Category Archives: weaving

Winding the Warp, Meditation, and Yoga

Earlier this week I put my back out, badly; probably due to unwise handling of a snow shovel.  Yoga, my usual remedy, didn’t help and maybe made it worse.  Mindfulness didn’t help, nor did swimming in a blissfully warm pool.  Four days of ache, but studio work must go on.

Yesterday, having gotten the go-ahead for a lovely commission which I am really looking forward to weaving, I decided that despite the back I wanted to start winding the warp.  Many people dread this process: very repetitive, much counting.  I view it as another meditative act, requiring deep mindfulness and focus.  I do it the old fashioned way, on a warping board on the wall.

For those of you who haven’t done this, one winds the thread continuously around the pegs, spaced one yard apart, for the distance required for the length of the warp.  Down, then back up = 2 threads.  Counting is essential, and so there is a rhythm and focus required.  I have evolved a slow swaying movement of my body to follow the motion of the arm as I go back and forth, peg to peg.  It can be a beautiful process: it works best when I focus on the anticipation of weaving something wonderful.  Silence is important so I can keep count.  Please don’t write in with a better, faster, more efficient way: I need it to be like this.

Anne Wilson honored this process with a very elegant performative exhibition, first shown at Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago in 2008.  She called it Wind-Up: Walking the Warp.  It featured pure maidens in white leotards reverently winding the miles of warp (later exhibitions featured community weaving of these warps).

From Wilson’s statement:  “Nine participants accomplished the performed labor or “walking the warp,” converting the front gallery into a six-day performance of walking, counting, rolling, and winding. The rhythmic act of building a 40-yard weaving warp on a 17′ x 7′ frame was viewed from the Peoria Street sidewalk and resulted in a sculptural presence within the gallery. “

I have puzzled over this project for years.  As an active weaver and devoted maker, I wondered at the pomp of her performance.  How ironic that in writing this piece today, the penny drops and I get it.  That’s right: how few people understand the depth of this slow labor.  When a blue chip art gallery puts the microscope on it, is it made more understandable, or more arcane?

Anne Wilson, Wind-up: Walking the Warp.  Rhona Hoffman Gallery, 2008
(photo by surabhi ghosh, from Wilson’s website)


But back to my back story.  The slow swaying, back and forth, back and forth, spine mindfully erect, worked out much of the misery of my pinched lower back.  Ahhh.  There is another benefit of mindful labor.

Weaving again!

This has been a pretty tough couple of years for me in terms getting myself to weave, which is, paradoxically, the activity most central to my identity as an artist.  Weaving is the calming, centering, intellectual and creative activity that allows me to make things that I feel are profoundly expressive.  All other creative activities — design, sewing, crafting little things — are fun, make money, but are peripheral to the core.

A bit like writer’s block, I hit a bad snag in my creative flow a couple of years ago and just stopped working.  I questioned the value of making art at all.  It seemed to be piling up here, the economy was making it nearly impossible to sell it, I had to turn to more intensive textile design work to get by.  And once I broke the continuum, it has been terribly difficult to raise up the faith to get back to work.  But I have begun.  I finished my studio sale, and the local Christmas fair the week before, sold a lot of pretty little things I had made, (even sold a real tapestry!), and then I sat down, sighed in relief, and decided it is time to lay off the little stuff and make more important things.  I began a new piece based on a photo I took earlier in the fall while driving through southern Illinois.  I made myself a sign to keep me on task.  And I finished hemming the tapestry this afternoon.

Illinois Field, 2013,  24″ x 27″, wool with cotton & metallic Laura Foster Nicholson

Interlaced Color in Textiles

wool scarves by Wallace # Sewell

PLIED COLOR

In the world of constructed textiles, solid color is only truly possible when all of the yarns constructing a cloth are of the identical hue.  Even then, color is still modulated by surface texture, light and shadow.  The genius of constructing textiles with multiple threads of varied colors, plied or woven together, is endlessly subtle and rewarding to close inspection.  Plying color shatters hues like a kaleidoscope, bringing one or another color to the surface unexpectedly, creating secondary patterns in its random wake.

Like pointillism, color theory applies:  the eye will optically mix red and white to get pink; red & green to get brown.
 
This twisted color is satisfying as a layered experience: the softened haze of the textile surface from a distance gradually focuses into a world of intricate subtlety.  The surprise discovery that a soft earth tone is made up of complements is a rich reward.
wool and cashmere tippet by Wallace  #  Sewell

WOVEN COLOR

 
Warp crosses weft, weft crosses warp.  Warps of varied colors cross wefts of varied colors.  A tiny pixelated color grid emerges, bold like a tartan or a subtle ombre blend. Occasional blocks of one pure hue emerge when a color crosses itself; when one set of threads is so dense it hides the crossing set, the colors can appear totally solid.  When the threads are twisted together in the fringes, the color shatters like a prism.  When threads weave together at right angles, each intersection might be thought of as the equivalent of a pixel.
Combinations of dark and light, saturated and neutral, break up surfaces.  Plying colors of similar values give a more cohesive effect.
 
 
(top) Wallace + Sewell wool and cashmere shawl. Photo courtesy Wallace + Sewell; (bottom) wool and cashmere tippet by Wallace  +  Sewell,  wool and silk scarf, Margo Selby; from  Santa Fe Weaving Gallery

KNIT COLOR

Knit consists of a single thread, looping its way through the air, back & forth in straight lines, until a fabric is constructed.  Linear in quality, the lines of color can be broken up by using threads of several hues, plied together.  Color can be swapped out in the midst for a change.  Solid colors appear more saturated against a ground of plied colors.  The pop of saturated intarsia color against a ground of finely twisted threads gives a satisfying lesson in color addition, subtraction, and multiplication.

 
 
(Top & Bottom), knit scarves by Catherine Andre Paris, from Santa Fe Weaving Gallery)
CROCHET COLOR
 

Crochet is made by pulling loops through loops until a construction holds.  The progress can go linear, back and forth, until fabric is constructed, but it can also go round and round, and be added onto at whim in a non-linear fashion.  Threads can be twisted together prior to construction, or changed out during construction.  One can start with a palette of limited colors and by randomly recombining achieve a great diversity and subtlety of hues.  

When color is not subjected to the geometry of linear structure, it can develop and mass more freely.  Rings of varied hues can be crisp or soft depending on the combining and recombining of a relatively limited palette. 

 
crochet scarves by Sophie Digard, Paris.
 

Handweaver’s Guild of America: Small Expressions show

First Place. Tori Kleinert.
Turners Station, Kentucky.
Ceremonial Semblance: It’s in the Cloth © 2012.
Tapestry. Linen, cotton.

I had the pleasure of jurying Small Expressions 2013, sponsored by Handweavers’ Guild of America, at the Fine Line Art Center in St Charles, IL and attended the opening last Saturday. I chose 5 terrific prize winning pieces.   


My juror’s statement:  

It has been an honor, a pleasure, and a great confirmation of hope to have juried this year’s Small Expressions Exhibit for the Handweavers’ Guild of America.  I always find it humbling to be put in a position of making judgment calls.  One must be particularly wary of objectivity: it is so easy to be carried away by one’s personal biases, one’s taste.  No doubt things will be read into my choices, noting that I am a handweaver of 40 years myself!
It was a joy to see the great variety of media presented within such a small format.  The old maxim is true: it was extremely difficult to whittle the selection down to the maximum number of pieces that the show can handle.  It meant tough choices.  This show is, in essense, about miniature work.  The crafting demanded at such a reduced scale must be immaculate: larger work is more forgiving.  The scale of threads is more crucial, the fineness of edges more exacting.  Simply reducing one’s usual work to a smaller size is not always satisfactory.  I am always conscious of the danger of how one places a very small piece of fabric on a very large wall:  it may well look like a scrap.  But when well executed and presented, the smallness provides a treasure that is a reward in itself.
Framing is also essential.  It is terribly easy to overpower a delicate structure with a conventional frame.  Therefore I find it necessary to include the framing or mounting within the realm of criticism. 
I respond to excellence of craft combined with a stretch of imagination.  A perfectly executed basket, simple and proud, can be as imaginative as an elaborately woven tapestry:  it all depends upon an exact, if sometimes serendipitous, confluence of material, form, craft, color, a rightness of material, scale and structure to define an idea but leave it open to thought and imagination.
I was delighted with how often I found material completing a sentence that line or form had begun; how the magic of detail could flesh out an evocative yet sweeping form.  These are the great assets of fibrous materials, and it is gratifying to find them alive and well!
I also was sometimes heartbroken to eliminate a beautiful piece which was overpowered by an ill-chosen frame, or an immaculately and elaborately structure held up by a thoughtless armature.  Once in a while a work of staggering craftsmanship was eliminated due to a subject which was not entirely original.  Although I respected all of these pieces, the search was for the best of the lot.
I am quite excitedly looking forward to viewing all of this masterful work in its 3-D reality:  frequently a photograph is puzzling because of the arbitrariness of a reflection or a shadow.  I am hugely looking forward to a couple of works which are somewhat mysterious in the photographs yet promise something surprising in terms of materials or colors or structure.  I will be truly sorry to miss some of the wonderful pieces which did not quite make it here due to any number of the reasons explained above. One of the best things, for me, about work in textile media is simply the necessity of accessing it physically: no digital substitute can suffice.  Isn’t that satisfying?”
Second Place. Noriko Tomita. Tokyo, Japan.
Twistingle © 2013.
Embroidery, original technique.
Third Place.
Vladimira Fillion Wackenreuther.
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
Baby Snake © 2012.
Weaving.
Honorable Mention Award. Saberah Malik.
Warwick, Rhode Island.
Backyard Yield© 2013.
Self-developed technique from oboshi shibori, marbling, machine and hand sewing.
HGA Award Award. Geraldine Woodhouse.
Katy, Texas.
Big Bend Post Office© 2011.
Sixteen-shaft summer and winter figural pattern
woven in tapestry.





Fine Line Creative Arts Center • 6N158 Crane Road • St. Charles, IL • 60175 • 630-584-9443 Exhibition hours:
Monday through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays. www.fineline.orgwww.fineline.org
 


meditating, or not

Well, I am still not weaving — nor am I writing very much, despite best intentions and earnest promises to myself.  But as I fuss and bother and stay far away from the studio, meditation is creeping back into my life, and that, as we all know, is the path to mindfulness.

I have never been one to sit and chant a mantra, though I have sat and followed my breathing (thanks very much to yoga training) and I know full well the value of this: the clearing out of the pipes, the increased ability to concentrate, the intensification of focus and clarity which will result.

I have always, since I first understood what meditation meant and how it worked in our lives, thought that my weaving was my meditation.  At Cranbrook, where I studied in the 80’s, Hamada’s writings about the centering power of craft were much in discussion and a formative and empowering defense of hand weaving in the face of conceptualism.

But I had a significant conversation with a dear friend, who lives and breathes a meditative life, earlier in the week.  I told her how much I felt unbalanced because I was disconnected from my artmaking, in particular the meditative weaving process.  I asked her if weaving was, as I had frequently claimed, a true form of meditation, and to my chagrin, she replied that it certainly has great meditative qualities, but the attention required from time to time for the motion of the hands or the decisions one makes along the way remove it from the total detachment that is the goal.  Aaaaahhh.

No, I have not yet dug out my zafu and begun pure meditation in earnest.  But as I was weeding my gravel garden this morning (how Zen!), my mind roamed elegantly around and formed such beautiful, clear associations about art, life, gardening, spring.  What to do?  Interrupt it, run in and write it all down?  Or keep going and savor the experience, knowing that it will slip from my memory by day’s end (now)?  I chose the latter, valuing the experience over the recording of it.  Kathleen assures me that when I start meditation in earnest I can, in effect, have both: the beautiful experience and the reclaimed memory to write about it later if I choose.

The Half-Life of Words

The internet sometimes spooks me.  Your words can literally come back to haunt you!  I subscribe to Google Alerts to find out what people say about me (call me vain or paranoid, it is useful!), and today and alert about an article mentioning me came up, so I went to it and found the abstract ot a talk I gave to the Textile Society of America in New York in 1998, when, if I remember rightly, I was asked to speak about making textile things.  I should note that I was practically schooled to understand that weaving was plenty old fashioned (or call me paranoid!).  Here is the abstract.  As for the talk, it was probably ad-libbed, used slides, and if I stored it on the computer at all that was a few crashes ago.

Making It the “Old-Fashioned Way”

“It is tempting to consider the process I am about to describe as the result of a point of view which is subjective and maybe even romantic. Although the adjective “old fashioned” as used in the title carries a certain amount of ironic wit, in fact my method of weaving is ancient and timeless. I chose it because it is the only way I can adequately convey the majority of my ideas about the textile world. I also work this way because I love the process itself I have tailored my ideas, and risked hobbling them, in order to continue to indulge in a way of working that suits me eminently.
I weave objects which I call tapestries, although technically they are compound twill fabrics with images composed of discontinuous inlaid wefts. The structure is a three harness twill; the ground is warp-faced and the inlaid areas are weft-faced. I selected the structure after studying the three-harness twill tapestry of Kashmiri shawls. The structure confers the ability to express acutely refined detail while yielding the drape necessary for a shawl’s function. I adapted the weave to an inlay structure in order to economize on the time spent in weaving. In fact, I weave quite rapidly as a result, often more than 12″ a day. I am also able to exploit both warp and weft as design elements. The sett of my warp is relatively fine, 30 epi, which gives the work good detail and yet is a large enough scale to be able to see easily the interaction of colors between individual threads.”

And here is a detail of something I was weaving around that time.

detail, “Pear Tree”, 1996 hand woven textile

contemplating weaving again

It has been a really long time since I have done any weaving — I cut the last tapestry off in September last year, shipped them all out to Patina Gallery, and heaved a sigh of relief at the close of a cycle of work.

Most times when I do cycles of work, they are focused on something external: a historic garden, perhaps, or the contents of my kitchen.  When the sequence makes sense,when the story has been told, it is over.  The last body of work was different in that it recorded an internal state of personal transformation.  What marks the end?  It was not a deliberated logical sequence, so much as an intuitive one.  When I finished Beatrice, my muse, the work was complete.

So the remnants of specific warps — with enough left to weave more! — have hung limply from my looms’ reeds, chiding me that it is wasteful not to weave them off, while I have busied myself with projects of an entirely different nature: reading about climate change, working toward bringing local food to our tiny rural town, learning to screen print and using that to make direct statements about these issues in terms of household items.  All the while wondering, Will I ever weave again?

Bee Nice hand printed Linen towels, 2012

Weaving to me is a centering process essential to my well being.  I don’t make useful things, witty things, toys on my looms (all of which I love to make in other craft media): I reserve it for my alpha state work, when my hands and heart and head are connected in a way that still the chatter of thought and manifests deeper realities.  I now that sounds hyperbolic, but that is how I define the art-making state, and it deserves the highest respect in my own chain of work: the weaving studio is uncluttered with any of the other things that crowd my work day: no sewing, no paperwork, no computer, nothing but yarn, space, and my looms.  When I set foot in there it is like entering the yoga studio: no shoes, mind stilling.

I haven’t been there much lately so the mind is clamoring.

I have been distilling thoughts, though, about how the art end of my work can begin to confront the same ideas I have been so absorbed with in the rest of my activities.  I have the idea, but not the visual yet.  Often a body of work begins when I see something out there which might as well have a halo around it: I see it and it marks me and demands I do something with it.  The last cycle was without the exterior stimulus, but most other things are clearly about a place.  Genius loci, is that the phrase?

“Cold Frames & Fruit Trees” from the English Garden Series, 1989

Now I have been thinking about gardening as not just a metaphor for life, but as central to a new sustainability, and I am re-discovering old thought (such as my English Kitchen Garden series) and combining them with exciting new ideas being tested in the world, such as the zero-waste urban farm I saw in Chicago a few weeks ago.  I have the ideas spilling out, but have found no centering visual focus yet.  Nearly there!  Watch this space.

all images copyright Laura Foster Nicholson

the relevance of the Victorian Kitchen Garden

Over the last six months I have been doing a lot of reading on fairly hair-raising topics concerning the end of oil and climate change.  I take these things seriously though I admit to a kind of hyper-excitement about the direness of all of the predictions.  I have spent the last several months pondering how my art could make any difference at all in these critical times.  How will we survive at all?  I wonder.  What good can art even serve?  Will making more stuff even begin to address the stuff problem that has gotten us here?

The home making part of me has fared better: ah! resourcefulness! self-sufficiency! local food! frugality! victory gardens!  I am inspired by the issues to hand.

And life is so lovely: there is always some serendipity that reminds me of what Jung referred to as the collective unconscious, what others think of as karma or our simple interconnectedness.  So it happened that a couple of weeks ago my partner in ribbon, Edith Minne of Renaissance Ribbons, mentioned to me that she had been watching an old BBC TV series about the Victorian Kitchen Garden, did I know it?  I wrote back that I had used a book, based on an 80’s TV show, The Victorian Kitchen Garden, by Jennifer Davies, as the extensive resource for my series, the English Kitchen Garden, which I wove in the late 80’s.  Yes, that was the series.

The English Walled Garden, 1989, hand woven tapestry

She sent me the link, and I have been able to patch it together on youTube.  What a wonder it has been for me!

It is such a slow and gentle kind of program, dated even by the time of its making, let alone its subject.  A leisurely conversation between two gardeners, lingering shots of beautiful and unusual produce.  But the reality here: the goal of the kitchen garden was, of course, to provide food for the house.  If it was a big house, it needed a big garden.  Little question of anyone of relying upon imported food: one ate what was grown at home.  If one were very rich, and had at hand 14 gardeners, glass houses, and acres of land to till, one could have pineapples brought to table, melons, bananas even.  So what? a trip to the supermarket will get us all that — brought in from Costa Rica or Mexico, whenever we want (at the cost of oil and our climate) — but this was all grown in chilly, grey, rainy old England.  The hunger to impress, to have a variety of stimulating and exotic foods was theirs, as it is ours, but the ingenuity required to perform all of this magic without today’s comforts of ready electricity and plumbing is simply breathtaking.

The Vinery, 1989, hand woven tapestry

This takes me back to my work, then & now, as it were.  In 1988 or so, I witnessed what remained of an English walled vegetable garden at Holkham Park, in Norfolk, England, in the dead of winter.  It was glorious:  patterns of trained fruit trees etched on pink brick walls in the low and golden December sunlight; bluish glassed houses and cold frames with sheltered vines and fruit trees, rectalinear patterns of quiescent gardens awaiting spring.  I took photos and flew home inspired.  I took up the Victorian Kitchen Garden book for reference.

Cold Frames & Fruit Trees, 1989, hand woven tapestry

I look back at that work now, after watching these sweet programs, and wonder at the relevance. Here it is.  I have been reading — and ranting — about year round gardening (per Elliot Coleman’s Four Season Farm, for example).  I have been chivvying up our reluctant gardeners here in the mildest southern Indiana climate to try growing vegetables all winter.  I have been working hard to convince people that our farmer’s market is worth building and worth shopping at.  So I look back at my old tapestries and think,”yes, there is an answer, and I have known it for many years”.

The Root Cellar, 1989, hand woven tapestry

All photos and artwork copyright Laura Foster Nicholson, 1989-2012.

Being Here at Patina Gallery in Santa Fe

I am so excited — the show and all, but next week I will be THERE, in marvelous Santa Fe, surounded by friends, family and a totally supportive gallery!  All the work I have been writing about this year will be on display, in my show, Being Here.

The work was more emotional than much of my work has been in a very long time, and I used the making of it to transition from a deep sadness to a feeling of transcendant expectation of a new future.  Beatrice, the strange lady about whom I wrote last month, a culmination of a personal journey: the inspired artist, or the muse herself, smiling through her tears toward a new day. (It is a good thing I am a visual artist rather than a poet, as I cringe at the inadequacy of my words here!)

After Beatrice came a floating cloud of bees, freedom of spirit, entitled Being Here.

Here is the handsome card Patina has prepared.

Being There

I have completed the last tapestry in this cycle of Bee thought.  All of this new work is going off to Patina Gallery in Santa Fe next week for my show there, opening October 7. 

This piece, “Being Here”, just flew off the loom, as opposed to the earlier piece on the same warp, now named “Beatrice” (after Dante’s muse), who worried me to death all summer (so much for the power of a Muse!).  I felt that a cloud of energy, diffusing upward, was a good and fitting point to rest this inner search.  It feels good and peaceful and there is more than a promise of joy to come.

Being Here, 2011.  41″ x 34″, wool with silk & metallic