Anni Albers – Pictorial Weaving Part 2

Back in mid January I dared to select a pictorial weaving by Anni Albers as one of three pieces featured in the recent Albers show at Ruthin Craft Centre. Two of three pieces chosen were not at the show, but featured in the catalogue. Here is the second in its entirety, though  featured only as one of the excellent catalogue close-up illustrations – Black, White, Gold 1 1950 Pictorial Weaving, cotton, jute, metallic ribbon 63.8 x 48.3 cm.

Anni Albers - Black, White, Gold 1 (1950)

This weaving is quite close in spirit to a piece I already know called Code, a  smaller pictorial hanging that in 2008 I used as the inspiration for one of my Studies in Movement for solo violoncello. I have to say that the experience of seeing Code at Ruthin has forever changed my view of the photograph as an adequate rendition of a textile piece; I hardly recognised it. A  photograph simply can’t reproduce the variety of depth achieved with inlay, neither does it pick up the sparkle and play of light that the use of metallic ribbon brings to the viewer.

Detail from Code by Anni Albers

A later piece than La Luz 1 featured in January’s blog,  Black, White, Gold 1 bares some of the hallmarks of that earlier piece. This is a predominantly weft-faced weaving, but with an even finer and more complex warp structure in cotton.  Just as I did with La Luz I’ve studied a very small ‘square’. This revealed a number of surprising techniques: the warp is arranged in an alternate black / white sequence, but it doesn’t seem  so from a distance. It appears as though there are bands of white and bands of black. Closer to, you can see that the alternation is constant BUT the thickness of the warp thread varies; sometimes there are between six and a dozen thicker warp threads in black and then white, even occasionally alternate. There is such playful variation, which I am now being able to recognise may  well have been ‘planned on the loom’ – a claim Albers often made.

Detail from Black White Gold 1 by Anni Albers

The warp by contrast is in ecru jute and metallic ribbon, both much thicker than the cotton warp. With judicious positioning this makes it possible to highlight the warp colour depending upon which pass (in plain weave) the weaver makes. With a thinner weft end of metallic ribbon crossing a band of thicker black warp the weft can be made to momentarily disappear. It’s so clever, yet so simple you just wonder at it.

Example of school childrens work Ruthin Craft Centre

As an HNC student of woven textile design I was taken to task on several occasions for ‘not being adventurous enough’, my work was ‘rather boring’ and the rest. Let me tell my long-suffering tutors something. If one of you had had the imagination to show me just how a great piece of weaving worked – like these two examples I’ve now been able to study – my whole approach to experimentation would I know have been quite different. Of course we were advised to read Alber’s books, and the professional samples (by our tutors) we were allowed to study were valuable to an extent, but nowhere (until the Ruthin show) was I able to find anything that simply stated what was going on in such pieces. I am now learning to look, more through desperation than anything else. And what really brought this home to me?  Seeing recently the samples Laura Thomas encouraged a group of school-children from the Ruthin area to produce. I was astonished quite frankly – year 6 and 7 students producing work that held the essence of Albers thinking and innovation.

Samples made by schoolchildren in the Ruthin area, North Wales

What makes this work of Albers pictorial weaving, and is missing in La Luz, is the use of inlay that flows across the weaving. When I’ve attempted this – as in my series of samples with paper and raffia – the inlay is detached and separate. With Albers, and I saw this first in Code,  there is  a flow of thick weft black and white cotton, with these cute little knots and ‘buttons’ acting like punctuation. Looking at it in my chosen square I can see how cleverly she had made sure (for the most part) that a white inlay is not bound by the alternate black warp pass – and vice versa. The exceptions to this are negligible, and you have to look for them!

Detail from Black White Gold 1 - Anni Albers

I don’t think I would ever tire of investigating (and enjoying) this beautiful yet restrained piece. I love the flow of it, and the sheer intricacy of accident that most surely (and like La Luz) is part of the conception of the piece. I know I follow a similar path in music composition. There is usually considerable formality in structure, but in leaving aspects open to randomization the form of the work comes alive. It buzzes with the unexpected, but it’s not too subversive. It keeps within what the composer and conductor Pierre Boulez (speaking of the mystery of his early work Le Marteau Sans Maitre) has described as ‘unacknowledged constraints’. It was nearly twenty years before any music analyst got to the bottom of this extraordinary piece of total serialism (by that I mean every parameter of the work was governed by serial thought – but this serial thought had a qualitative aspect as well as a quantitative). As another iconic composer (and student of Olivier Messiaen), Karlheinz Stockhausen, said famously about serialism – ‘we live in a serial universe. Even the stars are organised in a serial way.’ Absolutely . . .

So what else has been going on my weaving life. Sadly, very little. My loom is still empty of a project. My excuse is that my broken arm has been only recently declared fit for purpose, out of plaster and signed off by consultant and physiotherapist. My first concern has been to claw back playing the guitar after nearly 2 months of inactivity. I have several upcoming dates playing Sense of Place, the 40-minute work commissioned for tapestry artist Jilly Edwards Dartington Show last summer and autumn. Jilly is to have a major retrospective at Ruthin opening in June 2011 and then will tour nationally in the autumn – so I’m busy gathering concerts featuring Sense of Place to coincide with the retrospective. Jilly’s Ruthin show will certainly be one of the high-points of my summer – to see some of the pieces I only know from her books and catalogues. Come to think of it, it looks like being a summer of high-points, but self-imposed censorship forbids me to mention most of them! Let’s just say I hope to get to a few other exhibitions in June  . . .

Jazz pianist Matt Robinson at PACMF 2011 Photo and animated textiles by Alice Fox

Textiles and Music Interact has been busy down in Plymouth taking part in the Peninsula Arts Contemporary Music Festival (PACMF 2011). We gave the Festival Lecture on our work on Fifteen Images and heard a spell-binding performance of the music by Matt Robinson. Over the road at Plymouth Museum the physical work of Fifteen Images (along with its digital interpretation) joined Craftspace’s Taking Time exhibition  for its Plymouth leg, the show opening on the same weekend as PACMF 2011. Next stop with this project is the premiere of the duo  (and acoustic) version of Fifteen Images taking place at Plymouth Museum – a joint promotion by Craftspace and Peninsula Arts. This is fixed for April 5 when you can also take in a talk on the Slow Revolution in Craft by Taking Time’s curator Helen Carnac.

Fifteen Images @ Taking Time in Plymouth Photo by Alice Fox

Whilst down in Plymouth for four days I did finally get to see the Taking Time show; I was impressed and thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the textile pieces by Matthew Harris and Sue Lawty, which again I only knew from photographs. I could have seen more of it, but I got involved in writing a piece on this lovely manual typewriter (from the 1920s I guess) – it was part of the exhibition. The sound and feel of it was seductive . . . and slow.

But as I was saying about my loom, I have some plans to weave a rug from my son’s room in his college digs in Bangor, where he is in his first year studying Music and German. I8 months ago I was generously given lots of top quality carpet wool and of course I have this big sturdy Toika loom ideal for rug-making. I’ve been reading Peter Collingwood’s ‘bible’ on rug making and a splendid (and simple) little book called Rug Making for Beginners.

Rug and Tapestry wools from Nepal courtesy of the Handweavers Studio London

Talking of rugs brings me to mention my flying visit to the new location of the Handweavers Studio in Seven Sisters Road, north London. I dashed in their last week with just ten minutes to spare,  long enough to realise ‘this’ is the place to come to for a whole day to ‘really’ explore yarns and fibres – and do serious damage to my debit card. My mission though (in ten minutes) was to look at and acquire some samples of their recently advertised rug and tapestry wool from Nepal. I came away with two sample bags of a variety of colours. The feel and nature of this wool has some similarities with Swedish tuna wool I used with such success in Fiona Henderson’s studio last November. When time permits I’m just going to play with it a bit before ordering anything substantial. I’m kicking myself for not taking a photograph of a small tapestry  from Nepal the Studio had displayed made with this wool and Chinese silk – another new ‘line’ at the Studio. In their new premises workshops at the Studio will be a serious business. If you haven’t seen their programme for the first six months of 2011, it is worth a look. One event that interested me particularly was Lesley Wilcocks course on Sewing with Handwoven Cloth. I can’t sew, and despite regular requests to those I love who can, nobody will teach me. That said, Stroud International Textiles (SIT) have a course planned for Absolute Beginners at the end of Match – that’s for me.

Hand embroidery at Dolce & Gabbana

Whilst in London I had the opportunity to walk up New Bond Street, past the many of the fashion houses that display so beautifully their creations. I snapped (on the ol’ I-Phone) for my youngest daughter (known on these pages for her weaving exploits for her BTEC portfolio, but crazy about fashion) some rather stunning work in the window of the late Alexander MacQueen and Dolce & Gabbana. If this isn’t art, I don’t know what is.

Butterfiles by Alexander MacQueen

In January I wrote a blog extensively about SIT and their 3-week festival. As I write this the festival catalogue for 2011 is going to press. I now have a vested interest in SIT as, for my sins, I’ve joined their non-executive board to advise the organisation on development issues. Last week I had news through Lizzie Walton’s office of a recent SIT initiative to support a local weaver who has developed her practice and business in nearby Cirencester and regularly runs workshops for SIT. The weaver in question is Sarah Beadsmoore who, thanks to a grant from the Ann Sutton Foundation, has been given the opportunity to study computer-loom applications through SIT’s partnership with weavers in Shetland . As someone for whom this technology presents an aesthetic rather than a practical challenge I’m looking forward to Sarah sharing with SIT what she learnt and saw.

Sarah Beadsmoore

Finally, I have a nice excuse to bring together news of recent work at Farfield Mill (where I had my first experience of weaving under the tutelage of Laura Rosenzweig) and a forthcoming academic conference at Manchester School of Art. Both of these are connected with the acclaimed textile artist Alice Kettle. Alice has almost single-handed fashioned a new thread in the textile world through collaborative enterprise. Her position at Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) as a research fellow has given her an opportunity to explore the ‘pairings’ of artists across different disciplines, and investigate outcomes of shared work and exhibitions. I first saw evidence of her preoccupation with ‘pairing’ at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Harrogate in 2009. I discovered recently that this ‘pairing’ project goes back to 2005 and was first represented in work produced by some 18 artists associated with MMU under the title Artefact. I found all this intriguing, particularly as I had begun progressing my own ‘pairing’ with a textile artist, a programmer and a jazz musician. Pairing it is because we very rarely ever communicate with each other triangularly or 4-ways (must be a word for that!).

Poster for the Pairings Conference May 2011

In January Music and Textiles Interact responded to a conference call for papers with an abstract titled Creative Bindings: a poietical approach to online communication. Our proposed paper wasn’t accepted, but we were invited to be what is described in the provisional programme as an intervention. The conference would like us to introduce our work on Fifteen Images, show the physical and digital work, and have Matthew give a performance.

Textile by Alice Kettle from the Pairings show at Farfield Mill

The Farfield exhibition is definitely a must-see, and probably one of the most ambitious shows exhibitions officer Elizabeth Eaton has organised. Here’s a description of its content:

Over the last 18 months, 32 disparate makers from various backgrounds in craft, art and design, have formed 18 cross-disciplinary partnerships (or ‘pairings’) and in the process have had to engage with new technologies and techniques that are unfamiliar and sometimes unlikely. These marriages of materials, practices and creative identities has given birth to work and ideas that have redefined the nature of the object and of craft.

Claire Curneen, Ismini Samanidou, David Gates, Alice Kettle and Stephen Dixon are among the 32 contributors who combined traditional and new practices in and across clay, glass, textiles, metal, wood, paper, digital and film media, and computerised manufacturing technology.

This exhibition aims to display and interpret the processes and document the ‘conversations’, as sketches, tests and experiments, as well as finished outcomes; to show intriguing new objects that challenge our notions of creative identity and ownership; and to be a starting point and site for the second phase of activity, where the exhibition itself becomes a discussion between all the makers, and between the makers and the audience.

I have long admired Alice Kettle’s work and recognise the serious industry and creative invention that surrounds her engaging textile creations. One of my favourite pieces is currently on the Craft Research Centre’s web site. It is called Allegory. For me this piece says so much about her practice; the rich play of texture and colour, full of energy and collisions of forms and patterns. I’m quite partial to allegory myself, and there’s a work for string quartet in my archive that takes that title. My Allegories come from the autobiography of G.K. Chesterton and can be explored and listened to here.

Allegory by Alice Kettle

As a coda I’d like to share just part of a most striking poem my assistant put on my desk the other week. He’d been to visit the Quilt Museum in York and returned via a second hand bookshop with a collection of Welsh poetry in English. The poem is called Designing a Quilt by John Ormond, a poet I’m ashamed I didn’t previously know. I immediately bought his Selected Poems and fell in love with this poem in particular. Here’s the opening (I’ll include the rest in my next blog):

First let there be a tree, roots taking ground

In bleached and soft blue fabric.

Into the well-aired sky branches extend

Only to bend away from the turned-back

Edge of linen where day’s horizon end;

Branches symmetrical, not over-flaunting

Their leaves (let ordinary swansdown

Be their lining), which in the summertime

Will lie lightly upon her, the girl

This quilt’s for, this object of designing;


But such too, when deep frosts veneer

Or winds prise at the slates above her,

Or snows lie in the yard in a black sulk,

That the embroidered cover, couched

And applied with pennants of green silk,


Will still be warm enough that should she stir

To draw a further foliage about her

The encouraged shoots will quicken

And, at her breathing, midnight’s spring

Can know new season as they thicken.


2 Responses to “Anni Albers – Pictorial Weaving Part 2”

  1. boo textiles Says:

    Thanks for your helpful and enjoyable site. The photos are great. I have found it very inspiring as I have just started weaving myself on a peg loom and have blogged about how I got on. I will be back for more inspiration soon.

  2. Dot Says:

    Hi Nigel, sorry to learn about your arm. I hope you are going to continue with physiotherapy until you have got this arm strong. A good sports physiotherapist would be likely to understand the dextertity you need to play the guitar.

    Have you found Peter Collingwoods second book on rug weaving? You can access it (free) in the archive at

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