Watching Archie Brennan and Susan Martin Maffei’s Tapestry Videos

Taking notes helps me learn; I’ve always been the student or audience member scratching words on the edge of a program or writing pages of notes I may never read again. Recently I’ve been watching the  set of tapestry instructional videos by Archie Brennan and Susan Martin Maffei, Woven Tapestry Techniques.  I shared some comments via email with my Scandinavian Weavers Study Group friends, just in case a fellow weaver might find them of interest.  I was surprised to receive several messages in return, thanking me for my notes.  So I am posting this set of notes as this blog entry, partly because I want to promote the DVDs, a “virtual workshop” of great value.  My friend Jane Connett lent me her set to watch, but I plan to buy my own set and actually work through the exercises in the future.

The amazing thing is that this set of comments seems long, yet it is a fraction of the notes I wrote and the instruction and insight I gained by watching the videos.

Recently I watched the disc with Susan and Archie discussing images of their amazing and inspiring work of the past decades. I felt the major point of the lecture was to emphasize that tapestry weaving uses the possibilities of squares and rectangles and triangles to create images.  Sort of a “see, you can do this” approach, based on the lessons they impart on the other discs.  The lecture and images were inspiring, and show the depth of knowledge, insight, experience, and talent they both have.  In other words – sure I can learn to make the perfect angle, but will I ever have the talent to create such fabulous images?

Archie wove an abstract tapestry of small squares, but it was actually a syllized head based on a painting of Sir Walter Raleigh Scott.  If you squint to the extreme, you see the face shape and mouth.  Another beautiful geometric image was based on a window in an army barracks in Australia, looking out to another window, his first encounter with fly screen.

Archie said he often worked in series. “I need to weave one tapestry in order to clarify where I will go.   It’s quite a common thing.”

In another tapestry he cleverly used white rectangles and squares to depict a lace tablecloth. “I love the cloth-ness of tapestry,” he explained.  “The illusion of cloth in cloth is quirky.”

Susan wove a long, narrow tapestry of dominos; she talked about how it was an exercise, really.  How could she add the dominoes in a way that was more musical in their arrangement? I like that thought, arranging shapes in a musical, rather than ordinary, way.

In an interior scene of several geometric shapes, Susan showed how she wove the cord to the light fixture by simply leaving a slit, and pulling in the edges just a bit.  That’s finesse.  It’s funny, this small detail in a small tapestry, blown up by my TV.  It is an example of using slits for drawing within a tapestry image

Archie:  “You could weave a lifetime and never have explored all the areas of squares and rectangles.”

Susan wove a tapestry of two men and three rooms of their house – living room, bedroom, and then the bathroom at the top.  She explained the breakdown of space, and how the image of the bottom room was visually heavier. Putting the weight at the bottom emphasizes the hanging nature of textiles.

Susan talked about her weavings becoming more personal and more about her surroundings.  In a series about her family she included sections of the NYT to tell a bit more about the person she is depicting.  That device comes from a love of early American painting and the use of props to describe the person.

Differing yarns are often used to great advantage – linen for a windowshade, silk for a flower.  Weights of yarns are varied for emphasis and to create a rich and lively surface.

Susan often uses varying yarns for texture and interest; for example, a table covering in a scene of card payers is made of of large black checks, but half are in a wooly yarn and the other half in a yarn with cotton and sheen.

How many personalities can you make with faces on seven warps?  She put seventy faces in an image of chess players in NY. In that tapestry she used one unwoven warp to divide the bricks in a wall.  Brilliant!

On his DVD about hatching, Archie talked about Norwegian tapestries and about how the slits were avoided because of the utilitarian nature of the prices.  Bed coverings and cushions received hard use.  The joins were used to great decorative advantage, and affected the look of the people, animals, flowers, and snowflakes.  He thinks the Norwegian tapestries have not been studied enough, noting how the images, through the joining techniques, are handled in such an interesting way.  “I delight in them.”

I delight in Archie and Susan’s instruction.

(Images used with permission.)