Sunday, 22 March 2015

Tex 1 ass 4 - Project 8 yarns and structure

Stage 1 Exploring the qualities of yarns

I have quite a large collection of yarns, as I am always on the look-out for interesting materials for textile work. For this module I made a small purchase of some thicker linens and cottons as well.

I am a spinner and so have a few wool tops and other fibres for spinning, including alpaca and some synthetics. For the stage here I will concentrate on what you can see on the photos:

From left: a ball of cotton postal string, cones of linen and cotton ribbon, rolls of cotton (for warp) and natural linen, sisal, hand-spun natural wools, and to the front a skein of nettle yarn. This collection is of natural fibres both plant based (linen, sisal and nettle) - cellulose based - and animal protein fibre (wool). The ones shown are in neutrals, but they can be dyed, and I am planning to dye some of the linens in dark blue and black for use later in the assignment.
Some of these fibres are coarse and hard to touch, they will produce quite rigid structures and so could be used to build large-scale pieces. During the 1960s and -70s artists such as Francoise Grossen used rope and string in knotted sculptural works.  Eva Hesse covered her ropes in latex and polyester resin. More recently Ruth Lee has used nettle yarn and other more rigid fibres in jewellery design.
Here you see various hand-spun and commercial wools and silks. I did not necessarily spin all of these, you can see the spinning is quite even and balanced; I spin quite loosely depending on the project and I rarely get the balance right in the ply (balancing the yarn has to do with how much or how little the yarn is over-plied, i.e. whether the tension in the single ply has been evened out by the plying process when the wheel turns the opposite way to the original spinning). The yarns here are of differing qualities: commercial crewel wool at the front, cotton chenille (right), some old rope found on a beach (far left). There is also some spun sari silk or banana fibre (purple, in the middle right).
Silk is quite soft and has a very high lustre. It dyes like wool. In the past it was seen as a precious fibre, but it seem now to be quite ubiquitous although still holds an aura of luxury. I find it a bit flat and flacid sometimes, if not mixed with other fibres  for use in garments for example. The nature of the silk depends on it origin, the species of silk worm and the way it is spun and woven.
Wool is a great fibre - it varies hugely in quality depending on the breed of sheep - from the very coarse wool of the herdwick sheep to the much finer merino. Some wools have a lustre to it which is enhanced by spinning it as a smooth yarn along the length of the fibre (almost as a worsted) - (Wensleydale wool is an example of a high-lustre wool I am particularly partial to). Cashmere and mohair are cut from goats. All these fibres dye well with acid dyes and natural dyes. Throughout history people have bred sheep to carry different types of wool for varying uses. An ancient Nordic breed such as spelsau has both a long hairy guard hair and a much softer inner wool - the guard hair may have been used for ropes and sails for ships whilst the softer inner wool would have been good for clothing and perhaps felted items.

More natural fibres, lambswool (in the large cone), silks, wool rovings for spinning or felting and the green to the left is synthetic, probably with viscose (a cellulose material).

This pile of spun and plied thicker yarns I made experimentally using wool, rayon and some feathers in different colours.
Close-up of a yarn plied with wools and a heavy linen.

Close-up of yarns (3-ply) using wools and rayon.

The close-up of yarn with feathers

A short note on synthetics: there are certain synthetic fibres that I am not too keen on - acrylic being one - it is fine for knitting when mixed with wool, but I am not sure about its quality for experimental pieces. I have seen installations using acrylic yarn, but it feels very ephemeral and has a sense of the 'plastic' about it that is less inspiring than natural fibres. Polyester is similar but from my samples in other assignments you will see that as cloth polyester has some admirable qualities that can help make interesting work.

Stage 2 Experimenting with structures

Exercise 1

This section is getting us closer to weaving within grids of various types, freeform and more fixed grids. To warm us up we are asked to weave papers and I made some to look at colour, texture of the papers and how the grid can be shaped internal to the structure.

This picture shows a large piece made of painted watercolour paper and a smaller one in a mixture of matt painted paper with a glossy section woven in. The larger piece was difficult to weave as the paper was quite weak, and I actually got a bit impatient with it and fretted about whether it would break, so I left the middle section unwoven, but anchored it down with a second section of weave. This means that under the unwoven slitted section the painted paper underneath can be seen, this is a useful effect - in fact slits are used in tapestry weaving in some cases to create relief and shading. The smaller piece shows what happens when the grid is made uneven, I cut the various section to different widths and waviness. Colour contrasts bring out the reds in the painted paper quite strongly.
When the pieces are laid out in landscape they change. I prefer the landscape format here in the smaller piece, somehow it enhances the verticality of each smaller pink sections within the grid. In tapestry weaving there is often a choice to made about whether a tapestry should be woven lengthwise or vertically as the weft threads and the way these are woven means lines are more clearly defined when woven on the horizontal - in paper weaving this is less obvious, and I have to say I found the technique to be very different from tapestry weaving; I think we are here being asked to look at what woven structures can do overall rather than thinking about the weft thread as a line to be woven in with other lines to make mass. In paper weaving the mass is integral to the whole anyway.
 I also wove another matt/glossy sample where the slits were cut straight only, but in various widths. I chose green tones to evoke the Richter painting I had looked at for the colour exercise:
Exercise 2

At this point I want to comment on the structure of the projects as they are described in the book. After the paper weaving exercises the book asks us to make some braids and ropes (although rope making is visually described in exc. 3). I find that an odd position, I would have thought that this would sit more naturally after the yarn analyses to show how different yarns work in ropes etc. as  combinations of 'thread as line', and then 'progress' to woven structures. I guess the book describes the braids etc. as a 'woven structure' - and I will add macramé knots to this to add a bit of variation from the flattish plaits. Anyway, l will add the braids here as expected from the book, but see grids and woven structures as a bit more distinct, almost as a prelude to tapestry proper.

For this exercise I referred to a book I got recently which is one of those popularising books on fibre art that came out in the wake of the big fiberart movement exhibitions in the 1960s, Beyond Weaving (Chamberlain and Crockett (1974)). It shows work by Ruth Asawa, Francoise Grossen and Claire Zeisler amongst others, and contains a range of techniques, mainly non-woven, such as knotting/macramé, sprang, card weaving, braiding and wool/fibre preparation. I have a few of these books, but this one is pretty good at describing knotting. These are samples I made:

From left - I used sisal, course raw linen, dyed slub yarn on linen, knitting cotton and white hairy linen, and lastly a mixture of various fibres.

The techniques tested here are, from the top: slentre braid using slub wool and cotton - I liked this technique, there was a clear rhythm to it and it produced a nice thick dense braid, the middle test includes a could of techniques: half hitches and square knots, and below I used square knot in sisal. This last process I worked on in the late 1970s when I was a child. My parents had until recently a long sisal knotted 'rope' hanging outside the back door which over the years was adorned with all manner of found things from the beech including fishing hooks. I think there is good potential for using knotting; when I was working on the half hitch sample it occurred to me that you could work up large three dimensional bowl shapes for example. An artist who uses half hitches in her tapestry work is Anne Jackson
I am not quite sure how she gets the knots to change colour and lie in the way they do, but I heard a talk by her some years ago and she showed a slide of work in progress where each knot had its own strand of yarn, and she worked from the top down, as in knotting, without a loom. Using knots she can freely shape the edge, it is not tied to the grid in the way a loom-based work might be. Still her work is considered alongside other tapestry artists' work, and her finished pieces are in effect wall hangings.
The samples include, from the left: Four stranded braid, a flat woven braid and a six-stranded round braid. The two braids on the sides were made with various qualities of yarn - some heavier than others. You can see on the right that the blue wool (rug yarn) seems to be encircled by the other yarns which are harder (cotton string and linen). This is probably happening because the proportion of hard to soft is dominated by the harder and they seem to be 'doing their own thing' in relation to the wool.
Braiding is an ancient technique and is mastered by many cultures, including my own Scandinavian. An element of the Egtved girl 's skirt was a card woven band (Nordic bronze age), and braids are used for all manner of decoration on furnishings and garments in different cultures.

Exercise 3

So, the first grid we are asked to work on is a free-form shaped thing. I made a 'triangle' of lumpy roots and chose a range of yarns that came through from a single order I made from Texere yarns - linens (white and gold), greeny viscose and wool (a multi-coloured slub-yarn). The sides of the frame were quite thick and the yarn fine, so there was a sense of three-dimensionality to the whole thing, and transparency of course as I let the yarns stand alone in some places and woven them in and out in others to create a very open structure. The colour tones were quite soft and pastelly, enhanced by the white, and I prefer natural fibres as this aids with the synthesis of the materials - of course viscose is a man-made fibre based on cellulose, but it has a sheen that is a useful contrast to the hairy linen for example.

I put it somewhere where I could walk past it regularly and have come to realise that what I had made first was probably a good start, but not a finished thing. It is a bit too open. Anyway, the book asks us to consider the yarn used, how it relates to the frame and what happens when it crosses and weaves within the work and relates to other yarns. I first applied a number of yarns letting them cross over and under others, but thought there was a limit to what that could be achieved and so added knots of coloured slub yarn to create some 'punctuations' on the surface on one side. I have now decided that the thing is not finished and will be adding areas of 'mass' as the current effect is a bit 'net' like and I think there needs to be patches of 'fabric' as well. The other thing to say is that the overall shape suggests a shield, which would be more enhanced with more solid shapes.

So I wove in islands of a blue wool and cotton blended yarn mix and pulled together some of the looser yarns. In fact over time the yarns has become loose, probably from the movement of the frame. At one point when I looked at it quickly it (unintentionally) almost suggested an Asger Jorn type of image - he was part of the Cobra group of artists in the 1950s and 1960s.

The finished thing

The next grid is a more clearly defined geometrical structure with obvious horizontals and verticals. I made it of tied-together bamboo kebab-skewers so that there would distinct sections that can be worked on individually as well as working with the frame overall. Here it is in progress with the ties yet to be trimmed back and I am working out whether I want to weave in separate rigid parts as well:

With weave in progress

What is noticeable is that the frame has distorted. I started off setting up mini-warps in one section of the grid and then wove a bit in those, until I looked at the rest of the grid and decided that actually that was not what was expected of the sample, and also weaving on grid-like warps was too close to the tapestry weave in project 9. So I used all manner of yarns to string across the grid, and it looks effective to have the 'traditional' warp over-crossed by diagonals which again have been woven over and caught up into each other. This sample is starting to work quite well - again it looks very much like those 1970s-80s needle woven works. I have used the coloured wools that suggest the green Richter painting but decided to bring out the contrast by using pinks and some golden mustards. 

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