Rug Making

It’s been a little time since I wrote anything about my textile work. I’ve been preoccupied with another blog connected with my work as a composer. I wrapped this up just a month ago and sadly it has to be removed from the blogosphere in a fortnight’s time. So catch it while you can. No matter, I shall now be able to resume writing about my engagement with weaving and the world of woven textiles. I struggle with weaving constantly, but it has come to mean so much to me;  each little success makes the sun shine.

Last June I made a  sample for a proposed rug. My first rug and – hand on heart – the first pattern I’d ever copied from another weaver. The weaver was none other than the great Anni Albers whose exhibition at Ruthin Craft Centre I had so enjoyed in January 2011. We travelled in the snowy weather across the Pennines into Wales to spend a Sunday there.  I had a broken arm. I was transfixed by the show. I drew and drew, looked and looked, wondered and wondered. It affected me deeply, deeply enough to attempt to make an analysis of three seminal weavings and write about my discoveries on my blog. In the beautiful catalogue there was a double page photo of a dormitory curtain Albers had woven in brown and gold. I was intrigued by this pattern, worked it out, made it my own in the two-greens sample I wove last June.

During November I wove a full-scale rug based on this sample. It was 6′ by 4′, a balanced weave using a high quality carpet wool donated by the tufted rug maker Andrew Warbuton whose workshop I had visited eighteen months previously. This rug became a kind of therapy during an intensive period of composition. I’d weave for half an hour at a time then, refreshed, go back to the intricacies of a large orchestral score I was writing. The rug was woven for my eldest son’s study bedroom at university. I loved it and for a little while was a proud weaver.

I then began to think slowly but often about rug making as a way forward. I found myself looking at rugs whenever I came across them. I discovered a young Leed’s based weaver who was making small rugs using that clasped welt technique I’d experimented with when using those Nepalese tapestry wools. She’d discovered this technique in Peter Collingwood’s the Technique of Rug Making during her final year at college. Her own use of this technique was simple and beautiful. Early in the New Year she kindly gave me a morning of her time to share her experience of rug making and gave me some starting points for developing the necessary techniques to make rugs.

There was too long a gap between this generous introduction and having a proper break from musical work to weave. Over Easter I finally put on a cotton warp with the intention of sampling with two techniques: twisted weft and pick and pick. Sadly the cone of cotton thread I inherited when I acquired my Toika loom – from a lady who’d bought it new to weave rugs from the wool of her rare breed sheep – kept breaking. I put on two warps before I decided I’d use some sturdy ecru linen. I was away with that and enjoyed making two samples. These allowed me to experiment with the two techniques mentioned above.

As I started off working on the second sample I realized I had to take handling selvedges seriously and properly. Working with two colours on two shuttles (pick and pick) required (so Brian Knight’s helpful book on Rug Weaving suggested) a very particular approach to the selvedge. I really struggled with this, struggled to plant the action of it firmly in my brain and fingers. It was as though I had finally to come to terms with perceiving the multi-dimensional aspect of a weave structure. Here are images of the two stages of the pick and pick selvedge.

Pick and Pick Selvedge Stage 1

Pick and Pick Selvedge Stage 2

The result was difficult to manage 100% of the time and even now I’m not completely confident in making both selvedges  come out evenly. This warp I should say was made of just 40 ends, first and last doubled, and placed on a 8 dent read with a space between each end. I’ve never put a warp on a loom with a dent space between ends. Here’s an example of the resulting selvedge.

The other sample I made was an experiment with twisted threads – two threads of different colours on a single shuttle. I loved the effect of some of the suggested patterns (Brian Knight again), but frankly, some of the more complex ones I simply could not handle. I could not twist the threads and place them in the weft with any accuracy to resemble the intricate patterns he illustrated. There’s clearly a trick to this, and if there is Brian Knight and Peter Collingwood are not letting on. That said, I did like the quality of this approach. It had a looseness to it that produced a completely different weave than that of pick and pick. Here, finally are images of both samples off the loom.

Twisted Threads Sample

Pick and Pick – sample using 2 shuttle techniques

Next week (he says hopefully) I’ll write about my developing interest in woven rag rugs inspired by the wonderful Susan Johnson of Avalanche Looms.


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