Soumak, Moorman & Selby

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.




One Response to “Soumak, Moorman & Selby”

  1. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    Oh my! Especially after going through your preview, I am pretty much left without words! The presentation was breathtaking (guess I am not totally without words!). I also appreciated the closeups on your blog. When I wnet to Margo’s site I couldn’t understand the weaving. In the photos it looked like she wove with silk rags! Your closeups clarified greatly what was going on. I also enjoyed seeing more clearly, not just the soumak, but the plain weave structure undergirding the soumak.

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