It’s now just 2 years since I decided I had to learn to weave. Too many years had passed without me doing anything about a desire I had developed in childhood and hung onto for too many years. After a brief search on the web I picked up the phone and called Laura Rosenzweig, a weaver from Sedbergh in Cumbria. She seemed to be one of the very few weaving teachers within a striking distance of my home in Wakefield. We had a long talk about what I was looking for, what I wanted to learn, even what my ambitions were. I didn’t give very helpful answers I remember, but she said she could start me off, and we’d go from there . . . but she was very busy and couldn’t see me until almost the end of April. So I patiently waited until, just a fortnight before my first lesson, I found myself just 15 miles away from Sedbergh having taken my boys to an Easter residential course with the Cumbria Youth Orchestra. So instead of driving straight home I decided to go and check out Farfield Mill where Laura has her teaching studio. If she happened to be there, then I could introduce myself before my first lesson . . , and she was, and I did. I’ll never forget that drive from Kirby Lonsdale to Sedbergh. It was a fine, rather gentle early spring day and the colours on the Howgills were the softest of greens and browns. The Howgills were completely unknown to me. It was like entering a whole new, and very surprising landscape. I loved it immediately.
Driving up that same road last week I recalled that first journey with affection. I was going to see Laura again for a ‘study day’. This was an opportunity for me to revisit a period of initial study during the spring and summer of 2008, knowing now what questions to ask! Here’s part of my e-mail to Laura:
When I studied with you over 20 months ago now we covered such a lot of ground and partly because I’d bought Nancy’s loom instead of (sensibly?) acquiring a little table loom it took me some while to pick up weaving where we left off. I have to admit I was a little intimidated by the Toika – I now realise I shouldn’t have been! I now know how it all works – threading and treadling – but it seemed ‘so’ difficult at first. Bradford College required me to do things a different way – for example I spent nearly a term putting warps on back to front. When I got weaving on my own loom (soon after completing my first HNC project) I went back to your way of working, because so much of what you showed me made such sense.
From February of last year I divided my weaving practice between home and college producing pieces for my projects on different looms – you’ve seen some of these swatches. When I got to double weave I did everything on the Toika. Like you I had serious problems with double weave, but I did manage to produce some effective work in the end. I’ll bring the result on Friday!!
Now I’m a whole lot wiser about what’s going on in the weaving process I know I’d benefit from going back to some of the things we did early on: to simply examine the way ‘you’ do things. I’ve noticed there are little glitches and uncertainties in some of the basic operations and I have quite a list of things I think we could gently and easily cover in a day. The difference I see between seeking your advice and that of the college technican (who was most wonderfully helpful in a crisis!) is that you work through the whole process and can see the relationship between the initial planning and thinking and the end result. Many of the points I list just need to be talked about and probably don’t need demonstrating at the loom.
From here on I’m going to describe my study day through my sketchbook pages, pages which I created the following day. The list I mention in my e-mail can be seen at the botton of this first sketchbook page.
Above, here’s the list I sent Laura with a couple of drawings I made on the outskirts of Sedbergh. When I first began my lessons I would set off from home very early to miss the rush-hour traffic through Bradford and to have time for a walk on the hills above Sedbergh. On my second visit I stopped below Holme Fell and parked the car by a narrow bridge over the River Rawthy. I discovered Jackon’s Lane, which then was awash with bluebells. Ever afterwards this became my walk, often ending up on the very top of Holme Fell, rain or shine, passing through a magical wood (with buzzards) just below the fell wall. But for once, I didn’t take a walk on this winter visit. I did stop and get out of the car to look at river from the damaged bridge, a whole chunck of wall had fallen away into the river. Just up the road I watched a mixture of cloud and mist lie in the valley below Holme Fell and shown in my second drawing (the ‘clouds’ I should say in my sketchbook were ‘made’ with some alpaca wool – see my last post – pasted onto the pastel sketch!).
Our first task was to review preparing a warp on the warping board. Laura had brought with her a chain of silk yarn at 24 epi. It had been warped in pairs from two cones, a mild blue and a subtle blueish purple. One of my current problems was how to deal with ‘springy’ yarns, particularly paper. After all this time it was so good to see this essential operation repeated in the hands of someone who does it all the time, rather than me, who does it only occasionally. I do say to myself, winding and chaining a warp is something that can be fitted into a short half hour period. But do I find myself doing this ? . . . very rarely.
Now the illustration above reminds me that for a long time I had been taking Debbie Chandler’s example and just winding my chained warp around the front beam instead of hanging it from it, as Laura does. This is just so sensible. I’m sure I must have it the notes I made during my first lessons, but somehow have neglected to do it ever since.
Picking out ends from the cross placed in the hand is something I thought I could do quite well. With a silk yarn – I had never tried anything so delicate – I realized there were serious deficiencies in the way I do it. Laura’s observation of my technique, and patiently correcting it, has dispelled any fears about working with such a thin yarn. Wonderful!
Tieing-on to the back beam apron rod is something I have trouble with. I’ve tried various ways recently, seeking to improve making the ends in each group of ends to be tied to be of even length, and of course to make a strong worthwhile knot. Laura made a great suggestion that I might tie the apron rod to the castle. Never thought of that!
Raddling through the reed is one of the distinct advantages of the ‘front to back’ method. I received lots of sensible advice here. By this point in the proceedings I’m really looking forward to the next warp I have to prepare . . . except that it is to be made of paper! Laura admitted that for her first project (Organics) on the Bradford HNC she used a paper warp, and rather wished she hadn’t.
I wish I could share more of these sketchbook notes, but they are not so colourful as these above. So I’ll make a swift digest of the other things we looked at. ‘Reading the sett, choosing the reed’ developed into a really valuable discussion. I know I’ve read about this issue, but to hear Laura give so many examples – ’24 epi? right let’s use a 12 dent reed’. ‘You only need a 6, 8, 10, and a 12’. ‘When using chenille (which I do), always double it, it needs to be tight’ . . . and lots more of the same. I need to experiment, experiment, and experiment some more to get this way of thinking really into my system.
I quizzed Laura on threadings and tie-ups as all my tuition with her previously had been on a table loom. She is definitely ‘not’ a complex weaver, prefering to work with simple patterns and with rich yarns and fibres; and with her the finishing is all important. She also likes to leave some of what she weaves, colour and pattern-wise, to the moment of weaving. The first major project I experienced I watched develop, as a student appearing in her studio regularly, was one such piece – a big loom-width throw. This had an incredibly rich sequence of stripes (colours and yarns), arranged (she said) intuitively rather than pre-planned. The choice of the weft was correspondingly ‘free’. She had a bag of pick weft-lengths, which she’d dip her hand into, not knowing what might come out! She tells me she does ‘play’ with designs on the computer to generate initial ideas. Not something I’m ready to do yet, as I spend far too much time on the computer creating music as it is. She reminded me that on a jack loom (she has a Harrisville – and has always used this) she can change the tie-up mid-project, i.e. with the warp on the loom.
During lunch, a delicious spicy soup in the Farfield cafe, Laura talked about her recent two-week study trip to Northern India, which sounded fascinating. I won’t begin to describe it because she mentioned that she has been booked to give an illustrated talk to her local guild on 12 June, details to follow. I’ll be there with my notebook . . .
Afterwards we tried winding a paper warp and then putting it on the loom. As I’m planning to do this soon in my next project , this was an invaluble experience. The secret is – lots of ties on the warp before you chain it. When putting it on the loom an extra pair of hands when tieing-on looks like a good idea. She gave me some good advice about using lease sticks when working on unpicking from the cross. Tie the lease sticks holding the cross on the corner of the back beam and the side beam, or do what Graham Preston at Bradford suggested – hanging the lease sticks from the castle just behind the tied-up beater. I’ve written about this in an earlier blog in October last year. We chatted a little about double weave, but as I hadn’t been able to bring examples of my work in this technique that will be for another time. I need to examine carefully some of Laura’s work in this medium and discover how she plans it and warps a double warp.
The final part of the day was looking at using a rigid-heddle loom. As you know I’ve recently acquired a Tessanova (see last weeks blog), so I was interested to see in Laura’s teaching space at Farfield a couple of small looms of this type. She warps such a loom up just as she does a larger floor or table loom, but admitted they were not simple to use, though you could do wonderful work on them.
Tea in Sedbergh followed, with a obligatory trip to one of the many second-hand book shops. I acquired The Garden by Vita Sackville-West ( having read The Land, this is the sequel written during World War II). Then before turning for home and light failing altogether, a brief walk along the River Rawthey, the river high and thundering away after the three weeks of snow and recent rain.
The gardener half artist must depend
On that slight chance, that touch beyond control
Which all his paper planning will transcend;
He knows his means but cannot rule his end;
He makes the body: who supplies the soul?
from The Garden by Vita Sackville- West