Two Further Days in the Workshop

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



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