This is my final blog featuring three of Anni Albers pictorial weavings. The previous two featured here were in the Ruthin exhibition catalogue, but sadly not in the show itself. The one I’m going to discuss here certainly was, and I spent much time standing in front of it in blank amazement – just how was it done? Having looked in close detail at two other pictorial weavings I have now got more of an idea. I think until I try some of her techniques on my own loom I won’t know for sure, but it’s a step in the right direction.
City was woven in 1949 and is solely in linen and cotton and set against a simple geometrical ‘frame’ in cotton thread. Everytime I look at this piece I think I understand it, but then my perception of it changes. Just a few minutes before writing this I suddenly realised the bottom sixth of the woven image seems to (could be) be water and reflections. Looking carefully at the warp ends top and bottom there is the evidence of this technique of putting together thick and thin yarn and alternate black and white colours. Having said that (and slept on the problem) I now think this weaving is in double weave – examine the top of warp section and then look at the bottom. By 1949 Albers had made the first of her many South American journeys and perhaps had started to investigate the double, triple and quadruple weaves made on traditional Peruvian backstrap looms. Albers talks in some detail about this phenomenon in the final chapter of her book On Designing. But it is the mysterious chemistry of selecting different thicknesses and colours of weft, choosing what is to be inlaid and where, and how the multiple warps may be used, that is surely the clue to this extraordinary creation. Like the previous two weavings the range of colour is small, but the difference and play of texture is formidable.
As I view it I try to imagine what the sampling process towards this end result must have been like. How closely could this weaving have been planned I wonder? In some respects what we have here is equivalent to many of those images in print that Albers executed in her final years (when she stopped weaving and sold her looms). These remind me of those Celtic stone carvings or calligraphy. Look at her Line Involvement series (example above). One wonders how on earth these are conceived. I’m sure there’s a well-recorded method somewhere! It’s quite fun, if your eyes are up to it, to follow a single line and see where it goes to.
What I take away from City is an apparent looseness in the weave. It does not seem tight like the things I do. That’s probably to do with the yarns and their respective weights and thickness. I find this gives the weave a particularly restful quality.
And talking (bravely) of things I do, I finally put a warp on my loom for the first time since I broke my arm at the beginning of December. I wrote to a friend: ‘I decided I had to put a warp on my loom and recover that part of myself I seem to have lost. It was wonderful to be doing all those much loved and painstakingly learnt actions all over again’. Just so. I had 60 ends of green carpet wool chained hanging off a bookcase and ready to go – kindly given to me by tufted rug supremo Andrew Warburton. I’d been fearing that I would have forgotten all those little routines I so painstakingly learnt (and stumbled over), but no, apart from two slight mis-threadings, it all went so smoothly. I’m just playing (sampling I keep being reminded to say), but playing with ideas brought about by looking carefully at the weavings of Anni Albers and an inspirational afternoon last weekend at my alma mater Farfield Mill. But more of that later.
One of my presiding fears in learning to weave has been forgetting all those little aspects of what technique I have. One of these is weaving alternate weft picks of different yarns. As I started to do this I realised straightaway that I do that subtle intertwining ( a kind of crossover) without having to struggle or think. It’s there in my fingers now, like chaining a warp, which I really can do almost automatically. My ‘plan’ with this sampling is to move towards making a simple rug, which embodies a simple pattern. I’ll probably use just two colours, green and a pale violet grey (what my Farrow and Ball catalogue calls Reverie). That said I have been trying out some of those Nepalese rug yarns I acquired in two bags of samples from the Handweavers Studio (see last month’s blog). I’ve just enough warp length (about 2 metres) to do a scaled down version of the rug I hope to make. This will be three times the width and length.
And so to Farfield Mill, Cumbria. Regular readers of this blog will know this is where my weaving odyssey began under the inspired tutelage of Laura Rosenzweig. In 2009 I had the presumption to undertake a short residency with textile artist Alice Fox there as a composer and a weaver. Although I try and get to the exhibitions as they appear, it has been some nine months since my last visit to see the work of Norah Ball. This time it was to catch the Pairing Exhibition curated by Alice Kettle. What I didn’t know about the Farfield version of this show was that a ‘pairing’ had been facilitated between the Farfield Weavers group and a glass artist Kirsteen Aubrey from Manchester School of Art..
Now I should come clean and say one major reason for going to this show was to feel I knew what the Pairing project was all about. In May my collaborative piece Fifteen Images will be an intervention at the Pairing Conference at Manchester School of Art, where Alice Kettle is a research fellow. Matt Robinson will be giving two performances of the music with the animated textile images, Alice Fox and I will be giving a presentation, and Alice’s physical realisation of the Fifteen Images will journey from Taking Time at Plymouth Museum to be on display during the conference.
And talking of Plymouth, if you happen to be passing Plymouth Museum on April 5 around 3.0pm you can catch the premiere of the new duo version of Fifteen Images commissioned jointly by Peninsula Arts and Craftspace. This is an unplugged version featuring Matt Robinson piano and Kieran McLeod trombone. Read about it here.
I’m a little ashamed to say that I only looked in any detail at just two of the ‘pairings’ in the Farfield exhibition. The Farfield Weavers pairing brought four weavers together with one artist in glass, although she describes herself as an artist in three dimensional design. I looked in depth at four of the five pieces and will try to describe some of them here. I’d loved to have shown some photographs, but a) no photography allowed in this gallery (and no catalogue either) and b) I’ve fallen out of love with photography recently in a vain attempt to improve my sketching! I also have a quick and easy camera on my IPhone, which has changed the way I think about the photographic image. I have even started sending images direct from the phone – I sent a picture of my supper last night to a friend who had never before seen (or eaten) a Dab. Here it is just for those others who haven’t. Nice flat fish. Just bake it gently for 15 minutes and eat with a hollandaise sauce.
But back to weaving and my attempt at recording what I saw at Farfield. I can’t cope with handling colour in a gallery, though I sometimes take a little tin of pencil crayons. I make little sketches with my composing pen and label them. This image from my note book shows two pieces I admired.
The first weaving I looked at was by Susan Head inspired by reflections (of glass) and water. This is a warp-faced wall-hanging using carpet wool at 5 epi. The pattern uses a single pass technique using a clasped weft approach. I had not come across this term before, so how did I know what it was? For every pairing (there were a dozen or so) there was a clipboard containing notes and interpretation by the paired artists. The Farfield group produced some really valuable notes for the likes of me – who does like to know the how and the why. Clasped Weft is a delightful idea that is beautifully demonstrated on a web tutorial I discovered.
I tried it myself having first attempted to create a similar inverted reflection pattern (badly) using the conventional tapestry weavers approach – see above on the right. The Clasped Weft approach is not I think suited to the thick wool yarns I’m using. You have to be extremely careful at the selvedge! Please note I have not shown you what happened at each selvedge at my first attempt pictured here . . . but it does make for nice clean pattern edges between two different yarns.
I liked the simplicity of Susan’s wall hanging and the choice of its decorative colours. My illustration was made from memory a week after seeing it. I think it’s a pretty close match. On the same sketchbook sheet (see above) I drew what I could of Anne Atkins Nautilus. This was a delightful piece on a pearl white cotton warp with ecru silk in gold, cream and a gentle blue. I’m afraid the complexity of this piece made it beyond my capacity to illustrate in a colour example – but it’s in my pen sketch above. It’s woven using overshot, a technique I was introduced by Laura Rosenzweig, but have never tried. Laura proudly showed me an overshot piece woven for her late mother-in-law based on a traditional design in browns and gold – very beautiful. Here’s a neat description of Overshot by Rosalie Nelson
Overshot is a two shuttle weave structure, where one shuttle of weft weaves a plain weave fabric while the second shuttle carries a heavier weft which floats over areas of warp to create what is known as “pattern”. This heavier weft also floats under areas of warp for what is called “background”. Where there is pattern on the face of the cloth, there will be background under that, and vice versa. The heavier weft also weaves over and under warp ends either side of the pattern float to hold it in place.
Margaret Ecclestone’s piece also has a watery theme. It’s a woven picture frame for a little group of glass objects. In blue and turquoise silk and rayon the weave are adjacent bands of 2/2 twill alternating with a variation (some rows are repeated). The piece is presented as a mobile and as it hangs the woven material is not completely flat: it has a slight ripple to it. If this is intentional then it is most effective.
I browsed the rest of the exhibition except for one pairing by ceramicist Sharon Blakey and weaver Ismini Samanidou. The latter’s work I had seen at Warp + Weft and was fascinated by her take on things distressed, broken into, her imaginary ‘pages’ of woven words. It’s Jaquard, but with interventions. It didn’t give me the buzz of the monochromatic weavings and drawings at Warp + Weft, but the colours and textures are inspired and have a gentle beauty. Of all the pairings this one spoke to me most directly of a meeting of minds and a cross over, a back and forward play of images and ideas. It took a visit to the web to find out the starting point of this pairing: spoons and archive letters in the Mary Gregg Collection at Manchester Art Gallery. Suffice to say I was very disappointed in the artists’ contribution to the clipboard interpretation – a few pages from an existing publication.
Cumbria was its lovely self in the sunshine. I had the treat of a walk up through the fields and woods to Holme Fell. Sitting in the oak woods by the edge of the fell wall listening to the mewing of a buzzard and the gentle experiments of a woodpecker, there, suddenly a hare, not 50 yards away. Then back down to stay the night in the tranquility of the warden’s flat at the famous Brigflatts Quaker meeting house. This is the location at the heart of my Fifteen Images score.
My Stroud International Textiles Festival catalogue arrived last week on the same day the Arts Council of England announced its National Portfolio Funding Awards, and denied SIT the opportunity to benefit from three years of sustained development funding. This is a tragedy for a festival that has become an important reference mark for contemporary textiles in the UK and Europe. It seems a pity that whilst the Arts Council can publicize SIT’s success with a Grants4All award it feels unable to secure its future for the next 4 years. In the light of Government cuts to the Arts of 29% over 3 years the National Portfolio Scheme seems a sound move, but for some organisations revenue funding has to be cut. It was interesting to look at the newcomers to such revenue funding (SIT would have been one) and realise that a 3 week festival established for 6 years with a on-going programme of events throughout the year is not an unrealistic venture for the Arts Council to support. It is not as if an international festival of textiles is duplicated anywhere else in the UK. Textiles are at the heart of our daily lives, in fashion and furnishing. The fact that it can be great art and great fun, and that it is a popular voluntary art and craft form enjoyed by millions, makes it doubly necessary that core revenue funding is found to enable SIT to remain a focal point of the best of new textile work.
Next month sees Off The Loom , a day long seminar / conference at Stroud, which I’m looking forward to and will write about here if other preoccupations – my chamber opera being one – don’t get in the way.
Finally, I want to mention of an intriguing sculptor interested in textiles who wrote to me apropos my All about Stroud blog. I notice Kirsty Hall was speaking at the Textiles South West event last week about her work providing a hand-holding service for artists to make initial or better use of the web. Her blog and website is ‘something else’. I’ve never come across anything quite like it. Her artistic work is intriguing and curious. She writes about her life and her work as though she is having a conversation with herself. I particularly liked her blog about Creative Commons – she includes a free image library on her blog/site that adheres to the CC protocol, in the same way I use it to enable musicians to get access to scores and parts of my music for workshop and rehearsal purposes.
If you enjoyed the first part of Design for a Quilt by John Ormond that concluded my blog last month, here are the remaining stanzas. I’ve grown to love this poem and know it pretty much by heart.
Feather-stitch on every bough
A bird, one neat French-knot its eye,
To sing a silent night-long lullaby
And not disturb her or disbud her.
See that the entwining motives run
In and about themselves to bring
To bed the sheens and mossy lawns of Eden;
For I would have a perfect thing
To echo if not equal Paradise
As garden for her true temptation:
So that in the future times, recalling
The pleasures of past falling, she’ll bequeath it
To one or other of the line,
Bearing her name or mine,
With luck I’ll help her make beneath it.