I’ve made some ugly things lately. Not on purpose really, they just turned out that way. Mostly they’re tapestry diary pieces. Sometimes they’re other fiber projects. I find that if I make something that I just don’t like, I will still pin it up on my tapestry diary wall, but I won’t tell you, dear readers, about it. I started wondering this week why I leave certain things off the blog and I can pretty confidently say that it is because I’m disappointed with them. Or perhaps if I’m even more honest, it is because I want to preserve some superhero tapestry artist image which I’m sure I’ve blown my cover on long ago anyway. However, in a social media glitz, glamour, and gossip world, who wants to post something that turned out kind of ugly?
I can’t always pinpoint exactly why something doesn’t satisfy me. I do tend to be more of a process weaver than a product weaver, so it does take quite a bit of “ugly” to make me lose interest in a weaving. I really enjoy the process of making things, and much of the time I care a lot less about the finished product. (I hear there are people with the opposite affinities. Is this true?) So when something doesn’t quite feel right, I tend to take advantage of the fact that I own piles of looms (for teaching of course) and just start something new. As you can imagine, that can leave a studio full of UFOs.*
Take this one for example. This first part was woven between lego sessions. I checked the calendar. That happened in February.
I had an idea that I was excited about and I did weave some version of it, so I get points for that. I had some beautiful luster longwool fleece that I dyed in jars last fall. The colors were a little bright, so I carded some of them together with white and spun them on my favorite spindle in a gradation. I just picked up the next rolag** and spun it right to the last with every intention of weaving it as it showed up in the yarn.
I wanted the colors to remain intact but also wanted to weave the yarn at 8 epi on a Fringeless warp. My favorite size single on my Hepty spindle is too thin for weaving at this sett. So I chain plied*** the yarn on my spinning wheel. This made the weight perfect for the sett and the doubled warp that happens with four-selvedge warping.
The colors were fascinating. They show up in ways in the weaving that you don’t see in the spinning or even in knitted fabric.
The idea for the piece came from a meditation class where we talked about open sky. My intention was to weave one square, but the yarn was fun and I was fascinated with the color changes, so one turned into three. I designed it with some subtle diagonal lines in the first square which are almost impossible to see (the first square is shown in the top photograph). Instead of trying that square again and adding a tiny bit of hatching that would have made those lines visible, I abandoned them in the second and third squares. And while I enjoyed the actual weaving, I’d lost the original idea somewhere along the way. That disappointment sticks and it meant that the last square languished on the loom for a couple months.
Here are the three squares before steaming. Notice the prominent curl in the right upper corner? I am quite sure this comes from over spinning either the single or the ply. I’m guessing this was a plying problem. I chain plied it on my wheel while talking to friends and I wasn’t paying enough attention to how much ply twist went in. It steamed out flat, but a note to future self would be that ply twist matters for tapestry weaving too!
I don’t know why certain ideas grab me and I’m pleased with them at the end and other ideas just fall flat and I turn my back on them. This experience of disappointment happens repeatedly though. It isn’t just once in awhile; it happens a lot. I think with the tapestry diary is it easier to make ugly tapestries. They’re small and it is faster to iterate. I realize what I hate about something and I change things the next time around.
This happens to everyone. I’m sure of it. (Please don’t dissuade me of this notion if you are always 100% sure of everything you make. I don’t want to know if people like that exist, but maybe you do get a superhero costume for it.)
It is much harder to live with dissatisfaction when you’ve spent a long time on a much larger idea. Right now I’m unsure about my next big tapestry. I love the design and the colors are beautiful but something is making me hesitate. I’m ready for it to go on the loom. I just need to warp and start. Admitting that I have to “crush the butterfly” is perhaps the thing. (See THIS blog post with Ann Patchett’s discussion of being an artist and settling for the less than perfect.)
I did finish the Open Sky diary piece and hung it on my tapestry diary wall. As I pinned it up I was looking at the little Bootsy tapestry and wondered why that piece which is so different from what I usually design was so engaging and I loved it always and this sky piece fell so flat for me. I’m sure part of the answer actually is just that-- Bootsy was different and fun and I knew I would never do a 4 foot square tapestry like it. Being just a little experiment in a graphic style unlike my usual color blending, it was a lot of fun to see it coming together. I think the open sky piece was about making the yarn and once I was done with that, I was bored… especially when the important diagonals didn’t work out as I’d wanted.
As I mentioned in my Blog-o-versary post, I started writing this blog as a way encourage myself to continue weaving tapestry and record the results and have continued to write it because I enjoy doing it. Part of that enjoyment comes from encouraging other tapestry weavers to keep experimenting. I believe it is actually helpful to be honest about our struggles with any aspect of an art practice.
So there you have it. I make some really ugly stuff sometimes and it is totally fine. It tells me what I don’t like and makes me ask why I don’t like it which helps me with the next thing I make.
Do you ever make ugly things? Does it stop you from continuing or can you bounce back and keep going? Tell us in the comments!
*UFOs = unfinished objects. Projects that languish unfinished in closets, baskets, cupboards, under the bed… I found a knitting project in the bottom of my closet this winter that I didn’t even remember starting.
**For you non-spinners, a rolag is a small roll of fleece that comes off your handcards and is spun from the end.
***Chain plying allows you to keep together parts of the yarn that are the same color by making loops that are then twisted into a 3-ply yarn. If I had spun two or three singles and then plied them together, the colors would not have stayed clear.