Continuous warping for tapestry: the Mirrix example

Continuous warping for tapestry: the Mirrix example

I've been teaching people to warp a Mirrix and other pipe-like looms with a continuous warp for years now. There are people who immediately understand how it works and don't have a problem with the pattern the warp must follow as you warp. There are other people who struggle with this a lot.

I believe this stems from a particular spatial ability some of us have and some of us don't. (Don't worry, if this isn't your skill, you can still learn to warp a loom. You undoubtedly have many skills the rest of us don't.) I have particularly good spatial abilities. In fact I'd say that my memory is very spatially oriented. I am especially good at remembering places and paths. I hiked the 500-mile Colorado Trail from Denver to Durango in 2003 and can still tell you details about all parts of the trail just by positioning myself there in my memory. When I have re-hiked hundreds of miles of the trail recently, I realized my memory from 2003 was quite accurate. But I most likely can't tell you the plot of a movie or TV show I watched last week and I'll never be able to tell you the name of the actors. I remember books that put me someplace in my imagination and I won't remember much about a book that doesn't--even if I really enjoyed reading it... unless I hold the book in my hands again and can somehow dredge up the sensory experience of the place I was while reading it or can flip through it as an object and see comments I wrote in it.

When it comes to warping, I think this ability to imagine things in space is very helpful. But there are many people who don't have this sort of brain.

Have loom, will travel OR love notes from TSA

Have loom, will travel OR love notes from TSA

So you're headed for a week-long vacation in the sun and you decide to pack your little pipe loom for some beach-side weaving. Then moments before you head out the door, you pull the loom out, afraid TSA will think it is a bomb... 

Have you been there?

I have flown a lot in the US and have never had weaving equipment taken away from me. I have, however, had my bags searched repeatedly. I get love notes from TSA almost every trip. I chalk it up to the combination of metal looms and electronics. And for the record, I am glad they are checking. Aren't you?

2013 or What Tapestry Still Has to Teach Me

New Years Day. After an exhausting few days of marrying Emily and my storage lockers across 1200 miles of the United States, I slept 15 hours last night. When I woke up I didn't know what time it was as Emily consistently unplugs all the appliances when we leave the house for more than a few days. My clock said 3:10. I came downstairs to find that it was closer to 11am. With great hope I tried to find the Rose Parade on TV, but we only get 4 PBS stations, 3 of them in Spanish and though I'd have been happy enough watching the Rose Parade in Spanish, they were more interested in showing soap operas on New Years morning. I did manage to find it streaming live on the internet and caught Dr. Goodall (she is such a bad-ass!) going by before the parade was over. I missed all the bands and everything. (I always hope that one of these days they will show the half time show at a football game and I will see some marching band... but they never do. You'd think I'd give up on this, but I continue to hope in vain that I will see "the band".)

In the spirit of looking forward and hoping for positive changes, I spent today doing what I hope to do much more of in the coming year. Weaving. I happily warped the Mirrix and started a new piece. Yes, I miss my big loom terribly. I patted her beater yesterday in the storage locker and promised to free her sometime this year. In the meantime, the ever-versatile Mirrix will have to do. There is more travel and relocation in our future and no matter how I try, I can't fit the Harrisville rug loom in the back of my VW.

Being an artist and making a living have been the biggest struggle this year. I have learned a great deal about how to be an artist and make a living at it, but have not yet accomplished that while supporting myself or my family. I have learned a lot about balance, and if my not-infrequent tears of frustration are any indication, have a lot more to learn.

I think that tapestry weaving still has a lot to teach me. And when I am not weaving much (like in 2012), I forget the lessons of the slow accumulation of fabric. I forget that if you put a little bit together every day, eventually you have a whole tapestry and something new is born. I forget that the process of each of those weft passes is building something important even if I just can't see it minute to minute. And I think that steady activity of weaving builds something in me too.

So for 2013, I am returning to the loom. I have many other goals, but this is the most important one. Whatever loom I am able to use, I will weave on it. I will make things which may or may not become public pieces, but I will weave nonetheless.
2013 has begun.

The forecast for Alamosa tonight is minus 27 degrees.
27 degrees below zero.
Degrees (F).

Makes your snot freeze when you breathe.

Tapestry workshop looms

I have been teaching workshops in a variety of places recently, to guilds, conferences, and smaller shops. Each has their own challenge in terms of looms.  I frequently get questions when posting photos of student looms on my blog. People want to know what others are using and why. Here are my feeling about tapestry looms for workshops. Keep in mind, these are just my opinions and you undoubtedly have your own reasons for what you use... as does every tapestry teacher out there. When I am in my own studio, I weave tapestry on a Harrisville rug loom. Most of us have a small loom we use for carting about and those are the looms I want to talk about.

A tapestry loom has to hold a high tension. A loom you are working on in a workshop is no exception. If you start with a poor tool, you won't be encouraged by your results and won't want to continue working in tapestry. Using a good loom to learn on is important. Tension is one of the biggest issues.

Rigid heddle looms: My issue with most rigid heddle looms is that, in my experience, most of them do not hold a good tension. The shedding device (the rigid heddle) works fine for weaving tapestry, but the tensioning mechanism is usually poor. Many of these looms have a "beam" on each side which just doesn't tighten enough. That said, I have had a couple rigid heddle looms in my classes that worked far better than I expected them to.

Table Looms: I used to have a LeClerc Dorothy loom which my grandmother gave me. It was meant for weaving fabric and actually had 8 harnesses. The beams were tiny though and I couldn't ever get it tight enough for tapestry. I have found that most table looms have this problem. I have seen looms that do work fairly well for tapestry in this category. In the Michigan (Michigan League of Handweaver's Conference) class I taught this summer, one of the students makes looms with her husband and their table loom was not only beautiful, it worked quite well for tapestry. You can see Bruce and Ann Niemi's looms at www.kessenichlooms.com.

A loom that a blog-reader recently asked me about was the LeClerc Penelope II. This link is to a vendor's website. LeClerc has a website but it is exceedingly clumsy (so go to that link at your own risk--you have to download PDFs to see what they sell, though LeClerc does make excellent looms). I have never seen one of these looms in person, but from this photo and the description, I feel that this is basically a table loom tipped upright for weaving tapestry. If you've tried it, let me know!

Archie Brennan pipe looms: These looms show up at almost every workshop and if you want to make your own loom, I recommend the design. Archie has offered the design for these looms for a long time. Here is a link to a place you can order one disassembled or get diagrams for making one.
Archie Brennan pipe loom diagrams.
These looms are made of copper pipe and use threaded rods for a tension device. People use various methods for standing them including Tommye's solution here. I have seen people use inexpensive painters easels also to hold the loom. Of course some people just lay them on their lap and against a table (perhaps not the best ergonomic solution however).
Photo Source: Tommye Scanlin's blog
Another tapestry weaving friend of mine, Jane Hoffman, makes her own copper pipe looms and has made her own shedding device so she doesn't have to use leashes or pick a shed.

The loom below is one that a student brought to the last workshop I taught. The loom is not labeled. Does anyone know what it is or who makes it? It had a beam system for tensioning, though the teeth on the beams were large and I didn't feel like it got a tight enough tension. It used leashes for shedding. The advantage of a loom like this is that you can put on a long continuous warp.

I don't work for Mirrix, but for my money, it has become the best tapestry loom out there that you buy ready to weave on. These looms are pretty much bomb-proof, super sturdy, infinitely tightenable (if you don't loose that little wrench they send with it--seriously, keep track of that!), and come in a wide variety of sizes. I believe Elena and Claudia originally designed this loom for beading, but it quickly became apparent that tapestry weavers were going to love it. The shedding mechanism is easy to install and works smoothly. You can put on a warp that wraps around the loom and rotate it for more length. It uses a spring at the top (and now at the bottom if you choose) to space the warp evenly (yes, you need to take the spring at the bottom out after you have woven a few inches so that you can advance your work).

This is the tightening tool for a Mirrix loom. It is extremely handy and you should not lose it... though I'm sure you could buy another if you did.
I recently read this blog post by Janette Meetze about a recent tapetsry workshop she taught. I looked at her photos and realized everyone in her class was using a Mirrix. I emailed her and turns out she has a stash of them that she uses for teaching. It is an interesting idea to have a set of little looms for teaching beginners. Of course my current house/studio combination being quite small, I think my partner might have my head if I decided to invest in a fleet of new looms. Perhaps one day though.

What workshop loom do you like to use?

Do artists publish blogs?

I have been having a discussion with myself about this for awhile.  Do artists publish blogs?  I am serious about making tapestry and in doing that about expressing something important--I am interested in making art.  But I like keeping a blog.  It is a way to push myself to think about things and to try to reach out to the fiber community and maybe even to see what other people think.

I don't want my blog to just be random carpet sweepings from the recesses of my mind however, and sometimes I don't censor what comes out quickly enough.

I have just been listening to Syne Mitchell's WeaveCast radio show.  I learned of it recently when someone recommended I listen to her interview of James Koehler.  (It is a wonderful interview, so go listen.)  I realized today when searching her archives that she has interviewed a great number of tapestry artists.  I love this technology and that someone has gone to the trouble to put together these great interviews and share them with the rest of us.  James Koehler, Sarah Swett, Michael Rohde, and Mary Zicafoose are the tapestry artists I found.  She also did a wonderful interview with Claudia Chase of Mirrix looms in which I found out the looms are assembled at a place called Sunshine House which is a workshop for the developmentally disabled.  As an occupational therapist who has worked extensively with this population, I love that!  I am so thrilled to find that my loom was made not only in the USA but by people with developmental disabilities.  Thanks Claudia!  (No, I have no affiliation with Mirrix, I just love their looms--and most of my weaving is done on huge floor looms.  My Mirrix is my "fun" loom.)

So all of this got me thinking about blogs and whether they were just more word-making clutter in our already bursting worlds, or if there was anything constructive to add to society/the world/humanity by participating in the blogosphere.  I'd say that Syne Mitchell has made a very positive contribution to the weaving community with WeaveZine.  But what about my little blog?  Is it just distracting me from the loom or am I contributing something?

I think that many artists have this aura of secrecy about them and their work is their communication with the outside world.  (Though it does occur to me that perhaps they just don't have time to publish blogs.)  Do you have to keep all your methods a secret to be an artist?  I like transparency and would be happy to teach anyone my methods.  That doesn't make me less of an artist, does it?  The art world can be so fickle.  Maybe the important thing is only how I feel about it.

Probably what it comes down to is whether or not working on a blog is pushing forward my art-making or distracting me from it.  Does it complicate my mind and make me less available to ideas and creativity?  Is it just one more stream of words obfuscating what might be really important--lying silent and unnoticed (or avoided) in the recesses of my mind?  Or does it contribute something useful?  I am just not sure.

Yep, cutting another one off...


I have been home from Germany for over a month now, but somehow I still feel like the pendulum hasn't swing back to the center yet (Ever read The Pit and the Pendulum by Edgar Allen Poe? He was one of my favorites as a kid--my Dad had a scary story-telling voice. And no, I'm not exactly saying that my job is like the Inquisition). Perhaps it never really stops swinging though. Of course finishing a 3-year project and pulling together two major shows was a lot of work. I forget this. I forget that recovery time is needed and that it is okay to relax... to review the photos, write the articles, come out of the foggy glow left by a fantastic European trip... and hopefully come back to the loom again and start to weave.

I started a small piece on my Mirrix last week and ended up tearing out a bunch of it. This is called frogging when you're knitting, but unlike knitting, the weaving has to be undone one pick at a time. When you're tearing out a pretty fair isle sock, you just rip. Anyway, the weaving had to be ripped back since the colors weren't working. Maybe I should just be glad I have learned enough to know when the colors aren't working while I'm still weaving it! (photo is before ripping... we'll see what the new colors look like this week)

Anyway, un-weaving seemed to go with my general struggle the past month. I was reading an excellent memoir by No Way Ray Echols titled A Thru-Hiker's Heart (about his hike of the Pacific Crest Trail from Mexico to Canada)... I tend to read hiking books when I am feeling a little bogged down. At the end of the book he talks about his return to his "regular" life. He says, "...There is an undercurrent, like a sub-sonic speaker, creating an indefinable itch, a tension in the neck and shoulders. It's fear... and anger. I am afraid that I will not be able to hold on to what I've found these solitary months along the trail. That I will, all too soon, be once again trapped by the non-essential, embroiled in the unimportant, snared by responsibilities of living in a world where others must be taken into account. I fear that in the coming weeks it will all be come fuzzed and gossamer. I will become more and more entangled, like a freeway driver in rush hour traffic, until all that seems real is the shouting and the honking, the grimacing and the groaning...."

I am afraid that I will forget the experiences of the summer and fall--of being part of two fantastic shows, of completing a long project, of forgetting what I have learned before I really understand what that was. Hiking, especially long-distance hiking, is an activity that quiets your brain and makes you realize how simple life can be in any given moment. It is hard to hear the quiet when squirming under an unmanageable job, too much driving, and the call of so-many-things-that-have-to-be-done. So I am starting at the only place I can start. I am asking the important questions: "What are those things that I think really have to be done?", "Is that really true?", "What things do I not have to do?", and "Where can I get gluten free cinnamon rolls?"

Some pictures from Chama, NM where I stay during the week. Ostensibly the For Rent sign used to have a trailer behind it, but they have been pulling trailers out of this subdivision this fall--the one next to mine and one on the next street just in the last few weeks. I hope they don't take mine while I'm at home some weekend. My Mirrix is in there.

The colors are beautiful... and since this photo was taken a few days ago, most likely covered with snow now.

Mirrix Experiments

One of my relatives who is very familiar with with horizontal looms, but not with small tapestry looms (okay, it was my Dad) was asking me about this new Mirrix loom that I purchased so I'd have something portable to take with me when I'm away from home. Here are a few explanatory photos.
Shedding Device

Warp is wrapped around top and bottom bar and there is a coil at the top that can be changed with different spacing.
Things I have noticed so far:
1. I have a lot of trouble bubbling correctly when the warp is vertical! This is going to take some getting used to or I'm going to have tendonitis before you can say "extensive wrist flexion for prolonged periods of time."
2. The Mirrix is a great little loom! I love the shedding device which seems to work smoothly and effectively. I purchased the Mirrix heddles and they were so easy to put on. I couldn't face the thought of making 200 heddles, so I looked at it as an investment in sanity. Of course I haven't woven much more than this, so maybe I should get back to you on how much I like this loom.
3. The new beater I bought for my foray into vertical tapestry weaving is great. Thanks to Lyn Hart for recommending it! It is the Maggie fork from Magpie Woodworks. I didn't get the weighted version yet Lyn, but probably will get one of those too! The teeth are part of a dog comb and they are smooth and strong. I really recommend this tapestry beater! If you don't believe me, ask Lyn.
4. The first piece I am doing is a design done by a 9 year old friend of mine (well, she is now 10, but she was 9 when she drew this cartoon for me--I'm a little slow at getting to this project which shouldn't really surprise anyone). The subject is a unicorn and I can't help having visions of the unicorn tapestries at the Cloisters in NYC. I sort of hope she'll let me enter it into one of the Convergence shows, but it is up to her! It is her design. What 10-year-old wouldn't want her name on a piece in a Convergence or ATA show? (I realize this probably means absolutely nothing to a 10-year-old who lives in Mississippi, but maybe a bribery trip to SEE the tapestry in Albuquerque would work.) Weaving something realistic is a significant departure from my usual weaving, so the whole thing is mostly a crap shoot anyway. I won't even talk about the fact that this piece is distracting me from the much-needed work I have to do on the body of work for the shows in Albuquerque and Germany for my Bauhaus Tapestry Project.