Sunday, September 5, 2010

To Glass or Not To Glass- That is the question.

Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker - The Crown Wants a Piece Of it All
Tapestry weaving is arguably the most obvious technique that readily lends itself to being shown as fine art. I recently discussed exhibiting practices and the presentation of  tapestry weavings with another tapestry weaver. We queried whether our work should always be shown in a way that allowed the tactile element of the work to over-ride all other considerations. Does unprotected framing remain the best way to present contemporary, smaller, non-functional works?

Should the most important element of the work even be the weaving?

From a traditional and purists point of view, tapestry weavings should not be shown behind glass. In many circles and obviously at the judged national exhibition level,  there is a continued expectation that tapestry weavings should be presented in a manner that best connects veiwers to the the fibre/craft element of the work. 

I have always struggled with this as a hard and fast rule especially if conveying the message of the piece is more important to me than the fact that I happened to chose tapestry weaving as the medium to convey that message.

As a hand-woven tapestry work that is made special by "Please  Do Not Touch" signs, does the weaver take the initiative to present the work from behind glass, in a manner that  acheives the same result.
Is it a matter of educating veiwers/judges to accept the work as it is intended to be viewed as a whole by its creator or should the creators still be striving to educate viewers of their fibre art through the traditional and accepted manner of presenting the work open to the elements and inquisitive fingers?

At the end of our discussion we rightly or wrongly concluded that the craft artist would probably argue in favour of the status quo, i.e that to present a tapestry weaving behind glass deminishes the work. Whereas  the artist/weaver would probably be more inclined to want the piece protected and presented to the viewer framed behind glass if that was how the piece worked best in relation to their intended artistic statement or concept.


  1. Well, I think glass does affect the impression of the tapestry. If it is plain glass the reflection can also add or distract from/to the design. If it is non-reflective glass, it tends to make the colors look matte. My personal feeling is to show off the fiber which made my art work what it is. Very similar to oil painting which is also usually not put under glass, to allow people to enjoy the texture of the paint, the paint strokes and so on. I love texture in my tapestries and don't mind when someone can not resist touching. The preserving can wait until they are old and the warp feeble that's just how I feel... Happy weaving, Vera

  2. Hi Stephine.... this can be a tough question to answer.
    The Australian Tapestry Workshop along with many fiber artists who produce small works that are not tapestry say that they are difficult to sell when not behind glass in a “”picture frame”” as that is how most people expect to purchase a work.

    I framed 4 tapestries for my graduate exhibition behind glass in plain gallery frames with a pale mount board. My friend was criticizing this choice at the time but after seeing them at the exhibition he commented that they looked more professionally presented for their size framed. I was right and he was wrong were his words. I don’t like small tapestries squashed into small frames I think that they need space to show them of as a textile. I have 10cm of mount around mine and 11 at the bottom so that they don’t sit stuck in the middle of the frame. Jennifer Sharpe had a series of doors gates and windows framed in a similar way at her exhibition in Warrrnambool and they looked great. Meabh Warburton weaves small tapestries in sewing thread and frames them the same way as me in very similar frames.

    this is an old post showing many just look through her blog and make up your own mind.

    Tough question....and everyone has a different opinion.

    Best of Luck Debbie.

  3. Thanks for the feedback Vera & Debbie.
    It is the first time I have had interaction with my viewers, so I really appreciate you taking the time to comment and presumably read my somewhat long winded reply.

    I have often heard the comparison made with oil paintings which are the crown of the fine arts movement.
    I am still not convinced of this comparison. The canvas fibre element of an oil painting is well protected. Oil paint by its very nature is a relatively inpeneratable substance that can withstand what the kitchen or open windows near peak-hour traffic throws at them. They also tolerate very serious washing compounds, hence it is not necessary to protect oils in the same way that the rag papers of watercolours or other various fibres need to be. I agree that the texture and brushstrokes in oil paintings would loose their charm behind glass, but the point of difference is that oil paint doesn't need to be overly protected if it is hanging on a wall in an open plan kitchen/lounge area.
    I agree that non-reflective glass produces a matt effect. For me it takes away a lot of the enjoyment I would otherwise have experienced by clear, unhindered viewing.
    I love the fibre focused freedom of your viewpoint Vera.

    The larger tapestries I weave ie. the portraits, are usually woven using bulkier and more robust yarns. These weavings tend to fall more into the catagory of a wall-hanging, a catagory which visually respects the unframed work. It is more inclined to be viewed as say an antique or fine woven rug would be if it were hung on the wall rather than laid on the floor. I am very happy and relaxed to see these types of tapestries that I weave appreciated as wall hangings with the fibre enjoyed in an exposed state. I find the robustness and form of the fibre is shown at its best with these larger works hanging invitingly for people to want to touch.

    However I am not as comfortable with my smaller tapestries being shown the same way. They are usually made from more expensive and finer yarns that seem to me to demand a sense of preciousness and vulnerability. By placing my more personal or artistic works behind glass I feel I am better able to emphasize this element of small but special.

    As a rule my framed tapestries are shown using a similar mounting ratio to the ones you mentioned above Debbie. I find it tends to automatically draw the viewer into the woven detail.

    Butcher, Baker, Candlestick Maker- The Crown Wants A Piece Of It All shown above was a tricky piece to frame and a rare exception to my norm. As a single art-work composed of 4 fractions, it was initially going to be displayed in one single frame, but when the framer and I went to do it they looked like they were floating around in a big box.

    In the end the piece didn't work as well as I would have liked because of that squashed in effect you rightly mention above and I chose to display them in their own little frames and hung them in thier grouped cluster.
    In this case, the extra mounting allowance also appeared to isolate the works when an alternative framing solution was mulled over.

    No doubt this debate will continue.

    Thanks again,


Tapestry Weavings By Stephenie Collin


I hope you find Warped Art & Design both interesting and inspiring, and that it will encourage anyone working with fibre to investigate and experiment further within their chosen field.

The basic loom, which is my tool of trade, has remained technologically unchanged. This aspect appeals to me as I weave contemporary images on a machine of such simple and ancient construction.

And if the loom be silenced,
then needles, threads and fingers
have plenty more to say.

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Waiuku, Auckland, New Zealand
I am an artist, weaver, gardener, mother and grandmother, home food gatherer, political sceptic, modest future eater, and much much more.