fiber art

Kaneko: FIBER

I became interested in Kaneko because the American Tapestry Biennial 10 is hanging there right now. But two things really convinced me to drive the 500 miles from Colorado to Omaha. (1) Dr. Jessica Hemmings was giving a lecture about her new book and exhibition, Cultural Threads and (2) there were five other fiber shows there. Neither the lecture or the other shows disappointed.

I wrote about the ATB10 show at Kaneko here: Kaneko: the tapestry of ATB10

This is an astounding display of Hawaiian shirts which serves to highlight the bright designs of fabric designers. I loved just walking among these shirts. It was mesmerizing.
Florabunda exhibit, The Kaneko
Florabunda exhibit, The Kaneko
Fabric of Survival
This was a stunning exhibit about the Holocaust. It was a large gallery packed with large-scale embroideries which told the story of the creator, Esther Nisenthal Krinitz's life. It was so incredible I didn't take a single photo.

Fiber Legends
This was the show that really engaged me. The amazing skill in Jon Eric Riis' work is something you have to see in person. These pieces all used metallic threads in a wide range of colors. When you go to see ATB10, make sure to leave a large chunk of time to study this work.
This installation conveys the different way in which fiber art conveys movement, captures and transmits culture, and functions as fine art through the works of Nick Cave, Sheila Hicks, and Jon Eric Riis.          --Fiber Legends statement
Sheila Hicks, Menhir II, 1965-1985, cotton, linen, wool; hand-wrapped, spliced. Each of 23: 152" x 2"-12" diameter.
Sheila Hicks, Menhir II, detail
Nick Cave, Untitled Soundsuit, 2008, mixed media with mannequin, 100 x 25 x 14 inches
And here is Jon Eric Riis. I have only seen a few of his pieces in person and it was mesmerizing to look at the play of the metallic threads in the light. There were 9 large-scale works in this show by Riis. All very different, all incredible.
Jon Eric Riis, Ancestor's Tapestry, handwoven silk and metallic thread, gold glass beads, 42 x 75 inches
Jon Eric Riis, Ancestor's Tapestry detail
Jon Eric Riis, Young Icarus Tapestry (diptych), handwoven silk and metallic thread, 32 x 72 inches each
Jon Eric Riis, Young Icarus Tapestry (detail)
Jon Eric Riis, Young Icarus Tapestry (detail)
Jon Eric Riis, Multicolored Tapestry Skull Coat, handwoven metallic thread, leather, freshwater pearls, black agate beads, and coral, 34 x 66 inches
Jon Eric Riis, Multicolored Tapestry Skull Coat (detail)
Jon Eric Riis, Neo Classical Male Tapestry, tapestry woven silk and metallic thread, Swarovski crystal beads, 52 x 68 inches (left), and Icarus II, Tapestry woven silk and metallic thread, crystal beads, 56 x 158 inches (right)
Jon Eric Riis, Icarus II (detail)
There was also a large exhibit called Global Threads which included the work of Yoshiko Wada, Jessica Hemmings, Mary Zicafoose and Susan Knight. The largest part of this exhibit were the kimonos of Yoshiko Wada. They were exquisite, varied, and I took no photos of them.

Dr. Jessica Hemmings was the juror for ATB10 and she also had a part in this exhibit.
Jessica Hemmings, the renowned textile scholar, explores contemporary textiles and their relationship with postcolonial culture. Hemmings’ exhibition “explores the interrelationship between craft, art, design and contemporary culture” by focusing on examples of contemporary textiles produced by designers, artists and makers that communicate postcolonial thinking.                     --Kaneko's website
Her fascinating talk, Cultural Threads: transnational textiles today, prompted me to order her new book of the same name as soon as I got back to the hotel. She talked about the relationship between language and object with many fascinating examples about objects and their meaning. She talked about the meanings attached to textiles and how they are portable objects and thus pick up meaning around the world.
curated Jessica Hemmings, Cultural Threads
As I walked into the museum, the first piece I saw was this large work by Mary Zicafoose. As you'll see in the video linked below, she had a huge part to play in getting this fiber show together. It was nice to be welcomed by this tapestry. Watch for my next blog post about her solo show also currently in Omaha.
Mary Zicafoose, Fields of Desire, weft-faced ikat tapestry, dyed, wrapped & woven wool on linen warp.
Here is a post from Omaha's local news station with a nice video about the show (Click link in blue).


The cranes are back. This morning I was re-tying yarn skeins to get them ready for dyeing and I heard them through the double pane windows. I ran outside, and yes, it was the unmistakable sound of sandhill cranes calling. This is the front of the troop. Thousands and thousands more will be arriving in the next few weeks.

These birds are a big sign of hope for me. It is a time of indecision and uncertainty in my little family. The return of the cranes is something I didn't think I would be here to see, but here I am. They make me feel hopeful. Time isn't linear, it moves in circles. The good we plant comes around again. I am so happy to witness the return of these big beautiful birds. They'll be here a few months before heading north to Oregon or Canada to their summer nesting grounds. Maybe by the time they leave I will be following them on my own migration.

Here is a video compiled from photos and video taken over the last year. Listen to the sound of thousands of cranes circling. The cranes arrive in the San Luis Valley sometime around Valentine's Day, stopping here after leaving their wintering grounds at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge near Socorro, New Mexico. They will be here for a couple months before they fly north for the summer. They stop here again in October and November on their way back south with their new young in tow. Most of these cranes are greater sandhill cranes as opposed to the famous flocks of lesser sandhills on the North Platte in Nebraska.

Making tapestry butterflies

I have been teaching workshops for a couple years now and I have noticed that one thing I am asked to demonstrate in every workshop over and over is making tapestry butterflies. There are many methods for holding the yarn while you are weaving a tapestry, but the cheapest is the butterfly because it requires no extra tools.

People get frustrated when their butterflies end up in knots, so pay attention to my tips in the video to avoid this.

And if you don't like butterflies, people use other things to hold the yarn. The tool most frequently used for holding yarn while weaving tapestry are tapestry bobbins. Kathe Todd-Hooker is an expert in different kinds of tapestry bobbins. This page on her store website shows clearly the different kinds of bobbins used. Kathe knows a lot about bobbins, so ask her which ones you need for the kind of tapestry you do! You can see her blog HERE.
Kathe Todd-Hooker sells these bobbins at Fine Fiber Press

I have also seen people use little plastic clips made to hold yarn colors while doing stranded color knitting or embroidery.  Like these!
One of my students loves these. They are definitely inexpensive, but if you are doing large tapestries, they definitely don't hold enough yarn.

My personal preference?  The butterfly.

James Koehler's weft interlock join...

Some of you have asked me recently about James Koehler's weft interlock join. He talks about it in his autobiography but doesn't really describe how to do it. He used this join for all the straight verticals in his tapestries which were primarily the darker frames he wove around his images. It is difficult to describe how to do techniques in words, so I am supplying some video below to make it clearer.

James finished his autobiography, Woven Color: The Tapestry Art of James Koehler less than a year before he died. It is a beautiful book that tells the story of his life and journey as an artist.

 In chapter 10 of the book he discusses his interlock technique which he started using early in his tapestry career while weaving a piece inspired by Rothko. Here is how James describes it:
I noticed that when I was weaving the interlock and moving over by one warp end, it affected the ridge that formed on the surface of the weaving as a result of that particular join. Sometimes, the ridge was on the front of the weaving. Other times it moved to the back--depending on the position of the warp end that I was wrapping around.
If the weft moved through a color block toward a lowered warp end, the ridge was forced to the side of the tapestry facing the weaver when the warp end was raised in the next shed. If the weft moved toward a raised warp end, then the ridge appeared on the opposite side of the tapestry facing away from the weaver. By weaving 11 feet with that in mind, I saw the subtle difference that took place depending upon whether or not the interlock was made around a lowered or a raised warp end.
 In the video I show you how to weave this interlock join from the back side of the tapestry. If you are weaving from the front, simply change the weft that you are wrapping against from a raised warp to a lowered warp and the ridge will move to the side away from you (watch the video, you'll get it).

 And I have been sad that James' website was taken down shortly after his death. But I did run across an older geocities website tonight that seems to be operating. It looks like it was last updated in 2009. So you can see some of his tapestries on that website here as well as in some of my old blog posts such as this one.

A question of validation

This is the article I wrote for the American Tapestry Alliance's Fall 2011 Tapestry Topics which came out last week.  The newsletter is currently for members only, a practice which I fear does not further the knowledge of tapestry in the wider world, so I am making what I wrote available here.  If you are a member of ATA, make sure you read the whole issue.  If you are not a member but are interested in the subject of professionalism as it is related to fiber art, perhaps asking ATA for access to the newsletter will help us make it more widely available.

A question of validation
Rebecca Mezoff

            What makes you an artist?  Discussion of professionalism and what constitutes art vs. craft is something that I think is rare in the field of tapestry and in some places is even discouraged.  I believe this kind of dialogue is important among makers of tapestry if tapestry is going to be regarded as an art form in its own right. The field of art is a large monster that often feels intimidating to me and this leads me to questions of my own worth as an artist and musings about my own cobbled-together art education.
            I am a tapestry artist who is attempting to make a significant portion of my income through art, but I am lacking a BFA, an MFA, or another pile of letters relating directly to making tapestry.  When I went to college, I was interested in art, but the messages I received growing up and from the world in general were that art wasn’t a stable or acceptable professional career choice, so something else would have to do.  I could make art as a hobby.  Years later and somewhat disenchanted with the medical career I found myself in, I started weaving tapestry.  I love it.  I should do this.  But I don’t have an art degree.  I have a masters degree in a medical profession (occupational therapy) which used to be craft-based, but now is solidly medical.  In this country (USA) anyway, many of the messages we receive growing up indicate that to be a professional anything and to be “successful” you have to have a degree.  So not having a BFA or an MFA psychologically hinders me at times when I am thinking about “being an artist”.  When I finish a new tapestry or sell a couple in the gallery, I don’t feel that an art degree is needed.  When I am in the midst of a dry spell and inspiration is far away, I am working too much as an OT, and nothing is selling, then I question myself and look for validation… and inevitably start considering art school. Perhaps this is also a longing, as I am getting closer to the end of my 30s, for more knowledge and a new means of inspiration.

Emergence II by Rebecca Mezoff

            In order to practice as an occupational therapist I am required to have at least a masters degree, pass various national and state exams, complete large amounts of continuing education every year, and maintain several licenses.  In order to call myself an artist, I only have to make art.  Is this true? Certainly not everyone who has an MFA is really an artist.  Maybe it really does come down to the “What is art?” question and a real inability to answer that in any concise way.  Perhaps that is as it should be.  Art is what it needs to be for each of us.  Some of us are in the “I just want to make pretty things” camp and some of us are in the “I want to change the world” camp (and sometimes those two camps are one and the same—and is that the difference between craft and art?).

Emergence III by Rebecca Mezoff

Emergence IV by Rebecca Mezoff
            I believe that as tapestry artists there are intellectually significant questions that need to be asked and I don’t see many people asking them.  How can we start these dialogues?  I think our need for validation is part of the human condition.  In general we all need support and positive regard.  However I do find that the issue of professionalism in regard to tapestry art specifically is something fiber artists don’t talk about much.  In the absence of these kinds of discussions, the need for validation is even stronger.
            In the end, validation has to come from inside myself.  I hope that if in my work I search for what is essential and valuable for me, the work will reflect some inner truth which will hold value.  The act of making that thing that is valuable for me, I hope, is the only validation I really need.  If this is not true first, then art school will not make any difference at all.