Thursday, 30 March 2017

Sampling tapestry weaving

Although I have a number of tapestry weaving looms including a smallish Mirrix loom, an Ashford and now a Dryad rug loom I have been looking for something I can use on my lap when I am at home, and had the idea that a large beading loom might be useful. And it has turned out to be a very useful thing. It is not large and it does of course present its own limits such as the sett, you can only use a thin thread and either weave on a single thread warp (which is really too fine for my liking), or you stay satisfied with weaving over a double warp which has more sensible scale when using woollen weft and wanting to blend several strands together.

So here's the loom with a sample in progress on it:

I am using a knitting needle as a shed stick. As far as I can work out the largest pieces that can be created this way are around 12-13cm by 15cm or so. Not a bad size, and as you can see you can do a bit of knotting (although slow as the warps cannot be pulled to far out as they then pop out of the slots provided as spacers at each end. A bit of a fiddle.

A side image of the loom shows why I has trying the knotting technique here (Turkish or Ghiordes knot) - the left side used mainly a cream yarn with a little white and even less pink, while the right side shows how the same cream takes on a blueish-whiteish tinge when additional pure white and blue is added. Basically I am trying out effects and textures and seeing what different yarns do when woven into a tapestry.
One thing to say about the pictures here is that the colours are a bit paler than in real life. I photograph in the kitchen with a light that is a bit bright, but the pictures do show something of the effects:
The first one here shows four different green yarns woven in blocks, clock-wise from bottom left - a handspun two-tone wool, a handspun (acid-dyed, I think) wool, a blend of wool and cotton and finally, bottom right, a synthetic knobbly yarn that it quite soft and undefined but might be OK if mixed with more substantial yarns.
The next sample shows from the bottom: a strange commercial rayon-cotton which has randomely placed shiny paper-like pieces projecting out of it and in the middle a soft variegated yarn which I think some may call an 'eye-lash' yarn which created a tufted surface which I like as a contrast against the flatness of the weaving around it and lastly a blend that included a brushed mohair. I liked the mohair in a different piece I made where I blended it with several strands of yarns than was possible here and I think the lustre of the mohair is a good quality to have in the weaving. And I don't mind the hairiness on the surface if it is used as an aesthetic device against flatter surfaces.
This sample was a more systematic attempt at weaving using floating wefts over an increasing number of warps, woven fairly densely as the width of the floating elements expanded. This worked well there is some reasonable balance between the two halves. 
Here I was trying to create a soft effect thinking about some other weavers I know of, Silvia Heyden and Berit Hjelholt, both of a certain generation of weavers who learned in Germanic and Scandinavian environments. An 'old-fashioned' technique using eccentric weft of handspun synthetics, mohair, wool and so on, and again trying out blending. The waving sectional panel on the bottom half has worked well and I think I might like to try this out in other colours, perhaps as a background cover for something else at a bigger scale, and perhaps less as rows and more as sections. I think it has some potential.
I once did a course with Pat Johns who had woven these smallish samples in different techniques, including a -snakeskin- technique of her own devising. Her samples were a little larger than these, and she hadn't mounted them to let students look at the back, but I like them mounted so they look like finished pieces and still tells you quite a bit about the technique if they are not attached fully to the paper backing.

The blue-brown combination in this sample was purposefully developed and I tried to graduate the blending of the blue into the brown in a subtle and gentle way. I didn't follow a formal blending recipe such as the one provided by Carol Russell, just increased the blue a little on each weft change  and mostly I has worked. The centre section of a separate box with some subtle joining that can't be seen too much, so this was in the end a satisfying element.

The one thing that went wrong, and this can be seen in the bottom left hand corner, is the lack of knotting rows at the start and the end. This was intentional, to see what would happen - and as you can see the top edge (which was the bottom during weaving) behaved reasonably well when I cut the piece off and prepared the sample for finishing. Unfortunately the second edge must have been woven more loosely and when I cut it off the weave opened up. Although a learning exercise it was a shame in this case because it would have been a quite pleasing sample had it been finished properly. That is what samples are for I guess, to learn just this type of thing.

And finally, a sample using indigo dyed and natural wool yarns, a bit of silk yarn and lurex. I am not sure whether this shows properly on the photo, but there are a couple of areas of textural techniques, included a thickened soumak section and a few chain-stitch like lines, which in a smooth and strong Wensleydale yarn made quite soft 'stitches'. In Silk-cotton the same stitches where flat and lifeless.

And there we are - I am now sewing on the machine and it cannot be compared to tapestry weaving for the gentleness and quietness of making. A loom is a fairly silent thing, especially a small one or a frame loom. The only sounds you hear is the yarn pulling though the warps and the beating down of the yarn using a bobbin or a fork. That is it. And you get to feel the surface, look at the colours and fibres and work out how it all fits together.
A sewing machine by comparison is an aggressive thing - noisy, fiercely fast and almost has a life of its own which you need to temper purely through the pressure of your foot on the pedal. The machine lies between you and the work, and the stitching is applied, although integrated into the fabric it is not integral in the way woven weft is. Yes, I do prefer the weaving, in fact I adore it, the calm you have, the choices you can make and the freedom and tactility of it. So it won't be long until I return, but right now I need to make some large pieces fairly quickly, and that is what the machine can help me do.

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