Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Just for fun.....

Yesterday I decided to treat myself, and I got a stylus for my iPad. I wasn't really sure if I need one, but thought it might be easier to sketch with than my fingers are. I also got the app, SketchBook Pro. I had the free SketchBook Express version, but was sure the paid version would work better (and, of course, it does.) I don't know why I waited to get the full version! It was only $2.99, and oh,my! what it does for that!

I spent about 20 minutes last night playing with it, though I have much more to learn about it's capabilities. I did this little sketch, thinking of my four grandchildren and how much good books mean to them all. And how much they mean to me! Without good books and music, how impoverished I would be! And with them, I am rich as a queen.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The symbolism of the anchor...

I have the lower border for the right tapestry about 75% woven now, and I want to explain why I have chosen to include some of the images/symbols that are in the tapestry as I complete them.

The first completed symbol is that of the anchor. This website has this to say about the anchor as a christian symbol:

The anchor became a key Christian symbol during the period of Roman persecution. As Michael Card observes in his recent album, Soul Anchor: "The first century symbol wasn't the cross; it was the anchor. If I'm a first century Christian and I'm hiding in the catacombs and three of my best friends have just been thrown to the lions or burned at the stake, or crucified and set ablaze as torches at one of [Emperor] Nero's garden parties, the symbol that most encourages me in my faith is the anchor. When I see it, I'm reminded that Jesus is my anchor."
...Epitaphs on believers' tombs dating as far back as the end of the first century frequently displayed anchors alongside messages of hope... Archaeologists found about 70 examples of these kinds of messages in one cemetery alone.

The scriptural reference for using an anchor is Hebrews 6:19: "We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." (NIV)

Much of my own christian experience revolves around music, as I express praise with music, as well as in my artwork. So, as I was weaving this anchor, the old hymn "We Have an Anchor" kept going round and round in my head, keeping time with the beat of my weaving. If you do not know that old hymn, here is a good place to listen to an excellent sample of it (though it was not always sung with such verve and spirit all of the times I sang it growing up! I did not grow up in Reggae country, much is the pity.)

Here are some of the lyrics:

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life,
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife?

When the strong tides lift and the cables strain,

Will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,

Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,

Grounded firm and deep in the Savior's love
I am hoping the church I am weaving these tapestries for will feel anchored when seeing
this symbol.

PS. And, by the way, yes, clouds have been my current photo obsession! We don't really have many impressive clouds here, or many clouds at all, for that matter. But this summer's monsoon season has been impressive, with huge clouds rolling in almost every afternoon and evening. Booker has decided he hates thunder (and wind) but I am loving the variety of having clouds! I MUST paint, and perhaps even weave, some of them.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

This week's progress, and more....

You will look at what I have done this week on the Nativity tapestries and think, "Well, she's not done much!" Part of that is because I am proceeding at tapestry speed, but part of it is that I didn't get as much done as I normally would have in a work week. I had to spend two of my work days going to-and-from the eastern slope to pick up work from an exhibit. The work I had there was several paintings, and the good news is that this one sold! I also took two days at the end of the week to go to our cabin with my husband. That left me just three good work days.

On the first of those work days, I wove pretty much what you see done here. The next morning I got up and looked at it. I had used a bright primary red for the lettering, because hanging between (and above) the two tapestries will be a stained glass window in bright primary colors. But when woven with the primary red, with the almost-white banner and the blue background, the symbolism of the colors was a bit too 'patriotic.' Don't get me wrong; I consider myself to be a very patriotic person, but that is not the symbolism I want in this particular set of tapestries.

So, on the second work day, I un-wove all I had done the day before. On the third day, I re-wove it all, using a less saturated red for the lettering. That is just how weaving goes, sometimes. It takes three days to do one day's work.

For those of you who are wondering, a tapestry is like a grid in that the warp and the weft are at right angles to each other. So the lettering, when seen up close like this, will look like lettering would look if you were to plot it out on grid paper. There are no real round edges in tapestries; just edges that we can 'fake' your eyes into believing are rounded. When seen from the proper distance, the letters will 'look right' to the viewer. I promise.

And to answer the next question (probably to be asked by new weavers): the needle you might see on the edge of the letter 'R' is what I am using to sew up the slits (or little holes) that are caused by having two colors side by side up two warps for a number of weft passes. I sew up all those slits that are longer than 1/4" long, and I prefer to sew them up as I weave, rather than to have to sew a billion of them up after I take the tapestry from the loom.

These photos represent my new obsession. You might remember that my obsession last summer, and into the fall and beyond, was cows. I took MANY photos of cows, and my obsessive interest in cows didn't clear up until I finally wove some. This summer, I am taking MANY photos of something else. Can you guess what my obsession is, based on these two photos?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Not all butterflies can fly....

This shot tells you a lot about what I'm doing now, and will be doing until these tapestries are done. I will do it over and over and over and over and over....

I do not weave all the way across the tapestry. I 'shape weave,' which means I weave areas and shapes and build them up. For instance, to begin weaving the shapes that will define the anchor in the photo above, I first had to weave and build up everything underneath the anchor shapes, then I'll weave the anchor and the areas surrounding it, then will weave the area 'on top' of the anchor.

The borders of these tapestries are intentionally fairly simple. They have symbolic images on a blue background. But if you look at the blue area closely, you'll see that I never weave a solid color. I use two yarns together, and I have 6-7 blues that I will be using to create the blue, with occasional shots of blue/green or purple thrown in here and there. I vary the blue every time I run out of yarn, and more often even than that. It varies about every 2 inches across the 20 inches of tapestry.

The varied little bundles of yarn hanging in front of the weaving in the top photo are called 'butterflies.' (Ah, here's where the butterflies don't fly!) I only use bobbins of yarn in the hem area, and if I have a large expanse of a single color, which, as I said, I rarely have. So, instead of bobbins I use butterflies, which are two strands of yarn, which I wind together in a figure-8 around my fingers and tie off to feed the yarn from one end for weaving. It takes a lot of butterfly winding to get good at it, and some weavers prefer to not use butterflies. But I prefer having the little hanks of yarn hanging in front of the weaving to keeping track of 30-40 bobbins, which seem to tangle for me. And I usually do have that many butterflies weaving at one time. Even in the 'solid blue' background area I wove before getting to the anchor, I had about 10 butterflies going across the 20 inches, so the blues would vary.

This is a shot of the two tapestries on my loom. It is an upright Shannock loom, 6-feet wide, and made in the USA! I love my loom. It is an excellent tool, and has become a reliable friend in the studio.

As you can see, I have woven more on the tapestry on the right, so far than I have on the one to the left. I will try to keep them about even, weaving on one for a bit, then on the other to catch up. Perhaps you are thinking it looks like I've not done much yet! And I was just patting myself on the back for getting so much done already! On a large complex tapestry, I weave about at the speed of 1-2 linear inches (all the way across, in other words) in an eight-hour weaving day. These two tapestries together make a large, complex tapestry. The borders are less complex, so are going a bit 'faster.' (Fast is not usually a tapestry term.)

In addition to the studio work, yesterday was my day to paint with Alzheimers patients. I was pleased to see that a few of the painters smaller pieces have been used this month to decorate the calendar in the hallway. I love the fish at the top! Today I had about 8 painters in all, with two of the men each doing 2 small paintings. These two men are a couple of my 'regulars' whom I've been painting with for several years. They both do remarkable little watercolors. The fish was done by one of them.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Meanwhile, back in the studio....

After I got the hems woven on both tapestries, I wove a row of soumak. This gives a lovely raised edge for the hem to turn under along, and the extra thickness of weft yarn there covers any warp that might peek through in the turning. I used yarns that will be used in the tapestry along those edges.

Now the tapestry weaving begins! I have gathered baskets of the colorful weft yarns I'll be using in the borders. Next I attached the cartoons I prepared yesterday behind the warp threads (which, you remember, are now tightly strung on the loom.)

The white stitching thread along the bottom edge of the dark woven space in the photo above is warp thread, which I have used to baste the cartoon to the weaving that has been done. It will be removed as I progress with the weaving.

You can see that stitching holding the cartoon to the side-by-side tapestries here, as well. As I weave up the warp, I will continue to stitch the cartoon to the woven tapestry about every inch or so, removing the basting below. My loom has a 'cartoon bar' which is adjustable, and is behind the weaving, holding the cartoon upright behind the loom so I can look through the warp and see the design that I will be weaving.

It is good to be working hard in the studio again. The only one not happy about it is Booker. He is not allowed in the studio, as his shedding is not really a wanted addition to the fiber I am using. He sits at the door to the studio, looking as mournful as he possibly can. So sad....

But I have a story to relate about pet hair:

When I had a tapestry go to Africa for a time on loan to an embassy through the Artists in Embassies program with the US State Department, the 'men in black' came to get the tapestry. After the allotted loan time (four years), they returned the tapestry to me. With it they gave me an official looking document , which was to state that it was being returned in the same state it had been taken in. The 'men in black' explained to me that inspection of the tapestry had disclosed 'animal hair of an unknown nature' within the fibers of the tapestry. As my dog and my cat and I stared back at them and grinned, they said all textiles coming back from Africa had to be checked for such things, and I had to agree to take the tapestry back with that understanding. Needless to say, I accepted it back. I am sure the 'animal hair of an unknown nature' was in it when they took it! It was either the spelsau from the wool I use, which is actually somewhat 'hairy'; dog hair which, in spite of my attempts to restrict it, goes everywhere; or cat hair, from my cat who thinks that tapestries are his personal rugs when I lay them out on the table for the finishing process.

However, I do not want to encourage the 'mixed fiber' look, so Booker will get plenty of practice on his sad look as these tapestries progress.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Today's work day...

Today my first task in the studio was to finish warping the loom. Although I had the warp threads all tied onto the top of the loom, through the heddles, and loosely tied onto the lower beam, I had to retie all the threads at the bottom to make sure they are evenly tensioned. I used to tie the warp on very tightly; so tightly that I would get blisters on my hands from pulling them so tightly. But I have learned to just make sure I have tied them at an even tension; and then to let the loom do the tightening of the tension. But this process still takes time, and seems to require me going across the warp each way several times, tying and re-tying to make sure each thread is just as tight as the ones next to it are.

After the loom was warped, I began to think about the weft threads. They all come to me in skeins, but to be usable, each skein has to be wound from a skein into a ball. So they go onto the skein winder (on the right above) and are wound onto a ball winder across the studio (on the left.) This is one of those time-consuming chores I wish I had an apprentice to assign to do - or perhaps a grandchild who was fascinated at least for a while with the winders. Of course, that fascination would probably just result in a few wound balls of weft yarn, but every little bit would help!

I wound a few balls today, but I try to spread the winding process out over time. It is one of those mindless time-consuming chores that I often do while watching a movie or listening to a good book on tape.

I then used some heavy scrap cotton yarn and wove an inch-and-a-half 'header,; which is just something that will not actually be part of the tapestry, but will spread out the warp threads more evenly and will give me something to weave the hem up against. The header will be removed after the tapestry is taken off the loom.

After the header, I used some of the weft yarn and wove an inch of hem. The hem will be part of the tapestry, but it will be turned under, and will not be visible. I use a color that will be in the tapestry next to the hem, so if any of it should show, it will look like part of the tapestry.

My final task for the day was to get the cartoon ready so I can begin the tapestry tomorrow. The cartoon is a line drawing of the design I will be weaving, enlarged to the actual size of the tapestry. I had done a painting of the design, and had photographed it digitally, so it is in my computer. I will start with the lower borders of the two tapestries, so, rather than enlarging the cartoon for the whole tapestries, I just enlarged the lower border portion today. Since that is not too large (each will be 20"wide x 9"high) I just turned the design into a line drawing in Photoshop, and printed it out to size in portions on heavy paper. Then I taped the pieces together to have a drawing the exact size of the tapestry borders I will be weaving.

The computer often gives me too little or too much information on these Photoshop generated line drawings, so I went over each cartoon with a marker to make sure I will know exactly what I will want to weave. The cartoons will be attached to the back of the tapestry, so I can see them as I weave. But that part will come tomorrow! Today's work was sufficient for this day.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

From (almost) the very beginning...

I first will apologize to those of you who are familiar (and even over-familiar) with the process of tapestry weaving for this post and some upcoming posts. As I am beginning a commission for a church, I want to document the process of the creation of their tapestries, and also to share the process with the people whom the tapestries will eventually belong to. So much of this will be aimed at non-weavers.

Of course, the design process has already taken place. It required almost as much time, possibly more, than the weaving process will require. I am hoping these two tapestries will be done by the end of the year. Reaching that goal will require full-time work on my part.

As I began the warping process in my studio several evenings ago, my husband called to me to look out the studio window. The late afternoon/early evening had turned cloudy and dark, and a very bright rainbow appeared between the treetops from my upper story studio window. I decided to take this as an auspicious beginning; a blessing for the project ahead.

The thread on the cone above is my warp thread. I use a fine cotton warp. It is the same kind of cotton that is used for fishing nets, as it has to be strong to withstand the tension my loom will put on it. The two tapestries will each be 20 inches wide, and the warp will be strung tightly across my upright tapestry loom with 8 warps per inch. That means I need 320 warp threads measured and put on the loom, plus 8 more for the selvedge edges, a total of 328 warp threads.

The tapestries will be 40 inches long. Adding some length to tie around the lower beam and to knot each thread to my dummy warp (which I keep on the loom, replacing it only as necessary,) plus some waste length for hems, etc, I needed each warp thread to be about 2 yards long.

So I wound the warp thread around two yard lengths on my warping board, 328 times. A back-breaking procedure!

Then the warp threads had to be tied to the dummy warp, one-by-one. The above warping steps took me the greater part of a full work day.

After winding the warp evenly around the upper beam of the loom (the top part), each thread had to be put, again one-by-one, through a heddle string. The warps alternate going through the upper loops and the lower ones, which will pull the threads backwards and forwards for me in an alternating action, giving me a space between them (a 'shed') to weave the tapestry.

In the above photo, I have half the warp threads through the appropriate heddles. I will be weaving the two tapestries side by side, so have two 20-inch wide warps on the loom, with a bit more than an inch between them.

By the end of today's work time (which ended just in time to make dinner) I had both tapestry's warp threads through the heddles. Tomorrow, I will tie the warp ends onto the beam at the bottom of the loom.

Today's mail brought me the weft - the colorful wool which will be woven into the Nativity tapestries. The wool originates in Sweden, and comes to me through North Carolina. When I open the box and the bags which hold the beautiful yarns, a soft whiff of moist air comes into the room. I can hardly wait to pull these yarns out and begin to work with them, but the warping must be finished first. Soon, after several more day's work, I will begin with the colors and shapes that will create the Nativity Tapestries.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

More Montana, and why I take so many photos....

Beautiful Big Sky country farms...

I came home from the trip to Montana with close to 900 new photos to load into my computer. And that was after I had deleted the blurry or bad ones!

My brother's neighbor and his German horses

So why do I take so many photos? Well, this trip was a bit different from many trips I take; it was a family reunion, so many of the pictures are of family. But that actually didn't make any difference in the number of photos I shot. In fact, I came home from a shorter trip to Maine with well over a thousand photos to upload!

Glacier National Park: we played peek-a-boo through the clouds on our day there

I take photos of any- and everything that catches my interest: still-life setups in shops (if they allow it), interesting people on the street (with subtlety), landscapes with texture or beautiful shapes, plants, animals. You name it, and I probably have photos of it in my digital file!

I may never know which photo will stick in my mind and work it's way into a painting or a tapestry. I often have hints, in that certain images might speak to me louder than others. But when I travel I usually am with other people, and I do not have the luxury of stopping to paint, and of course not to weave(!), so capturing the photos is my best way to save the image I have become fascinated with.

Then, one or two of those photos will get busy deep within that right side of my brain, the part that is always busy. And a week, or a month, or a year later, it will pop into my consciousness again, and I will find myself sitting at the computer, looking for just that photo, knowing it will be the beginning for my next painting or tapestry.

Lightening from my brother's deck.

While it has been simmering in my brain, the image has usually changed. It frequently takes more than one photo to create the image I want to create, which is why I shoot several shots from varying viewpoints of something I am interested in.

My niece holding her niece in front of my brother's window. What a view! (Both inside and out)

When I take a trip like this one was, a long drive in a truck with a driver that will not stop, I take a LOT of photos through the window of a moving vehicle. I put my camera setting on 'action' and most of the pictures turn out pretty good.

The long road in Utah, where beautiful scenery tends to repeat itself.

I rarely use a flash. I am trying to learn to get night photos, but have not been very successful, so far. If you have any tips on that, I would be grateful to hear them!

Lest you worry that I will be sharing the almost 900 photos from my trip with you, I will reassure you that this is the end of my trip photos that I'll post here, though I feel several already working away in my right brain, so you may see them as finished works of art someday.

I am still 'tying one on' - warp-wise - today. I am tying new warp to my dummy warp, then will thread the heddles and tie it to the lower beam. I am hoping to weave a header and a hem tomorrow or Saturday.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

More Colorado to Montana....

On the second day of our travels, we went in and out of Montana and Idaho, crossing state borders, the continental divide, and the latitude line (45th?) that is halfway between the North Pole and the equator.

What I took the most photos of on this day were textures. The hills had hard and soft edges, and were filled with color. Some were red and bare, reminding me of the hills we live with. They always make me think of Georgia O'Keefe landscapes. Here is a small one from my sketchbook - as I tried to remember how to use colored pencils (which I had fortunately thrown in at the last minute.)

Several of the textured landscape photos I am saving to paint, or even weave from, so I will share them later. Here is one that has a lot of texture and color, though.

I loved this sign: an understatement, if ever there was one!

When we got to our second campsite, we found it to be beautiful, shady, and each site very secluded and quiet. It was lovely! It is one of the Lolo Pass sites, along the Lochsa River.

The textures kept alluring me, even at the campground. The river with it's reflections and shadows was mysterious. The above photo is completely unaltered.

And this photo of a young robin looks as if it was taken through a wall of water, or as a reflection. It must have been the humidity that causes this effect.

I have selected the yarns for the Nativity commission tapestries, and will try to get the loom warped and a hem woven before they arrive.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Home again, home again, jiggity jig!

We are back home from a trip which took us up to the tip-top of the US, for a family reunion at my brother's home in Montana. Since this was our vacation, we decided to camp for the two days it took us to travel there. We began the first day by climbing from our Colorado valley up over Douglas Pass, from which it seems like you can see forever!

We were passed by a nonchalant herd of big horns, and I sketched one in my new travel sketchbook, to find that the paper does not like watercolor or wet media at all, so I would have to use colored pencils for the remainder of the trip. Quite a disappointment, and something to learn from: TEST sketch materials before leaving home next time!!

Another learning situation: you notice my sketch page lists a mountain lion as part of the wildlife we saw? My husband always says to me, 'if you really want a picture of something, just let me know, and I will stop or go back so you can get it.' Well, I saw a large golden brown animal hunched over something near the road we were traveling. My mind quickly went over the list of what it could be: A cow? No, too low to the ground. Deer? No, too big..... The only thing I could not eliminate was a mountain lion. This mental process was pretty quick, but not quick enough to shoot a photo as we traveled past. The animal was busy and not going anywhere, so I asked my husband to turn around and go back. He did not do it. Yes the road was a bit narrow, and there was some traffic, but he had promised me, hadn't he? Well, now he, and everyone else will just have to take my word that I'm pretty sure I saw a lion eating it's kill.

We arrived at our first campground to find it was a large lake, with lots of boats and RV's (we tent and truck camp) and almost no shade! But I saw this at the site next to ours. I went over and visited with this oil painter, and enjoyed the talk, seeing how she paints, and sharing the tiny bit of shade she had found. What I did not enjoy was the group of kids that yelled and screamed on the other side of us until well past midnight.

The end of our first day of vacation.

I will share a bit more of it with you, but I do promise not to bore you with my family reunion play-by-play.

Now that I am home, I will begin getting the loom ready to weave the Nativity tapestries. Today, I'll select and order the yarns I'll be needing for it.