Inspiration and Risk

Above: Bound created in Aino Kajeniemi’s workshop includes couched threads and flying shuttle.

American Tapestry Alliance Retreat with Aino Kajaniemi: Inspiration and Risk

I have admired Aino Kajaniemi’s tapestries since I first saw her work.  When I read she was going to teach at the ATA retreat in Milwaukee in July 2016, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to study with her.

Aino is a gentle soul and this is evident in her tapestries. Her subtle use of color and sensitive imagery are palpable. She begins her designs with a simple line drawing, sometimes based on a photograph or an image she chooses from a magazine, and then adds her own patterns and imagery. She uses a fine linen warp, 30/2, sett at 5-6 ends per cm depending on the detail in her design. The color palette of Aino’s tapestries is generally muted. White, cream, gray and black are predominant with a smattering of color. She’ll often do subtle blends on the bobbin.

In preparation for the workshop, Aino instructed us to bring a drawing to be used as the foundation for our projects. Instead of drawing I found a photograph on the Internet and, using Photoshop, I translated the photo into a line drawing of a reclining figure.  I set my warp at 16 epi, (6 epc is about 15 epi, 16 was easier to do), to get the detail. I normally work at 6-10 epi with seine twine. We were also asked to bring weft yarns. Because I would be studying with Aino I decided to stay relatively neutral with white, tan, gray and black. aino-1-web


  Aino’s Cartoon

Technique, Texture and Color

One of the things that sets Aino’s work apart from most tapestry weaving I’m familiar with is her use of exposed warp. I wondered if I would have trouble embracing her style after my own training in traditional tapestry weaving. I was pleased to find that I had no trouble. In fact, it was quite freeing to let go of most of the rules in which I had been trained. Aino also uses eccentric weaving, something I occasionally do as well. With the workshop project I used eccentric weaving to accentuate the curves of the body. I wove quite steeply, more than traditional tapestry would recommend. Once the steep passes were locked down by neighboring weaving they stayed in place. Although Aino ignores many rules of traditional tapestry, she does weave in the correct shed. She does not put two wefts in the same shed.                                                                                                                                      

I found that the workshop was also an opportunity to play with texture. I used yarns I hadn’t previously used such as a shiny silver metallic for lace and a fine knitted tube that I tried not to beat down too hard. The knitted tube was woven under every fourth warp so there were longer floats to accentuate the yarn.  This works well for thicker yarns and yarn bundles and according to Aino, helps keep the warp from expanding and pushing out the selvages. But Aino doesn’t seem to worry about the evenness of her selvages. In fact her style of weaving creates undulations of the warps and selvages which add a lively quality that traditional tapestry can lack. For example, Aino’s weavings might incorporate thicker weft bundles of flax or human hair floating over three or four warps. The thicker bundles stand above the surface adding another element of interest. Aino’s use of monofilament as weft in chosen areas creates delicate undulations of the warp as it slips on the monofilament.

To create fine lines, Aino uses a half or full pass of sewing thread or other very fine yarn. I found that this worked well for the lips and nose as well as outlining the body in my design. Going up the warp, Aino uses flying shuttle in a variety of yarns. I use this technique often in my work.

Aino’s workshop inspired me to take risks. I’ve never done any kind of needlework embellishment on a tapestry and I decided to try it by couching some of the curling hair. This technique gave my tapestry another texture along with uneven beating and eccentric weaving, flying shuttle and different thicknesses of yarn. In addition, I have been using a lot of color in my work so the muted, neutral tones were a change for me. I also decided to keep things simple so I chose not to do any shading. The risks worked!aino-2-web



  Aino’s completed tapestry

Several people at the retreat took the occasion to visit other classes. Susan Iverson was teaching her pulled warp workshop in the room next to Aino’s. I had taken Susan’s workshop a few years back and this turned out to be a great opportunity for a refresher.

Another inspiring aspect of the retreat was the time spent with other students. The days were spent weaving and walking back and forth to meals with great conversation. We enjoyed long walks exploring the campus of Marquette University and a small bit of Milwaukee.  Many of us spent the evenings talking on the 17th floor of the dormitory building. We shared wine, stories and laughter. We reconnected with old friends and made new ones. Some of us had arrived early enough to spend time shopping at Convergence, attending the ATA meeting and viewing the ATA, unhurried, small format exhibit at the Milwaukee Library. The Milwaukee Museum was worth the trip in itself.

Several of the workshop participants purchased tapestries from Aino. I bought “Small Flight.” I love her subtle use of shading and the way the feathers are portrayed using flying shuttle. This piece is truly a treasure from a great workshop and inspiring teacher!


 Detail of Flight

When I reflect on my experience in Aino’s workshop, I realize that I have come home with several valuable lessons. First, it’s okay to break the rules and take risks. Of course, I knew this before, but in Aino’s workshop I was actually able to do it. I think this was a milestone for me. As I mentioned earlier, I have been steeped in traditional tapestry technique, including straight selvages and covering the warp. At this workshop, I embellished a tapestry! I’ve always kept from doing this, but now I have plans to play with different embellishment techniques.

Second, keep it simple.  Again, I know this, but sometimes I need reminding, like not overdoing the embellishments.
Finally, be intentional about the elements to consider, such as undulating lines and shapes that work well for whimsical, funky, expressive images. I am more mindful of texture, the weaving surface and embellishments as well as techniques such as a flying shuttle and steep eccentric weaving.

I know that I will continue working with the techniques I learned in Aino’s workshop. They work especially well with sketches which means I’m going to be doing more sketching, a good thing. I will also continue with traditional tapestry techniques. These techniques work well when working with photographs and in a graphic arts style. I envision future projects as being balanced by the free but eloquent style I learned with Aino.