Tommye Scanlin

An experience of northern Georgia

I haven't spent any time at all in Georgia. I've flown through Atlanta a few times and marveled at the size of the airport. But I had never left the airport bubble until last week.

After teaching for the Chattahoochee Handweavers Guild in Atlanta, Tommye Scanlin* picked me up and we had a wonderful adventure in northern Georgia.

Remember that I am from the American Southwest. I am used to adobe and sand and canyons. North Georgia is a place of big trees, rolling hills and mountains, houses with big porches and white columns, and an accent that I love to listen to.

We started our adventure with a visit to Patricia William's Communion Tapestries at Grace-Calvary Episcopal church in Clarkesville, GA. The church is a beautiful old white building tucked into this little hillside town. It is the oldest church building still in use in north Georgia, dating from 1838.
Grace-Calvary Episcopal Church, Clarkesville, GA
The tapestries are a set of five panels installed as communion kneelers. Yes, the fact that people actually kneel on them makes me gasp. But they have been in use for quite a few years now and they look fantastic. They look like they are woven at 8 epi and shaped are to fit the curve of the kneelers. They are themed for the liturgical year: Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. In typical Pat Williams whimsy, they tell the stories well.
Pat Williams Communion Tapestries
Pat Williams Communion Tapestries
Here are a few details.
Pat Williams, Communion Tapestries, detail of Easter panel
Pat Williams, Communion Tapestries, Christmas panel
This detail captures the wonderful movement Pat has in her work. It is so engaging. I would recommend visiting her tapestries wherever possible (she has one in the upcoming American Tapestry Biennial 11) including a stop at this church to view this series.
Pat Williams, Communion Tapestries, detail of Pentecost panel
From Clarkesville, we visited some wonderful residency centers: Lillian Smith Center and The Hambidge Center. Inspiration winds its clever way through both of these places and I will be drawn back in the future.

We went to John C Campbell Folk School. Unfortunately the weaving class was not in session, but I was able to get a good look at the studio through the windows. What a wonderful place.
John C Campbell Folk School
John C Campbell fibers building
After a very chilly walk around the grounds (who knew I'd need my warm winter coat in Georgia?), we stopped in at this wood-fired cooking class. They didn't have samples for us, but it was very warm in there.
cooking class at John C Campbell Folk School
The stairs are steep in parts of the folk school!

This is another place to which I would like to return.

We passed the Appalachian trail a few times on the trip. I have read many books about this trail and perhaps will return one day to hike the whole thing. My favorite recent read about the AT is Grandma Gatewood's Walk by Ben Montgomery. If Grandma Gatewood can walk 2,000+ miles on that crazy-difficult trail twice in her late 60s and continue hiking for another decade all over the US, certainly I can manage it once.

The most amazing things I saw on this adventure, I don't have images to show you. Tommye Scanlin's tapestries are endlessly inspiring. I was able to see her workspaces and learn a little more about how she achieves the effects she does in her work. Tommye also has a piece in the upcoming American Tapestry Biennial 11 and I got to see it in person. It is a stunning piece. You won't want to miss Because of Memory.
Tommye and Rebecca out for a walk in the woods in north Georgia.
Thanks for the wonderful time Tommye!
*If you are not familiar with Tommye or her work, make sure to visit her blog. It is a rabbit hole you won't regret jumping down. Works in Progress. Tommye is the best sort of fiber person. She is gracious and giving and her skill in tapestry weaving is incredible. She was an art (and fibers) professor for over 30 years and at her "retirement" party a few years ago, when asked what she wanted to do now that she was retired, she said, "Teach!" She continues to teach workshops and I highly recommend any time you can spend with her. I know she has some wonderful workshops coming up in 2016 and 2017.

Yarn bombed

I have happily found myself in the middle of piles of yarn. I am dyeing yarn for classes I am teaching later in the summer and fall and for a very exciting workshop I am taking later this summer and am generally feeling that some yarn management strategies are needed. I suspect that my partner would agree with that assessment.

Yarn Bombing is a term I learned from The Yarn Harlot. Apparently at knitting conferences (and I have never been to a knitting conference, but I would consider it as a recreational endeavor) people actually knit little things that they spread around the facility. Knitted wraps for trees and banisters, little knitted creations hanging from lamp pulls, socks on table legs... yarn bombing. My house wasn't so much bombed by finished items as by piles of dyed and undyed yarn. I will probably never dig my way out. Just warning you. (This would be why my partner is strongly advocating I have my own studio which is separate from the rest of the house. Yarn has a way of creeping out of it's room into all other corners of the place.)

(6/29/12: Here is an even better post about yarn bombing by The Yarn Harlot:

The practice of dyeing my own yarn seems to increase the general yarn clutter. I have run through all the undyed student yarn I have here (don't worry, there is more in storage which will be coming back to the dye pots soon) and have moved on to dyeing experiments (more on this in a future post). The dyeing process itself adds to the yarn chaos. It needs to be prepped and then it gets dyed and then it sits around drying and then it has to be balled up and readied for classes. During all of this I get interrupted by work and babies and my general distractedness and thus, yarn bomb.

This yarn is gorgeous. It is Vevgarn from Norway. I bought it from Noel at Norsk Fjord Fiber who was infinitely helpful and had every color I wanted in stock. It comes in hundreds of colors, though I dyed some myself and found that is dyes amazingly well. I haven't woven a tapestry with this yarn yet, but I believe Tommye Scanlin uses it a lot and her tapestries are gorgeous... which seems a good recommendation for the basic materials.

My father has always been an apron advocate. This (dye-spattered clothes) is what happens when you dye without using one (plus it is probably safer to wear long pants and covered shoes and wear an apron as the boiling acid-water is not the greatest thing to spill on yourself).

Personal Protective Equipment. Use it. Do not follow my example (despite it being 95 degrees outside and over 100 in the dye shed). I do wear my respirator and goggles Dad... and I will buy an apron the next time I'm shopping the online chemistry store (do they have brick and mortar chemistry stores? I was in an old dusty one in Albuquerque at least a decade ago, but I don't think it is there anymore. I need a new thermometer because I keep breaking mine and I think those glass pipets are really very cool.) Most of the dye comes out of my clothes as it hasn't been set with an acidic pH, but they are ever quite the same again once exposed to a dye day.

This is what Cassy thinks about yarn:

Warping the LeClerc Gobelin loom

I have never before used an upright tapestry loom except for small frame looms and my Mirrix. My grandmother Marian gave me her beloved tapestry loom when she moved across the country a few years ago. I was so enamored of the loom my grandfather gave me, the Harrisville rug loom, that I had neglected this beautiful LeClerc.  But when I moved to Alamosa and was faced with which loom I could most easily liberate from the storage locker in Taos, the LeClerc won easily. So I brought it home and my father put it back together for me and now I am ready to have a whack at using it.

It needed some cleaning up first however.
The linen warp that my grandmother had last put on the loom was still rolled on the top beam. I loved the curtain of linen it made when I pulled it down... but eventually I had to cut it off.

But not before examining how it was warped!
Clearly the loops from the cross end of the warp were at the top indicating to me that a warping board was the best way to warp this loom as opposed to some modified Navajo warping technique. As I knew Tommye Scanlin used to have a loom just like this, I consulted her for advice and she was exceedingly helpful.

I found when I unwound the old warp that water had dripped onto the top beam at some point when this warp was sitting in my grandmother's dining room waiting for a Maurice Sendak tapestry (see blog post HERE) to be woven and the two iron bars were rusted. Upon the trusty advice of my Uncle Carl, I used plain old vinegar to get the rust off the bars. I made a sort of tub with plastic sheeting and the widest crack in our back deck. It worked perfectly and only took a couple cups of vinegar. After a little scrubbing with steel wool, I had perfectly clean bars again.

There was also an issue with mold on the apron. The new version of this loom which LeClerc still makes doesn't have the canvas apron. The rod attaches directly to the beam in a slot. But this loom is an old one and the apron molded where it was wet. I opted, in this dry climate, to wait to replace it and rolled the mold right back up. I will need to replace the apron sometime soon.

I wound a warp on my warping board.  Here are the warp sections hanging ready to be put through the reed.

I then threaded each loop into every other dent in an 8 dent reed (warping for 8 e.p.i.). I held the reed vertically with two clamps as I did this and slid the loops onto the bar which would hold the warp loops at the top of the loom tied to the bar that goes through the apron rod.

The entire warp was put through the reed.  Unfortunately I don't currently own a 60 inch 8 dent reed and ended up using two shorter reeds to accomplish this. Because this piece has several sections, the break between the reeds didn't matter. If I was doing a piece without sections, this would not have worked.

With Emily's help, I tied the reed onto the frame, leash sticks below.

The warp was slowly rolled around the top beam and then tied at the bottom like you would a floor loom... ready to weave.

My grandmother loved to mark things and much of my weaving equipment like these leash sticks are covered with her writing.
Another helpful resource for warping and for this project was Kathe Todd-Hooker's warping book, So Warped. It is available from her business, Fine Fiber Press. She specifically mentions a wide variety of looms and how to warp them and I recommend all tapestry weavers, especially ones like me who like to play with a wide variety of looms, have this book on their shelves.

One of my favorite bumper stickers, also from Kathe Todd-Hooker
After the warp is on, you still have to tie leashes. This loom comes with a 1 1/2 inch leash bar which has adjustable height via chains on each side of the loom. 

The leashes are tied one at a time to pull forward the second shed. I learned this method of tying leashes from Archie Brennan and Susan Martin Maffei in their tapestry course, Woven Tapestry Techniques. I have never tied leashes like this before as I usually use a loom with harnesses and treadles. Archie's description in his DVD course is helpful and clear.

I used a long copper bar to hold the open shed in place. The leashes are used to pull the back threads forward to make the other shed.

And the loom is tied up, the tension extremely even if I do say so myself!

Now all that remains is to turn this:

into a finished work of art.

Art as a practice

I just saw the movie Julie and Julia.  I enjoyed it.  In case you haven't seen it, the premise is that a young writer named Julie Powell is working her way through all the recipes in Julia Child's French cookbook in a year and blogging about it (no, I haven't missed the irony that watching a movie about a blog got me blogging--something I haven't done in a month it seems).

My questions as I left the theater were simply these:
Can weaving be a practice that is done daily like Julie's project?  and what is the value in that?
Is a project like this a good way to learn focus?  Focus seems like a necessary ability for a tapestry weaver or nothing is produced.
How is it that I haven't woven anything since Emergence came off the loom in June?  How does life slip away like that?  We only have this one short and precious life.  To let the days slip by unnoticed is not the way I want to live it.
Tommye Scanlin is weaving a calendar tapestry--one block for every day in 2009.  This idea is perhaps starting to get at my nascent thoughts about focus and having a project that moves you along one day at at a time.  And her calendar tapestry is really interesting!

And there are more thoughts about art as a spiritual practice.  What else can it really be anyway?  Most of us aren't going to make a living off of it, and so I think we have to do it because it is what we love and making art is what helps us see our own soul.

Editor's note (okay, I don't have an editor, it's just me):  I wrote this post on the date you see but am just "finishing" it today... hmmm, lack of focus?  Too much going on?  I have finished a piece since this post.  Yeah!  Ready for another one.