The cutting off of Imants Tillers’s “Avenue of Honour”

It was a privilege to be present this morning at the formal cutting off of the huge tapestry “Avenue of Honour”, designed by Imants Tillers for the Canberra War Museum, and woven by the weavers of the Australian Tapestry Workshop. Weaving commenced last October, and had to be completed for installation for this Anzac Day, April 25th.

Imants Tillers in front of the tapestry still mounted on the loom:

avenue on loom

 Drs Hanbury and Brendan Nelson wielding the scissors:

the cutting off The tapestry laid out:

avenue laid out

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?


Sevilliana – sketching fast and loose

They don’t really do our coffee in Spain. You seem to have to choose between cafe con leche (nothing like a latte – a bit yuck actually), cappucino (a small cafe con leche with a big dollop of cream) and a cortado (a short black with a small shot of milk) – probably the best choice!

So, in the morning one checks the weather from the balcony:


and heads out for the first cortado of the day:


before heading into one of the local ancient attractions:


 One can have too much of Moorish tiles, so after a while one can wander into the gardens, where the fountains bear strange decorations:


All that clearly calls for another cortado – and all that walking and the scent of the orange trees has thrown one off balance (or is the fountain really like that?):


The scent of these oranges is everywhere in the old city – but they are quite inedible, the raw taste being extraordinarily bitter. But they are apparently excellent for use in marmalade.

But back indo0rs – the old hospital for the care of the sick elderly, now houses a great little Velasquez collection,  and a marvelously decorated church. We caught it just as the organist was doing some practice for Holy Week:


After which, of course, another cortado:


Evening – so flamenco. Not allowed to photograph during performances, which are often on tiny stages. This is a really small one:



And after the performance – a cortado!


A bit bustly in the evenings! So at last one creeps home through  the courtyard gate:



Err..  hmm.. but who can resist a last cortado? Caffeine? Who sleeps here anyway?









Two Questions about the Warp-Weighted Loom

Before you read the whole of this post please note that my main question – cannot one weave from the bottom up on a warp-weighted loom – has been answered in the affirmative. Debbie Herd has provided this link:  which is to a clip of Kristin Saeterdal doing just that on a modern loom built for that purpose.

The  accounts that I have seen of the warp-weighted loom describe the weaving being done from the top down, and depict this with illustrations from Greek friezes and pottery.

My crude drawing of this:

img137 An advantage of  warp-weighting over winding round the weft beam is cited as being an even distribution of tension across the weave.

The obvious disadvantages are

a. the difficulty of beating upwards as compared with downwards, and

b. the limitation imposed on the length of the weave.

Question 1: has anyone noticed, on a  normal frame,  a real  tension problem across the weave? I know that the first few warps on either side can be noticeably slacker than the central ones – but has it been an actual problem for the end product?

Question 2: Why cannot one weave from the bottom up on a warp-weighted loom – with a very slight modification?

img138 All that has happened here is that instead of being tied to the top beam, the warps are carried over the top beam and across to a second top beam on a second set of pillars and tied to a weft beam below that second top beam – and now one can weave from the bottom up. The second pillars and top beam in the diagram are of course purely there for illustration of the principle. They are in fact redundant because the warps can simply run up and over the top beam and then come straight down to a lower weft beam on the same pillars.

Reading Maria Brekke Koppen’s ‘Norwegian Tapestry Weaving’ I find on pages 90-92 explicit instructions on tensioning the warp with weights, and with some close-up illustrations but none of a whole loom set up in this way.However it appears that such methods are in use currently at least in Scandinavia – and perhaps therefore in the US – say in Wisconsin?? 

Any comments or information on this, anyone?

Triptych Terminated

The final item of the triptych is now complete- it’s something a bit different:


This is SO not me – but wow, was it interesting to do – I really dislike the notion of transposing a painting into tapestry, yet the attempts to get gradations of colour by adding or subtracting a single thread  in a mixed yarn, and the endeavour to keep edges fuzzy (not always successful) was a fascinating exercise. Here is Bruno Leti’s original:


and this is the complete ensemble:


On reflection I can see that this task was pretty carefully chosen to illustrate a whole series of technical problems. The Miro gave a basically simple black and white image on which was superimposed a confusing network of coloured lines. The Picasso gave a series of hard-edged geometric blocs of graduated greys (admittedly with a dash of added pink – which I ignored), and Bruno Leti obviously delights in liquid fusions of colour. Three styles. Three different sets  of problems to solve – and all while juggling with threads of different thicknesses and different tensile strengths – breaks became quite common!

And now there will be a pause in posts of several weeks while I get a bit more organised and catch up on reading – books, and the incredibly useful information on the blogs I list at the side here.

Pablo and Me

The second part of the Dreaded Technical Triptych is an interpretation of a portion of a Picasso painting – ostensibly of the  “Half-length Female Nude”. This title usually refers to the 1906 piece in a naturalistic style, whereas the given photo seems to be of a cubist abstract. Whatever. I think I have stretched the meaning of ‘interpretation’ a little far in this case. Other versions of this which they showed us at SWTafe were far more literal in the sense of being much closer approximations to the original. However:

me not pablo

Compare this to the original:


This was a far more joyous piece to do than the Miro – I suppose because I was wondering more about specifically tapestry techniques to suggest the original textures. I was trying to create a unified piece from an extract and  I indulged in a fair bit of extemporising.  Played about too with pick and pick,  and tried varying slopes and curves. Though I enjoyed doing this, I fear this is not what was intended by THEM.

The Owl and the Asterisk

Joan Miro had a thing about owls – and asterisks.  SWTafe has a thing about torture. Put them both together and you get “The Dreaded Technical Interpretation Triptych” – the first part of which is to ‘interpret’ the following section of a  Miro print given at a size of 18 x 9 cm (the whole triptych fits onto an A4 sheet):


I began this one at “summer camp” – we were directed not to go back in an attempt to undo or correct if we looked back and found even the most egregious of errors, or we would not be able to finish the whole triptych in the time allotted. I thundered right ahead at full speed – and therein lay my downfall:


I was so absorbed in getting down to the actual weaving that I didn’t realise my drawing was way out and that I had a rather expanded (or squashed) owl till day three of work back home… and yes, not enough time to start again and correct the lay of the blue and yellow lines, [bad words deleted here]. The warp is 9 at about 11 epi. A finer warp (or a larger width and height) would have given a much ‘smoother’ interpretation of the base image. The real question here was how to handle the yellow and blue fine lines. The double strands that I used overemphasise them  from the original – but perhaps that is what such a translation/interpretation must do – or maybe single strands would have been better – and why attempt to stick to the original colour anyway? There is some inconsistency in the way I have handled the lines – some are soumak, some are an attempt at flying shuttle and some are embroidered over the base weave. Not one of my better pieces.

So now on to part 2 and Picasso.

Local Art Society new term has started, and maybe some of these quickies could form the basis of ideas for later print making assignments:

prints maybe

When we get a male model (as we frequently do) there will be an opportunity to objectify maleness too…

P.S. I’ve only just noticed – they all face to the right. Hmm. Maybe I must move my easel to the other side…

Summer in the ‘Bool

I won’t tell you that thousands congregated down in Victoria’s whale capital for the Diploma of Visual Arts – Tapestry summer ‘camp’ – but we were certainly a respectable gathering of both off- and on-campusers from all the diploma years and from all across the country – and it was, of course not the right season for whales. Which was as well as it gave us time to do some work. There seemed to be workshops in, well, actual weaving of course, starters, advancers, historical copiers,  and technical samplers, And in design, business matters – and a printmaking workshop.

Though the Centre for Creative Arts Building has been open quite a while now,  it has no air-con – and the weather, to put it mildly was  b l o o d y  hot. So we did the weaving material in the main building  – and a weaving session there looks like this ( though this is last year’s group in the photo):

weaving at camp

We moved back to the Arts Building for the printmaking. We tried monoprints, using acetate sheets as the plates.

First up – a reduction print – remove the ink directly from the plate with whatever takes your fancy, then press the paper to the plate:


This is of course  a positive of the plate, but reversed laterally.

Then we moved on to the transfer method – the paper is placed on the inked plate and then drawn on – the ink adhering to the parts pressed down by the drawing tool(s):


Above is the actual print. Below is the reverse side of the paper where I drew the image  (with pressure and some hand rubbing).  My drawing and the print are both positive – though the drawing does not show the hand-rubbed areas, but the print is laterally reversed. The plate is oriented the same as the drawing, but becomes negative to it. I was clearly confused over the reversal – my signing is on the wrong side! Here is the drawing:

leaf original

Calling the plate the negative, with transfer monoprints there are three options:

1. The plain transfer – the print is positive, and laterally reversed

2. The “ghost” print – laying a second sheet on to the plate after the first print has been pulled, and        pressing it down – gives a negative print laterally reversed, and

3. The ‘double print’ – laying a new sheet of paper over the damp first print and pressing, gives a            positive print not laterally reverse – or as a truth table:

                                                                        colour                                           reversal

plate                                                 1                                                         1

print                                                0                                                        0

ghost                                               1                                                         0

double                                             0                                                        1

From there we skipped making a direct monoprint – drawing the image directly onto the plate – and moved onto intaglio prints – again using acetate sheets which we disfigured with various sharp tools ranging from  orthodox burins to ground nails. We discovered that using newsprint can be as effective in wiping the plate surface clear of ink as traditional tarleton. I have found a web post which suggests organdy silk as a longer lasting substitute.   We each attempted to pull several prints off our plates:

tulp1 tulp2 tulp3






Intaglio is fun – but what if you have no access to a press? Well, see this blogpost which will solve the problem IF you are a very very patient person:

After that we looked at a couple of already prepared collographs – a plate made by pasting onto a cardboard base other pieces of whatever, and treating that as a relief print – inking it and printing using a press – I guess it would be possible, but difficult, to pull a print by hand.

Oddly enough, after seven hours or so there wasn’t time to start actually doing a lino cut though we did watch a detailed presentation by Silkcut on the methodology. I took my design away with me to be worked on later:


And now it is on to the dreaded three-part technical sampler – watch this space!

Hullo 2014!

People like me who didn’t heed the warnings and used to light up at every opportunity (I was even known to do a set of tai-chih with a cigarette dangling from my lips) – well, some of us got zapped in the end. COPD. Me, I tend to lose six to eight weeks every 18 months or two years – first a slight cough, then treat it at home, and then when that doesn’t work it’s often too late for my GP to do anything.  “This time,” she said, “we’ll do it with bells and sirens.” So the ambulance it was. Ten nights with the drips in… and then the long period coming down off the steroids (the ones that don’t let you sleep and turn you manic – the first time I had them I went out and bought six phones – but that’s another story.)  Impossible to concentrate or do anything constructive.

So EVERYTHING goes on hold.  No tapestry assignments, media posts, anything. And of course I still had an assignment to finish – so it’s been a rush to catch up so I can take the assignment down to tapestry ‘summer camp’ at Warrnambool in another week. The weaving was finished an hour ago, and now there  is the tidying the back, sewing slits, and the dreaded braiding. Anyway, here it is, still on the loom:


In the old days, some observant Jews would have a wall hanging on the eastern wall of a room (the wall that was turned towards Jerusalem.) These were called a mizrach – the word means ‘east’. There were several types of mizrach. The one I have made is called a shiviti, from the first word of its text. In some houses they were purely a traditional decoration (which still had some mystical power), and in others they were used as objects of meditation.

The weaving was very interesting to do – because of the lettering and also the long curves. My tapestry teacher at SWTafe said that lettering is usually woven on the side – and a second reason for the side weave was those curves…  The actual design is a bit obvious or banal (God’s name against a bckground of flame and lightning) and  the colour scheme is not particularly successful (looks better on screen than in real life). I did base the lettering on a  General Public License font that is royalty free. I learnt that next time the lettering must be measured out on the cartoon and marked on the warps with greater accuracy than I achieved in this effort.

Next post will hopefully have something about the ‘summer camp’ – signing off till then!

Underway at last

My “shiviti” piece which I posted the cartoon of in my last entry is at last underway – though it’s going to be submitted as a ‘small’ tapestry, it’s the biggest I’ve done so far – 18 x 24 inches, say 59 x 46 cm, 12/12 warp at 9 epi, unmixed yarn – knitting wools both natural and viscose:


So far, so good – apart from one  broken warp and probaly too much white!  Anyway, it’s going to keep me quite busy over the summer break.

Words after long silence

I seem to have got caught up in various local busynesses and family catastrophes lately and ignored the blog.  So – moving backwards – my current assignment is the last of the Drawing Techniques group, though being demented, I am doing it before the previous one, which is full-figure drawing. The final is to produce three designs of tapestries to be used as gifts for visiting diplomats(!), on  several Ozzie themes.

1 – Here is my take on the savannah:


This was   derived in steps by enhancing a photo and then pixellating part of it:




 2 The second design is The Reef – done straight as a drawing:


3 and finally – a floral theme – based on a drawing I have posted previously – the Kuranda Railway Station’s plants on steroids – but this time  without the steam engine!


These pieces still have a lot of work to do – they are to be presented framed, in a portfolio, with artist’s statements and a development trail of notes and preliminary sketches and drawings. Phew!


The last tapestry I completed  was for the so-called ‘Environmental tapestry’. assignment. Here again I used a drawing I had done in the north – this was about A5 size:

cl tropicana

 and translated into a tapestry of about 46 x 30 cm:



The last assignment for this year is completely open. I am planning my largest piece to date. It will be about 44 x 59 cm. Currently the loom is warped up, I have set leashes (also for the first time), and the floor and waste are in and the cartoon is marked up. This piece will let me work on letters for the first time too. The design is fairly bland – it is a meditative wall hanging called a ‘shiviti’ – with the lettering in Hebrew:


I am still considering the colour scheme – the legend says that the letters are written in ‘black fire’ – but I don’t know about that.

Enough for now!

The Far North



Beach Trees                                                                                                            Strangler Vine

beach trees                                 strangler

The Junk Pile assignment

‘if it looks like it belongs on the junk-pile, use it’ was the guideline for this still life:


I had carefully picked out a highly textured pink sheet to experiment with some dry colour before doing the main drawing. And then I carelessly flipped the sheet and worked on the smooth surface – not even noticing. And again the draft took off and decided it would be the main drawing itself. I was especially interested in getting the brushes’ bristly effect – and also in the crumpled coke can. The brushes worked, I think, the can not so much.

Finally I realised I’d been working on the wrong side – and resigned myself to it…

If 3 horizontal is a triptych, what’s 4 vertical? – A Technical Sampler…

A black and white template was provided, with the sole colour stipulation being that the lines in the 2nd panel down be black. This assignment is to emphasise some problem areas:


I think these include  – getting slanting edges smooth  and straight (means having to vary the stepping), keeping curves curving, making sure that crossovers meet on the other side, keeping points pointy – while at the same time creating a harmonious colour composition. The end result is quite pleasing. Got some interesting calligraphic effects in that second panel down!

A View through a Window

Again a part of the drawing assignments for the tapestry course. This one began as a rough doodle as a foundation for a drawing, but decided to become the main drawing itself. A bit cheeky really seeing as it’s done in 10 cent shop kid’s colour markers! Actually I was very surprised at the possibilities with this stuff – though range of colours and colour mixing is a problem. This particular set had 18 colours:

Thru the window

I was interested in trying to convey looking through a mesh curtain – and to some extent succeeded. Also featured – my half finished so-called Technical Sampler, seen on the loom made from the head and feet pieces of a bed.

Markers of  a ‘reputable’, professional standard are used all the time by graphic artists and designers. The solvents used vary. Some, as in the example above, do not penetrate very deeply into the ground. Others, xylene and alcohol based, do sink to the other side. I did a mock-up drawing in Zig marker for the kitchen object still-life assignent. The ink sank and gave a view from the rear-side that I find very attractive, It is of course a  reversed image:

reversed teapot

This is not the submitted image. The requirement was for mass to be indicated with hatching techniques, so:


Here again I have had a bit of an experiment – wanted to see if I could have a hard-edged drawing which still suggested mass.

Colour Studies

One chunk of the Tapestry Diploma course is devoted to the  principles of colour usage. Rather than posting a blow-by-blow update on this, I’ll just put up  the final set of exercises before I have separated them out and mounted them with identifying comments:

colour studies2

In no particular order, in this last assignment there are exercises including complementary colours, complementary greys, and dyads, triads and tetrads. It was rather fun playing about with poster colour (sshh – not real gouache.)

Mini tapestry major catastrophe

And this is what happened:


I’ll use the curate’s egg again  for this one – good in parts. However overall lacks focus, and is absurdly careless in some areas.

Errors include using varying yarn thicknesses without making warp corrections and  misjudging compatibility of textures ( not colours, but ‘finish’). The change in weft thickness resulted in my discovering the ‘swallowed warp’ phenomenon – anyone else found this one? – essentially, when the weft is too thick for the warps, an empty  warp between two adjacent colour blocks will get pushed backwards and vanish. I believe one can vary weft thicknesses by bunching warps together and then one could revert to the previous sett after a row of twining or soumak. Anyway, more thoughts on this later possibly.

Plan for miniature tapestry

I am doing the tapestry work for the second year of the Diploma a little out of sequence (with the agreement of the flexible staff at SWTafe). My next piece will be the Miniature Tapestry – and here is the plan:

pitcher and pot

Planned size app 21 1/2 cm x 16 1/2 cm, 10/11 epi.

Featuring outlining, pick and pick and both diagonal and horizontal stripes.

Possibly a mite ambitious.

Softly, softly catchee Coptic

Assignment 1 Year 2 – copy a segment of historical tapestry in 20 cm x 20 cm.

I picked a bit of Coptic weave (Egyptian, 3rd or 4th century AD). The original full piece was itself only about 24 cm x 24 cm, and I am reproducing less than 1/4 of it. The original was at about 30 epi, and I have ‘blown up’ the image as it were and am working at about 8 epi. I got very discouraged early on – the images were distorting and the techniques were obscure.Have managed to get moving again – about 1/3 done as you  see:

little coptic people

Things to note:

1. The extremely tight warp sett (but not in my reproduction).

2. Warp of the original was probably linen.

3. All colours are pure – no mixed threads.

4.Extensive use of ‘flying shuttle’ technique.

5. Avoidance of long slits by frequent ‘dovetailing’.

6. But, paradoxically, frequent single warp wraps – which DO result in slits….

Still have quite a way to go – and will probably comment more later.

Back to the Drawing Board

It’s a bit of a load, this second year in the Tapestry Diploma. Four subjects – More weaving of course, and also history, understanding colour, and drawing. Plus the funny little literacy add 0n that one does on line, and the dyeing that is a left over from last year. Hmm. Almost panicking. I need drawing practice, and found a local art group that meets just down the hill – a twenty minute walk.

And today I put my toe back in the water after several years away from drawing:

buddha head

buddha folds

buddha etc