The Brief History of My Tapestry Journey
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.