Friday, October 12, 2012

A New Loom, and a New Techniques

Unfortunately, I am still not weaving, but big changes are underway in my studio.  I was fortunate enough to attend the Helena Hernmarck tapestry weaving workshop at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis.  It was wonderful!  ASI is a lovely place, and the workshop was planned to coincide with a large exhibit of Helena's tapestries.  It was fabulous.  If you want to read more about it and see the photos, then see Rebecca Mezoff's post.  She did a wonderful job discussing the workshop, so I won't rehash it here.  Needless to say, it changed my way of thinking of tapestry and its possibilities.  All of the participants, the instructors, and Helena herself were wonderful.

Helena's technique is quite different from the gobelin technique in that it consists of four parts.  First there is a set of tabby threads that run across the tapestry, then a thick bundle of pattern threads that give the piece its color and its texture, and a thin linen thread to hold it all together.  Also, she uses colored warp to give the piece depth.  Helena, coming from Sweden, said she didn't have the idea that tapestry had to be in the gobelin technique: a high warp, weft-faced tapestry covering all of the warp with an over and under technique.  Instead, she wanted to make a living at tapestry and figured out how much she had to weave in a day to be able to make enough tapestries to sell to make a living.  So, she came up with this modified technique.  It is very impressionistic.  The view from close up is very like viewing a Monet close up, but far away the eye fills in the picture so that it becomes almost photorealistic.

In our workshop, I quickly found out that the pipe looms that I use that were designed by Archie Brennan which I really love, did not work well for Helena's technique.  I struggled to get much done.  I really needed to have a loom with harnesses or at least one where I could get a good shed.  I had made leashes for mine.  I have never used a leash.  Previously, picking the shed has always worked well for me.    Here is a photo of what I got done in the workshop, which is not a lot compared to those that had the appropriate equipment.

I have to say, I really enjoyed the technique.  I love tapestry, but sometimes I feel that it takes so long for me to get much done.  I am always impressed by those weavers such as Joan Griffin, whom I know, and Kathy Spoering and Tommye Scanlin whom I only know through blogs and ATA, that weave with dedication and get beautiful big pieces done in a reasonable amount of time by themselves.  I find Helena's technique quite fun and love the mixing of the color bundles, and I hope that with her technique I can produce my work just a tiny bit faster.  In the class, we only worked in grey scale so that we could master the technique without the added complication of color.  I decided at the class that I wanted to continue with the technique, so I started looking for a loom.  I sold my Shannock, and found a lovely, old 1948 Macomber loom nearby.  It took me over a month, but I cleared out my studio and moved all of my sewing into a guest room and made room for my new Macomber.  Here it is now in place.

I realized I also had to get a warp winder, and I still have to make a raddle before I can warp the loom.  I bought a book for warping it, but couldn't make heads nor tails out of the directions in the book.  I kept thinking it couldn't be that hard.  So, I went onto youtube and found a great video on warping a loom by yourself.  In the meantime, I have gathered together my wool as you can see below.

In the workshop handout, on the back cover was a photograph of a tapestry that Helena did of a neighbor's son, called "Boy".  This tapestry is 51" x 45" and was woven in 1969 by Helena Hernmarck.  The small photo of course does not do it justice.  It is held in the collection of Jack Lenor Larsen, and the photo below was used by permission of Helena Hernmarck and The Longhouse.

I was struck by how this portrait echoed one that I had done of my son two years ago when he was 9.  I did this portrait as part of an assignment for an art composition class.  In the class we were asked to choose an 8x10 photograph, grid it, and then we would make a 12 x 16" pen and ink of the photograph using a type of Chuck Close technique.  The assignment was to use a different symbol in each of the grid squares to represent one of 10 shades of gray.  I decided to make a portrait of my nine year old son.  Instead of symbols I used words that had meaning for him in his life.  Here are the results of that exercise. You can see the post about the piece here

 I decided to further my understanding of Helena's technique by continuing the use greyscale as we did in class, before adding in the complication of color blending.  I thought that a portrait of Linden would be just the thing.  That way, both children would have a portrait of themselves at age 9.  Below are some of the photographs I am considering for the project.  In the meantime, I need to go and build a raddle.

At this time, I am really taken by the one with the hat, but I also like the one with her sailing the boat.  Both of these were taken while on vacation in the Bahamas.  I will do some more thinking before I choose, and probably will grid the photograph before I select one.

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