A Busy Time in the Workshop

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.

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2 Responses to “A Busy Time in the Workshop”

  1. Dot Says:

    Your weaving is looking very interesting now, it looks to me as if you now understand visual / textile design in a way that you didn’t before. You’ve got the grammar of it in place so you are able to structure your work in a more poetic fashion.

    How apt that weaving and composition are coming together too, in the collaboration with Jilly Edwards.

    By the way, Laura Thomas, whose work you brought to my attention, is giving the Mary Frith Lecture to the Hallamshire Guild of Weavers Spinners and dyers on 9th May. I might make one of my rare ventures out to meet other weavers. It’s good to meet people for real once in a while!

  2. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    What a fascinating post. Dot has already picked up on the key points. But one thing she did not mention does stand out: “I’ve cracked this business of recording all my weft and lift decisions as I go along.” Recording these decisions is still my bete noir! I usually find my notes, which seemed utterly clear at the time, to be almost totally incomprehensible. Often I can, with great care, work out what I did, but often, I really cannot. Buy I am doing much better at least at recording these decisions than I used to be……It is so hard to stop and put pen to paper when I am in the midst of ideas rushing into my head!

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