A Matter of Design

Warping the loom is a very formal process, as is putting in the floor, adding the ‘waste’ (if you do that) and ‘casting on’ with either double half-hitches or a fold-over hem. And the weaving itself is going to be a slow, painstaking process needing constant vigilance and concentration.  It is not surprising, then, that few of us will proceed to extemporise on the loom without guidance of a plan or cartoon. Unless one is doing small incremental  units for a journal a la Janette Meetze or has the confidence of a Sylvia Heydon a plan is inevitable. Yes, in the course of the work there are often slight deviations or sudden inspirations for small additions – but I have found that these always must be able to be accomodated within the original framework.


It is not surprising then that the schools put such an emphasis on the design process preceding the physical approach to the loom. And it too can be a long process.

One exercise we had was to look at an environment both familiar and pleasing to us, indoor or outdoor, and to come up with a set of symbols representative of that environment – and then use those to produce four possible designs to weave.  I have always been drawn to the strip parks and creeks that we have here in Melbourne – the secret intrusion of the wild that has been allowed to remain, not out of any regard for its aesthetic value, but because it was ‘unuseable’ – flood-prone, marshy or too steep. Now of course, these hidden places are often torn apart by freeways, bounded by high walls constricting and imprisoning the secret places even more. The following sequence shows the development of my designs on this theme  from the quite illustrative to the more abstract.





I won’t labour the meanings embedded – I don’t think one should read the plaque next to the exhibited object for anything more than  the title, date,  name of author and the medium!


A second lengthy and fun design exercise I call

   A      FUNNY      THING      HAPPENED      ON     THE      WAY      TO      THE      FORUM

We had to think of a strange or funny or embarrassing or striking event that had happened to either us or a friend and use that as a basis for a design.

Once in hospital I got severe hallucinations after a dose of Stillnox:


This in itself is a comic cartoon rather than a tapestry cartoon – but the verticals of the drip-stands and the ballooning bladders of gunk hanging from them could perhaps give something:

stillnox dream2


On another occasion after waiting for two hours for an ordered dinner to arrive at a country hotel I was so hungry that I ate the carnations in the vases on the tables:


dinner flower.2jpg


On Rarotonga once we crossed the island by walking the track over the extinct  volcano, went canoeing in the lagoon and almost got washed out to sea, where we would not have been able to emulate the Maori canoes which left seven hundred years earlier for New Zealand and which I picture here:

canoes in surf2


And finally, there was a time when winter came early. Once we were in Marysville when it snowed in the first week of April. My fine leather boots got soaked and my wife tried to dry them in front of the cabin’s log fire – cooked boots (after which I graduated gratefully to modern, light, Katmandu type boots.) I  also happened to be reading Freud on infant sexuality – so here are images of boots and forbidden bodily parts in a design attempt to be true to the pixellation of tapestry – no curves and no verticals.

burnt boots 2



Now the question which all of this raises in my mind is – when does one look at the design and say – well, that’s not a tapestry, it’s a painting. Or can it become both?


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