Bubbles

Bubbles
“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.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ikat   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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Style by Style Thinking: Rio Grande

We can weave very traditional Rio Grande blankets by just weaving stripes. Which means that we’re just throwing a shuttle back and forth, and changing colors to make the stripes. Shuttle throwing is a chance to do some pretty physical stuff, and get a bit of a workout. I’m pretty ambivalent about workouts. I see the benefit of it, but and am only interested in such exertion for brief periods of time. This isn’t a design consideration per se, but it’s probably a big reason why I rarely weave pieces that are just striped. This is all an explanation as to why I like to take a break from shuttlework and weave some tapestry.

Weaving stripes doesn’t mean I don’t have to expend some energy on creative thought. I have to make decisions about how wide each stripe will be, and what color it is. I can decide on a number of stripes I want in a piece. Traditionally that number is an odd number, meaning that there is a stripe squarely at the center of the piece. I can decide to make stripes stand out on a background, which is what Rio Grande blankets traditionally do, or I can have stripes that are more unified in appearance, without having clear beginnings or ends. I can put tapestry between stripes, or inside of stripes. Essentially, from a design standpoint, Rio Grandes feel like they have rhythm to them. So they can march in an orderly fashion, or they can have some variation, or “syncopation” to make them more interesting to look at. Generally, the blankets that “march ” are easier to weave, and syncopation can be harder to deal with on the second half when you have to copy the first half. Predictability makes it easier to remember what comes next, so you can weave faster. I don’t really like marches a lot, and weaving repetitive stripes doesn’t appeal a lot to me either.

Let’s have a look at some pieces. Let’s start by looking at a few that have Moki-type colors, black, brown and white, and a few greys, so we can focus on some basics.

"Rio Grande Camp Blanket" by Irvin Trujillo
“Rio Grande Camp Blanket” by Irvin Trujillo. This has a very rhythmic stripe. All of the stripes are evenly spaced and the same size. The blue and white stripes are clearly sitting on a dark background.The background seems to have some natural variation in the yarn which gives the piece some visual interest. Its stripes are very sedate and regular.In this piece, the stripes are sitting on background color.
"Wide Band Moki" by Irvin Trujillo
“Wide Band Moki” by Irvin Trujillo In this piece, the stripes are sitting on background color. In this case the blue is the background color. The blue and brown banding is pretty regular, but the stripes that are woven of white and tan are not nearly so homogenous. So this piece has more variation in it’s stripe dimensions and also has a couple more colors, making it a little bit more interesting to look at.
"Moki Mundo" by Lisa Trujillo
“Moki Mundo” by Lisa Trujillo. This piece has very regular Moki stripes of blue and brown that serve as a background for the stripes with designs. There is variation in the width of the designed stripes, variation of the tapestry-woven design elements.
LT 1st spin RG
“First Handspun” by Lisa Trujillo The stripes between the tapestry-woven design stripes here vary much more widely from stripe to stripe. Part of that is the variations in the handspun yarns, but much of it is in the lack of regularity in the pattern of the striping.
RG 2001
“Rio Grande 2001” by Irvin Trujillo Although this piece has much the same colors as the previous pieces had, we have a different emphasis in our coloration here and a definite lack of regularity in pattern. The reds at the center of the piece tend to draw the eye. But there is a lot going one beyond just the center. There are not clear delineations between stripes, no edges to help our mind see a predictable pattern. That adds an energy to the piece that a simple rythmic repetition does not have.

All of what we have visited here is just a few different approaches to striping. The possibilities for the tapestry design within the stripes is a whole different topic of discussion. Tapestry designs in Rio Grande stripes is related to, and almost certainly historically derivative of, the Saltillo design system. When we put tapestry into our Rio Grande stripes, we are bringing knowledge gained from our experience with Saltillo, Vallero, Chimayo, Modern, and even Pictorial weavings that we have done.

Style thinking

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I like to think that each piece I weave has its own set of rules to follow and its own set of challenges to overcome.  But the kinds of rules I set for the piece, and the kinds of challenges I’ll face, are related to the kind of weaving I’m working on.  So I thought it would be an interesting idea to look at what I call “style thinking”.  At least it’s interesting for me…

When I am deciding on what I am planning to weave, I tend to make our decisions based on yarns and considering whatever time constraints I might be operating under.  Which is to say that the yarns that we have available, with their stimulating colors and textures, are a big, often unconscious, part of thinking about design.  Time constraints are a much more conscious issue.  We have an annual “drop dead” deadline of Spanish Market, which is at the end of July and dominates our weaving schedule more than other time considerations.  We need to have things done in time for Market.  But the amount of time I have to focus on my work at the loom varies a lot with the seasons and our other commitments in life.  I have to think about these things before I launch into something that I won’t have time to finish.

 

For each style there are different ways to think about the following things:

  • design placement
  • time
  • color use
  • angles
  • repetition and rythm
  • kinds of mistakes,
  • level of detail
  • proportions
  • sticking with tradition and knowing where, when, and why to depart from tradition
  • where are the challenges?
  • where am I likely to get bored or worn out?

 

I’ll be addressing this in in a series of future posts, organized in order of the length of time it takes to get through a piece, from the quickest to the most complex and slow projects.  If you want to learn more about the history of the style you can take a look at earlier blog entries about that, or you can see the same material on our website, http://www.chimayoweavers.com.  The length of time it takes to get through a piece depends, more than anything on how much tapestry you wind up doing, and how complex it is.  It also takes much longer to weave things that require a lot of thought.  So complexity can be more than just moving a lot of spools, it can also mean trying out whole new, unfamiliar thought processes.  Trying out new ways of thinking is probably my favorite part of weaving.

 

 

Why this Weaving Thing is So Much Fun.

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(This may be heavy on hyperbole, but it’s hard not to hit the high notes when talking about something this good!)

1) There is a proud history to Rio Grande weaving.  There once were a lot of people here in New Mexico weaving blankets for trade to far away places.  And that was over a period of hundreds of years.  At any one time at least some of those weavers were trying new things – designs and techniques – and their legacy remains for us to explore.

2) The old pieces are things of beauty.  The time we get to spend closely examining historic Rio Grandes is time we really enjoy.  There are always exciting details to pay attention to, and new things to be learned from them.

3) The design process and the weaving process are one and the same – and it’s magic.  Okay, sometimes we are working from pictures or things that are pretty well planned out.  But even if we plan things out on paper, there are lots of design decisions that need to be made during the weaving process.  For the most part, though, when we’re weaving a traditional design we get to design it while we are weaving it.  It’s a very dynamic and exciting process that makes standing at the loom and weaving a mind-stimulating adventure.

4) Sometimes I can be all alone and weaving and never feel lonely.

5) Sometimes I get to weave and talk to the most interesting people at the same time.

6) I get to meet every kind of person there is.  People come here from all over the world and from every walk of life.  And they are almost always relaxed and happy when they are here ’cause they’re on vacation.  And people are the most interesting things imaginable.

7) There are so many processes and skills that apply to this business that I am always learning new things.

8) I get to live in the prettiest place around.

2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.  Clearly I need to get back to my blogging.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,900 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 48 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

Vallero

The Vallero is the first design within our tradition that actually develops here in Northern New Mexico. It’s named after the beautiful mountain town of El Valle, where there were a number of weavers who had the respected skill of being able to weave these distinctive textiles.  The oldest of these use commercial plied yarns, and tend to be more detailed than later Valleros.  The majority of Valleros were dyed with the early synthetic dyes, but are handspun wool.  Those woven before about the 1920’s are woven in two pieces with a seam down the center.

Trampas Vallero

This is a simple Trampas Vallero. It has five serrated Vallero stars, one in each corner and one in the center. The corner stars are in large boxes. It has a simple vertical border and it uses chained hourglasses to delineate color areas in the radiating diamond . It also shows striping in the radiating diamonds. You can see how similar these are to the Rio Grande Saltillos that preceded them. Valleros pretty much look like Rio Grande Saltillos but with eight-pointed stars added to them.  Not all Valleros have the same five-stars distribution.

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The weavers who wove Valleros were said to have had distinctive border designs that identified who wove the piece.  A majority of the Valleros we have seen have either a “tulipan” border like the piece above, or a “culebra” border like the Vallero below, or some combination of the two borders.

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The Art is the Cloth

ArtistheCloth

 

We are honored to be participants in an exhibit called “The Art is the Cloth”.  The opening at the New Hampshire Institute of Art was attended by 20 of the artists in the exhibit, whose smiling faces you can see in the above picture. It is a tapestry show meant to explore that central reality of tapestry, that we aren’t manipulating a piece of cloth to create our art, we are creating the cloth as we create our art form.    There are a few other components of the art form that are pretty much a given, i.e. warp and discontinuous weft threads.  But beyond that, we are clearly thinking differently about how we approach this art form.  We saw tapestries made from all kinds of different fibers, variations on thicknesses of yarn, and every color imaginable.  The exhibit was divided in an appealingly logical way.  But I’ve been thinking about it differently, about how these tapestries diverged from my comfort zone, or didn’t.  Which is to say, why would or wouldn’t I have woven a piece like that?  So I thought I’d share my thoughts and see if I can learn anything about my own thinking/philosopy on tapestry weaving.

Rectangles and the Perpendicularity of warp and weft-.  The two groups of weavings that have “eccentric” weft are the wedge-weave pieces and the 3d onesAnd when you do these things you leave behind the familiar rectangle that most of us weave.  The rectangle is the natural way things come off of a loom.  But some of these pieces had edges that followed angles and curves, and a couple were particularly three-dimensional.  Although Irvin has a piece here in the shop that has a stepped bottom side, neither of us has purposely done anything much that isn’t a flat rectangle.  There is a logical reason for that, because the equipment we use constrains the side-to-side movement of warp yarns.  We’d have to abandon the use of the reed/beater to do most of the not-flat, non-rectangular possibilities.  There’s infinite possibilities in the non-rectangular world, but I’m not sure that I’m particularly curious about what lies out there.

Weft-faced-Almost all tapestries are weft-faced.  There weren’t many exceptions to that in the show, but Irvin and I have both tried out tapestry in the context of twills, but haven’t pursued that idea much.  A balance weave could also easily accommodate tapestry, and there was a gorgeous example of that in the show.  Still, having warp visible means all weft yarns have to blend with the warp color/s and that will actually limit color use pretty significantly.

Story-telling-Story telling is definitely a long-standing part of tapestry tradition.  Maybe it’s even an inevitable part of tapestry weaving.  After all, tapestry weavers are artists and have lots to say about things, and they have plenty of time to think about what to say while they are executing this slow process.  All of the 20 weavers present at the opening spoke briefly about their piece.  Some of them actually weren’t so brief in their presentations.  Some of the pieces had a lot of images and clearly were meant to show a passing of time, others depended on symbols and other elements to communicate more than just a pretty image or simple idea.  I suspect that none of the pieces there were devoid of meaning to the weaver, although a passing observer might not recognize the content.  A tapestry’s ability to communicate what the weaver intended is dependent a lot of things the weaver can control, and a lot that they cannot.  In this way, tapestry is like other art media.  Observers need to put some effort to see a story, or they may just see something visually appealing.  Or not.

Design medium-This is, I think, where I have some strong feelings.  People ask us all the time about how we come up with designs for our pieces.  Actually, what they ask is “where is your pattern”.  I’m not entirely sure what the underlying assumptions are for the people that ask that question, but they tend to be surprised when we tell them that we don’t have a “pattern” to work from.  And most tapestry weavers certainly don’t work from a “pattern”.  What they might use is a “cartoon”.  A cartoon is a plan for the tapestry weaver to execute to create a specific image.  Conceptually they are like a “paint by number” thing, with outlines of color areas being specified in a drawing.  That reference, the “cartoon” is kept at hand in a variety of different ways, depending on looms and personal preferences.  Executing the cartoon’s design takes a great deal of  skill, and designing the cartoon can be separated from the weaving process.  In fact, historically, these things were entirely separated.  Modern tapestry weavers tend to do both design and execution of the piece.  The design medium can be paper and pencil, paints, charcoals, collage, Photoshop…whatever.  And sometimes it’s kind of obvious that the design came from a different medium.

And my feelings about that are kind of mixed.  I want tapestry to be true to its own medium.  A part of me believes that tapestry shouldn’t look like watercolor or photography or collage, because the result of it being woven isn’t necessarily a step up from the original rendering.  After all, watercolors, photography or collage are lovely art forms in their own right.  But tapestry is time consuming.  And it conveys a depth of color and texture that other art forms don’t.  And it’s cloth, which we humans have a very special relationship to.  I’m sure that the weaver feels that the tapestry is well worth the effort they put into it or they wouldn’t do it.  But I think that what we produce from our looms ought to be true to the process of weaving first and foremost.  So I’m happy with my process, which rarely uses any medium beyond occasional sketching things on paper.  My process is very much about all kinds of variations of logic and math and color and energy.  And I’m happy with that.  It feels true to me, and to my loom and to the cloth.  I want to explore more about my own process in future posts, because I really want to clarify what it is we do.  I hope very much that what every weaver sent to that show is true to them and their process.  And we all grow and change and our design and weaving processes grow and change too.  Which is an apt analogy for tapestry weaving…it grows and changes as we lay our bits of colored weft into our warps.  And beautiful things come out of it.