Archive for October, 2008

Another Day in the Workshop

October 28, 2008

My second full day in the college workshop started an hour and half later than I’d hoped. I sat in train outside Leeds station whilst its driver attempted to unlock the brakes! Fortunately I had a book with me, which I wrestled with against the noise and vibration of this stationary train. City of Tomorrow by Le Corbusier was published in the 1920s. It is a strange fantasy of a book underpinned by diagrams and maps of ancient cities. Corbusier’s style is acutely personal, often very long-winded, but with a charm, an innocence almost. In plain language he takes the reader from the wandering here and there curves and peregrinations of the pack horse to the need for the straight-line thinking of contemporary planning. What fascinates me about architects is their ability to think on a big scale, to project their thoughts across space, and in Corbusier’s case across a whole city (something composers should aspire to across time). Like so much of Will Alsop’s work, which I have studied, there is such poetry present in Corbusier’s thinking. I think I should not miss this current exhibition in the Lutyen’s designed crypt of Liverpool Cathedral.

Organic Sketch (First Swatch)

Organic Sketch (First Swatch)

Until lunch I worked on my ‘organic’ piece. I made a sketch in watercolour of what I considered to be my first swatch. This contains a preliminary weaving of the warp yarns as weft and then progresses through the colour analysis I made of the fern collage (now placed on a board at the back of my loom). The sketch made onto squared paper gives some indication of the proportion of colour content and usage. It was a very useful exercise as it made me focus on each colour and its position and effect on the woven area.

Curved Weft

Curved Weft

Having made this sketch I decided to add a final layer of weft in yellow, a kind a mirror image to a layer of red. The layer in red has been woven with a progressively looser beat and produces a nice curve. The new layer in yellow/orange starts loose and then becomes more compressed: the result has something of the flow of leaf fronds on a fern and offers some interesting possibilities, perhaps on a larger scale

The next stage was to move towards what might be more rigorously influenced by the structure and play of colour and texture of the fern itself. I decided to adopt a pattern that would emphasize the colours

Sateen Pattern

Sateen Pattern

 and line of the weft. I focused now on just one ‘frond’ of my collage, using just two of its principle colours. With a Sateen weave the play of yellow with green begins to approach something of the texture I feel is present in my collage. Notice how I’ve doubled the picks in yellow in the latter part of the woven pattern. This is something I find myself doing more and more often, and not just doubling but multiplying 2, 3, 4 times even.

 

Andrea's Draft

Click on the image to read Anthea's Draft

After lunch I put this work aside to make another warp and put it on the loom. A re-run of last week, but with as little help as possible. Graham is busy preparing looms for the HNC Year 2 3-day block starting tomorrow. When I arrived this morning Andrea was writing a draft for a piece in double weave using the 16 shafts of a Louet computer-assisted loom. It was intriguing being able to see how Graham interpreted this draft on the loom. He kindly showed me the various stages of its preparation. As for my own attempts, I found a fairly slack wool warp yarn, a little thicker than last week’s cotton yarn. I made a warp of 72 (plus 2) ends and after a few difficult moments did manage to chain the warp successfully. After last week’s session I did create a flow chart to illustrate my photographs of putting the warp on the loom . . . but I have yet to process the photos on a single page . . . all I had with me was the descriptions! Nevertheless I only had to ask Graham a couple of times to ‘look’ at what I was doing, rather than ask him to intervene! Gradually the process is becoming clearer, indeed self-evident. It was only in the final stages that fatigue got the better of me and a few mistakes were made (and had to be undone!).

Outside the workshop I have spent a little time getting to grips with painting in goache. This does seem to be the favoured medium of many weaver / designers. I did find a helpful introduction to goache in the college library. A little instruction in this medium during our initial ‘painting’ day would have gone a long way for me. Watercolour I reckon most of the class were familiar with, but not goache. There is certainly something to be said for combining the two: watercolour for larger, broader areas and goache for the finer points.

I can’t seem to go outside into my local park or walk past a garden without looking out for ferns. I noticed that my next-door neighbour has a beautiful clump visable from my backdoor step. I must photograph or draw these ferns as they are just beginning to turn away from green to gold. My dear wife arrived back from a trip the other day with a tiny pot of ferns for my desk. I am resolved to do many more drawings and painting, and really have no excuse. I can see that such activity will help towards discovering ways to express variety in shape and texture that I really need to develop a play of different ideas for these eight woven swatches required by mid December.

Ethel Mairet fabric

Ethel Mairet fabric

I have started looking very keenly now at just one piece of fabric by Ethel Mairet. This image (sadly not available from the Crafts Study Centre archive) shows in the background a dress fabric in machine-spun, dyed and undyed Welsh wool weft on dyed cotton. In the foreground a scarf machine-spun, cotton slub and undyed chenille weft on a machine-spun dyed cotton warp; plain weave, spaced reeding, fringed ends. I was intrigued to see what the selvedge ends reveal.

Over the last week Radio 3 has been focusing its nightly programme The Essay on the Arts & Crafts Movement. At the beginning of the week there were two excellent broadcast by Fiona MacCarthy whose recent book on Edward Carpenter has been enthusiastically reviewed in Guardian. Her first essay discussed the work of C.R.Ashbee who formed the Handicrafts Guild in London in the early 1900s and then moved this entire community of over a hundred craftsmen and their families down to the rural Eden of Chipping Camden in Gloucestershire, just a few miles from Ethel Mairet’s home at the Norman Chapel at Broad Camden. It was a most illuminating programme altogether and made me want to go out and find MacCarthy’s various books about this period. Ashbee and his wife Janet were close friends of Ethel Mairet’s whose brother the potter Fred Partridge joined the Guild in 1902 as a jeweller.

The series progressed to discuss many of Mairet’s circle, but in the last two programmes focused on studio potters nearer our time, Michael Cardew and Lucie Rie. The former, the father of composer Cornelius Cardew, moving his craft practice into Africa, the latter a refugee from Vienna who established one of the most successful urban pottery studios in London in the 1930s. This last programme was an important reminder that craft does not have to belong exclusively to rural life, something I’ve already begun to consider as I look out from my studio window at the roofs of the city of Wakefield.

A Day in the Workshop

October 19, 2008

 

A wider play of colour

A wider play of colour

Just over a week later I’m back for a day in the Textile Workshop. I’m here to do two things: make a little progress with my ‘organic’ project; put another warp on a loom. With the former I want to move gradually though the colours I have extracted from my studies of ferns and bracken, to try out the different yarns I’ve brought together and experiment with some possible patterns. Practising the latter, being comfortable with winding a warp and dressing a loom, is for me so really vital. I need to be able to do this confidently, on my own, without tears! I’ve negotiated this workshop visit with Graham, the workshop technician, who was so very helpful  during the Autumn Block sessions.

When I arrive I explain my intentions: to wind a short warp, put it on the loom and weave a header during an afternoon. I tell him I reckon I may need to do this several times over several weeks. This week I know I’ll need his help, so we’ve chosen a day when he hasn’t that many other students in the workshop. I plan to document what we do very carefully with photos and blow by blow instructions. If this seems like overkill I must explain: the method of ‘warping’ that the HNC course promotes is the European approach, that is dressing the loom from ‘back to front’. I was taught the American way, that is ‘front to back’. During the autumn course, although I was warned I’d be introduced to a different method, it was not the best time for me to learn it (and absorb it). So this is why I’m here today – to practise warping the European way . . . and then I can make an informed choice as to which might be the best approach for me.

An afternoon warp

An afternoon warp

To anyone reading this who has never done this warping task let me tell you it is the fundamental business of the weaver to learn and master this process. Within it lies the essence of the woven work. It’s like being both an architect and contractor designing the building and then mixing the cement to lay its foundations. One day someone will write a book called Zen and the Art of Dressing a Loom, or the Tao of Warping, even the Inner Game of Weaving, because in the short time I’ve exposed myself to this challenge I recognize it demands things of me that makes learning a guitar concerto or writing a complex computer programme but a walk in the park. I’ve spent many hours lying awake at night running through the minutiae of each move of the warping process. No matter how carefully I read the many (different) published descriptions or study my own notes, drawing and photographs, there is always something I seem to miss, or extra to remember for the next time.

But for now what I want to do is to discuss the differences  between the European and American methods: to share something that (it appears) not that many European weavers seem to know. Suffice to say, I did achieve the objective I set for myself, mainly thanks to Graham’s help and patience. But I’ll be back again next Thursday to do exactly the same task again, aiming this time to be as independent as I possibly can be.

Ready to Sley (Front to Back)

Ready to Sley

So how do you warp from the front? Well, you are going to sley the reed first! Putting your chained warp ready on the loom for this process as you can see in this illustration. It must look so strange to the uninitiated, but let me explain. What the photo doesn’t show is the cross. It’s sitting on top of the reed, but it’s about to be removed and placed ‘in the hand’. There’s no need for cross-sticks (although some US weavers use them) or the raddle. The one drawback I immediately discovered is once the cross is ‘in the hand’ you can’t go off and see to a demanding child, make a pot of tea or answer the door! But it is so very direct, and I discover from Graham that commerical weavers use a variation of this technique, sometimes holding a warp ‘cross’ in each hand . . . but this is quite beyond my imagining. Let’s look next at this ‘cross placed in your hand’. The illustration below I hope gives some idea of what it’s like.

A cross in the hand

A cross in the hand

Here are  the blow by blow instructions to unpicking the cross and sleying the reed from Debbie Chandler’s wonderful Learning to Weave, one of the few books to explain this method. When the cross is in your left hand the threads are literally stacked on top of each other. You open your hand a little to pick off the thread on the top, closing your hand quickly to keep the rest of the threads in place. Then you fold the thread to make a loop at the end and place the loop between your left thumb and index finger. Then with your right hand, insert the sley hook through the chosen dent in the reed. And so on . . . I should say that Chandler does describe BOTH methods and a hybrid one of her own.

Once the reed is sleyed the warp ends are pulled through the heddles from the back of the loom and tied in bunches to the back apron rod or batten. Then you are ready to beam and comb out the warp. of course the front part of the warp is now coming unchained and being pulled through reed and heddles and will eventually need tying on the front apron rod.

Hand on heart I managed to do this mostly by myself after being shown once, though I do have to admit finding the business of getting the cross threads stacked properly in the hand more than a little scary. I had one terrible Sunday afternoon with a chenille warp that went completely and utterly wrong the moment I attempted to put it on the loom . . . and I remember e-mailing my long-suffering teacher in some despair. But after that I haven’t looked back.

Finally, having looked again at the beautiful illustrations of Ethel Mairet’s woven work in Margot Coates book A Weaver’s Life I discover these images come from the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham. The Centre has unique on-line resources for crafts and the applied arts. One such resource enables you to collect together a ‘light-box’ of the images you want to study and bring them together on a single web page. From  this page you can then explore each image in detail, enlarging it and reading the curator’s interpretation. All the images can be downloaded without copyright restrictions for academic presentations and research studies. Highly Recommended! Here is my light-box of images from the Mairet Collection.

HNC – Autumn Block – Day 9

October 10, 2008

The final day of the first block of the course has arrived. The class continues to weave on in the workshop, but there’s an air of gathering work together and drawing particular ideas to a close. Graham our wonderful technician has been busy since 8.0am running of cones off yarn for class members to take home. Living reasonably close I’ve decided to continue my work here at the workshop at least one day a week. This means I can concentrate fully for a whole day without interruptions that will inevitably occur back at my studio/office.

My own woven work is gradually moving towards exploring the full palette of the colours I have selected. But matching yarn texture to yarn pattern to colour is quite another matter, and I suppose the very essence of creative weaving. For now experimentation is enough and the opportunity to weave carefully and fluently so valuable.

Satin and Sateen Weave (with Honeycomb)

Satin and Sateen Weave (with Honeycomb)

During the morning our tutor Andrea continues to give short demonstrations to small groups of us at her loom. She shows us Satin and Sateen weaves, both popular with designer weavers. Satin weave stresses and reinforces the warp, Sateen weave the weft. These weaves make use of long ‘floats’, that is a piece of yarn that floats across the weave structure in either warp or weft. Both weaves benefit from being woven on looms with more than 4 shafts. Andrea also demonstrates Honeycomb structures which are particularly distinctive when used with certain yarns in making a 3-D effect. I remember seeing a whole book devoted to Honeycomb weaving in one of the US university on-line weaving archives, the most extensive being at Penn State and Arizona. The following link takes you to a PDF of a  book on Honeycomb patterns  published in 1936 listed at Penn, but held in Arizona.

Example of a Project Display

Before lunch we sit down with Andrea and go through the Course Handbook, which we now get a copy of. We also receive a visit from Colin Lloyd, the curriculum team leader and the HE level academic course manager. He gives us a valuable insight into how our course is perceived by the examination and validation body Leeds Metropolitan University. Our external examiner is Victoria Down. We are reminded that we are following a course using ‘blended learning’ that encourages a particular focus on independent learning and study; we should aim to ‘own’ our individual learning and to some extent our programme of study. There is an expectation of diverse outcomes and  no attempt to hold up a ‘house style’. Contact with our tutors is encouraged and there are set times when they are available to us over the phone.

Example from a Project Sketch Book

Example from a Project Sketch Book

After lunch we have a short session together on the presentation we will have to give on our first project ‘organics’. We get to see a number of examples of past student work and are encouraged to adopt some of the techniques in our own practice. During the December 3-day session we will be presenting to each other and to the tutor a visual display of our work and a sketchbook containing the ‘story’ behind the display: our notes, loom plans, sketches, and research. By 3.0pm people are packing up to go home, many embarking on long journeys. I stay on for an hour or so to weave to a point that seems a sensible place to put a ‘comma’ in my work.

Laura's Work

Part of Laura's Work

My weaving partners on either side of me at the workshop get ready to go: Laura (from Italy, but currently living in a remote part of Southern Ireland) tells me as she takes her woven piece off her loom about her experience of attending a weaving school in Finland. She has even visited the Toika factory that built my loom (and hers); Mark (a doctor from the west country) is taking his loom home and a box full of beautiful yarns he selected from colours found in a corn on the cob!

 

Mark's Work on the Loom

Mark's Work on the Loom

Before I leave I complete a final plan of my woven piece so far, noting the different weaves and the yarns used. I also wind onto a oblong piece of card the yarns I’ve used in sequence so I have a visual and tactile reference to put on my desk at home. It’s certainly been a fascinating and thoroughly engrossing 9 days, that I must now go home an absorb. For me I’ve felt the course achieved a most successful balance of learning weaving techniques and opportunities for observation along with studio-based practical art and design work and getting an introduction to the technology and historical and contextual aspects that surround textiles in general. It’s made me think about where I might go with something that started just five months ago as an getting away from it all interest and has now become very much part of the pattern of my creative thoughts and ideas.

The photos that illustrate this blog are just a selection from a much larger archive. If the reader would like to explore further go to my on-line gallery of images covering the first 9 days of the Bradford HNC course.

HNC – Autumn Block – Day 8

October 9, 2008

 

Ready to Sley the Reed

Ready to Sley the Reed

Today finds the class back in the workshop for a final full day of weaving. I’m still rather behind in my progress towards dressing my loom, but I find myself setting about the process of completing this with a will (!) and some welcome help from Andrea and Graham. I start the day at the point where my warp ends are now through the heddles and ready to be sleyed through the reed. After some difficulty Andrea and I find an 6 dent reed, which means that two warps will have to fill each dent.

 

Holding 8 threads in the hand

Holding 8 threads in the hand

Sleying the reed requires the weaver to pick out and hold in one hand 4 ends (or in my case 4 pairs of ends). Each pair is then grabbed by the sleying hook and pulled through the appropriate dent in the reed. Once this is done for the whole warp the ends can be tied to the front beam. Now the weaving itself can begin. The process starts with a few weft picks (passes of a shuttle horizontally across the warp) of a header of thick yarns (I choose a colour far away from my own scheme). Then after a preliminary few picks of a very thin grass green woollen yarn I weave a pattern using the warp yarns. Having never woven on an 8 shaft loom it takes me a little while to get to grips with the draft plan provided on the example sheets of patterns.

Tied on with a header

Tied on with a header

I concentrate on plain weave, hopsack and some different arrangements of ribs and plain weave combinations. These names describe arrangements, combinations and sequences of shafts for each weft pick. The shafts pull the heddles up to make an shed under which the pick passes. These combinations can be something like this: here’s hopsack 12 56  I  12  56  I  34  78  I  34  78  I. The problem I encounter is keeping track of where I am in a sequence. The basic Hopsack is easy, but the more complex patterns can be helped by following a tick chart, which I pick up as a method from some of the more experienced weavers in the class.

Colours from the Collage

Colours from the Collage

Having got started with weaving the warp yarns in the weft I begin to examine the colour analysis I made from my collage and pick out some of the yarns I’ve collected in the workshop and bought at Texere. I concentrate first on building a progression from greens to yellows weaving an inch or so of colour with a different weaves to see how colour is affected by weave and vice versa. I also make sure I pin up my collage and colour analysis (plus one of my surviving ferns) on a strategically placed display board at the back of my loom.

 

My repair!

My repair!

Throughout the day our tutor Andrea gives demonstrations on her own loom. One of these is particularly valuable to me because it shows how to change a warp yarn in mid weave. Sometimes a warp thread can break, or in my case I discover I’ve ‘missed’ sleying one of a pair of warp yarns. I’ve read about this process, but never attempted it, so I’m very grateful to see it done in front of my eyes (and on my loom too). Clearly there are some very creative possibilities in this practice, but I imagine it will be a while before I dare try it.

 

A Valuable Demonstration

A Valuable Demonstration

By now most of the class are weaving some pretty impressive pieces, some experimenting like mad, which is one of the great opportunities this course offers. I find myself making reference to some of the woven pieces I’ve seen in the book about the work of Ethel Mairet I managed to read on my train journey last night and this morning. Such simplicity of weaving pattern offset by some very striking vegetable-dyed yarn. Nothing like this available for me here, either on the workshop shelves or at Texere. Dyeing is something I’ll have to wait until next year to explore. That said, I might be tempted to ask Jan Hicks. Jan is one of the  studio artists from Farfield Mill in Cumbria where I received my introduction to weaving back in April this year. 

My Chosen Yarns

Tomorrow will be the final day of the Autumn Block of 9 days at Bradford College. It will be a shortish day as many of the class will be traveling home, some traveling as far as Southern Ireland and Cornwall. We’ll stay for the morning in the workshop and hopefully get a few hours of weaving. To finish we’ll have a final round of information to take in about our first ‘organic’ project and the all-important course and project requirements. This is to make sure we can confidently present the outcome of our first assessed project when we meet in December for our first weekend ‘block’.

 

 

 

 

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