Archive for April, 2009

A Busy Time in the Workshop

April 30, 2009

Since my day out to Farnham I’ve been in the workshop twice and managed to create two out of my three ‘college’ swatches for my forthcoming project submission. As in previous projects I have eight or so swatches to produce for this project centred on the use of blocks. Instead of doing all my work at college – as I did in the previous two projects – I’ve split the project weave submission between my studio and the workshop.

Part of my studio project in negative

Part of my studio project in negative

My studio work I’ve discussed already in some detail, but I’ve not indicated the end product factor, the ‘mood’ and ‘market research’ elements. The original colours (green, cream and black on a chunky faux chenille and a light blue/grey bouclé) are those I see as making up the basis for ‘country tones and shades’. I imagined first of all the seaside cottage interior, possibly my own on the Lyn peninsula North Wales, but also the Spring garden, anywhere where the light is bright and brilliant from the reflections off the sea or the sun filtering through the oh so bright green new leaves of where we gather in (my imaginary) leafy garden for the first en plein air lunches of the year (remember those). The end product would be chair covers / cushions and table spreads and mats.If you remember, I’m interpreting the Conceal and Reveal project title through my experiments with looking at colours through a negative filter, a device that generates further colours. These I weave into a series of swatches. The ‘block’ factor is provided by my study and exploration of the traditional Atwater-Bronson Lace pattern using just 4 shafts.

Country Colours

Country Colours

Urban Undertones

Urban Undertones

My College Studio work has focused on the neutral colours: blacks (a mohair) , greys, whites (synthetic and wool mix), grey mixtures with autumnal flecks, a black with gold mix; ‘hidden’ amongst these neutral colours are a hint of primary red and blue – literally behind the weave or inlayed surreptitiously. The neutrals ‘conceal’ the red and blue and just occasionally ‘reveal’ them. The mood / end product factor is interior furnishings in neutral colours, furnishing often found in minimalist loft apartments, usually displaying lots of silver and glass. My pieces provide intimate decorative features to offset the ‘plain grey’ or ‘intense black’; so there’s just this slight hint of colour.

What I’m doing is breaking up my submission into two parts: three sizable swatches for the Country Colours; three sizable swatches in Urban Undertones. The latter is actually 9 swatches in all but collected into 3 groups of three.

College work has been entirely made on the dobby loom. This has been a real adventure physically and mentally. I’ve found the block threading and dobby pegging has stretched my imagination and stamina to the limit – as I only get one day a week to progress this work. The last two workshop sessions (since the Easter break) have seen a little break-through in my relationship with the monster of a George Wood 16-shaft dobby loom. I’ve designed and made my own patterns (pegging my own lags) and I have started to mix these with more traditional ones. For the last piece (Hidden Colours) I’ve had six patterns in six sets of 8 lags and can move easily between the lags as I can recognise from the lift itself where I am. I move backwards and forwards through these patterns, and even interject and juxtapose fragments of one pattern into another.

Notating 'Hidden Colours'

Notating 'Hidden Colours'

Just this week I learnt a brilliant way of hiding weft ‘ends’ at the start and end of a new yarn – instead of fiddling with making a neat overlap (following Debbie Chandler’s advice) I bunch together a small group of warp ends and thread in the gap I’ve created the start or end weft ‘end’ up from underneath the warp, lay the next weft, beat it, and then simply trim the piece of start or end ‘end’ flat with the weave – perfect and quick. Thanks Graham. I can really control my beating now to get different effects and sequences of texture. I’ve also learnt how effective it can be to have spaces of simple weaves (such as plain weave) between more complex patterns. Finally, I think I’ve cracked this business of recording all my weft and lift decisions as I go along. .

Chinese Characters

Chinese Characters

The first of my two Urban Undertones I prepared before Easter. I painted a set of Chinese characters onto the warp. So last Thursday, fresh from my Ethel Mairet adventure, I was able to start straightaway hiding these characters behind a series of block patterns. My inspiration here came directly from the three sessions of experiments I made during March, plus a few new ideas (like the introduction of plain weave bands). The outcome is partially successful, and I can see ways of developing this. Let’s use my wife’s Two Stars and  a Wish response (latest imaginative teaching strategy): ‘The conceal (of red characters) is effective and a little mysterious, the progression from dark to light and separation of patterns in generally OK, but I wish it wasn’t quite so busy and complex – don’t you think simplicity and repetition is best?’ Well, such comments (made last weekend) put me into doom and gloom mode . . . I’ll say no more about that.

Hidden Colours

Hidden Colours

The second piece was not so straightforward. I added a twill ‘block’ into my assemblage of lags and this certainly produced some effective moments, particularly in the second of the three sections. Tiny strips of inlay, one of which I sewed in, appear from the first time, and so does the use of white yarn, a very glossy and chunky synthetic and an undyed wool and cotton mix. Part three of these swatches looms, and my original idea to do a ‘negative’ of the first piece by painting the warp black or grey and using Chinese characters again, but in blue (the negative of red using my digital filter) is being challenged by ‘other’ thoughts – as I write.

Detail from Part 1 of Hidden Colours

Detail from Part 1 of Hidden Colours

After some very busy weeks of writing two new pieces of music – for a choir in Oregon, the other for a singer in Yorkshire – I’ve been able to put some of my musical work on hold this week so I can catch up with all the other ‘bits’ of this project – even though as I get to my office every morning there’s a stack of stuff waiting to be ‘done’ – most of it to do with managing and bidding for a couple of new projects – including two for the Cultural Olympiad in 2012. Quite the nicest (and most unexpected) is a musical collaboration with tapestry weaver Jilly Edwards on her work for the restored Bauhaus-designed High Cross House at Dartington Hall. But lots of organising and commenting to do yet on visual realisation and design development, notes on dyeing and finishing to write up (and extend), the Ethel Mairet visit to manipulate into a formal presentation, and so on.

Jo's Throw

Jo's Throw

In the workshop we are into the season of students and staff beginning to work late, final projects loom, and behind me on the computer-driven 24-shaft Louet Jo (a third year weaver) on the Surface Design degree has been dressing this loom with beautiful woollen yarns (from the Handweavers Workshop in London). She’s making a large throw. I’ll be fascinated to see how it turns out.

Digital print design by Laura Slater

Digital print design by Laura Slater

Finally, I must report on being able to attend a talk at College by textile artist Laura Slater. This was a fascinating exposé of her career to date (Loughborough and the Royal College of Art). Such a range of work (she showed collections from her BA and MA work, as well as recent commercial designs and visualizations, but with commonalities that made sense. She told us that she was particularly intrigued to rediscover and reinterpret many of the traditional textile and needlework skills from her childhood ‘making’. She currently working within the Artist Access to Art Colleges scheme, and is based at Huddersfield University.

A Research Day at the Crafts Study Centre

April 22, 2009

One feature of Bradford’s HNC course is Historical and Contextual Studies. Whilst we are being encouraged to be designers and weavers experimenting constantly with visual ideas, design development and yarn technology, this subject provides a necessary and welcome balance. My only concern is that we get very little of it! After an inspiring start much time has been devoted to individual tutorials to support a 15-minute presentation on a subject of our choice, and this chosen subject can be some distance away from the business of woven textile design.

The Craft Study Centre

The Crafts Study Centre

Unlike most of my colleagues I really wanted my own study to focus on historical and contextual issues surrounding an instance of woven textile design. My subject chose itself – from a book I noticed in the College Library when the class was sent off to the library to ‘find something that interests you, and then talk briefly about why’. The book has remained on my studio shelf ever since. 

Margo Coates monograph on Ethel Mairet

Margo Coatts monograph on Ethel Mairet

My subject is the person often referred to as the ‘mother of English hand-weaving’, Ethel Mairet (1872 – 1952). Under her tutelage most of the major figures in textile design and practice passed through her workshop: Marianne Straub, Peter Collingwood, Alistair Morton to name just three. Her influence was immense, her work in weave, dye and design highly original, her legacy almost forgotten. As soon as I saw her work I was smitten. To use a Sue Lawtyism ‘it made me tingle’. Its look, even from a photograph, just made me sit up and think – ‘this’ is a model I can attempt to aspire to. And from that moment I looked forward to the day when I could visit the Ethel Mairet Collection at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham, Surrey. And now I have . . .

Ethel Mairet making her first experiments at the loom

Ethel Mairet making her first experiments at the loom

The Mairet Collection is extensive and various. There are her sample books, and complete woven pieces, her very large collection of samples of ethnic, traditional and contemporary weave  and embroidery (including many pieces by the French innovator Paul Rodier), her letters, her travel journals, and her library. I decided, on what I’m sure will be the first on many visits, to concentrate on just two pieces from her ‘yellow and black’ series of the 1940s: a scarf and a length of dress material. I wanted to attempt an analysis from the originals, take photographs, and make detailed drawings with the objective of recreating a sample of each woven piece.

Jean Vasher is the Collections Manager who dwells on the top floor of this Bauhaus-like three story building on the campus of the University for the Creative Arts. The lower floors of the building contain two galleries – a permanent collection of ceramics, print, weave and calligraphy, and a space for visiting exhibitions (currently the ceramicist and sculptor Halima Cassell). Both galleries are open daily to the public. The top floor is for bona-fide researchers only. I’m quite used to working in the special collections of university libraries and handling rare musical manuscripts, but this was my first time in a textile archive . . . and I enjoyed it hugely, mainly thanks to Jean’s generosity and interest. Early on we hit a number of problems – we couldn’t find one of the pieces I wanted to see; we couldn’t even find reference to it even though there it was in Margot Coates monograph of Mairet courtesy of the Crafts Study Centre. Never mind I thought, I had one of my two choices to sit down with – the dress length and over 4 metres of it.

There is nothing quite like that moment of handling (with silk gloves of course) a piece that you have gazed at for months on a photograph. It was so light, and smooth to the touch and the grain of the colours just so different from the photo. I could imagine the pleasure my wife would have had making it up into a dress for the kind of spring day that had blessed leafy Farnham in blossoms and sunshine as I stepped off the train from Waterloo. She would have looked wonderful in it too. The design itself is just a repeated block of balanced plain weave 6 x 6 cm square: machine spun, dyed and undyed Welsh wool weft on a warp of the same yarn plus machine-spun dyed cotton. The colours of black and yellow, against undyed wool in the weft, modulated the wool’s colour mysteriously and beautifully as it was crossed by the warp of yellow and white cotton. In that 6 x 6 cm square there were 52 ends in total, so pretty fine. It was a good piece for a novice to analyse, but in doing so I realised just how much I owe to Graham’s advice and experience back in the Bradford workshop.

This was good I thought, and then I dropped the bombshell on the unsuspecting Jean. Where, I asked, are Mairet’s technical notes for this piece? It’s not a sample after all. Well, we looked and looked through the catalogue of the collection and there was absolutely nothing. There weren’t even any dye records – anywhere. We found a published list of some 40 pamphlets she had written on technical matters – but where were these in the archive? It was only after some lateral thinking that Jean realised that in preparing the collection for the archive Mairet’s former student Marianne Straub had made her own notes and analysis on many of the items in the collection. We tracked these down to an old card index. Not that much to go on, but better than nothing. This posed some interesting questions: did Mairet simply produced the samples and expect her apprentices to analyse and work out the pattern?Well, it seems she did. Even her notebooks rarely include any kind of technical description when she was researching and travelling (which she did all over Scandinavia and Eastern Europe) . . . and I looked through some of them. You can find out exactly what she spent in Sarajevo market in 1930, but as to any helpful technical description of any piece of ethnic weaving she looked at, forget it (although it is clear she did buy many pieces to take home). There’s nothing. But before I attempt any definitive statement on this issue I have to contact Margot Coatts, whose wonderfully researched study on Mairet I recommend unequivocally, and ask her for her thoughts.

Marianne Straub's archive accession card

Marianne Straub's collection accession card

I decided I needed to look at some woven pieces that had similarities with the scarf I’d originally hoped to examine. With the aid of Straub’s card index I found something similar and Jean kindly got the box from the store with these treasures neatly wrapped in tissue . . . and there was the scarf I had really come to see hiding under an accession number missing from the Straub index. It was breathtaking, everything I’d hoped it would be, and more. My only problem was that I was running out of time so I couldn’t do the close analysis I’d made on the dress length. However, with Jean’s help (and she’s not a weave specialist) we sussed it out from the brief description: a machine-spun, dyed cotton slub and undyed chenille weft on a machine-spun, dyed cotton warp: plain weave, spaced-reeding, fringed ends and all in lovely delicate 114 cm x 18 cm length. The chenille, the only use of chenille in her entire archive as far as I could see, was often used in a discontinuous weft pick. The scarf is, essentially, two patterns made up of 4 horizontal blocks that repeat the whole length of the scarf. The alternation and content of these patterns is ingenious to say the least. The whole scarf is so contemporary: it is fluid, unbalanced, presents a kind of fuzzy logic surface computer analysis would have found hard to unravel. Each pattern section is never quite the same because, for example,  in the sections of discontinuous weft the sequence of discontinuity is always different.

The reverse of the card shown above, and the detailed of any in the index.

The reverse of the card shown above, and the most detailed of any in the index.

Finally, I do need to mention my all too brief survey of just two of the many pattern books. I chose books that focused on subjects the HNC class had been studying: distorted weft, experimental bouclé, leno samples, the use of cellophane (very brave and unusual in the 1940s – introduced to Mairet by Peter Collingwood), and inlay techniques.

All in all it was quite a day, what with a rehearsal on London’s South Bank to get to as well. I left Wakefield on the 5.17am and got back just after midnight – but it was worth it. Seeing Mairet’s work at first hand was an experience I know I shall hold on to as a touchstone in my weaving practice. There’s something so very right about her work: the product of the complete textile craftswoman, virtually self-taught, a dedicated teacher, researcher, businesswoman, and a highly cultured and socially aware lady (her library with its complete sets of William Morris and Lewis Mumford books a testament to that). And there’s so much more – her Ceylonese adventures and her work with vegetable dyes. For me there’s also something special about her past that makes me smile – as a young woman she trained at the Royal Academy of Music as a pianist and didn’t begin to weave until her later thirties. She never thought of herself as a great technical weaver, but she had such imagination.

Note: current restrictions mean I can’t illustrate this blog with the photographs I was allowed to take at the Mairet Collection. I have applied for permission from the Crafts Study Centre to include a selection in this blog, but it may be sometime before I get the go-ahead. In the meantime I can put these images on my private on-line gallery here because they are not accessible directly from any web search engine. I do intend to make coloured and detailed illustrations of the two items I studied and, as soon as possible, recreate woven samples of these lovely pieces.

Further inspirations

April 15, 2009

Since the Sue Lawty workshop I wrote about at the beginning of the month, I’ve been very preoccupied with family and musical business. Although I did manage a workshop day at Bradford in the week prior to Easter, College was closed (for me anyway) from 2 April until the end of this week.

My Dobby Adventure Part 3

My Dobby Adventure Part 3

I’m about to put a full-stop on my adventures with the dobby loom. On my last workshop day I spent most of my available time improving this bespoke dobby pattern to get more variety and definition. I’ve ended up with a pair of 8 16-peg lags (X Y) serving 2 blocks of 8 threads (A B). For X I’ve retained my original design with the ‘arrow’ in A and a hopsack variant on the B portion. I’ve then inverted A (a kind of mirror image) with the remaining section (B) a variant on the plain weave ‘skip a lag’ pattern, which produces these block-width floats with spaces between them.

My Chinese Characters

My Chinese Characters

The blocks are more distinct now and I’ve also prepared the way for placing a pattern on the warp itself, which will be partially (and playfully) concealed by the weft. This is something the workshop technician has often mentioned as an extended technique, and now is definitely the time to try it. I’ve chosen a series of Chinese characters and painted these on the warp with a procain orange dye ‘fixed’ with Manutex, a cotton binder. Before painting, a specially sized wooden board is placed under the selected piece of warp  between the front beam and the reed.  As it takes about 2 hours to dry I left painting the warp until just before the workshop closed – so it’s ready to weave over next time I come in.

The Dobby Adventure Part 4

The Dobby Adventure Part 4

I now feel comfortable with the physical operation of the dobby loom and don’t get completely exhausted after a few hours weaving! To summarize: I’ve explored four different ‘conventional’ peg plans and three of my own. I’ve used two different dobby looms, the Louet and the George Wood. At home, I’ve worked with an Atwater Bronson lace 4-shaft block threading, a 4-colour warp of imitation chenille (polyester) and a wool/ cotton boucle yarn. I have to admit that I still find myself working out in my head why a particular lifting plan with this block threading produces the effect it does! But then I’ve reached the stage of going beyond the standard lifts. There’s more on this adventure later in the blog.

My Atwater-Bronson Project

My Atwater-Bronson Project

School holidays mean residential music courses for my children. My 18 year old is having his first taste of the National Youth Choir (making a CD with Eric Whiteacre); the 15 year old is playing viola and percussion with the Cumbria Youth Orchestra. Delivering the latter was a great excuse for a day out in a part of the world I have recently come to love, and where I began my textile saga just a year ago. Although my son and I had to leave really early to make the 9.30am rehearsal in Cumbria (about 80 miles from home) it meant that I then had the whole day to myself.

Sketch of the Topiary at Levens Hall

Sketch of the Topiary at Levens Hall

First stop was Levens Hall. This largely 16C house is renown for its garden with a splendid topiary. I’ve known about this place for years as I’d seen it so often in the paintings of a former studio colleague David Wright, whose large canvases often featured Levens as a kind of dreamscape. I have to admit to finding the topiary claustrophobic, so spent several hours at the far end of garden sketching and painting against the boundary wall. Getting very cold finally made me explore the gardens – with a camera this time. I loved the strange corners and unexpected vistas. The topiary only made sense in counterpoint with views of the house. When I got home I made several charcoal and pastel drawings based on my photographs of this juxtaposition. You can explore my gallery of Levens Hall images here.

David Wright and 2 Garden Pictures

David Wright and 2 Garden Pictures

From Levens, next stop was the beautiful Quaker meetinghouse of Brigflatts, the subject of my rather ambitious music and weave project begun last August and now well on its way – completion later this year I hope. Well, part of the musical work is already complete, the piano ‘images’ receiving its premiere last month, and the wind octet has been sent off to the Festival Winds in Canada. The garden, the real focus of my visual interest, was, as ever, captivating yet such an understatement in design and colour.

laura1

Woven work by Laura Rosenzweig

From Brigflatts to Farfield Mill, where I first learnt to weave, and the subject of a blog last November when I spent an afternoon with Farfield’s weaving group. It is my first visit since that day, and there’s a lot of new work to view in the galleries. The woven work is dominated by Laura Rosenzweig’s Howgill Collection. This features predominantly Black-faced Leicester woollen throws woven on Farfield’s own Dobcross looms, beautifully dyed and finished in Galashiels. Alongside this collection there was a chance to see quite a retrospective of Laura’s work, and, for me, the first opportunity to look through her photographic record of 12 years past work, fascinating and inspiring by turn. New names also on show included a Cockermouth dobby-loom weaver Rachel Dutton – some fine silk scarves from her, and knitted work by Farfield artist Angela Bradley. There was a lively collection of small woven rugs and hangings made in Harris Tweed by Jane Jackson.

Sketchbooks by Anne Marie Foster

Sketchbooks by Anne Marie Foster

Later in the week my wife, youngest daughter and I returned to Cumbria, this time to Kendal to be proud parents at the youth orchestra concert. We meant to do all sorts of things during the day, but a late start and a long meal out meant only a little time in Kendal before the concert. While the girls did the shops, I went to the Brewery Arts Centre to see an exhibition by 7 women artists, (aka. The Sketchbook Group),  called Lines of Thought. Two artists particularly caught my attention: Anne Marie Foster and Shelley Rhodes. Anne’s work is mainly in watercolours and with monoprints in oil-based inks and chine colle. Predominantly abstract work, she also showed a collection of her sketchbooks. Shelley’s work is mixed media bringing together fabric, collage and embroidery. Her colours are muted, her designs quietly compelling and slightly temporary. You feel she might just appear and make radical changes to some of her work. She is leading a day on Mixed Media Sketchbook Techniques at the Brewery Arts Centre on 20 June. Shelley has exhibited with Farfield artist Jan Hicks, whose beautiful dyed yarns I have a small collection of, and who I should love to have the opportunity to study dyeing with one day.

New colours from a negative image

New colours from a negative image

Back at my studio I’ve had two Saturday afternoons devoted to my Atwater Bronson project. Following my discovery at Sue Lawty’s workshop of the potential of my camera’s negative filter to show me concealed colours, I have completed a second swatch adding these extra ‘negative’  colours. I’ve also explored how many different patterns I can bring together with just a 4-shaft threading and lift plan. I’m quietly pleased with this, and plan to do just two more experimental pieces. No broken warp ends this time – my warp has stayed beautifully even in tension (quietly proud weaver here for once).

Now it is time to get seriously back to the demands of the College course. I have to spend some time studying finishing and dyeing – to make up for the all too (far too) brief introduction my HNC group had in February. On the near horizon, I have a trip next week to the Craft Study Centre for a day with the Ethel Mairet Collection. This will form the basis of my Historical and Contextual Studies presentation in May. For those interested in the late Peter Collingwood, the Centre’s curator and collections manager Jean Vasher was clearly proud to tell me, when I rang her before Easter, that the Centre had acquired Collingwood’s complete collection (which I imagine must be vast). Collingwood was one of the few male students of Mairet along with Edinburgh weaver Alistair Morton. Kindred spirits . . .