A Concerted Effort

Tangierian Kelim

Tangierian Kelim

At the end of my last blog I had had to admit defeat with my attempt to make a counter-marche loom think it was a jack loom. I wrote that blog from a kitchen table in Jesmond, Newcastle where I’d gone to stay to review the Dreams and Ceremonies Festival at the Sage. This was a unique concert series given by the Northern Sinfonia. It featured a programme of music from 1909 to 2009 – Arnold Schoenberg to Thomas Ades, via Pierre Boulez and John Adams and 12 others. It was also a chance to spend time with an old friend convalescing from a heart operation and devote serious study time to the scores of some 16 works, some of which I had never heard before in concert. I also tried to write a little music myself – a start to a music theatre piece for an Italian quartet (violin, bassoon, piano and double bass) called Facts of Life According to Gatto Marte. My Jesmond home for 5 days  was a bachelor residence with a vast library (books, scores and recordings), a proper piano and some lovely woven rugs from Tangiers via Seattle. Here’s me looking like a proper composer for once, the only technology around being my friend’s grand piano.

composer @ the piano (in Newcastle)

composer @ the piano (in Newcastle)

In reality I did most of my work in the kitchen with its lovely red Aga.. . .

Where the real work happened . . .

Where the real work happened . . .

. . . as for weaving, well my attempts to find anything in the woven textile way of things in Newcastle didn’t amount to much. Very little going on, despite a serious search on Google. 

A Brooks Bouquet Lace

A Brooks Bouquet Lace

I got home just in time to get on the road again with my family for an eightieth birthday celebration (my father-in-law) in Andover – 200 miles in the opposite direction. This meant that the following week required some serious catching up in the office. In the middle of the week I did go to Bradford, but for a rehearsal, not to weave. In despair at my lack of progress, I was saved by my ever-friendly soprano, herself a student textile artist, who generously provided the most encouraging of suggestions and possible directions. Inspired and determined, when I got back to my studio I thought I would first sort out the mess that was my experimentally tied-up loom, now hopelessly unbalanced. In an hour or so I had the treadles re-tied to the default tie-up and lams and treadles beautifully balanced – Mr Porritt would have been proud of me. I then reversed the tie-up from my first double weave swatch so that the bottom layer was brought to the top: 124, 2, 234, 4. I then wove a similar piece to my first swatch, this time decorating the top layer with a Brooks Bouquet Lace and a solid bottom layer. I liked the result of this experiment.

. . . with a solid bottom layer

. . . with a solid bottom layer

Now I felt I’d really got the measure of the countermarche system I reckoned I could attempt (again) Palmy Weigel’s two-footed jack loom tie-down. Before I did so I thought I’d see if any of the Farfield Weaving Group had worked with a countermarche loom and could advise me whether this approach was practical or not. Over the phone Anna gave me some sensible advice:  you could weave some bits with your fingers and some bits with pick up sticks. It’s laborious but does allow you to be far more creative and you’d get more done that way of time is tight (which it is!)This encouraged me, but it was my former teacher Laura who got back to me by e-mail saying (after a long and helpful summary of the problems): Another way to think about doubleweave is to design with the loom limitations in mind so you explore what’s possible on a single tie-up sequence and put the interest in the size and shape of the doubleweave blocks, adding colour and texture for greater interest . . . and that was the advice I decided to take. Thank you so much Laura (and Anna). From that moment I started planning an adventurous warp – with a vengeance!

Porth Ceriad - watercolour and pastel

Porth Ceriad - watercolour and pastel

What I had in mind was to work from photos and sketches of the seascapes I’d witnessed from the cliffs above the Irish Sea during my week in Wales. There was one sketch in particular which seemed to capture something of the depths of blueness that included purple and a touch of teal. The grey and rust coloured rocks added another layer of texture. Further out at the sea the blues held swathes of greys, almost whites in shimmering, glassy pools.

One of the many pastel sketches for my 'adventurous' warp

One of the many pastel sketches for my 'adventurous' warp(s)

I made lots of sketches in pastel crayon of colour bands I’d observed, and gradually forming a colour palette I began to envisage as a possible warp. I’m just beginning to find I can mix colours in pastel and get some reasonable results, and more important still I started to think positively about mixing yarn textures. I had two lighter blues (cotton and acrylic mix) than my previous double weave swatches and decided that a collection of chenille yarns just might make a good textural contrast. So I then did two things: I went to Texere in Bradford and came away with five chenille cones in cream, purple, grey, blue and teal; I got out a little wooden frame (15 cm square) and made an experimental warp. This was my first attempt at modelling a warp, and I learnt so much from an hour of two trying out mixtures of warp and weft. It gave me such confidence in the process of finalizing the warp design. I feel sure this approach will now become part of my working method – once again a big thank you to Graham in the Bradford workshop who kindly provided me with the idea (and the frame).

Experiments on my mini loom

Experiments on my mini loom

My next step was to clear everything off my diary for a weekend: I did my final planning, wound my warp lengths in eight colours, and settled down to some pretty intensive loom dressing (punctuated with bouts of cooking for ( and keeping tabs on) my children while my wife was away – busy with a couple of concerts).

Skecth and possible yarns

Sketch and possible yarns

I’ll now own up to a most embarrassing mistake right at the outset: I calculated needing twice as many ends as I needed for the standard swatch. Stupid, stupid, but I thought I’d just go with it, even if the process took twice as long. The next dilemma was: did I really think I could bring together 8 different warp lengths using the Front to Back method? At last I began to see the possible value of the Back to Front approach and using the raddle. But I knew my own teacher Laura would definitely not use this method. So just how did she do it? (see her carpet in my blog on the Farfield Weaving Group).

Sketches and warps threaded through the reed

Sketch plans and warps now threaded through the reed

In my first double weave project I just had two warp yarns. That was fine, but eight? Wouldn’t they just get so tangled up? Once I’d threaded the warp ends of one colour into the reed (observing the necessary spaces), would I have to unravel and cut the warp bunches so they didn’t get in the way of the other colours being threaded. And how would the business of having one warp on top of another work out?  Could I thread one warp at a time? I could foresee difficulties here . . . so in the end I just kept everything together and ended up with a fantastic (what appeared to be a) tangle. BUT, I did manage to untangle it and raddle the warp through the reed and tie everything up with only 4 mis-threadings – a major achievement for me. I have to admit I kept thinking – this isn’t going to work and I’m going to have to stop and redo this double warp – but it finally came out . .  and I think it looks pretty good.

Warp Ends ready to thread through the heddles

Warp Ends ready to thread through the heddles

I took all day on Saturday to dress the loom, and on Sunday an hour or so to correct the very few mistakes. I did begin to feel so much more confident with my dexterity in handling the whole process. I managed ALL my warp chaining flawlessly – and you know, it feels like second nature to do it now – when I think how I struggled a year ago to learn this. Even with the tricky texture of chenille I managed to pick all the warps ends off the cross in my hand – you may remember my tale of an early experience with chenille that ended in total disaster. Threading the heddles just gets easier and easier, and I’m beginning to find more comfortable ways of sitting (rather than kneeling) at the loom to get this done.

The finished warp in place

The finished (double) warp in place

When my wife Susan looked in to see my progress on Sunday afternoon, she illuminated one of my problems in getting a nice even tension on the warp when tieing up to the front beam. ‘You know I’ve often watched you tie your shoe laces’, she said, ‘and you don’t know how to hold an even tension – didn’t anyone ever show you how to do it?’ Well, no. I went to choir school at seven years old and had to pick it up really fast by watching other choristers – I’d always worn sandals before that. And so this weekend I learnt to tie shoelaces properly and  learnt to keep a bunch of warp ends tight when tieing them to the front beam. As Garrison Keillor would say ’50-something composer masters shoe tying after a lifetime of self-deception’.

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2 Responses to “A Concerted Effort”

  1. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    How I enjoyed reading this, Nigel! From start to end it was just a delightful read. I had been wondering when you were going to come to warping B-2-F. It’s probably best to come to it as you did, when you realize that you need to do it that way. I work with such fine threads that a frame loom wouldn’t help me, but you have resurrected my desire for a small table loom for sampling. Certainly far more efficient than using my 45″ wide LeClerc loom. I saw a movie a couple of years ago in which a mom was showing his son how to tie shoe laces. Not how I tied my shoe laces. So when I got home, I tried it. Shoe laces stayed tied much better. I asked Chuck if he had ever tied his show laces that way. No. But, if memory serves (which it usually doesn’t…..) my father tied his shoes the way the mom in the movie did. No, I don’t remember the name of the movie…….

  2. Cally Says:

    That is great advice from Laura and I am really looking forward to seeing this warp develop! I also relate to your experience of gaining fluency in warping. It was one of the biggest steps I took in my weaving technique as a result of Bradford: the need to get warps on quickly and smoothly time after time after time eventually led to my actually getting warps on quickly and smoothly.

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