our lives. The connective circuitry of our technology tends toward the microscopic, the supporting infrastructure hidden in distant server farms, and thus we average folk experience tech mostly in unseen ways. Here the micro is macro. 

Hacked, 2020, detail

Second, I wanted to emphasize a contrast of textures. The dominant circuit is very big, fuzzy and soft, woven with weft bundles of chenille at the coarser sett of 4 epi. Amping up the tactile physicality of the tapestry was the goal here. In contrast to the super soft dark circuit, the background is sleek and shiny silk. The secondary circuit lines are intentionally dull and downright grungy by comparison to the silver background. They are interspersed with fine lines and “pops” of the retro reflective fiber (just because I love the stuff). Metallic viscose and silver fiber is couched around the border. This was a late addition, but it really set off the border and helped activate the piece. It looks like wire but behaves like cloth. 

The next big decision was how to handle the text. As I mentioned in my last post, the text is a warning message from a Russian ransomware program. I felt it had to be red in a nod to its malevolent nature, but I didn’t want it to scream at you. I wove it using transparency technique because I wanted it to lurk behind the dark abstracted circuits. I wanted it to be just readable enough to get the idea across and nothing more. I sourced this text on a cyber security blog. Ironic to think that as I was mindlessly weaving away on this piece, the Solar Winds hack was running amok in our government undetected! Hardly a day goes by without hacking threats being reported in the news. I read that 2020 was by far the worst year for ransomware attacks to date. I feel both validated and paranoid as hell! This is a history piece.

Hacked, 2020, detail

Which leads me to the last creative decision – the border.  After taking Gerhardt Knodel’s workshop on Mining Historic Textiles for Inspiration in early March 2020 (see older post), the idea of adding a border presented itself. If this is a piece is a contemporary commentary on the disruptive power of tech, to a textile nerd like me, it makes sense to riff off historical tapestry as a narrative “form.” Adding the border made the design feel complete.  It also afforded the opportunity to add a bit of iconography, thus the black boxes and the bombs in each corner. 

For all you weaving nerds, I’ll share a few photos from the finishing work. This piece has no hem due to the shaped border, which required tacking the warps back individually.

I’m working on a new design dealing with online privacy. I’ll admit to wasting months trying to make a bad design idea work before giving up and going back to the drawing board. The new ideas are flowing, but while I continue to work that out,  I’m starting to weave a very large and (surprise, surprise) colorful piece - by far the biggest piece I’ve attempted. I’m slightly terrified. That’s all I’ll say for now. Follow me on Instagram for WIP pics!


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