I’ve been Watching Archie Brennan and Susan Moffei Martin’s series of DVDs, Woven Tapestry Techniques. Archie Brennan can make the construction of a simple rectangle fascinating, building the shape thread by thread, teaching about tension and perfect edges. I marvel at his hands, as large as my farmer father’s.
It’s clear he has taught for a very long time. No time is wasted as he fills in with anecdotes and tips. He described thwacking, an old Middle English term. It has a meaning related to weaving that is used mainly in Nova Scotia. Thwacking is the use of your fingers to feel the fabric underway, to test its tension, to check that all is even and progressing as planned. Of course, I thought, that’s the reason people weave! It’s a tactile medium. It’s a compbination of eyes and hands that help you sense the crafsmanship of the unfolding tapestry. Don’t overdo it, he advised, as the perspiration of your hands and too much rubbing can actually felt the wool surface of the piece.
I also think of thwacking as whacking something or someone – which is what I wanted to do at an exhibit I recently attended in Philadelphia, part of FiberPhiladelphia 2012. I was slowly walking through the exhibit, “Inside the Box, Outside the Box,” when I noticed that an annoying woman behind me was commenting on each piece to her friend, all the while stroking each piece and checking out the textures with her hands. “Stop it!” I wanted to scream, you would never do this at a show of paintings. I wanted to thwack her. My Minnesota politeness kept me quiet to start, but I vowed that if she touched one more art work, I would go find someone to have a talk with her.
It’s a problem with textiles as an art medium; so many visitors feel compelled to touch. But we understand the human connection to feel of fabric and thread, and why Archie Brennan’s advise to “thwack” makes perfect sense.