Last year I learned that Joan Baxter, of Brora, Scotland, was in the United States teaching workshops, so I tried to get her to add us to her schedule. We ended up having her come out to the Pacific Northwest in May, 2015, to teach two workshops at our school, before she moved up to Vashon Island for a workshop with Seattle weavers and to Vancouver Island for one with British Columbian weavers. She got a longer trip and we were able to share the airfare, so we all came out as winners.
So many people wanted to take her workshop that I had to make 2 three-day classes instead of one five-day class. That way we could accommodate up to 24 weavers. Both classes filled within hours of being announced.
Both classes got basically the same lessons and wove very similar samplers. We were told in advance to bring pictures, objects, ideas of what our “special” landscape would be. Joan brought yarn from Britain that she prefers to use. It is a worsted spun yarn with a harder, less hairy surface and a sheen. She had two weights, thick and thin. The thick was very thin and the thin was half that size.
We are talking small yarns here. For a tapestry at 8 ends per inch, the weft bundle was the equivalent of 6 thins, which was made of 2 thicks and 2 thins. For those who warped at 10epi, the weft bundle was two thicks and one thin. (Yarn from Weaversbazaar.com)
Joan said she prefers to start with color. She thinks of her landscape, finds the core colors and samples them. She changes out the thin yarns to make subtle color differences and weaves small squares of each color change. Students seemed to really enjoy this. Some did that for all 3 days.
Joan also demonstrated techniques she likes to use. One is a texture created by weaving over two and under two warps with a weft bundle that is 3 times as thick as normal. One is to make dots by weaving back and forth over 3 warps for four passes, to create a small square. Using these small squares in apparently random places creates a dotted effect, more pronounced on larger tapestry and seen from a distance. Another technique we hadn’t tried before was to make a knot in the weft before bringing it to the front to weave.
Joan showed the second class how to sew a slit using the sew-as-you-go method preferred by Archie Brennan. She also showed us a technique for a single-warp wrap that doesn’t involve interlocking weft. A friend of hers named Jennie taught it to her, so we decided to call it the Jennie lines.
One night, between the two classes, we had a potluck dinner and a slide show. Joan showed a Powerpoint slide show of her tapestries and the landscape that inspired them. It was very informative and interesting to see. She used those same photos to demonstrate composition and the way she uses zones and boundaries in her tapestries.
Joan Baxter was a joy to have at our school. Everyone really enjoyed the workshops, her pleasant personality and sense of humor, her skills and techniques and her teaching style. We were sad to see her go. I heard some students yesterday plotting to go to her house in Scotland next year and stay in her caravan.
Unfortunately, many of the photos I took came out really fuzzy, but here are a few that you might enjoy seeing. Thank you, Joan Baxter. We won’t forget you!