authors archive

Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators

Wednesday, 6. August 2014 7:58

The Fuller Craft Museum is currently holding an exhibition of fiber arts that include some very well known artists.   Archie Brennan, Susan Martin Maffei,  Maximo Laura, Lia Cook, Dianne Itter, Michael Rohde are just a few of a long list of names we all recognize.

The opening was August 3, and will continue until November 23, so there is still plenty of time to get there.

2014-07-18 15.24.08


Category:Uncategorized | Comments Off on Game Changers: Fiber Art Masters and Innovators | Author:

Archie’s Thoughts on Warp Sett

Wednesday, 9. July 2014 10:36

Throughout the years, Archie has written out his thoughts on many subjects related to tapestry weaving and art in general.  Many of them have been published in various places.  This article on warp sett is published on the American Tapestry Alliance’s website in their section on educational articles.

The Space Between the Warps

Jeff Sedlick, writing about the jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, commented, “Davis puts as much emphasis on the silence between the notes…” It is surprising how much tapestry has in common with music, and particularly with modern jazz. For example, Miles Davis’ concern with interval in music parallels the importance of a careful consideration of warp spacing, or warp interval, in tapestry cloth. Several issues arise in conjunction with this seemingly straightforward parameter. The spacing between the warp and the size of the weft is, in one sense, a simple technical concern. It involves establishing an appropriately sized empty space between warp threads of a particular diameter. The fineness or coarseness of a tapestry cloth is usually described by giving the number of warp ends per inch. It is arguable, however, that the gap between each warp – the breadth of the warp interval – is as critical to the quality of the tapestry cloth as is the number and thickness of the warps. Put simply, the gap between the warps must accommodate the weft. So the gap itself determines the weft thickness as much as the warp sett does. Yet the nuances of this relationship are often neglected. The space between the warps, along with the fiber type and the direction and tightness of the spin, defines the crispness or softness of the line between adjacent shapes, and is thus, a key aspect in tapestry making.

Classic warp to weft and gap to warp relationships for woven tapestry specify that the gap between warps is fractionally wider than the tensioned warp diameter. However, this is a vague definition that does not necessarily lead to absolute numbers. Other factors that add to the complexity of determining a suitable warp interval are: 1) the variety of warp materials employed, for example cotton, wool, linen and silk and; 2) inconsistent sizing standards among the various sources of cotton seine twine. I offer here a useful method for establishing the classic sett of any prospective warp.

Take the available warp material and wrap sufficient turns, firm and close, to cover one centimeter on a ruler. The number of wraps becomes the number of warps in one inch in a classic tapestry cloth (see illustration). Obviously, using this standard with a thicker (or thinner) warp material will produce a finer (or heavier), yet still balanced, tapestry cloth. Although this method of determining warp spacing has a certain universal application, regional and even national variations exist. I use this system myself as a basis for determining a warp sett, although I am prepared to make minor adjustments. For example, if the number of wraps in one centimeter indicates a warp sett of 8epi, I may shift to either 7epi or 9epi, in order to produce a tapestry cloth that has a slightly different density and hand. Varying the warp sett from the classic model results in softer shapes and images when the gap is wider than the classical prescription, and crisper shape abutments when the gap is narrower. A secondary, but not insignificant result of narrowing the warp sett for a given warp size is that the finer warp sett requires a thinner weft, which subsequently results in a slower weaving speed. My argument, and my purpose in discussing this, classic tapestry or otherwise, is to point out that making a conscious choice about the gap between the warps is an important decision often ignored by tapestry weavers.

Brennan warp weft balance illustration

The importance of warp spacing and warp interval has implications for other aspects of tapestry weaving as well. The silence between the notes in music is generally not a subject that receives much attention, but in the visual arts the interval between pictorial elements, the background space itself, is of great concern. It is likely to be given as much thought as the objects being portrayed. The term “negative space” has become something of a cliché for the aspiring painter in recent years but the thoughtful tapestry maker quickly discovers that there is little that is negative about such spaces. They are not something that one gets for free. A very positive act is required to weave the space between pictorial elements and, because of this, the resultant “background” can have a very positive presence. When weaving two leaves, for example, the surrounding space is not a byproduct of creating the leaves. Indeed, the background must frequently be woven first, and it is the shape of the background that determines much of the actual shape of the leaf. The weaving of the leaves, in fact, is often the easier task – a simple process of filling in. If you think of weaving a row of circles or diamond shapes, the gap between the lower half of each shape must be woven first. Like building a rough stonewall, you cannot position a stone projecting into space and then force the support stone underneath it. Nor can you weave the lower half of a circle or a diamond without building the support first!

If you are an experienced weaver, the previous statements may seem obvious. But often the conditions and qualities that we consider obvious are the ones that can offer subtle and significant insights to those who take the time to consider them carefully. Because in tapestry the background shapes add a very positive aspect to the pictorial field and because the growth of the cloth up the warp has a logic that flows from the image and from the process of weaving, the aforementioned parallels with musical performance are further increased. Both are journeys through time marked by rhythm, interval and composition. Improvised live jazz and the re-emergence of the designer weaver extend this comparison even further, especially when the tapestry artist explores and exploits this creative journey during the making rather than planning every step beforehand. In contrast, the formal scores of classical music might be compared to late Medieval and Renaissance tapestry with their thoroughly prepared cartoons.

One last diversion on interval and spacing. I am not wild about weaving areas of plain weaving. I get bored. Yet, at times I sense the need for a quiet passage. These areas are not just a pause in the pictorial composition. They are also an opportunity to assert “clothness” as a valuable element in the vocabulary of tapestry making. These “empty” areas can be an opportunity to introduce a subtle surface change by using different weft materials or a weft with a different spin. But, of course, this change can in time get boring to weave as well. Well, maybe it’s a moment for some background music. Perhaps Miles Davis?

Archie Brennan January 2008

Category:tapestry | Comments Off on Archie’s Thoughts on Warp Sett | Author:


Saturday, 31. May 2014 13:07

What a long hiatus since the last post.  I offer up sincere apologies for this.  I won’t bore you with the reasons why both Archie and I (mostly me) have been pulled away for some time.  However, I would like  you to know that although there were no new posts on this site, Archie has continued  to work on this project (at my bidding) and I have continued to transcribe his work. Life events have distracted us a bit over the past couple of years, but now I plan to be back here on a regular basis. I hope you will join us!

I have added some photos to the galleries.  Take a look!

Last fall Archie had a very serendipitous email communication with a tapestry weaver.  It is a small world….

Archie Brennan 218:Hello Sailor:1991_2

“Hello, Sailor” 1991. Archie Brennan

“On Friday I got an email from a weaver on the West Coast, who said she had been looking online for information about the instructional DVD when she saw an image of my tapestry, “Hello, Sailor.”  She was convinced that the man in my tapestry was her father.  She emailed me and attached a photo of her father that was taken about 10 years later than my tapestry, and I recognized him as the same man who was the subject of that particular work.  She told me that when he got out of the service he married and had three children, one of which is her.

The other interesting facet to this story is that just the day after I received her email I was talking to my son Jess, who happened to be on the West Coast, driving from Portland to Seattle.  Jess owns “Hello, Sailor” so I thought he might be interested in communicating with, or possibly meeting, the woman who is the daughter of this sailor and who happens to live near the area where he was traveling.  I gave Jess her email address and will be interested in hearing what transpires!”

Category:Uncategorized | Comments Off on Serendipity | Author:

World Map

Monday, 8. November 2010 16:20

72 postcards - 8" x 5.25" 2003

Recently I arranged that seventy-two colleagues and friends return these tapestry woven postcards to me, by mail, from around the world.

I had adapted an airline map (JAL) that was centered on Tokyo to cover the entire world with the North Pole at its center.  This view of the world is as distorted as any flattened world map must be.

It is also symbolic of the inevitable reality that each of us carries on our own world map.  Ours is an individual map laden with conditioned points of view, with biases that grow out of our own limitations.  It goes beyond the accident of geography.  Our maps encompass our environmental, social, national and personal experience.

As a more general comment, I have mailed some 100 tapestry postcards and packages all around the world for more than 30 years.  Perhaps surprisingly, not one has failed to reach its intended destination.

Archie Brennan

Category:images, tapestry | Comments Off on World Map | Author:

The Drawing Series

Thursday, 4. November 2010 15:31

It’s been a while since I’ve posted (computer problems…), but there has been lots of progress on the book project!  Here’s an excerpt from Archie’s notes!

“Seated Female Nude” (Drawing Series LXI)

A first glance at this tapestry may suggest that it is based on cubism, but it grew from the reality that when drawing on paper you get the space between any two lines or marks that you make for “free;” ie, it is the untouched paper. When weaving tapestry however, that “space” has to be woven, sometimes even before the drawn lines or marks get woven. And it is not an anonymous space. As part of the tapestry cloth it can have a very positive presence, a presence that can be orchestrated to have an important role in the overall work.

Pictorial drawing on paper is essentially about the illusion of form, volume and space. In this tapestry the major concern is the interplay between this illusion, the seated female, and the real presence of varied cloth surfaces. It builds on this spatial contradiction and the picture plane—here, a heavy tapestry cloth.

Category:Uncategorized | Comments Off on The Drawing Series | Author:

What’s on Archie Brennan’s Loom Right Now?

Thursday, 8. July 2010 10:48

When I visited Archie and Susan’s studio last week, Archie was preparing  a loom for his next tapestry. What you can see of the cartoon below will certainly remind you of numerous earlier tapestries.  Isn’t it a hallmark of Archie’s thinking process to return to an idea to explore again ‘what would happen if…?’

….like his drawing series, his postcard series, his historical series.  There will be more about his series in upcoming posts!

mystic june 2010 024


Archie is making a 3-selvedge warp for a large project.  The cartoon is behind the loom on brown paper. There is also a small loom in between the loom Archie is warping and the cartoon, on which he made some woven color studies. 

This warping process is quite involved.  The rod at chest level shown in this photo is wrapped in a certain way to create a selvedge.  Instructions for making a 4-selvedge warp can be found on Archie and Susan’s website.





mystic june 2010 025


Archie holds the entire spool of cotton seine twine as he makes the warp, carefully tensioning each wrap as he passes the spool over the top of the loom,  around the wooden dowel in the middle, then around the bottom and back up to the top.  The wooden dowel can be moved as the weaving progresses to allow the already woven section to be turned to the back of the loom.

This tapestry will probably be exhibited at GAGA Arts Center in September.




“Under the Influence/Objects of Obsession” — Susan Martin Maffei

“Exploring Woven Tapestry”
— Archie Brennan

Sept. 10 – Oct. 3, 2010

GAGA Arts Center
55 Railroad Ave
Garnerville NY

Opening Reception: Friday, Sept 10th  4- 8PM
Gallery Hours Fri 4-8, Sat 2-6, Sun. 12-4 or by appt. 646-796-9798
Artists’ Lectures: Fri. Sept. 24th starting at 6PM.

Category:Uncategorized | Comments Off on What’s on Archie Brennan’s Loom Right Now? | Author:

Photo quality

Wednesday, 19. May 2010 22:39

You may have noticed that the photos in the gallery are not high resolution and do not magnify when opened in a new window.  At least I have access to all of Archie’s photos, and a few of us are working toward having better photos soon!

I hope you can be more patient than I am!

Stay tuned!…

Category:images | Comments Off on Photo quality | Author:

Archie Brennan Online Exhibition still on view

Wednesday, 12. May 2010 14:41

detail of "Henry VIII with 'Coptic' beard - A Reconstruction of an anonymous 16th century portrait," 2006.

From ATA (American Tapestry Alliance): For the next month the Archie Brennan online exhibition will continue to be available for viewing.  It is curated by Anna Byrd Mays and includes a large body of tapestry images and some essays by Archie which give insight into his work.

Don’t miss it!

Category:exhibition, tapestry | Comments Off on Archie Brennan Online Exhibition still on view | Author:

Archie Brennan in Postwar France

Saturday, 1. May 2010 20:12

What follows is an excerpt from Archie’s recollections of a fascinating part of his years in France. Subsequent posts will cover the other portions of his stay there.

Come winter, I hitchhiked to Paris, and in time was asked to weave a tapestry for a fascinating man who ran what was surely the first hippie group ever. Raymond Duncan, brother of the late dancer Isadora Duncan, had formed a commune in Greece, pre-WWI. Around 1919, he purchased a very valuable piece of jewelry in Berlin, resold it in Paris at a huge profit and bought an entire old town house on Rue de Seine. It was a classic grand Parisian townhouse with a private cobbled courtyard surrounded on four sides by three floors housing all the activities of the commune: bedrooms, library, weaving studio, hand printing press, painting studio, dance studio, dining hall, kitchen, etc.

Courtyard photo taken by Hans Gallas in 2009, see

The courtyard was Raymond’s stone carving area. Daily he was there, in his seventies, wielding his seven pound hammer and stone chisel. Along with the main leaders of the commune, he was always dressed in a loose, long white, handwoven linen toga, tied at his waist with a silver braided cord. His long silver hair and thick lens glasses, and his short, slight build did not conceal his physical agility, endlessly chipping away at his large sculptures.

The commune’s income was provided by a changing number of members from around the world, mostly older, wealthier women, at times accompanied by their husbands. I recall in great detail a trip to a major super market to purchase some lengths of light wood to adapt the floor loom I was to use. There were three of us. We drove across the town in a large new diesel Mercedes owned by a very slight, short Japanese-American husband of one of the commune guests. We wandered in line through the big store: Raymond leading in his toga, the Japanese man immaculately dressed in a beautifully tailored black business suit, white shirt and tie, and I, lagging behind trying to appear as if I were not part of this trio!

My agreement was to live in the commune, eat in the dining hall (a totally vegan diet!), and be paid every two weeks. On pay day I would go out alone to have a large meal of steak, cheese and a litre of milk. The communal meals were extremely simple, held in a dining hall with two long tables. The cooks were American, full time “members” of the commune. We simply stood in line and our plates were filled with a range of vegetables, cooked and/or raw, then fruit. We drank water. I cannot recall what breakfast was, but I am sure there was no coffee!

Yet there I learned much about an alternative approach to living. Everything was by hand, even the publications. First the typeface was hand cast in lead, the paper was hand made, and hand bound after printing. My first huge shock was the source of the weft yarn I would use to weave my tapestry. Although the warp was a commercial cotton yarn, when Raymond handed me the weft yarns it was a sack of clippings direct from white, brown and black sheep! First I had to hand card a range of “colors” by blending on the carders, which I then had to hand spin on a drop spindle (no spinning wheel!) before and during the weaving. This was all a totally new experience for me! I accepted this—it was the philosophy of everything that was produced in all the workshops, and it opened my mind to rethinking everything I had learned in my 24 years of living. During my time there I became too efficient at controlled hand spinning so I switched to a left handed approach to “free” my skills. I did not adopt this approach in the long term. Even after more than 50 years, this skill is still with me, and because of my experiences during this time,  my creative thinking is bound by the ever present question,“I wonder what would happen if…?”

There are no photographic records of my weaving with Raymond. At that time there was no way I could afford a camera! Somewhere there must be a publication or book on Raymond Duncan.* The commune worked by offering the experience of a lifestyle for paying guests, and they had further income, I guess, by Duncan’s occasional return to tour around his original home base, giving dance threatre and lectures around San Francisco. The domestic set up in Rue deSeine was good. I had a huge personal, third floor room, and a well lit weaving studio. Raymond was more of a philosopher than an artist, but I wove from one of his paintings that he had once exhibited in the Salon de Refuse where many later successful artists, like Picasso, had exhibited when rejected from the annual French Academy show, probably around 1908-1910.


From Wikipedia, Raymond Duncan with his Greek wife, Penelope, and their son, Menalkas, c. 1912.

For further reading about Raymond Duncan:

*The Raymond Duncan Collection, which includes his correspondence, newspaper clippings about him, and various other records is housed at the University of Syracuse and is available for perusal by arrangement with the University.

Article from the “Harbor Grace Standard” in Newfoundland, Canada, with photos of Raymond Duncan, circa 1949.

“New York Times” article about Raymond Duncan’s arrival in Berlin in 1907.

Wikipedia information on Raymond Duncan.

–This is a fascinating time in Archie’s development as an artist, and if you have further information about Archie from this time period, or Raymond Duncan or this commune I’d like to hear from you!

Category:Uncategorized | Comments (4) | Author:

ATA Online Exhibition of Archie’s Work

Monday, 26. April 2010 8:58

Here is a wonderful exhibition showcasing many of Archie’s works in one location!  It is curated by Wednesday Group member AnnaByrd Mays who has done a terrific job giving background information and organizing the images into themes, such as “Windows/Textiles/People,” “Packages and Postcards,” and “Words,” just to name a few.  Enjoy!

ATA Web Gallery Exhibition

36 (103e)
Detail from “At a Window,” 1974.

Category:exhibition, tapestry | Comments Off on ATA Online Exhibition of Archie’s Work | Author: