The Ownership of Learning

It’s now a full week since the nine days of the Autumn Block of study at Bradford finished. I’ve just about returned to my usual routine, but exactly what to do ‘first’ in regard to the HNC course has been occupying the my coffee and lunch breaks. Eventually I made myself sit down and collect my thoughts in my sketch book / diary I’ve religiously kept, partly to feed this more organised blog. It makes interesting if rather alarming reading: there is such a lot to do and think about. I notice I keep coming back to this notion introduced by Colin Lloyd (curriculum team leader at Bradford) about the ‘ownership of one’s own learning’ and the ‘devising of an individual programme of study’. All the expectations and attendant guidelines have been put in place. We need to allow for this, and this and this component. We need to demonstrate technical accomplishment, critical analysis, evaluation of our results, appropriate research (and research methodology), a general weaving together of what makes effective textile design possible. But this is to be at the service of our own inclinations and ambitions, some of which may be very unclear at this stage. That said, I found the course programme for the Autumn Block really set many hares running across the stubble fields, mostly in opposite directions.

A Field near Croxley Woods last Sunday - just right for hares!

A Stubble field near Croxley Woods last Sunday - just right for hares!

Pam, who led our initial studies in historical and contextual research, was canny in getting her class to reveal their current thoughts. For me, I did admit to embracing my creative musical mind as part of the possible equation in making woven work. I had started off resolutely denying such a thing would happen, and then found thoughts of the weaving mechanism and textile design infiltrating a composition – one of my Studies in Movement for solo violoncello. Its title Dance Figures actually refers to watching my son David dance with the Momentum Company.

Dancers usual follow cycles of beats into which they weave ‘figures’ of movement that last for so many beats. Usually these go across the border of each beat cycle. As I worked on this idea I realised I was thinking of the beat cycle as a warp and began to imagine the harmonic tonality of each cycle changing like a sequence of different yarn colours on the warp – only possible on a virtual warp! But read and listen to my programme note and the music  here , which includes a reference and link to a woven piece by Anni Albers illustrating beautifully the woven equivalent of dance figures.

What really seems to be necessary however is to find a sensible way to practice developing those artistic and design skills we devoted such a lot of time to – as a prelude to any weaving at all. I found myself searching out sketches and paintings of proposed woven design. Several books on the Bauhaus weaving workshop had inspiring examples, in goache and watercolour mostly.

Gunta Stolzl - sketch for a Wall Hanging (1927)

Gunta Stolzl - sketch for a Wall Hanging (1927)

I had to remind myself that many of these women weavers (the workshop was almost exclusively women) were trained fine artists before entering the Bauhaus. What they did was quite natural to their practice. Whereas for me this isn’t so. Goache I find really difficult to handle, prefering my watercolour pencils. But I can see the attraction and the possibility. Drawing and collage too hold fantastic possibilities as a ‘way in’ to teasing out not just an original design and a starting point, but something truly owned from the first mark on paper. You can’t weave like you can draw, at least not without a really radical approach. Improvisation certainly does take place on the loom, but it’s full of constraints. You have had to go so far towards a possible outcome before you can ‘play’.

In my imagination I’m thinking about the simplicity of colour and pattern I discovered in looking at examples of Edith Mairet’s work, whose practice influenced several generations of weavers in the UK (and abroad). But there’s this experimental, radical edge in my nature that is intrigued by the new wave of alternative crafts I first came across at the Futuresonic Festival a couple of years ago. Right at the end of last Wednesday’s final session Andrea produced one of those commercial yarn books for us to peruse . . . and there were the colours I had been imagining as the basis for turning those ol’ William Morris notions of weaving on their respective heads. 


Yarn Catalogue - with some pretty wild colours!

Yarn Catalogue - with some pretty wild colours!

So I’m keeping an open mind, but determined to practice, practice and practice the technical side of things so that the sheer technical business doesn’t overwhelm me – as it does at the moment. Playing the guitar for an hour a day is difficult enough, finding the right kind of activity to fit into an hour or two devoted to my textile practice – well, it seems quite elusive right now. So to help this process along I’m booking one day a week(tomorrow) in the workshop at Bradford, a whole day away from the distractions and complications of writing and playing music . . . to immerse myself in the equally distracting and complicated business of learning to weave.


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