Interesting Interruptions

I’m writing this blog on the train to London to see my daughter Frances and attend the first rehearsal / workshop of my latest orchestral adventure, Utopias. The blog is a little earlier than usual because this weekend I’m spending two days on a course at Bankfield Museum, Halifax with weaver Sue Lawty. Train journeys are good spaces for blog writing and I usually write up my workshop  sessions at Bradford on the way the home. But not yesterday, because I had a trip by car to make in the middle of the day to visit Don Porritt.  

Don Porritt and his prototype tapestry loom

Don Porritt and his prototype tapestry loom

Don has become a bit of legend in hand-weaving circles as a specialist in loom construction, repair and maintenance. I first met him when he visited my studio to assemble my Toika loom. I had dismantled it (to his instructions) at its previous owner’s and had carefully labelled every part. During the hour or so it took to reassemble it he gave an engaging summary of his fascinating career: mechanical engineer and gold and silversmith, renown teacher at  Leeds College of Art, to loom designer and specialist.  His interest in the loom came about when his wife announced she intend to learn to weave. So like the resourceful person he is, he built her one, and to his own design. He quickly realised that there was market for his expertise: as an engineer who could repair and balance looms, often building replacements for worn out or damaged parts; as a agent for selling looms and accessories, particularly for the Finnish company Toika. A travelling scholarship had already taken him to Finland in the 1960s, and with a little knowledge of the language, he was able to make a technical contribution to Toika looms, which he maintains today.

I went to visit his workshop in Menstone, about 12 miles from Bradford, to pick up a 10 and 12 dent size reed I had ordered. My loom had originally arrived with a 6 and an 8 dent reed as its former owner had only intended to weave rugs. Arriving at his wonderfully organised two-floor studio I spotted the prototype of his latest design project – a portable tapestry loom. What you can see in the photograph is the loom without its neat folding legs – these collapse when not in use and cleverly attach to the frame. He’s currently making three of these looms and hopes to have at least one ready to show at Woolfest in the summer.

The next stage of my block pattern

The next stage of my block pattern

Back at college, after seeing more of the West Yorkshire countryside than I had anticipated, I concentrated on developing the block threading lifting plan for the dobby peg system I have been using for the past fortnight. Last week I did my first dobby peg plan, just an eight lag 16-shaft pattern. This week I reflected on this first pattern and made further changes to it, weaving a new sample section. As a response to the traditional lifting plans for block threadings I’d studied on the dobby loom, this one was possibly too subtle (and too limited), but it did demonstrate a different approach. I decided that what I needed to do next was to enlarge to scope of the lifting plan to two sets of 8 lags, the second having a marked contrast to the first and making much more play with longer floats than the previous one used. This took much thinking about at the ‘design on squared paper’ stage. Eventually I put something together that plays on the plain-weave ‘miss a lag’ pattern I had used previously. This is a great conceal and reveal pattern, and Graham (the workshop technican), was enthusiastic about some of the effects I was beginning to achieve, albeit that it had not been my intention to consider the project brief at this point. I simply wanted a) to get to grips with block thinking, and b) work with neutral colours on a ecru cotton warp. Regrettably, I had a number of false starts to getting this new longer pattern on the loom. First time around I managed to drop the lags when fitting them on the loom . . . and, of course,  some of the pegs fell out. I then realised I’d put the pegs into the wrong side of the lags! This means that on the photo there’s only a few picks of the new pattern completed – to test the pegs were properly engaging the shaft springed pulleys on the dobby. I just ran out of time to do more.

Detail of this enhanced weave pattern

Detail of this enhanced weave pattern

In counterpoint to this activity I got to see some valuable examples of degree student work, as a result of last minute preparations many students were making to take part in a local competition, closing date today. Graham was holding a kind of clinic to help these students produce an extra level of information on the loom tickets than that normally required by the college. This included such necessities as registering the weight of a square centremetre of woven fabric. Because of this I got to see a really intricate Jacquard woven hanging in Chenille and a series of samples boards produced as a result of a student’s African adventures last summer. Her delightful sketchbook I featured in this blog back in February. I came away from viewing these knowing that what I can possibly do in two years on the HNC course is unlikely to get anywhere near such invention and technical confidence. A salutary reminder that I have so much to learn, and so much ground to cover.

My Current Studio Project

My Current Studio Project

Back at my office / studio, during the evening before my workshop session, I had the pleasure, and it was a pleasure, to complete putting a new warp on my loom. Suddenly every thing worked as it should: tying up to the back beam, raddling through the reed, beaming on to the back beam (using sticks rather than paper as a separator for the first time), tying on to the front beam and getting  that all important even tension across the warp. I was so pleased with myself that I phoned my wife to come up to my office and see (judge) the result. It was a lovely moment to be able to say I did ALL this myself, and to weave a few picks too!

Finally, I received an e-mail this week from the Craft Study Centre at the University of the Creative Arts in Farnham to remind me of their Visual Arts Data Service. (VADS) provides a central resource of over 100,000 high quality digital images, which are copyright cleared and completely FREE for use in UK education and personal research. The images cover a broad range of visual arts subjects including: ceramics, furniture, glass, jewellery, textiles, architectural drawings, public monuments, religious buildings, urban design, product & packaging design, drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture and photography.


2 Responses to “Interesting Interruptions”

  1. Dot Says:

    How lovely to see a photo of Don Porritt. I like the look of that tapestry loom. I didn’t realise he started as a mechanical engineer, but certainly I enjoyed a great chat with him about loom mechanics a couple of weeks ago. I had realised that my Norjanna may not be designed to take more than 8 shafts, and it was good to discuss this with Don. One of the problems is that the distance from front to back beams is shorter that the other Toika looms, and this distance is one factor that affects the shed opening.

    Pleased to hear that warping up your loom went well this time. It is exciting to be able to get this right. Getting the warp on as neatly and evenly as possible makes a very big difference to the way it behaves during weaving and later when you take the cloth off the loom. It’s well worth taking plenty of time and care at this stage. Your weaving is looking distinctly more skillful now and design ideas more adventurous.

    What a shame that English doesn’t lend itself to one of those lovely phrases that some of the European languages have that would literally translate as “let’s weave” but also means let’s enjoy and celebrate and promote this 🙂

  2. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    How wonderful to see your skills growing and likewise your pleasure. A well-warped loom is in itself a thing of such beauty that I often hate to disturb it with weaving.

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