Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Genius of Richard Landis

 Signal, 1976, Richard Landis

I came upon the work of Richard Landis as I was reading Loom-Controlled Double Weave: From the Notebook of a Double Weaver by the late, great Paul O'Connor.

It was one of those moments.... You see a weaving and the lightbulbs go off: "Who IS this? What exactly is happening here?" 

This was the photo I saw. Even though it was a poor reproduction and printed in black and white, it had presence.

The Passion, detail, Richard Landis, 1978

I wanted to know more. Which led to a Google Search, confirming that this was indeed the work of a celebrated weaver, one whose weavings are in the collections of MOMA, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Minneapolis Museum of Art (a gift of Helena Hernmarck), and the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. 

Google told me he was living somewhere in Arizona. Emboldened, I searched for him on and found a landline. So -- why not -- I picked up the phone and called him. 

And he answered! Long story short, he was kind enough to grant me an interview. As it happened to be his 92nd birthday and he was going out to celebrate with friends, we set up a phone call for the following week. We followed through: I had my questions ready and his answers were every bit as interesting as his work.

First off, I asked him the basics: sett, yarn, loom, inspiration. He explained that he bought standard polyester sewing thread on cones, in hundreds of colors, that were sold in Los Angeles at the time. This fine thread and the vast number of colors allowed him to create fluid color graduations in each block, with his warp sett around 88 epi (44 epi per layer) on his 8-shaft Gilmore with a weighted beater. 

Clearly, to achieve those wonderful shifting hues and values in both warp and weft, he had to do a great deal of sketching and planning before he even wound a warp.

All his designing was done on paper, with colored sketches like this.

A sketch from 1967-68, in which he worked "to discover the position of full tones," he says. (This image is reproduced from a privately published book on Landis, Episodes.) He describes the process of sketching "somewhat tedious." 

Below is an intricate piece called "Triumph of Logic," woven in 1982 and now owned by the Cooper-Hewitt. Landis says that Jack Lenor Larsen told him it was his masterpiece.

This is art you can read and feel: the tactile quality is visible to us as weavers. It speaks volumes to me, as 20th-century art in a language I can understand. 

Landis earned an art degree from Arizona State University in the 1950s. "When I got to college I took a basic design course from a woman, a European woman who was on fire about modern art. I thought a lot of modern art was just crazy, Picasso and Braque and all these people.... but when I took her course I learned it was just amazing."

He found, however, that "painting didn't interest me much.... I just decided that woven things -- things that were made of cloth, fiber -- I just thought that was more interesting."

His training in weaving? "I only studied weaving for three days," he remembers. "I studied at Mary Pendleton's in Sedona and slept in my car because I didn't have any money. She gave me a British book on doubleweave and I went from there."

Landis asserts that "Anni Albers was my North Star. Bauhaus thought and modern art were always in my mind."

He didn't ignore the technical aspects of the work, as with any true artist. His finishing process was meticulous. "I washed them and ironed them in very specific ways. I had to wash them three times, because I wanted them to do the natural shrinking. And then I wanted the doubleweave not be flattened beyond what it needed to be."

Still, technicalities were not his focus. He never used weaving software -- even though it was available in the later years of his weaving career -- and even today he doesn't use email or a cell phone.

Landis stopped weaving in 1995. "I was pretty good at weaving but I'm very bad at salesmanship and giving a damn. After it's done in its proper form, I'm through with it." 

"In its proper form" is an understatement, in my view.

Campo di Fiori, Richard Landis, 1976, Cooper-Hewitt 

All images in this post are used with permission from Richard Landis. To watch a 2018 interview with this master colorist, visit

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Color Chords Make Your Warp Sing!

Pictured above, "Tesselations": an eight-shaft design on a four-color Echo threading. This is one of the samples I'm weaving up for "Echo and Jin: Playing with Color Chords," a workshop I'm teaching at the MAFA (Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association) 2023 conference in June in Millersville, PA.

Weavers will choose their warp colors based on the theories of "color chords" presented by Johannes Itten, author of The Art of Color and The Elements of Color. Many consider him to be the 20th century's master of color theory. 

In addition, The Color Star (John Wiley & Sons, Inc.,1985) is a tool for color study based on Itten's theory of color harmony and his 12-point color wheel. The kit (not really a book) includes eight templates that outline a series of chords of his color star. As an example, looking at the photo at the top of this post: The colors of the warp yarns (in 10/2 mercerized cotton) are bright green, orange, burgundy, and royal blue. Together, they form a rectangle, a quadratic chord, on Itten's color star.

The full complement of templates, placed over the color wheel and cycled around the wheel, are as follows:

1) Dyadic chords, the six sets of complementary colors: yellow and violet, yellow/orange and blue/violet, orange and blue, red/orange and blue/green, red and green, and red/violet and yellow-green.

A dyadic chord showing the complementary colors yellow and violet

2) Triadic chords that form either an isosceles triangle or an equilateral triangle on the color wheel. An isosceles triangle will give you four color chords, among them the primary colors of yellow, red, and blue and the secondary colors of orange, violet, and green. 

Triadic chord: an isosceles triangle showing the primary colors

Triadic chords can also be equilateral triangles that yield twelve chords, a.k.a. split complementaries.

Triadic chord showing the split complementaries of yellow, blue/violet, and red/violet. This chord is useful if you're choosing colors for a two-end parallel threading and its accompanying weft -- although if I had a warp of royal blue and magenta I would choose a darker shade of yellow, something more like bronze, because yellow can overwhelm other colors.

3) Quadratic chords that are either a square or a rectangle on the color wheel. (I consider this the barbership quartet of Itten's color theory, which I'm certain would not amuse him.) This is the main part of my subject matter for the MAFA workshop.

Here's an example of a square quadratic chord of warp-color choices, starting at the top left and going clockwise around the wheel: lime green, orange, wine, and royal blue. Unfortunately I didn't line up my yarn cones in that order, but you get the idea....

Here's what those colors look in black and white, defining their relative values:

Predictably, the deep wine color has the darkest value and the orange has the lightest value. Here's an 8-shaft sample woven up with these warp colors, using a turquoise weft.

And here's what this sample looks like in black and white, showing the different values of the color blends:

The darkest values, outlining the motifs in the pattern, are where the turquoise crosses the wine and the royal-blue warps, which stands to reason based on the black-and-white photo of the warp yarns.

Looking again at the sample at the beginning of this post: The warp yarns I used are bright green, orange, burgundy, and royal blue. Together, these colors form a rectangular quadratic chord on Itten's color wheel. 

Here's a black and white photo showing the values of these colors. You'll see that the burgundy on the bottom left of the photo has the darkest value and the orange on the bottom right has the lightest value.

The different values shape the pattern, defining the forms and adding depth. The burgundy adds a shadow, almost an outline, while the orange/yellow appears to sit on top of the sample. 

4) Itten's five-tone chords combine the equilateral and isosceles triangles. These templates are useful when you're creating a four-color parallel threading, for instance, and you're looking for ideas for weft colors as well.

Five-tone color chord of green, yellow/green, red/orange, blue/violet, and blue

5) Finally, there are two different six-tone chords that are revealed by rotating a hexagonal template on the color wheel, the first one giving you two six-tone chords, each consisting of three complementary colors. Both templates in this category use two equilateral triangles: the first one has all colors equidistant from each other, giving you four different chords to choose from, and the second combines two equilaterial triangles to form an irregular hexagon. These two templates are useful in choosing warp and weft colors for Echo woven as doubleweave, where you have four colors in the warp and two colors in the weft. 

Using a hexagonal template for a six-tone chord, I've chosen warp colors that form a trapezoid on the six-tone template -- suggesting, for doubleweave, I should try orange/yellow or blue/green in the weft.

A plug for subjective color choices: Here's a Jin sample where I went rogue and, weaving with the warp colors above, chose hot pink as the weft. Further, I used a wool/stainless-steel yarn in the weft, which gives the fabric pleats (how firm or soft depends on how you shape it, because the stainless steel has memory).

Six-tone chord forming an irregular hexagon (using two equilateral triangles) and showing green, yellow/green, orange, red/orange, violet, blue/violet. These would be great colors to choose for doubleweave, with four colors in the warp and two in the weft.

There's a lot of science involved in how we perceive color and value, obviously. For example, the rods and cones in our eyes allow us to interpret value and color, respectively. Simply put, the rods are more numerous and highly sensitive to light; they work for night vision and peripheral vision. The cones, each devoted to the colors of red, blue, or green, work together to allow our brains to detect the full spectrum. We weave for what we perceive visually in form and color (and substance, which is tactile, but that's another subject).

This is not to say that Itten's chords are hard and fast rules to weave by. (If they were, I would break them a lot.) Instead, I see his theories as objective road maps, a guide when I'm in search of color ideas to achieve interesting color blending for parallel-threaded warps. 

Certainly, I believe that subjective color choices are as important -- perhaps more important, who can say -- for our weaving because, after all, if we don't like the colors we're working with, we probably won't like the end results.

Whatever colors we choose -- objective, subjective, analogous, complementary, harmonious, discordant, even black and white, which aren't colors at all -- it's a joy to learn as much as we can, to sample, to gain insights, to venture outside our comfort zone, and then perhaps to return gladly to our comfort zone, a bit more aware of how best to dwell in it. 

Turquoise. Gets me every time.

Thanks for reading!


Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Can't Make the MAFA Conference? How About 'MAFA Mini'?

Coming this July to a computer near you: MAFA Mini! For those of you who can't make it to the on-site Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association conference in Millersville, PA, this June 22-24, you can Zoom into MAFA Mini. No traveling, no room and board, just lots of learning about fiber art.

I'll be teaching a half-day workshop on how to make Dorset Buttons (see the photo at the top of the poster) -- one of some three dozen online classes in weaving, spinning, dyeing, garment construction, and more. Plus a keynote, lectures, movies, and even yoga. Here's the full schedule. 

Registration begins April 1. For details, click here. Hope to see you online!


Saturday, February 25, 2023

Not-So-Random Acts of Color: Johannes Itten's Color Chords


In 1921, Johannes Itten -- a painter and teacher at Germany's famed Bauhaus School -- published The Color Star, a small book featuring a 12-point color wheel that's been valued by artists ever since. The book included eight templates that one can place over the color star, displaying a variety of what he termed "color chords". Every point on the star represents one color in the spectrum, and every color is shown in a range beginning with the lightest tints (white added) and moving outward to the three darkest shades (black added). 

The pure colors are in the center band of the circle.

Itten's Color Star

Itten's first template shows you the two-tone Dyadic Chords, giving you all of the complementary colors: yellow/violet, yellow-orange/blue-violet, orange/blue, red-orange/blue-green, red/green, and red-violet/yellow-green. 

His Triadic Chords can be created using either isosceles or equilateral triangles, as seen here with the template for an equilateral triangle (and some yarn possibilities).

Without going into more detail, I'll get to the point: I use these chords to choose warp colors for extended-parallel threadings, which use two, or three, or four colors in the warp. The results can create beautiful iridescent shifts in the fabric. Like this sample, using a four-color parallel threading on eight shafts with a turquoise weft.

Or this variation, with a burgundy weft:

Or this, with a violet weft:

For the warp colors, I used the one of the templates for Itten's Quadratic Chord, which can be a square or a rectangle. In this case, I chose the square and based on this I went with saturated colors. Go big and bold or go home, right?

The samples will be used in a workshop I'm presenting at MAFA this June: "Echo and Jin: Playing with Color Chords". My aim is to familiarize weavers with Itten's objective theories about color chords and then let them choose their own colors within that framework.

Everyone's rods and cones are different, we know. Not everybody likes olive in their warp, correct? These subjective decisions are what makes our creations unique.

Here's the warp I'm threading right now, using a Quadratic Color Chord that's a rectangle rather than a square. 

It will be used with a 12-shaft pattern -- and I really love these colors. Consider that you're looking at two sets of complements: blue/orange and green/red (except in this case the red tilts more toward a berry color). 

My next plan is to try a trapezoid as a color chord. Itten doesn't offer that in his templates, but I think it's worth trying. Mother Nature seems to range freely and quite joyously around the spectrum, so why can't we?

This discussion doesn't venture into the importance of value. At this point, without having focused on this topic, my thinking is that it's best to avoid extreme differences in value in a parallel-threaded warp, particularly in a four-end parallel-threaded warp. Some differences in value are OK, but I try to avoid colors like navy, deep purple, forest green, and the like -- or, on the other side of the value scale, yellow, beige, pale pink, baby blue, silver, that range of hues. 

Why? Because the warp color with a very dark value may tamp down the effect of iridescence, while a warp color with a very light value may overwhelm the other colors -- sort of like a singer in a quartet who is louder than anyone else. 

Looking at values, here's what I chose for my first warp (the one I wove on eight shafts, samples shown at the beginning of this post).

The red on the far left is darker in value than I'd like -- and surprisingly, it's darker in value than the blue on the far right -- but I went with it anyway because that's what I had in my stash. (That can overrule a lot of rules.) Still, if you look back at the samples at the top of this post, it seems to work well.

Another question: What do we choose for weft? Sampling is so important for this, of course. Typically, I start any project by winding a warp that is about a yard longer than I need for the finished piece and then I use the first yard or so to experiment with different weft colors.

When I'm weaving Echo or Jin on a four-end parallel, I tend to use muted colors in mid-range values, such as bronze, violet, teal, olive, mustard, terra cotta, even gray. Also, as a rule of thumb, you'll want to use colors that do not appear in the warp -- that is, colors that are found in between the colors you've chosen from the color wheel. 

Then again, for every rule there seems to be an exception, as you see in the fourth photo down from the start of this blog post. For that sample, I used a bright turquoise weft. I love turquoise and find that I often default to that color, for warp or weft.

Itten would say this is a subjective choice, of course. 

Thanks for reading!

Doubleweave on 16 shafts 
using a four-end extended-parallel threading

Friday, January 6, 2023

Book Launch!

Weaving Outside the Box: 12 Projects for Creating Dimensional Cloth is now available for purchase! It's been a long road but at last it's ready to launch.

Front and back covers (right and left respectively) for printing

The book is 122 pages long, in full color, with a soft cover and a coil binding so that you can lay it flat as you read and weave. It's also available as an eBook and in hardcover. You'll find all these options on this blog site under the page titled "Publications for Purchase".

Here's a brief description:

"Color and structure are key elements in weaving, of course. But we often overlook the importance of texture. Dimensional fabrics, with their pleats, puffs, and curves, take us 'off the grid', reflecting the organic forms of nature. We can both see and feel the tactile quality of dimensional cloth, which adds much to the beauty of handwoven fabric.

"This book gives you tools to optimize texture in your weaving. Starting with background on the techniques involved, it then offers step-by-step instructions for 12 projects for four to 16-shaft looms: four for beginning weavers, four for intermediate weavers, and four for advanced weavers. As a bonus, there are two patterns that allow you to weave three different projects on a single warp.

"Weaving Outside the Box provides the tips and resources you need to move beyond the two-dimensional plane and rectilinear patterns of warp and weft."

Here are a few of the projects offered.

Among the four projects for four shafts: woven shibori using fulling techniques

Doubleweave layers and ruffles for eight shafts 
using differential-shrinkage techniques

Deflected doubleweave on 16 shafts 
using differential-shrinkage techniques

There are diagrams and even microscopic photos of yarn throughout the book, to help you understand the mechanics behind these designs, all using some combination of active and inactive yarns, structure, and finishing.

I will teach a workshop straight from the book June 11-16 at the Michigan League of Handweavers Conference in Holland, MI. Participants will choose one of the 12 projects from the book and start by weaving up samples so they can learn how to finish their projects to get just the right textured effects.

Dimensional cloth is a specialized area of weaving, one that is sometimes overlooked but has been woven for centuries. My book begins -- and this blog post concludes -- with this quote from Anni Albers, from her definitive book, On Weaving

All progress, it seems, is coupled to regression elsewhere. We have advanced in general, for instance, in regard to verbal articulation -- the reading and writing public of today is enormous. But we certainly have grown increasingly insensitive in our perception by touch, the tactile sense.

I hope my book inspires weavers to explore all three of the wonderful tools we have in our craft: those of structure, color, and the tactile sense.

Thanks for reading!

Detail of Echo threading in four-color doubleweave on 28 shafts, 
using cotton/stainless-steel yarn for one of the wefts 
to achieve crinkled layers

Sunday, December 18, 2022

This Pattern Is More than 400 Years Old... with a Few Changes

 It all starts with a 1626 portrait of John Erskine, 2nd Earl of Mar and Lord High Treasurer of Scotland, painted by Adam de Colone. 

The painting hangs in the National Galleries of Scotland, where researchers have found that the canvas is in fact a linen tablecloth, a practice that was common at the time. The tablecloth was woven on 14 shafts in this Gebrochene pattern.

If you're a frequent reader of this blog, you may recall that I've written about this before -- most recently, on September 18, 2022, in a post that gives you more details on how I altered the pattern but kept the original design line. I learned of it maybe 20 years ago from Marjie Thompson, who calls it "The Earl". 

It was not a stretch to take the threading and create a parallel threading 14 shafts above it, which I did just to see what would happen. I figured it could be woven as Echo or, by adding tabby to the treadling, as Jin (aka Turned Taqueté). The Jin drawdown I designed looks like this.

Here's a detail to give you a better idea of the design.

I really liked the varied geometry of the pattern, so this is what I used for the motifs in the center of the scarf, using two different weft colors, violet and gold. (The gold is in the central section, where the fabric scrunches up into pleats, seen around the neck on the mannikin. That's because the yarn is a combination of silk tram and stainless steel, which has memory.)

The mountain-like motifs at the beginning and end of the scarf -- in purple and orange -- are woven in a doubleweave pattern using what I call a "carved" tieup. (The idea is outlined in Marian Stubenitsky's definitive work, Weaving with Echo and Iris, which provides all number of tieup options for Echo woven as doubleweave.)

When you're weaving four-color doubleweave on an Echo threading, these "carved" variations in the tieup make for lots of color shifts, so that a color first appears on top of the cloth and then shifts to the bottom. This maximizes the potential for color blending.

Adding to the potential for color play: I used a painted warp combined with a black warp for the parallel threading. The technique is quite simple: You wind a two-color warp of natural and black and then paint the entire warp. The natural-colored yarn absorbs the dye and the black does not. 

I love the yarn that I used for the warp, and I doubt I will ever find it again, because I got it at one of those wonderful guild sales. It's a 24/3 unmercerized cotton, so I really didn't have to worry about threads breaking and selvages fraying. For the doubleweave weft, I used 16/2 bamboo in blue, orange, and burgundy, and for the Jin wefts, I used 60/2 silk in deep violet and, as I mentioned, tram-silk/stainless-steel in gold, purchased from Lunatic Fringe, which pleats and bends in the center section.

To me, the motifs look like mountains and the colors remind me of a western sunset. So I've named the piece "Colorado", which means "ruddy" in Spanish. It reminds me of the sunsets over the Sangre de Cristo range, near where my daughter and her family live. The Earl is well traveled indeed.

Thanks for reading!

The Genius of Richard Landis

 Signal, 1976, Richard Landis I came upon the work of Richard Landis as I was reading  Loom-Controlled Double Weave: From the Notebook of a ...