Joined up thinking

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.




4 Responses to “Joined up thinking”

  1. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    Hi Nigel, kind of a variant of supplementary warp technique, something that might interest you. Actually I have played some with the idea of replacing of warp ends exactly as you do repair ends, but only in sampling. It is an idea with potential, but a bit scary with 60/2 silk warped at 60-72 ends per inch! I have also played with having these different yarns come in from the selvedge and angle across, going straight up for awhile. I will probably not live long enough to bring these ideas to fruition!
    When I studied music composition, I started really really hearing music for the first time. It was absolutely mind boggling. Listening sometimes became almost painful for the intensity of the experience.

  2. Dot Says:

    Hi Nigel, so you’re learning to see with new eyes! This is what the best of education / study is all about, it’s a wonderful thing to suddenly find you have new ways of seeing and thinking.

    Looking at the way your work is going now, I wonder if you have ever studied formal art composition? If not, it might be useful. I don’t know which books to recommend in particular, it’s traditional old art school teaching. I have a book that has a couple of sound chapters on composition, it’s by Stan Smith “Anatomy, Perspective and Composition for the Artist”, pub. 1984, however, I’m sure there would be others in Leeds Uni. library.

  3. nigelweaving Says:

    Thanks Peg and Dot for your valuable comments.

    Dot, I haven’t studied formal art composition – and I’m very aware it shows in my work at this stage. So thank you for the suggestion you make. Nothing wrong with traditional art teaching, in fact one of the most useful books I have been lent recently – by a friend who was trained at the Royal Academy Schools – was written for children: Waters, Elizabeth, and Harris, Annie (1993), Painting – a young artist’s guide. London, Dorling Kindersley.

    Peg, your recent writing on this Crackle technique has coincided with the introduction of block threading on last weekend’s intensive course at Bradford. I’m now able to begin to appreciate what you have so painstakingly been recording. Thank you. I also read your blog on Binary sequences. The next thing for you to try is Lindenmeyer Systems. This is a kind of evolutionary system much used in CGI effects in motion pictures – want a forest that looks incredibly real but not too fuzzy? Well you grow your own with Lindenmeyer. If you look on my website ( for a work called Heartstone there’s an academic paper you can download which explains all! I’ve yet to try it on the loom, but reckon it could produce powerful results!

  4. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    Nigel, crackle has the unusual difficulty that its blocks are not independent. Treadling one block means that you are simultaneously treadling a second block. You have no control over that second block. Does make life interesting!
    Thank you for the information. I will check it out and see if my non-mathematical mind is capable of dealing with this stuff!

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