Vesterheim 2018 Billedvev Workshop (#1)

I had so many feelings after teaching two workshops in billedvev (Norwegian tapestry) at the Vesterheim Norwegian-American Museum this month.  Relief!  It seemed that the students had a rewarding experience. Anticipation on two counts.  I can’t wait to get back to weaving myself because I have several ideas, and I can’t wait to get photos of my students’ finished pieces. And finally, gratitude for all that I learned along the way, and for the students’ enthusiasm for learning about billedvev and generally improving their tapestry skills. Isn’t that what people say about teaching–that teachers learn as much as the students?

IMG_7404This post is a bit about the first workshop. During the class I felt as inspired as the students while looking at the Powerpoint slides of billedvev pieces and plates in books, and looking at the old pieces from the Vesterheim collection that I had chosen to have on view.  You see something new each time you look at the densely patterned images, and then you see even more when someone else is studying them with you.

Students in my workshops have varying levels of tapestry experience, and it is so interesting that after the first densely-packed day of lectures, images, and discussions of design and technique, that billedvev-inspired projects of such variety get underway. I have yarn available, but some students bring their own, so the pieces are also different because of the materials. Visitors who stop in the room on the final day are so amazed, as I am.

Most people who have seen Norwegian billedvev pieces are familiar with the wonderful blue, green, and red horses, like this one.


Last week I was captivated by the many other stylized animals and birds found in the borders of large coverlets and on cushion covers.  Like these, taken from plates in Henrik Grosch’s compilations, Gammel Norsk Vævkunst: Putetræk og Tæpper i Farvetrykte Gjengivelser, (H. Grosch, Oslo: Mittet & Co. kunstforlag, 1922).


Two students, Stephanie Van Hausen and Cheryl Streeper, liked a stretched-out rabbit I had in my “animal and borders” image binder and wanted to add it to their pieces.  Cheryl wove a bright blue bunny outlined in black. Her Rauma aklegarn yarn wove beautifully and gave a bold effect. It had a very tricky portion where dovetailed joins were combined with an outlining yarn, with three stretches close together (the front legs).  That can make your mind hurt–deciding which thread should be inserted next.  I helped, to start. Cheryl started her piece with a broad band at the bottom combining several joining techniques.

Stephanie wove with thinner Rauma prydvev yarn on a wider warp, so her bunny remained a plan as she wove a border and then a row of stars. Eight-pointed stars are found everywhere in Norwegian billedvev, with different designs in almost every center, and Stephanie was well on her way to finishing her unique variations by the time class ended.  This was the second time Stephanie took this workshop. (See also the post “Star-struck” to see many stars.)

To master the basics of various joins and outlining, John Ward wove a sampler from a Norwegian textbook by Bjorg Christianson White, using Harrisville Highland yarn.  His bold black-and-red piece stood upright on a Glimakra loom on a table near the door. It was a joy to see it progressing each time I walked into the room.


Annette Smith came farthest to attend the workshop on a Decorah weekend with perfect weather, all the way from the San Juan Islands off Washington state. She wove an abstracted virgin (from the Wise and Foolish Virgin tapestries), using an assortment of fairly thin natural-dyed yarns. It truly became an experimental sample.  She planned a virgin duo, but learned so much along the way about how she really wanted the final piece to look, that she left her virgin one-armed, wove a star and finished off the edge. Annette has has always woven from the back, but is now sufficiently convinced she should try weaving from the front for her next piece incorporating two virgins.


Linda Ryder drew a single star to weave in bold contrasting colors. Also note the small perfect square in the corner, in which she varied the two vertical joins from one-turn square dovetail joins to two-turn.

Most students seem to have Mirrix looms these days.  Linda had the electric shaft switching mechanism, too, because she has had shoulder issues.  I was completely skeptical of pressing a button to change sheds, but I loved it when I tried it.


Kelly Marshall was inspired by a lunchtime visit to the quilt shop across the street, where she ran across fabric with mid-century modern motifs, perfect for practicing circles, joins, and outlining.


During the planning portion of the workshop, we talked a lot about creating and modifying images to make them easy to weave (relatively).  Marsha Larson wanted to weave a seagull. It was best woven vertically with short areas of decorative joins on his breast and perhaps on his neck, but there were challenging spindly legs. The Norwegian billedvev-weavers would not leave a big slit to sew, so we made up a join that incorporated a bit of wrapping and then catching a neighbor thread. She was using a bit of slightly irregular pinkish natural-dyed yarn.  Perfect seagull legs!


At the end of this class, I had the pleasure of not having to pack my car with all the notebooks of images, books, samples, yarn, etc., as I could move it aside for class the following week. More on that class soon, on a weekend that also included wonderful early morning walks–and an eagle siting.