15 The First Tapestry

The First Tapestry, Original Tapestry by Rachel Brown, hand-dyed, hand-spun yarn,
54″ x 78″, 1960

This weaving was inspired by looking at the reflection in the window of my husband’s abstract paintings. The reflection in the window made the forms distorted and wavy.

I worked for the welfare department and my district was northern New Mexico. So I was always looking at beautiful colored sheep. I didn’t buy the yarn from the ranchers, I bought the raw fleece. I would go into their house and ask them if they had any wool from that sheep. I would come home with my trunk full of wool and ticks. So that was a nasty experience. But I met some wonderful ranchers.

I received some beautiful natural grey, black and brown fleeces. I found out that when you see a brown sheep in the field it doesn’t mean it’s brown- it’s black with sun-bleached tips so it looks brown.

One of the ranchers was Ariano and a few years later I went up to that same area because I was interested in land up there. I met him when he was 75 years old. He was sitting on his horse, upright, and trotting along like he was a 25 year old. And that fleece I handspun myself on the spinning wheel that my husband built for me, which is the prototype of the Rio Grande wheel.

Incidentally, my husband’s name was Malcolm Brown, who’s quite a well-known Taos artist of the 50’s. Along with a group of other artists, they were known as the Taos Moderns.

After I spun the yarn, I washed it and dyed it with commonplace Rit dyes because I’ve always done colored textiles. I created silk-screened printed textiles and I majored in color at my college at Radcliffe.

Incidentally, when I worked at the welfare department, out job was to visit the families in the field, which doesn’t mean “in the fields”, it just means in our work area in northern New Mexico. I love the district that I was given because it was all wool ranchers and their families. And then I would come back to the office and dictate into a machine and the secretaries would transcribe my stories.

This tapestry was woven on a Navajo loom, which I learned about in my readings. I set up a large Navajo loom because I certainly didn’t have a regular loom to weave on. I learned the hard way about weaving on a Navajo loom. I started on one end and I thought aha! I’ll be clever and just turn the loom upside down and start at the other end and weave it together in the middle. Well, I found out that that is not a good way to work on a Navajo loom. The Navajo loom is designed to have a very strong tension on the warp and is much more rigid on the end than it is on the middle so I made that mistake once. I never made that one again.   –Rachel Brown

Teresa and all of us here at Weaving Southwest

PS Does this tapestry inspire you? Remind you of anything? Have you seen this piece in person? We would love to hear from you! Leave a message in the comment section to let us know what you think!

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4 comments on “Sunday Inspiration, The Tapestries of Rachel Brown: The First Tapestry

  • Teresa,
    Thanks SO much for sharing this story of your grandma. I too, wove my first tapestries on a Navajo loom and learned much through and error, so I especially relate to the story. And I really like her first tapestry.

    Mary Pahl

  • So glad that you mentioned turning the loom upside down to weave both ends first & that it didn’t work. I was about to try that. Now I won’t waste the effort. Darn, I thought I had such a good, original (lol) idea. Thanks for the tip.

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