Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tapestry Extravaganza!

Anyone who has been in close vicinity to me over the last few months had heard me stressing out about giving a tapestry demo at the Museum of Fine Art in Philly. I got the gig as kind of a fluke: An email that (I think) was meant for MICA staff/faculty said the Museum was looking for Artist Demonstrators for a one-day event sponsored by the Philly Jewish Cultural Alliance. I answered the email and ended up with a job demonstrating tapestry weaving.

So I got out all my old tapestry notes, built myself a frame, got it all warped up and then I remembered....

I freaking hate tapestry.

GAH! All of these memories of struggling through tapestry weaving at MICA flooded back to me: it takes forever, the frame looms are bulky and tough to weave on... Only by abandoning my first frame loom (because it was HUGE) and building smaller frames (weaving about 3" across instead of 8") was I able to work up enough enthusiasm to even work on my demonstration.

Then the nerves hit... I was sure that I wasn't what they had in mind. I was demonstrating TAPESTRY in front of the GIANT TAPESTRIES of Constantine the Great!! (No pressure...) And I was weaving a PACMAN sampler on a frame made of stretcher bars! Not exactly the definition of professionalism. I wanted to know EVERYTHING about tapestry... all the history, all the how-tos... just in case, even if my weaving was a little paltry, no one would be in doubt of my knowledge. (In case you're curious... everyone everywhere in every society did tapestry weaving. All of them. The history alone was a little daunting.)

And then there was my inner-political-guilt-o-meter that started obsessing with the political ramifications of working for a Jewish Cultural Alliance that looked (from the website) that it might be leaning toward the Zionism side of the spectrum. After just reading about anti-zionism organizing in my feminist discussion group I was plagued by a need to openly declare my anti-zionist sentiments, but couldn't figure out a way to do so without being blatantly rude to people who were paying me to demonstrate something totally unrelated to international politics.

Le Sigh. So I locked myself in my bedroom for the week preceeding the event, reading, writing, gathering history, weaving... mentally preparing mysef for the worst of the worst.

And then the day came.

Look! I got a sign! It has my name on it!!

(Computer with historical/technical slide show, sample weavings, extra shuttles/bobbins for weaving, handouts of techniques, Try-it-yourself tapestry loom, zines of history/how-to for sale, and an in-progress sample. With Pacman.)

So.. I may not have had to most professional set up out of all the demonstrators (the other artists all had displays and machines and stuff)... but I definitely had the most interactive table. Instead of spending my time building and warping a loom like I had planned, I ended up just setting out the biggest loom and letting the visitors try weaving a row (with help.) Because really? After all my worry and all of my preparation.... none of the people I talked to were over the age of 7. Seriously.

They were adorable. I had these teeny tiny little kids, with noses no higher than the table, their arms above their heads trying to get the shuttle through the shed! Soooo cute! And they were soo excited to weave! The weaving was uneven and ugly but those kids seemed so empowered by the act of weaving. It was a stark reminder of my first experiences with weaving: remember all those frustrations I spoke of earlier? With the slow speed of weaving and the annoying loom? Well, when I first started weaving, even on a floor loom, I hated it! But when I took my first weaving off the loom I was struck dumb by the fact that I had created fabric. Fabric was something that existed in the world before me in a way that I had always assumed was untouchable. I was astonished by my own ability to create something so real. I was humbled. I think it's one of the major reasons I fell so deeply in love with textiles. And these kids got that sense of power and joy just from weaving one row, incorrectly, on a shitty frame loom I made in my kitchen. It was awesome.

Here's the weaving that all of those kids worked on. (Allright, not technically tapestry, what with all those warp threads showing.) It was great to be able to take something with me from the event: tangible evidence of those kids work, through my preparation. Like the way rings in a tree trunk record seasons in a tree's life, each row of this tiny, sloppy fabric was woven by a different participant. It's almost a petition of the event... and through all of our combined efforts we made fabric. Sooooo cooooool. (I hung it on my wall!)

And! My amazing new friends Sasha (thanks for the photos!), Amber, Stephanie and Rebecca came to visit me. I was great to have support and friendly faces!

I also got this sweet pacman sampler out of the deal. Which, clearly, also went on my wall.

If you're curious about tapestry and are interested in purchasing the 24 page full-color zine that I produced for the event, lemme know and I'll throw them up on the Etsy Page! They're pretty awesome: they've got a history/context section, a few interesting internet links, and an entire how-to section that covers building a loom, warping and weaving techniques. Only $8! You know you want one!

Thanks to everyone who bolstered my self-esteem by telling me (often repeatedly) that everything would be ok! You were right... like usual... but thanks for listening to my irrationally panicked whining anyway... :0)

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