Peter Harris: A Tapestry Is Like a Unicorn, by Ixchel Suarez PDF  | Print |  E-mail

 enchanted forest by peter harris

Enchanted Forest 

Peter Harris a Tapestry weaver since 1982, says he is better known for his study of the tapestry design and weaving techniques used in the historic Kashmir shawl. As a relatively new blogger he says " As a blog is supposed to be written in the present tense, I get just one chance to explain how it begins." and with that said he has traced his journey to tapestry weaving from his first visit to south Asia in 1972-73. It is through encountering the object (Kashmir shawl) and its production technique in its place of origin that he came to tapestry weaving. From his 1991 research paper  “The Kashmir Shawl: lessons in history and studies in technology“, research paper published in Ars Textrina, volume 16, Winnipeg, Manitoba. to his most recent "Decoding the Talim", Vol. 62 No.1; September 2010, pp. 92-99 for Marg magazine, widely known as India's premier publisher of books on the arts of India it is evident he knows the technique from the inside out. It is this knowledge he brings to his own weaving. 

Members of the Oakvill Guild of Spinners And handweavers and guests from Cambridge, Mississauga, Burlington and Georgetown enjoyed the visit and the interesting lecture:

A tapestry is like a unicorn… nobody has actually seen one, but everybody knows what one looks like. by Peter Harris

Friday April 29 the Guild had the opportunity to challenge all our definitions of tapestry though the insight view and research of Peter Harris, wonderful tapestry weaver from Ayton, Ontario, who kindly accepted our invitation to share a bit of his expertise in tapestry.

Peter Harris has been interested in the weaving of Kashmir for a long time. The relation of techniques like embroidered, patched, or woven into one same garment. He also offers workshops for those interested in this fascinating technique of historical importance.

guild looking at Peter Harris Work
Quote from Peter from the beginning, when we started to get immerse in the theme "I don’t remember having any particular awareness or understanding of the word “tapestry” until I learned how to weave tapestry in the early 1980’s. Then when I’d begun to make tapestry my own, I noticed how frequently this word for a rare and arcane practice appeared in all kinds of commentaries about all kinds of non-textile things, and often with some additional reference to weaving thrown in as a bonus. The word “tapestry” has a currency and commonly-understood meaning far out of proportion to its actual production in the present era. Now for me it’s always accompanied by a flash of recognition, like a familiar face in a subway-train window. One of my favourite sightings is in an interview by Studs Terkel with Bob Dylan: “There’s one song, the only way I can describe it is as a great tapestry – ‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’.” All true, but how does the word for an anachronistic craft come to be used today with such confidence and respect?".

PH talk

 Peter is a fantastic tapestry weaver who started in this art and craft almost 30 years ago. His backgroud though is in philosophy and literature, so we could understand his interest in the readings of visual images through different mediums, and it was through tapestry that he developed his main interest.


 This tapestry, Enchanted Forest is full of weaving challenges, symbolisms, colour changes and blends and intricate design that altogether create a piece of Art.

 ph talk 2

 Peter analyzes the medium and quotes:

 "Tapestry has come under modernist critique for being a derivative art form, because of the historical specialization between artists and weavers, and the extent to which a modern artist-weaver’s design is pre-planned before the weaving begins, so that it resembles a process of translation or adaptation. But in fact, seldom is the weaver’s work so subservient to the designer’s that the weaving does not transform it in some way expressive of both. Tapestry weaving has a repertoire of effects that eloquently bespeak textile, as well as limitations for mimicking some sorts of mark-making in other media.

Peter finishes his talk with an interesting reflection:

 "So much for the most commonly asked question, “How long did it take you to do this?” to which the answer should be, “It was over too soon”. The perennial issue among weavers – the internalized version of the second question we hear most often, “Can you make a living at this?” – is, how can we gain the critical acceptance for tapestry as work-of-art that would offer the possibility of professional success? In my view, that is to chase a receding, capricious, increasingly irrelevant prize. Historically, tapestry participated in cultural expression in ways that don’t necessarily conform to the occasion of modern gallery-going, where people expect to find certain kinds of objects enshrined. These same people, if they went to view stained-glass church windows, whether as tourists or as part of their religious observance, would have very different expectations. Everyone who seeks to give cultural expression through their skills, needn’t try to beat their way into the art world, but should try to situate their contribution as naturally and easily as they can in their personal and community lives. We should not be trying to alter our coat of many colours into a skimpy but fashionable accessory. The fact that tapestry has its own rich and widely recognized meaning is a tremendous advantage. "

Thank you Peter. We sure can take many reflections reading "between the warps".

We wish you luck with your piece which will be presented in Mexico during the events from the VI International Bienial of Textile Art hosted in Mexico.

The exhibition Encounter Mexico-Canada: Contemporary Textile Art will be presented in the Anahuac University, School of Design.

Come back soon and share with us your wonderful tapestries.

Peter Harris a Tapestry weaver since 1982, says he is better known for his study of the tapestry design and weaving techniques used in the historic Kashmir shawl.

 Tapestry is also a great metaphor for connecting the world meaningfully. I am wrapped like a fly in its spidery thralls.

 Peter Harris website:  http://tapadesi.com/

Published Articles  

"Decoding the Talim" cites the talim system, as used in the kanikar or twill-tapestry tradition of Kashmir shawl-weaving, as a remarkable early example of digital treatment of images. Peter Harris draws on his understanding as a tapestry weaver of the inherently digital character of woven images, particularly shawl-weaving. The relationship between the pixels of a digital image, the units counted in the talim, and the weaver’s manipulations, is analysed and described in basic terms. One result is the preparation of a working talim from the close study of an antique shawl fabric, with computer assistance, as shown by a series of illustrations.

"Artist talk with Peter Harris" was originally posted in ixchel- tapestryweaver blogspot.com on May 1 2011 and has been represented here with Ixchel Suarez's permission

Ixchel Suarez Bio I am a weaver, designer, and lover of fibre.Tapestry weaving has been my passion for more than 25 years. Today I share my work with my Guild members from the Oakville Handweavers and Spinners. Our Guild is proud to share this space with all our fibre friends who enjoy the wonders of spinning and weaving. We meet every 4th Wednesdays of the month. Interested?


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