Archive for January, 2009

Drawing and Weaving

January 27, 2009
To and Fro

To and Fro

I feel this week that I have begun to get the measure of what I have to do for Project 2 Hand Crafted Textiles. With just under a month to complete all the work required for this project I’ve returned several times to the four pages of the project brief for clarification. Slowly it’s sinking in! For me the challenge is choosing areas that enable me to ‘develop the ability to translate visual research and design development into original, exciting and innovative fabrics’. Visual Research seems the the key component of this process, and having chosen the world of 20C painter Winifred Nicholson as my subject I’m already on my way towards a portfolio of drawings and design development that is beginning to contribute to Fabric Realisation. Last week I began analysing a Nicholson abstract from the 1930s, using that picture to inform my choice of colours, yarns and hand-manipulation techniques. This week I’ve continued to focus on the same image, but taking two components of the image that I didn’t do justice to previously. 

The first component is the series of black diagonal lines that cross the picture. This seemed a great opportunity for inlay. I had to make a pattern first on squared paper and then carefully follow it! The angle across the weft wasn’t quite what I’d hoped for, but it worked after a fashion. Using a black linen yarn there’s an interesting irregular width to the lines – that I like.

Diagonal Inlay

Diagonal Inlay

The second component is the square tilted on its side at 45 degrees. After much searching I found two yarns that colourwise I felt much happier with as reflecting Nicholson’s original colours in her picture. The background ‘cardboard brown’, just the colour of the cardboard bookmarks we use in the studio to do yarn wrappings, is pretty close, and in linen. The white, described as ‘natural szx’ is an Anais Final 12 80% acryl/polyacryl and 20% viscose, I’m using for the inlay. I decided to experiment on this swatch with what I understand to be overshot, a technique popular in the USA. Here is Ann Sutton’s description (from The Structure of Weaving): ‘Sometimes a thread will weave into the base fabric for a short distance, float on the reverse of the cloth, and also on the face of the cloth. When floats are in the weft this is the basis of the huge family of weaves long known to handweavers as overshot patterns’. And later . . . ‘In most overshot patterns, a plain weave ground pick (of the same yarn or thickness as the warp) must be inserted in between each pattern pick (1 and 3, 2 and 4, alternately in all cases). Both plain weaves can be inserted if neccessary to elongate the pattern’.

A Kind of Overshot

A Kind of Overshot

Well. my approach to this is a little unorthodox (don’t look too closely at the photo!), but I got the idea, and for me, with a four shaft loom, Overshot is a particularly good medium to explore. My first teacher introduced me to Overshot through Ann Sutton’s book (see above) and rummaging in her studio box of examples she’d woven as a fledgeling weaver produced the most beautifully executed table mat to a traditional design in Overshot (‘woven as a gift for my mother-in-law’ I remember her saying with a twinkle in her eye). These two swatches took most of my weaving time in the workshop and made up what I felt to be a useful day.

Cyclamen & Primula (1923) Kettles Yard Cambridge

Cyclamen & Primula (1923) Kettles Yard Cambridge

The afternoon previously I found a couple of hours to do some drawing. I decided to begin my Visual Realisation work proper by going to what I regard as the signature image of Winifred Nicholson: a still life in front of a window with a view. Throughout her long life she returned again and again to this subject, but her most well known piece, painted in Italy in the 1920s, I’ve long loved and admired. It’s in Kettles Yard, Cambridge where I had the privilege of being Kettles Yard Fellow in 1985 – wonderful to have your office in house with a ‘real’ Picasso in the loo! I went out and bought a little cyclamen and placed on it my table: it is such a fragile flower. Nicholson left her flowers in their white tissue wrappings, containing somehow the delicate flowers and strong green leaves within a cocoon of shapes both flowing and angular, perfectly complementing the mountain landscape in the distance. My landscape is a roofscape of Wakefield, looking out towards the Town Hall clock. I didn’t have another appropriate plant, so I chose a bowl of fruit. But first I drew the cyclamen on its own: two drawings, the second a small detail of the first. I photocopied the first drawing several times ready for my next experiment. Wonderful how a photocopy can sharpen up a drawing!

Next I found some red tissue paper and wrapped the cyclamen. My idea was to paint a transparent wash across the photocopied drawing, and do it several times and with several colours, each time moving the wrapped shape around the cyclamen so that the tissue shape in relation to the plant changed. Here’s an example of my efforts. This I like very much and I’m looking forward to exploring some way of representing this on a woven piece.

Cyclamen in paper

Cyclamen in paper

The next step was to take out the camera and photograph the wrapped cyclamen in situ on a window (with a view) and a bowl of fruit. At the end of this blog you can see one of my close up images (see the rest on my on-line gallery). These gave me some lively ideas about collage. Painted tissue paper seems high on my list of possibilities here. All in all I felt this was a promising start to my Visual Realisation and I’m looking forward to my next opportunity to spend time on this kind of work.

Wrapped Cyclamen

Wrapped Cyclamen

This brings me to Design Development. In some respects I’ve already begun this work alongside the experimental swatches I’ve been making that illustrate hand-manipulation techniques.I am assembling a palette of colours drawn from analysis of Nicholson’s work. This is fuelling already ideas about their potential for textile design. I’ve got to start this ‘conversation with myself’ (recommended in the project brief). What better place to do that than in this blog, which I intend to start next week.

As for Market Research and Mood Boards (part of the unit on Visual Communication) we are required to choose either fashion or interiors and focus on one or two brands / designers ‘which best fit the type of fabrics we will be producing. After some research I’ve decided to look at the work of two Welsh textile designer/makers: Laura Thomas and Cefyn Burgess. Next week I hope to begin my on-line discussion of their work. I’ve already received a more than generous letter from Laura allowing me to use images from her website. I should warn my college tutor that I am considering producing my ‘market research board’ and possibly the required ‘mood’ board as an on-line presentation. 

Finally, I’d like to share a design from one of my colleagues on the Bradford course. During the December weekend we met up to show our work I ‘snapped’ this woven piece in a collection of woven examples not included in this student’s presentation. I was intrigued enough by it to write to her and ask for the pattern, which she has kindly sent. here it is:

Anneli's Herringbone Piece

Anneli's Herringbone Piece

Hej Nigel,

This is when a loomchart would come in handy, but as I am not at all confident about it I will ‘talk’ you throgh the process and hope it will be clear enough fot you to understand.

The weaves are  plain weave ( I call it tabby, aparently that is american), 2/2 twill and hopsack.

1.  5 ends of tabby ( I don’t cut the yarn here but keep it aside and weave in the end once to keep it ‘running along’ until you need it again after the first twill bit)

2.  The Herringbone Twill –  lift heddles 1+2, 2+3, 3+4, 4+5, 5+6, 6+7, 7+8. This completes one run and the diagnal carries on if you want it to.   Do four rows of tabby or whatever you fancy, and to get herringbone effect, you now reverse and weave  7+6, 6+5 etc  and after 1+2 complete with a few rows 
of tabby, I did 10 or 12.

3.  The Hopsack – This is so simple and effective, I like it a lot. Lift 1+2, 5+6 and weave two ends  ( or more) in the same shed, securing the yarn on the shuttle around the selvedge threads.   I did two and then two ends with the background yarn after having lifted the heddles that were down before,  that was 3+4 and 7+8.  Then more tabby and so on.

The blue yarn is cotton, sort of merserised I think, and quite thick by comparison to the warp, also cotton.

Good luck then – I’ll look forward to seeing the result !    Anneli
         

A final cyclamen - in close up

A final cyclamen - in close up

 


          

 

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Back in the Workshop (2009)

January 19, 2009
shop_charity_shop_formby_opened_by_radio_star_billy_butler

Colour Coded Charity

With only just over a month before the ‘crit date’ for Project 2 (Hand Crafted Textiles) I had only made up my mind last week as to the content of my proposed visual research. I had toyed with the idea of ‘charity shops’ until I realised that I might have trouble defending this area as a cultural artefact! There are eight charity shops in Wakefield. All of them have very distinctive logos using a maximum of three colours, and several shops organise clothes on display by colour, not by size. I had (stupid?) ideas about designing a range of woven bags or tea cloths  associated with the visual design message of these (mostly) national charities. 

Cineraria and Cyclamen 1927

Cineraria and Cyclamen 1927

As the first workshop day of 2009 approached I realised I had to be more pragmatic and choose something a little closer to the letter of the project expectations. I’ve chosen to focus visual research on the abstract paintings of Winifred Nicholson. I already have a small collection of books of and about her work, and access to her son’s limited edition monograph Unknown Colour, the only source that details the ‘story’ of these abstract canvases. Very simply, this painter, known principally for flowers and landscapes, spent several years in Paris immediately after her marriage ended to Ben Nicholson. There she studied and became friends with Braque, Mondrian, Picasso, and Arp. She put away her flowers and produced a series of extraordinary abstracts (with just a few lovely portraits of her young children who accompanied her to France). World War II intervened and she returned to Cumbria and war work, her abstracts put on one side until the 1970s when they were first shown (to some amazement) in London.

I have decided to explore  a small group of these remarkable paintings as a source for woven colour and structure. To enrich the visual research element I hope to examine the context that surrounds these paintings: just how they ‘connect’ to her previous work and her life, preoccupations and influences. Landscapes, flowers, her children, her friends, her home are all captured in paintings that are a distinct and wholly original ‘take’ on the modernist project that from the mid 1920s she signed up to. I intend to study at least one painting ‘in the flesh’ at either Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester or Bradford city galleries and to experience for myself something of the luminous quality so often described as belonging to her work. She often talked and wrote about searching for ‘the unknown colour’ ( the extra colour of the rainbow she called it  – indeed the rainbow and the prism fascinated her throughout her long life). Winifred often referred to painting as ‘unweaving a rainbow’. In the early 1950s she became a close friend of the poet Kathleen Raine whose poems often invoke elemental things, ‘the doves, the rainbow, echo and the wind . . .

Angelus
I see the blue, the green the golden and the red.
I have forgotten all the angel said.

The flower, the leaf, the meadow and the tree,
but of the words I have no memory.

I hear the swift, the martin and the wren,
but what was told me, past all thought is gone.

The doves, the rainbow, echo, and the wind,
but of the meaning, all is out of mind.

Only I know he spoke the word that sings its way
in my blood streaming, over rocks to sea,

A word engraved in the bone, that burns within 
to apotheosis the substance off a dream,

That living I shall never hear again,
because I pass, I pass, while dreams remain.

I’ve set seven of Kathleen Raine’s poems to music in a large-scale song cycle Stone and Flower. It was during writing this cycle (for the Barbara Hepworth Centenary celebrations in 2006) that I first discovered Winifred Nicholson’s work, in a painting of Ullswater in Cumbria, where at nearby Martindale Raine created her first collection of poems, published in 1946 with illustrations by Hepworth.

Triumphant Triangles

Triumphant Triangles

I started my workshop day with a notebook, my watercolour crayons and Andrew Nicholson’s book Unknown Colour. First, I chose to look at a very bright abstract called Triumphant Triangles (1930). After about 20 minutes of making a colour analysis I realised  that behind the orange and yellow triangles of this painting was a formidably rich and complex texture of colour that I couldn’t hope to ‘unweave’. So I chose a much simpler abstract with a tiny palette of colours called To and Fro (1931). Just making a coloured sketch of this painting revealed so much, taught me so much. Actually, I was astonished at what I’d missed in the first 10 minutes of study. I started to discover colours I hadn’t noticed, shapes I’d not acknowledged. Furthermore, I realised that I didn’t possess the critical verbal language needed to describe the painting (I’ll have to do something about this!). I ‘now’ understand why painters so often make copies, and how important an activity that can be. When I studied Bridget Riley’s work for a sequence of chamber works called Touched by Machine? I remember coming across copies she’d made of Seurat’s work, whose complex pointillist approach showed her the way towards the optical play and engagement with the viewer that is such a feature of her work. I suppose when I trained as a composer there was still an expectation that one explored pastiche (this sadly rarely happens anymore). I remember being quite adept at creating Debussy and Copland. More recently I’ve focused on Beethoven’s Cello Sonatas, beginning a series of ‘commentaries’ that say what I think they mean for musicians and listeners today. Just last year I put Howard Skempton and Kevin Volans under the magnifying glass in an effort to learn to be simple, to say one thing and one thing only.

To and Fro

To and Fro

wn-sketches1

Yarn Wrappings

As I started to look for yarns and make wrappings I became completely convinced I was on the right track for this project. It not only had lots of potential for visual research and design development, but I could also use this material in the market research and fabric realisation part of the project ( I could see how these hand-manipulation techniques of leno and inlay could play a lively and effective part in taking the elements of a Nicholson abstract into the woven medium). As to the mood board element in visual communication, I’ve started to consider a more radical mode of presentation than the one suggested in our project brief – but more on that anon.

I began my take on To and Fro with the briefest of sketches. I really wanted to see what happened when I worked directly with the colours and shapes of the painting. I started keeping careful notes of everything that I did, but soon the rush of ideas and the desire to improvise and experiment made me put all recording aside. Very foolish really – so next week I’ll come armed with my voice-activated recorder so that I can just speak the sequence of raised shaft patterns rather than try to decipher them (unsuccessfully) from the weave later on.

My 'To and Fro'

My 'To and Fro'

Doing inlay was no problem, but leno took a few experiments and mistakes before I remembered just how to do it. It’s role in this woven sample is but a token one, but enough to see that working with leno would enable me to produce shapes in the weave such as the lozenge that feature in To and Fro. Altogether my first workshop day of 2009 was thoroughly satisfying, and I came away feeling that getting this second project together was not only possible, but had such possibilities too.

To and Fro - a different perspective

To and Fro - a different perspective

HNC Seminar Weekend Day 3

January 7, 2009

I’m a little ashamed that it’s taken me three weeks to get around to writing up the final day of the Seminar Weekend. I have an excuse – a bad case of the flu. It’s only this week that I’ve been able to get myself properly in gear and get back to work. Spending a little time each day on my loom over the holiday period, and thinking about the next project, has been part of my recovery programme. But to round off the Bradford Weekend Seminar . . .

The final day, Sunday, was devoted to time in the workshop working on Inlay, Rya and Leno techniques, and having an individual feedback tutorial with our tutor. I started badly with this exercise in hand- manipulation techniques because I found myself with a warp of very tough rafia which was really difficult to manipulate. As soon as the first student finished the first tutorial session and went home I got onto her loom and found I could do these three techniques without tears. The inlay technique intrigues me probably because it’s a link to the work of Theo Moorman. Moorman’s wonderful woven tapestry, that acts as the backdrop for sculptor Austin Wright’s Wakefield Nativity installation, is one of the treasures of Wakefield Cathedral. It was meditating on this very special modernist nativity that was probably the catalyst that made me start weaving last year. Of course this year I’m looking at it with different eyes, and I can work out how it has been made. Yesterday was the Feast of Epiphany, so the crib and its tapestry will be in situ for another 3 weeks until the Feast of Candlemas. When the crib is dismantled I hope to make a proper photographic record of it. 

The Moorman & Wright Nativity

The Moorman & Wright Nativity

An example of Inlay technique

An example of Inlay technique

One of the most valuable aspects of the workshop day was being able to examine a number of woven pieces made available as examples. The piece I found particularly interesting was a black and cream baby’s blanket. I took quite a few photos of this and intend to study it in some detail, trying out some of the techniques myself. Here’s the blanket as a whole, but I’ll put some of the close ups I took in the gallery at the end of this blog. I’ve been unable to find out very much about the techniques of inlay except for the Theo Moorman’s practice, which she does explain quite thoroughly in her own book. However, I did come across a fascinating review of a lecture given at the New York Guild of Handweavers in 2004 which I urge you to look at if Theo Moorman’s work with inlay is not familiar. The review also gives details of two books on her work and is, I have to say, a whole lot clearer in its description of Moorman’s technique on the 4 shaft loom than her own! My other source of information about inlay comes from Chapter X of Luther Hopper’s Handloom Weaving of 1910. I’m told that nobody consults this book anymore, but I have to say I continue to be surprised by the imaginative way it presents concepts and information. Hooper played a crucial role as loom designer, writer, teacher and silk specialist in supporting the Arts and Crafts Movement in the early 20C. All his books are available in facsimile editions  on line at the Arizona University archive. There’s also a brief autobiography and account of his work by a former student you can download here. Hooper uses the tapestry weaver’s term brocade alongside the term inlay. He gives some prominence to the importance of  ‘the manner in which the brocading process was developed. Especially as it led to some of the most important inventions in the history of weaving’. He gives some examples of the origins and practice of brocading in India and includes in the photo plates at the back of the book some valuable illustrations. Hooper’s own diagrams are always clear and revealing. Until his early 40s he was a wallpaper designer, marrying into a family of silk weavers which started his interest in weaving and its traditions. His book is full of poetic illusions and Classical references. I also learn he was a enthusiastic violinist and a fine music copyist, particularly of Corelli’s violin music.

My attempt at Inlay and Leno

My attempt at Inlay and Leno

My own attempts at Inlay, Rya and Leno were satisfactory but hardly inspired. I have to say that some of my colleagues did the most extraordinary confections, some of which I include in the gallery below. The Swedish technique of Rya has yet to convince me, but leno has possibilities as a way of creating space in the weave. I’d like to know more about the origins of Leno and to study some examples. Hand-manipulation techniques seem to have come into their own with the Japanese Saori weaving movement. Saori weavers visited the UK in 2004 (Dartington Hall) but as yet have not taken hold here as the life-enhancing pastime that seems to have taken root in the USA. Any one interested in weaving as  an adjunct to occupational therapy (like my daughter Hester – an OT in London) should look at this seriously. It’s the described as free-style weaving – a subversive mix of tapestry and handloom weaving. It  has its own special 2 treadle looms built to be suitable for children and the disabled.

I’m including here some images and links to producers of yarns from home and abroad. A batch of sample cards had arrived in the workshop earlier in the week before the Seminar Weekend. Some of these were inspiring, others questionable. I loved the Habu yarns and the company’s website is a beautiful creation in itself. The Stroud-based company True Colours doesn’t have the class of the Habu collection, but they will dye to order.

My tutorial / feedback session was the last of the day (as I live closest to Bradford). It was a positive experience and I came away with a detailed batch of critical comments and observations for which I am most grateful. Ok, I didn’t do all the swatches I should have done, but I did compensate for this by giving attention to drawing, painting and my own ‘freestyle’ research. Putting on five warps in the workshop during the project period was also deemed to count for technical progress! But my real reward has been to begin weaving with a little confidence and direction on my own loom. I’ve also started to have a few ‘ideas’ of my own, as well as getting such pleasure from encountering the work of other weavers on-line. Just before Christmas I received my first ‘comment’ other than that of my HNC colleagues. Thanks Dot!