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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.