Rugs, Knits and Stitches

Although I’m no longer formally studying woven textile design my enthusiasm for the textile world remains undiminished. The textile-related events of the past week have been in my diary for some time so I felt I had no good reason to dismiss such opportunities just because I’ve stopped attending college. The first date was a visit to Area Rugs and Carpets in Dewsbury to meet managing director and carpet designer Andrew Warburton. The second was to go to the ‘Knit and Stitch’ Show as it ended its perambulations around the UK in nearby Harrogate.

Detail from an Alice Kettle machine embroidery at The Art of Stitch @ 'Knit & Stitch' Harrogate

Andrew Warburton at work with the tufting gunWhy rugs? I have a studio in a community of artists in central Wakefield. This community opens its doors to the public 6 times a year as part of what is known as The Art Walk, an evening during which galleries and studios in this small city welcome visitors (with a glass of wine) from 5.0 to 9.0pm. It’s a great idea, originating I believe in Seattle. I started opening my studio doors earlier this year and quite enjoy making contact with people, many of whom have a) never met a composer and have no real idea what such an animal is (Do you really earn your living from your music? – closely followed by How much do you earn?!) and b) what’s this? – pointing to my loom. Well, it is probably the only one in the city . . . during July’s Art Walk carpet designer Andrew Warburton visited my studio, and of course, he knew straightaway what he was looking at (and he likes music). The most charming and generous visitor he said: do come and see my workshop  . . . and I have masses of remnant yarns waiting for a good home.

A hand-tufted carpet in progress

As I prepared in September for the fifth of my HNC projects (focusing on natural fibres and recycled yarns) I realised I had the answer to the recycling component on my doorstep. I decided I would make a rug – having a loom and the project title (Natural Boundaries) suitable for such an adventure. I rang Andrew and arranged a visit to his workshop. Area Rugs and Carpets make rugs and carpets to order. They create bespoke items that can be vast (the foyer of the Hungarian State Opera House) or intimate (rugs for homes and offices). The workshop is in the midst of an unprepossessing industrial estate and there are two carpet-related businesses sharing some considerable floor and wall space. Andrew is the master of the tufting gun. Within minutes of our arrival (a morning out for the otter expert) Andrew was firing tufts of wool into a vast carpet strung up vertically on a moveable frame on a scaffolding structure. The gun pulls yarn into its mechanism, cuts it to a chosen length, and then fires it (with a jet of air) through the hessian-like carpet base. The speed with which this simulation of hand tufting happens is astonishing – a day’s work by hand achieved in a few seconds.

The machine tufting carpet maker

We were introduced to much of the basic machinery including that required for cutting patterns into machine-woven carpets. Taken into an adjoining workshop we were able to see the machine-tufting process. Fascinating, but in essence little different from those industrial weaving Dobcross looms at Farfield. In the corner of this workshop lay two vast bins of remnant yarns, some in very large cones about 2 kg in weight. Nearly all of it was top quality wool and I went for colours rather than quantity as I already have some rug wool (Herdwick) acquired when I purchased my loom. I’ve discovered that much of it will be great for my preliminary tapestry projects too.

A view of my latest tapestry study in raffia

Before I start on the ‘Knit and Stitch’ Show I think it’s time to explain where I am on my tapestry adventure. Last week I put on an 8” width warp on my Toika loom using a three-twist cotton at 17 epi. Now I’m away from the anxiety of warping up for the next college project I’ve set myself (for a while) to put on a new (and short) warp every week – to become really confident at this process. I’m also keeping proper and careful notes – not before time. I feel I’m now examining every stage of the warping process, determined to be a happy weaver, not an anxious insecure one!

Design for my tapestry study: 15cm x 9cm watercolour with pastel resist

I’m continuing to take Sue Lawty’s advice and explore a single natural fibre – raffia – and a small palette of colours (yellow, green, blue). I’m slowly assembling a vocabulary of knots and techniques that I can feel comfortable with. The close-up illustration shows a number of these. After a few necessary experiments I thought it was about time to design a small piece. So with a mix of a pastel resist and my Koh-I-noor ‘super’ watercolours I created a little design that I pinned to the castle of my loom. I so enjoyed the process of realising this design, the surprise aspects of it (and changes of direction) mainly due to the unstable nature of raffia itself. As a fibre it has so many different manifestations. It can be hard, rounded and thin; it can be flat and uneven in width. Green seems quite an unstable colour – lots of natural undyed streaks; Blue responds well to being with other blues and purples (linen, wool and chenille); Yellow has so many shades and tones.

 I finished this 8” by 8” piece, cut it off the loom and mounted it on some black foam board. It became a birthday present for a friend to whom I wrote (on a card made from the painted design) ‘put this away in a drawer and take it out on your birthday well in the future. Then you’ll be able to say “Nigel wove that for me in 2009, and look what he’s doing now in 20__!!”’. We can all dream can’t we . . . I’m now waiting for my 2mm shifu paper yarn to arrive from PaperDelux in Barnsley. Glennis who runs this little business told me that the company in Preston who supply her is in receivership and getting the yarn is a matter of patience. Talking of paper yarns brings me neatly to the ‘Knit and Stitch’ Show where the Japanese company Habu from New York was on its seasonable visit. I spent serious time at this tiny stall working my way through all the paper and alternative yarns, with generous help from the Habu representative. The prices speak for the quality and imagination of this company . . . anyone for Pineapple fibre? . . . but temptation for once didn’t get the better of me . . . and I decided I’d leave acquiring any Habu yarn until I visit NY in the Spring.

One of my favourite images from Knit & Stitch - by Laura Beth Sharp

Harrogate is a spa town on the southern edge of the Yorkshire Dales. It’s full of expensive and exclusive shops and (reputedly) one of the best tea-shops in the world! It also has a large conference and exhibition centre that host this annual knitting and stitching bonanza I found myself experiencing for the first time. I think you’d have to be pretty determined to see everything with more than a cursory glance – you’d need two days at least. I reckoned within my initial tour of the main exhibition hall that there was probably enough in this one space to occupy me for the day. My companion for the visit had signed up for several workshops – an inspirational encounter with Jean LittleJohn and creating woven structures with Jean Draper – whereas I did a little wandering for an hour or so to spy out the land before returning in earnest to parts of the exhibition which looked most promising.

Woven work by Susan Jarmain - from her beautiful website

I could easily imagine that weavers visiting this show might come away disappointed (it is after all about knitting and stitching), but I was lucky this year for there was an extensive and varied show by Canadian weaver and ikat artist  Susan Jermain. For me this was the highpoint of my day at Harrogate and throughout the seven hours spent at the show I returned several times to take in what I could. My sole purchase of the day was her beautiful and imaginative catalogue (complete with a woven sample) – currently my bedtime reading.

Probably my favourite piece in the show - The Little Midinettes by Tammi Minnamarina

What is compelling about the Knitting and Stitching Show is that you have the opportunity to take in at least half a dozen substantial exhibitions in one location. If I analyse my journey through the show my principle destinations, other than Habu and Susan Jarmain, included Alice Kettle’s collaborative work with ceramicist Helen Felcey, The Art of Stitch touring exhibition (particularly Lizzie Cannon’s compelling Lichenography, Tammi Minnamarina’s woven paper box and Laura Beth Sharp’s beguiling folk and fairground images), Rozanne Hawksley’s dark and disturbing mixed media exhibition, the devoré work of Dionne Swift, bespoke soft furnishing by Tamsin de Lara, and Jessica Abraham’s print and dimensional collage based on mathematical symbols. For a resume of (some of) the exhibitions look at the Twisted Threads website here.

Janet Bolton's Angel among the Flowers

Right, that’s my list. I can’t possibly discuss all of these with my (self imposed) 1500 word limit just 68 words away! It will have to wait until next week. In the meantime, for all those admirers of Janet Bolton’s work who continue to make my blog essay on her Saltaire lecture and show the most read blog of all my 68 so far, here’s a glimpse at my work in progress – a song sequence for the Welsh soprano Philippa Reeves. It’s called Pleasing Myself – six songs after textile images by Janet Bolton. This is the fifth poem called Angel in the Garden.

Oh sweet garden.

Dearest friend,

My conscience,



My hands desire,

Let me be your Guardian

Angel among the flowers.

Not for me

H.C. Anderson’s grisly tale

of sunbeams and sick children,

with the angel filching the flowers

to bloom more brightly in

heaven than on earth.

God forbid!

My garden is my heaven,

and I’ll make myself wings

if I must

to fool such

fair-weather flowers


4 Responses to “Rugs, Knits and Stitches”

  1. Dot Says:

    You sound liberated Nigel, now you’re free to explore weaving your own way 😉 What a lot of fun these days out have been, I’d love to see the inside of a carpet factory! I didn’t dare go to Knit n Stitch myself, I’d never have been so restrained about purchasing as you managed to be.

  2. Peg in South Carolina Says:

    What a wonderful show! Sue Lawty has given you excellent advice. You have explored a lot of different weaving structures and yarn and color possibilities. Now is the time to focus. Interesting that you have chosen a fiber to focus on–guess I have too, since I weave crackle primarily with silk. And I seem to explore the red end of the spectrum! Though this next piece is moving away from that a bit. Be prepared for Habu in NYC! I’ve been to the shop several times and I cannot get away without adding significantly to my MasterCard. She has silk yarn I cannot get anywhere else. I have been a bit shy about moving away from 60/2 bombyx silk, however! She will also put the skeins you buy on cones if you like (I like!), for a small winding fee. Have you looked at any of Jean Little John’s books? They are really inspiring.

  3. Amanda J Wells Says:

    Great weaving!

  4. rugs Says:

    Great post,really enjoyed reading it.Love Susan Jarmains ikat designs.
    thanks 🙂

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