Rebecca Mezoff

The great dye experiment of 2013, Part 1

I have been forced to do some experimentation with my dye procedure lately. As I related in THIS POST, I have been having difficulty getting the very light colors to dye evenly. So I was very very careful with the next batch of light colors which was a very light orange and a very light gray. The first go-around with the gray was a disaster. I've never had this much of a disaster actually. I am that kid who got straight A's in high school and when my Spanish teacher gave me an A- one quarter (and it should be noted that that was the quarter I was home sick on the couch for 3 straight months and I was doing the material on my own), I flipped out. I was not the child who got an A-. I suspect that explains a lot about me actually.

I can't even show you a photo of the first gray set. I don't think I could even bear to take one. The second go-around on the light gray was better. It is close enough that the "I'll only accept A's" girl will accept it even though her inner dye critic wouldn't give it an A. (I overdyed the first light gray batch a lovely black. Turned out perfect.) The second color I did that day was light orange. It didn't turn out so hot.
It is not going to pass my critical standards. I can just hear the students complaining now. I have to decide if I will use it in one of my own pieces for a really spotty effect or over-dye it something else lovely. The yarn to the left is the gray. The blue yarn to the right was the teal I messed up and was posted in "A Bad Dye Job" post. Spotty teal yarn becomes a lovely, even blue. I hope I can replicate it!

This is what I did the second time around. I soaked the yarn using some Synthropol to help with penetration of the water. I added the right amount of glauber salt as well as some sodium acetate, I made sure I put the acid in at the beginning so the pot wasn't too hot, and I brought the temperature up to boiling maddeningly slowly. The gray passed (but barely), the orange didn't. Same treatment.

I have never had this much trouble leveling my dye baths. This is supposed to be easy after all! What has changed is that I bought pre-scoured yarn packaged for knitting. It is the same yarn, just scoured by Harrisville and skeined in knitting quantities. I started thinking that perhaps their scouring process was somehow causing the problem. So I ran a little experiment. I do have a masters of science degree and I did take chemistry, so I feel that there is a tiny bit of validity in this study, though the reliability is likely poor partly due to the abysmally small sample size. At any rate, here it is. I may have to get a critical analysis from my number one experiment-designing professor friend, though I don't know if I can take the heat.

Now I know you're going to find the first flaw in the experimental design right away. I didn't use the same dye color I have been having trouble with and certain dyes do take up better than others. You're right. I know. But I needed blue. So blue it was.

The other experimental design dilemma I had was whether to dye them all in the same pot. This should give me a better idea of whether it is the scouring of the yarn that is doing it... theoretically. Plus it is a lot less work to put them all in one pot than to do three separate runs. So, into one pot they went. I did not use any synthropol, Abegal SET, or sodium acetate for this experiment. I only used glauber salt which is my usual procedure.

The three groups are as follows:
 (The plant is Llois. She is clearly in rehab. In fact she was named after the rehab patient of mine who gave her to me. I hope the real Llois is doing better than this Christmas cactus. Incidentally, I call her Yo-is because of the double L.)
So the groups included (B1) the same yarn made by Harrisville but bought on cones unscoured, and subsequently scoured by me; (B2) skeined yarn dyed as sent by Harrisville which is supposedly already scoured; (B3) the same Harrisville pre-scoured yarn but I scoured it again. (Scouring just means you wash the junk that keeps the dye from bonding out of it in really hot water.)

All the blue in one pot. I'm getting a little nervous partway through and here is why:

And the results are in:
The yarn is hanging left to right, two skeins each: B1, B2, B3.
B1 and B3 turned out very similarly--both even and quite pretty. Both of these groups were scoured or re-scoured by me.
B2 flunked. Uneven dyeing, will have to be fixed. Of course I can't really say that there weren't other variables that contributed, but from now on I am going to scour all the yarn regardless.

Tapestry Class at Harrisville Designs

I weave my large tapestries on the Harrisville rug loom that my grandfather gave to me when he could no longer weave. And since I started working with James Koehler, I have used Harrisville yarns for my work. So getting a request to teach at Harrisville Designs this summer was quite exciting to me. I have an aunt who is also a weaver with a Harrisville rug loom (we're a looney loomy family) and she has taken a couple classes at Harrisville with great stories of lakes and old brick buildings and a studio full of sunshine. Now it is my turn to go there. I feel a little like I'm going home even though I've never been to Harrisville at all.

The class I'll be teaching is 5 days and will include the content from my popular Color Gradation for Tapestry class. We will have a couple extra days in this class to explore ways to use technique and color to achieve the visual effects each student is interested in in tapestry. We will explore uses of color on the loom as well as through slide presentations and discussion. We will weave a sampler to practice these techniques and all students will be able to weave a small tapestry or a study for a larger work. I revel in teaching to a wide variety of experience levels at once. As long as you know some very basic things about tapestry weaving, you'll get along fine in this class. And if you're on your 50th tapestry, come and weave with me also. There is always more to learn for both of us. We will use the Knitting and Weaving Center's Harrisville floor looms. Unlike a lot of tapestry weavers, I most enjoy weaving on a floor loom, so this is a chance for me to convert some of my students to this way of doing tapestry. (Grin)

Harrisville Design classes are taught in an old spinning mill which has been beautifully renovated. And of course what could be more gorgeous than New Hampshire in August?

More information is available on the Harrisville Designs website HERE.
The specific class list is HERE.
And the link to my teaching page on my website is HERE with more information about this class and some good words from past students.

The class is August 5-9, 2013.
Mark your calendars!

Yarn waiting for tapestry weavers at the Michigan League of Handweaver's Conference in August 2012

Photographing tapestry

I have my piece for the Small Tapestry International 3: Outside the Line show sitting on the counter in my kitchen. I know this seems odd (after all, I am risking a ketchup malfunction by leaving it there), but I need to remember to rephotograph it and my memory has been failing me on a regular basis the last few weeks. Really I'm just taking things moment by moment at this point. The original photo I took was on the right track, but somehow I didn't get the entire piece in focus.

Cherry Lake is hung inside a larger frame and several times a day I walk by, see it out of the corner of my eye, and think, "who left that television there and what a waste of electricity?!" and then remember that (1) we have a TV but no reception, so it isn't really possible that that could be the blue glow from a TV and (2) that Emily would never have left that tapestry sitting there for a week. Since she is visiting our new niece in a land far away, I am left to fend for myself and for now, the tapestry stays in the kitchen.

I am attempting to learn more about photographing my own work. As a kid I had a Pentax K1000 single lens reflex camera. I got it for my 14th birthday and I loved it. I used it right up until that moment in Seattle in 2004 when I bought my first digital camera. I still keep the Pentax in my closet right next to my softball shoes. You never know when one of those will come in handy after excavation from the layer of dust. I wonder if the shoes still fit.

A couple years ago I bought a Canon digital SLR and have been amazed at what great photos it can take considering the hands of the person operating it. I do understand shutter and aperture and ISO (which used to be ASA in the world of film cameras, didn't it?) and depth of field. But I am no professional.

So today my task is to get a better photo of Cherry Lake. I have left it too late to take it to my professional photographer, so I am screwing up my patience and setting up the light stands and hoping that I can get this one done well myself. Here is the old photo (which was cropped for submission). I'll let you look for the new photo, which I am sure I am going to nail, in the STI3 catalog.

A moment of silence.

Honestly, I have been half crazed for the last few months. I have been working at the nursing home much more than I would really like and I have been trying to finish a monumental stack of projects... and sometimes a glass of wine just doesn't take away the tired from all that.

This week I finished that job at the nursing home. I have worked there for one year and fourteen days. It is a place where I have learned a lot about myself as a therapist and, as stressful situations are wont to do, I have located some communication issues in relationships with other people. It would probably be wise for me to blame them on my boss consider the source of those issues before starting another job.

The people who live there are stellar in so many ways. When I am twice the age I am now, I know I am going to be like Nancy. She broke her hip a few months ago. She lived alone in a little house that used to be a potters studio so her kitchen sink is 3 feet deep and her furniture is all 12 inches off the floor. She is a hippy-dippy lady who only eats organic food, does a lot of meditation, is still really strong, and looks a lot like Diane Keaton (so I fancy I am resembling her already). She is funny and socially appropriate and she is completely losing her memory. In fact, she really isn't safe to go home alone anymore. The little things are what get her. How to dial the phone. One minute she remembers, the next she can't do it and it COMPLETELY freaks her out. Then wait, oh yeah, she got it again. Whether the director of nursing who she just remembers as the "lady with the big ears" is mad at her because she didn't say hello when she passed her in the hall just now. Whether she ruined her surgery and has popped her new hip out of the socket because it sort of hurts more today than yesterday. And the anxiety circles and mounts and then she decompensates in to a little pile of Nancy-ness in the pink chair in the corner of her room. That is going to be me.

I know because I have these moments of anxiety and I'm only half her age. What if the vague but unrelenting stomach pain of the last week is really pancreatic cancer and I only have 3 months to live (if that turns out to be true I'm heading straight to Alaska for a bit of a vacation; but really it couldn't possibly be the stress of the job and the imminent changes; nope, must be cancer). What if the little yellow spots on the dishes ARE really mouse pee and not just some random water spray? What if that limp in the dog's right front leg means she won't wake up tomorrow morning and I'll have to figure out whether anyone can dig a hole to bury her when it is still this cold outside? See what I mean?

This was my last week of work there. I feel the anxiety of the work draining away as I sit at my ball winder preparing the balls and balls of yarn for my summer workshops and watching the sandhill cranes feeding in the barley fields across the street. The San Luis Valley is a place with huge skies, 14,000 foot peaks, and lots of wildlife. Some days I go outside to the honking of geese and cranes, see owls and hawks and bald eagles on my drive to work, smell the skunks outside (NOT inside!) my house, clean the carcasses out of the mousetraps (we gave up the live traps--sorry to the mice-lovers out there. It was just too much.), hear the coyotes howling at night around the sheep pens, and I think "lordy, I'm living in Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom." The bald openness of the place gives me pause and makes me stop and stand still. I need that. To stop the anxiety in its tracks by watching a flock of cranes fly spirals overhead in the updrafts. I will miss this place.

Fortunately I can come back and visit often. This little one will definitely make sure that I do.

There are some big changes coming in March and March is upon us. When they are all firmed up and I'm sure I won't be doing another U-turn, I'll let you know what they are! In the meantime, watch for those mouse-pee spots on your dishes just in case.

The thing about fiber art... that it does something important for the maker.

Now, I am not necessarily saying that the baby blanket featured at the end of this post is art. I knitted it from a pattern and quite frankly, there were some mistakes along the way. But I think back in the first wave of feminism that fiber pursuits were discounted as something demeaning to women and perhaps some of those feminists forgot that the making does something positive for the maker. At any rate, I know that knitting keeps me sane some days in ways that little else besides hiking lots of miles does. Tapestry weaving is my passion, and as such I am emotionally invested in making something that I truly believe is art, and so though the weaving can be relaxing if I get in a rhythm, it still holds some tension for me psychologically.

Knitting has no such hold over me. I really couldn't care less most of the time if I mess it up. A baby hat that is a little lopsided can still keep a kids head warm, though art, I'd say, it definitely is not.

I have thought more about the June Wayne blog post I wrote last and about how June in her essay in the Art Institute of Chicago catalog was trying to say that tapestry was something different than fiber art, and I still wonder about this. IS tapestry something that isn't quite fiber art? I am fascinated by much of the fiber art that is out there. I am interested in seeing current fiber art whether it be the sculptures of Sarah Hewitt or the bead art of Jennifer Schu, or Iviva Olenick's embroidery shown on her blog, Were I so Besotted. (For some reason those were the three I thought of first. I could have named a million others, and I never never exaggerate.) Thoughts on this? Is tapestry different than what we generally label fiber art because it is perhaps better able to portray an image? Does that make it more like painting for example?

I found a new yarn store in Santa Fe that I had never gone to before. This place has been on my radar for a few years as it is for sale and I have wished I could buy it, not to sell yarn but to have as a studio and home. Unfortunately, I don't have an extra two million lying around (it is not far from the plaza and prices in Santa Fe go down depending on how many feet you are from the Palace of the Governors). If anyone wants to be a patron to a great committed tapestry artist and does have a couple extra million to bandy about, please let me know!

Miriam's Well (Emily thought for years that the place was named for the owner, Miriam Swell... perhaps I don't articulate well) has a great location on Paseo de Peralta, but the entrance is in the back of the building and you have to take a circuitous route through a couple alleys to find it. Never fear, there are signs.

I believe the Santa Fe School of Weaving used to have a lot of looms, but now it is primarily a knitting shop. When she found out I was a tapestry weaver, the delightful owner Miriam Leth-Espensen showed me the beautiful churro from Los Ojos she is carrying now. It is sensational stuff. I have a stash of churro already though and had to leave this bit behind. I was sorely tempted by many beautiful knitting yarns at this place, but my knitting yarn stash is literally busting out of the storage spaces I have been allotted for this kind of thing. I can't cram any more in until I knit some up and get it out of the queue. Miriam learned weaving in Denmark from two Bauhaus teachers and moved to Santa Fe 25 years ago from Vermont. Maybe she'll adopt me and give me the place for my winning smile.

In a stash-emptying move (who am I kidding, there will always be more yarn) one project I finished this week was this Lace Blanket from 60 More Quick Baby Knits. This blanket gave me a run for my money. There were errata and I didn't realize it until I had ripped out the border several times. Even after seeing the errata I had trouble getting it right. Eventually I did what all of us are forced to do from time to time lest we be tempted to rip out the whole thing; I fudged it. And it came out okay. As Emily so pointedly made me realize, it is just going to get covered with baby spit-up anyway, so what does it matter if the corners aren't perfect? Perhaps she has a point.

So we can probably agree that following a pattern for a baby blanket from a pattern (and check for the errata before you start a project like this for goodness sake!) is probably not fiber art. But what really is? Or does it really matter that much? Perhaps art can be anything that is engaging and makes us think. Let me get some knitting needles while I ponder that.

June Wayne's tapestries in Santa Fe

I took a trip down to Santa Fe Saturday to hear a talk about the two solo shows at David Richard GalleryJune Wayne The Tapestries: Forces of Nature and Beyond and Judy Chicago: Woven and Stitched.

The primary speakers were Elissa Auther, Associate Professor of Contemporary Art at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and Janet Koplos, a New York City-based art critic, writer and contributing editor for Art in America. David Eichholtz, the curator at David Richard Gallery, gave a great introduction of the artists and mediated the discussion. Judy Chicago herself was in the audience and gave a lot of feedback about her work.

I read Elissa Auther’s book (String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art) a little more than a year ago as part of an American Tapestry Alliance study forum I participated in about increasing the visibility of tapestry in contemporary fine art. I reviewed the parts of the book about Judy Chicago and Auther’s conclusion before going to the lecture. I very much expected to hear a talk connecting the ideas in the book about history of fiber art and its place in contemporary fine art to contemporary tapestry art. We were, after all, sitting in a gallery full of large contemporary tapestries. Unfortunately, there was almost no mention of tapestry at all from either Koplos or Auther in their talks.

I purchased the catalog from The Art Institute of Chicago’s show of June Wayne’s tapestries in 2010-2011. At this point June was still alive and she wrote a short essay for the catalog. June is best known for her lithography and New Mexicans might recognize the name Tamarind Lithography Workshop which is now housed at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. For four years from 1970 to 1974, June focused on creating 12 large-scale tapestries, 11 of which were realized. All are currently exhibited at David Richard Gallery.

Here is a quote from the beginning of June Wayne’s catalog essay entitled, “Sufficient Unto Each Day is the Myopia Thereof.”

In 1973 the International Biennial of Tapestry in Lausanne, Switzerland, rejected one of my tapestries. Mildred Constantine, the curator of design at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the chairman of the Lausanne jury, told my Paris dealer that Lame de Choc was “too old-fashioned to show alongside fiber art.” Over the years I have ruminated about the differences between fiber art and tapestry and have come to believe that they are conceptual opposites, although they share the rubric of textiles.
In the 1960s fiber art literally “jumped over the convent wall” into mainstream aesthetics, distinguishing itself from tapestry by the adoption of “fiber” as its key word, which it had a genuine (and practical) need to do. Semantically and factually, tapestry had become a misleading label for the new directions that were being taken in weaving by artists who paired themselves with painting, graphics, collage, assemblage, and all the other artistic subsets that gave the ‘60s its reputation for freedom of expression…. But my art had an agenda that did not fit the goals of fiber. I needed and wanted tapestry techniques whose methodology echoed both benday dots and computer grids, just as it offered me a type of image making through the accretion of modules that I had found in the pores of lithograph stones….

I found it more than a little ironic following this quote and given the fact that the talk was in a gallery stuffed with huge tapestries, that the lecturers did not show one slide of a tapestry, did not talk about June’s tapestries, and that the entire talk was centered around the fiber art of which June says her tapestries had nothing to do with.

Here are some quotes and highlights from the talk. There was a lot said about Judy Chicago’s work. I was excited to hear more about her history and work while looking at one of her tapestries (The Creation). I also appreciated hearing Judy speak a little bit about her career as an artist. (There is a lot of information out there about Judy Chicago and I will leave it to you to research her show.) I heard far less about June Wayne’s work.

Janet Koplos at the very end of her 20 minute talk and the only mention of tapestry by either speaker until the question period: 

Tapestry, the technique central to the two bodies of work that brought us here today, have somewhat more relation to drawing and painting and thus more easily accommodate specific statements of meaning. It seems that people trained in fiber often looked for ways to work beyond the expectations of that material while people trained in other mediums and techniques looked at fiber and saw the emotional, tactile, and associational values of fiber and use that toward ends that may be also present in their other work such as painting or printing. Interestingly the same thing seems to be happening in clay today…. and it is a reminder that there is never just one approach and even a single medium that can have many facets, it all depends on the ideas and the impulses of the artist.

At the end of the two talks, there was a period for questions. It was clear that the gallery had a large number of fans of Judy Chicago which was not unexpected since the creator of The Dinner Part (and many other famous works of art) was sitting among us, and she does live in New Mexico after all. We were an hour and a half into this experience and I had yet to hear anything substantial about tapestry from anyone except David Eichholtz, the gallery owner and curator who introduced June Wayne’s work at the beginning and the brief statement Koplos made at the end of her talk. So I stood up and asked Koplos and Auther what they thought the connection was between the issues of fiber art’s place in modern art to contemporary art tapestry production. The answer from Janet Koplos was that there isn’t anyone doing contemporary tapestry art any more. This was stunning to me. I sat down with my head spinning… and then all the things the ATA forum I participated in last year rushed back to me and all I could think was that these are the current scholars and curators of fiber art and even they don’t know what we do. Or rather, they know what we do, but they don’t think anyone of consequence does it any more. Here is the exact conversation.


I am just wondering if you have any comments about contemporary tapestry in relation to the development of fiber art and its place in the art world today.


I think in the art world today there is a place for absolutely anything anybody wants to do. I don’t think there is any limit on it. But the real movement in tapestry, the attention to tapestry, came with the Lausanne Bienniale in the 60s and lots of artists were paying attention to it then but not to the degree that these two women were. You know, they were just somebody who did a cartoon and handed it over to somebody and it was executed by another person, so it was a superficial engagement. But there was engagement with the thing. And now… [she trails off and Auther picks up]


The only way I can answer that is I went to the recent College Art Association meeting in New York which is the big interdisciplinary conference that artists and art historians come to. I noticed there was a panel on tapestry and I thought that was really fascinating, but as I looked at the individual papers as the conference came closer, it was really really stuck in 17th and 18th century. And I still feel like scholarship is … there is not the scholarly interest in contemporary tapestry that there should be.

David Eichholtz talked some about the use of digital weaving done by people like Chuck Close and Robert Indiana and questioned the differences between this kind of weaving and the one-of-a-kind hand weaving that created June Wayne’s tapestries. And then Eichholtz mentioned a digital weaving studio in Belgium.

Audience member:

A very well known artist in California these days is a woman named Pae White who does the thing with Brussel’s tapestries and she creates immense installations with Brussel tapestries.  [...]


I am glad you brought up Pae White because it just occurred to me that yeah, she is probably the only contemporary artist I know that is doing large scale tapestry where she initiates the process and she is showing in museums that are exclusively devoted to contemporary art. I saw a series of her works in the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art and also I saw a series at SITE [Santa Fe], that must have been two years ago I think? 

Audience member:

They are knock-outs.


They are huge and they are really interesting and I have never had a chance to talk to her about the motivations or why she is going into that realm but before that time she worked generally I think with a great interest in fiber and craft traditions.

Unfortunately, Christa Thurman, Chair of Textiles at The Art Institute of Chicago was not able to make it to the lecture as originally planned due to a personal emergency. I would have loved to hear what she had to say. David Richard Gallery has some interviews planned with her and promises to post a series of podcasts and videos with all this information including the talk I heard online. I look forward to Christa’s response to my question.

David Richard Gallery did an excellent job getting these speakers and I appreciated the well-attended event. The owners of the gallery were engaging, knowledgeable, and seemed exceptionally supportive of tapestry. I want to thank them for hosting this beautiful show and I hope they will consider showing contemporary art tapestry again in the near future.

Please visit David Richard Gallery's website and look at the June Wayne tapestries. Or better yet, if you can, go see the show. The tapestries are very large and several of them were stunning. They were woven by three different French studios in the early '70s. My favorite two are The Fifth Wave and VerdictThe Fifth Wave (Cinquieme Vague) was inspired by one of her lithographs, Wave Five. The background consists of irregular blocks that look like they are full of a design from tree rings. I love the color gradation use in this piece.

Verdict is 73 by 117 inches and was woven by Giselle Glaudin-Brivet at Atelier Giselle Glaudin-Brivet, Aubusson. The imagery in this piece is also based on Wayne's lithographs and contains references to DNA molecules and mountains. She uses two different warp setts in this piece, adding spots of color through much of it with a double sett.


For more information:

(1) Here is a video of Elissa Auther speaking about her book, String, Felt, Thread: The Hierarchy of Art and Craft in American Art.

(2) Here is a link to a series of photos of Pae White's Untitled, Still from the Whitney Biennial in 2010, a massive "tapestry". I am unable to find much information about her fiber works online but can only assume that these large pieces are digitally produced, possibly in Belgium as people in the talk suggested. This work is what Elissa Auther thought of when talking of contemporary tapestry.

Pae White, Untitled, Still; Whitney Biennial 2010

(3) More information about Judy Chicago at Artsy:

(4) David Richard Gallery has a series of videos posted on their website. They have a few of June Wayne talking about her work. Here is one of them:

Cinquieme Vague, June Wayne, 86 x 78 inches, Tapestry, 1972

Need a dye class?

I have had many students ask me lately when I am teaching in 2013. I have some classes in the works, not to mention the online class I'll be launching this year. It looks like I will be teaching in New Hampshire this summer for sure and probably somewhere in Colorado. I am still searching for a New Mexico venue if anyone has any requests...  Those dates will all get worked out in good time.

In the meantime, for those of you who have asked me about whether I teach dyeing, consider a class coming up very soon at Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center. Cornelia Theimer Gardella weaves wonderful tapestries and is also a master dyer. She is teaching a dye class March 1-3 based on Itten's color star and incorporating a lot of color theory. I really recommend her if you want to start dyeing your own tapestry yarn. Sign up quickly! She doesn't take many students and March 1 is right around the corner. Look at this link on the EVFAC site with a description of the class and a great bio of Conni. And even if you don't want to take the class, click on the link because the tapestry pictured there is stunning.

Cornelia Theimer Gardella, Tomorrow II, 32 x 51 inches; hand-dyed wool tapestry
Espanola Valley Fiber Arts Center: Phone number is (505) 747-3577