What is weaverly?

Complete freedom leads to artistic travesty.

Each medium has constraints. How may those constraints be conducive to creativity? What sets a woven tapestry apart from a painting – and what are it’s unique constraints?

Sylvia Heyden notes the primacy of the grid.

The shapes native to the grid are: steps, the diagonal, and the triangle. A curve or circle should therefore admit that it is composed of steps.

From Lurcat we have the prescription of:

flat images, with no modelling/shading – no three-dimensionality,

no perspective,

no horizon or skyline –  I think this may be relaxed in the modern context

greatly reduced palette – he had six major colours and five or six tones or brightnesses of each, giving thirty or so choices,

colours bright, adjacent colours setting each other off.

But I do not accept Lurcat’s dictum that a tapestry be a very large scale architectural adornment, or that the designer’s cartoon and colour specifications be adhered to with no deviation by the weaver.

Colour blending is to be achieved with hatchures. Blending by gradually changing the colour balance of threads on the bobbin is, to my mind a ‘painterly’ approach.

The medieval ‘greats’ – Lady and Unicorn, the Unicorn series, Devonshire Hunting, like their predecessors, all abhorred a vacuum. The weaving field is crowded with images. This may not appeal to modern sensibilities – but avoidance of empty space is definitely an option to keep in mind.

Vertical slits that require Gobelin stitching are also relying on a non-native solution. Perhaps there is no solution – the completely straight vertical may be alien to tapestry, and the solution lies in the interlock as in Scandinavian style so-called “Flemish weaving.”

Scandinavian weaving abounds in interlocked verticals and triangles, as do the Navajo blanket geometric designs.

Texture on flat weave may be given by warp wrapping and looping with the several variations of soumak and running rya. I am dubious about cutting the loops to form pile – seeing that more as a rug technique. I am hesitant about using twining – this brings two wefts into play simultaneously, where the rest of the work is done with one weft at a time.

These may be artificial limits, but perhaps worth playing with.

The ‘go to’ texts for me:

1. Mette Lise Rossing – the thread’s course in tapestry (tradens gang i billedvaev)

2. Marie Cook, Valerie Kirk & Cathy Hoffmann. Dye Yarn and Produce Woven           Samples – SW TAFE Unit VBAU036 Dip Tap 21870 Vic

3. Marie Cook, Valerie Kirk, mod by Cathy Hoffmann – Refine Techniques for Textile Work – SW TAFE Unit CUVTEX501A – Dip Vis Arts – Tap CUV50111

4. Peter Collingwood – Techniques of Rug Weaving – Chapters 1-6, Chapter 14.

5. Peter Collingwood – Beyond the Basics – Weft-faced rugs in Plain Weave.

There are obviously lots of other useful texts. These are the pick of the lot.


So what’s new – the Navajo did it first

Four-selvedge weaving has been the way the Navajo have made their geometrically patterned chief’s blankets for a couple of hundred years – if not more.

The following Pinterest page clearly shows the looms set up with ancillary beams and supplementary warps:


My own attempt at setting up my modified Spears No 4 loom with supplementary warps collapsed. Current intention is – remodify loom to take account of the self-spacing nocks top and bottom – and thus avoid those annoying warp crossovers that can develop during warping, and set up for a hemmed interpretation of the light streaming into the Echidna Chasm.



Planning a four-selvedge tapestry

Having just completed my Savannah tapestry, I’m gearing up for the next effort.

I was intrigued a little while ago to come across Rebecca Mezoff’s detailed post on 4-selvedge weaving. The idea of no fringes and no turned-over hem is appealing.  Some years back my late sister found and gave me an old Spears No 4 loom – this was an English production of a stripped down rigid-heddle loom. I had modified it into an upright square tapestry loom – and now I added some height (to accomodate the upper supplementary warps) and put in some hooks so that the “jig” is part of the loom (though separate in Mezoff’s adaptation of Sarah Swett’s method.) This what it looks like:C14795D6-18B4-48C7-8450-794E445E2E3A

The idea is that the main warp is wound between the ‘top bar for main warp’ and ‘bottom bar for main warp’.

Two supplementary warps are wound, one interlocks the top of the main warp to the top tensioning bar, and the other, the bottom of the main warp to the very bottom bar.  The main warp bars are then removed one by one as tension is applied – and weaving can begin.

It seems finicky, but the extra time involved in setting up the supplementary warps is offset by the time it takes to weave and sew hems.

If one insists on the four selvedges, one is, of course, committed to the dimensions set by the placement of the removable bars, though one could compromise and finish short with a fringe or woven hem.

Savannah is very much about both the shapes and the colours of the northern outback.  I was also very much taken by the amazing colours in the Echidna Chasm at the north end of the Bungle Bungles. This is the image from there that will form the basis of the next one:


Planned size is about A3. I ‘ll be warping a Glenora 12/12 warp at 9 epi.

Now – interpretation. What is a ‘weaverly’ thing to do? Lots of lovely knobbly stuff in there  – do I add texture with pile techniques – or is that getting cheap thrills when I haven’t fully explored all that plain tabby can do? How geometric am I going to get? All is in the lap of the gods…

Usually I get through a piece this size in about three weeks, but I have the feeling that this is going to be a greater challenge for a longer time.

At last, then, something…


Savannah –  25 cm h x 35 cm w

the scrub looks so open in the Kimberley, till you walk two hundred metres on that red pindan and realise you’ve lost sight of your starting point. So, either a compass, or the sun, the season and the time. And always, fire and smoke somewhere.

Note – used only old bobbin remnants and those cutoffs you can get at the Tapestry Workshop.

Had some pull in, and found one could add in one (or two) warps at the edge – hardly the most elegant solution.


Norm at JCU-Lifersu

Unlike down south, where it’s all much more regulated, there is a pleasing imperturbable casualness about life-drawing up here. There is no official model’s association or union, and hence no rigorous insistence on changing rooms, fixed breaks, specified payments, etc. In Melbourne we stick to a fairly rigid programme of five at 2 minutes, two at 10 minutes, then a break of 10, followed by three at 20 with intervening 10 minute breaks. Up here they start with five or six at 1 minute, and then a series of varying lengths, could be 10, 20, 35, with indeterminate breaks. Seems to work and no-one complains.

The models all seem to be amateurs – among others we’ve had a student, a handyman, a university lecturer and a bus-driver. And today’s Norm, the bus driver, also appears some weeks on the other side of the operating table as a participant drawer in his own right – and pretty good too!

So, quickies:

and longer:

a couple of blow-ups:

and a final devil:

Tricolour Lou at JCU

Having done a head in three colours in the portraiture class (charcoal and white chalk on brown paper), I thought I’d try it in figure drawing.

The theory behind this is that in drawing on white, you can’t go whiter, so you are starting with the highlights and are working from light to dark. This is also what one does in watercolour (but not in the ‘thick’, non-transparent media – oils and acrylics).

However, starting with brown, one is in mid tone, and can go lighter with white and darker with black.

So here is Lou, last Sunday at the JCU Lifers’ All-day, on an opened out brown carry-bag from the bookshop:

And here she is in simple line: