My graffiti tapestry is complete (earlier posts about the process are here and here). For me, it is a reminder of the feeling in the city in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd. Most plywood protective boards, painted or otherwise, have been removed from neighborhood walls and windows now, by mid-summer. Some remain on businesses that won’t recover, and a few remain up on stores that are open, generally those that are signed art. But during the first days, I was struck by the immediacy of the words in bright paint.
This post is about my design process, and some comments about weaving in the style of Frida Hansen. I am writing partly for my own documentation, and for the–oh, three or four weavers out there who might read to the end!
How could I capture the scrawling, sprawling look of that graffiti in a wool transparency technique? I chose an important phrase that showed up on several buildings. How would the lettering work with open warp? I decided to weave the letters, and leave the outlining of the letters in open warp. That meant that there needed to be a background to the outlining, so I drew that portion as if it was a quickly-painted backdrop, complete with spray paint scrawls at the edge.
How much open warp?
When Frida Hansen designed beautiful open warp portieres, or curtains, the areas of open warp she left between flowers or other images gave the resulting textiles a beautiful drape and a gorgeous changing effect throughout the day, depending on whether the light came from in front or behind. (See this post: “Frida Hansen Transparencies: What’s the Attraction?“) Some of the warp threads left unwoven can be quite long, but it is still a good idea to adjust your design to avoid really long warps. It gives the resulting fabric more integrity, and occasional super-long open warps may sag with a different tension from the woven areas. So designing for the open warp technique involves examining the image and adjusting areas of pattern to avoid the longest floats. That meant quite some fussing with the lettering, in some cases moving letters to overlap, or adding more of the blue background to break up the open areas. In the end, though, when a hanging is designed as an art piece that will remain relatively undisturbed on a wall, reducing the long unwoven parts is not so important as designing for a functional curtain, where you wouldn’t want to put your hand through the fabric while moving it aside.
The symbols below
Peace and power: peace signs and upraised fists were everywhere. People must have made their own stencils, or shared them. Sometimes the fists were tall, with the forearm showing; others were more squat in shape, emphasizing the hand. I added one of each to my design, plus a peace symbol.
I added a chain-like border, similar to one in a Frida Hansen piece (pictured here). Trying to break the chains of long-held racism seemed like an apt reference as well.
In this detail of the chain you can see one of my favorite things about the open warp technique–the shadows that appear behind the piece when it is hung just a bit away from the wall.
The pandemic design I did not weave
The day I surveyed my city for protest design inspiration I had a warp on my tapestry loom for a design in reaction to the coronavirus pandemic. But after George Floyd’s murder and the ensuing protests, the image seemed inappropriate…
At the beginning of the coronavirus shutdown there were news stories about thousands of hogs being killed and disposed of because the packing plants were closed. I found it horrifying, the fact the meat was going to waste when people were losing their jobs and couldn’t afford groceries, and just the fact that so many animals were being killed. At the same time it was springtime, lambing season. When I saw my friend Laura Demuth’s portrait in doubleweave of herself holding a lamb, I thought about the pigs again. Some single animals are beloved, and then masses of others are destroyed. It’s disturbing.
I love all sorts of lettering. This page is from the 1929 Minnesota Legislative Manual. The ribbon-like banner with the words “State of Minnesota” reminded me of funeral banners. Mimicking the “Legislature” lettering, I added the rip. Rest in peace, all you poor pigs!
I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting using Frida Hansen’s wool transparency technique. In this one I was going to weave both the pig and the background, and leave all of the black pig-outlines as unwoven. I think that would work well; I’ll try out the concept in a different piece.
I was close to finishing that cartoon at the time of George Floyd’s death by the Minnesota police, and suddenly it seemed weird. With all of the rest in peace references in relation to Floyd’s murder, a pig front and center would be strange. Would people think I am making a comment about killing a police officer? I kept the planned border as I moved on to a new design.
I still feel like weaving a pandemic response piece. Stay tuned.
Thanks for sharing your process Robbie. I live in Charlottesville, Virginia and my in-laws in Bloomington, MN so this has all been hard to take in. There just aren’t words to express the pain of seeing the level of divisiveness and hate in the country. I know that using art to reflect the struggle is healing.
On another note, my husband and I visited the Norway House this Tuesday (we’re in town visiting his parents) and we loved the exhibit. Max was there to introduce the exhibit and we watched the video before we went. The exhibit is even better in person than I expected from the website. Thanks for putting it together.
Just to let you know another person from Charlottesville, Virginia (hi Laurie!) has read to the end! 🙂 I always enjoy reading your blog and am inspired by the planning and thought you put into each piece. I signed up for your Frida Hansen class at the Vesterheim Museum and am so sorry it has been canceled. Also I loved taking your Norwegian tapestry class a couple of years ago. You are an inspiration! Thank you!
Thank you for your lovely note. I am SO SAD we won’t be in Decorah for the class this fall. I was planning to convert the class to on online format with Zoom lectures and meetings, Youtube tutorials, and print handouts. I still plan to do that, but I now have a granddaughter arriving around that time, and decided to delay until winter or spring.
Perhaps the upside of this is that those of us living outside the US might also be able to participate in online classes.
So inspiring. We need pieces about racism. Also, thanks for sharing some details about Frieda Hansen’s technique. One morning recently, a phrase popped into my mind: accept and respect. I’ll try this in inlay. My cartoon is retro to the days when I was protesting the Vietnam Nam War.
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Wonderful words. Wonderful concept and weaving. Just another California weaver who read to the end…….
PS- Someone linked to your blog on Rebecca Mezoff’s closed FB student group and in a few hours you already have a dozen weavers wondering how you support (the letters for example) on open warp. I tried googling Frida Hansen technique but can’t tell if you have half hitches in invisible thread or a really fuzzy weft caught on a fuzzy warp???? Will you tell us please?
Good morning! Your final guess is correct. In this piece, and in the Frida Hansen technique, the fuzzy fibers of the wool weft hold the fuzzy fibers of the wool weft in place.
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