Archive for February, 2017

Michael Heilman: American Rugs from American Tools

Posted in Uncategorized on February 25, 2017 by rjohn

On February 4, 2017, Michael Heilman,

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a long-time weaver, here in the Washington area, gave a program at The Textile Museum, entitled, “American Rugs from American Tools.

Michael said that his career, making rugs, began when he encountered an 1881 tool

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that he still uses today.  He makes rugs using hooking, tufting and weaving approaches.  He has taught in these areas and has exhibited his work a several respected, juried, craft shows on the Eastern Coast. He does some of his own dyeing.  He added that he is self-taught.

In his work life he was an attorney for the State and Justice Departments.  An assignment to Morocco inspired his interest in rugs, when he commissioned one and saw it woven.  

Michael displayed a number of the tools he uses to create rugs.

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He said that he had brought some hooked rugs, tufted rugs and woven ones, that he had designed and made, to display and describe.

Michael began with a flat-woven rug (about four feet by five).

M1

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He said that he built his own loom for this piece and took this design from 1920s Bauhaus rug by Gunta Stozl (below).

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The structures of Michael’s rug include slit tapestry, dovetail tapestry and curved areas required extra, eccentric wefts.  Each section of this rug presented different challenges, like maintaining consistent tension in both warps and wefts.

Michael said that it took two years to weave and will one day go to a family member.  He considers it a marker of the current pitch of his weaving skills.

Here are some details of M1.

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A colorful rug with strong graphics and designs inspired by a distinguished source.

The inspiration for Michael’s second rug is from Turkey.  It was also flat-woven.

M2

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As you can see the field has only three colors, black, red and turquoise, with a touch of white in the end elems. 

Michael did the dyeing for this rug. 

He said that the red is from cochineal.  He found that the reds obtained from cochineal varied depending on the mineral content of the water use (something that changes in different periods of the year). 

He said that the clearest reds are produced by using distilled water (ed. note that this red is clear but still on the orange side; we often say that we suspect a given red is from cochineal because it has a blue cast; clearly not always the case).

The turquoise is from indigo over onion skin.

Details of M2.

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Two interesting features of Michael’s weaving of this rug.

First, although the vertical color changes (see below) might tempt one to resort to slit tapestry, the shallow angle of them is so gradual that that might not be necessary in this rug.

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Second, notice in the image below that Michael has used black warps in some areas and red ones in others.

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This is a weft-faced weave. The wefts have been pounded down so tightly that the warps, regardless of color, do not show (notice that this is true even for the white stripes).  But the use of different color warps in some areas ensures the saturation of the appearance of the red and the black in these areas.

A third weaving seems simple but had its difficulties.

M3

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Here is a comprehensive view of this rug, unencumbered.

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The weaving here seems straight forward with horizontal dashes done in sumac weave on horizontal bands of lighter color (the sumac bands raise above the surrounding ground, giving this piece an attractive texture).  But Michael reports that working with these sumac dashes gave him an enormous appreciation of the challenges indigenous weavers faced working with sumac.

This piece has cotton warps, reputed to make such a rug lie flat.  Michael said that the dyes are acid dyes set with vinegar.

Detail images of M3.

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The fourth rug was of the same type but with knotted horizontal dashes rather than sumac.  The knotted dashes have pile tufts that stick out from the background fabric, more insistently that did the sumac dashes.

Michael said that M4 is his take on a type he saw in Turkey.

M4

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Details of M4.

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Here is a detail of the back of this piece.  You are looking at the back of the pile knotted dashes.

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Michael said that the next piece was inspired by Persian Mezandaran kilims.

M5

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He did the dyeing on this rug.  The red is cochineal, done in small lots, using Fairfax water.  The small lots work to produce the variations in “red” called “abrash.”  Michael said the mordants he used for the reds are tin and alum.  With indigo he has used lye (says he used to use Liquid Plumber).  He says that using synthetic “acid” dyes is safer.

Details of M5.

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The next rug was graphically dramatic.  The design was inspired by a Turkish niche pattern (it has the look of one section of a “saf,” a rug used in prayer with multiple niches like this one side by side, each for a single prayer, in a continuous textile).  A narrow palette is used with real visual “punch.”

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M6

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Note that the white warps are perpendicular to the directional design (that is horizontal in the image above).  The decision to orient the warps in this way in relation to pattern made long vertical color changes easy to do.

The image below has been turned 90 degrees so that the warps are in a vertical position. 

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This lets you see that the long “vertical” color changes are not that, but just changes in weft color.  It is the short yellow bar that has the “long” vertical color changes.  The slits, the use of slit tapestry would create, are closed by the use of dovetailed tapestry (see the telling jagged side edges on the yellow bar).  Slits in the diagonal lines require a similar tapestry variety.

Additional details of M6.

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Michael’s next rug was the first hooked rug that he made that he liked. (The pattern was his own.) A cotton base,  monks  cloth, fabric was stretched on a frame, and a variety of tools used, including a “Rumpelstiltskin”  hand  needle.

M7

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Made with a newer version of the shuttle hook (the “Rumpelstiltskin Hand Needle).

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This tool hooks the rug material onto the base fabric.  Can use either yarn or fabric.  Can make different heights of “pile” in designs. 

This tool can replace the basic rug hooking tool,

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the even simpler “proddy.” 

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(It simply pokes the hooking material through the holes in the backing, but has no hook.  More frequent in England.)

Or the a little more complex, “latch hook.”

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latchhook2This tool can do what all these three other tools can do.

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Here are some details of M7.

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The next rug was entirely different.

M8

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Michael said that this rug is made from Pendleton coat fabric cut into strips 12 to 15 inches long.  The strips are wrapped around to cotton warps but not knotted.  Made on an upright floor loom.  Michael said that it looks like some rag rugs, but was inspired by a Swedish  bed rug he saw in a book. 

What it threw up for me was a type of Moroccan rug that has begun to appear in the last few years. 

moroccan

These Moroccan rugs are called “boucherouite,” a reference to worn or torn clothes.  They have this same kind of long pile, are woven with symmetric knots, from a wider variety of materials.  Some have synthetic fabrics and even plastic.  They are drawing some collector attention.

Here are some detail images of Michael’s M8.

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Here is a detail of M7, showing its front in the upper part and its back below.  Notice that although the pile is not knotted, the piece is woven with several rows of weft between rows in which the pile strips are wrapped around two warps.  And, of course, the dark blue area between the pile section is plain  weave.  The end finish is also woven, as you can see in the detail below.

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Michael said that the next piece demonstrate how flexible hooking rugs can be. 

Unlike woven pieces that have to be built up from the bottom row by row (tapestry permits some sections to be built up further than others, but eventually the areas not built up need to be) hooked rugs can be made in any shape one wants. 

It is possible to weave knotted pile rugs that are round, but when one hooks a rug a great deal more flexibility is available.  Not only are the “hooked” stitches digital (this lets you fashion any design you like), there is no necessary sequence in which a given hooked stitch needs to be put into a given hole in the backing.

M8 is Michael’s demonstration of how easy it is to weave a round hooked rug.  He said that his inspiration was a Moroccan plate.  Although the shape of the backing with its hole is often rectangular, one can fill in only the holes needed to produce a round rug.

Michael said that  the gazelle in this rug was made with a tufting gun that cuts the yarns used as it does the “hooking.” The  remainder was made with  a Rumpelstiltskin hand needle.

M9

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Details of M9.

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The next one is one that features texture to enhance pattern.  It is all beige but features different heights in different areas.  It is an answer to the frequent textile saw that the only thing that matters is color.

M10

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Detail images of M10.

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The detail below shows both the front and the back of this rug.  Michael covers the back of the ground material (that has the holes) of many of his hooked pieces to give them a more finished look.

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Michael said that the next two pieces with similar horse designs are whimsical pieces he hooked to show students that you can imitate anything in hooking.

The placing of human and animal forms inside animal patterns is a frequent usage in traditional tribal weaving in many parts of the world.

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Details of M11.

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Michael was asked, from the audience, what his practice is when hooking a rug onto a backing with holes in it?

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(I have inserted a commercial hooked rug backing to let you see the holes)

The question from the audience was does Michael fill every hole as he works?  (The questioner noted that one of the quality indicators for the famous “Grenfell” hooked rugs was that every hole in the backing material had to be filled.)

Michael said that filling every hole makes a hooked rug last longer, but the drawback is that filling every hole can cause the piece to pucker, so he does not advise or do that.

Michael’s second horse rug features plaid.

M12

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Details of M12.

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Michael said that the next rug is one that he has made and donated for on-line auction during the Smithsonian Craft Show in April. It will be on display at the Craft Show.

The design is inspired by Miro. 

M13

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Not the one below, but you get the idea.

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Here are some detail images of Michael’s rug M13.

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Michael had another round floral rug (this piece is actually round; the rectangular areas at what seem to be corners are not part of it).

DM14

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He said think of this piece as one done with brushes or pencils.  Any part and any color could be could be done in any sequence.  The tool with which this rug was made permitted that kind of flexibility.

Detail images of M14.

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The next piece was a demonstration and test of the things we sometimes impose on the designs in rugs as we look at them.

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Michael said that there might be a temptation to see this as an abstracted double “tree of life” design.  In fact, it was inspired by computer circuit board.  🙂

Remember this example the next time you see a design element in a rug that looks like a “cross.”  It may be sourced in something entirely different.

The blue is from indigo.

Details of M15.

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The next rug was the one below.

M16

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M16 is a flat-woven rug woven on a floor loom, with hand-dyed wool yarn.  It is an early example of Michael’s work, drawn from a tribal design from either Turkey or Iran.

Details of M16.

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The next rug was the one below.

M17

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This rug was hooked with a Tru Gyde shuttle hook, which gives the same look as a traditional hooked rug.  The material is mostly dyed wool fabric, cut into 3/16″ strips and hooked onto a linen backing.

Details of M17.

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Image below is of the front of M17 on the upper left and shows the cover on the reverse of the foundation material.

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The next rug was the one below.

M18

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This rug was made from both fabric strips (deer, tree trunks and foreground) and wool yarn (the green background).  The former was done with a shuttle hook, the latter with the Rumpelstiltskin hand needle.  Different pile heights give contrast to the different design elements.

Details of M18.

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Michael’s last rug of the day was the one below.  Again, note warps are horizontal.  Not sure what the preferred position is.

M19

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Here is this same piece turned 90 degrees to the right.

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Michael: “This was an early attempt to create a geometric design, which might have succeeded if I had used a consistent size of yarn.

“The result, using different diameters of yarn was a degree of puckering that grew larger as the weaving progressed.”

The originally planned rug was not completed.  “M19 is the surviving portion cut from the loom.”

 Detail images of M19.

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Michael took questions and brought his session to a close.

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People began to move forward to talk to Michael and get their hands on this material.

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Michael had brought several publications on contemporary weaving, such as Hali’s new magazine “Cover.”

http://shop.hali.com/issues/cover

We gave a catalog on an exhibition of Ronnie Newman’s hooked rugs as a door prize in this session.

Light From The Past: Early American Rugs From The Collection of Ronnie Newman

Check: http://used.addall.com/

 

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My thanks to Michael for another fine program and for his considerable help in fashioning this virtual version.  Thanks, too, to Sheridan Collins for an excellent set of notes.

If you want to see more of Michael’s work you can see a previous program he gave here at the Textile Museum a few years ago.

https://rjohnhowe.wordpress.com/2012/09/06/rug-hooking-and-tufting-materials-and-tools-1840-to-present/

This previous program has drawn more viewers than any other other post on this site: now over 25,000

I hope you have enjoyed this program by a real practitioner, who is very knowledgeable about, and connected to, contemporary rug making.

Regards,

R. John Howe