Weaving faces has been my focus since I began weaving tapestry in 2003. I have been wanting to expand my horizons for some time but have had trouble finding my way. During a phone conversation with Diane Wolf from ATA I asked Diane if she would mentor me with the express goal of breaking my mold. We did this through ATA’s mentor program and began January 2012.
I have a love of historic costumes and textiles. For about 10 years I volunteered at a local historic society that has a large costume and textile collection. After one course in conservation at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City I became the head of the costume and textile department at the historical society. It was a great experience which fueled my love. I wanted to bring this into my tapestry and with a little help from Diane I did just that.
I spent many hours searching through my books of historic costume until I came upon a red and white striped walking dress made in France in 1780. The dress was photographed on a mannequin with a white head and white paper hair, perfect for a bold graphic design. Using my point and shoot digital camera (OlympusVR-320) I photographed the image two times., once as a regular photograph and a second time using a filter in the camera that gives the appearance of a black and white drawing. I worked with these elements in Photoshop using different filters, and moving the two images around (I particularly like Cut-out under Artistic). I had over 30 different versions but something was lacking in each one. The dress has a cascade of folds so I blew up a portion of that and used it as the background and the design was looking better but still not quite there. Finally I thought of putting a border with the imaged breaking through it and I had my design. Of course I did have to add one more element so I put words in the border. I’ll say more about the border later.
Through all this I was sending my designs to Diane and getting her feedback and ideas. She was very supportive and making suggestions. She gave me encouragement by email and on the phone. At one point I wrote Diane about my intentions:
“I like your suggestions. My thinking for this piece is not to be realistic and therefore do not want to give it too much depth, especially the B&W portion. I want it to read like a flat paper cutout. … I realize I didn’t make any of this clear to you and perhaps I wasn’t totally clear myself. I had a lot of time to think about this and was able to clarify my intentions for this piece. I haven’t put it into words yet and I will try to a bit right now. I was thinking about fashion on two levels. One is how women have twisted themselves to fit into a particular fashion like bound feet or stilettos or corsets to be in fashion. The second is about how cookie cutter fashion can be and women can camouflage their individuality because they want to fit in (double entendre intended) so much so, they give up their right to make their own statement about who they are by wearing someone else’s idea of fashion. That is why I’m going to use the mannequin head and repeat it in the two dresses. The one on the B&W dress will be black and I’m considering making the one on the red and white dress a shade of grey. I’m not decided yet. When I get there I’ll decide.’ (In the end I did use grey for the outline on the red and white figure.)
At the same time I was working with Diane I was going to classes with Archie Brennan and Susan Martin-Maffei as I am a member of the Wednesday Group, so I was also getting input from both of them. Who could ask for anything better. It was a bit difficult to consult with Diane on color since we were so far apart geographically so Archie and Susan were helpful here.
I finally began to weave after some sampling to work out color issues with values and hues. Again, Susan and Archie were helpful with this. I was about 4/5 through the piece and took a good look. I decided I did not like how I wove the border. It is about two inches wide and includes the words: Fashionable (fash–uh-nuh-buhl) adjective 1. observant of or conforming to the fashion: stylish 2.current; popular Fashion (fash–uhn). Although I like the words I used the weaving was not as well done as I would have wished so I decided to unweave the whole border. which was a bit of work. Fortunately, I sew as I weave so the border where the words were was relatively easy to remove. The reweaving went quickly but I hope I don’t feel the need to do that again. All in all, I think it is a better design without the words.
The final tapestry is 27.5” x 60” woven with seine twine warp and cotton and silk weft. There are three shades of red with black, white, dark grey and off white. I thoroughly enjoyed weaving this piece especially the black and white portion. After doing so many faces this was a pleasure. Everyone knows how a face should look but these stripes were forgiving. The whole piece has sewn slits and there are a lot of them. I did leave some areas un-sewn. I did this where red meets red or white meets white to help delineate between the separate stripes of the same color.
This tapestry marks a turning point in my designing. I am excited about weaving a textile within a textile and bringing my love of costume into my work.
*After I wove the tapestry I had to give it a title. This piece is in my Fashion Series and the working title was Red Striped Dress. When it was completed I saw something beyond the ideas of fashion I hadn’t consciously contemplated previously. The 1780 French walking dress was created during the French Revolution. This had me thinking about the political implications regarding conventions, emancipation and objectification. The term revolution as defined in the Merriam Webster dictionary is: an activity or movement designed to effect fundamental changes in the socioeconomic situation. The constrictions of women’s clothing helped to keep women objectified and confined. If a woman could barely walk or breath she was effectively hobbled. Women’s movements in the western world worked to end that. Hence, the title: Revolution.