Evaluation of Project 3 (Conceal & Reveal)

This is an evaluation of my work for the third project in year 1 of the HNC Woven Textile Design at Bradford College. I’m submitting this on-line to allow me to include illustrations and links.

Visual Research, Design Development, Colour and Design Ideas

Despite all my good intentions I had serious difficulty choosing a subject through which to express the Conceal and Reveal title given to this third project.  I seemed to get stuck in trying to reconcile the theme with the block architecture required in the woven outcome. What subject could be found that could accommodate  ‘blocks’ as a visual component? My answer to this conundrum was simply to devote the little time I had each week (for the first 4 weeks anyway) to handling the six  block designs given to the class during the February weekend.

Any visual research I undertook was based on drawings and annotations of what I was weaving on the dobby loom. I spent at least two sessions at the workshop simply trying to understand how block threading worked. I finally achieved this through doing many, many diagrams. I don’t think this visual response to the problem of understanding was at all wasted. For me, it was a kind of visual research.

An early sketch from my block experiments

An early sketch from my block experiments

 I did decide from the outset, and with little hesitation, that I would weave in neutral colours only. My very first project as a weaver was in two neutral colour pieces, and I had enjoyed that work. Over a period of 3-4 weeks I did gradually gather a palette of such yarns: mohair, wool, cotton and synthetics. I also began to develop my own patterns with peg positions in the dobby lags. After some trial and error I came up with two that I used in conjunction with a satin/sateen combination, plain weave, and a twill. 

My own dobby patterns

My own dobby patterns

 When the pressures of my other creative life gradually eased off in late March I did start drawing every morning in the park across the road from my home. There are a number of drawings in my diary and in a supplementary sketchbook. Spring was definitely showing itself eagerly every morning: leaves were appearing, the first signs of blossoms, and in my front garden the camellia bush flowered like never before. But, all that said, I was no nearer either a subject or a way forward.

 What finally broke the logjam was a morning spent at Levens Hall in Cumbria. I’ve explained in some detail on my blog the background to my interest in Levens. What I did there for 4 hours was to draw, paint and photograph. I came away with some valuable ideas: the celebrated topiary and the intricate partitioning of the garden in long avenues of hedge and wall seemed to conceal vistas of the house. Seeing the house was always a surprise; it revealed itself very seldom until you got right up close, and then could only see the upper stories and roof.

An avenue at Levens Hall (pastel and pen)

An avenue at Levens Hall (pastel and pen)

While all this neutral colour work was going on I had decided I would weave on my own 4-shaft loom, and weave a series of samples based on three polyester faux chenille craft yarns. When I came to design the warp I added a fourth colour, a light blue bouclé yarn. With this project I finally lost my fear of my own loom and produced a warp to be proud of.  With the focus on block threading I chose a traditional lace block design called the Atwater Bronson lace.  This threading proved ideal for helping me begin to understand how effective block threadings could be devised and how they worked. I was amazed at the number of pattern variations that were possible.

 At the very end of March I had the opportunity to attend a weekend workshop by Sue Lawty for textile artists This was a very special opportunity that allowed me to explore, in a well resourced and gently critical environment, particular ideas I have been developing. These are concerned with bringing digital technology alongside the making process, mainly for the purposes of enhancing reflection and providing feedback in decision-making. The two pieces I produced during the weekend made a strong impact on me, and gave me a renewed sense of purpose; that I might find where my creative journey in textiles is leading. One outcome of this experience was the discovery of the value of the negative filter on the digital camera. One set of colours begets another in a negative mode. Here’s a set of images that I put together to illustrate different types of negative filter. This is an image of my wife Susan wearing my Ethel Mairet dress (cunningly made in photoshop). You can read more about my Ethel Mairet research here.

Negative inversions using digital filters

Negative inversions using digital filters

When I got back to my studio loom and looked at the 4 colours of my recently completed warp I discovered through the negative filter a further set of colours. This gave me the impetus to develop the three swatches I eventually produced for the project submission. In all I added 4 more colours and explored as many different facets of the blocks possible with the Atwater Bronson patterns. This included adding some additional shaft lift combinations ‘not’ found in the published draft for the pattern. The three swatches are possibly too complex in their patterning, and for the end product I had in mind (coverings for garden furniture) simpler solutions would have been preferred.

A Parterre - mixed media

A Parterre - mixed media

 Visual research for the studio project focused on painting. I was seeing these colours every day on my early morning trips to the park. It was discovering the block-like shapes of the parterres in the rose garden at Thornes Park that provided the link and the stimulus for my visual response. I was very pleased with the outcome of two studies I made using gouache and mixed media elements – including pieces of fabric. I’m keen to develop this work and technique. It seemed, finally, that I was getting results with gouache that satisfied me!

Back at College in my last session on the dobby project before Easter I started planning three pieces to submit at the May weekend. These were to be based around painting a collection of Chinese characters across an area of the warp and finding ways to ‘conceal and reveal’ their forms and colours. A red/orange procian dye was ’fixed’ to the warp for the first set of three swatches – that together would make one piece. As this work progressed I started gathering additional and lighter textured yarns in order to effect a gradual transition from dark to light.  Furthermore, using the negative representation of red (blue) I had two colours to hide. By the time I had reach the 5th swatch pattern in the second piece I was using (and for the first time) a twill and its reverse to create that arrow-like pattern I’d favoured in my project 2 (Unknown Colour) collection. In the final 3 swatches of the 3rd piece, and following one of the most valuable tutorials I’d had on this course, I was advised to create a link between my dobby project work and my studio pieces. I attempted this with some subtle inlay using the green, white, black and blue warp yarns, but seeing the whole series of swatches together it became clear that I certainly could have made more of this imaginative suggestion of my tutor’s. 

Woven Swatches

 Undoubtedly the opportunity to work with the 16-shaft dobby loom over some eight weeks was most fortunate. It was a struggle to begin with. It’s not an easy loom to operate gracefully and it wasn’t really until after the Easter break that I began to feel comfortable weaving for several hours at a stretch. The pieces I eventually produced do have a consistency about their weave that I don’t think I could have achieved yet on my Toika loom. Seeing the three swatches, two with these Chinese characters, one with different subtle approaches to inlay in red and blue, I felt did achieve (for the first time) a really cohesive collection of swatches.

The presentation board of 'Shadow'

The presentation board of 'Shadow'

 The studio swatches were radically different in their use of colour, their size, their weight and texture. For a collection that brought together college and studio swatches the difference was, on reflection, probably too intense, and I would now consider using different yarn size and texture for the studio swatches. I would like to look for synthetic fibres possibly mixed with raffia. My other thought was to consider a conservatory or urban patio range of coverings in chenille.

 Mood Board & Market Research

 The interplay between urban and rural is at the heart of my project. I imagined the dobby-made swatches in an urban interior setting, the studio loom project pieces furnishing my Welsh mountain cottage where the light, reflecting off the sea on both sides of the mountain, is so intense. As I progressed with these notions I began to explore urban interior designs alongside designs for the summer cottage, the patio and conservatory. For the urban mood board I commissioned my assistant to take photographs around the city centre location of my studio, for the rural I used photographs collected from albums of family holidays. I used the Processing software developed for the last project to create the arrangements of images, simply taking snapshots of the real-time shuffling of images to achieve a single image for a digitally printed mood board. For the urban board many of the photographs had tiny inlays of red and blue added sections of the images, a red brick here, a blue line inlayed against the side of a window there.

The 'Shadow' image for my mood board

The 'Shadow' image for my Mood board

For the market research it was a question again of dressing (with Photoshop) some of my swatches on to found images – from the magazines Your Home and Country Homes and Interiors. I produced two boards with a single image on each: an urban sitting room and a patio garden scene.

The 'Light' image from my Market Research board

The 'Light' image from my Market Research board

 Sketchbook, Blog and Image Gallery

The most radical difference between this project and the last is certainly in the sketchbook. I have retained my diary intact (rather than cutting it up and placing its pages in the sketchbook) and focused on producing a sketchbook that is divided clearly into Visual Realisation and Design Development, with a reference section to include a visual index for the blog and reference images for mood and market research boards. The way I’ve worked on the sketchbook has been strongly influenced by studying Kay Greenlees book Creating Sketchbooks, and the outcome gives me much satisfaction. One particular feature I’ve developed is to add contact print sized digital photos to reference the drawn and painted work. There’s also a healthy mix of different media, and in different sizes. Reference to my (intact) diary is constantly made (in red pen).

Photos alongside a graphitel sketch

Photos alongside a graphite sketch

The blog continues, although I am reassessing its format and content. Whilst I do wish to celebrate and illustrate the work of my colleagues and students on full-time / part-time courses, the issue of permissions and the possibility of ideas being ‘stolen’ has now started to arise. I ‘always’ ask permission now for any image and make sure the images I do use are low resolution. All that said, I have gained enormously from the often very critical responses I have received from interested bloggers worldwide. As this is the last time this HNC course will run at Bradford College I do recognise that what I am gathering may have some archival value, as well as continuing to be an important mode of reflection for my own development. What the blog does seem to capture is the mix and diversity of the experiences that make up my adventure in woven textile design. It gathers together all those things outside my day at college and my limited time on the loom in my studio. Reporting on lectures attended, exhibitions visited, and observations of textiles commercially and historically has been an invaluable extra to my college course, if only because in featuring such things the blog creates an opportunity to back up such elements with links and further research. The Image Gallery continues to develop and enables me to store all those images that can amplify what I write about in the blog.

 Finally, two things to say:

  •  I am very aware that I have to put in place a robust system of making an accurate and clear technical record of each piece of weaving.  I have finally taken steps in Project 3 to do this, but I did not allow myself enough time to properly complete my loom tickets. I had hoped to use this requirement of the project to acquaint myself with the WeaveIt software, realising my swatches designs and patterns into a computer format. This I still intend to do;
  •  I would like to put on record the quality of tutorial and technical support  I have so benefited from during this project. The interest shown in what I’m trying to do, what I’m attempting to learn, has been very supportive, because, it probably won’t surprise the reader to learn, I’ve had moments of real indecision and crisis along the way. Without such friendly help I might have walked away from the whole thing.
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