Friday, 17 February 2012

Tapestry and Materiality continued

In April last year I wrote about an article I read regarding the need for art historians to incorporate materiality and making into their academic writing, and to not address the making of an object as something separate from its uses, history, cultural context or meaning. I boldly proclaimed that I was going to attempt to do this with my own research, seamlessly combining issues of making and manufacture with art historical investigation.

So how have I done so far? Pretty well I think. It has certainly helped that I learnt about how tapestry is made well before I learnt about its history and context - as a result I have approached my research on Dovecot with a prior knowledge of the weaving process. In a way, it has programmed me to approach analysis with making in mind. The reason I decided to give this update is that the weavers kindly let me photograph some of their current work, so that I could illustrate my writing with images of different types of weaving.

The two images above are of a tapestry which Emily and Freya, Dovecot's 2 apprentices are currently working on. I photographed it to illustrate how straight diagonals can't be achieved in tapestry. The inherent structure of warp and weft means that any line in a design which is intended to go diagonally across the work will necessarily be stepped. The same it true of curved shapes and edges.

You can see in this tapestry, which Naomi is weaving, that the sides of a circle are undeniably straight. Naomi said that the challenge was to weave the tapestry finely enough and make sure that the circle didn't end up with little flat 'ears' each side.

detail from Kantha Tapestry designed and woven by Naomi Robertson, 2011. The circles on this tapestry are not supposed to be exact, but it illustrates the nature of the warp of a tapestry and the restrictions it poses.
The structure of warp and weft also imposes a rectangular shape on the weaving. This can be overcome by technically challenging weaving methods, or by turning under the corners of the weaving once the tapestry element is completed, but it is something which has to be borne in mind when an external artist is designing a tapestry.

Tapestry on the loom showing the straight edge.

I firmly believe that, for me, discussion of the issues above is an essential part of my work as a researcher - without it, I would be unable to fully appreciate and study Dovecot's tapestries.

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