If you’re in my online classes, you might by now be used to me saying that tapestry weaving takes practice. As adults, I actually think this fact can be a little hard for us to wrap our minds around. Many of us trained for a long time when we were much younger to become good at whatever we spend much of our days doing. We forget that back then, we practiced.
When learning tapestry weaving, we have to understand with our heads how the structures work and we have to teach our hands to manage the physical materials we’re working with.
In college, I trained to be a piano teacher. I knew I was never going to play in Carnegie Hall, nor did I have any desire to be a performer. I loved my pedagogy classes and ended up writing a piano method for preschoolers as a senior honors thesis. In the process of testing that book, I taught a little group of 3 and 4-year-olds to play the piano from my method. I was astounded at how fast these little tykes could gain the physical knowledge of pressing particular keys. They were not, however, so quick at understanding how reading music worked.*
Kids learn physical skills so amazingly quickly. But the cognitive piece is harder when you’re young and your brain isn’t as developed. For adult beginners, the problem is often the opposite. The understanding of how the structures work and why you’d use different techniques can be learned more easily than our hands can pick up the physical skills needed to weave well-executed tapestries. Thus some practice is required. Actually, lots of practice is required.
In the past year I have heard a similar statement from both Barbara Heller and Tommye Scanlin in personal communications (both astoundingly accomplished tapestry weavers). Both said that they weave every single day. The secret is not talent or blessings by a muse or childhood exposure to yarn. The secret, my friends, is practice.
I’m working hard on my next book which will be released in 2020 from Storey Publishing. It is a detailed (and rather lengthy) tapestry techniques book. I have a tendency to want my teaching to be comprehensive. I fully realize this can be overwhelming**, but I couldn’t resist putting all the things I think are essential into this book. The publisher has been remarkably open to my expansion of the scope of it.
But here is the result of my love of making sure all the things are included. Someone has to weave all the samples for those photos which explain all the things. Guess who that is? I have a hunch at least ten of you reading this would jump up and volunteer to weave a few of those samples for me and many people suggested I have some of my students weave them. But in the end, I wanted them a particular way and so I’m weaving them all myself.*** The ones I’m weaving on my rug loom are almost finished (tomorrow!!). The rest will be done on smaller looms over the next week.
Samples are a great way to learn. I encourage them in my online classes and I’m always surprised when people occasionally push back against doing them. Samples are a way to figure out how things work. They help your brain remember the techniques and they definitely are a way for your hands to start learning how to manipulate the materials so that they’ll do what you want them to. Samples are important! Of course if you can’t bear to weave something that doesn’t have images in it, design your “samples” to be more fun.
The photos here are of some of the samples I’m working on. There will be other more interesting photos in the book of tapestries in progress and completed works by many different tapestry weavers. But these technique samples are the backbone of it—the bones that the rest of the learning is built on. You’ll see them again next year!
When I sat down to start weaving these about a month ago, I thought I would weave them all on Mirrix looms. After starting the first sample I looked up at my Harrisville rug loom with a big warp on it that is not the right size for the next planned tapestry and decided that using that warp for these samples was the way to go. The weaving would be faster and I wouldn’t have to take that warp off to put on the new wider one when I start the new tapestry later this year. That is why you see all that blank warp in the photos. I’m working with what was available immediately. I divided the warp into 6 and 8 inch wide sections and just started the next sample on whatever section worked best leaving as much open warp as I needed to. The other advantage of using the Harrisville rug loom for these samples? The reed allows me to get the selvedges perfectly straight (something that not even I achieve all the time when weaving with just a hand-beater on a smaller loom).
Hate weaving samples? Then maybe decide your next tapestry is one that no one has to see—not a sample but a weaving without expectations. Take the pressure off yourself. Weave anything! Just weave.
*The method was picture-based in the beginning so they didn’t need to read music. My goal was to get them to play with the piano and have fun making sounds. That might sound familiar as “having fun with yarn” is my underlying teaching principle for tapestry weaving also.
**If “comprehensive” is a word you don’t want to hear in relation to an online class, take Weaving Tapestry on Little Looms instead of starting with Warp and Weft. Easing into tapestry in this way will start you off in an easy and fun manner instead of dumping you straight into the full enchilada. If you’re more like me and want all the details clearly laid out, Warp and Weft is your class.
***Perfectionism bites me in the butt again!