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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.