Sunday, May 13, 2018

Book Review: 'Hidden Tapestry: Jan Yoors, His Two Wives and the War That Made Them One' by Debra Dean

     Jan Yoors, "Written in Fire," 1977, 7' x 21'

"It is what is unseen in a person or drawing that makes them interesting."
-- Jan Yoors

Among the great tapestry weavers of the 20th century is Jan Yoors, a Flemish-American artist who was also an author, photographer, humanitarian and World War II Resistance fighter. At the peak of his fame in the 1970s, as a Greenwich Village bohemian, his massive works were shown in museums, galleries, public buildings and collections worldwide.

As a weaving blogger, I received a review copy of this book and pretty much devoured it, thanks to Debra Dean's eloquent portrayal of an extraordinary life.

Dean -- author of the best-selling novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad -- recounts how she came to write this: "Eight years ago, my friend Mitchell Kaplan and I were talking in his Coral Gables, Florida, bookstore, Books & Books. 'I've got your next book,' he said. Authors hear this a lot, and it's never, ever true. Except this time."

The story would be unbelievable if it weren't true. As a child growing up in Antwerp, Belgium, the son of a social-reformer mother and an artist father, Yoors ran away with the Romani Gypsies when he was 12, returning home six months later. He did this every summer for years, learning their language and free-spirited ways. As an adult, he wrote about his life with the Romani: I'm reading The Gypsies right now, a document of a vanishing way of life that has immense appeal.

The most gripping part of the story is his work with the Resistance during World War II, much of which couldn't be documented. As an adult in war-time France, speaking multiple languages and working with the secretive and elusive Romani, he risked his life in fighting the Nazis, first as a saboteur and later as a guide to freedom for Allied soldiers trapped behind German lines. He was successful to the extent that he was twice imprisoned and tortured by the Gestapo.

Still he survived, marrying after the war and moving to New York City, where he gained fame as an artist. The life of mid-20th-century Greenwich Village, knowing Warhol and Pollack and the community of artists and free spirits who lived there, is another chapter in his amazing story. The details of his married life -- living with his first wife and her best friend, who had been one of his many models and lovers -- are noteworthy but somehow unsurprising for his culture and background. To me it's a side story, rather than a one of the most telling parts of the biography. (The fact that the three together did all of the weaving of his massive works is a lesson in domestic harmony, for sure!)

At the end of the day, I highly recommend this book as it captures the imagination in so many ways. If you're interested in art, in textiles, in the history of World War II, in the life of Greenwich Village in the mid-20th-century, in the mind of a free thinker and humanitarian, then read it by all means. Thanks to Dean and her team for sharing it with me.

Jan Yoors, "Conquerors Will Be Conquered," 1956, 7' x 6'

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Juried into the Convergence Fashion Show in Reno...

Every two years I set myself a challenge: weave fabric for a garment for submitting to the Convergence fashion show, a biannual conference sponsored by the Handweavers Guild of America. This year, the conference will be held July 6-13 at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada -- and I'm happy to announce that two garments of mine were juried into the show.

This coat took me two years to complete, from conception to winding warps to dyeing them to weaving the fabric to dyeing the lining and sewing the coat.... It's called "Summer's Lease I," after William Shakespeare's beautiful words, "Summer's lease hath all too short a date" (from his sonnet, "Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day").

I wove the fabric on my 12-shaft Macomber, using a draft I created with extended parallel threading. Then I wound two warps of 20/2 silk, painting one in a range of fuchsia, rose, pink, and lavender and the other in gold, lime green, sage green, and turquoise. The fabric is woven in Echo Weave and Turned Taquete and the weft was 60/2 silk in orange.

Here's the image that inspired my pattern and colors.

I kept it on my computer for years under the title "Paint this Warp." I have no idea where I found it!

For the lining, I purchased yardage of Habotai silk, then dyed it in a range of bright pinks using low-water-immersion dyeing.

I wove about 10 yards of fabric and, having taken Bonnie Inouye's workshop, "Opposites Attract," I began experimenting with other structures, alternating my treadlings for Echo and Turned Taquete and then venturing into Rep and Double Weave. The Double Weave wasn't successful because I did not re-sley my reed for a tighter sett. But the Rep turned out really well, with a weft of hand-dyed Habotai silk ribbon alternating with 60/2 silk.

Here's the second garment that was juried into the fashion show, this one named "Summer's Lease II."

The top is woven in Warp Rep and the skirt is Turned Taquete, cut on the bias. Here's a close-up of the top.

As for patterns: the coat is my own pattern, fashioned after a swing coat I own and love. The skirt and top are my own designs. Photo credits and thanks to Timothy Fuss of Pixelwave, who does a wonderful job photographing handwoven garments.

Hope to see you in Reno!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

How to Warp from Back to Front

As I teach workshops here and there, I'm learning that many weavers dress their looms from front to back -- happily so -- or using a hybrid method rather than beaming back to front.

To my way of thinking, because I like to use fine yarns, back to front is the only way to go. Mainly, you avoid that extra pass through the heddles and the raddle, which can abrade the warp and invite knotting and other problems.

So I thought I would blog about a method that I hope most weavers will try at least once, just to see whether it works for them.

(For more information, see Madelyn van der Hoogt’s notes on the Weaving Today website:

1) Place a sturdy rod in the uncut end loops near the cross. Attach the rod to the back (warp) beam.

2) Lay two slats length-wise across your loom, inside the shafts (with the heddles moved away to either side), spanning from the breast beam to the warp beam, one on each side of the castle. These slats – I use 1-yard rulers on my table loom – will support the raddle and the lease sticks so that they don’t sag or wobble as you dress the loom.

3) Laying the raddle on top of your slats, affix it to the side arms or base of the loom, wherever you can attach it (I use small bungee cords). Place the lease sticks through the threading cross in your warp, laying the lease sticks on top of the slats. Secure the lease sticks to the sides of the loom between the back beam and the shafts (I run shoelaces through the holes in the lease sticks and then bring the shoelaces around the sides of the loom, tying the ends of the laces together so that the lease sticks are secured). Once the lease sticks are secured so that the warp ends can’t fall off, remove the yarn that secured the cross in the warp.

4) Spread the warp in the raddle.

5) Once the warp is spread in the raddle (with the heddles pushed to the sides and the reed removed), drape the rest of the warp chain through the castle, over the breast beam, and down to the floor in front of the loom.

4) Keeping the lease sticks tied in place behind the castle, begin winding the warp onto the warp beam. If threads tangle at the lease sticks or anywhere else, go to the front of the loom and pull the warp firmly in sections, combing the warp when necessary to smooth out the threads.

For proper beaming, your warp should look like 
the top photo – NOT the bottom photo.

5) As you wind the warp onto the warp beam, begin inserting heavy paper at least 2" wider or warping sticks 2" longer than the warp width to separate the layers of the warp. Continue, winding a complete turn and then tightening each section of the warp, pulling from the front of the loom. Beaming becomes kind of a dance, where you wind on at the back and then move to the front of the loom to tension the warp – back again to wind on and to the front again to tighten the warp. (Unless you’re winding on with a friend, that is!)

6) Thread the loom.

7) Remove the lease sticks (unless you prefer to weave with them in).

8) Sley the reed.

9) Tie the warp onto the front apron rod. 

And then -- weave away! Thanks for reading.