Archive for February, 2009

The February Weekend (part 1)

February 27, 2009
The Print Room, Bradford College

The Print Room, Bradford College

Although this ‘February weekend’ was three days long, I’m planning on reporting on it in just two posts. The first will be devoted to the tuition side of the weekend. The second to the HNC Year I group presentation of its work for the second project: handcrafted textiles. So to begin with let’s see what I learnt! There was a morning lecture on testing, finishing, dyeing and costing with a hands-on session trying out some very basic dyeing. This was to make up for the day lecture we missed before Christmas. By the time we’d had a brief resume of what we’d covered back in September, there really wasn’t enough time to do justice to either the group of subjects to be addressed or the lecturer’s contribution. Such a shame as our first textile technology day had been fascinating, and for some of us very necessary.

Dyeing Tools

Dyeing Tools

We did, however, get to explore the print room, adjacent to our workshop. Many of the group were really fascinated by seeing what went on here, and through the kindness of the studio technican, got a valuable introduction. We learnt that it is quite common for weavers to print onto warps and that the crossover between print and weave is particularly lively on the full-time course; the whole group later discussed negotiating a day’s introduction to print for later in the year. The dye room lies immediately off the print room and couldn’t really handle the size of group we were that morning. I plan to go back there on my own, if I can, and do the little assignment set us (in groups of four) on my own. This assignment asked us to create a batch of intermediate colours from three primary synthetic dyes. 

The afternoon session was spent with our lecturer in Historical and Contextual Studies. In my ignorance I had expected a formal lecture, but the session was devoted mainly to further individual tutorials on the 15 minute presentation we each have to give in early May. I wasn’t convinced that this was really necessary (having sorted out my topic and approach before Christmas), although it was interesting to hear each member of the class give a further digest of their proposed subject and their progress to date. 

Block design © Andrea Wilde

Block design © Andrea Wilde

Saturday morning and early afternoon was given over entirely to the Group Critique. This I’ll discuss in my next post. So I’ll fast-forward to the remainder of the afternoon in the workshop. The main focus was weaving with block structures. A technique new to many of us, this important concept enabled us to be introduced to the Dobby loom and computer software for designing weave structures. We also had the valuable opportunity to see some fine examples of work with blocks from our own tutor’s portfolio. 

A Chain of Lags

A Chain of Lags

Before I start describing the workshop demonstrations let me introduce you to the dobby loom. There are currently six of these in the college workshop – I gather there are more in a store somewhere. four of these are in the very distinctive design of George Wood, a former ships engineer turned loom maker (and about whose company in Shepshed, Leicester I can find almost nothing). Professional weaver Ros Weaver (featured recently in Modern Textiles and Carpets) suggests they are still being made. They are certainly in use by many of the professional weaving community and a resource in most textile departments of colleges.

A Barbara Massey Dobby Sample

A Barbara Massey Dobby Sample

Just two weavers I came across this week use Geoge Wood looms for quite innovative work, Alpa Mistry and Ptolemy Mann, both working with the techniques we were introduced to last weekend. I also checked out Barbara Massey’s portfolio (she has appeared on these pages previously in her partnership with Helen Rogers), where there are some really intriguing pieces of work using unusual materials and fibres – and some fascinating designs. This is a weaver whose mix of technique and practice I should love to explore further. You can view her blog here.

A dobby demo

A dobby demo

In the fortnight before the course I watched the workshop technician dress five of the six looms (the sixth is a Louet ‘magic’ computer dobby – about which more later). So I had the chance to ask a few questions and observe the warps being assembled. The looms are 16-shaft, and instead of the manual shafts of a table loom or treadles of a floor loom, are controlled by a single pedal pivoted at the back of the loom. The principal features are that the shafts are suspended from a row of spring-controlled hooks; a knife is fitted into a rising and falling frame; a rotating cylinder carries a chain of lags that are pre-pegged according to the lifting plan. Well, that’s Marianne Struab’s excellent description, and her book Hand-Weaving and Cloth Design (sadly out of print) is the best introduction I have found so far on the techniques of weaving with this type of loom.

 Now to this weaving with block threading and dobby pegging. We were shown one approach, and sadly there was no space in the tutorial to discuss the why, how and where this all came from. The demands of time and 9 weavers to five looms having to weave at least three swatches during the workshop hours, made this impossible. To be fair we were shown some inspirational samples that I presume were woven on a dobby loom. An identical block threading was prepared for the five looms, but each had a different dobby pegging (read treadling), giving us the opportunity to at least view five different patterns, even if we didn’t get to weave them! These patterns (replicated in peg positions on each loom’s chain of lags) included sateen, plain-weave (with gaps), mixed twill, and ribs.

George Wood Dooby Loom

George Wood Dooby Loom

As far as my limited time on research has revealed there are many different approaches (and names) to doing things with block threading. Invented in Asia, as early as the 11C the technique was practised in England in weaving the silken groundwork of embroideries. Luther Hooper (in Chapter XIV of Hand-Loom Weaving) gives an extended example of what he calls diaper-weaving, not a weave itself but a method of weaving. Across the Atlantic there’s this crackle weaving, introduced brilliantly on the pages of Peg’s blog talkingaboutweaving. But I do the technique, and those who have written about it, a disservice by even beginning to summarize all the approaches. Just to mention one ‘block’ specialist that leapt out of the web – Rosalie Neilson from Oregon.

WeaveIt

WeaveIt

I found the physical business of weaving on the George Wood loom pretty awkward, but I’m sure after a few sessions on my own (and not against the clock) I’ll sort it out. What I have to grapple with is the design element and how I can develop lively ideas to make the best of the opportunity to use such a loom, which I’ll have for several weeks (once a week) at least. I’m still at the point of trying to explain block thinking and design to myself. What may contribute to developing an understanding is using the WeaveIt computer software, an American application for PC that the college have adopted for its workshop computer lab. The software also speaks to one of the Louet magic dobby looms in the workshop. During the weekend we had an opportunity to try WeaveIt out. It seemed pretty good, but for me (being a Mac user of longstanding) there’s an excuse to leave the computer side of things on hold,  at least for the time being. Like the good Lisp programmer I have tried to become I believe in working things out in my head rather than fiddling with graphical solutions.

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Joined up thinking

February 17, 2009

The time has come to pull together all the different strands that make up Project 2 (Handcrafted Textiles). The more I work on this project the more I admire its design and intent. For someone like me who has grown up without getting too involved in decisions about home furnishing or (to some extent) what I wear, the business in woven design of facing up to the reality of an acceptable and realistic commercial end product is quite a step to take. My wife and daughter (#4)  are serious shoppers and think nothing of spending an afternoon looking for a jacket with all the right colours to highlight or match an existing wardrobe. But more than that they both seem to have grown up with an innate sense of what ‘works’ in shape, structure, colour, and texture. In short, they know how to look.

An inlayed dog - from a Laura Ashley draft-excluder!

An inlayed dog - from a Laura Ashley draft-excluder!

I feel I’ve taken quite a leap in the last two months in learning to look. First it was examining  two chosen paintings, intently, analytically and with purpose. As the basis of my Visual Research and all the other connecting areas I couldn’t avoid it! And it’s been wonderful, such a pleasure. Now I’m facing up to looking (intently, analytically, critically, and with purpose) at this ‘end product’. This is to inform and feed into my fledgling designs. Imagine me, Dear Reader, walking into Laura Ashley ‘Home’ and  . . . well, not shopping, but going to look and record. I was stunned actually by the range and sheer design imagination of it all. Ok, some of it I wouldn’t give house room to, but then my priorities and way of life preclude arranging for the LA home visit specialist to come and help me choose the right shade of floral wallpaper to match my DFS leather suite – aghh! – we inherited a beautiful late Victorian cottage suite so I’m spoiled. But there were many sensible and servicible designs alongside some really clever patterns I would have been proud to have executed. I realised that already that the process of learning surrounding this college course has made it possible for me to begin to ‘read’ fabrics and weave structures they often contain. I am already becoming critical in an informed way. Dare I say it, the whole experienced opened up a new chapter in my relationship with my partner of 22 years: we have something new to share and enjoy (beyond music, books and children). I discovered just how embedded design and fabric sense has become in her critical view of the textile and fabric world.

Quarante-huit, quai dAuteuil (1937) Winifred Dacre

Quarante-huit, quai d'Auteuil (1937) Winifred Dacre

Earlier in the week I finished my last piece of ‘project 2’ weaving in the college workshop, seven swatches in all that demonstrate different hand-manipulations in weave and make reference to the colours and forms of Winifred Nicholson’s abstract paintings of the 1930s (she used an old family name Dacre for many of these paintings). My final swatch involved a kind of manipulation left over from the last project – replacing ends in a plain cotton warp to bring new pattern and colour possibilities. Now, I’ve learnt to replace broken warp ends, but replacing bunches of ends was new and a little scary. I had planned the visual side of things very carefully. My intention was to take the colours and yarns I’d used for the soumak knot inlay in swatch #6 as the basis for a sequence of warp strips. In the weft I would focus on placing  twill and ‘lightening shape’ patterns to produce the diagonals I’d been creating previously in inlayed designs. I also wanted to explore a background modulation of colour from pale ‘early morning’ blue through oatmeal brown to lilac. 

As I was about to cut the warp ends a voice behind me said, ‘you don’t need to do that’. Graham, our so generous technician  kindly pointed out that I could simply thread the new warp strips on top of the existing warp ends . . . and it worked a treat. In the gallery below I’ve laid out the sequence of process: choosing the yarns and laying them out in appropriate lengths on the loom, pinning the bunches to pins in the woven header between the six and soon to be seventh swatch, threading through the heddles and reed (I choose to replace strips threaded on 1-4 shafts), then hanging the spare yarn off the back beam using a bunch of perns, and finally weaving. One miss-threading caused me some angst early on, but once that was sorted it all worked beautifully, and dare I say it who shouldn’t, I’m pleased with the result.

The woven warp is now at home waiting to be divided, darned and finished, then presented formally on mounting board and labelled. All the technical details of each swatch have to be noted (on an Excel sheet – thanks Jane) and I’ve taken to providing both a photo and painted analysis of the swatch colour structure. It’s so different from my first collection of project swatches – there’s not a green in sight and the swatches (some of them) begin to look as though they have the ingredients of a collection.

Fro and To (2009) Nigel Morgan

Fro and To (2009) Nigel Morgan

Back in my studio, where until yesterday it was a hive of a very different kind of industry – finishing the printed copy of a new score – I’ve been putting together the three additional elements of this project. The first is the Design Development – ‘having a discussion with yourself’ focusing on the potential of your Visual Realisation work for development into woven textiles’. So where was I with my Visual Realisation ? Not as far as I’d hoped – but there was enough to kick-start this process. If you’ve followed this blog there’s the series of cyclamen drawings, wrappings and photos. I can now see tremendous potential in using Theo Moorman’s techniques and/or Overshot (based on some of Ann Sutton’s contemporary approaches to this) to overlay (wrap) one colour or structure across another. My close-up photos provide some possibilities for strong colour groupings I’d never have realised in a standard image (see these in my on-line gallery). Next, my series of mark-making studies based on shapes and structures from Nicholson’s To and Fro. I worked with charcoal, brush and ink, soft pencils / hard pencils. I used a Winifred Nicholson device to add colour to neutral objects – viewing them through a prism and highlighting these objects and lines with colours from the spectrum, predominantly yellow and red, indigo and violet. I photocopied and scanned many of these images, handcolouring some of them with highlighting crayons (neon colours). Finally I produced an inverse To and Fro (a Fro and To). There’s more, but that’s enough I think! I could mention my goache experiments trying to paint a still life from directly above ( A Nicholson device) and my attempts at collage with tissue paper (en maniere de Nicholson). Next stop the second three day Weekend Seminar.

Garden Panel # 1 in its first draft form - as a yarn wrapping

Garden Panel # 1 in its first draft form - as a yarn wrapping

A Coda: last week I talked about bringing together original woven panels with each movement of my new piano work Fifteen Images of a Cumbrian gardenHere’s a detail from the first draft of Garden Panel #1, just to give an idea how it might look.

 

 

Soumak, Moorman & Selby

February 11, 2009

I had a nice surprise almost immediately after completing the last blog: a note from the Bradford College textile workshop to say they’d changed their plans and I could keep weaving my swatches on the loom I’ve been using for this second project (deadline just a fortnight away). So when I went in on Thursday I was able to pick up where I’d left off and complete one more swatch. This makes six for my collection of hand-manipulated samples based on the colours and structures of Winifred Nicholson’s abstract paintings. If you’ve followed my progress on this project you’ll see I started with browns, pinks, yellows and whites, modulating through yellow and orange, to blues and Nicholson’s signature colour – violet. Today I decided to bring the browns, the blues and the violets together and introduce a new fibre – mohair. 

Soumak inlay

Soumak inlay

At the outset I was unsure exactly what I would do, but I knew I wanted to pick up on both paintings (To and Fro and Triumphant Triangles) and find a way to bring my chosen colours, fibres and yarns together. For the  background I wanted to maintain a play of plain-weave and this hopsack derivative I’ve been using for several weeks: a very light blue ‘Shannon’ – an acrylic and cotton mix, and an oatmeal linen. I wasn’t very happy with the standard inlay technique I had been using so I experimented with the soumak. This is a kind of running knot in the weft used in carpet weaving. I really like the effect of this knot and you can see I’ve used it both as a straight border and as a running diagonal. Soumak carpets are woven traditionally in the Caucasian Mountains and often hold intricate patterns. The running knot used for such patterning can slope in either direction (depending which way you knot it). When the knot is done in alternate directions it produces a kind of herringbone effect. In my gallery images below you can look in detail at my diagonal lines of soumak, knotted in contrasting directions. The blue-violet and the dark brown with a hint of purple are both mohair, the light brown and blue 100% wool. I have a wonderful little manual of such knots published in 1933 by the V & A Department of Textiles: Notes on Carpet-Knotting and Weaving. I include two pages from it in the gallery.

Margo Selbys Shop

Margo Selby's London Shop

At the beginning of last week I found myself in London with a little time between a meeting and  attending a research colleague’s professorial address. Grappling with the very icy pavements I walked across Russell Square, around to the front of the British Museum, and in a little nearby courtyard of shops in Bury Place found myself at Margo Selby’s shop. Margo is a real success story in my book. A young Royal College of Art graduate with an impressive track record and a keen business imagination, she is a rare example of a designer/maker with a distinctly urban outlook. No country colours for her. She’s a Londoner and her woven work reflects the city. Her pieces look great on the web, indeed I reckon how they look on the site feeds back  to her design sense. Margo invites visitors to her shop to go downstairs to her basement two-room workshop complete with two assistants (busy making up cushions) and an AVL 24 shaft computer loom. She was delightfully welcoming and kindly spent 20 minutes answering my many questions. She reckoned herself to be a very technical weaver and rarely did anything away from her computer loom. Swatches for her latest range of mohair scarves I was able to handle – to see exactly how it’s done! At the moment her shop is showing two distinct weaves: the mohair double weave and the intriguing silk and lycra ‘bubble’ double cloth fabric, the latter contributing to a whole host of  fashion accessories and able to give a striking 3-D effect. A visit to her website is highly recommended, but the shop is even better because you can see examples of other designer/makers such as Laura Thomas.

The Annunciation from Moormans Nativity

The Annunciation from Moorman's Nativity

At the beginning of January I showed in this blog an image of Theo Moorman’s woven tapestry for Wakefield Cathedral’s Nativity crib. Last week, after the Feast of Candlemass, the tapestry was taken down and carefully put away until next Christmas. This was a great opportunity to examine it properly  because the sculpted figures (by Austin Wright) stand in front of the tapestry, so it’s difficult to get close. Moorman is a weaver whose rather special technique of inlay we have been encouraged to examine during this project. So, for what it’s worth, I now have a photo record of the whole tapestry, with all the significant images taken in close-up. I did spend a little time drawing one image: the Three Wise Men set against an intricate backdrop of holly leaf (and berry) patterns. It was very difficult to draw and my attempt only gives a rough impression I’m afraid . . . but a good exercise none the less.

Cottage © Alice Fox

Cottage (detail) from a Zambian sketchbook © Alice Fox

On the subject of drawing I’ve had the good fortune to study two sketch-books this past week, the work of a part-time student on the degree course at Bradford College. The first was a kind of preliminary to the drawing course on the degree – a collection of images and experiments, a kind of pre-drawing collection focusing on mark-making and most significantly for me approaches to collage and textured assemblage. The second was a collection of  ‘proper’ drawings coloured in wax crayon and koh-i-noor washes (a watercolour-like range of bright lively colours). This sketchbook recorded a precious family visit to Zambia and mixed disarming images of children with first encounters with the African natural world of animals and plants. Both these books I’ve found so inspirational, and a most helpful reference point for the work I know I must do to make the Visual Realisation part of this course meaningful and useful. Thank you, Alice.

Le Jardin Pluvieux (the basis of 15 images)

Le Jardin Pluvieux (the basis of 15 images)

With ten days or so to go there’s still a lot to complete for the project submission. With the weaving at college complete – I just have one piece on my loom at home to finish – I should get there. Thankfully, I’ve just completed a 25-minute composition I have been working on since last November. This completion allows a little extra space to finish the mood and market research boards. Sometimes when writing music you have to make a final push and do nothing else for a few days, which is what I did for three days solid over the weekend. This new piece, 15 images of a rain-soaked summer garden, in versions for piano and wind octet, I hope to publish on-line with images of 15 woven panels reflecting the colours of a garden observed though the panes of a window (see above). The penultimate musical ‘image’  is actually generated from an 8-shaft weaving sequence – but more on that next time when I can display both the woven sequence and the music side by side. You can get a taste here of this new composition, and the story and location behind it.

 

 

Working against the clock

February 3, 2009
Triumphant Triangles

Triumphant Triangles

When I arrived at the workshop I was greeted with the announcement that for the next three weeks there wouldn’t be a loom for me to work on. The second-year full-time students needed to use all the 8-shaft looms having pressed the powers that be that they should have practice and guidance on dressing a loom. Well, I know how they feel, having felt myself woefully inadequate in this quarter last September. That said, I realised I had just a day to create three more swatches to complete my group of pieces demonstrating facets of hand-manipulation in weaving, pieces that also made reference to the subject area of my Visual Realisation: the work of painter Winifred Nicholson.

My focus for these swatches was Nicholson’s Triumphant Triangles, a striking part-landscape, part-abstract, begun in the 1930s in Paris, finished in Cumbria in the 1970s. I think the triangles were painted first, their background added much later. Before sorting out a design I needed to add to my palette of Nicholson ‘colours’: very light blues and her special and rather elusive violet. This violet she ‘discovered’ on a visit to India with her father in her late teens. It fascinated her throughout her long life. Needless to say I couldn’t find anything like it, but I did find a lovely silver greyish blue, a cotton / linen mix called Shannon. The colour reminds me of that silver light of a summer dawn before the real blue of a hot day takes over. The orange and yellows I already had, along with a kind of oatmeal brown. 

Swatch #4

Swatch #4

Now I could say that this first swatch on Nicholson’s triangles was carefully planned and meticulously executed, but it was the result of a mistake and some face-saving improvisation. I can only feel a little better about it knowing that the great Bauhaus weaver Anni Albers encouraged her students to improvise at the loom. She felt that until you actually worked the material with your hands you couldn’t fix a design. I had a design of sorts that I’d sketched out in my notebook, but almost from the outset I realised it wasn’t going to work. So what you see is a real improvisation. What is extraordinary is that (as you’ll see later), this design owes something to the designer/maker Laura Thomas whose work I have decided to focus my attention on as part of the Project 2 brief. Certainly the loose red inlayed (outlayed?) threads at the bottom reference to her prize-winning Chromascope

Swatch # 5

Swatch # 5

The next swatch attempts to merge ‘Shannon’ blue gradually into violet ‘and’ include the some triangles in orange and yellow. What you may find odd is the use of that oatmeal brown as a way of ending the colour progression in the background from blue into violet. It was very much an afterthought, but one I don’t regret. You’ll see later on in this blog that I’ve been exploring different neutral shades of white, cream, grey and light brown in combination with yellow, orange and blues. So this decision I’m sure came out of those experiments, and the fact that this purple and light brown are adjacent colours in Triumphant Triangles.

p2-swatch-6ii

Swatch #6

By five o’clock when I started on the third swatch of the day I have to admit I was wilting. I have to stand to weave on this table loom and frankly six hours (with a break for lunch) is quite a long time for me to be on my feet. It took me a little while to remember how to ‘leno’, but eventually I got it to work. As I experimented I suddenly had a great idea: representing the lower half of the series of  triangles with a sequence of leno patterns. OK, it’s a bit untidy, but the design and the play of colour pleases me no end, and I shall certainly develop this piece. You’ll see that I’ve discovered and used an even-whiter blue. This is an acrylic yarn with flecks of reflective white spun into the blue.

So unless I can borrow an 8 shaft table loom for the next few weeks I shall have to resort to making my Toika 4 shaft floor loom believe it’s something it isn’t. Fortunately, in the three pieces I have described here I have been using just a plain weave and a simple rib pattern, both of which work well on the 4 shaft loom. I particularly want to do a swatch that brings the Nicholson colour palette into the warp. That’s the next step.

linen-panel

Reference Image in Goache

The little weaving I’ve managed to do on my own loom has, curiously, some connection with this Nicholson project in its choice of colours and yarns (remember I decided back last September it was better to weave at College for a whole day once a week than odd moments at my office / studio where I keep my loom). Two weeks ago I finished the first of a series of trial A4 size ‘panels’. This week I spent an hour getting out the goache paints to make a reference image of this panel. For my last project I painted reference images of all my swatches in watercolour. This is first I’ve managed in goache, and the results gives me a little encouragement, so I include it here. Nicholson often painted her abstract work in goache to get that flat quality so beloved by Mondrian, a painter who became an important friend and inspiration to Nicholson in her Paris years.

Now this panel started life as an experiment in using linen and trying an unbalanced weave. I also wanted to try Ethel Mairet’s technique of binding sections of plain weave with a slub or thick woollen yarn – as I do here with a beautiful Cumbria-dyed rough Herdwick wool kindly donated by Nancy from whom I bought my loom. I’ve also used a kind of skewed twill pattern and its inversion as a central figure of the panel (in dark blue). Ribs feature strongly throughout this design and also that arrow effect made when bringing two 2/2 twills together, another inversion technique I suppose. I started this panel when I was recovering from a bad bout of flu just before Christmas; it was definitely part of my convalescence. I’ve derived a lot of pleasure from its gathering design. Very little improvisation here. I carefully planned every step.

A Linen Panel

A Linen Panel

I had planned to finish this week’s blog with a proper introduction to one of my chosen designers/makers selected as a focus for my Project 2 submission. I realise that time is against me – I’m traveling a lot this week and this is being written on the sleeper to Plymouth – so what I place here will be no more than a taster. I saw Laura Thomas’ work at the Harrogate Craft show last Spring before I began to learn to weave. I felt it had something fresh and different about it, and now I’m a little wiser about this woven world I appreciate and admire her work and her imagination even more. She has a great website and a lively if infrequent blog. Her work covers such a range of processes and outcomes, from mixed media art pieces and hangings to commercial commissions for major international clients. Shot through all this is her Pembrokeshire background, a part of Wales I love and have walked with my daughter Frances May. I recognise the tone of her colours that owe a lot I think that great Pembrokeshire painter Graham Sutherland. So here for now are two images to get us started: a Laura Thomas mood board and a prizewinning art piece Chromascope.

Chromascope © Laura Thomas

Chromascope © Laura Thomas

On the subject of mood boards I have decided to produce my offering in a digital format using a technique my office assistant , programmer and copyist developed to illustrate a vocal composition called Esther Dyson’s 12 Design Rules. This throws short pieces of text by Internet guru Dyson into the Fickr search engine and pulls out a sequence of images which will always be different because the number of new images per minute uploaded onto Flikr seems to grow exponentially. My digital real-time mood board will pull images from a folder of chosen images, which will slowly appear and disappear in different shapes and sizes, but always keeping the screen full of light and colour. You know, I might even write some music to go with it!

Mood Board © Laura Thomas

Mood Board © Laura Thomas