Hand Crafted Textiles – An Evaluation

This is an evaluation of my work for this second 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.

Drawing research, design development, colour and design ideas

To and Fro

To and Fro

I’m sure, like many other students, I have this idea at the outset that I’m going to do all this preparatory visual research and then start designing and weaving. Well, it doesn’t work that way. Deciding on a subject took longer than I thought, probably because I was ill for three weeks directly after the end of the last project. I only decided on my subject area when I really looked very closely indeed at the project brief and realised just how interconnected every item could be. The abstract paintings of Winifred Nicholson from the 1930s in Paris I realised had the potential to accommodate this inter-connectedness, and I was proved right. From moment I started ‘really’ looking at one of her paintings (To and Fro) I was knew I was on the right path. That first ‘looking’ experience was actually so overwhelming that I wondered what I had been doing in galleries and in front of my art books all these years – certainly not looking, just seeing perhaps.

Triumphant Triangles

Triumphant Triangles

My first drawings were of the elements of just two paintings (the second called Triumphant Triangles), and the sketching process was directly related to preparing ideas for the first four swatches. Drawing per se had to start with a formal sketch from life of a cyclamen, a subject central to her art and celebrated in her Cyclamen and Primula found in the Tate. I went further than just sketching my cyclamen, including close-up photography, wrapping the plant in tissue paper (as Nicholson did), making translucent washes across my original sketch (now photocopied), trying all sorts of angles and wraps. The paintings I initially chose restricted both my colour palette and my weave design. Nothing green this time, but a mix of strong (yellow and orange), light and delicate (egg shell blue, lilac, rose) mysterious (violet, indigo blue) and muted (cardboard brown, horsehair and oatmeal). Weave patterns throughout the swatches I restricted to tabby, a hopsack derivative, ribs and my own twill-related arrow pattern looking both left and right after the triangle shapes of the second painting.

Design Development came only after I’d almost finished my eight swatches. The ideas that contributed to it came from my deliberations about end product and Market Research, and from the realisation that I’d actually had no formal guidance about drawing – and I needed some. I was very fortunate to be lent a kind of pre-drawing course sketchbook by a 2nd year degree student, which turned out to be a kind of missing link in my experience. I studied this book for a week and then when I’d given it back spent a morning mark making using as a stimulus To and Fro. The body of sketches I produced using all kinds of media are, by turns, appalling, surprising, inspiring. But it broke the creative ice, and I feel I turned an important corner.


Paint hasn’t really featured for me in this project, probably because my subject area is a painter and her paintings. I have, however, continued to paint a visual key to all my swatches (as I did in Project 1) in gouache, and the medium is slowly getting easier to handle. Collage didn’t really happen until very late in the day, and when it did I was both surprised and delighted. Tissue paper is a remarkable medium for abstracting the content of images, in this case a collage of photographs cut out of magazines. I can now see why collage has such potential as a means of revealing the potential of an image to be abstracted, particularly if you don’t glue it down!

Woven Swatches

I chose inlay and leno as my hand-manipulation techniques, and later explored soumak with some considerable success (although the double soumak knot defeated me). I also managed to add different colours and yarns (mohair) into a plain white cotton warp, and without difficulty (thanks to some wise advice from Graham who suggested I did not cut out unwanted warp ends but threaded the new ends ‘over’ the existing ends).

Most of the swatches were sketched very roughly prior to realising them, but in each there was a lot of reactive improvisation, particularly when it came to inlay. I often set off to do something, which I very soon realised was not going to work – at all. In dealing with this I often hit on a solution and a way forward which, if unusual sometimes, enabled me to make something happen by the end of my college day at the loom.

I’m surprised at the improvement in the evenness and balance of my weaves, and I’m convinced that using a very small number of patterns for this project has contributed to this. That said, the size of my swatches is uneven and too small on the whole. This is a reflection of the improvisatory nature of my woven work, and something I should try and address in the next project. 

The most serious weakness in my Project 2 work is my failure (again) to produce really satisfactory loom tickets for my swatches. I must get into the habit of doing them immediately after finishing a swatch and not last thing as I put together the paper work for the submission. 

Mood Board & Market Research Board

I made it clear to my tutor at quite an early stage that I did want to do both of these assignments in a digital format. It took a little while to get approval for this – but limited time concentrated the mind and I managed to get both ‘virtual’ boards in place on time. I had made a close analysis of one of Laura Thomas’ boards, which was a most valuable exercise , enabling me to design my board with a clear set of constraints in place.

Unknown Colour

Unknown Colour

For the mood board I applied a real-time technique using the Processing software I’ve used in web presentations for my music, but for the market research I tried something new and technically demanding. Having declared (in my blog) my intention to focus on designer / makers Laura Thomas and Cefyn Burgess, I responded to my wife’s observation that my (now finished) swatches would really suit interior furnishings (carpets, cushions, curtains). So a trip to nearby Laura Ashley ‘Home‘ turned out to be the answer, and I could see it for myself. My response (in digital format) has been to apply my swatches directly to the pages of the Laura Ashley Spring / Summer catalogue and create a series of images (in Laura Ashley house-style) that place my designs literally ‘in the picture’. My Winifred Nicholson ‘collection’, called Unknown Colour after her reckoning that there was an elusive colour in her personal palette, looks pretty convincing to me alongside Laura Ashley’s current collection. I await a critical response to the success or not of this!  I do, however, expect concern that issues of copyright have been investigated and addressed. To date I have phoned the company’s rights department and written a formal letter setting out what I’ve done. For me, I learnt so much from both assignments and feel I’ve taken some confident steps towards recognizing how design ideas can be manipulated to ‘fit’ end product requirements and commercial situations. You can download the PowerPoint presentation of this ‘collection’ here.

Market Research Collection

Market Research Collection


Sketchbook, Blog and Image Gallery

The sketchbook feels a lot more organised and coherent for this project, despite some late drawing together of ideas and requirements. I’m still working from little A5 notebooks, but the working drawings now show how process is being sought out and then developed, prior to and during my work at the loom. This continues to be reinforced by sequences of photographs built up week by week on my on-line gallery.

The blog continues to give me this valuable opportunity to research and reflect on the both my studio and workshop practice, but also on wider issues and experiences, be it a ‘field trip’ to interview Margo Selby, making a photographic study of Theo Moorman’s huge tapestry for Wakefield Cathedral’s crib, or using the medium to develop knowledge and understanding about further aspects of design and technique. Writing up the weekly workshop session is still the main focus of maintaining the blog, and since January this part of it has found an audience in the online weaving community worldwide, thanks to my efforts being indentified by Dorothy Lumb (Dot’s Fibre and Fabric) and Margaret Carpenter (Peg’s talkingaboutweaving). These generous people (from the High Peaks and South Carolina respectively) have opened up for me a fascinating world of weaving practice, and recognized that the unique aspect about the Bradford College approach is ‘design from the outset’ and ‘finding your own voice’.


2 Responses to “Hand Crafted Textiles – An Evaluation”

  1. Dot Says:

    Last week I visited Alison Daykin (Alison Yule Textiles) who learnt design on the Bradford course and enjoyed seeing her sketchbooks and talking about all things weaving. Her beautiful sketchbooks and approach to design have given me much to think about. It seems to me that the most important skill she gained from Bradford was techniques for using lateral thinking in weave design.

    Needless to say, her woven fabrics are wonderful up close, all those things that photos don’t quite express become evident, they look and feel superb. Her use of the best quality yarns ensures a very high quality product.

  2. Dot Says:

    p.s. have fun in year 2!

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