ANWG: Day One

It’s after midnight on the first day of ANWG, and I am happily exhausted.  It seems as if at least two days worth of stuff has happened since I walked over to breakfast with my podmates Jan and Joan,

My first class of the day was how to create cartoons for tapestry.  The teacher is James Koehler, who was a benedictine monk for eight years (and a trappist monk before that.)  The tapestries he creates are luminous, layers of monochromatic colors and texture that draw you in further the more you look at them.  He told a story about weaving in the monastery, and how weaving became his meditation practice.  When the rules at the montastery changed, he was supposed to sit still like the other monks for contemplation and found he just couldn’t do it.  He ended up building a pipe loom and sneaking it into his cell, because that was the only way he could find contemplative peace.

That story made me so happy.  I’ve never been sucessful at sitting still and meditating, and have long thought it a personal failing.  But I can reach a meditative state while spinning, weaving, or dancing.  In that classroom today I gave myself permission to never sit cross-legged and try to clear my mind.  It’s so much easier to weave and find that state of happy mindlessness.

But personal spiritual revelations aside, James talked about weaving things that are meaningful to you, not just weaving a pretty picture.  He talked about art, and meaning.  I found that terribly fascinating.  I’ve always considered myself more of a craftsman than an artist, but I must say, the idea of communicating through the things I create has an appeal.

We practiced tracing details from French tapestries to study how cartoons fit together.  I took copious notes; so much of what he said was new to me, as a person who’s never actually completed a tapestry.

The design I came up with started with the simple expedient of tracing my hand (since that was easier than drawing, and I hadn’t brought any images to trace.)  From there I thought abouth the things that were meaningful to me, the symbols that keep recurring in my life.  The images turned into a mood, a story in my mind, and the design has lots of areas where I can play with color to create the illusion of transparency, which is something I’ve wanted to do since seeing Sarah Swett’s work.

Here’s what I came up with.  It’s not terrible sophisticated, but it speaks to me, and I want to become a good enough tapestry weaver to be able to weave it.  James’s comment, “That’s a good design.”  Hearing that from an artist who’s woven tapestry for 30 years and whose work is in the Smithsonian?  I was over the moon.

I lucked into a quick demo of Arahweave by Sheila O’Hara.  She uses the program to design her jacquard weavings.  I’d asked her a bit about ArahWeave, and she was kind enough to invite me to a 20-minute ad hoc demo she was putting on for one of the other instructors.  It was mind-boggling.  In Jacquard weaving, not only can you layer color upon color, but also weave structure upon weave structure, since in a jacquard loom, each thread weaves independently.

I missed the fashion show, but got to spend some bonus time in the dealer’s room.  Here’s a picture of that foot-powered skein winder.  Check out the shape of the treadle; it’s a carved foot.  Is that cute or what?

Well, I better get some rest, tomorrow I have a class about how to weave a four-selvedge textile like Navajo weavers do.

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