I posted recently about finishing a small test piece in Helena Hernmarck’s unique tapestry technique. Christopher Allsworth commented about his admiration for Helena’s work and said, “Hope your test piece evolves into a tapestry, say, half a Helena Hernmarck size!” That’s perfect. It’s my goal–a half-Hernmarck by Christmas.
Using her technique to its full advantage is challenging, and I worry that I will invest a lot of time and yarn and then be disappointed with my efforts. On the other hand, the technique suits my weaving passion exactly, to spend time at the loom constantly making decisions about color and texture. In the workshop last summer Helena and her four students, who graduated to become “Team Hernmarck,” gave us a thorough grounding in the technique. (Thank you to Lis Korsgren and Annika Söderstöm, and Joan Haglund and Winnie Johnson from Minnesota, who were invaluable tutors!) Equally important, Helena’s discussion of her career and her generous sharing of her work ethic were inspiring. These tips from my notes are applicable to weavers of many stripes.
Even though her cartoons are done in great detail, and most decisions are made in the design phase, Helena emphasized the importance of the weaving process, and of continually observing and refining the piece. “The fact that I keep changing my mind is what makes it beautiful.” At another point she noted that “the weaving is like a dance,” a metaphor for both the weaving process and the finished weaving.
Many of her pieces are based on photographs, and the quality of the image is crucial to the success of the finished piece. For an early piece, Helena hired a photographer to shoot scenes from an outdoor market. He took many, but the shot that was used was taken while he sat at lunch and observed a man through a foggy window. “The unexpected is often the best,” Helena noted.
Sometimes Helena weaves a piece horizontally, sometimes vertically, depending on the image. It can change the character of a face. If you weave a face horizontally you get a stern look; if you weave it vertically you get a more ephemeral look. “Try it!” she challenged her students. (The face below, in “On the Dock,” 2009, was woven vertically.)
Helena has succeeded in the tough world of corporate commissions through a combination of bold business sense and the ability to work hard and persevere. “You always say yes. Take every challenge that comes along.” She added a comment that is true in many parts of life – “If you have a deadline you make decisions faster.”
Helena noted many differences between her early pieces and more recent pieces, showing how her technique has developed. “I talk about this like being a clown on roller skates. You have to be a good skater before you can do the tricks.” On the other hand, while giving a tour she observed sections of her early pieces and mused that she should maybe go back to those successful techniques.
Many of the pieces have rosepath treadling in the background (see detail below) and Helena talked about making deliberate mistakes in the threading and treadling. “I don’t want it to be too perfect.” It’s unlikely that I will suffer from too much perfection in my next piece. So maybe another of her comments is heartening. “There are many ways to weave it, all good….except the bad ones.” I’ll try to look out for those bad ones.