Towards My First Rag Rug

During the last seven days I’ve been continuing to learn and practice the very basics of rug weaving. Those first techniques I tried on the two samples I made a fortnight ago needed to be tried again, if only so I knew exactly what to do without a crib in front of me. I needed to recognise instantly the various patterns I’d practiced so that I stood some chance of designing fluently with them. I decided to concentrate on the pick and pick and the 2 pick / 1 pick techniques and see if the business of ‘weaving the selvedges right’ (and with the right selvedge procedure) would gradually become a little more automatic rather than the frustratingly difficult and annoying process it started out as. Sadly, my slightly expanded linen warp (twice as wide as my first), was not very robust and the selvedge ends started to fray badly after only a little weaving. This is as far as I got with my first sample:

A practice sample for pick & pick and 2 pick / 1 pick

I do love the way the grey and cream colours work together. Not confident about the red though. I’m sure I’ll come back to this design and colour scheme. For me, when selvedge ends break it seems continuing with a repair is a lost cause. So for the next sample, which I’d decided would be my first rag rug, I didn’t replace the selvedge ends, but removed them from both sides and tied up the warp again.

As the illustration at the end of last Sunday’s blog shows I’d first come across woven rag rugs on Susan Johnson’s Avalanche Looms blog. I’m a big fan of this weaver and textile designer. I so admire the mix of traditional Scandinavian weave with her fine photography of the Wisconsin woods and her commentary of a life lived in a rural community. Her colour and pattern palette is as surprising as it is imaginative. I’ve never come across anything in weave quite so bravely painterly. The image I showed at the end of last week’s blog I’ve been steadily studying for a week now. I downloaded the image and bookmarked it (along with several near relatives) so when a spare moment arose I could put it up on the screen and gradually get to know it better. It’s close-up images like this that have been both inspiring and helpful.

Detail from a rag weave by Susan Johnson of Avalanche Looms

My first task was to find some rags! Right on cue my dear friend Alice produced a bag full of possibilities, even fashioning a wonderful image from their confusion for her Stitch Print Weave Daily Square. I’ve written at some length about the work of this artist and need say nothing more as she has developed a wealth of interpretation and examples of her work on line. Here’s my take on the fabric she kindly provided – a rather sad version in comparison to Alice’s!

Another fine piece of timing came from Christina’s page on the on-line weekly taster of Weaving Today I’ve lately subscribed to. Here’s a short quote from this article:

Weaving with rags made me nervous for a number of reasons. How would I change colors without leaving little tails? How hard should I beat the warp? Do I want to squish it a lot or just beat until I feel resistance? How would I keep it from raveling since the cottolin warp was so thin and widely spaced? 

Many of the questions I was going to ask! She mentions in her article an e-book that Interweave Press publish  Best of Handwoven: Weaving With Rags. Some of the examples here are pretty spectacular as weave, but for design and colour I’m sticking with my unofficial tutor Susan Johnson (just hope she doesn’t mind).

After the precision of the rug weaves I’ve been studying previously I did find working with rags and weave most liberating. Colour remains for me a constant difficultly. I was told once by a tutor at college that I was very inhibited and should be more experimental and ‘free’. ‘Your work is too careful’, I was told. Hmm . . . Easier said than done. But I can sense already the freedom factor in rag rug weaving. Mixing colours and patterns this way is such fun and there’s a feeling of playfulness that I like a lot. You’ll see my first attempt includes some of those pick and pick techniques from my first two samples.

Sample #4

The final image of the three above shows the concertina effect that I quickly discovered (and like). Lay the piece of fabric flat and beat decisively. I’ve such a long way to go to be within a sniff of Susan Johnson’s work, but this approach to weave intrigues and challenges me. I’m not going to forego the serious stuff of rug weaving – I’m ploughing through Peter Collingwood’s The Techniques of Rug Weaving as well as taking every opportunity to study any interesting rug I happen to find my feet upon. The final image was gathered like this, in Paula’s front room during the recent ever-enjoyable Saltaire Arts Trail.

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