By Mirrix CEO Claudia Chase
Every art and/or craft medium has its rules. When approaching a new medium, you have choices. You can learn a few of the basic techniques in any given medium and then start playing, learning more techniques as you explore. Or maybe you will just stop with a few techniques. Or possibly you will start with your gut and just play from the very beginning, in which case you are bound to make some classic “mistakes” that others who are advanced in that medium will spot right away.
I started on my tapestry journey in 1985. I had no formal education and in the beginning I didn’t even have any books. Eventually, I tracked down a few books but that happened at least a year after I had started exploring tapestry basically on my own. There were so many issues I was trying to resolve such as: how to keep my edges straight and neat; how to keep my warps equally spaced (nothing more frustrating than having warps migrate toward or away from one another); how to organize all those wefts so that they are in correct relationship to one another in any giving shed; how to create shapes (especially circles); how to create vertical lines. The list goes on.
My beginning attempts at tapestry were amusing at best. But I thought I was the cat’s meow. Look at what I was doing with my inadequate rigid heddle loom (worked great for the nine alpaca scarves I made but not so much for making a tapestry) and my nine different colors of rug wool! I had nothing to compare my work to. No one I knew was weaving tapestry. So of course I did what anyone would do with a whole year and a half of weaving under my belt. I decided to have my work juried by the League of New Hampshire Craftsmen because I was certain I was ready for them. But I wasn’t. This was a professional organization of fairly highly trained crafts people and I came to them with some ragged scarves, a bunch of tapestry purses and one lone eyeglass case.
The whole jury process was completely nerve wracking. You are greeted and then directed to a large room with a large table where you are asked to arrange your wares. Then you get to sit in the waiting room while the jurors review your work. Next you are lead back into the room by a very nice person (who is not charged with telling you the result of your jury). I was not out right rejected. They gave me hope. This is the piece that gave me hope.
It was an eyeglass case. It was mine. It showed some knowledge of tapestry technique. It was technically pretty good. Straight selvedges, okay joins, nice colors . . . just kind of a neat little package. I assume the other pieces are either hiding somewhere in a box or have long been donated for bird’s nest material.
They gave me hope. They picked up this one piece and said: Go with this. This is what you do. Work with it and come back in six months for a second look. And I did. I don’t know how I mustered up the confidence to go back there, but I did. I did. And I got accepted into The League of New Hampshire Craftsmen. Shortly afterwards I was mass producing tapestry purses. I am sure I have actual photographs somewhere. I sold them in several of the League stores along with larger tapestries. One of tapestries (which was long and thin and hanging at eye level) was even stolen. It was a big piece too. Can’t imagine how someone got away with that but I thought they had good taste because they literally stole my favorite tapestry.
We left New Hampshire for Wisconsin but I was still allowed for two more years to sell in the League Stores. I had also submitted a tapestry for the yearly League Fair “Living with Crafts” show. It won best of show, to my absolute astonishment. This is it:
And so my life as a tapestry weaver making a few pennies here and there selling my work began.
There was a time when I would have easily sat in front of a loom all day if not distracted by the distractions of motherhood and life. I was so intrigued, so fascinated. There was always so much to learn, new techniques to perfect and a the quest for what would be “my style.” Because that journey got derailed in effect by starting Mirrix because suddenly it wasn’t possible to sit in front of a loom for hours at a stretch, I have had to enjoy this journey in fits and starts. It has branched off into so many directions from learning to dye wool to learning to dye fleece and spin it in to multi-colored strands. I also picked up crochet and knitting and braiding and embroidery and all sorts of bead work. I was backing away from pure tapestry to learn about how fiber reacts in other forms.
I am back to tapestry now. I missed it. I feel most comfortable at a loom and besides it is the easiest on my hands. I still backslide almost daily, picking up something that is not on a loom. But mostly, I am stuck at the loom trying to find my new path, whatever that is; trying to find my voice which I never really had a chance to find before.
Tell us about your tapestry journey.
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Almost 19 years ago my mom started Mirrix. She was a professional tapestry weaver simply looking for a better portable loom. It turned out a lot of other people were looking for that same thing. When mom started Mirrix I was 11 and didn’t have much of an interest in parental business ventures. As long as she was still always around when we got home from school, I was happy. It wasn’t until I was in high school that I really became aware of her success and her accomplishments with Mirrix. There she was, this artist without a business degree, running a successful business on her own. That pride has only burgeoned since.
My mom and I were always close. Like other-mothers-probably-hated-her-for-it kind of close. She was always my favorite person in the world, and she will continue to be until I have a child of my own (sorry, hubby, mom wins).
When I was a freshman in college I got this idea in my head that my mom should run for State Representative. For some reason she listened to my crazy idea and that summer we ran her campaign together. We did nothing the normal way. We rode our horses to the town hall to register her as a candidate playing Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” from a CD player perched on my saddle. We had magenta signs and glittery bumper stickers. We made t-shirts with puff paint. We knocked on nearly every door in our district. She lost the election by a few votes, which broke my heart. But it turned out there were some issues at one of the polling stations and a recount was called. I was back at school on the day it happened. I had just arrived home from class when I got a call from a friend. “I just saw your mom on TV. She won the recount.” All she said during that interview was, “My daughter is going to be so happy!” That day she became the first female Democrat to ever win her district.
During that campaign was when we realized that we work very well together. Our strengths and weaknesses played off each other perfectly during that campaign, as they do today running Mirrix.
Years later, after graduating from college, living abroad and having my first real-world job; I started working for Mirrix. At the time I didn’t know if it would be a long-term just or if it was just a placeholder while I figured out what I really wanted to do. It became clear fairly quickly, though, that working for Mirrix was what I wanted to do. Now that I’m at an age where I’m beginning to think about having children myself, I’m happy to know that my job will offer me the flexibility to be available to my future kids in a similar way to how my mom was available to me, and I’m happy to imagine that one day my kids will look up to me the way I look up to her.
When I grow up, I want to be just like her.
Happy Mother’s Day to my wonderful mother and to all of you mothers out there who have loved, cherished and inspired your children in similar ways or in totally different ones.
Side Note: While I do hope to be able to be a work-at-home mom someday (hopefully with a nanny, so I can actually work), in no way do I disparage the lifestyles of mothers and future mothers who have found and will find different ways to balance work, life and motherhood.
As I get older, I appreciate more the childhood that shaped who I am today. Part of that was growing up in a house full of creative energy, inspiration and lots of art supplies. I joke about how I thought it was normal to have a living room full of gigantic floor looms and how, by early elementary school, I was a certified yarn snob. Although I wasn’t very interested in weaving as a kid, we were constantly creating and always allowed full artistic expression. I remember when was about five years old there was a bike parade in our town where kids would decorate their bikes with streamers and bows and ride through the town square. There were prizes for the best decorated bikes. I took my tricycle, strapped a tiny blue chair to the back and placed my giant stuffed lion in it. Then, I drew a person in market on a piece of paper and taped that to the front. I think there may have also been streamers. I won the prize for “funniest”. That incident pretty well exemplifies my artistic senses from then on. I was always inventing, creating, trying to come up with something new. For me, art was about expression. My mother fostered my love for creating by always encouraging, helping and never quelling my wild side. She was also quite the creative force, at the time very serious about her tapestry weaving, and I am sure living in such an environment helped shaped who I am today.
In honor of Mother’s Day this year, we’ve launched a little contest on Facebook. You can win a $25.00 Mirrix Loom Gift Certificate just by answering this question (Either on our Facebook Page or Facebook Group): (THIS CONTEST HAS ENDED)
How has your mother (or a mother you love) inspired you artistically?
We will choose one winner on Mother’s Day.
Kathryn A Wyant Schulte My Mother Mary Margaret inspired me artistcally by being a cake-decorator. She also inspired me to be creative because at 8 I taught myself to sew and she bought my first sewing machine.It was a very good one,probably more than my dad and her could afford. I still use it and I have had it for 52 years .It is the best, better than all my new ones.
Therese Magnani My mother is a quilt artist. I tried quilting and found that while I could do it, it wasn’t my thing. My mom has taken a lot of classes and workshops over the years that combine a variety of fiber art techniques, and when I go to visit her, she always has something new to share with me. We end up making projects together and teaching each other something in the process. In doing this, she opens up new ways for me to see things. Whether it is working with color combinations, materials, or techniques, she inspires me to always look for something new to try. I aspire to be as creative and productive as she is now when I reach her age.
Jennifer Chasalow VanBenschoten My mom was an amazing knitting, crochet and needlepoint artist, as well as a phenomenal wildlife photographer. When I was a kid growing up, she earned her income from selling her original patterns to yarn and craft magazines, and then later as an editor for those magazines. When I was pregnant with my son, she was my inspiration for venturing out as a full time artist so that I could stay home with my son for his first years. She never discouraged my sister and I when it came to our artistic endeavors, and we are both successful profession al artists today! I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the example of my mom! Mom passed away in 2008 when my son was just five months old, but she inspired me to follow my bliss!
McKinley Murry My Mother is my best friend. She has always put me first in her life. Mom has taught me to always try new things and never stop learning. For the past 3 years we have done fiber arts. I know more and do more than most people. We have changed the way people think of challenged people. Mom has guided me, but allows me to do my own thing. I love color because Mom made color important in my life. I can express myself through my weaving. And I am judged by my skill not by my looks. Weaving gives me a voice equal to others. My voice. My work. Mom is always close by to cheer my efforts. She provides me with tons of good books to use for ideas. Buys me the best supplies. The best music to listen to. And most of all her time and energy. She always ask my opinon of her work and listens to my ideas. We help each other reach for the moon in our weaving and if we fall? We land in the stars and start again. Life is Good.
McKinley Murry I have to speak of another improtant Mother in my life. Miss Betty Clarkson. She and Mr. Jim are parents of Miss Bailley their Cocker Spaniel. She is like a mother to me. She has taught me many fiber arts. While Mom was going nuts weaving bracelets, Miss Betty and I were learning tapestry together. She always has a smile on her face and a “Can do attitude”. She is proud of my weaving and we laugh a lot together being “Goobies”. Miss Betty supports my ideas and always tries to help me as little as possible so I learn. That is a very hard thing to do for someone you love. To watch me struggle and allow me to make my own mistakes. She inspires me to be the best I can be just like my Mom does. I needed to tell you how Important Miss Betty is to my work. We share ideas and our life together. I love her and her family. Miss Betty Clarkson my BFF!
Betty Clarkson My Mother always instilled in each of her 4 daughters the love of creating. At a very young agea we did clothes for our dolls, embroiedery, pot holder weaving, and many other fiber crafts. I remember one summer creating a picnic cloth. Mom took a new white bed sheet and we decorated it with fruit. Tracing the design unto the cloth and using crayons to fill in the color. Wax paper was placed on the design area and heat set with the iron. Her encouragement of the fiber arts were contagious. I began weaving on a simple loom and graduated to a floor loom. It did not stop there. Spinning and dyeing fibers was another adventure into the wonderful world of fiber. I started using the Mirrix Looms about a year ago and now am enjoying the journey of learning how to create tapestry and bead weaving. My mother always encouraged and instilled the love of creating with fiber. She passed 3 years ago – I miss her but know she is happy that I am continuing my journey. Thank-you Mom for everything. Hugs XOXOXO
Patty Stabile My Mom let me try things and had the patience of a saint when I failed, ie: knitting. Mom can do anything and I keep trying to catch up to her standards, especially my flower arranging. She made my bridal bouquets, beautiful.
Denise Prince My mother was an expert seamstress. The most amazing part of this is that she was entirely self-taught. In my youth, when I would want to try some new artistic endeavor, she was always supportive. She taught me to sew by showing me what I was suppose to do — and then leaving the room! She was never far, in case I needed help. Whatever I tried, she was there to offer support (from the next room! lol). When I started making jewelry, she was my #1 client. When she would get a compliment on a piece I made, she would say, “My daughter made it. She only uses the good stuff.” She inspired me with her “you can do anything” attitude and constant belief that everything I did was wonderful.
Mothers Day Contest Entry
My mom is my biggest inspiration, she is a great seamstress, avid knitter and crocheter and owns her own LYS. At a young age all five of us were crafters, even the boys. Mom always said “Don’t quit” You can do it. My eight year old brother taught me to sew oven mitts for christmas on the old treadle. Sewing was my first passion, then knitting, but now I found beading I cant stop. When we would go to bed at night and mom was knitting by the fire, in the am we would have new mitts or socks to go to school. She is precious and still teaching today. My sisters are both great painters and seamstress , I dont paint or draw.
We got two days off (well, really one and a half). We spent two nights in Stowe Vermont. Nice camp ground, sweet little shelter, no bugs. This is all good. And I had my beadwork with me. So I said to Rick (husband, on right) let’s not hike Mansfield because something a little smaller would be better. Okay, he says. So, we hiked Spruce Mountain instead. Five and a half hours later we were done. I mean done. Mansfield would have taken five hours. It’s steeper but a lot shorter. But I should know my husband by now. I should know that there is no such thing as a short hike. Oh, and then he wanted to take a little paddle in the canoe (that would have been an hour long paddle full speed). Gotta leave some wake behind. But the sky had the good sense to fall in rain drops, so we nixed the canoe moment and headed home. I did make an off-loom piece which I will post if I get the inspiration. I left my Mirrix home. Sometimes you just have to leave even your Mirrix behind.
I haven’t woven (or should I say, finished) a tapestry in a very long time. Inspired by a customer who just ordered the 38 inch weave to embark on tapestry (and bead weaving) after having in her past woven fabric, I decided I needed to look at some of my past tapestry images. So I picked ones that are nolonger with me. You don’t think you are going to miss these pieces when you sell them. You think: wow someone gave me money for that and it’s going to hang on their wall. Isn’t that great! But I miss them.
The one to the right is called “Fragments.
It was woven on a linen warp which was wonderful. The piece came off so rich and stiff and complete. loom it was like drinking a really expensive wine after only drinking cheap stuff for years. Tapestry weaving became magical and not nearly as difficult (this experience must have greatly contributed to creating the Mirrix so that others would have that great tapestry weaving experience without having to buy a huge and expensive floor loom).
These pieces are not shown in order of their creation. This piece was also not woven on the Mirirx.
It lives in a home in Wisconsin. Sold from a show I did there. Interestingly enough, the folks who bought it had me turn it sideways for them to hang (I had to change the bar on the back that I use to hang my tapestries . . . something for a future discussion). I wove a series of tapestries in this style. The diamond pattern was fun to weave and allowed for some surprising progressions.
The tapestry below is called “They worshiped the sun God.” It came out exactly as I envisioned it. I use a lot of weft bundles with strands of wool and rayon.