Working against the clock

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.


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.


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


5 Responses to “Working against the clock”

  1. Bridget Harris Says:

    I have been looking at the work of Laura Thomas from your blog,it is beautiful,such wonderful colours and weaves.I know what you mean about the race against time I’m feeling it too.Your weaving looks good and I really like the sketches of the cyclamen.See you in a few weeks time.

  2. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    What a rich post! I can only read it in bits and pieces. I am enjoying it tremendously.

  3. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    I have finally finished it and checked your music link as well. After checking that out, my question is, what brought you to weaving?

  4. Louise Says:

    Some interesting work – enjoying seeing how it is developing. What are you going to do with it when you finish? Career direction change or is it for your own personal interest?

  5. Nigel Says:

    Thank you Louise for your comment. Your question is a difficult one. All I can say now is that a) I hope to carry on from the HNC to the degree, b) I know I’ll have a clearer idea then of how I might work commercially with my ideas and strengths as a designer/maker, and c) with my part-time research fellowship and music in print and promoted (and performed) internationally there should be a source of income that might allow me to pursue a second and parallel career.

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