Stephenie's visual language is very striking - I always know her work, it's very distinctive. I love the dream-like quality to them, some with sinister undertones. Stephenie lives in Waiuku, Auckland in the beautiful country of New Zealand.
|'Self Portrait' - Stephenie Collin, tapestry 2008|
For me it was a natural metamorphosis.
I first began weaving bulky, natural wool, rya/ghiords-knotted fleece and plain tabby-weave carded wool rugs and hall runners.
From this starting point I began experimenting with colour, weaving basic geometric designs, and using finer commercial carpet yarn.
These were my first attempts at kilim tapestry weaving. I spent three years weaving floor furnishings before I was ready to move my focus from the floor onto the wall.
By the 1990s fibre art was becoming finer, more subtle and refined. I wanted to learn tapestry technique so that I could produce work that could communicate with an audience in some way. I wanted to experiment with the old argument of craft versus art, and what was the defining point between the two? What made the difference between folk art and fine art? What was the relevance of function over form, what stories do contemporary tapestries have to say?
|Geometric hall runner - Stephenie Collin|
In 1987 the district I lived in only offered one option for full-time study in the fibre-arts. The Takitimu Trust was a local Maori Arts training centre, and I signed on for what ended up to be a year and a half of full-time study.
It covered various Maori and European weaving techniques, however the majority of the course content focused on on-loom tabby weave combinations and various knotting techniques. Ultimately this meant that by the time I had completed the course and turned to experimenting with tapestry, my weaving was pretty much an automatic process. I could focus completely on a design and how to go about implementing it as a woven image. I went back to school as an adult student for a year to study Art and Art & Fabric Design.
Any spare time I had was spent looking at art and exhibitions. Most of my weaving was learnt from just doing it. It was a case of trial and error, trying to stick to the lines on the cartoons, working out how best to go about replacing an image, determining warp set and what weft materials and weight were best for the job or gave me the most satisfying visual results.
I was completely over using wool as a weft material because I had spent so much time in the past working with it. I think that using mixed weft yarns was an important part of the learning process as far as the design and imagery in my work is concerned.
|'Madonna' - Stephenie Collin, tapestry 2002|
With the geometric design kilim style rugs it took a couple of years. But with smaller and finer works it was a lot longer, at least 3-4 years. Each new piece is a new challenge even now. The more confident I am about the design, the more confident I am with how I will go about weaving it.
What is your preferred warp sett?
I pretty much work at about 10 epi all the time now. I always work on a cotton warp. Practically all my work is produced on upright, 2-shaft, foot operated looms. I still warp up through the reed, even though I hardly ever use it while weaving, so the different reeds on each loom pretty much determine the exact spacing.
It depends on the size of the finished work really. I can get a fairly satisfactory result at 6-8 epi for a piece that is say a metre or so square or more.
What is your favourite weft material?
I have always loved using rayon in my work. It doesn't have the intense, highly reflective quality that silk has, but it is good enough for the job. The bulk of all my pieces are made from a combination of rayon, cotton, and wool. I find if I use too much wool on my tapestries, the finished result ends up looking too flat and uniform. It's not so obvious with hand spun wool, but for larger works the time involved having to first spin the weft makes it impractical as an option. I love using fine hand-spun silks for the decorative effect of fine lines and dots.
|'Beyond The Wall' - Stephenie Collin, tapestry 2008|
I weave the slits together as I go. When I am weaving a vertical line in the design, every few rows I cross the wefts, so my tapestries don't actually have long slits in the work. If the vertical line is less than a centimetre long I will sometimes leave it as is. I very rarely do any hand sewing in the work, either structurally or decoratively. I think sewing sort of defeats the purpose. I don't often have single wrapped vertical warps in my designs so I just find it's easier for me to weave the slits as I go, but each to their own.
What is your preferred method of finishing and presenting your work?
I always finish with a Maori taniko weaving finish. It probably has another name, but I call it a taniko finish. After resting and trimming the back threads, I place the tapestry with right side facing, and trim the warps to a length of about 8cm.
Starting with the left hand warp go under, over, under, over, pull to the back of the work. Repeat to the end of the row.
Divide the last six warps into 3, and plait a short length. Knot the end and trim.
This finished edge is seen when the work is mounted. I prefer this method because I like to think that it subtly explains the difference between a woven tapestry and a needlepoint tapestry.
I personally prefer this point of difference to be on show, as opposed to a hidden, folded and neatly pressed edge.
When I have finished tying off, I steam-press the wrong side of the work, making sure to iron the end strands towards the centre of the piece. I then cut a piece of light-weight iron-on backing (practically all of these are now acid-free), and press well.
The backing holds the work together firmly and helps to stop the weaving from puffing out from whatever I am mounting it on.
Usually I sew my work onto painted, high-quality art canvas which is attached to a stretcher. This can then be framed or not.
With smaller pieces, I prefer to frame behind glass, and so will sew the work onto acid-free foam board or mounting card, depending on the end presentation.
|'K.Rd Kenny' - Stephenie Collin, tapestry 2000|
My technique is not terribly complicated nor are my designs usually overly decorative, so my weaving state of mind tends to be more meditative than attentive. Most of my attention goes into the art and design stage. My intent is usually to express as much as I can within as minimal design as the image needs to work for me, or to get it to a point where I am happy with it as an artwork I suppose.
How did you create your own 'visual language'?
Having several friends who were artists, I think I always leaned towards wanting to communicate with my tapestries rather than simply produce pleasing pictures in my work.
I use my own sketches and paintings in most of my tapestries. These are usually intermittent flurries of activity triggered by any one of life's possibilities. It can be a political, social, or metaphorical fleeting thought or situation. I tend to see mundane day to day things with a sense of the ridiculous. The big things in life that really piss me off or have overwhelming apocalyptic overtones I tend to express with some sense of humour in their titles, or quirk of detail in the woven image. I like to think that my tapestries have a visual connect with the present day, no matter how obscure that connection actually is.
|'Daves Beyond The Wall' - Stephenie Collin, tapestry 2004|
* Just keep doing it. Keep experimenting. Try to weave a little bit every day. Keep a visual record of each weaving.
* Get a visual diary going. Sketch, write, doodle, or cut'n paste, as often as you can. Write down your thoughts. These are what you should be weaving. They become a part of who you are. As an artist, these mumblings are probably what you want to say with your work.
* Study inspiring or great artists, their lives and their work. Painters in particular. Miro screams tapestry possibilities, Hundertwasser is great for learning about colour. I went through an El Greco/Giacometti phase, no tapestry or textile book could have taught me as much about weaving vertical lines and the intrigue the elongated form can have on a viewer than these two masters.
* Stretch and take frequent breaks from the loom when doing a marathon on a piece.
Where can we find out more about your work?
Thank you so much Stephenie!