Archive for December, 2008

HNC Seminar Weekend Day 2

December 17, 2008



A Page from my sketchbook

Today each member of the class gives a presentation of their project work: ‘organics’. We each have about 15-20 minutes to explain to our colleagues and tutors the story of our project work. The sketchbook is the medium here for tracing progress from initial subject idea to the visual research and design development that informs each of the eight swatches most of us have chosen for our final presentation. Many of the class began their preparation well before the Autumn School began. Mark, for example, had focused on walled gardens prior to choosing a corn on the cob from Jane’s shopping basket when it was suggested that it would be difficult in the confines of the drawing studio to draw and paint a walled garden – from life! That said his restrained, almost minimalist collection of swatches was impressive.


Marina's Presentation

Known as the Group Crit, this exercise was most inspiring and highlighted the very different ways many of us had approached the project. Once the presentation was given each of the two tutors (for weaving and knitting) questioned the student, and then we were allowed our questions too. It was quite clear that some of us were already producing work that, in the right quarter, might hold commercial promise. The care and imagination present in many of the samples, and sketchbook recording of design development, made many of us think hard about what we had achieved. I know I came away thinking: I could have done a whole lot better than I did. There were so many gaps and shortcomings.

As a weaver I have to admit to being fascinated by the presentations of the knitters. Their integration of colour and design I found most inspiring. Much of their work was worlds away from what my mother used to do in front of the television! I am resolved to have a go with the needles this Christmas break. If my 12 year old daughter Meg can knit I reckon I must stand a chance.

One of the hardest things for me to do was decide a single image of each presentation for the inclusion in the gallery of yesterday’s blog. I did take photos of every piece and some example pages from sketchbooks. Class members reading this can find all this photos on my on-line gallery. If you feel my choice doesn’t do you justice please say so and I’ll change the image.

Definitely part of a collection

Definitely part of a collection

Overall there seemed to be two styles of presentation: one that was clearly a ‘collection’; the other a record of a journey of discovery, the process of development was evident. Those who produced the ‘collections’ had, by and large woven many, many samples and had gradually identified a common theme or style of execution. For myself the presentation as a record of a journey in steps of technical achievement and design thinking is where I am right now. I think it will be some time before I can view such presentations as collections.

Having taken up the whole morning with the Group  Crit. the rest of the day is devoted to the visual research element required by Project 2 and an introduction to ‘hand-manipulation in weaving’ in the workshop. Project 2 is quite a step further on than ‘organics’. It has no global theme as such, more an observation that ‘as a textile designer it is necessary to develop the ability to translate visual research and design development into original, exciting and innovative fabrics’. This notion of  aspiring to be a textile designer is gradually beginning to sink in for me. In truth, before I started this course, I had not understood just how remarkable textile design can be in summoning up place, period, season (and that’s just for starters). Textiles can reflect and amplify  aspects of architecture, the human body, the urban and the rural, tradition and innovation.

There are two components in the initial visual research that are new to us, the Mood Board and Market Research Board. Well, the first isn’t an entirely new concept because during the class visit to the full-time students’ studio on Day 1 of the course we encountered several good examples. Here’s one  Mood Board created by a 2nd year BA student. As to Market Research, this component  asks the student, for the first time, to begin to develop knowledge of end use and particular types of textile products produced across the industry. We are asked to focus on either a brand or a designer/maker and produce a board, which visually represents the images from the retailer or designer best suited to the type of fabrics we are intending to create. 

The last hour and half or so is spent in the workshop gaining an introduction to three techniques that requires hand-manipulation in the weaving process: Inlay, Rya and Leno. But more on these in the next blog!




HNC Seminar Weekend Day 1

December 13, 2008

After burning the candle at both ends of the day (and some patient help and advice from Susan and my assistant Phil for designing and printing the swatch labels) I managed to set off for Bradford on Friday morning with a finished presentation of my ‘organics’ project in a rather unwieldy A1 folder. Along the way I’ve learnt to darn, wash and finish my swatches, prepare their display on mount board (many thanks to Helen from the Craft Centre Gallery for the advice and ideas!), and gather all my digital images together to create a slideshow.

Sadly our lecture for the day – the second part of Unit 7 on textile technology – was cancelled due to the lecturer’s illness. Sad in many ways, but the compensation was that the class was able to have informal time to study each others presentations. Andrea gave us a run down on our next project (submission date February 20!). Pam Brooke very kindly stepped in to give some most generous time and advice to those planning their Historical and Contextutal Studies presentation. She  has also lent me an early edition of Ethel Mairet’s A Book on Vegetable Dyes hand-printed from the Ditchling Press – and probably quite valuable. It was about to be thrown in a skip by the College librarians! Nobody had taken it out for about 20 years . . .

During Andrea’s session some of the class did express personal concern about the recording and presentation of technical details. Jane quietly put us right, and when I looked at her own file of technical details later, her approach was exemplary and a model for us all. The solution: make up your own technical sheet on Exel.

I spent most of the free time available carefully looking at the detail of my colleagues presentations, particularly the many excellent accompanying sketchbooks. I have to say that for me the most interesting and impressive work on display came from the knitters, and their presentations were very much the tip of the iceberg of their collected work. As Bridget said: you can knit anywhere and once the pattern and design is established it can be quite straightforward to produce a series of experiments in a single evening.

For once I’ll cut the descriptive text and simply present below a gallery selection of images from presentations and sketches. During Day 2 I’ll gather some comments to attach to each image. A more extensive collection of images can be found in the Organics album on my on-line gallery here.

Two Further Days in the Workshop

December 11, 2008

It snowed in West Yorkshire early on the on the day I usual visit the workshop. The trains were running, the sun was shining, but in Bradford it was all too much and the College decided at 4.0am to shut up shop for the coming day. The staff had been warned by e-mail the evening before (to look on the college website), but not the students. So I turned up . . . and had to turn back. I decided that this really had to be the day I would bite the bullet and put a warp on my own recently acquired loom. Because I can only devote one day a week to weaving, and that’s my day in the college workshop, my own loom has been languishing unwarped. I’d had a batch of white linen warps wound and hanging up ready to go on, but seemingly no proper space of time to do it. Also, I was uncertain which way I would eventually decide to dress the loom, front to back (the way I had been taught initially, or back to front (what the College course expects). In the end there was no contest – it was front to back, and with a longer distance from cross to the ‘top’ end of my wound warp chain the cross seemed to sit perfectly in the hand and the threads appeared in perfect order one on top of each other. My only unresolved business is to make a proper header. The one in the photo is temporary to enable me to see any mistakes (there were a couple of mis-threadings).

First Warp on my Toika Loom

First Warp on my Toika Loom

Missing a day has meant two visits to the workshop this week – in preparation for the first project ‘hand in’ on December 13. I had two remaining swatches to complete and already had worked out roughly what I was going to do in both of them: #5 would be focused on herringbone patterns using a variety of different yarn thicknesses; #6 would include the crepe pattern, some further blocks (see swatch #3) and a weave block with spaces between weft picks. With both these swatches I wanted to introduce some neutral coloured yarn to offset the relatively strong colours (greens, yellow, orange and red) I have been using throughout this project. 

Swatch #5 - Herringbone Patterns

Swatch #5 - Herringbone Patterns

Swatch #5 brings in a new ‘fern’ colour – mustard. This is very evident in my pictures of dying ferns and blends well with the orange/red of the sporangia on the fern leaf and thick Z twist yellow wool yarn I’d chosen to dominate this swatch. In the opening layers of this swatch I have hidden the effect of the herringbone pattern by using not only mixtures of colour but mixtures of thickness. I also started introducing a neutral colour in the form of a very thin William Ross linen and cotton mix, essentially two very thin yarns that were only loosely twisted together. Although this yarn was difficult to weave the ‘loose’ effect mixed with a dark green cotton in the pointed diamond herringbone pattern brings a lot of movement to the centre layer of the swatch. The swatch opens with a 4-shaft herringbone pattern that I made into an 8-shaft pattern by mirroring the original. The final layer using only the thick yellows inverts the pointed herringbone to produce a weft rather than warp-faced pattern.

Swatch #6 - off the loom

Swatch #6 - off the loom

In Swatch #6 my intention was to create a piece entirely with blocks. I wanted to feel comfortable with this technique which I’ve so admired in many of the Bauhaus weavers’ designs. That said, I realised there were two outstanding techniques I needed to include in my swatch series: creating a very loose weave with gaps (a technique I’ve admired in some of Ethel Mairet’s work) and finding a way to use the crepe pattern. This inclusion means that my swatches as a whole employ all the recommended patterns for the project except for twill, which I’ve purposely avoided as unsuitable for my rendering of my chosen organic subject. I prepared initially for a block piece by selecting 8 different green yarns and winding them onto the quills I would use to weave with. I’d planned to do rows of four different colours. In the end I’ve produced a 4, 3,2 arrangement of blocks with uneven displaced zig-zag joins between colours. I’ve contrasted this with a very pale yellow linen and the neutral colour introduced in Swatch #5. All the blocks and the yellow ‘spaced’ pattern have been woven using a pattern I can’t find a reference to! It’s a 4-shaft pattern (14, 23) that I chose to allow me space to work easily with the quills in making blocks. This time creating blocks seemed to go really well, and even managing yarns with different thickness too. This meant when working with the thinish lemon green yarn that for every one pick of the other greens the lemon green needed two, making a kind of rib effect. The resulting mix of patterns is interesting and might be worth pursuing on a large piece.

So that’s it for the weaving part of the first project for the Autumn Block. I now have to ‘finish’ these swatches off the loom: darning the loose ends (I have a tutorial with Susan who is an expert needle woman – her mother taught the subject!), lightly washing the swatches in warm water, possibly with a handwash liquid soap, then steaming and ironing dry. Then it’s ironing on to the reverse of the plain-weave sections between the swatches pieces of Vilene to prevent fraying of the warp/weft ends. I then have to ‘present’ the work on a mounting board in as professional and imaginative a manner as I can! Everything has to be correctly labelled and referenced to pages of technical details that are required to accompany each swatch.

There’s a little matter of a report / essay for Unit 7 Materials – Understanding Fibres, Yarns and Fabrics. Here I’ve put together the blog from Day 4 of the Autumn Block course with a kind of commentary on how I’ve responded to this input and developed my knowledge and understanding in the following 2 months. You can read this commentary in the Pages section of this blog.

Finally, two extras to this weaving work. I had the friendliest letter from linen weaver/designer Alison Morton who I had met at the Manchester Conference at the end of November. She included in her letter a short essay about her approach to weaving with linen and a batch of photographs showing the range and distinction of her work. I’ve included a quote from her essay in my commentary I mention above.

Rug by Mona Cunnigham

Rug by Mona Cunningham

The other ‘extra’ was visiting Bedazzled – a really varied Christmas show at the Yorkshire Craft Centre Gallery. This is a show bringing together mainly the work of past students as well as other established craft makers and designers known to the College. I loved Richard Wilson’s ceramics and having rarely bought anything in this area of craft could imagine living with his beautifully coloured pieces. There’s an impressive rug by former student Mona Callander that takes the Bauhaus block principle into new territory – beautifully executed. I know I’m going back to buy one of the digital prints on fabric by Amanda Ross – there are two assemblages of Canadian ferns I reckon I should give a home to. Helen Farrar’s imaginative jewellery has probably provided my Christmas present solution for my thirty-something daughters. The colours she works with have a ‘wear with anything’ quality.


All Six Swatches in a Single Piece


Cloth & Culture NOW Conference

December 3, 2008

The Cloth & Culture NOW exhibition has reached Manchester’s Whitworth Art Gallery. Part of Manchester University, this gallery houses the North of England’s major permanent collection of textile art. It was my first visit despite the Royal Northern College of Music being almost next door. C & C NOW’s curator Prof. Leslie Millar had organised a conference  titled Sense of Place: art and the construction of identity. The programme was a lively mix of exhibiting textile artists, a number of prominent UK academics, a curator from Latvia and as a lively coda a Dutch artist with a passion for gingham!

A Puppet Show by Sandor Nagy

A Puppet Show by Sandor Nagy

First off was Dr Jeremy Howard from St Andrew’s University who presented a paper titled Embroidering the Truth. Focusing on the early years of the 20C he pointed out how fine artists had moved into textile design as a way of articulating the notions of nationalism and cultural identity surfacing in many European countries. Unlike some of the other speakers at the conference he chose the minimum of images and showed them to the maximum of effect. I found afterwards I could actually remember many of them – not so with most of the other presentations. A lesson here surely for our forthcoming Historical and Contextual Studies presentations in May. After an effective survey of European movements he landed on his own special interest in the Gödöllö cultural community in Hungary with its weaving school established by Istvan Medgyaszay in 1907 and its major textile artist of the Hungarian Art Nouveau Sandor Nagy. The Gödöllö community had very similar preoccupations to the Chipping Camden craftspeople of C.R.Ashbee’s Guild with its emphasis on the whole (good and healthy) life of its craftsmen and women. Sadly Gödöllö as a community only lasted until the early 1920s but it had many influential ‘friends’ and visitors including composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, and was clearly a precursor of the weaving studio of the Bauhaus.

Dyed Batik by Mary Lloyd Jones

Dyed Batik by Mary Lloyd Jones

Next up was an intriguing paper by Dr Moira Vincentelli from the University of Aberystwyth. Talking about ‘Cloth, Clay and Identity in Wales’ she again chose her images with care and restraint. She ranged over nearly 200 years of traditional practice in craft making: pottery, costume, quilting, tapestry and batik. Recent practice was certainly the most interesting part of her presentation: Lowri Davies with her take on the traditional Welsh lady in costume souvenir; Audrey Walker’s community tapestries in Fishguard celebrating the rout of French invaders and her Mondrian-like This is an Apple confection; the 7th generation potter Caitlin Jones use of scripts. She finished with a discussion of Mary Lloyd Jones an artist lately come to textiles who paints with dye. Her large-scale hangings feature at the National Museum in Cardiff and often incorporate the script and language of folk tales.

Before lunch Prof. Leslie Millar invited two of the exhibition’s artists from the Baltic countries Estonia and Lithuania to introduce their work and engage in a conversation. Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene and Kadri Viires were both reticent and almost inaudible speakers who needed serious stage managing (which they didn’t get) to bring out the best in their creative stories and presentations. Both artists clearly had original and singular ideas but seemed overwhelmed by the occasion. Better to hear them speak in their own language with a passion and intent than struggle to answer difficult questions. An opportunity lost.

Linen Hand Towels by Alison Morton

Linen Hand Towels by Alison Morton

Lunch was welcome, but the time left after the last session running over made it difficult to make the most of meeting some of the celebrated delegates. These included Alison Morton who is one of the great names of craft handweaving in the UK. I only managed to talk with her at any length on the bus to the station after the conference had ended. The Whitworth are currently preparing an exhibition of her father’s work. Alistair Morton was a student of Ethel Mairet and was a celebrated painter as well as a designer weaver. His family owned  Edinburgh Weavers, a company that according to Mairet’s biograher Margot Combes ‘successfully combined art and Industry’. Morton was close friends with Ben Nicholson and Barbara Hepworth, though his paintings resemble the abstract work of Winifred Nicholson. Alison I discovered still weaves (beautiful linen work) on Ethel Mairet’s Danish Lervad loom.

In the afternoon session Professor Anne Douglas talk on ‘co-creation and improvisation as a way of working with traditional culture’ was hit by almost every technological gremlin going. So much so that her talk only presented a glimmer of what I discovered later on her excellent websites was a great story with some inspirational outcomes (that included an opera for singers and knitters). I recommend spending time looking at the web presentation of her Shetland Island On the Edge project of 2003 titled Maakin. Wonderfully evocative photos and great ideas. The funding to make such a thing happen must have been truly  awesome!

Velta Raudzepa from the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design in Riga, Latvia came with a vast collection of slides and long historical survey of textile art across two centuries. The centre of interest was clearly the Soviet era and the many references to its legacy since independence the early 1990s. Textile art is a force to be reckoned with in Latvia as some of the websites of designer weavers demonstrate. The Latvian government promotes the art form widely in touring exhibitions internationally.

The conference ended on a lighter note – a thoroughly engaging presentation by Dutch artist Yvonne Droge Wendel on her project Universal Pattern. Her website from which she took copious examples says it all – gingham is everywhere and owned by every culture and society. Similarities with Sue Lawty’s World Beach Project (see my earlier blog in November) abound – there are photos of that red and white check from everywhere you can imagine. I was waiting for that picture of Alaska’s celebrated ‘hockey mom’ wearing it, but she didn’t included it. Shame!