Archive for August, 2009

Spinning at Sarn

August 24, 2009

I’ve been having a quiet week in North Wales with my wife and daughter. No music, no weaving, just a lot of rain and wind, and a cottage full of books to read. Susan and I have found ourselves engrossed by the first two of Steig Larsson’s extraordinary Millennium series and I have notched up a Daphne Du Murier (My Cousin Rachel), Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (my second go at this strange book) and currently really enjoying E.H.Gombrich’s The Story of Art – a book I should have read years ago. Escaping the clouds hanging over the mountain most of the time, we’ve visited a number of car boot sales and restocked the cottage library.

Lynne Shepherd at the wheel

Lynne Shepherd at the wheel

As we left Sarn village, after a particularly successful charity bookstall raid, I noticed a  sign advertising ‘spinning and weaving’. In a collection of huts and workshops we found a small gallery, a pottery and various craft spaces. Making enquiries I discovered that I could arrange a one-to-one introduction to spinning from Lynne, a member of the local guild of spinners, weavers and dyers. So later in the week, clutching notebook and camera, I turned up for a three-hour session. It was exactly what I had been looking for, what I had surmised as an important gap in my knowledge and experience of textile craft.

My guide to this very special craft was a lady who loved all aspects of working with wool. She was clearly well practised in putting the elements of Spinning across to beginners with enthusiasm. Lynne Shepherd is the co-ordinator of the Lynn Guild of Weavers Spinners and Dyers, a very active guild who meet weekly at Pen y Groes. She’s only recently started teaching at Sarn, so I felt myself most fortunate to have the opportunity of this introduction within a few miles of where I stay in this beautiful part of the Lynn peninsula.

A collection of wools

A collection of wools

Lynne had taken real care to set up a varied collection of yarns, wools, wheels, accessories, books and all kinds of examples. This collection of resources made her guide to spinning encompass many things I had simply not expected. She was able to tell the whole story of working with wool from the fleece to the garment. She began with wool itself, the fleece to be exact. She had a bag full of Welsh Mountain fleeces and a series of staples that included Romney, Wensleydale, Shetland, Llyn and Welsh Mountain. She stressed how important it was to take great care over hygiene in handling a fleece and demonstrated how a fleece might be combed and cleaned. I was allowed the choice of working from a raw fleece or ready prepared hanks of wool. For combing, in addition to a drum carder, she recommended a dog comb.

The next step was to explain the difference between spinning and plying and the intricacies of wpi (wraps per inch). We looked at what went to make 2 or 4 ply yarns. I was introduced to a basket of ready-prepared yarns that included Torwen, Herdwick, Merino, Alpaca and Welsh Mountain. At last I felt able to hold these natural yarns in my hand and ask all the questions I’d ever wanted to ask. Lynne was keen to recommend Wingham Wool Work as a great source for such wools, and explained how this Yorkshire-based company regularly make visits to guilds across Wales so that members can try before buying wools.

As if to cue, while this examination was going on, a visiting artist preparing a local exhibition appeared to buy a spindle – a kind of portable spinning wheel. I even got a demonstration.

It was then a very small step to examine dyeing, natural dyes in particular. We looked at examples of Kidd Mohair and Alpaca. I discovered the importance and nature of natural mordants, the catalysts of the dyeing process, how to dye in the microwave, how to dye in a glass jar with a piece of copper pipe (!), and how the local Lynn Guild regularly hold dyeing days when members can experiment with having ‘several dye pots on the go’. Books recommended included A Dyer’s Garden by Rita Buchanan (Interleave Press) and mention of the Dye Garden at Trefrew.

A Niddy-Noddy

A Niddy-Noddy

Now it was time to explain and use the wheel itself. Lynne had brought three wheels with her: one, locally made, with an attached bobbin holder (2 full – 1 on the wheel to enable the plying process to take place), and two traditional Ashford wheels. But first the Niddy-Noddy! I had never seen this strange hand-held device before. It’s a bit like a warping frame for spinners. I was taught how to wind a spun yarn onto it to enable me to make a hank, from which I was then shown the umbrella action skeiner and wool winder. I’d seen both before, and often wondered what they did!

Finally, in this ‘working backwards approach to Spinning’ I got to sit at the wheel to learn the treadling action. Quite tricky. It took me some time to be able to control the wheel motion properly with my foot.

My first attempt at spinning itself from the wool was with a piece of Alpaca dyed green. I found the co-ordination very difficult and it took the best part of forty minutes to be able to feel something of the correct motion. I also managed to master joining a strand of wool on to the spun thread. The spinning action is certainly something one has to practise over and over again – and I did make a useful video from my camera of Lynne’s ‘action’. I did feel, however, that I had captured something of the basics. If I can borrow my mother-in-law’s wheel then maybe next time I come to Lynn (possibly in the early autumn, it may be worth Lynne’s while to give me some further tuition. I do feel that this is one craft that certainly has to be learnt by example (Lynne did recommend one book – The Essentials of HandSpinning by Mabel Ross, published by Wingham Wool Work 1999). I remain most grateful to this thoughtful spinner for such a thorough and interesting introduction, whether I can take the craft forward or not.

A footnote – during my spinning session a mother and daughter spent an hour or so weaving on very simple cardboard box looms! I’d never seen these box looms before and in comparison to my rather awkward frame looms they were great for beginnings (and competent weavers too!). I append some examples to the gallery images. Essentially, these are standard banana boxes strengthened at the top of the box by two pieces of wood taped at either end of the box. Brilliantly simple!

 

Advertisements

The Farfield Residency (13 & 14)

August 16, 2009

This is the final full day of my residency here at Farfield Mill. Today will see the third and final concert in the series I’ve curated for Farfield Mill, their first venture into music. This was a solo recital for guitar of Matteo Carcassi’s Etudes Melodiques.

Ready for the Concert

Ready for the Concert

Having had a really promising rehearsal the evening before I decided not to spend too much time practising, but to concentrate on making a lively display of the two-week residency and deciding whether or not to take my woven piece off the Glimakra loom. With the display I’ve really benefited from collecting and making images of all sorts during the residency. I had plenty of material to play with, and apart from not quite obeying the necessary perspective correction on the wall space, the end result is certainly colourful and ‘different’.

The display outside the Bainside Studio

The display outside the Bainside Studio

All the exhibition items on Level 4 and in this ‘corner’ outside the Bainside studio will remain on show until the end of August. Remember all the work can be viewed in detail and with extensive interpretation on my  website – just take the Quick Link marked Fifteen Images from the Home Page. If you are within striking distance of Sedbergh do come and see this work and take in some of the other exhibitions currently at Farfield Mill. The Maggie Ayres show is highly recommended.

A bit of a mess - with kenaf

A bit of a mess - with kenaf

As to the knotty problem of what to do about my woven piece and the state of the loom itself, I had almost decided to take what I’d woven off the loom. The right hand end of the warp with 10 ends of kenaf was suffering badly as my illustration above shows.

My Woven Garden piece

My Woven Garden piece

I thought if I was to restart the woven piece I would strip these kenaf ends out altogether. However, I felt I needed a second opinion (and possibly some Vilene). Well, in the end I got two opinions and the Vilene (which in the end I didn’t use). Alice appeared about midday with her family on their way to 10 days camping in Scotland, and Margaret from the Farfield Weavers’ Group was weaving herself on Level 4. Between them they decided the woven piece should come off, and Margaret showed both Alice and I some valuable and confident ways to do this, and demonstrated a lovely way of making the ends of the warp secure. During my afternoon concert Alice sat in a distant corner of the Level 4 gallery and did this tidying up process while I played away. This has made the woven piece quite presentable, even though there is still quite a lot of darning of weft ends to do.

The residency resume display

The residency resume display

The audience for my final concert was surprisingly large! Indeed, we ran of chairs and had go searching around the lower floors of Mill for extras. I was delighted to discover afterwards some of my own friends and colleagues in the audience. I’m afraid when I’m playing the audience is a complete blur, although there was a lady in the front row with an amazing frock that I found distracting at the time! I grouped the 25 Etudes into batches of six or so and talked a little in between these groups about Carcassi, 19C Paris and how the guitar had changed since the 1820s.

Nigel rehearsing for Saturday's Concert. Photo by Alice Fox

Nigel rehearsing for Saturday's Concert. Photo by Alice Fox

As an un-programmed final item Alice joined me to perform John Dowland’s Flow my Tears, the Lachrimae, a tender and reflective end to what amounts to almost a year’s work. This time last year I was discovering Brigflatts and its beautiful garden (in the rain). I attended Jeanette Appleton’s workshop at Farfield Mill and was so encouraged and enthused. A month later I had begun formal part-time studies in woven textile design at Bradford College, and had begun writing a sequence of music collectively known as Le Jardin Pluvieux. (I’m now half way through this sequence of music, textile installations, digital presentations and poetry – after my work on the life and work of Barbara Hepworth for her centenary celebrations in 2003 it is my most ambitious collection of  music yet). In November I introduced myself to a young woman weaving on one of the College dobby looms (ever curious to know what other student weavers were up to). We both, but variously, attended Sue Lawty’s lecture in York, but didn’t meet again until January, when I saw her in a corridor at College and asked, as she’d been to the lecture, if she’d look at and comment on my blog report on this lecture. She did, and from that has developed a six-month collaboration in music, textiles and digitally-mediated art that has been at the heart of my Farfield residency, and for which I am most grateful. Thank you, Alice and your most patient and supportive family.

At Farfield Mill I need to thank the Chair of Trustees Anne Pierson (for believing a music / textiles residency would be a ‘good thing’ for Farfield), Exhibitions Officer Elizabeth Eaton for facilitating the residency, to Jeremy the new administrator who made essential things happen and appear, to the Farfield staff and volunteers, to Margaret, Anna, Susan and Rosie from the Farfield Weavers’ Group, and studio artist and next-door neighbour Tomoko. At Brigflatts meeting I need to say a particular thank you to the Warden Tess Satchell and the Clerk Margaret Stocks, and further down Brigflatts  Lane  to John Rice and Clare Hamilton for their friendship and hospitality.

What next? There is lots of music to finish writing and possibly a change of studio in Wakefield to accommodate my tapestry loom (still in Exeter sadly). Facts of Life according to Gatto Marte has to be complete by the end of September to go into rehearsal on October 11. I need to put aside time to consider the many lessons this residency has taught me. I have learnt a lot in recent weeks about working and presenting woven textiles, often due to kind observations from the online readers of this blog.

Nigel at the loom. Photo by Alice Fox

Nigel at the loom. Photo by Alice Fox

Certainly what I set out to do over this past fortnight was probably too ambitious, but I only had this small window of opportunity to bring together a body of work and practice. For me, artistically and personally, it has been worth it. Whether the outcomes will be of sufficient quality and interest to catch the attention and support of galleries and centres for textile art able to accommodate this kind of cross-art residency is to be seen. I hope so.

It’s now Sunday morning and there is the final packing up to do. All my stuff is staying here for 10 days while I’m in Wales. I’ll then say my goodbyes to Ruth and her mother Jean at Oak Dene where I’ve stayed this fortnight. Definitely the best B & B in Sedbergh. I’ll then walk to Brigflatts for meeting and then hope to get a lift the 10 miles or so up to Garsdale Station. I cycled it last summer in an hour and a quarter. Walking it would probably take three hours  . . . I just wish it would stop raining.

No more blogs for bit . . . I may be back in September when I start learning to be a tapestry weaver!

Nigel @ Farfield Mill

Nigel @ Farfield Mill

 An Extra Note: If you’d like to read a resume of the whole Farfield Residency it is now available as a PDF here.

The Farfield Residency (12:14)

August 14, 2009

Current Listening: J.S.Bach The Art of Fugue

My dear daughter Frances May, as editor of the wonderful, but late lamented Plan B magazine, always used to head her blog with ‘current listening’. This really set the tone for the writing that followed. During my days at Farfield I have listened to more music in a fortnight than I have in months, if not years. Having really got to know Ollie Mustonen’s playing of the Goldberg Variations, it was time tonight for Die Kunst der Fuge. This version of the work for piano intersperses miniature pieces by Gyorgy Kurtag – to great effect.

* * * *

Today I devoted to weaving, as much as time and this really ‘difficult loom’ would allow. I have made some good progress, but ultimately I am defeated and decide this evening I can’t go any further until I can get the loom balanced (shaft pins would help!) and the lams to behave themselves (without those all important washers I have on my Toika loom.

The next part of the woven garden

The next part of the woven garden

What I’ve decided to do is to cut the woven piece off and hang the incomplete piece in a small display I’m putting together about my all too brief residency. I’ve asked Alice to help me do this if she arrives in Sedbergh in good time for my recital tomorrow – I need some Vilene (which she has and I forgot) and some moral support! What I’ve tried to do with this woven experiment is to put colours together with particular weave patterns. I’ve made use of pebble weave, crepe, cord, vertical herringbone (43, 41, 21, 32, 41, 43, 32, 21) and towards the end of the piece long and short pointed twill (with a straight draw – 43, 32, 21, 41, 21, 32, 43, 41, 43, 32, 21).

Detail of the Woven Garden

Detail of the Woven Garden

Despite all the problems I have learnt a lot from my concentrated time trying to weave what is certainly the biggest piece I have attempted to date. I realise how far I have to go to make coherent weave and colour structures. Talking of coherence,

Front view of the woven piece to date

Front view of the woven piece to date

Alice sent me the first fruits of her weaving on the rigid heddle loom she warped up during her time at Farfield. I love the image of the weave against the window with the garden outside . . . I’m hoping she might bring the completed piece to Farfield tomorrow to put in the display I’m co-ordinating (see below).

Alice's Rigid Heddle 'Garden' Piece

Alice's Rigid Heddle 'Garden' Piece

I finally put the loom from my mind about 4.0pm and after a strong cup of coffee settled down to play through my programme for tomorrow’s recital.  Although I’ve played this work – Carcassi’s Etudes Melodiques – many times, it’s a fickle piece and there are still corners that surprise and infuriate me. But I like it because it gives me such a lot of room for creative interpretation.

After a gentle and clear morning rain set in before lunchtime . . . and it is still raining,dismal for all those people on holiday. After a flurry of visitors this morning, the Mill has been quite quiet. I wonder what people do with themselves when it is raining in Sedbergh. Probably go and explore one of the many bookshops. It’s a good job I’m 15 minutes walk from the town – so far I have only succumbed to two books, and they were presents. Maybe tomorrow?

I arranged my getaway from Farfield for Sunday afternoon. It will be a five-hour trip by train with three changes to arrive in Bangor in time for a fish and chip supper with Susan and Meg. But before that I have to negotiate getting to Brigflatts for Sunday meeting and then a 10-mile journey to the station at the head of Garsdale. A bus surely? You must be joking. Sedbergh only has a bus service that runs on a Thursday – so it’s a taxi or the kindness of friends or colleagues..

Remember that vase of flowers . . .?

Remember that vase of flowers . . .?

This evening I’ve been putting together a kind of residency retrospective: a display of photographs, sketches, warp and weft designs, recital programmes, photos contributed by the online weavers I know. I can certainly cover a good space of empty wall outside the studio.

The Farfield Residency (11:14)

August 14, 2009

I’m beginning to make some progress with this woven piece and I’m hoping I might complete half of it by Saturday. The kenaf (hemp) that I unwisely used as part of the warp has had a few breakages, but otherwise everything is going to plan. I’ve never woven anything this wide before so I’ve had to learn how to throw the shuttle. This is quite an art and I’m slowly getting the hang of it! Lack of time is beginning to dictate certain aspects of the design I had in mind. I think it’s better to focus on getting a relatively straightforward play of colour than attempting too intricate patterns and effects.

Weaving the Garden

Weaving the Garden

Today I received my first commission as a weaver, a long winter scarf based on the swatches I submitted for the Conceal and Reveal project at Bradford last May. I was really taken aback when this very well spoken lady appeared and enthused about the design and the feel of the yarns (faux chenille from the cheap basket in my local craft shop). I didn’t have the heart to say anything except I might have trouble getting hold of something similar.

Etude Vingt-Quatre - Matteo Carcalli

Etude Vingt-Quatre - Matteo Carcassi

Most of my time and energy has had to be focused on preparing this solo recital I’m giving here at Farfield on Saturday. I’m playing Matteo Carcassi’s Etudes Melodiques – complete. This is a set of 24 studies that every student classical guitarist plays, or rather plays the first 6 studies. After that they get decidedly tricky, and, as far as I know, I’m the only guitarist in the world who plays all of them! They are distinctly charming, with echoes of the Preludes of Chopin. The problem with playing this work is pacing the performance – it’s quite a lot to listen to (around 50 minutes). So I try to split the studies up into groups of between four and six. Several years ago I discovered that Hector Berlioz had his own copy of these Etudes and certainly, by the fingerings marked, played them. His copy resides in a private library in California. Frederic Chopin heard Carcassi play hem in Paris and is said to have admired them.

I’ve started to pull together a resume display of the residency. This will include lots of photographs, comments, sketches and design illustrations, some of the music I’ve written, and of course the blogs – generally some evidence! Alice has just sent me some valuable photos of me working with visitors on the handloom on Level 4 that carries the invitation to ‘have a go’. She tells me she’s making some progress at home with the piece on her rigid heddle loom that she started here last week.

Susan & Meg @ Mount Cottage 2008

Susan & Meg @ Mount Cottage 2008

I’m beginning to turn my thoughts to packing up and preparing to travel to North Wales. My wife Susan is battling against bad weather for the third year in succession – although the sun has appeared briefly. Yesterday she managed to break the axle on our trailer bringing barrels of water up to our waterless cottage – the well, despite all the rain, has dried up. That said, she sounded quite cheerful – perhaps she’s got a good crime thriller on the go (her holiday pleasure).  Meg is still chilling I think – waiting for me to arrive (on Sunday or Monday) to organise some expeditions to our favourite places. I’m hoping to read a few books . . . and gaze at the sea and sky.

River Clough from the 'balcony'

River Clough looking West from the 'balcony'

Before a picnic tea at the studio I allowed myself some time to draw. I’m captivated by the view up and down the River Clough from the ‘balcony’ on the top floor of the Mill. The constant sound and movement of the river as it wends its way between the rocks is so fascinating and absorbing. My picture doesn’t begin to capture this, but I enjoyed doing it. About six this morning the light and clarity of the views beyond of the river were breathtaking. My photo hardly does it justice.

Looking East up the River Clough

Looking East up the River Clough

I’ve had lots of visitors during the day and I’m now rather sorry I haven’t kept a visitors’ book. Must do this in (future) residencies. I do scribble down names when I can, but I should do this properly. The process of weaving does seem to intrigue people. It is clearly, to some, a great mystery (it was to me once), and the complexity of it surprises visitors for whom this may be the first occasion they’ve got that close to a loom.

Visitors try the handloom

Visitors try the handloom

On level 4 at the Mill there’s a small bookshop, and I found just browsing a rather special book published in the 1980s. It’s called The Craft of Weaving written by Ann Sutton, Geraldine St Aubyn Hubbard and Peter Collingwood. It is the book of a BBC TV series no less . . . and it is brilliant! Highly recommended, but I imagine (by its price) it is rather rare. I ‘borrowed’ it for some bedtime reading . . . I certainly can’t afford it, sadly

The Craft of the Weaver

The Craft of the Weaver