Painting with yarns: Local artist prefers loom and yarns to paints and brushes


Rodika Tollefson, KP News

For Key Peninsula artist Margo Macdonald, changing the canvas and brushes to the loom and yarns was a calculated decision. She had to give up the smelly paints and brushes when her daughter was born 22 years ago — and tapestry was the perfect medium she could use for her artistic talents. Macdonald, a versatile artist, creates a variety of art, and  teaches it at the Charles Wright Academy in Tacoma, but she prefers yarn over brushes. Tapestry is, for her as well as her two Pacific Rim Tapestry partners, “a seductive art form.”

Macdonald  has collaborated with Gig Harbor artist Cecilia Blomberg on a variety of projects, and two years ago they have joined creative talents for Pacific Rim Tapestries together with Olympia artist Mary Lane.

To create their second collaborative piece, “The Labyrinth,” which was finished last year, they used a computer graphics program to manipulate a black and white image of the Chartres  labyrinth and turn it into a colorful digital design — which they then reproduced on the 5-foot by 5-foot tapestry using about 70 colors of wool.

Once satisfied with the design of the new piece, they blew up the image, in black and white, to size and used it as a guide along with the printed copy of the color design. Working on it a day a week, it took the trio about eight weeks of full-time effort, not counting the time to conceive and develop the design. Eight weeks, they say, is fast for tapestry.

Tapestry may not offer instant gratification in results, but it is a gratifying process, which engages the artists not only visually but physically as well.

“There is almost a relationship with the textile,” Macdonald said.

Hand-woven tapestry, one of the oldest textile art forms, was used widely to tell stories and show abundance in the Middle Ages, but can be traced to even earlier times. Despite its longevity, many still view it as a craft rather than art form. The artists, however, have plenty of explanations on how tapestry differs from the craft of weaving.

“It’s not the technique that defines it, but the message,” Macdonald said. “It’s the image that makes it art.”

Although Macdonald can produce beautiful works with brushes, she often prefers “painting with yarns” instead. Some designs offer more flexibility than others, and the artists can make color decisions as they work on a piece. Unlike the computer-generated design of “The Labyrinth,” the other designs are created the old-fashioned way, either from a photograph, their own paintings, or an idea that “hits you while you lie in bed.” The results — whether a picture of a sunset on the beach, a waterfall, or the gates to Pompeii — are beautiful.

The three artists have opened a studio in Tacoma, so it’s between Olympia and Gig Harbor, in hopes to produce commissioned work together. Tapestry is a popular decoration in corporate buildings as well as private homes and churches, and they have each sold works across the country. Each piece is unique, durable and virtually fireproof.

“The pieces we make become family heirlooms and stay in families for generations,” Blomberg said. “They are personal statements we make in collaboration with the client.”

Making that statement takes long months, and in case of collaboration, learning to use their different weaving styles while creating a cohesive piece. But since time seems to take on a new dimension while the hands are engaged with the warp and weft, the artists perhaps don’t mind that the hours melt away. With a process that stimulates several senses at once, and the breath-taking results, who would?