I was worried that I had not prepared well enough for the workshop I took in Knoxville last week with Scottish artist Fiona Hutchison. I looked at the workshop as a treat at the end of a busy time with other commitments, and when I started to review the preparation documents, I fretted—for no good reason, as it turned out.
We were supposed to bring yarn. I threw in a bag of butterflies from my giant basket of tapestry leftovers; some were perfect for my samples, but for the rest, I was given bits by my classmates. Many students brought huge varieties of materials. You could barely glance at a tempting and unusual yarn on your neighbor’s table before she would say, “Oh take some! Try it!”
As usual in weaving workshops, it was an industrious group. “Have a wee break,” Fiona urged. “Go outside. No wait, we aren’t in Scotland,” she corrected herself, referring to the beastly hot and humid Knoxville sunshine.
Fiona has been sailing on the sea near Edinburgh, Scotland, since she was a child, and weaves wonderful pieces in the colors of the sea, often including intriguing, twisting strips of weaving that might echo waves.
There are so many talented, nature-inspired tapestry weavers who capture the ocean and mountains in yarn. But I am not a person of the sea, nor of the mountains. The landscapes of my childhood are fields and sky of the prairie. Perhaps I could try out her technique to make stalks of wheat, create a conceptual wheat field? After consulting with Fiona, I began my “landscape.” I wove it upside-down, so the blended blues of the sky appear first.
Fiona commented that the bundles of yarn I was using for the wheat would not be as easy to pull as the thinner linen she uses, but that was ok because my aim was for slight texture, not twisted stalks.
I wove a frame of sky and ground, and on each side left a gap in the “frame” (that’s where the cardboard is inserted). The most fun aspect of weaving was choosing combinations of linen, wool, and hemp yarns to add a “wheatiness” to the columns of my conceptual stalks of grain.
When I released it from the loom and pulled the warp threads individually the two sides of the frame came together, and the stalks of wheat smooshed up a bit and became slightly undulating. I was happy with the effect.
I may want to do it again on a bigger piece. The stalks looked nice even before adding a waviness to them—should I weave future wheat pieces flat or wavy? I’ll do more small pieces before committing to a large one.
Other students tried out the technique too. Jean Wyss did her homework and came prepared with a design idea to explore with Fiona. During the week after the Roe v Wade decision was formally announced, Jean felt quite bereft and angry about the unraveling of society. The Statue of Liberty came to mind as an image, an unraveling symbol. In her amazing piece, the simple, graphic upper part of the statue contrasts with a twisty, disintegrating bottom portion. The separately woven strips forming the bottom of the statue were pulled and twisted about. It also included frothy plastic waste that Fiona picked up on the beaches of Endinburgh (and of course pollution and environmental degradation are also part of the unraveling that Jean evokes in her weaving.
The intent of the class was not to come away with fully formed pieces, but to sample and refine ideas for future work. Soon I’ll share the other small pieces I wove, which are definitely just samples, exploration of technique.