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Susan Martin Maffei, Redhead in a Blue Sweater, 7″ x 10″, 1994

Maffei is interested in as direct a connection between the image in her mind and the image on the loom as possible. Several aspects of her working method reflect this interest, including weaving most of her tapestries from the bottom to the top and weaving the image from the front of the piece instead of the back. Both of these aspects allow her to follow more closely the development of the image without relying heavily upon a maquette, or drawing, as most tapestry weavers do.

For many, the relationship between the maquette and the woven image is fairly literal. For others this relationship becomes a never ending question and struggle. “If the tapestry is the point of the project, how can I give it power over the drawn image?” For Maffei the answer to this question has involved learning to think and design within the conditions of tapestry weaving, rather than using tapestry’s great technical potential in the service of a painted or drawn image. She has developed a technical facility that allows her to weave fairly directly, or with minimal small scale sketches. Her aim is to eliminate the intermediary stages that most weavers use between concept and tapestry.

Susan Martin Maffei, Claude, 6″x4″, 1990

In tapestry with discontinuous wefts each color area is worked independently. Shapes underneath are woven first and covered by other shapes. The slits, or gaps, that form between two adjacent shapes, and especially between shapes with steep, stepped lines, create shadows which appear as dark lines, or outlines. In these two tapestries they define, for instance, the facial planes and the muscles in Claude’s neck and the part in Clarissa’s hair. The use of slits to define forms was common in Medieval tapestry and is an example of how a by product of the weaving process can be used as an element in the design. Maffei calls attention to the slits and the steps of steep lines, such as those around Clarissa’s head and neck, as positive marks of the tapestry process.

Maffei’s emphasis on the structure of tapestry weaving is even more apparent in Who Sees Who? [see next page]. Instead of carefully rounding the bodies and heads, she exaggerates their angularity, insisting that the image yield to the logic of the grid of warp and weft, rather than manipulating the geometry of the weave to serve a drawn image. The bright colors emphasize the independent shapes that result from the weaving process. The curl in the horizontal strands of hair is simply the result of working with the highs and lows of each shed. The very conditions and byproducts of the weaving process become motivating factors in Maffei’s designs. She is designing within the grid of the weaving.

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