I’ve started work on the memorial piece for my mother. Here is the first draft of the digital painting:
It is still missing some elements, like the cremation urn the phoenix is rising from. (Well, you knew it had to be phoenixes, didn’t you? Besides, a fiery bird catches the brightness of her spark a lot better than a pale white angel.) So this is not a final draft – I expect to make some more changes, especially once I get feedback from some people with more design experience.
The finished piece will not look exactly like the digital painting, of course. An image on the screen has a resolution of 72 pixels per inch and tens of thousands of colors. A woven piece will likely have only fifty shades (if that), and my warp is currently set up at 30 epi, so less than half the density. So if you try to translate a digital image directly, it will come out looking grainy and with slightly wonky colors.
Fortunately, I am not trying to “weave a picture”. Instead, I’m using the image as a loose guide for the developing cloth. Yes, the design and colors will look roughly the same. But I plan to add embellishments as well: metallic threads made with real gold, beads from my mother’s stash, embroidery, ribbons, and so on. I’m also considering using matelasse in the weave structure to make the fabric three-dimensional, giving it a “quilted” look. So the picture is only the start of the story.
This, of course, makes the design process quite complex. Do I want to weave the bird’s “body feathers” into the cloth, or embroider in the details afterwards? How can I design for the use of beads and ribbons? If I am creating a matelasse “quilted” effect, where do I put the stitch lines?
Answering the visual design questions also means answering the technical questions. Can I weave matelasse with a multicolored foreground without adding unwanted dots of a different color in the “stitched” areas? What size weft should I use, and how much will I need? What colors should I use in the weft, and how do I dye them? There are lots of technical design challenges, and they have to be answered hand in hand with the visual design questions. You cannot separate technical design from visual design – otherwise you can easily find yourself designing a piece you can’t construct. So, since I am using unfamiliar techniques, I will need to do a lot of sampling.
The plan for the next two weeks is to figure out the design and weave the cloth. I am traveling the latter half of December, so I am hoping to have the base cloth woven before I leave. That will allow me to apply some of the embellishments by hand while I’m traveling. I hope to finish the piece (at least to the point where it can be photographed) before the deadline for Convergence’s All Media exhibit. That is February 1, which makes the schedule very tight indeed.
But I’m seriously excited about this project. Almost as excited as Fritz, when he’s sniffing a shoe.