Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Rag Rugs

Kitchen-New-countersVirrVarA few months ago I started weaving a series of 3 rag rugs, for that most banal of reasons: they will match my new kitchen!

It is light green, dark green and white…not so much from choice, but because the walls are vitrolite historic structural glass.

GreenragrugI used to weave rag rugs many many years ago, in fact the ones I have are at least 30 years old! They are so useful; I put them near the door in the winter, and leave my wet boots on them to dry.

I use them under the Christmas tree, or on a table that has houseplants on it. They can be machine washed and dried.

I am  very low tech, I cut the strips with scissors. CuttingFabric

I did not like how wavy the fabric got when I tried tearing it. My strips are fairly narrow, about 3/4” wide.

I fold the fabric and cut a point at the ends, so I can overlap the strips during the weaving and not have a big lump.

I discovered years ago that sometimes the ugliest fabric makes the prettiest rug. zoerugdetailW

Bright green fabric with large pink frogs was very dramatic when woven, but I felt a little cruel squishing the frogs into blips of pink!

I love the way striped fabric looks when cut across the stripes. Like a tapestry design but much much easier!

Some of these fabrics were purchased for 39c per yard, about 20 years ago.

boomboomThis crazy cartoony fabric had many printing errors but I bought about 10 yards of it, and have gotten a lot of good use from it. Besides that, it makes me laugh.

They were in the scrap bin at my favorite fabric warehouse, Lorraine Fabrics, in Pawtucket, RI. 

The Kokopelli fabric was upstairs with the $1.99 quilting fabrics. I love knowing that those tiny specks of black are little kokopellis hiding in my rug.

kokopelliWhen I first started weaving rag rugs, I cut up old wool skirts and pants that I bought at the thrift store.

They had special days when you could buy a bag full of clothes for $3. It was a pain cutting them up, but the wool did make nice rugs, heavier than my cotton ones.

redrugWLater, when I started buying fabric, a quilter friend became quite angry at me for “ruining” good quilting fabrics by cutting them up.

I was a bit perplexed, as I thought I was making something beautiful, but I guess it’s hard to appreciate the lovely patterns on the fabric when it’s cut up and woven.

Ioverlappingedgesn case you don’t already think I’m a bit obsessive, I lay the fabric strips into the shed very carefully to make sure the right side of the fabric is always facing up (most fabrics have a definite right side). So my rugs have a right and a wrong side. One can twist the fabric in the shed to make a pattern of light and dark, but mostly I just like the dark (printed) side up.

I also like to overlap in such a way that the new color nestles under the old color and it makes a nice kind of a pointy join. I guess we all have our little obsessions!

Yield Once upon a time, about 30 years ago, I wove a large tapestry using fabric strips. It was based on a small watercolor of a “yield” sign.

I really enjoyed playing with the colors and patterns of the fabrics.

If you look carefully, you can see those squished pink frogs.Yielddetail2

The only problem was that it was so noisy weaving it, using a beater (and you have to beat HARD for rag rugs), in the room right next door to my baby’s room.

The only time I had for weaving was when she was napping, and my weaving would waken her immediately, so I got very little done.

Hotchkiss StarsI discovered soon after that weaving a tapestry, Gobelin style (using leashes instead of harnesses and treadles) could be completely silent, and that’s part of the story of how I became a tapestry weaver.

Sara Hotchkiss weaves gorgeous rag rugs and tapestries, and exhibits them at her Old Point Comfort Gallery in Waldoboro, Maine. The annual Studio Open House is August 6th and 7th, so if you’re in the area, check it out.

If you’re not in the area, maybe you should be! Maine is a lovely spot for a summer vacation!Hotchkiss Rug

I still don’t understand how she makes her joins without messy lumps, which was a problem for me.

Sara weaves rugs in all sizes from small mats, to large room-sized rugs, and she will custom design and weave whatever you need for your house.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Tapestries in Milan

 VareseGrapevine2Recently my husband had a meeting in Varese, northern Italy, not far from Milan.  It didn’t take much arm twisting to convince me to join him.

Then I remembered that I have a Tapestry List* friend who lives in Milan, so I contacted Elena Rossi by email and she very kindly offered to pick me up at my hotel so we could visit the tapestries in the Castello Sforzesco.  CastelloSforzescoEntrance

*The tapestry list is a wonderful yahoo group to discuss all things tapestry. To subscribe:

I was quite relieved that I didn’t have to find my way to Milan alone, thanks so much Elena!

I brought her a copy of the Small Tapestry International: Connections catalog, and Elena gave me a gorgeous book on the Battle of Pavia Tapestries, which are in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples.GliArazziThese tapestries are so well preserved, the colors and the details are amazing.

CSFrescoCeiling3It was great to have a native of Milan to show me around this lovely city.

The Castello Sforzesco is in an enormous castle, which looks very much like a fortress, in the center of Milan. 


CSCarvedStoneBraidIt was built from the 14th to 16th centuries.

We saw gorgeous mosaics and frescoes, 15th century weaponry, renaissance sculpture, musical instruments, and rooms decorated by Leonardo da Vinci; but our goal was to see the Trivulzio Tapestries of the Twelve Months.

DuomoDiMilano The tapestry gallery was not open until the afternoon, so we took a break for a quick lunch, and then Elena showed me the sights.

DuomoInterior2 The Duomo is awe-inspiring; it is the 4th largest cathedral in the world, and took almost 600 years to complete! Look how tiny the people look in this photo!

As we entered the building the guard at the door informed me that my shorts were too short (they are pretty long shorts) and made me pull them down to cover my knees.

Good thing I was wearing a long t-shirt or my belly would have been hanging out! Are bellies more acceptable than knees?

GalleriaV I was also impressed with the Galleria Vittoria Emanuele II, an elegant 19th century covered arcade, with high end fashion shops. Here is a youtube video about it.

There is a mosaic of a bull, and if you put your heel on his testicles, and spin around 3 times, it is supposed to bring good luck (and perhaps improve your sex life!)

I tried it just in case…

Finally it was time to return to the museum for the Trivulzio Tapestries of the Twelve Months!

These were woven for Marquis  Gian Giacomo Trivulzio (1440 or 1441 – December 5, 1518)   in 1503-1509.

DecemberDetailWEB Here are two details of December.

DecemberDetail3There is a wealth of symbolism in these tapestries, which the people of the time would have understood easily. In the 21st century, sad to say, we are pretty clueless! 

I am always impressed with the way fabrics were represented in tapestry.

By the time we had seen all 12 of these tapestries I was pretty tired, and very grateful for Elena, who took me to the train station, helped me to buy the correct ticket and helped me find the train back to Varese. CSTapestryFolds-(2)

Another wonderful tapestry adventure!