Tag Archives: storytelling

From the Woods to the Sea

A Tapestry Weaving Retreat with Joan Baxter

With my travel sketchbook and camera in tow, I wandered down the old dirt road to the sea.  The autumn sun was casting a soft amber light upon the trees as it made it’s journey below the horizon.  The woods suddenly parted and I found myself in a private secluded bay with little waves gently crashing upon the sand.  I climbed up onto the old crumbling jetty and sat on a rock, watching the golden sky fade to dusk.  An overwhelming sense of gratitude and awe washed over me.  I was here in this place of beauty and tranquility, where the woods meet the sea, and about to enjoy five whole days of everything tapestry weaving with one of my most favorite tapestry artists, Joan Baxter.


From the time I met Joan, I felt as though she were a familiar friend, like perhaps maybe she was one of my beloved faculty members from college. She greeted me warmly as she laid out a dazzling spectrum of her gorgeous hand-dyed yarns.  The room we would be using was dark and cozy, surrounded by forests and near to the retreat center’s chapel.  It was in this room, with my fellow tapestry weavers, covered with yarn, books, looms, and bobbins, and fueled by Joan’s tutorials and evening talks, that my imagination sprang to life.


How do the places and landscapes we hold dear to our hearts change with the passage of time?  This was the question Joan Baxter asked us to ponder over the months leading up to our workshop.  Compiling sketches and photos of our favorite place at different times of the day, we were asked to do some color studies.  Using our own yarn, and some of Joan’s, we played with colors of different values and hues.  We also had some of her samples to inspire us.  Joan is a magician when it comes to playing with and mixing colors…



A sampling of Joan’s beautiful samples…



And here’s mine!

During the day, she gave tutorials to small groups of us on how to create dots, flecks, and color blends. She really inspired me to become more bold with my weft colors, and to understand how to carry consistent colors from one area to another, like with a reflection on water or creating transparency.


A tutorial on weaving dots.  Joan enjoys simple weaving equipment like wooden frame looms and pipe looms…



More dots and flecks (and check out that beautiful bobbin!)

For this theme of the passage of time, I chose to visit a small lake by my parent’s house.  I visited many times over the summer, always drawn to the sparkle of sunlight across the water and the forest that surrounded it’s shore.  It wasn’t until the fall, right before the retreat, that I noticed a lone tree that stood out from the others.  It had transformed into a brilliant golden yellow, and I had an a-ha moment: This tree would be the focal point of my composition…




I thought I could weave an entire tapestry in five days! I must have been crazy.  The only tapestry I ever wove in five days is the size of a small photograph! Joan encouraged us to not weave for more than four to five hours a day, so as to not strain our eyes. So we went for walks, mingled and chatted with each other about our ideas, shared books and tips, were treated to several of Joan’s inspiring slideshows, and were fed three meals a day by the retreat staff.  The food was simple and nourishing and I loved that.  I found the simplicity and humbleness of our accommodations to be the perfect backdrop to focus on my art and my time with my new weaving friends.


The view from my bedroom window…

And I noticed my idea for my tapestry was beginning to change and be shaped by the beauty of the retreat center grounds.  I was particulary inspired by Joan to think differently about how to weave water.  I’ve always woven flat, mirror-like reflections, but Joan encouraged me to think about time transpiring and how I could create that.  I began going down to the little bay to observe how ocean waves would rise and fall.  Sometimes I’d go down to the pond and throw pebbles to watch the ripples fan out.  I realized I wanted to capture the multi-dimensional appearance of those ripples moving across the water.  This was my sample of that idea…


This sample was meant to try the techniques of carrying one consistent color throughout the water, capturing the light and shadow of a water ripple, the lines of a labyrinth underneath, and one of my trees golden yellow leaves (which ended up looking like carpet from the 1970s)

I’ve always been drawn to labyrinths as a symbol for personal and spiritual journeys.  I was so excited to see the retreat center had a lovely and simple one created from mowed grass and some shrubby trees.  I also knew I wanted to incorporate this symbol into my final design as well, perhaps underneath the water’s surface…


So after a few days of observing and sketching, I had a pretty solid idea for my Time inspired tapestry.  When the last day of the retreat came, I was sad and yet also eager to get back home to try some of my new ideas and techniques I had learned.  I also had a new appreciation for myself as an artist, and the endlessly inspiring life we artists can live if we just open up to it.  It was an unforgettable experience to learn from Joan, and also it was the first time meeting some of my fellow members of the tapestry group TWiNE (Tapestry Weavers in New England) who hosted this event.  While I still haven’t started the piece inspired by this workshop (I know! I know! I’m getting to it!), I’ve noticed how my design ideas have shifted and finalized in my mind.  I feel ready to at least do some sketching and get the loom warped, and I guess I need to do a few more samples, too!


My favorite weft blend, I love admiring it just on the bobbin…



A postcard of Joan Baxter’s weavings showing her use of dots

If you get the chance I highly recommend taking a workshop or retreat.  It’s a fantastic way to meet and be inspired by other artists, form amazing connections, and learn a new thing or two!

Keep creating!



The Social Media Detox

It’s been a while since I was on Instagram, even longer since I took a peek at Facebook, and you know what?  I’m still here, and all is well.  In fact, my voluntary social media detox has made space for the very thing I’ve been longing for: more time for creativity.  But it’s not easy to remove oneself from a community, especially one that is filled with excellent and inspiring people. My fellow fiber artists on IG are wonderfully supportive folks from all over the world, many whom I’ve never even met, and yet we have all spun an interactive web of sharing and networking that can keep us all updated on who is weaving what and where the next great art show is.  I can see how for some, social media keeps them humming along, nose to the grindstone, posting a photo of their latest masterpiece to share with their community.  The scrolling newsfeed of inspiration can keep the imagination flowing, and everyone benefits from the participation and consistent updates of the other artists. For me, however, it ended up turning into a distraction, an excuse to not finish – let alone start – anything, and I only felt worse when I saw all of the beautiful work that others were creating and sharing and I didn’t have anything to contribute.

On top of that, I was going through a dark night of the soul, and my muse seemed to have disappeared beyond my reach.  I counted the months since I had finished my most recent artwork on the big loom; 10 months.  I’m used to doing about three larger pieces a year.  I began to create more excuses; my day job was taking up too much time, I had to make dinner, I needed to knit a new hat, and there was my long Instagram feed to scroll through.  I continued to play piano and thoroughly enjoyed that creative outlet, but I was secretly worried that it was the end of tapestry weaving for me.  My imagination was blank.


I decided that since I wasn’t making anything, and I was checking IG way too much, I would do a detox from the app and Facebook and just see what happened.  Around the same time, I began to pack up most of my things and temporarily live with just the necessities in the upstairs guest room in my parents house until I found a new place. The abrupt change in my physical space, along with the freedom from comparing myself to others on social media, resulted in the perfect recipe for returning to my own authentic creative voice.

In an article for Mindful magazine, Hugh Delehanty shares his experiences of getting back in touch with his creativity at an artist retreat.  After several days of struggling with painting what he felt he should paint, what he would usually paint, he reached a point of awareness to what was holding him back from expressing his genuine creativity.  I’ve read this article several times, and am continually fascinated with how so many artists share the same struggles of censorship, guilt, and trying to create what the world wants to see, instead of the visions that are stirring in their imaginations.  I’m particularly in love with a quote from the retreat instructor, Barbara Kaufman…

“Everything leads us back to ourselves… Sometimes we have to go too far to see that.  But what we usually do is play it too safe and close up.  Once you start opening, you get a sense that you can stretch more, and then you begin to realize the potential that’s available to you at any given moment.  The invitation of creativity is to move beyond the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves.  To allow life to permeate those thick walls that we think are so secure.”

I can see now that I was attempting to create within a very rigid mindset.  What would get me more followers and likes online?  Instead I should be wondering, what is it my soul wants me to create?  What images inside of me do I need to bring to life?  What wants to come forward and play into my work? I got so caught up in posting content that I forgot about the process.

While I was working on my thesis in undergrad, smartphones had just come out and cost, like, a million dollars and I wanted nothing to do with Facebook.  I instead stayed close and honest to the images and artworks I was creating for my thesis.  I had no filter for what I thought the art world wanted to see and instead followed the inspiration and beauty that resonated most within me. My passion and dedication to this vision resulted in a moving body of work that was a hallmark of my college career.  At times, I even surprised myself with what I was creating, and I know that it was because I stopped caring what other people would think. I instead opened up to the vast expanse of my own imagination, and followed it through the whole whirlwind process of completing a large body of work.

This isn’t to say I don’t think that social media is a useful and necessary tool.  As I said earlier, it can bring like-minded folks together to share stories and ideas, and therefore add more beauty and culture to our world.  I do think, however, that there are times when a break is imperative and healing for the soul.  It allows us to get back in touch with who we really are beyond the walls and boundaries we’ve set up for ourselves, and even to dissolve the stories of who we think we are.  Am I leaving social media for good?  Probably not, but until I return I will be putting my energy into getting back in touch with that authentic creative force within me, and creating the artwork I long to make.

Stay tuned, and keep creating!

The End and the Beginning

Hey, remember how I said a while back that I was going to finish this tapestry by the end of January?  Well I did it, I just forgot to tell everyone about it!  While I was out for a walk this evening the bright full moon shining down on me reminded me of this piece, and how happy I am that it’s finished…


Compass, 2015, 14.5″ x 22″, cotton, wool

This piece embodies my own inner journey of finding and following my inner light, my “compass”, to wherever it may lead me.  Often times the voice that keeps me small and safe overpowers the soft and steady whispers of my intuition.  Ever notice how fear and worry sound so big and loud and commanding inside your head?  “Don’t do that!  You’ll never succeed.  Stay right where you are or you might make a big mistake!  What if you fail?”

But the voice of truth and wisdom is delicate and heartfelt, like bird songs in the morning.  “Why don’t you give it a shot?  You never know until you try.  This opportunity might be just what you need,” or even, “you can do great things.”

By finding and following our own inner compass, we find what our truth is, what our goals and dreams are, what we want to bring to the world, and the courage to follow that through.  This tapestry marks the end and the beginning for me, a time to get more in touch with the art I want to create.  I realize I want to work more with the symbols and stories in my own imagination, and for my own sense of personal and creative satisfaction.  I’ve been trying to design and weave tapestries to fit the demands of competitive juried shows, and while I’ve certainly had some success, it hasn’t felt authentic.  I don’t enjoy creating something to hopefully appease the aesthetic tastes of the jurors, just for the hope of tacking another show onto my resume.  I want to make art for myself, and let it reach out to those who are meant to be touched by it.  I’m not a contemporary conceptual artist, at least not right now.  My interests lie in nature and animals, mythology and storytelling.  Once I get back to the loom, it will be to weave the stories of the world into life.


This Takes Time

I wanted to do a blog post like a week ago, but life happens as it always does and I just couldn’t get to it.  So here I am now, sharing last weeks news:  I am was at the halfway point on my current tapestry and so very excited about the progress I’m making and how it’s turning out!  Check it out….


I’m weaving it sideways, by the way, so you’ll have to turn your head.

Seeing as though this was last weeks news, I’m now about an inch away from finishing, not including weaving the hem.  I’ve really learned a lot about using hachure, hatching, and color combining to get that lovely, blended look.  I can see similarities between this weaving and my paintings, which is something I’ve been trying to bring to my tapestries.  You may not be able to see it in the photo but there is a lot of depth of color and a real liveliness to the scene.  I think this piece marks a cornerstone in my subject matter.  I’ve always loved animals and storytelling, and have worked with this imagery off and on since childhood.  My thesis for my undergrad was on the interconnectedness of nature and spirituality.  I think this will always be the overall theme of my work, now I’m just fine tuning it.

Two reasons why I chose the title for this post: The first and obvious one is that tapestry weaving takes a loooooooong time.  A fellow tapestry artist posted on her blog a while back a photo of a weaving by a different artist.  I can’t find the photo or who the artist was, but trust me, it’s great!  It’s a simple tapestry that just says “This Takes Time”.  Can’t get more obvious than that.  I could have painted this weaving in a day or two, but the process of finding colors, winding bobbins, pulling warp threads, and working slowly and methodically has such a captivating quality for me.  Even though I still enjoy painting, working with fibers bring my creativity to a whole new level.  Weaving is challenging and rhythmic in it’s linear format, and you have to remain focused on the area you’re working in while keeping in mind the whole picture.  When I sit down at the loom, I set down my worries for a while and focus on what’s in front of me.  Line by line, inch by inch, my creation creeps up the warp threads and takes on a life of it’s own. 

Some big changes have been going on in my life that require patience, understanding, and time, the second reason.  My weaving allows all of this to happen, simply by being in the present moment and taking everything one day at a time.  A lot of time passes and a lot of changes occur while I’m working on the same piece.  I can look at a finished tapestry and remember working on a certain area or using a particular color during a period of uncertainty, or excitement, longing, joy.  I think this is the connection that a lot of artists have with their craft, an outlet for processing the ups and downs of life.  I know it’s true for me.  I can work things out in my head (which never works) or at the loom.  It also helps to look out the window and see this…


I’m looking forward to sharing the finished tapestry with all of you next week.  Bye for now!