I’m nearing the end of the six-day Autumn School on the 2nd year of the Bradford College HNC Woven Textile Design. Today we’re going to be considering Realising a Textile Collection and Writing a Final Project Proposal. The spectre of the Final Show next June is already hanging over us and today we’ll have the opportunity to make noises to our lecturer about our intentions. In the seven days prior to the Autumn School last Monday I brought together all the threads of Project 5 whose details I described in my last blog. We had the challenge of an Interim Group Critique, and it really was a challenge to most of us because we were not sure what the expectation was and how much of it would be assessed. After much deliberation I did two things: I wove three samples; I created a web presentation that described my planning, work in progress, work to do, and proposed outcome. In other words I told the story of my Project 5 (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle). Below you can see a display of the web pages that I prepared just in case my lecturers were unwilling to let me show these images from the web. You can download these slides (which also includes a draft mood board and market research images) as a PDF here.
You’ll see on the right hand side of my Group Crit. display that I presented my samples in one length. I was persuaded to do this by my wife who reckoned it looked better that way. Several people said – oh, I do like the sections of dark blue (that’s a filler between samples thank you very much!) However, I have put the samples against individual close-up photos.
These samples I decided to do in the workshop at college. So it was back to the 8-shaft Harris loom, which I haven’t used for some time. After all that experimentation with natural fibres I decided at last to choose raffia as my main fibre and found that Texere in Bradford do a lively selection in different colours. I bought 5 packets in all that seemed to bring together some of the colours I’d explored in my visual realisation work on the parterre. For a warp I discovered a white paper yarn that looked interesting and possible. As soon as I began to make the warp with this fibre I knew I was in for trouble. I had never used anything like it before and I soon got into serious difficulties. I was saved from complete melt-down by Graham the workshop technician who encouraged me to think of a variation on my usual front to back method of warping. I’d seen this done once before by Margaret Eccleston at Farfield Mill, but never tried it.
I think Debbie Chandler describes this method as her 3rd way of warping. Here it is: on the warping board instead of tying up the cross, use cross-sticks. Standing at the front of the loom, tie the reed / beater up half way between the front beam and the castle. Hang the cross sticks from the castle so they are behind the beater / reed. Then simply pick off the ends from the cross and thread through the reed. This is a very good method when you have to work with a yarn/fibre that is as difficult as paper.
The next step was to thread the warp. I decided to imagine this loom as a rug loom and just use 2 shafts and a straight draw. Then, the worst bit of the process – trying to tie the warp up with adequate tension at both ends – without breaking the yarn. Well, thanks to Graham’s help and ingenuity we did it . . . and I’ll certainly know how to do it next time. Putting such a warp on my floor loom will certainly require two people!
I then choose a number of auxiliary yarns to go in a kind of counterpoint with the raffia in the weft. I found a couple of linen yarns of different shades of green, a natural kenaf, a few threads of sari silk remnants and the fabulous white bamboo yarn from Habu that I’d used in my frame experiments at home. I was prepared (and inspired) to weave with raffia after my last workshop with Sue Lawty. She has used this fibre extensively in her work and gave many pointers to working with it. Raffia comes in lengths of about a metre so to weave with it you have to be confident and crafty in making joins between lengths. I deliberated asked Sue Lawty how she did this so effectively, and being the very generous artist she is, she showed me . . . and look Sue, I can do it. Thank you.
The more I wove with raffia the more I really liked it, and I was surprised how well it wove into the paper warp. I do like the unevenness of the colour that seems to produce some very subtle shades and textures. I was quite surprised to discover how well the linen yarns I’d chosen worked alongside the raffia. The first piece is all greens, then the second introduces a blue grey, the third brings in yellow. As I was finishing the second I suddenly thought about painting highlights of colour into what showed in the weave of the paper warp.
The whole of this little weaving project with raffia was hand-manipulated. Along with plain-weave I used just a few of the tapestry knots I know: soumak, Egyptian knots. (I found a wonderful summary of the standard tapestry knots in a little book my wife found on E-bay, called Small-Scale Weaving, it’s Number 17 in the Needle Crafts series from Search Press). The illustration above comes from this book – such a useful reference guide. I twined raffia colours together and layered them too. Every pick was beaten with my trusty metal fork rather than the beater.
Now to the Autumn School itself. We started first thing Monday morning with an interim Group Critique. I don’t think any of us was quite sure exactly what was expected of us for this 10-minute presentation, that is ten minutes of our time and then an indeterminate time for questions (or so it seemed). I think all of us on the course recognize that it is in these presentations, the displays and availability of sketchbooks that we pick up inspiration, information and ideas. Mark was still mining his home territory with visual research based on the shepherd’s hut he had created for his annual holiday location. Beautiful visual work using a latex resist accompanied by a hemp scarf-like sample woven with hemp. This natural yarn was acquired from a local source The House of Hemp. Danish Medallions with and without distortion featured prominently.
Fascinating and inventive work by Jane starting with an investigation into the material taken from children’s paddling pools (some striking colourful samples) to images from a holiday at Morecombe that featured the casts of lugworms! She produced a most beautiful linen scarf that I wish I could show here.
Gail’s work showed evidence of a long journey of investigation (starting with beachcombing) before finding ideas to really engage with. Patchwork seemed in the end to predominate, mixing all kinds of material together in unusual and striking ways. I loved the way she presented these samples on a kind of mini clothes-horse (for socks or knickers perhaps).
Of the knitters Bridget and Kate were again inspirational in their pathways to their collections of samples. Bridget unfolded the world of bees and the honeycomb; Kate took us to a palm house with recycled crochet, lace and felted wools. Bridget’s market research board (see above) opened up a totally new idea to me: a knitted item as a kind of mould for ceramics.
Sadly for me after the Group Critique, and the tutorials for some that followed, my other life interrupted and I missed a class trip to Manchester to ‘do the shops’. One class member, whose life doesn’t engage very often with city shopping, described it as an anthropological experience! Seriously though, I think the class found the guided tour of fabrics in Selfridges, Heals, Habitat and then exploring Paperchase most beneficial. Sadder still on the next day, when the class was having a tutorial day in the workshop, I was in Manchester grappling with editing at the BBC and a meeting over a major Arts Council bid.
Thursday I managed, despite some rail chaos, to attend the whole day. This day focused on Professional Studies, a core unit that encourages us to be aware (from within our perceived area of interest – mine being textile artist) to engage with Legislation, Professional Ethics, Business Organisations and Job Roles and Sustainability and Environmental Issues (did you know it takes 10,000 litres of water to make a single tee-shirt?).
Friday was earmarked as a day to grapple with preparation for the Final Project through a unit titled Realising a Textile Collection followed by a kind of brainstorming session on our individual ideas for our final collection. During this session my own ideas were pretty much dismissed by lecturer and group alike. It was then that I woke up to the fact that I had probably gone as far as I was going to be able to go on the second year of this HNC. I went to sit in the next-door university’s beautiful (autumnal) Peace Garden to reconcile myself to this fact. Although I love the textile world passionately, I simply couldn’t see myself jumping through the hoops of the final year without coming seriously to grief. As Dot (Fibre and Fabric) suggested back in August on these pages, I’m still very much a novice weaver and my work is simply not mature enough to deal with the expectations of this final year. I also think you need a lively sense of humour and a very accommodating nature to stick with the vicissitudes of this course. I have neither . . .
I shall miss the HNC programme as a way of reconciling with my patient wife and family the time I keep spending on studying textiles, when I should be composing music and doing family stuff. I shall really miss the wonderful encouragement and technical support Graham, the workshop technician, has consistently given me. And not forgetting those rather bemused full-time students who I have regularly pestered week in week out to let me look at and discuss their work. Finally, thanks to lecturers Gill and Andrea for their patience and ‘good ideas’. I will now have to create my own objectives and signposts . . . perhaps my wonderful Cumbrian teacher will think of taking me back as occasional student!
Back in September I introduced the subject of the Slow Movement (movement) and mentioned an upcoming touring exhibition called Taking Time. The exhibition opened formally last Friday and my critical friend and sometime collaborator was there with her husband to view a new work by Sue Lawty called Calculus. I had actually decided to focus on the Slow Movement as a theme for the Critical Study element of the Bradford course. Receiving the catalogue earlier this week I was intrigued to see a list of Themes in the form of questions. In my next blog I’ll present my answers to these somewhat puzzling questions. Until then, it’s back to the drawing board as they say . . .