Ow. My brain hurts…but in a good way.
Today was the first day of the Koehler workshop on tapestry basics. We started off the day by warping our looms. One of the wonderful things about taking a workshop from a good teacher is that you get all these wonderful little tweaks and efficiencies that aren’t in any of the books. Ironically, two of the gems of information I got in today’s tapestry class were tips on how to warp a floor loom. (James weaves his tapestries on Macomber floor looms.) First of all, you can use a credit card (that you don’t mind scratching up, not your main Visa) to thread a reed. Wrap the thread over the end of the credit card and then pass it through the reed.
The second refinement is a way to tension warps with one hand while winding on with the other. You tie onto the back beam, then take the warp under the front beam, over the top of the entire loom, and hold it in one hand under tension while you crank on with the other.
Once the looms were threaded, we started weaving. First we wove a header to spread the warp and to build a base to beat our tapestry against. James showed us how to bubble the warp. I finally understood what he meant by seeing sine waves in front of him all day in his studio (mentioned in the interview I taped with him yesterday.) I thought he was referring to his harmonic oscillation series, but he wasn’t. He was talking about the sinuous way he bubbles the warp before he beats it in place. Watching his hands wove was mesmerizing, the movements were so fluid and efficient. There was absolutely no wasted motion.
I spent a lot of time back at the loom watching what my hands did, and the resulting cloth they made. I worked on perfecting the technique, weaving more header than was strictly necessary. My hands aren’t fluid, and my sine waves often look more like hills, but every once in a while it would all come together. And as the day progressed my bubbling got less awkward and more fluid. At one point I cried out: “I’ve got sine waves!” (Which, given my name, seemed only fair.)
After the header was woven, James showed us how to do twining and a hem woven with the warp yarn as weft. Then we were ready to start weaving. We started with two colors weaving in the same direction and practiced splicing and slits.
That doesn’t sound like a lot for an all-day class, does it? Let me assure you, it was. Because this isn’t just a “how to weave tapestry” class. It’s a “how to weave excellent tapestry” class. Each technique was shown with all of James’ personal finesses explained, and it often took several demos to wrap your head around a given technique.
A tough class, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Tapestry is sloooow. If you’re going to weave something that takes this long, it should look perfect.
That night, a surprise. I walked down to the supermarket to buy some shampoo (I’d run out early in the conference, and bar soap just wasn’t cutting it.) While there, I ran into Joann, one of the other tapestry students. It had gotten dark while I was shopping and Joann offered me a ride home in her car. Instead of taking me straight home, she took me on something I call “Joann’s Magical Mystery Tour.” She showed me several wondrous sites in downtown Spokane (who knew it was such a cool city?) which were even more magical at night. We got close to the raw power of the waterfall, toured the vintage steam-punk glory of the steam house (now converted into a restaurant and fancy offices, but retaining all the orginal equipment that used to supply steam power and heat to the whole city, and drove along the cliff overlooking Spokane (yes, the city is not all flat.)
It was all the spontaneous fun that I used to have with friends when I was in college. We’d pile into a car and just drive, making our own adventure. A reminder that adventure is not just for the young. As I close in on 40, it’s worth noting.