My week in North Wales was blessed with the most glorious weather; blue skies, blue sea, bluebells still on the mountain around the cottage. Sitting inside writing music was not the order of the day when outside late Spring was happening with a vengeance. The hedgerows in the lanes down towards Aberdaron displayed a riot of wild flowers, even wild fuchsia and honeysuckle. As for weaving, my token encounter to share on this blog has to be my visit to the Tonnau Gallery in Pwllheli on the day of my arrival. After a seven-hour train journey I arrived to find I had a long wait for a bus to complete the last 15 miles to the tip of Lyn. So I spent a most profitable hour examining cushions and throws in double weave from the Pembrokeshire weavers Melin Tregwynt. This was my first opportunity to put such work between my hands, and it was a valuable one, particularly when later on in the week I attempted to describe one of these throw patterns, through a series of diagrams, in a letter to a distant friend. Here’s the piece in question, front and back. It is woven in lambswool, 150 x 180 cm, with a price tag of £115.
At Anelog farm it was time for the home sheep to be sheered. The sheerer appeared one very hot afternoon and clipped 100 sheep, hardly pausing for breath. I spent a few hours helping round up errant sheep and deliver them to the shearer, and was glad of my hat and suncream! The fleeces that came off the sheep are now sadly worth about 60p each. Gone are the days when a tenant farmer might pay a year’s rent from such a clipping. Susan at Anelog kindly put together a bag of black and brown fleeces of her Bardsey Island sheep for me to pick up in August when I next visit. In July Anelog clips its mountain sheep, some of whom are quietly grazing in the field below the cottage, now clear of its thistles for another year (my contribution to farm work for the week).
Back in the real world I had to forego my workshop day to do some long overdue final checking of an orchestral score. However, the following evening I found myself at Bradford College in the company of my wife and my youngest daughter to take in the Private View of the Summer Show. This seemed a must for me: to be able to view what my second year colleagues on the HNC had produced as their final work. I was also most interested to see the final collections of the full-time degree students on the Surface Textile Design BA whose work I have been able to see develop over the past few months. I’d intended to make just one visit, but it became clear I was going to have to make time to come back on Saturday morning to make more detailed observations and notes, some of which I’ll try and share here.
What I’m going to write about is not in any sense a review. Jane Huws, one of my colleagues on the HNC course, has put herself forward to do this for intended publication in the Journal of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. With her more confident understanding of the woven medium her report will be what you’ll need to read to get a balanced view of the show. I’ve chosen just three examples of final work from artists whose collections I felt stood out for me at the Private View. My descriptions and comments, which include my own illustrations as well as photographs, are made in the nature of a discussion with myself. Why should such work speak to me in the way it does? What I have to say is not uncritical and should be read very much as a reflection on my own notions and prejudices about woven and printed textiles.
Fiona Wilson is a textile designer and print maker who has just completed her BA studies in Surface Textile Design. Her final collection she describes as ‘a visual exploration of the impact society has made of the surface of the earth’ and is a mix of screen and digital print, devoré, breakdown printing and paper laminating. Hold on. I’m supposed to be writing about weave here. Well, I could not pass this collection by. It had freshness and energy in its design ideas and images, a strikingly beautiful yet restrained colour palette, and the most effective use of a kind of free-form embroidery. The source material, a study of maps and aerial photos of urban landscapes, was so cleverly realised into images that (later) have played powerfully on my imagination. I’ve expressed in past blogs my desire to find images for myself in weave that might speak of the urban rather than the rural (and in that respect have been most enthusiastic about the work of Massey and Rogers in Derby). Fiona’s work not only captures the feel of an urban landscape, but also gives it a positive and life-affirming edge that makes me smile and feel good about what such an environment can contribute to life. Her images, colours and design structures are so playful and suggestive to the eye that they would be a joy to have in my home or office.
My illustration shows her signature wrap-around skirt design that ingeniously brings together on one surface most of the techniques and processes featured in her collection. There’s also a large wall hanging based on an embroidered grid around and into which are placed a play of her ‘house with a chimney’ motive that echoed for me images from the paintings and ‘family group’ prints of Amrik Varkalis who I’ve mentioned on these pages in a past blog. What is so vibrant about this particular piece is the way the motives step across the grid squares and are not confined by them.
My first impression of 3rd year student Ameema Amin’s final collection was my own negative response to its colours and textures. It was as if these elements didn’t belong to my culture or way of looking at what makes up the interior world of my day-to day life. I realised as I examined her work how woefully prejudiced I was in matters of colour and texture. I was, to my shame, so very Anglo-American. The colours and textures that surround my life seem to deny the effect of light on colour. What Winifred Nicholson discovered on her youthful trip to India, that the colour violet could be born out of shadow created by harsh direct sunlight on stone, was a necessary example that immediately came to mind. Ameema’s work seemed to me all about such an experience with light. Her collection flows from a visual world I don’t know, but am now very intrigued to discover more about. She has done me an enormous favour is presenting a body of work that represents so naturally something of her innate culture and background.
Her subject material was formed from a visit to The Deep Submarium in Hull, a visit from which she has taken colours of ocean shells, coral and marine life. This is a location I’m very interested in because I’m creating an orchestral work – called Sounding The Deep – for the 10th anniversary of Terry Farrell’s amazing Millennium building in 2012. Her collection was focused at young single people living urban lives and is a mix of Jacquard and handwoven samples and some attractive print designs for wallpaper. In my illustration I hope I’ve brought together (and got ‘right’) at least some of the colours from her working repertoire, but it is the visual representation of the textures that make these colours buzz that I can’t begin to get near. Even my photographs can’t capture this. Her Jacquard work I found so very original and different from anything else I saw in the Show. I liked it. I liked its feel and texture, particularly her double cloth pieces, and most specially the skirt I have chosen to illustrate. Her wallpaper prints I couldn’t imagine at first in situ within an interior space, but laying my prejudice aside (goodbye Laura Ashley, Cefyn Burgess and Omega Workshop) I found myself visualising their effect and realising what a very limited world of colour I tend to live in.
As I was looking at Ameema’s work a recent BA graduate asked if I’d seen the ducks downstairs in the HNC show. What she meant was had I seen Theo Wright’s astonishing Wildfowl Collection? By the time I arrived in the Craft Centre Café, the location for the HNC final collections, he had left for the evening, so it wasn’t until the following day that I managed to meet him and congratulate him on a beautifully designed and executed presentation of scarves based on – ducks.
Theo’s scarves (very much for men) are woven in silk and lambswool. Two lovely long and wide silk scarves (at 40 epi!) formed the collection’s physical centrepiece, with a single lambswool creation (beautiful greens and browns) in a self-standing display cabinet. On the right-hand wall there was a display of the many development samples judged as worthy of possible design directions and developments. His sketchbook, design development notes and technical file provided me with a most valuable hour’s reading before the exhibition closed at 2.0pm (far to early for me). It was a lovingly assembled collection carrying without inhibition a male signature and intent. It had a traditional feel to it, very county, and I thought potentially eminently marketable as exclusive accessories for men who have tailors and aspire to being gentlemen (but not bankers). This weaver’s observations of ducks’ plumages were just so keen and imaginatively rendered into the woven surface. Photographs and microscopic analysis were his favoured tools. Sketched and painted work I found disappointing, and he gracefully admitted he did too. It wasn’t his way, he said, of dealing with visual realisation and he clearly felt that guidance on the course had been a little limited. By contrast I found his notes on the process of design development fascinating, comprehensive and inspiring by turn. He had done so much experimentation and the samples he displayed were probably the tip of large iceberg! The silk pieces were striking in their mix of walnut brown with a delicate gold patterning interrupted by a blazon of blue and then of biscuit / oatmeal. Theo tells me he is now moving on from his HNC to enter the second year of a degree course at Falmouth College. I’ll watch his development with some anticipation. To look at Theo’s own images of his work on Flikr click here:
Back in my studio I had to grapple with the uncomfortable fact that my 4-shaft 6-treadle Toika loom really was not the appropriate loom for this HNC course of study I am now nearly half way through. I have now arranged for the loom to be extended to 8 shafts and 10 treadles, but in the meantime I decided I would try to tackle the notion I had read about: that a countermarche loom could be tied up like a jack loom. This would allow me, in theory, to use two treadles simultaneously, and so weave some of the basic double weave patterns I wanted to use for this current project.
My wife and I spent a few frustrating hours (thanks Susan – I love you dearly) seeing if we could do this, but to no avail. However, the mystery of the tie up is certainly something of the past, in that the countermarche mechanism has been revealed to us good and proper! Sadly, to progress as I wish, before my loom is extended to 8 shafts and 10 treadles, I shall now have to borrow an 8-shaft Harris tabletop loom from college and make up for lost time pretty quickly. I did finish my first sample on the Toika loom, and learnt much from the experience, but with such a limited tie-up (I couldn’t bring the bottom warp to the top as I felt was necessary), and some fruitless experiments earlier in the week, I admit defeat! If there is anyone out there who can do the trick of such a tie-up as I attempted, and described above, do let me know . . .