Tree of Life - Diary of a Tapestry

The Tree of Life is a 3metre x 5.5metre tapestry designed by tapestry weaver Cresside Collette for the RMIT Spiritual Centre. It incorporates leaf elements from staff and students of RMIT and is being woven by a team consisting of three professional weavers and a number of volunteers. This blog records the progress of the weaving.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The college is on mid-semester break for two weeks at the moment so not much is happening with the tapestry. fill in time I thought I'd put up some pictures I've found of different versions of the Tree of Life in textiles.Most of them come from a book called World Textiles by John Gillow.
The first one is a silk brocade weaving from the island of Lombok in Indonesia. The second is an applique from Saurasthra in north west India.

The ox cart tent in this one is from Rajasthan

and this is an English embroidery sampler dated 1818.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Once weaving has reached a certain height it becomes hard to manage, so the whole tapestry is rolled on to bring the weaving point to a comfortable height again. Rolling on involves loosening both the top and bottom rollers (beams), rolling some of the completed part of the tapestry onto the bottom beam and unrolling some of the warp from the top beam, making sure that the tapestry remains level and straight the whole time. Excess weft is trimmed from the back, the cartoon is repositioned and the tension reapplied to the warp. The job needs several pairs of willing hands as can be seen from the photos.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

This is the little tapestry loom where samples are done. Its also to try and find out why the pictures I put in are not coming up on the blog. Hope it works this time

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

This is the bright orange 'mistake'. The slightly browner skein to the right was a mix of Orange RN and Brown - also at ten times the proper concentration.

The left hand photo shows the weaving progressing into the blue area.

These are two of the colours we have had to dye. For the technically minded, the pale blue is Lanaset Blue 2R at 0.05% WOG. The peach is Lanaset Orange RN at 0.05% WOG.

To do the dyeing, 10gm samples are first dyed in a range of shades that look as though they might be useful. The best match is chosen and then a skein of that mix is dyed. I.m getting better at this now. The first skein I dyed which should have been the peach in this phot, turned out to be bright almost fluorescent orange - yes I'd miscalculated the amount of dye stuff needed. Put the decimal point in the wrong place and made it ten times too strong.

This morning I spent bleaching two skeins of the natural wool to a brighter white. It looked OK coming out of the dyepot but we'll see in the morning when it comes out of the dryer. The yarn was bleached by boiling in a solution of 'hydros' - sodium hydrosulphite for 30 minutes.

Monday, September 11, 2006

This is where the tapestry is at now. As you can see we are out of the earth and into the air. You can also see how the cartoon (the black and white part) sits behind the loom as a guide for the weavers

This is Julie who didn't really want her photo taken this morning, so she sent me another one with her son, Taylah

The tapestry is coming along and weaving has moved into the blue around the trunk of the tree. The pale blues are a bit light on so last week I had to dye some and this week I will be bleaching some of the natural coloured yarn, which is a little on the creamy side, to get a brighter white. This can then be mixed with the pale blue to get an even paler blue, or used on its own as a highlight.

The dyes used in dyeing the yarn are Lanaset, mostly because I am more comfortable using this type but also because they are fast colours and easily reproduceable.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Since the RMIT Spiritual Centre is inter-faith and non-denominational in nature, any art work has to reflect this. The design rationale for the tapestry was set out by Cresside as follows:-

"In the midst....was there the Tree of Life....and the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations"
Revelations 22:2

The tree is a symbol resonant in all religions, visually meaningful in the ancient Mediterranean civilizations and in the Buddhist, Moslem, Christian and Jewish cultures. Originally the way it was envisioned and described in sacred Jewish texts led to its development as a motif in other early religious art, and its depiction dates to the first century.

It was used to represent life, death and resurrection because of its organic qualities and the notion of a living cosmos in a state of perpetual regeneration. The verticality of the tree also stood for a relationship established between heaven and earth as it moved through the three levels of the cosmos - the underworld through its roots, the earth and atmosphere through the trunk and lower branches, and the heavens as its upper braanches reached towards the light.

The tree encompasses the four seasons in its development, reminiscient of the life cycle of man. It reflects physical growth and spiritual awareness, tenacity and maternal qualities in its capacity to sustain lie through giving nourishment, and protection by providing shade and shelter.

It also brings the elements - earth, water, air and fire that constitute the material universe - together in its manifestation. Water circulates in its sap, earth sustains its structure through holding its root system, air feeds its leaves and its branches can be used to create fire.

The symbol of the tree of life is universal, not just in its religious context but through its depiction in textile art throughout the centuries. Through Hebrew and Hindu mythology it proliferated through all the embroidered and woven forms throughout the East. Mediaeval French and Flemish tapestries developed "verdure" and "millefleur" pieces that later informed seventeenth century English hangings. American patchwork adapted the tree from oriental rugs aand it took the form of willow and pine.

This design, comprising a strong but slender tree set against the sustaining colours and textures of the elements seeks to encompass and represent the rich historical symbolism of the Tree of Life. To its skeleton hundreds of individual leaves will be added representing people of all faiths and all nationalities across RMIT. The tapestry will speak to the many layers of meaning, both religious and secular, of the Tree of Life and its making will unite the designers and weavers in the spirit of community."

Cresside Collette March 2006

(the picture above is from an Indian palampore , or bed covering, in the collection of the Powerhouse Museum, Sydney)

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Once the initial design concept was formulated, staff and students across all RMIT campuses were invited to submit individual leaf motifs which were then incorporated into the overall design.

This design was then enlarged photographically to the finished size of the tapestry - 5.5metres x 3metres. This enlargement, or 'cartoon' is held behind the loom to act as a guide for the weaving.

Some other bits and pieces about the tapestry:-

The tapestry is being woven on an upright rolling loom (tapestries can also be woven on horizontal looms and I will get a picture of one up later so you can see the difference). The warp is cotton seine twine at a spacing of 2 warps per centimetre. The actual weaving is done using two strands of 4 fold rug wool at a time and these can be mixed to increase the range of shades available. The yarn comes from the carpet manufacturer Brintons. Occasionally a colour is not available commercially. In this case it can be dyed to order in the dye chemistry lab.

Julie Jones is the third professional weaver working on the tapestry. I don't have a pic of her yet but will post it as soon as I do. This is what she has to say about it:-

"Being in my first year as a professional weaver, I was excited to be involved with this project. The project has given me plenty of experience and opportunities to work side by side with other experienced weavers, learning the in's and out's of weaving a very large mural art form tapestry, as opposed to smaller tapestries.
When designing tapestries of my own, I use digital imagery to manipulate and create abstract designs. The pixilation of a finished design is beneficial as it can be translated to a tapestry with ease, keeping the designs invigorating and unique to my artistic style."

Julie graduated in Studio textiles in 2005, majoring in tapestry, and worked on an artist display at the Melbourne Museum during the William Morris exhibition in Decemer, 2005.

Friday, September 08, 2006

This is how Miranda Legge sees her participation in the Tree of Life project and her life as an artist:-

"Weaving on largescale works like the Tree of Life for RMIT offers an artist a wonderful range of experiences such as workingwith the designer, the project manager and the RMIT community. As a skilled weaver I will be contributing ideas of how colour is mixed to form the tapestry palette, fresh approaches to the designer's imagery and a dynamic teaching style to the RMIT community. Being part of a team of weavers allows everyone to combine skills and make an individual mark in the artworks, as well as being a forum for the exchange of ideas related to artistic expression.

I have been developing an art practice since my time as a student at RMIT in 1998. This practice is largely textile based in the form of tapestry as well as quilts and mosaics. My art practice is focussed around my personal life experiences in the garden, the studio and as a home builder. I translate these experiences into abstract colour fields and impressions of flora/fauna that are influenced by the Mille Fleur (15th century) and William Morris (19th century) It is through solo exhibitions, group shows and commissions that I plan to progress and contribute to the arts community"

Miranda has worked at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop and on several commissioned tapestry works. She has also worked with Cresside on community tapestry commissions at Chadstone and City of Greater Dandenong and on several quilt commissions.

Sue Carstairs is overseeing the weaving of the tapestry. She 'discovered' tapestry in 1975 in Canberra with Belinda Ramson and then pursued it further at the Edinburgh College of Art in Scotland for 18 months. From 1978 to 1989 she worked at the Victorian Tapestry Workshop weaving on many projects such as the suite of tapestries for the ANZ Bank, the Aboriginal works for the Victorian Art Centre and the tapestry designed by Arthur Boyd for the new Parliament House in Canberra.

Since 'retiring' from the Workshop to raise a family, Sue has worked on several community taapestries - Flemington Primary School, and in collaboration with Cresside at P.L.C., the City of Greater Dandenong and St Francis Xavier School at Berwick

Cresside Colette, Designer of the "Tree of Life" Tapestry
Originally trained as a graphic artist, Cresside has been a tapestry weaver for thirty years. Trained by Belinda Ramson, she became a foundation weaver of the Victorian Tapestry Workshop in 1976 and worked as a production weaver for fifteen years as well as developing her own professional practice.
She has exhibited her work in six individual and over twenty group shows since 1971, and has designed and woven fifteen community tapestry commissions.
She was the recipient of an Australia Council grant to undertake postgraduate studies at the Edinburgh College of Art in 1980. Returning to study in 1998, she completed an Honours Degree and a Master of Fine Art (by research) at Monash University in 2003. Cresside curreently tutors at RMIT University in tapestry and drawing.

"In the midst...was there the tree of life,...and the leaves of the tree were fofr the healing of the nations."
Revelations 22.2

The 'Tree of Life" is a large tapestry which is being woven for the RMIT Soiritual Centre. The aims of the project are:

1. To create a unique work of art that will be the visual focus of the RMIT University Spiritual Centre

2. To involve the students and staf of RMIT in a major design projectthat reflects the skills and talents of the School of Art, Design and Communication.

3. To foster and develop a sense of shared community within the Institution.

4. To enlarge the skills base in the art of Tapestry Weaving for a large number of Studion Textiles students by providing a professional forum in which they can gain industry experience in the weaving of of a sizeable commissioned tapestry.

The tapestry was designed by professional tapestry weaver, Cresside Collette, and is being woven under the supervision of Sue Carstairs. Two other professional weavers are working on the project - Miranda Legge and Julie Jones - as well as a number of volunteers and students. Work commenced on the tapestry a couple of months ago but it has taken me this long to figure out how to 'blog'. In the next few posts I'll tell you more about the tapestry, the design process, the people involved and how its going as well as a few pictures

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

This is just a test to see if I can get going