Thursday, 31 December 2015

Tex 1 Assignment 5 - Starting to weave the tapestries

Having had a longish break to undertake some study and exams for work I have started weaving a couple of final pieces for assignment 5. I had originally wanted to weave four pieces to make a small series suggesting trees changing through the seasons, but due to the delay and the slowness of the weaving process I have decided to make two pieces - one designed aorund the magnolia stellata in our garden, and the other an improvised green piece using a technique I learned, but have never woven.

This latter piece is an improvisation on the theme of green leaves and light flitting through leaves and branches in the breeze, as in this photograph:

In this image the greens are quite bright and yellow hues feature strongly, however my green yarns, homespun and commercial in wool and silk are not necessarily going to be of these shades, although some are.

Here are some of the yarns I have used, and as you can see, some are quite similar to those in the photographs, but others are softer and colder with blueish tinges:

I am now in the process of weaving this piece. The technique draws on a method that Fiona Hutchinson taught us on a summer school some years ago. She uses it to great effect, weaving very finely, inspired on the theme of sea and sky. I have chosen a slightly wider sett than she uses for her smaller pieces, and improvise choices of greens and browns, weaving both block colours and colour blends. The piece is woven in longlish strips with some attachments between each strip; and each strip is woven separately, so that I can work colours vertically and can choose blends and colours as I go along. I had planned this work for some time, and hopefully the final thing will evoke the movement of leaves in dappled light.

Here is the piece in progress on my Mirix loom - the pictures does not really represent the colours as they are in reality, they are more clean somehow, and the blueish hues suggested here are really green:

This piece is woven mainly in wools in the weft, some plied with silk on a warp of blue linen. I like dyed warps. Traditional tapestry weavers speak of weft-faced weave, as indicative of tapestry, but very good tapestries have been woven showing the warp, and a dyed warp can help in the finish of the piece. If it is of a certain colour it might add someting to the end result. The final piece will be quite a textured sample, with a three dimensional feel to it, so in order to make this a good size I need to weave quite a bit more than is seen here.

A bit about process and materials

As this piece is process driven and designed in the course of the making I thought I might add something about how this work has proceeded. When I weave I think a bit about what is happening with the work as it grows, what decisions I need to make and so on. One obvious thing to consider is the materials and how they work together. As each strip is made up of either a single thickish yarn or blends of different colours and thicknesses I have tried in most instances to create similar thicknesses across the piece. That has not always been possible and so occassionally, where strands have been thin, I have needed to adjust the weave by adding additional passes. It won't matter once the thing has been drawn together as will be clear later, but another issue was also how soft some yarns are. Tapestry yarns should ideally be firm and worsted spun to ensure they create clean beads on the surface of the woven fabric. A bead in a tapestry is the spot where the weft crosses the warp and is the visible dot of colour on the surface of the weave. Some weavers use this when they design photographic realist pieces where a bead is used as a pixel of colour in a digital image.

And yes, as a diversion, it is interesting to note that the language of a craft has its own terminology, for processes, ways of setting out the work in progress and each element of the weave. I have never really bothered with this type of language before as I was self-taught in the Danish language and so just got on with the process, but I guess that when you need to describe something accurately these terms become useful.  Anyway, on the softness of yarns: soft hairy yarns do not necessarily create clearly defined beads and may leave the surface as bit indistinct, and I am sure there will be areas like that on the final thing. 

This leads to the issue of whether a final piece should be designed using a single yarn type across the whole piece. In the past weaving workshops wove large tapestries to certain designs, and places like the workshops at Aubusson continue to weave in this way, creating tapestries that can be reproduced in small batches and so need to have consistency in yarns and colours. This means that careful planning of yarns and colour matching is necessary to enable reproduction. There is an excellent film on Youtube that demonstrates this: The Art of making a Tapestry. If you have more time I have gathered some films together on tapestry that may be of interest, check my Playlist out: Tapestry and more.

So, commercial tapestry studios and some professional weavers use particular yarns and manage their works by careful calculation of yarns and dyed batches. Although I do buy some new yarns, rovings for spinning and do dye some of these, the bulk of my yarn store is made up of oddments from other people's stashes when they have had clear-outs, charity shop purchases and whatever offers I find on e-Bay. The world is already full of stuff, of perfection and reproducability and I think that collecting discards, secondhand and left-overs from other people's projects is probably a solution I would prefer to work towards. This allows me to feel that I contribute a bit towards sustainability of the environment and a way of working that weighs re-cycling and re-use with consumption of the new and mass-produced. Work created through improvised, yet reflective making, considering the use of the already-extant and not necessarily using materials purposefully designed for a project makes more sense in a world full of readily available stuff that often ends up on a fire or in a landfill (consider the waste of fleeces that have become of so little worth that farmers just burn them if they are not sold).

Using space-dyed yarns

Some of the yarns I have are space dyed (purchases from stash clearances) and I have been wondering how this would work in tapestry. One book I read said one should not use space-dyed yarns as the colours go grey and muddy when woven, and it recommended using only pure colours, possibly in blends. But in weaving narrow strips or short lengths, the space-dyed yarns come into their own, as short lengths of the colour sections in the yarn may become a single width in the weave, which means you can do 'automatic' pick and pick weaves without worrying about weaving with two different strands. It is of course not necessarily a controlled weave, but when the design is as fluid and flexible as the one here, it is almost preferable that unexpected colour mixes happen - nature is not calculated when shades moves across leaves and the ground is covered in budding new sprigs. Also, by using a continuous second colour throughout in a blend with the varigated yarn the whole is synthesised and melds together well.


Choosing yarn and colour is part of the decision making early on in designing a tapestry, but throughout the weaving decisions have to made at different stages of the process. The best representation I have seen of this was a silent film Joan Baxter made of herself weaving (it can be found here, but it is a bit pixellated). In it she wears a camera on her head and you can see how she chooses colours she had previously blended and wound onto bobbins, how she then decides where they would go on the tapestry and how she then weaves, occasionally adding colours, judging how the colour would lie in the work. In my sample I have had to decide where the merged sections would lie, whether to retain a single hue per strip (I did not choose this going with colour mixes across the whole piece), and decide how to finish and start each new colour section, whether to use soft and harder yarns, how long to weave it, and I now need to decide when to stop and how to finish each strand, as I am not sure yet what to do with the warps once the whole things has been pulled into place.

Here's the final sample/piece cut off the loom


Having now cut off the sample and drawn it together I realise that I shouldn't have used the type of join I have. In fact, in revisiting Fiona's web-site and looking at her pieces on it, I think she makes joins that just involve twisting adjacent weft strands together, which gives a clean join and enables the pulling of the warps to be more easily done and for the resulting waves to be lighter. Anyway, in my piece, due to the many greens and heavier yarns it has not made much difference, and the weight where the joins sit just adds to the wavy nature of the tapestry. If I make a different piece in the future I will try the other joining method to check for the result using that. Now I need to think about what to do with the warps - there are a lot of them and they are very visible, although the blue warps look good as a compliment to the greens in the woven area.I see that Fiona has in most cases kept the warps, sometimes cutting them short, other times just letting them hang when the waves lie at the bottom of a larger piece. I think perhaps I should leave the warp, at the length they have from the final weave, but I will still need to think about how to then mount the final thing - should it lie on its sides to let the warps hang down? Will I mount it and set the warps on the surface of the background? These are the types of questions that lead to decisions to be made during the process. I usually leave the work a bit and look at it occasionally to enable me to think about these questions, and this is what I will do with this work as well to find a final solution.

In the end I have now decided to keep the warps hanging donw from the woven section, using the longer lengths of the warp from the top to fall behind the piece and add to the thickness of the blue warps hanging as a sort of fringe. These 
Detailed photographs of this piece shows how the joins are not too noticeable, and in drawing together the warps the wefts have been tightly drawn together as well. The wavy undulation the surface is hopefully now visible:

The colours are inaccurate in these pictures, the warp is actually a muted blue.

On the above picture you can see exaples of blends using a variegated yarn in blues and browns, as well as other variegated yarns, some homespun I dyed in Koolaid (an American children's drink that can give quite interesting results).

This is a fairly simple tapestry and so I have not had to make too many colour-choices, as I have kept to the green theme throughout. However in the second piece, the Stellata tapestry piece, I have had to make careful choices about colour and where they were going to be placed, side by side, in relation to other colour choices and balances across the whole and so on, that was a much more complex thing to decide on, and I also had to decide what to do with the petals of the flowers, but you will see this work on a separate post.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Project 5 - preparing wools

I have been looking at colours and spinning wool in the last few weeks, partly to prepare for these tapestries in project 5. I got some good green silk from Oliver Twist at the Knitting and Stitching Show, as well as some green wool fibre which has enabled a few different yarns to be made. In addition I have been assemblign my greens and browns more widely, so here are some trials as well as colour charts I worked up from the season-inspired photographs I have taken for this project:





This wool is partly handspun (some by me, some by others) and partly commercial.

Spring - Summer

 The two skeins, seen bottom of photo, were some I recently spun, plying together wool and silk and different greens, the red silk is for spinning

Silk brick for spinning, and top right some silk waste I spun into various novelty yarns, and here are some of the novelty yarns, plyed wools and silks in blues and greens

 A green colour selection from a 'summer' themed photograph

Some autumn visits - shows and exhibitions

Knitting and Stitching show

I went to Alexandra Palace for the show this year, helped out at a stand in the morning and then wandered about in the afternoon, mainly focusing on the exhibitions, rather than the shopping stands.

There were graduate stands including students I had seen at New Designers, and there were quilters, felt makers and embroiderers of all descriptions showing their work. The stand I was very taken with was Vivien Prideaux's large space where she had hung her wools and silks, shibori dyed in amazing colours from natural dyes. The wools were finely woven light fabrics and hanging them so they can be seen at their best if a great way to show off the work. She also had a small selling corner and there the silk csarves were folded up, and so not giving them the full effect of the print.

This is the third or fourth time I have been to the Knitting and Stitching Show. It is a huge event, and you can easily get overloaded with impressions; I find that on repeat visits the stalls look increasingly the same from year to year and so unless there is something absolutely specific to get then most stalls can be skipped as otherwise stuff is available on-line. But at the core is shopping, and that gets a bit tedious after a while, although one stand I had planned a visit to was Oliver Twists, to pick up some green silk brick for spinning, and more about that in the posts about the final project.

On the on-line shopping point: I was very sad to learn that Texere yarns had gone into liquidation and is no more. This was a gift of a yarn and fibre agent and I will miss it very much.

The Fashion and Textile Museum - Liberty in Fashion

This museum is a small, but well layed-out space in a gentrified part of London. This was the first time I visited, so I did not know what to expect in the way of space and volumes of work on show. The Liberty exhibition covered a range of liberty designs used in dresses and blouses, there were a few trousers and more recent shoes.

What I liked best of all in the exhibition were the early embroidered pieces. Detailing in capes, kimonos, collars of bodice pieces on blouses and dresses. These were not huge embroideries but small sections adding s sense of luxury to an already fine garment. Liberty has always stood for quality and the high end of the market and there were plenty of examples of such quality garments on show. There was a also a room celebrating the liberty scarf and Liberty print in general, The Art of Pattern, showing surface designs by Susan Collier and Sarah Campbell mainly from the 1970s. This was a nice display of draft designs, proof prints and garments made in a particular print, with a lot of individual objects on show themed around print designs such as florals or the Bauhaus designs.

It was a worthwhile visit, and the ore so because I discovered on the way that the Londn glass blowing centre was alomost just across the street, and second to ceramics I love glass, so I had a quick look around to see some of the current works on display there.

Having just come back from Austria where huge internation-level museums take entry-fees equivalent to the Fashion and Textile Museum I do question how value is determined on museum displays. The Liberty exhibit was OK, but not amazing, and charging £9 for entry to a small specialist museum does seem a bit steep.

Contemporary Ceramics Centre and British Museum: Celts: art and identity

Whenever I go to the British Museum I pop in to admire whatever is new in the world of British Ceramics across the road. This time there was a display of monumental slab-built works by Paul Philp. These were large pale shapes which had been placed in groups of twos or threes to enable the shapes to relate to each other. The piece in three parts in the main window was very impressive, it would appear that it was made to be a whole in three sections, with a quiet strength in their standing position, taking up space around them and needing that space to speak properly. I liked this work, it was strong and yet modest and abstract although it used the idea of the vessel as a foundation for the expression.

There is also work by other people on show, often smaller pieces, and it is interesting to walk around looking at how some ceramicists use mark making on the surface of their material, while others use the materials themselves such a glazes and the process (firing for example) to enable the final object to stand as an object in itself. (I am not really sure what the equivalent of this working out of process in textiles is - weaving definitely has this tradition of writing about process, from Anni Albers' writings and the way the Bauhaus weaving workshop tried to work out their language of textiles, and occasionally you see the discourse on process turning up in some embroidery books, but in the ceramics tradition there is a very strong tradition on discourse on process which permeates the final pieces in some works).

Monday, 12 October 2015

Project 5 - Assignment 10 - themes and ideas for the final project

So, it has been a while since I did any concrete design, although I have spent quite a bit of time thinking about this project. I have for example recently been thinking about what inspires me - whether visual art, film, literature, or music, and I will list some of those things later. I also thought about what words I aspire my work to describe or contain (rather than words describing the work, which with maturity may coincide, but certainly don't at the moment) - words such strength, subtlety, reflection, energy (whereas right now I think my work can be described s developing, experimental).

The things that inspire, or evoke imagery I think might some time become a work or series of works include key books I have read such as Haldor Laxness' Independent People, Herman Hesse's Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte, Sjon's The Blue Fox (this book I have read every year since I first got it, it is short, poetic and very beautiful, like a small gem you can pull out and adore from time to time). There are many works of art I find inspiring, so rather than list these, I will list some key artists (and this is a short and very incomplete list in no particular order): Anselm Kiefer, early Gustav Klimt, Josef Hoffman's jewellery, Finnish landscape painters such as Akseli Gallen-Kallela, landscapes by artists in the Group of 7, some Matisse, landscapes by Schiele, the German Expressionists, Breughel's landscapes describing the seasons (especially the autumn picture which has such strong blues and browns), and the list could continue.... fact, these lists sound a bit like the lists Sei Shonagon wrote out in her Pillow Book. Totally subjective and impressionistic lists of things that stimulated her. I think long lists of picture like the ones you often find on personal blogs are inheritors of this way of listing things out.

Music: I am partial to national romantic music such as that by Sibelius, Grieg and Smetana, and I recently started listening to Beethoven's music properly and can't believe how amazingly beautiful it is. Mozart's Magic Flute I listen to from time to time and any choral music by Bach is so incredibly transcendental somehow - it carries so much with it I wouldn't know where to start explaining what it evokes, in fact Bach's music is probably what I would take with me to a desert island.

Film - there are many films I have found inspiring, but here are a few - Etre et avoir, The Story of the weeping Camel , Sleeping Beauty (Disney's animation), Hitchock movies such as North by Northwest, To catch a Thief and Rear Window (costume, humour, suspense, sets - all such great assemblies and story telling), some films by the Cohen brothers such as Fargo and Oh Brother where art Thou? and Ingmar Bergman's Fanny and Alexander, which I also try to watch once a year as it is so resonant with feeling, childhood, magic and Christmas, it is just a great film.

And where is this leading..... how does it lead into a textile project? Well, I guess everything you enjoy, digest and are touched by as you wander through life will somehow infuse thoughts about any project you do. I have already mentioned that Hesse's Bäume is a key source for project 5 in a different post, and so when I look at landscapes, trees, foggy meadows or certain architecture, my reflections may involve thoughts and memories of particular themes from this stock of culture. I guess an example will help describe this: it is a common thought that gothic architecture may have been inspired by strong slender trees, but mix in ideas about dark forests from fairy tales such as Hansel and Gretel, or Little Red Riding Hood and something else is added, and when thoughts about Kiefer's use of forests and wooden huts creating dark places in his art are then added as well, suddenly forest trees gain a certain feeling and maybe something useful can grow from this.

So, to the themes

The plan is that I will weave four smallish tapestries and develop them into a joined outcome at the end if I have time and am given permission to do what I have in mind. The four tapestries will be on the theme of trees, based on the seasons.


I haven't fully decided how the spring piece will look. I worked up some photographs of blossom from a large tree in our garden by my childhood home:


Or perhaps the spring theme can be based on buds and the idea of becoming, a notion Hesse evokes as tree coming into 'becoming' in spring - for Hesse trees are lifegiving, nurturing, giving things that you can study to find meaning in life - his celebration of trees sits with his idea of nature as innocent, and as spiritually enriching. Spring buds are a reminder of this life-giving essence of trees:


This is more clear - there is a particular tenchique I want to try out in tapestry weaving, a way of rendering the structure of the weave open and wavy. I haven't tried this before but Fiona Hutchison uses it to great effect in her tapestry work and taught it in a summer school I attended once.

The summer piece will therefore be an abstract reflection of leaves and light, and maybe a bit of earth and sky, which the tree is so dependent on.


Here I want to work with a representation of roots and winding, snaky vines through the  wrapping technique. It will be in browns with hints of green and blue. I am planning vertical lines with some flowing lines.

An autumnal tree, the colours enhanced in Paintshop Pro. Although these are good autumnal colours I will not include all of them across the piece but will be be selective about how they will be present on each individually wrapped line.

I will be working with these pictures - colour them by hand and draw a few examples to work out how the lines and waves might work.


Skeletal trees look great against winter skies. They seem mournful and sad, alone and yet still proud and waiting. They are still and fragile without their leaves.

 Some wintry trees in a baroque park in Bayreuth, Germany

Bark detail coloured with blue and greens, in colder tones. I am tempted to weave something along these lines but will work up some drawings to see how his will work.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Austrian holiday - city visit 2 - Vienna

Vienna is absolutely great - it is a beautiful big, and big in all manner of ways, with large scale architecture and town planning, wonderful architectural detail and great museums. Again, where to start? I will just discuss a couple of things, how you can find art nouveau detailing in the street, baroque churches and just drink in some amazing art in the large art galleries there.

We visited the Leopold Museum where the Tracey Emin exhibition was just finishing (in a recent programme of What do Artists do all Day, she had been shown preparing for this show), and where they keep beautiful judgend stil furniture by the Wiener Werkstätte and paintings by a number of Viennese turn-of-the-century artists, Gustaf Klimt, Otto Kokoschka and great Egon Schiele works. I was really taken by the Schiele works in particular, his work with shapes across bodies and backgrounds, the body in paint, and his later work where he was modelling the body more, they seemed less thin and distorted and more fleshy and real. I thought this work very impactful, even his landscapes and houses, described in flat shapes were fresh and demanding.

This was a very fine museum in the city's museum quarter, but from there you just crossed the Ringstrasse and entered the other museum area where the Kunsthistorisches Museum stood, which we also visited. This is a great museum, not just in size, but also in its collection. They had a temporary exhibition on while we were there, on tapestry (entitled in translation, The Strands of Power), which had tremendous tapestries on show, including a royal throne balcony. This show also showed medieval prints of tapestries in situ: at a French emperor's coronation, hanging two tapestry-deep on all spare walls of the church, there was a picture of a renaissance banquet where people's faces and the large wall hangings were illuminated by candlelight.

A gold automaton in the Kunstkammer of the Kunsthistorishes Museum - also in the background an amazing automaton in the shape of a ship that could roll down the table with small mechanical people playing drums, waving their arms, and as a finale a canon would explode to complete the effect. I loved this display and wished we had more time to look at more in detail. this gallery had benches along the periphery of the room where you could sit down and study films of the automata in action, showing the wind-up mechanism and clock-work wheels and gears of the machinery.

The Vienna Sezession building, a gem of a place, so complete and a statement of the new feeling for art that the Viennese artists of the turn of the century was working to create:

And so, when you walk through the city you can find all manner of art nouveau detailing:

These balonies sit on Majorlica Haus a residential building designed by Otto Wagner, 1898-99, it is a large building and the neighbouring block is equally grand with its gilt surface designs. Unfortunately the buildings sit on a busy road with a lot of traffic and so any picture taken of them is crowded at the bottom by cars ziping past.

You can walk into churches you pass by and find the most serene or voluminous interiors without it breaking the bank:

We also visited the Upper Belvedere palace which houses collections of Austrian art, again key works by Kokscka, Schiele and Klimt as well as other, earlier art works. Here was my favorite Klimt painting, a portrait of Sonja Knipps (1898), before he started painting the longer, thinner more distorted bodies of The Kiss and the paintings of the Beethoven Frieze from after 1900. 

In the Lower Belvedere they had an exhibition on called Klimt and the Ringstrasse, a title that was in fact a bit of a mis-nomer, as it was about many different artists and architects and their patrons at work at the time of the design of the Ringstrasse and those grand buildings I mentioned earlier. However Klimt had painted some small works in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, which I tried to capture; so, spot the Klimt(!):


And lastly, part of the central European tradition of puppetry is being performed (perhaps slightly touristically) at the Schonbrunn Palace. We did not visit the Palace, but went there to see The Magic Flute in a performance of puppetry, that was quite sweet, but very well crafted. The theatre had a small display of puppets in glass cabinets so here is an impression of soe of them:

I love puppets, since childhood I have enjoyed puppets and stop-motion animation, and in the 1970s in Denmark where I grew up, there was this Saturday TV programme for children with a small puppet on a string that would play piano and talk with a human presenter. And so I seek out puppet theatres and performances when I can, and naturally if there is one in Prague (which was definitely for tourists) or Vienna (which was less so and had local people in the audience) or even somewhere near where I live in the UK, I will seek it out. I am not sure why I love puppets, maybe it is the way this dead matter, wood or a synthetic material, is dressed up and animated, breathing life into an inert thing can evoke dream-like states, like a suspended reality, or parallel life.