Farfield Residency (5:14) – by guest artist Alice Fox

How the sun shines!  After a damp start to this week the weather has turned glorious and, whilst it’s a shame to be stuck in doors when it’s like this, the sun streams into the Bainside studio here and improves an already lovely work room.  Of course the lovely weather means that perhaps we get fewer visitors to Farfield Mill because they’re all out on the hills instead.  But we have had a steady stream of interested and interesting people come up to visit us and see what we’re up to.  It seems that not everyone who visits the Mill makes it up to the top floor, but they really should.

Winder from Oakdene

Winder from Oakdene

The day starts with the short but lovely walk from Oakdene, our B&B  along the drive to the Mill.  On either side the fells glow in the morning sunshine, some with a gentle layer of cloud blanketing their tops.  Round here the hay is being turned and dried while the weather allows it.  This gives the air a fragrance and the fields a wonderful striped design that, despite its simplicity and functional nature, always stops me in my tracks.  That visual rhythm that comes from the activity of man and his management of the land and which sits within the natural rhythm of the landscape is something I find myself coming back to again and again.

Making hay while the sun shines

Making hay while the sun shines

Approach to Farfield Mill

Approach to Farfield Mill

The approach to Farfield Mill takes you along what could be described as a fairly non-descript driveway but it’s far from non-descript as far as I’m concerned.  The low verges are filled with exquisite wild flowers: field scabious, meadow sweet, tufted vetch, black knapweed, red clover, bird’s foot trefoil, yarrow, oxeye daisy, great burnet, betony, saw-wort, creeping cinquefoil… just the names are tantalising enough but the flowers themselves along with the birds (this morning a gold finch and swallows) and insect life that swoop about (and the bats at dusk) make for an eventful walk to work.

Whilst is seems such a cliché to say that the natural world is a constant source of inspiration for me (for whom is it not?!) this is most definitely the case.  With a life-long interest in natural history and a previous career in nature conservation it’s pretty fundamental for me.  This also informs my passion for gardens, something which I am keen to explore in relation to my artistic practice.  I brought with me to Cumbria a bunch of flowers and foliage picked from my garden at home, partly to brighten up our studio but also to provide some inspiration for Nigel’s ‘weaving a garden’ project that he’s undertaking here.

Alice's Garden

Alice's Garden

Once my blog for the previous day (day 4) was written and published we had some technology to grapple with to get the presentation about 15 Images up and running on the big plasma screen here on level 4. The presentation is now running on a loop and interleaves information on the background to the project with the digital images and music giving a taster of the performance that will happen on Saturday 8th.  Visitors that have ventured into our studio to have a closer look at what we’re doing have been very engaged with the project and we’ve had some lovely chats with interested and interesting people.  Some have had a go on one of the frames Nigel uses for experimenting with warp and weft ideas.

Public Participation

Public Participation

In the afternoon we both started serious preparation for weaving.  For Nigel this meant getting to grips with his loom and making a start by separating the existing warp ends into groups ready to tie on the new warp.  He also made a series of paper strips with colour added that he could experiment with and develop his ideas for the warp into a more specific design.

Grappling with a different technology

Grappling with a different technology

Meanwhile I investigated the old rigid heddle loom that I brought with me from home.  This belonged to my grandmother and I recently took charge of its care from my aunt’s garage where it has sat since Granny died.  I was really after Granny’s Leclerc 8-shaft countermarche loom and when I went to collect it from Essex I acquired a whole host of related paraphernalia, some of which I know what to do with and some I don’t!  This little rigid heddle loom was there too and I think will be a very important tool for me to try out ideas

warp threaded through the heddle and tied onto the back beam

warp threaded through the heddle and tied onto the back beam

So, using a very practical but colourful book of Nigel’s as a guide I went about getting to know this piece of simple technology and working out how to put on a warp.  I’ve only ever ‘done’ one warp before, at Bradford College and under the expert tutelage of Graham the technician (who’s reputation you will know of from previous blog entries) so it’s all a little unfamiliar.  A small one on a loom like this seemed a very good place to start.  Once I’d sorted out my threads and counted the spaces in the heddle etc. I started to thread the ends through the heddle from the middle and working out to each side.  Once they were threaded I could tie these ends on to the back stick, which was fiddly as nothing was under tension.  Finding that the beams didn’t have the ratchet or ratchet brakes that the loom diagram in the book had stumped me for a while, until I noticed that there are a series of holes on the round piece of wood on the end of each beam and that I could improvise a stop for the beam by using a large needle pushed through the hole and secured with blue tac.  The pack of needles did say multi-purpose!

Tied onto front beam and tensioned

Tied onto front beam and tensioned

With the warp tied on at the back I could tease out the threads with my fingers (a slow but therapeutic process) from the heddle and prepare them in bunches for tying on at the front.  Winding the back beam, inserting papers as I went, took the threads neatly onto the loom so that I could tie them onto the front stick and finally get some tension into them.  What a sense of satisfaction it gave me to be finally presented with a tensioned warp ready for weaving!  Now my challenge is to weave my garden.

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One Response to “Farfield Residency (5:14) – by guest artist Alice Fox”

  1. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    My first loom, many many years ago, was a rigid heddle loom. I very much enjoyed it but then put it away. I took it out again some 15 years ago and started weaving again. When I started to use four rigid heddles to get the effect I wanted, it was time for me to convince my husband that I needed a floor loom! Still, I know of one weave who weaves on very complex looms but returns to the rigid heddle to weave her handspun.

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