Always Greener

Always Greener600



Always Greener came out of my developing awareness of how the two sides of tapestry weaving, pictorial and geometric, relate to each other.  It always seems like there’s just a shade of jealousy about “the other side” having it easier, either making or selling their work, or just getting respect for it.  And I really am uncomfortable with any kind of “us versus them” mentality.

This piece was about taking naturalistic shapes and making them geometric.  It’s about how they relate to each other.  So I revisited this body shape that I’d done in a handful of pieces before.  And I let the bodies do things.  They float, they play with the lines that encompass them, and they turn into geometric shapes.  I was told that the upper right body is doing something akin to “downward dog.” I even divided bodies up for their geometric components.

It was woven in 2000.  It uses all natural dyes,  and it’s here in the shop at the moment on consignment from the owner.

Clearly we are solidly in the camp of geometric tapestry weavers.  Pictorials have been around in our tradition, but, other than things like thunderbirds and roadrunners, haven’t really been a big part of it.  It isn’t that our techniques aren’t amenable to imagery, but they really are very much designed around things like symmetry and pattern, and our techniques train our brains around logical thinking that just doesn’t much apply to naturalistic forms.  These thought process are certainly a big part of what I like so much about weaving.

Weaving imagery requires having something to say in imagery.  That “picture painting a thousand words” thing is something I have always found mildly intimidating.  And I’m sure I’d always have the nagging sense that maybe just painting it would be faster and more appropriate for whatever I would want to say with an image.

And once, a few years after I completed this weaving, I was told that what we do wasn’t actually tapestry weaving.  She had learned a different kind of methodology and apparently couldn’t mentally encompass what we do as being tapestry, despite the fact that it very much fits the definition of tapestry.

So, in my mind, getting respect for tapestry as an art form is challenging for all of us.  I’ve watched people talk about it as an issue, a challenge, for tapestry artists, but I don’t have any answers as to how such a thing is ever going to come about.  I know that there are tapestry weavers that promote their work really well, so I guess it could happen that someday a tapestry weaver, or a few really great ones, will push the envelope of artistic respect beyond where it sits today.  I don’t know that there’s any reason to think that geometric forms or traditional design should be any more or less likely to garner respect for tapestry than imagery or boundary pushing new tapestry forms.

I’ve heard from pictorial weavers that those of us weaving in a tradition have it made, that we have an already developed market.  Which is, sort of, true.  But I’d argue that, as individual artists, we have to build a market for our work in precisely the same way that any other artist does.  Our work has some credibility as an authentic outcome of an old tradition.  I wouldn’t say that that was really a simple thing to achieve, but it is something that adds value to our work based on work done by those that have gone before.  So maybe they have a good point there.




Jake Trujillo’s Navy Experience

JakeatTreasureIslandThis is from a transcript of an old oral history interview with Irvin Trujillo’s father Jake. It’s a nice thing to have run into today, on Veteran’s Day. When we went to go find a picture of Jake in the Navy we found this picture, which is dated (at the bottom of the picture) November 11, 1944. A lot of Veteran’s Day coincidence.
“In 1942, I was called into the army, I was inducted.  Well when I got my induction papers, I went over to Santa Fe.  At that time my oldest brother was working in Santa Fe.  He was a cook in one of the restaurants there.  And I went over and told him that I had received my papers and he says ” Why don’t you g0 and enlist in the Navy. It’s a better branch. I see the sailors here and I know that are having a lot of fun. It’s a good branch of the service.”  So I went to the Navy induction center and asked them if I could enlist in the navy and they said yes, if you pass the physical exam. So I passed the test and they told me “Report here in two weeks, you’ll be in the navy. S0 I reported there and they sent me to San Diego, California for training. After boot camp they sent me overseas. From San Diego they sent me to San Francisco, and from there to Portland, Oregon. From there they assigned us a ship in the Merchant Marines, a ship, a gun crew of 25 sailors. I didn’t do any weaving during that-period. We were going from Seattle to Alaska, back and forth delivering supplies on a Liberty Ship.  We were taking the supplies to the fighting men in Alaska.  I made about six voyages. Then I had time to come home on leave. Then I reported back to Treasure Island, and from there they gave me shore duty for about four months. I used to work in the offices as a messenger.  After four months I requested if I could be assigned to go to South America. He said sure, so he gave me an assignment to go overseas. So I went from San Francisco to the South Pacific and unloaded there.  From there they sent us to Antipavasta (?) Chili, and to the Panama Canal, and they from there we landed on the USS Virginia. ’When we got there I had a telegram for me to report to Treasure Island for a special assignment. When I reported there I thought they would send me to the fighting. But they invited me into the office and were asking me a lot of questions and they finally said”We have checked your records and found you have been an instructor in arts and crafts. we need you to teach the sailors the different crafts that you know. You will be in charge of the place here. We will authorize you to purchase whatever you need” I thought it was great. I stayed there for about two to three years 44 and 45.”


Fall’s Colors

Every fall I struggle with the onset of cold weather. I don’t know if we work harder to keep warm than other people do, but it really is a long hard slog through the long winter months. And as the temperatures drop, the anticipation of that effort distracts me from the beauty that the season brings. In an effort to keep myself in the present, I can go out and take pictures of the glories of the season.

Apricot tree at the watergate.
From the garden up to the tree across the ditch.
In the corral, where there are pallets that are falling apart.
On the fence in the arroyo.
The willow umbrella is on the wall for the winter.
Virginia Creeper

Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts 2015


New Mexico is, without a doubt, just packed with art and artists.  People move to New Mexico to pursue their artistic passions, and those who live here all know people who eke out some kind of living as creative souls.  I think that this place really is different than other places in that way.  So it isn’t a surprise that over the years our Governors have awarded recognition to small groups of artists.  This year Irvin Trujillo was so honored.  That’s Governor Susana Martinez standing next to Irvin in the back row in this picture.



Irvin has received honorifics before, but he continues to be surprised when they come to him. This award is one that he was aware of long ago, when his father was nominated for it repeatedly. His father never was honored by the Governor. This makes this award a little bit of a bittersweet experience for Irvin, as he has always regarded his father as a great master of weaving. 20150918_191903[1]

It was an even more memorable event because we were able to celebrate with the whole family!

DAM Opening of Creative Crossroads: The Art of Tapestry

Irvin Trujillo in front of the Denver Art Museum on the night of the opening.
Irvin Trujillo in front of the Denver Art Museum on the night of the opening.

Once upon a time I taught about our weaving tradition to a group of weavers who were all tapestry weavers from a guild in a distant part of the country.  I totally enjoyed the experience, but one thing about it stands out in my memory more than all the joys of that teaching experience.  We all were at the old Victorian-era home of one of the students for dinner.  The hostess was very gracious, but made the statement that what I was teaching, and what the group was learning at that workshop, was not tapestry.  I was pretty taken aback.  By all definitions of tapestry weaving, it is what we do.  That is, we weave a discontinuous weft.  To my knowledge, most of the other students agreed that we were weaving tapestry, but I have wondered why she felt that way ever since.  Most of what we do is geometric tapestry, and we simply don’t use a lot of joins that other tapestry weavers do because we have to have both sides be equally useful, but it is definitely the same weaving technique that people have used for many centuries and within a wide variety of cultures all over the world.

Sadly, most of the tapestry shows that I have been aware of have been put together by tapestry weavers.  I don’t want to think that nobody else ever thinks to put together these shows, or that shows organized by other tapestry artists somehow have less to offer.  But a show curated out of a love of the art form by someone whose expertise is in a full range of textile traditions across the centuries, and who can present it in the context of a world-class art museum is a very special thing  I haven’t ever experienced such a thing before

Here is the text from the opening invitation.

Creative Crossroads:  The Art of Tapestry displays more than twenty tapestry-woven wall hangings, rugs, furniture covers, garments and sculptural forms that illustrate the creative possibilities of this technique.  The selection includes historic European tapestries made by large ateliers, twentieth century collaborations between artist and weaver, and works by solo artist-weavers who use tapestry as their creative medium.  While some designs are culturally specific, others borrow from, transform, or transcend tradition.  Contemporary tapestries join historic weavings from Europe, Turkey, China, Peru, Mexico and the American southwest in the main gallery, complemented by a selection of smaller tapestries in the Nany Lake Benson Thread Studio.


And Irvin has not one, but two, tapestries in the show.  2015-05-29 11.10.16


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Here are some other magnificent tapestries from the show.

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This is an English tapestry about the five senses.
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And a detail of the center panel.
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This very large tapestry was from Belgium, if my memory serves me correctly.
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And an entertaining detail.
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Detail of a Peruvian tapestry.
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A Rio Grande Saltillo that has been identified as a “slave blanket”, because it has “lazy lines”.
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These three pieces are from contemporary, Santa Fe area weavers. On the left is an early piece by James Koehler, in the middle is one by Ramona Sakiestewa, and the one on the right is by Rebecca Bluestone.
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A Navajo weaver created this from the artist-provided image seen to the right of the weaving.

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Style by Style – Chimayo

PiedraLumbre 2Style by Style Weaving:  Chimayo

Weaving Chimayos is something I come back to time and time again, and after all these years I’m convinced that it’s because I really like what I call “Chimayo thinking”.  I’m convinced that it suits me best.  So let me explain.

First of all, there is a clear expectation of where I’m going to be putting designs.  It doesn’t mean that all Chimayos look the same, but they start and end with stripes, and they’ve got one, two, or three designs between the stripes.  Okay, there could be more than three, but the other designs would be sort of unimportant if it really looked like a Chimayo.  I know where stripes and designs are going to go, even if I have no idea what they are going to look like.  That means I don’t have any need to draw things out or plan much of anything.  A Chimayo design can be entirely spontaneous.  And that is a recipe for fun weaving!

There are other things that make it fun too.  I feel free to use different angles at the same time.  Like any other dramatic art form, I can set up things that will eventually conflict with one another, and have to, at some point, resolve those conflicts.  As I weave, color dominance can change, thus pushing me to continually make design changes to make a more pleasing balance.  Basically, as long as I don’t make it too detailed, the design can move along in such a way that I’m always watching and changing things to make it look interesting and pleasing.  It is just the right balance of needing to think about designing and the slow process of tapestry weaving itself.

Here is a step-by-step description of the process.

A. Before Weaving

1. Warp on the loom.

There are always warps on the looms I work on. In our shop we make very long warps of fifty to a hundred yards. And the fact that I am not a very productive weaver means that it is a safe assumption that I’ve got warp on my loom. So I don’t think of warping looms as a part of my designing/weaving process, even though it is probably the most critical stage for most weavers. Since warping is not my favorite thing to do, I tend to think of this as a really big plus to weaving in the Chimayo/Rio Grande tradition.

2. Yarn availablity

So the first step for me is to look over the available materials. I tend to have large amounts of yarn around me day after day after day. I am aware of what yarns need to get used up because no one else will, either because they are tangled, or deemed not a pretty color, or there are only small amounts of it, or maybe a differing dye lot will trip up a weaver, or there are spools that need to be freed up for use in other projects. The reasons I will decide on to use a particular bunch of yarn are pretty varied. Of course, the main thing that matters is that I am intrigued by the color combinations that I see as possible with the yarns that I have available. It is still amazing to me that my best pieces usually come out of times when my yarn choices were limited by these kinds of practical considerations. It is that old truism about necessity being the mother of invention. So generally speaking I am happy to be working within limited colors, whether self-imposed or not.

3. Size and Style

The proportion of colors in the yarns available will suggest to me what styles are options for me. If I have a lot of one color, and not much of the other colors, I can weave a Chimayo. If I have small amounts of a lot of colors, than I can weave Rio Grande, Saltillo or Vallero. Of course there are yarns that inspire me to do non-traditional types of pieces too. The yarns will also determine the size of the piece.

4. Spools

I’ll start by making up a batch of spools. Enough to get going, but, if I can’t guess as to how much yarn I’ll need of each color, I’ll leave some of the yarn aside for future spool- making.

5. Proportions.

And one more thing before I start weaving: I have to have an idea of what the proportions are going to be. This is one thing I often plan out on paper. I decide how much background, how big the stripes will be, what size designs I will be putting in and where they will go. The more I weave, the less I find myself spending time on this step.

B. Step by Step- The CHIMAYO BLANKET

1. Background

Then I’ll go to the loom and weave the first bit of background. I’ll try to center my signature mark in the middle of the right hand corner of this band of background color.

2. Stripe

Now I can weave the first stripe. This is where I fiddle with color combinations, laying spools next to each other, deciding on color proportions and predominance. I make decisions here about how colors will interact with each other that I will use through the whole piece.

3. Background

Now there is another bit of background color. This is usually a stressful part of the piece for me. I’m aware of the infinite possibilities of what could occur in this piece. But I’m also imagining some, based on what I learned about my color interactions while I was weaving the first stripe.

4. Secondary design

Ok, in our hypothetical Chimayo, let’s say I decide to weave a base, and lay in yarns to determine the edges of the design, where the two colors meet. These are carefully counted in. I am always conscious that most designs allow me to count only the top threads of the shed, but that I need to be aware of the bottom of the shed for vertical designs. Counts matter only if I want things to be symmetrical. Sometimes that won’t be necessary, but most of the time it is critical to get this first count just right. HOWEVER: this doesn’t mean I know where everything is going to go from this starting point. I am willing to leave as much open as I can, allowing the piece to suggest ideas to me. I know this might sound like artistic nonsense, a bit of a spiritual gobbledygook maybe. But I think that the piece will turn out best if I am constantly looking out for new design possibilities for it as I am moving forward through the piece. This is a design philosophy that is very suitable for Chimayo weaving, and maybe not for some other art forms. But I think that it allows me to be most true to the medium I am working in. It is important for me to be responsive to what already exists in the web I have woven, to imagine the best of what the design possibilities hold.

So this is how I move through the piece. After I lay in colors, determining the edges of color areas, I need to decide what direction any angle I create with that join is going to move in, and whether there will be stepping I’ll need to do to get the overall angle I want to make. I might make some simple algebraic kinds of computations considering how many steps of what size I’ll need to get from point A to point B. These kinds of computations require that I’m aware of how many rounds per inch this warp/weft combination is producing, and although I usually use the same materials, my handspun yarns have some inconsistency in this regard. So, even though I told you in the last paragraph not to plan things out to much, I do want to encourage you to think things through. There is a lot of logic in these pieces. Patterns with potential conflicts are the most interesting to look at, but you, as the weaver, will have to resolve those conflicts in eye-pleasing ways. In any case, it is this process that is where I derive great pleasure from in my weaving: determining possibilities, and creating and resolving conflicts. It takes imagination and intellect, and it is lots of fun, like doing puzzles.

So let’s say I’ve made it through the secondary design.

5. More Background, and maybe Jaspes

Now I can pick up the shuttle again and weave the background color again for a while. I may choose to put in some jaspes in here, especially if I need to cover a lot of ground before I can start a center design.

6. Center Design

A center design will be roughly based on ideas I explored in the secondary design. But I have room to elaborate on things this time, maybe there was an idea I really liked in the secondary design that I think would be so much more interesting if I got to continue it for a longer period. Or there are angles I’d like to have play off of each other that were just parallel or repetitive in the secondary design. The center design gives me time to resolve ideas that were left unsatisfied in the secondary design.

7. At the Center And Coming Back

I want to make sure that every design I’m carrying reverses at the same time at the center of the piece. It is not always aesthetically ideal to turn them around together, so some elements might require some “fudging”, some extra rounds woven while other areas are not actively weaving, so that everything turns around at the center. It is important to take note of these inequalities, and make them up as quickly as possible, in the first few rounds of the second half of the piece. Because the “extra” rounds of design will be doubled right at the center, it will be a judgment call as to whether the “fudging” rounds are aesthetically necessary or not worth the extra bulk they will generate.

Once I reach the center of the piece, I have to stop designing and reverse the design, You are now “The Weaver”. Angles and steps that were working their way out from the center must turn around and move back in. And I must count to make sure I duplicate things I did in the first half. Remembering and anticipating changes that are approaching is what is critical throughout this second half. Even with the mistakes I have to correct in this “coming back” stage, it is still much faster for me to weave the second half of a piece, mainly because I’m not stopping so much to make decisions.

This second half is much like looking at someone else’s weaving. A weaver can “read” another person’s piece, seeing the sequence that the weaver went through to create a piece. This is a valuable skill to have, both for understanding other weavers ideas, and for speeding up that return trip on your own designs. Vertical distances can be measured, especially those expanses of background colors. Everything else involves counting threads, either warp threads for horizontal distances, or rounds ore even pics for verticals. Whereas accuracy really matters, and I always strive to get an accurate reproduction from the first half to the second half, it’s important to be realistic about what kinds of copying errors will be visible and what won’t. It isn’t worth unweaving a lot to correct an error that will be totally unnoticeable to the viewer of the piece. There will have to be a level of error that you can live with, because you will make mistakes doing this. You’ll have to figure out what you can live with on a case-by-case basis. And I’ve always figured that weaving accurately wasn’t due to my not making mistakes, but because of quickly catching my mistakes. It’s all about being aware of what your design is doing and anticipating the changes coming up. This requires tremendous focus. (This must be more difficult when some instructor is looking over your shoulder all the time like in these workshops. Maybe you’d like to go home and practice.)


“Bubbles” – Lisa Trujillo, handspun indigo dyed and undyed wool, 60″ x 90″, 1993

This morning the people who own this piece came to visit us.  They were happy to talk to me about it, telling me about where it lives and what good care they are taking with it.  Clearly it means a lot to them, in part because of the connection it makes between my family and theirs.  They remembered that I had told them that I had woven it when I was pregnant with my daughter Emily, and they have a daughter Emma who is a bit older than my Emily.  The similarities of our daughters’ names and, I’m assuming here, the fact that our daughters mean so much to us, has made this piece something worth revisiting today.  Actually, there’s a lot to be said about this piece.

The background of the piece, as well as the blue patterned diamonds in the border design, are made with ikat-dyed yarn. Ikat is a very specific technique that plays a small part in the Rio Grande tradition but is something that a variety of different weaving traditions around the world use.  Here’s the Wikipedia entry on ikat, in case you have an interest.   I’m sure that one day we’ll write something more about ikat here on the blog.

In our tradition, ikat was used in Rio Grande stripes.  Over the years, Irvin and I have done more ikat in the context of tapestry.  We have yet to find any other weaving tradition that combines ikat and tapestry, but now know of another tapestry weaver who is combining these techniques.  We usually have done ikat with an indigo dye which has the advantage of being easy to sort of reproduce the same color.  So the diamonds in the border and center design were all dyed for an earlier piece called Hyperactive.  I did the background ikat especially for this piece.  It is simply an evenly spaced resist, so that during the weaving process I could line up the resisted areas as I pleased.  And it worked!  But it meant I had to come up with a sort of  randomly blended area towards the white of the border.  I still remember that being an ongoing challenge during the piece, but it certainly looks fine to me with a couple of decades having passed since doing it.

The really important part of this piece is that it was woven while I was going through that huge transformational event in life – pregnancy.  It did not occur to me when I started in on the two-pieces-seamed weaving that my pregnancy would impact the piece, but it did.  As it turned out, my growing belly made it hard to tension the warp the same as I progressed through the piece.  So one side is a bit longer than the other.  I must have figured out how to get the center seam to work out, but clearly didn’t figure out how to make it all square.  Although I would’ve liked to have woven a perfectly flat and rectangular piece, I think it’s a fitting reality that my weaving turned out to be so accommodating to that major life change it happened to coincide with.  I think that the shapes I used look a bit pregnant too.  I named it “Bubbles” more for the background design than anything else, but it turned out to be an adjective that I think many would apply to my daughter, as her spirited, light-hearted personality is perhaps her most prominent feature.  I think she might have earned “Bubbles” as a nickname at one time.

This piece is an important reminder that my work is not separate from the rest of life, but an integral part.