Waterdog Takes his Autumnal walkabout

Waterdog takes his Autumnal walk about

This last week there have been discussions of weaving with Chenille in tapestry and weaving chenille into other woven structures on Wednesdays Between & Etc studio hours on Zoom and in another zoom group that I occasionally drop into for fun. Chenille is interesting because in clothing and knitting it is or seems not to be difficult to weave with and creates beautiful drapable fabrics and knitted sweaters-perhaps a bit dated, but…. On the other hand in tapestry it is a completely different story and as far as I am concerned should come with a warning-such as- BEWARE!  Explorers sanity may be at risk! 

These discussions created in me a desire to revisit Waterdog takes his Autumnal Walkabout! a tapestry that I wove years ago-2006 or2008- and I no longer own it. It was also extremely difficult to photograph so I asked the owners if they would kindly send me some updated photos. Which they generously did.  I am including the photo’s in this blog. At this point the new photo's are on My Tapestry Compendium page, because i have not figured out how to add the photo's to this  Blog and the Between & Etc Facebook. page.  In these photo's it is easy to see how the chenille behaves when woven with wool shapes and the ay it  creates sort of blisters  or small pouches when not under tension from the loom. It also is a very difficult to photograph because of the Interreflection created by the fuzzy chenille it absorbs and reflects light in a very different way.

Waterdog is approximately 3 feet by 6 feet, woven at 10 epi with a 12.9 cotton seine twine warp. Waterdog was woven on a 6.5 wide Shannock with a very tight tension and is extremely well beaten-notice I said beaten and not combed and from the front. The reason it was woven from the front was that I wanted to be face to face with my design as the designer... It took me about a month to weave-less than 80 hours to weave-2 weeks of 8-hour days.  If I had wanted to weave for speed, I most like would have woven it from the back which would have allowed me to use progressive hatches, hachures with the bobbins hanging on the back or front surface for easy speedy pick up and non-tying off with each hatch or hachure I choose to use chenille because of some tapestries I had seen that were woven by Jane Kidd. I fell in love.  I unfortunately had a very-very short romance with chenille that weaving with it ended. I loved the depth and the non – reflectiveness and the absorption of light that was even deeper than what I could do with wool-- the softness. Aw!! Well, some love affairs are just not meant to last, and this affair ended badly! -gr! But the lessons I learned…were immense in  this short intense love affair gone wrong!

It did not take me long to realize that not only was it a nightmare to weave with and beat down, keep it staying in place while I wove detail in in the silk and wool areas of the detail on top of the chenille. It continually shifted along the cotton seine twine warp. I really should have used a wool warp in hopes of it felting to the chenille. The other part of the nightmare-- it was fuzzy and shed all over everything, the shifting along the cotton warp (should have used a wool warp so it would feel a bit) was to me is a nightmare. I swore I would never weave it into a Tapestry again.  But yes, there are different forms of chenille, but I always seemed to find the most difficult ones to work with. I also reached the conclusion that I needed to wear a mask and protective clothing. It-the fuzz penetrated everything and gathered in weird places on my body…and itched!! And of course it was summer!!!

But the good news was about chenille it creates a beautiful rich deep colours.   Which is actually call inter-reflection which is what tapestry is all about!! Everything about tapestry is about interreflection, the hairy wefts, the rib structure, the reflection from the silky wefts or the lack of reflection or inter reflection. There is a richness and deepness of colour that occurs when Chenille’s are woven into tapestry that are so much more then with wool... It absorbs and holds light in much different way than wools and other fibers. Would I do it again -perhaps on a small piece and on a small loom I just might try it again. SO perhaps size does really matter-gr!

So on that note I decided it was time to tell Waterdogs story.

Waterdog’s Beginning Story

For Spencer Stein who wants to hear family stories

 First things first-There is no such clan as waterdog except in my head. There is no warrior or Indian named waterdog that I know of. There probably is, but they are a stranger to me. The whole concept of Waterdog is based on the blending of 2 cultures in which the borders were never quite clear unless I was with my other Non-Indian Gramma often known as my Mayflower Grandmother who actually was descended from Mayflower settlers...

 Waterdogs are little creatures in the deep Oregon rain forest like woods that never look quite real. They have black bead like eyes in an orange, brown body with little definition and a long tail that curls into a circle as if to protect itself. The tails seem to have been expendable and were often just not there or were in the process of growing back.  My husband who is from Montana-both a non-believer and from a place that lacks Waterdogs says and insist they are salamanders-perhaps newts, but I am still a skeptic. It is sort of an ongoing disagreement that usually ends and begins with I do not know, and I really do not want to know. I do not want to lose the magic of not knowing. Joseph Campbell implies that we make up rituals for things we do not understand and endow them with magic because we do not know. Creating myths and rituals to help bring order to a chaotic world we often find to be a scary place to be.  I love and prefer that innocence of not knowing. There are things I do not want to know how they come to exists and have been known to tell people not to tell me. That I do not want to know.  I want that magic of not knowing, because the rest of my life is all about knowing or trying to know.

 Waterdogs live in mud puddles and fugitive streams that are created with all the rain we get in the backwoods in the mountains of Oregon. The soil is clay-often rusty coloured or the colour of blood.  The clay holds the water and the mud that traps everything with wheels. So we often walked in or put chains on the car to deal with the hub deep mud or placed half of a tree the right distance a part for the car to drive on. If you did not center the tires on the logs the rounded bottoms would flip in the mud and anger my father. The car tires would sink, and one had to put the chains on the car If you were not careful and drove down the center of each log, but he made me learn-just in case…

 As a child we played with the waterdogs and kept them as pets. Always being careful we never left them trapped or hurt. Gently placing them back into the water to play another day...  When we played in the mud the water dogs were attracted to the movement of our hands. Our playground was filled with sword ferns taller than my Dad and older male cousins. The ground littered with trilliums and dozens of kinds of moss and lichens. The field in the valley had been filled and planted with Camas that we helped to harvest. There had been earlier settlements with Victorian style house built in a valley that flooded every year. The houses abandoned and engulfed-literally hidden with black berry bushes. Becoming our playhouses when we followed the game trails through the blackberry brambles. Often the dishes were still sitting on the tables as if the people had jumped up and disappeared in a second…in the blink of an eye.

To adults’ waterdogs were real problems because they got into anything that had water and often swam up water pipes  and pumps and die. But to kids playing in the woods they were magical friends. Waterdogs always seemed attracted to children.

Anyway, when I was a child my Grandmother and relatives would tell terrible stories of massacres and torture-reformation (Christian-Foxes book of Martyrs) and ethnic atrocities against indigenous people- and running to hide in the hills-some real-- some imagined, but all in the language of eschatology and the end of times. This was the “where you going to run to” …to wait for the second coming. The Adults would tell us not to listen, but of course we did. Warmly curled up in a pieced quilt and a heated flat iron to warm our feet and the sheets. The room lit by kerosene lamps.   We were so far out in the sticks in the coast range...  We could hear the cougars screaming at night and bounding onto the front porch chasing their dinner of deer or whatever was available…

 AND, then the dreaded urge or chore would come to go find more wood for the fire, more kerosene for the lamps, or water, or the outhouse.

AND, we would be told to go by ourselves.  We would plead that we were too scared and could not possibly go by ourselves.  Grandma would look amazed and tell us we were not alone because waterdog would protect us and be with us-- which actually worked. Waterdog was a magical talisman. I remember walking out chanting – waterdog, waterdog protect me now in my time of need!  I look back now and wonder how I could possibly have been so gullible to see and believe that waterdog could have protected us from cougars and other night terrors. But, then again, we also believed that waterdogs must be able or could shape shift and become Dragons and whatever. Water was one of the 4 elements of nature and we could control waterdog because he was our friend. My cousins and I had great philosophical and very rational discussions on just which powers and protections Waterdog offered as we tried to blend our often-confusing worlds...

Looking back they make almost as much sense as our beliefs in the protections of the modern world. We could be not allowed to read fiction only sneak books of fictions, and fairy tales were never allowed. So if it was in a book it must be true…

AND, of course, never discussed with the adults.

But then again, the book of Revolution was filled with Dragons and magical creatures...

And, then there is Waterdog…


"And He Who Tells a bigger tale will have to tell a lie." Quoted from Gramma who borrowed the quote from who knows where.