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Aubusson bobbins with different mixtures of yarn weights Photo Credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

2 strands DMC Medicis (or 18/2 wool), 2 strands Paterna Crewel

I often mix a variety of threads in my weft bundles, winding them onto Aubusson bobbins. Since I do not dye my yarns, I work with the different color palettes of yarns in my stash, as well as from what is currently available. Some of the wools I use are:  Anahera (New Zealand wool), Appleton crewel weight wool, Australian Tapestry Workshop wool, my mother’s hand-dyed yarns of varying weights, and my stash of no longer produced yarns:  Paterna crewel and DMC Medicis wool (similar in density and thinness to Weaver’s Bazaar fine 18/2 weight).

One strand Anahera, 2 strands Paterna Crewel

It is important to keep the size, or density, of the weft bundle consistent.  I usually use the classic European ratio :

the diameter of the warp = the diameter of the weft = the space in between each warp thread.

To determine a weft bundle diameter, it helps to twist the several strands in the weft bundle together and place it in the space between the warps.  The twisted weft bundle needs to occupy this space without overlapping the warps beside it.

One stand No,8 Pearl Cotton, 3 strands Appleton Crewel

When I want a little sheen, a contrast to the matt surface of wool, I will add a strand of pearl cotton (available in different weights).

One strand No. 8 Pearl Cotton, 3 strands Appleton Crewel

In these mixtures below, I have used a single ply handspun wool as part of the weft bundle:

One strand single ply hand spun, one strand DMC Medicis (18/2 wool), one strand Paterna Crewel

One strand single ply handspun, one strand Paterna crewel, one strand Appleton crewel

I wind multiple strands of weft onto Aubusson bobbins by using a Swedish bobbin winder (the one with the smallest shaft measuring 1/8” in diameter at the smallest end).

In the video, I demonstrate how to wind four different strands of yarn that I am mixing for one weft bundle, in such a manner that all four strands wind onto the bobbin evenly, with a similar tension on each individual thread.  This is important if you want to have a smoothly woven surface, with no unexpected bumps caused by one strand being looser in the weft bundle.

Elizabeth Buckley on Using an Aubusson bobbin - YouTube

Also in the video, I demonstrate the hand gestures, les bons gestes, for efficient weaving, and for preventing the weft bundle from scraping against the warp threads, which will cause fuzzing of the weft.  I generally twist the strands in my weft bundle as I weave, by twirling the bobbin and then winding the twisted area onto the bobbin.  This makes all the strands become one thread.  There are times when I will not twirl the bobbin because I want to a particular strand to show up more, as a particular pattern in the weaving. 

On my basse lice (or basse lisse) loom, I am using a 12/12 cotton seine twine warp at a sett of 10 ends per inch.  My weft bundle needs to be about the same diameter of the 12/12 cotton seine twine.   

I have a Resources page on my website that lists sources of different yarns currently available, as well as other tools and supplies for tapestry making. Rebecca Mezoff also has a blog post describing weft yarns for tapestry.

Labels for DMC Medicis wool and Paterna Crewel wool, no longer being produced.

Label for Weavers Bazaar yarns

Label for Appleton wool, Crewel is the thinner weight best for tapestry

Label for Anahera yarn

Label for cotton seine twine

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Two components go into establishing the foundation for well-woven tapestry cloth:  an evenly tensioned warp and equal spacing between each warp thread. Once you tie the warp onto the front beam, next comes the task of adjusting the tension so that each warp thread is equally tight. Then, comes weaving the heading to equalize the spaces between the warps.  Different tapestry traditions have various approaches to weaving the heading. Here is how I do it on my low-warp, basse-lice (or basse-lice), Aubusson loom:

Tools for weaving the heading on the basse-lice loom. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

On this loom, you will notice that the tie-on rod sits in a groove on the front beam, and the warp threads are in tie-on groups of 4 warp threads.  To spread out the groups of threads, I weave the heading in a process that gradually shifts and equalizes the spacing. The tools I use are:  a flat shuttle, a gratoir, an awl, an Aubusson bobbin, as well as my fingers.  (awls, gratioir and bobbins available here)

Elizabeth Buckley on Heading as Foundation for Well-Woven Tapestry - YouTube

In the video, you will see that the first step is to weave four rows (or two full passes) with doubled warp threads,. I am using 12/12 cotton seine twine for my warp. The doubled warp threads start the process of gradually spreading the warps. For a 60” width, I will wrap these doubled warp threads around a flat shuttle, for ease of passing through the shed as I weave. At each edge, I leave about a one-inch loop of extra warp. To place and pack each row, or half-passe,  I use the gratoir.

The second step is to weave four rows, (or two full passes), of single warp, that I have wound onto an Aubusson bobbin (also known as la flute)..  I use my fingers to pack it in. Again, I leave about 1” extra slack in the loop at each selvedge.  Each half-passe, or row, of single warp continues the process of spreading the warps out further. 

The third step involves looking closely at the spaces between the warps. Jean Pierre Larochette calls this “reading the spaces between the warps.”

Warp is now ready for adjusting the spacing with the awl. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

I use the awl to begin shifting the warps, often poking the tip into the double warp woven area below the fell line.  It is best to start in the middle and work your way out to the edges. I push the threads that are further apart closer together, and the threads that are too close, further apart.  As I move and shift the warp threads, I use the tip of the awl to poke the upper area of single-warp weaving down, to hold the revised spacing in place. 

Warp is now evenly spaced. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

I want to make sure that the bottom edge and the side warp thread are square.  I use a very large, clear triangle (available at Dick Blick or any good art supply store) and place it on the warp.  Since it is hard to see the clear triangle in the photo, I added the smaller darker triangle to make it easier to see.

Making sure the edge of the warp and the bottom (or fell edge) are perpendicular, or squared. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Now I am ready to twine across the warp, to hold the spacing in place, and to prevent unraveling of the completed woven tapestry, once it is cut off of the loom.  I measure a length of warp thread that is 3 times the width of the warp.  Since this warp is  60” wide, I will need a length that is 180” wide. Because the thread is so long, I wind each end onto a bobbin, placing the midpoint around the second warp thread, The warp at the very edge will be my guide thread, which will not be woven.  The guide thread helps me to see to notice, as I weave, when my selvedge is beginning to either draw in or expand.  I can then immediately make any necessary adjustments as I weave.

Twined heading, now ready to weave! 12/12 cotton seine twine sette at 10 epi. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 2019

Once I have completed one row of twining across the width of the warp, I am ready to begin weaving the hem of the tapestry: a moment so many of us eagerly anticipate!

I find that this process of weaving the heading to be good practice to do on my other looms—such as the Hagen or Mirrix—as well.

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Sign on door for Gisèle Brivet’s atelier. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley © 1994

An in-depth book on the history of tapestry in Aubusson and Felletin by Robert Guinot, Editions Lucien Souny, 2009.

In 2009 UNESCO designated Aubusson and Felletin to be a World Heritage Site.  It is the only place in the world where for six centuries all the necessities for creating tapestries were met: the sheep, the spinning mill, the plants in the region and water from the Creuse River for dyeing,, les cartonniers (the cartoon artists) and the weavers, as well as the restoration facilities.

Six centuries.

Tapestry first came to Aubusson with the Arabs, in 732, where they sought refuge after  their defeat in the Battle of Tours and subsequent expulsion from Poitiers.  The next weavers to arrive were Flemish, who were expelled from Arras in the late 15th century by Louis XIth.  Then, in 1664, King Henry XIV’s prime minister, Jean Baptiste Colbert designated Aubusson, and neighboring village of Felletin, as a Manufacture Royale, allocating patents for very strict control over the tapestry-making process:  from the quality of the wool, the dyeing, to their unique weaving techniques. 

Entrance to the building where Gisèle Brivet’s atelier was located. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckey © 1994

This strict control also meant carefully guarding their techniques in such a way that knowledge was passed down as an oral tradition through the generations within each family of tapestry weavers.  Often, but not always, it was the men who wove.

Wooden stairs leading up to Gisèle Brivet’s atelier. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckey © 1994

For  Gisèle Glaudin-Brivet, fourth-generation maître-lissier. it was the women who wove in her family, originally from Felletin, France.  In addition to having woven tapestries for noteworthy artists—including June Wayne, Picasso, and Jean Lurçat-- Gisèle collaborated with her husband, Henri Brivet, who taught tapestry design at the Aubusson École Nationale d’Art Décoratif (ENAD). Together they created smaller tapestries of scenes of Aubusson.  No one in Gisèle and Henri Brivet’s family wanted to learn tapestry, so they decided to go against the centuries-old atelier tradition of never sharing tapestry secrets outside the family.  In September of 1994 they welcomed me and two other weavers from the United States into their atelier to begin passing on some of their passion for tapestry, and their knowledge of cartoon-making and woven techniques.

From the moment I opened the heavy black door to the long, stone building and climbed the wooden stairs leading to the atelier on the second floor, I felt as though I had stepped into another century. My footfalls echoed an announcement of my arrival, as I placed my feet in the middle of each worn step, where the center dipped lower than the edges.  I kept thinking, “I am walking in the footsteps of many apprentices.”

At the studio door, Gisèle greets me, the first time we have met after months of correspondence. She is bright-eyed with short-cropped auburn hair.  She barely comes to my shoulder.  I follow Gisèle down the center of the long rectangular room, as she eagerly shows me around her atelier.  “Voilà les métiers de basse-lice.”  **

Bobbins and skeins of yarns on the cartoon tray of mural-sized basse-lice loom. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckey © 1994

Indeed, here are the low-warp looms, which at that time I had seen only pictures of in historical tapestry books.  To our left, one large loom spans nearly the entire length of the room.  I see warp on the back beam, and the cartoon tray is piled with skeins of yarn and baskets of bobbins.  Colors jumble together:  yellows and oranges next to blues, purples, and reds.  In my mind’s eye, I could picture ten, maybe 12, weavers sitting side-by-side on the loom bench, leaning forward as they work on a mural-sized tapestry.

I turn as Gisèle moves to my right, to show me the looms we will be using.  “This one,” she explains in French, “is over 400 years old.  It sits lower and is more comfortable for shorter people, comme moi.”  She grins, “This loom over here is better for those who are taller.”  She looks directly at me. 

Three basse-lice looms in Gisèle Brivet’s atelier. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckey © 1994

At this loom, my studies began.  Time expanded and contracted during those weeks, where I ate, slept and lived totally immersed in tapestry, the French language and culture.  When I was not weaving in Gisèle’s atelier, I spent weekends studying historical and contemporary tapestries in Aubusson, Felletin, La Chaise Dieu, Soreze, Angers, and Paris.  Each Monday, I would return to Gisèle’s atelier and we would talk about what I had observed, before once again settling in to weave.  

When the day came to leave, I had absorbed into my cells so much, enough to know that I had barely scratched the surface of what more there was yet to learn.  The next step would be in the “doing,” diving deeply into this gift of knowledge, and incorporating it into my work, continually pushing and stretching the possibilities.

Many changes have happened in Aubusson in the 25 years since I last was there. Gisèle Brivet retired and closed her studio, as did at least a dozen other ateliers.

Medieval bridge spanning the Creuse river near Gisèle Brivet’s atelier. photo credit: Elizabeth J. Buckey © 1994

The Aubusson École Nationale d’Art Décoratif (National School of Decorative Arts), otherwise known as (ENAD), also closed, to be re-purposed and remodeled.  It reopened in July of 2016 as the new La Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie (International City of Tapestry Center).  Its reference collection traces the history of six centuries of tapestry production in Aubusson, currently housing 330 wall tapestries, 15,000 graphic works, 4,000 handicraft implements. In addition, for the first time in nearly 20 years, it opened a training program for future maître-lissiers.

Recently, Cresside Collette curated and wrote extensively about “Breaking Through Tradition – Contemporary Tapestry in France,” on the American Tapestry Alliance website. A treat to the eye to see the range of work in this on-line exhibit. I especially liked seeing les Nouvelles Verdures d’Aubusson (the New Greenery Tapestries) as a response to global warming, and was intrigued by Tapis-Porte (Tapestry Portal).

New life, new breath in French tapestry, and in Aubusson, La Cité Internationale de la Tapisserie. 

——————————————————————————

**The terms, basse-lice and basse-lisse, both refer to the low warp, Aubusson tapestry loom.

For further reading about my experiences in the atelier Gisèle Brivet, “Les Bons Gestes” article that I wrote for Tapestry Topics, newsletter of the American Tapestry Alliance.

Thank you to Katherine Perkins for her article, “Aubusson:  Une Ville Extraordinaire,” Tapestry Topics, Summer 2010, Vol. 36 No. 2, pp. 11-12.

Thank you to Nancy Wohlenberg who scanned my photos into digital format.

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Visions of the Past: Paleoart 2018,” at the The New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, opened this past weekend. A juried international exhibition in a variety of media, mine is the only tapestry in the exhibit. Other media include: two quilts, colored pencil drawings, acrylic paintings, cut paper and several small sculptures. About half of the 89 artworks are digital prints. A principle criteria for all work in this show is scientific accuracy, within artistic interpretations of our prehistoric past.

“The Veils of Time” tapestry fell into the category of “Prehistoric Panoramas.”

View of first room, two partial walls.

Exhibit Narrative on Prehistoric Panoramas

Artist statement displayed beside “The Veils of Time” tapestry

The Veils of Time tapestry beside digital art.

I visited this exhibit at the Sneak Preview for the fundraising gala “Cretaceous Couture” fashion show and silent auction. I found myself drawn to the wall of trilobites, and in particular, the cut paper work on the far right.

Trilobites wall. Cut paper rendition on the far right


I thought of my father, who would take our family on fossil-hunting expeditions, when I was very young, usually on occasional Sunday afternoons. We lived on the edge of the Flint Hills in the southeast corner of Kansas, where road cuts would reveal geologic strata. We would see a variety of invertebrate forms in the layers of limestone and shale, and if we were lucky, we would find a trilobite.

Thus I was introduced to the concept of time being so much larger than the clock face, the hours in a day and my own lifetime. As a child, I could not grasp the largeness of millennia so long ago when these invertebrate creatures were alive. As an adult artist, I keep returning to themes around geologic time in my tapestries, as though the huge number of hours spent at the loom weaving somehow can give me a glimpse into eternity.

“Visions of the Past: Paleoart 2108” is up through January 4th, 2018 at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science, located at 1801 Mountain Road, NW in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

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Letters from Jian Hui by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

The poet, Phyllis Hoge Thompson, died recently, after a long life filled with raising four children while pursuing her doctorate, teaching at the University of Hawai’i, writing volumes of poems, plus a memoir.  She relocated to Albuquerque, New Mexico upon retirement “to experience the four seasons, among other things.”  She lived a year in China, teaching English.  She regularly went to Yaddo to work on manuscripts that subsequently got published. In 1995, she was awarded the Hawai’i Award for Literature by then Governor Benjamin J. Cayetano.

Words were her métier.

Phyllis also loved art, and supported many artists, like myself, by not only buying their work, but also by valuing what we, as artists, bring to the world.

Putting Up Art

As I hang up a painting, once again I know Why I need art. There are things words cannot say, Thoughts that the eyes can see.  My paintings show Ideas invisible any other way… 

Today, McCauley’s French window: the rose-fallen light Echoes a lost aubade, a way of being I lift the picture, position the wire just right, And drift off into the life I live by seeing.

—from Hello House, p.54

Hello House by Phyllis Hoge illustrated by Maxine Hong Kingston

Sunset Over Albuquerque 3” x 2” ©1996 Elizabeth J. Buckley

Her home was a modest two-bedroom, with hardwood floors that were covered with worn oriental carpets.  Family furniture—mostly wood—crowded the rooms, and shelves filled with books lined most available walls.   Above and around them art:  paintings, two small tapestries, photographs, ikat weaving, sculptures, drawings, art quilts, turned wooden bowls, and cobalt blue glass balls of varying sizes. More books in a pile on the floor by her reading chair, as well as stacked on the living room coffee table and on the end table by her bed.  

Window and Grass ©2000 Elizabeth J. Buckley Mixed media: Handwoven tapestry with couching

In 1987, shortly after I moved to Albuquerque, Phyllis initiated the Friendly Writers Groups, critique groups of four people that met once every week for two hours, to listen and respond to 4 or 5 pages of prose, either fiction or non-fiction, that each brought for review.  We took turns reading our work aloud and responding to each other’s.  The format was simple.  One person would read aloud what s/he brought, while the other three would listen.  When that person finished reading, the other three then would write down overall first impressions.  The same person would read aloud the same writing a second time, and the other three would listen as well as make further notes.  After the second reading, one-by-one, each of the three listeners would give feedback, such as:

“My overall first impressions were….”

“The place that really grabbed my attention was…. “

“I wanted to know more about …..”

“You shifted tense around the beginning of the second page.”

“You repeated the word… four times in three consecutive sentences.”

The Painted Clock by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

“I found myself fading out after …. and then returning when… “

“I am confused about where this is going.  Do you intend this to be…?”  Or do you mean..?

“I noticed the use of passive voice, which made the scene feel less immediate for me.  I would like to experience the action more directly.”

“I really liked the ending sentence, and I wondering how it would work at the very beginning as your opening line.”

Invariably the responses helped me to re-think passages, trim out excessive words, say more about specific areas, as well as to know what really worked well.  It felt like a gift, even when I needed to set aside a draft and start fresh again.

Over the months, we read articles for publication, chapters of books, and excerpts from our journals.  We listened carefully and deeply. We responded with honesty and tenderness. We grew to love each other.

I carry the spirit of the Friendly Writers Group into my teaching. I listen carefully to my students, to both the asked and unarticulated questions.  I encourage group feedback on designs, and make suggestions of options to think about.

I also bring deep listening into my own creative process, in the initial designing stage as well as when weaving on the tapestry in-progress on the loom.  Often I work in silence, allowing it to enter and expand through me into images flowing from the pencil in my hand onto the paper, as I sketch layers of shapes and textures, as I observe and study what is before me.  Early each morning before weaving, I will sit in silence and wait.  Invariably, ideas emerge about use of color mix choices in yarn bundles, and technical decisions for what needs to happen next at the loom.

 On occasion, Phyllis and I would talk about how the living silence, that we often experience during unprogrammed silent Quaker Meeting for Worship, also informs our creative process and ultimately our work.  She wrote the following:

“When I write, when I think a poem is ready to come, I sit still for hours waiting for it to gather slowly and speak to me.  After the waiting in silence comes the writing, which I love.  I love figuring out which words sound truest and best.  I love how they fit into a line or a sentence or a phrase.  I love their weight.  I love all they assemble of thought or feeling, what they remind me of apart from what I have chosen to say.  I love how they are spelled and where they came from. I love working out in lines their music, which is for me very securely based on the old fashioned metrics I learned before I grew up.  I love fitting everything together, and I love finding out what the poem says when at last it feels right.  Whatever my poems mean in particular, they begin and end as celebration of the world entrusted to me by my life.  Poetry—my own and that of others—helps me to understand how things are for me and to live more peaceably with what I have.  It is my common prayer.”

— Phyllis Hoge Thompson November 15, 1926 – August 26, 2018

The Ghosts of Who We Were by Phyllis Hoge Thompson

Books by Phyllis Hoge Thompson:

Artichoke and Other Poems

The Creation Frame

The Serpent of the White Rose

What the Land Gave

The Ghosts of Who We Were

A Field of Poetry

Letters From Jian Hui and Other Poems

The Painted Clock:  A Memoir of a New Mexico Ghost Town Bride

Anthologies including Phyllis Hoge Thompson:

Only Morning in Her Shoes:  Poems About Old Women

Edited by Leatrice Lifshitz

The Spirit That Wants Me:  A New Mexico Anthology

            Edited by Dianne Duff, Jill Kiefer, Michelle Miller

 

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I first learned about Debra Dean’s new book, Hidden Tapestry:  Jan Yoors, His Two Wives and the War That Made Them One when initially contacted by publicist, Jessica Jonap, about the possibility of reviewing it on my blog.  I found it to be an interesting read, well researched, and a good addition to the growing documentation about the Tapestry Art Movement beginnings here in the United States.  It is also quite a story of Jan Yoors life, his role in the Resistance of World War II, his wives, Annabert van Wettum and Marianne Citroen, and their lives together in Greenwich Village, New York City during the 1950’s - 1970’s.

I was disappointed that there were no large, full color images of any of the Jan Yoors tapestries, which in turn lead me to search out where I could see more of his work.  The first version of Carol K. Russell’s Tapestry Handbook (Published by Lark Books, 1990) has one image of “New York Skyline" (p. 60).  When I searched on-line, I discovered that a catalog is in the process of being compiled. Here are a few links to some images:  Exhibitions  and  Collections

Marianne and Annabert Yoors with tapestries in the Forty-seventh Street studio.          Photo courtesy of Debra Dean and Yoors Family Archives

I was especially interested to learn more about the beginnings of Paternayan yarn here in the States, with two brothers, Harry and Karinig Paternaya, who were sole survivors from their village in Turkey of the 1915 Armenian genocide. After walking to Palestine, they eventually ended up in New York City and started a business that utilized their knowledge of rugs: importing and dying quality Persian wool yarns. 

By the time I started working with the crewel weight version of these yarns in the 1989, JCA Corporation in Maine was producing both the Persian weight (three strands plied together) plus a crewel weight (thinner strands) with separate palette of over 250 colors. A mainstay yarn for many tapestry weavers in the United States, it was a devastating blow when JCA shut down all production of Paternayan yarn and closed their business in May of 2012. We were forced to find other yarns. Fleur de Paris began production of its new Anahera line.  In 2016 the Paternayan Persian weight became available again, but the crewel weight can only be found when weavers die and their studio inventory is sold.

Debra Dean wrote good descriptions of what was required in the production of Jan Yoors’ tapestries: the building of the 15-plus-foot vertical loom, the preparation of the cartoon, the warping of the loom, and the hundreds of hours required for sitting at the loom and weaving.  The fact that Jan, Annabert, and Marianne were all self-taught speaks volumes for how the act of weaving can be assessable to those who have the patience for it.  Jan Yoors ultimately did not, so relied on his wives to produce his tapestries, which at the beginning were woven in the spirit of collaboration, but less so in later years.

Marianne and Annabert Yoors weaving.  Photo courtesy of Debra Dean and the Yoors Family Archives.

In Hidden Tapestry, however there are some unfortunate errors from the tapestry weaving perspective that need to be corrected, for the sake of accuracy. Jean Lurçat’s last name. the cédille accent below the c is missing.  Probably a typo, but this changes the pronunciation from what it should be --“Lursah”-- to “Lurkah.”  Referring to the number of “stitches” per inch is more appropriate for needlepoint or embroidery, not hand woven tapestry, where the coarseness or fineness of the weave is described in terms of warp ends per inch, the grain—or bead--of the fabric, or la portée in French tapestry.  Indeed, 3 ends per inch of the Yoors tapestries is quite coarse, giving a more textural and chunky quality to the woven surface, compared to French and Flemish tapestries from the Medieval and Renaissance periods averaging around 24 warp ends per inch, which makes for a smoother woven surface.

Most disturbing is the perpetuation of the myth that the terms “high warp” and “low warp” also refer to a “high” and “low” quality of weaving based on the use of the vertical or horizontal loom and the likelihood of making mistakes while weaving from the back vs. weaving from the front of the tapestry, as Debra Dean states on page 179.  This myth has been around for years, and its origins and veracity are very debatable. It is also debatable which style of loom is older, as the earliest found illustration dates around 5000 B.C. of a horizontal ground loom from Badari.  (A similar loom is still in use today by Bedoin nomads).

For the record, what does go into the “gold standard” for quality of a tapestry involves the coarseness and fineness of the weave, the integrity of the cloth (sound woven structure), types of yarns used (silk, cotton, wool, linen, strands of gold or metallic threads, etc.), the compatibility of the design to the language of the loom, the skills of the weaver(s) and the vision of the artist. All of this can be achieved on either the vertical or horizontal loom.

I have woven on both haute lice (high warp or vertical) and basse lice (low warp or horizontal) looms. While some of the vertical looms I have used have had foot treadles for changing sheds. I prefer to use a basse lice loom for my larger format tapestries. It does entail weaving from the back of the tapestry, as well as from the side of the design (instead of bottom to top). The loom bench is angled for proper alignment of the back, and my feet can rest easily on the foot treadles, leaving my hands and my concentration totally focused on the weaving process. Weaving horizontally also is ergonomically better for my wrists. I occasionally use a mirror while I work, to check an area before moving on.  One can catch mistakes by simply paying attention, regardless of whether one is weaving from the front or the back. Each time I am ready to advance the warp, I will pull back the cartoon and crawl beneath the loom to look what I have just woven.  I now also use this as an opportunity to photograph the tapestry’s progress for later viewing on my computer screen.

Other reasons for working from the back of the tapestry entail keeping the face of the tapestry pristine and smooth, with no possibility of making the wool weft fuzzy from brushing against it while weaving.  Weaving from the back can be more efficient when ending and beginning new colors, and when using specific shading or interlocking techniques. When a tapestry is hung from the side, or by the wefts, the light reflects differently off of the grain of the fabric and the woven image.

Regardless of whether one weaves from the back or the front, when a mural-sized tapestry is hung sideways, by the weft, it can better support the tremendous weight of these works.  When such a tapestry is hung warp-wise, the weight and gravity over the decades and centuries will cause the weft to shift downwards and expose the warps, thus weakening the structure of the tapestry cloth.

Tapestry weaving does require paying close attention to detail, and hundreds of hours, as Debra Dean so aptly describes. My tapestry, The Veils of Time, woven at 10 ends per inch and measuring 50” x 60, ” took about 1,200 hours from the designing stage to the warping of the loom, through the weaving, finishing, and preparing it for mounting and hanging.  This was all done over the course of twenty-two months, around my teaching schedule and the demands of daily living.

The Veils of Time  Aubusson-style hand woven tapestry  50" x 60"                                       © 2017 Elizabeth J. Buckley     Photo Credit: Elizabeth J. Buckley

The “high stakes gamble” (p.184) of time, money, and resources involved in weaving large-scale, un-commissioned tapestries that the Yoors experienced in the 1950’s continues to be true for tapestry artists today. Just as public expectations, means and misunderstanding around the pricing of a one-of-a-kind hand woven tapestry that the Yoors encountered over 60 years ago still remain, despite the more recent historical exhibitions mounted at venues such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Getty Museum, in addition to the contemporary, juried biennials by the American Tapestry Alliance, and numerous regional and national exhibitions showcasing the art form of tapestry.

Tapestry in the United States continues to grow as an art movement.  At the time of Jan Yoors death at the age of 55 in November of 1977, on the west coast Jean Pierre Larochette was setting up the San Francisco Tapestry workshop.  Coming from a family of Aubusson tapestry weavers who moved to Argentina in the 1930’s, Jean Pierre also had helped Jean Lurçat set up the atelier connected to the Nazareth, Israel Tapestry School after World War II ended.  There is where he met his future wife, Yael Lurie, and together they have worked collaboratively over the years, creating many tapestries, mostly for commissions.

Also during the 1970’s, New York based artist, Gloria F. Ross, was increasing her role as “tapestry éditeur” coordinating American painters and other visual artists, cartooniers (specialists in adapting images for tapestry weaving), dyers, weavers, galleries and their clients in the production of modern tapestries.  She worked with ateliers (tapestry workshops/studios) in Scotland, Aubusson and Feletin, France, and later with Navajo weavers here in the United States.

In the Midwest, Muriel Nezhnie Helfman was designing and weaving tapestries for public buildings in St. Louis, Missouri beginning in the mid-1960s.  In the Southwest, many generations of Pueblo and Navajo weavers had been creating tapestry rugs and chief’s blankets for trade since the 1700’s, in addition to the Saltillo-style blankets produced by Spanish weavers in the Rio Grande Valley from the 19th century forward.

Now in 2018, the Tapestry Art Movement in North America continues to gain momentum, as evidenced by over 870 members of the American Tapestry Alliance, the majority of whom both design and weave their works. We also now have the opportunity to know more about Jan Yoors’ part through Debra Dean’s book, Hidden Tapestry:  Jan Yoors, His Two Wives and the War That Made Them One.  Northwestern University Press, April 15, 2018.   ISBN-13: 978-0810136830

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References:

Eric Broudy, The Book of Looms:  A History of the Handloom from Ancient Times to the Present, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1979, p.14.

Ann Lane Hedlund, Gloria F. Ross and Modern Tapestry, Yale University Press, 2010.

Kate Peck Kent, Navajo Weaving: Three Centuries of Change, School of American Research Press, Santa Fe, NM, 1985.

Evelyn Bingham Prosser “Weaving in San Francisco Part I,” The Weavers’ Journal, Vol. VI, No. 2, Fall 1981, pp.44 – 47.

Evelyn Bingham Prosser, “Weaving in San Francisco Part II,” The Weavers’ Journal, Vol VI, No. 3, Winter 1981 – 82, pp.50 – 53.

Carol K. Russell, The Tapestry Handbook, Lark Books, 1990, p. 60.

Deborah Slater, “Tapestries of Muriel Nezhnie Helfman,” Handweaver & Craftsman, Vol. 23, No. 5, September/October 1972, pp.43 – 45.

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