Billedvev Workshop at Vesterheim

cover vesterheim 2017I had the great good fortune to teach a seminar at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum last week, “Billedvev (Norwegian Tapestry Weaving).” Since it was the first time I taught this workshop, I felt so lucky to have a fun, cohesive group of nine receptive students. If you’d like to know what we covered, this was the class schedule. Remarkably, my intended schedule pretty much went according to plan.  The first afternoon–for me– was the hardest, as I felt I had a fire hose of words tumbling out, trying to lay enough groundwork for students to choose/design what they would like to weave in the following days.  We did not have a set sampler design.  That evening I gave a public lecture on billedvev.  Sixty people came!

IMG_0392robbie-stephanieEach student brought their own tapestry loom.  There were three Mirrix looms– interesting to me, since I don’t have one.  What tight tension they keep.  A couple of times I suggested that students loosen the tension; I swear that Stephanie Van Housen had her tension tighter than steel cables on the Golden Gate bridge! It was easier to get your fingers in the warp after loosening the tension a bit.  I loved Stephanie’s constant positive attitude.  She peppered her weaving stretches with the announcement, “Still five inches wide!” Her edges were perfect. (She also said a few times, “I’m learning so much,” which was rewarding to hear.) Stephanie worked on lightning and a perfect circle. (Photo above, me and Stephanie)

IMG_0349IMG_0389Sonja Hoie had about the least adequate loom, an Ashford (?), and tried out the Finnish black seine twine I brought.  I talked in class about how a former tapestry instructor from Norway, Ingebjørg Vaagen, stressed the importance of creating your own woven signature, and Sonja created an O with a slash.  She also worked on the star motif found in many medieval Norwegian textiles, and it became an interesting insect.


img_0390.jpgVerilette Bell used an Archie Brennan-style pipe loom she made, for the first time.  As a result of working with it, she decided that she will cut down the side pipes a bit; it was unwieldy as a lap loom.  Her bright colors reminded me of a harlequin pattern as she experimented with angles in triangles, along with different types of joins.


IMG_0362IMG_0337Kevin Olsen used my smaller copper pipe loom and the black Finnish warp.  He discovered that he wasn’t such a fan of the black warp; it was a bit hard to see when working on it.  He took advantage of the two sides to try two different images.  First he tried a floral image, to try out a (difficult!) steep angle outlining technique in our text, Maria Brekke Koppen’s book on billedvev.  The diagrams in the book are great. On the other side he wove a detail of a virgin from a medieval Wise and Foolish Virgins tapestry, with a challenging network of small outlined diamonds.

IMG_0351Two students had newly-purchased Glimakra looms, and handily sat next to one another so that we could observe the smaller one and the bigger one.  Helen Scherer used her smaller one slanted at an angle in front of her. She finished her small piece in class.  Her sketch was a perfect example of how a design might change based on the reality of how possible it is to weave. Her plan to weave diamonds all around the border didn’t work well given the small scale of the piece, so just a few appear at the bottom.  Her small flowers were so sweet.  She was using a square dovetailed border on the sides, and interestingly, it came out resembling a postage stamp.

IMG_0359IMG_0344Kala Exworthy drew two sketches, an easier-to-execute star and joins design and a harder-to-weave beautiful flower image.  She chose the more difficult image (As her friend, I know her fine weaving abilities, so this was not a surprise), which gave us ample opportunity to talk about how to slightly change angles and portions of the image to make the design easier to weave. She used her larger Glimakra loom upright. Also, her sketchbook filled over the weekend, and she now has at least three tapestries in the pipeline.

IMG_0376Ann Masemore’s choice of cartoon was the most realistic, an abstracted image of her daughter’s dog. (But I didn’t get a photo!) Ann has incredible floor loom skills, but had no previous tapestry experience, and it was really fun to see her move from a selvedge-to-selvedge mindset to one of building up areas.  We still kept billedvev in the execution, using a decorative join to outline a long vertical of the dog’s mouth, adding an appropriate bit of “jowly-ness.” Ann used my beloved Norwegian Hagen tapestry loom.



IMG_0382IMG_0385Laura Demuth wove diamonds to start, and then a medieval king image, based on the small tapestry I wove in a workshop by Archie Brennan and Susan Maffei Martin in the 1990s.  Of course her king developed his own personality.  I remembered to bring some linen for possible use in weaving faces, and that worked well.  For this class, we primarily wove with Harrisville Highland – not the typical beautiful Norwegian spelsau yarn used in traditional billedvev, but a yarn that weaves up fairly quickly.  In the king face, Laura chose not to use Highland, but chose some finer Norwegian yarn so that he wouldn’t look like a bug-eyed king!

IMG_0379IMG_0386.JPGJan Russell included a virgin in her image.  I realize now that I didn’t ask why, but the virgin is holding a chicken, or small yellow bird.  The SWEETEST BIRD.  We talked about how the bird was an opportunity to weave a circle, with the tiny beak below.  It was also Jan’s opportunity to practice unweaving, until the circle and the bird became perfect.


IMG_0304I brought a stack of tapestries and samples and many images of medieval tapestries.  One of my goals was to inspire the students to weave new pieces, and a couple of people wrote afterwards with the phrases I loved to hear: “Can’t wait to get home and start some new projects! Ideas are roaming around in my head.” and “I have visions of tapestries dancing in my head.” During the class, students commented that they liked seeing the variety of work on each other’s looms, and also the variety of looms.


stripes.jpgI could write five times as much about the workshop, but I think it is time to head to my own studio to complete some projects, like this danskbrogd piece I haven’t touched on the loom since MAY, before the Textile Tour to Norway and the “Traditional Norwegian Textiles: American Reboot” show.



ADDENDUM: My alert friend and wonderful tapestry teacher Traudi Bestler wrote,

The Schacht tapestry loom Sonya Home was using may have been difficult, because she was using it up-side down and it was not warped correctly.  This loom is designed with dowels to which you attach string heddles, although I’ve had students who finger -pick instead and are successful.
Just thought you might like to know, should you run into this  loom again.  There is a You-tube video by Jane Patrick on how to warp this type of loom that might be helpful.
We sort of knew that.  She didn’t want to warp it “correctly” from top to bottom because she was only going to be weaving a small piece, and we intentionally didn’t use heddles, again because the small size meant that just finger-picking was fine for the weekend sampling.  Also, because of the unconventional way we chose to warp it, she thought that maybe she didn’t do such a great job of keeping even tension during the process.  But Sonja made the most of it and really learned from he choice of circle/outlining/star experience.