Better Blocks

camellia-8jpg

The front garden camellia

I’m pleased to say this week has been a whole lot better than last. Perhaps it’s the change in the weather. Spring has arrived and our beautiful  front garden camellia is so full of flowers there’s very little green leaf in counterpoint to the pink. In the park across the road the forsythia is casting its bright yellow in swathes, leaves are really budding on the trees. Nature aside, the warp on my studio loom is nearly in place, and despite a few hiccups (like ‘dropping one of the shafts last night as I tried to access a few more heddles from behind the shaft pulley tie), I’m pleased with the possibility this warp now affords. The addition of the blue, a very soft synthetic bouclé, is a definite improvement. I saw some really imaginative warps using bouclé yarns currently in progress by year 1 degree students. For (mostly) first time weavers these students are producing some impressive work – every loom in the workshop is currently in use. So it’s like Spring in the workshop – a riot of colour.

Almost ready to go

Almost ready to go

I suddenly looked at my loom one very early morning this week and thought, no I won’t look at ‘the book’ (Debbie Chandler’s Learning to Weave), I ‘know’ how to do this, and if it goes wrong then I reckon I can fix it. Two of my favourite on-liners this week kindly identified Peggy Osterkamp’s three volume reference guide as being the ‘by the loom’ reference. When the next commission comes along I might treat myself. Until then it will have to be Debby Chandler and Marianne Straub (not forgetting Laura Rosenzweig’s invaluable teaching notes) as my loomside helpmates. Last week’s blip really toughened my resolve, and I noticed last night there was a more measured quality present in all I was doing to thread my warp.

In the workshop last week I had two quite successful sessions. In the first I replaced the Satin/Sateen peg plan with a more straightforward lifting pattern. This is pretty much a plain weave with one of the two block patterns carrying alternate blank spaces to enable a single float to lie across the tabby pattern. With the neutral yarns I’d chosen this worked very well, and I was inspired by the effects I could get. I’ve now learnt to change sets of lags and I find myself really playing with the possibilities that the forward / neutral / reverse lever on the dobby looms provides, that and skipping parts of the pattern. 

First session block weave

First session block weave

The second session began quite late in the day, but had a happy outcome. I wanted to design and weave from my own peg plan. I decided on a variant of that hopsack I’d used in my last project, the one that creates an arrow-like pattern with the arrow  able to point to the left or right, individually or back to back. I planned it out on squared paper then, with a short tutorial from a friendly part-time degree student, prepared the lags myself. First you have to find a chained length of lags that’s served its purpose. Next you have to knock out the existing pegs with a neat little tool that I’m sure has a name, but I don’t know it yet. With a hammer and this tool inserted into each hole of the lag (turned upside down) you knock the pegs out with the lag placed into the top of a box with no top or bottom (name someone please) .Then with an empty collection of lags you insert your own pegs, knocking them gently in with a hammer. The final part is to turn your lags upside down so the pegs are facing down onto a hard surface. Now you take the bottomless/ topless box and place it over the collection of lags and tap gently to make sure that pegs are pegged at an even height. If not, it’s possible some pegs might not engage with the dobby mechanism.

Still Life with Pegging Tools

Still Life with Pegging Tools

My own peg plan

My own peg plan

With all this done the lags are placed on the revolving cylinder on the dobby  (you have to use a step ladder to reach this comfortably). My pegs dutifully engaged, I had about an hour to start to experiment with patterns I could make. The result is not brilliant, but was enough for me to recognize what I have to do next week to improve the weave. I was not exhausted as I had been last week by weaving on the dobby, which is probably the result of watching how gracefully a year 3 student was weaving on a similar loom next to me. I’m always a little reticent watching nearby weavers so acutely – for all the reasons I’m sure you can imagine – so I make a point of introducing myself and asking if they mind their work being scrutinized, if only from a distance. As a coda to my workshop session I must acknowledge the time Graham, the workshop technician, so kindly spent explaining to me how 8-shaft patterns can be achieved on a 4-shaft loom. This was fascinating and as I want to do his explanation justice, I’m going to save it up for the future when I’ve tried some of his suggestions myself.

Second Session Pattern

Second Session Pattern

One of the features of the Yorkshire Craft Centre where I weave every Thursday is its regular exhibition programme at a most generously-sized gallery. At the moment there’s a show by  Group-Seven, seven artists, some with connections to Bradford College. It’s a real mixture including painting, photographic collage, and print. The latter is represented by Amrik Varkalis whose work I loved the moment I saw it. There’s a set of  engaging mono prints of a family, almost cartoon-like figures like a child might drawn, set against a caricature of a northern urban townscape. But what really caught my eye was a series of large, unframed  and adventurously colourful still-lifes that I just wanted to take home and put on the one empty wall in my studio, the wall against my composing desk. If anything was to convert me to print it is this sort of work that carries in the simplicity of its mainly primary colours such life and energy. It’s a ‘must see’ if you are near Bradford. You can see more of Amrik’s work here.

Print by Amrik Varkalis

Print by Amrik Varkalis

And to continue this theme – on Saturday afternoon I spent a rare half an hour in Leeds City Art Gallery where the whole of a long gallery wall has been put aside to show the gallery’s permanent collection of still-life paintings. I still can’t cut loose from my fascination with Winifred Nicholson, and there she was represented by Renee’s Room, a classic from the 1930s, though subdued, a still life of a plant beside a window with a sliver of a land and seascape present. I made an annotated drawing, again fascinated by her restrained use of colour. There was also a lovely ‘Flowers on a pink ground’ by a contemporary Ivon Hitchings, a painter who is often aligned with Nicholson. Studying woven textile design has so made me aware of the magic of colour organisation, play and structure, and in paintings I’ve looked at for years. It’s been worth all the hardwork and worry at the loom to have had such technique and mystery revealed. As Anni Albers said in her book On Design, you can only understand such things by working the material in your hands. So true.

Renee's Room - from a sketch of the painting at Leeds City Art Gallery

Renee's Room - from a sketch of the painting at Leeds City Art Gallery

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One Response to “Better Blocks”

  1. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    I never really knew before just how dobby looms work, at least in the wonderful graphic detail you give. I am very interested in your essay on weaving 8-shaft structures on 4 shafts.

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