H: a Journey in Tapestry

View the tapestries: H: The Woven Word Images.

By Christine Rivers

Brilliant! That is what this project is! It is simple, yet it is complex. That is one of the teachings, or messages, of this project. This article describes the project. See all the woven words in the accompanying post, “H: The Woven Word Images.”

The project. Weave a word or phrase starting with the letter “H.”  Start by weaving the “H.”  You don’t have to decide what word or phrase until you are weaving. Weave at 8 epi. Use 12 warp threads to weave 1 ½” wide. Decide what you want to weave as you weave. Tapestry is a journey.

HI THERE BEET FIELDS OF IDAHO. Pam Patrie, Portland, Oregon, USA USA

HI THERE BEET FIELDS OF IDAHO. Pam Patrie, Portland, Oregon, USA

The idea for the project is Archie Brennan’s. Susan Martin Maffei and Archie Brennan were facilitating a tapestry retreat at Pam Patrie’s Oregon ocean-side cabin. By giving us this seemingly simple project, Archie was getting us ready to learn more and remember what we had already learned from Archie and Susan.

I volunteered to coordinate the project and to find some way of showing the tapestries to everyone. Lots of people were interested. Photos of finished “H” words started to come in. I shared them with everyone who signed up on the “H” email list. I shared the “H” words on our Facebook group page, “H”, a Journey in Tapestry. ATA agreed to include the project in the Educational Articles. More people asked to join in!

HUY CHEXW A. Christine Rivers. Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

HUY CHEXW A. Christine Rivers. Parksville, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

I started weaving my word and the brilliance of this simple tapestry task made itself known!  I could hear Archie and Susan. I took a two-week workshop with them in Parksville, BC, early in my tapestry weaving career. Their lessons came back to me as I started weaving my word – all the lessons they have taught me over many years in several workshops!

“H” is a non-threatening letter. All straight lines. An easy start. No curves or angles. Many words start with “H.”  In English, there is always a vowel after the “H.” If you haven’t decided on your word, no worry. Just weave an “H”, then pick a vowel – a, e, i, o, u  and sometimes y. Some people chose words from languages other than English.

HYDRANGEA. Janet Austin. East Greenwich, Rhode Island, USA

HYDRANGEA. Janet Austin. East Greenwich, Rhode Island, USA

Starting to weave. Setting up the warp, spacing correctly, heading done, double half hitches, hem or no hem. Lots of decisions. Be aware of negative and positive spaces. This is very important in all tapestry design. You have to weave all of the spaces. Letters really make you look closely at the relationship between positive and negative space.

Building shapes. Letters are really just shapes. Look at the value of the yarns. You want the letter to show up against the background that you choose. What style of letters do you want to weave? Curvy or blocky. Slanted or straight. Upper or lower case. There are so many fonts to choose from. But, I can hear one of Archie’s tapestry design rules. “Simplify, simplify, simplify!” Always be aware of your tension and control how your weft goes through the warp.  Now you have a slit – are you sewing as you go? Or are you using single weft interlock? You have design and technical decisions to make along your tapestry journey. “H” is done. All straight. Now do you want to weave something else that is straight, with no angles? “I” could be next and you could be finished with your “H” word.  “Hi.” Maybe you choose a different vowel and now you have to weave angles. What works? Over 1 and up 1, or over 2 and up 2. Try it out and decide. Always making decisions in this journey of tapestry weaving. What about your background? Did you make it plain for the first letter? Do you want it to change or stay the same? If you are changing the background, there are more things to think about at the same time. Keep it plain and simple? Or, make changes and remember what you are doing while you weave the letter as well.  You have no cartoon so memory is important. Susan likes to work without a cartoon. It makes you think of everything at once, being aware of the positive, negative, colour changes, angles. Keep your letters consistent or decide to make them all different. As the word tapestries were shared, some were very inventive. That made us all think, “What can I do to make my word more interesting, more inventive, more fun?”

Lots of choices to make.

HEARTH. Donna Millen. Denman Island, off Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

HEARTH. Donna Millen. Denman Island, off Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Most people followed all of the rules. A few didn’t. They used extra warp threads. One person who doesn’t weave tapestry used her floor loom because she wanted in on the fun too. One person wove some words with “A” instead of “H.” Read her explanation to understand why.  Everyone who wanted to come on this “H” word tapestry journey has been included. We all enjoyed the journey together. Always remembering that tapestry is an open journey.

Thank you, Archie.


ARCHIE. Leola Witt-McNie. Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

ARCHIE. Leola Witt-McNie. Duncan, Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada

Archie Brennan: A Conversation

April 4, 2016, on a snowy day in April where Susan and Archie live, New Baltimore, New York.

Archie has been weaving. He just cut a tapestry off the loom today. It is the third version of a drawing. He wove it before, almost life size. This version is about 15” x 10” at 9 epi. Archie says that his fingers don’t move as well and are not as efficient as they were. His speed of weaving has slowed down, but he still weaves.

What Archie wants us to learn from H: a Journey in Tapestry, is that tapestry does not have to be planned completely ahead of time. It is an open journey. The idea is important – not a complete cartoon. Creating tapestry is a way of thinking. You do not have to follow the design/drawing exactly. Archie likes the creative journey, rather than an imitative process.

Archie and Susan were in Oaxaca recently. The Textile Museum and the Postage Museum in Oaxaca initiated a project in which people would weave tapestry postcards and mail them to the Textile Museum for a show. This was inspired by one of Archie’s projects. Years ago, Archie wove a map of the world in 72 postcard sized pieces. After seeing a Japanese Airlines map of the world with Tokyo as the center of the world, Archie thought that he could choose anywhere as the center of the world. He took the North Pole as the center of the world and drew his map. He wove the map in 5” x 7” postcards, gave the postcards to people from around the world and had them mail the postcards back to him. The postcards were all mounted between plexiglass so that they could be seen on both sides and displayed at the Chicago Post Office Museum. As part of the Oaxaca postcard project Susan and Archie taught a workshop at the Textile Museum in Oaxaca, so that weavers local to the area would be excited about participating.

Archie was intrigued by the architecture at the Textile Museum in Oaxaca and did some drawings there. Archie has always drawn. It is one of the things he does. He has drawn since he was 16 years old in Scotland and has kept it up his entire life. He does weekly figure drawing. The drawings are not for tapestries. They are just for drawing.  Sometimes his drawings make their way into his tapestries.

Archie would like tapestry weavers to remember that tapestry is an open journey. You have an idea, you do some drawings, you might make a cartoon as a guide, and then you weave, being open to ideas as they arise while you are weaving. Tapestry is exciting as a creative journey, open to ideas and interpretations as you weave. Tapestry is an open journey.

Christine Rivers lives and weaves on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada. She volunteered to coordinate the “H” word tapestry project because Archie Brennan suggested it. Christine explained that because Archie Brennan and Susan Martin Maffei have given so much to the tapestry community, “It was an honour to carry out Archie’s idea with so many tapestry weavers.”

Christine concludes with and celebrates the H Project with a poem (loosely based on one she used to encourage her children to write poetry when they were in grade school).

Lots of “H” words
Words in different languages
Words that go uphill
A word with a hole in it
A hammock hanging from trees
A hurricane word blowing away
A word in half and half
A word hanging by a thread
Words about health and help
Words that question life
Words of fun
Words about life’s adventures
Words of greeting
Words of home and hearth
Words of humour, hilarity and fun
Words about places and things we do
Words that tell stories
Words about things we do
Words that can fly away
Lots of “H” words
Lots of fun weaving “H” words
Thank you, Archie,  for our fun with weaving “H” words

View the tapestries: H: The Woven Word Images.