Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Part Four: Project 9 - Introduction

Woven Structures
Project nine uses simple weaving techniques to make a textile surface
"You will begin by exploring techniques which will enable you to manipulate and explore the effects of colour and texture and the different qualities that occur when these elements are combined in a structure."
The only weaving that I have been involved with in the past is to teach primary age school children to do basic weaving on a cardboard loom, when the instructions say, "Weaving is perhaps the most technically complex of all textile designing methods." I wonder how I will get on with this project.

This project concentrates on Tapestry Weaving which is pictorial in character.
The same approach that was used to design the fabric for the printing and embroidery projects will be applied to this project. An addition will be to learn the necessary technical knowledge that is needed to construct a tapestry sample.

Before I started this project I came across two books which mention tapestry weaving - both are fictional books.
The first, recommended by another tutor, was The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier. Although a quick and fun read, it describes the weaving process in detail:

Slit tapestry is mentioned - this is where blocks of colours are woven next to each other without joining. Slits are formed in the cloth which need to be sewn up afterwards.
This was the technique used in 'The Lady and the Unicorn' tapestries, the fictional account by Chevalier lists the reason for this: it was a quicker and therefore cheaper technique than Dovetailing.
Dovetailing is a method where the blocks of colour are joined together - on each row (pick), the colours are twisted together at the point of joining, this leaves no slit to be sewn up.
"Of course, if the patron is willing to pay enough and the design allows for it, Papa will dovetail colours, weaving different coloured threads into each other, interlocking them so that there are no slits to sew. It is fiddly work that takes longer and costs dear, so many patrons don't ask for it, as Monseigneur Le Viste did not. It seems he is too mean and too rushed - just as I expected of a Paris nobleman. There will be much sewing for me in theses next months." P.107 The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier - Kindle Edition
Why you need to understand the process before you design a tapestry:
A tapestry has texture, the colours can only be placed in certain areas, knowledge of how the colours will be joined is essential before the weaver starts - an area of tapestry cannot be painted over, it must be carefully unpicked if a part of the design does not work.
A full sized 'cartoon' must be drawn before the weaver starts work.
"It's easy enough to find fault with them as tapestry designs. To him they are paintings - he hasn't seen that with tapestries there needs to be an even pace to the design to make them smooth, so that nothing jumps out. That is what I do when I draw a cartoon - I make the design big and paint it as I know the wool will look when woven, with less blending of colours and more bright, even patterns. Cartoons are not so beautiful as paintings, but they are essential for the weaver to follow as he works." P.80 The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier - Kindle Edition.
The warp threads:
In tapestry weaving the warp is hidden, only the weft (the horizontal threads) is visible.
"Warp threads are thicker than the weft, and made of a coarser wool as well. I think of them as wives. Their work is not obvious - all you can see are the ridges they make under the colourful weft threads. But if they weren't there, there would be no tapestry." P.113 The lady and the unicorn, Tracy Chevalier - Kindle Edition
Warping a loom:
A simple card loom is easy to thread - but the finished piece is very simple in it's construction. To weave an intricate tapestry, the substructure is very different and much more complicated. As the quote above implies the warp is the most important part of the tapestry - if done incorrectly, too tight, too loose - the tapestry will suffer.
"To warp a loom for a tapestry this size you need at least four people to hold bundles of warp threads and pull on them while two men turn the roller to wind the warp around the back beam. Someone else checks the tension of the threads as they go. That must be just right at the start, otherwise there will be problems with the weaving later on." P.113 The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier - Kindle Edition
Taking the tapestry off the loom:
The time for the 'reveal' - when the tapestry is finished, the warp threads must be cut from the loom. A large tapestry such as 'The Lady and the Unicorn' would have taken many months to complete - payment would depend on the quality of the finished product. Mistakes would lead to financial ruin. Only when the tapestry is cut from the loom can the finished piece be seen as a whole.
" The cutting-off is a good day for a weaver, when a piece you have worked on for so long - this time eight months on the one tapestry - is ready to be taken off the loom. Since we are always working on just a strip of tapestry the size of a hand's length, which is then rolled inside itself onto a wooden beam, we never see the tapestry whole until it is done. We also work on it from the back and don't see the finished side unless we slide a mirror underneath to check our work. Only when we cut the tapestry off the loom and lay it face-up on the floor do we get to see the whole work. Then we stand silent and look at what we have made." P.66 The Lady and the Unicorn, Tracy Chevalier - Kindle Edition
As I work through this project I realised that I have been able to interpret some of the instructions as a result of reading Tracy Chevalier's book.
This is an image from the Wikimedia Commons Library of The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry hanging in the Cluny Museum, Paris, the link to the image is here.
The Lady and the Unicorn tapestry

I then went on to read Alan Hunter's "Landed Gently", The Inspector George Gently Case Files, Book 4. This also featured tapestry weaving and talked of the workshops of Gobelin in Paris.
Whilst there is no 'in depth' discussion on weaving - it did introduce, to me, the workshops and traditional techniques that are used in tapestry weaving.
When asked whether a 'high-warp' loom is a 'superior method' the answer is, "Not on your life - just slower and more back-aching. But all through the centuries the Gobelins factory was turning out class tapestry on high-warps, and a sort of legend has grown round this type of loom." Location 15684, Alan Hunter, George Gently Omnibus (Books 1 - 4)
A description of the fine work that can be achieved with the high-warp loom follows, and having now achieved my very small weaving samples on a very basic loom, you can only guess as to the beauty and complexity of a tapestry made on one of these looms by a master weaver.
"The high-warp loom, simple, massive, was provided for a far larger web than the horizontal machines with their treadles. And such a web was spread across it, awesome in its complexity, an irregular third of it woven in and beginning to be taken up on the lower roller. Here was something different from anything they had seen before. The weaving was so infinitely fine and close, the colours so subtly graduated, that one had to look closely to establish that it was a shuttle and not a brush that had achieved such effects." This quote follows on from the one listed above, same page.
The book also mentions the time scale a tapestry can take; George Gently comments after seeing the small amount of tapestry he has seen on the loom: "you mean that's taken you a year?" must be one that all weavers hear and feel the need to defend their art in their reply.
It also brings in the issue of 'fading' that the wool yarns that have been so carefully dyed to the right shade will not last forever.
"In twenty years four hundred of the tints I'm using there will have faded or darkened. I give that piece ten years after I take it down." Location 15707, Alan Hunter, George gently Omnibus (books 1 - 4)
I did also read some 'proper' books on tapestry and weaving, but these novels really did inspire me to look at tapestry in a different light. One of the major facts to learn from this is that the methods used in tapestry weaving have not changed at all over the years. It is a long laborious process, but one that is carried out through a love of the art - there are no short cuts.

Dovecot Studios, Edinburgh
The Dovecot Studios were started in 1912. They evolved from the William Morris Craft Studio at Merton Abbey in Wimbledon. (I wrote a little about William Morris and the Arts and Craft Movement in this post. William Morris died in 1896)
In their introduction About Dovecot Studios, they say that:
"Dovecot is unique for its highly creative collaboration between artist, weaver and commissioner. Each tapestry combines the creative ideals of all three creative minds and weaver will interpret, rather than simply translate, a design into textile."
They have worked with many contemporary artists to produce significant works: Dame Elizabeth Blackadder, Graham Sutherland, John Piper, Tom Phillips, Patrick Caulfield and David Hockney amongst others.

Looking at their latest sales catalogue here I found a piece by Master weaver Jonathan Cleaver based on Kurt Jackson's work "Grangemouth at Night Smoking" on p.19. In the Interlude piece for Project 8, I attempted a thread wrap based on his Jackson's work "For Bruce Chatwin", here, I used textured threads in my yarn mix. The clever and beautiful weaving created by Jonathan Cleaver did not need 'fancy' yarns, just skillful weaving and careful placing of the right mix of colours to achieve a textured look.

"Tapestry has become the coolest art form" according to Charlotte Philby at the Independent, full article here.
While some tapestry has moved into the 'modern age': Grayson Perry's tapestries were produced in Belgium using a Jacquard loom, his designs digitally reproduced - 2009 saw The Walthamstow Tapestry (Article from the Metro featuring an image of the Tapestry is here). His recent pieces The Vanity of Small Differences (Article from Aesthetica Magazine can be seen here) have also been digitally woven with a mechanical loom.

Dovecot continues to weave by hand, taking on apprentices from Edinburgh College of Art's Tapestry Department. Their pieces are more expensive than those produced on a mechanical loom. Director David Weir states:
"Handmade tapestry is a thought process, everything is slow and deliberate... A machine can't replicate the human touch, the happy accident or the editorial decision."
They work with centuries of trade secrets at their finger tips whilst creating modern day collectors pieces.

Time and skill is a major part of a hand woven tapestry, artist David Hockney visited the studio, to observe the progress of his first tapestry, in the 1960's, this article by Florence Waters for the Telegraph relates the tale link:
"A line which had only taken him, (David Hockney), two minutes to draw had taken the team three weeks to weave. When he pointed this out to the weavers, there followed, well, an uncomfortable silence." quote from director David Weir printed in the article linked above.
I love colour and have yet to delve into the realms of dyeing my own yarns, and yet this current tapestry that is being woven at Dovecot really caught my eye. Link here.
It is the "Large Tree Group" by Victoria Crowe.
"Large Tree Group" depicts the shepherd, Jenny, dwarfed by a snowy, wintery landscape in a palette of whites, browns, greys and blacks. For the first time ever Dovecot is weaving a complete tapestry using only un-dyed yarns from flocks native to Britain and we have been challenged to find this range of colours from within the natural colours of sheep's wool. The finished tapestry will be a unique tribute to the Scottish landscape, the lives of those who work the land and the quality of the wool they produce."
The task of choosing just the right colour yarn to complete a tapestry seems daunting, the shade, the quantity needed - if the selection is to be made from un-dyed yarn, the prospect of 'getting it right' seems impossible, can a natural fleece produce a consistent colour of sufficient quantity?

The work and progress of this piece is regularly posted on to their Facebook page, it can also be viewed by the public from the weaving floor balcony at Dovecot during the week.

Jilly Edwards
Was a student of Edinburgh College of Art Tapestry Department from 1980 - 1982.
I came across her work at Ruthin Craft Centre, I didn't manage to see the exhibition that was held there, but bought the book "Reflections and Investigations" which features many of her pieces and also the essay "Jilly Edwards: Tapestry into the 21st Century" by Fiona Matheson.

Jilly's website, link here, describes the artist, "She is renowned for her use of colour and the painterly nature of her work and the response to place and light.
I also found this wonderful blog, Blethering Crafts, which shows all her work in great detail and has a lot of information about Jilly's work and life.

One of my favourite pieces of Jilly Edwards work is entitled "Matthew's Summer Garden", this was made in 1980 when she was studying in Edinburgh - picture of this piece can be found in the link to the Blethering Crafts blog.
In the book "Reflections and Investigations" this tapestry is featured on page 4, next to it's sketchbook page, a simple sketch with a sample weave and meaningful notes.

The tapestry features bands of colour set within a frame work of grey lines.
In my mind these bands of colour must resemble the colours she saw on a day she sat in Matthew's garden one summer.
The coloured bands that have been woven contain shades and tones of each colour, these have been cleverly woven and almost resemble the way a colour looks when it has been painted. They are not flat colours - they have a liveliness that even paint struggles to capture.
In his essay "Colours, Journeys and Landscapes" p17 - 22 "Reflections and Investigations, Ian Wilson
describes "Matthew's Summer Garden":
"sees her, for the first time, moving away from an earlier representative approach and creating, within the parameters of a grey grid, a spectrum ranging from the palest yellow to dark black. These slender, horizontally-layered bands of colour celebrate the sensuous delights of what the artist herself has described as the 'wonderful discoveries of colour to be made whilst researching our involvement with the landscape" p.18
June Hill, the Exhibition curator for the Ruthin show says:
"She had by then, (the 1980's at Art College), been a practising weaver for a decade, but that time in Edinburgh was critcal for her subsequent development as an artist. 'It was', she explains, 'the place an time where I discovered my voice as a weaver." Introduction to Reflections and Investigations p.5, by June Hill, quote from Jilly Edwards.
Some of Jilly Edwards pieces are tiny, Silent Red Bowl, 1998, measures just 3cm x 12cm (p.22), whereas Ma, 2001, measures 90cm x 230cm (p.23). Seen in the book the visual impact is the same, they are both powerful pieces - it would have been a wonderful experience to have seen them displayed at the Ruthin Craft Centre.

William Kentridge
I came across a book on William Kentridge's Tapestries in Cape Town, South Africa a few years ago. It was the first time I had seen a book on modern tapestry and I was amazed by his work.

William Kentridge was born in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1955. This was just a few years after Apartheid was introduced to the country.
He was interested in politics, and realised that an effective way to get his message across was through theatre and art. In "About Kentridge" from The Philadelphia Museum of Art link here:
"he would find theatre and art better suited to grappling with his country's tension and plight"
Of his exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, "Overview" link here.
"The tapestries stem from a series of drawings in which he conjured shadowy figures from ripped construction paper and collaged them onto the web-like background of nineteenth-century atlas maps."
The "series of drawings" are in fact his "Puppet Drawings". The 'shadowy figures' are torn from black construction paper - the figures are in silhouette.
"the figures - often burdened with the weight of objects and the world - become refugees, migrants, and movers of possessions."
Kentridge worked closely with the Stephens Tapestry Studio in Johannesburg to translate his work into a woven image. Marguerite Stephens carefully translated the artist's work into a full-size cartoon before handing over the image to the weavers.
Link to the Philadelphia Museum of Art "Stephens Tapestry Studio" which also features images of the women who worked on the tapestries is here

The tapestry was woven using the French Gobelin high-warp technique on vertical looms. Stephens studio have created nearly one hundred tapestries since 2000, all based on Kentridge's seventeen Puppet Drawings.
"For Stephens, the combination of a strong artistic vision and meticulous execution is what produces a successful tapestry, and it can be judged only when the tapestry is released from the loom and hung for the first time, becoming a work of art in its own right that possesses reverberations of the touch of all who participated in the process of its making." see link re Stephens Tapestry Studio.
This is a video clip for a preview of Kentridge's tapestries entitled "William Kentridge: Anything is possible", in it you can see the weavers at work on the tapestries along with a commentry by William Kentridge, he talks of a tapestry as a "portable mural that you can carry with you to your next palace."

In this link from Art21 here you can see images of the tapestries.

In his essay "Permanent Projections" from the book "William Kentridge: Tapestries", Carlos Basualdo discusses how the tapestries were not faithful reproductions of the original drawings.
"The change of scale seems to imply for Kentridge a careful and precise rethinking of other aspects of the image. Colour marks are added to the uneven black surfaces of the figures and the maps; the shape of one head gains focus: and, here and there, carefully added elements - the figure of a bird, fragments of typewritten pages - appear that were absent in the drawing."  p.14

These tapestries and the artists involved in them have left me with a feeling of wonder and amazement. The whole process is so labour intensive and slow and yet each artist seems to live through their tapestries and feel that their work can be best expressed through this medium.

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