The February Weekend (part 1)

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.

Advertisements

3 Responses to “The February Weekend (part 1)”

  1. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    You are SOOOOOOOOO lucky! I have thought off an on about printing on the warp but have never quite figured it out. To be honest, have not given it the necessary thought. And actually, unless you are doing simple weave structures, it is probably overkill. Which is probably why I haven’t given it much thought. Thank you so much for the link to Ptolemy Mann!!!! I love the way he uses color but what really struck me was his presentation. Namely, constructing different weavings into a total display. I have seen exhibits of textiles wrapped around a canvas, but not with different canvases grouped together and even one on top of the other. This is brilliant and perfect for what I am about. I do not have the talent ever to achieve this kind of vision but the possibilities of it will definitely inspire my weaving from now on. Perhaps if I think in terms of smaller scale………. You have absolutely now idea how very glad I am that you are sharing these experiences with us.

  2. Cally Says:

    Wow, you are an adventurous bunch of students. I hope you do get that day doing print, that would be a fantastic bonus to enhance your weaving. I saw some really interesting textiles using print and weave at the Lighthouse in Glasgow last year and posted about it here but haven’t seen any more of Elaine Bremner since then. But I love Ptolemy Mann’s work! I saw her at Origin two years ago (I think, but time flies doesn’t it) and the blocks of colour were incredible. If I could afford to hang any artist’s textiles on my walls I would choose hers.

  3. Dot Says:

    I’m feeling a bit envious now – I’d love to have a go at using a George Wood dobby loom. I keep seeing them 2nd hand at very reasonable price, probably because there are other people like me who would like one but have ceilings that are too low!

    I agree wholeheartedly with your recommendation of Marianne Straub’s book. I have a copy I bought 2nd hand, but when this lovely book arrived I just sat and looked at the markings on it – there is a plate in the front that reveals it was withdrawn from stock by Leeds Uni. Library – I felt so sad. What has happened to Universities? Nothing written since is a substitute and it is beautifully written. Needless to say, this is a safe home and the book gets used.

    I look forward to “part 2” of your report.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: