Sunday, 22 February 2015

A fair, a talk, some wool and a bit of spinning

Unravel - a the knitting fair

Yesterday I went to Unravel at the Farnham Maltings with a friend form my Guild. They have this annual knitting event with a lot of stalls selling wool and accessories, a few courses and talks.

It is a full day, your senses are overloaded and when you first arrive you walk around in a sort of trance, picking up wool here, gazing at colours there and trying to see everything all at once, through the many, many people who are all there, doing the same thing.

So, we walked through the great hall first. Stopped at length at the John Arbon stall as he had a lot of fibre there this year, and you can usually grab some sort of bargain if you root around the offers in a large tub to the side. He had some very good fibre on show, superwash wensleydale was my favourite - in fact gotland and wensleydale wool are by far my all-shining fibre favourites at the moment - loose locks (both), a strong hairy fibre (wensleydale), and they can have the most beautiful silvery greys. It was great. I got some bags from the big tub, and we went on our way through the hall.....

The wool

And what was next - well, there was the Little Grey Sheep stall with bags of gotland fleece just waiting to be felt and adored. I bought 1 kg of this fleece - extravagant I know, but I already have a spinning project on the go with grey wensleydale so this will fit very well with that in the ply. 

There is just so much stuff at Unravel, and you can get a bit carried away. Room after room of dyed yarn. I have to say I find quite a number of the stalls are repetitive, there is only little variation on the theme of dyed yarn, but luckily there are also stalls with buttons, some with vintage woollen mill items and rug wool, and some with natural wools waiting to be dyed. And that was where Texere fitted in - they had the most beautiful singles wensley dale wool in large hanks - so there is the theme again, the strong yarn with a great soft lustre. I went back there in the afternoon and bought around 1 kg of that too!

For lunch we went into Farnham via the New Ashgate Gallery of craft. It is a fine little gallery with some good things, a bit of jewellery, ceramics, prints and paintings. There were some Barry Stedman pots there so I got to see what his chunky work is like, and some nice glass things.

After lunch we went to the Craft Study Centre to see the historical exhibition of students' work, FARNHAM TEXTILES 1949-2015: Celebrating sixty-six years, which was a mixture of books showing systematic approaches to dyeing with synthetic dyes and small displays of finished items, including a lace shawl that was in the most intricate work I have seen in a long time. There was also a pleated and heat-set scarf in the manner of Reiko Sudo (might have been hers, but I didn't check the list and there was no label) - good to see in reality what you otherwise see in photos.

A talk

.......Then back to the Maltings to buy more stuff - shawl pins and that wonderful wool at Texere, and then on to sit in on a lecture by Alison Ellen, the knitwear designer. This was an inspiring talk - on how she works with colour in her design. She really only covered those basic techniques that have been tested in assignment 2 of the course, but here it was shown in practice. If I take a couple of things from the talk that I will think about more in my own work it is her treatment of colour proportions derived from photographs, say, using a theme (her examples included green, but she also covered reds in another image) - and sampling using first simple stitches and then gradually working up more samples to play with the idea. Her language also showed how reflective she is about her work. She used the term 'cloth' about the knitted fabric. OK, that may sound obvious, but when I have been making knitted garments, I use the word 'knitting' about it, or a 'knitted' thing, but that slight inflection of the word changes things I think. knitting is a cloth-making process and by showing how it makes a fabric, a certain value is giving to it that elevates it and gives it a certain value. She also spoke about using rhythm and repeat in her colour designs, and thinking about slight variations derived in the dyeing process as 'syncopations'. Again that musical reference, but an interesting dimension to thinking about the work of what design can do. Alison Ellen is a true craftsperson and I think her designs for hand knitted garments are of a quality rare in the knitwear world.

And a bit of spinning

Obviously with such a full day there was not a lot of time to rest when I got home. However I knew what was in those bags and I wanted to bond with some of it straightaway. The wensleydale yarn was washed and hung to dry in preparation for dyeing some day. It is a very strong yarn and has a heavy body to it - I suspect it will hang well. It deserves a special pattern so that project is still to come. But as I alluded to I have some dark gotland lambswool on my spinningwheel destined for a project with some paler wensleydale, so I pulled out the darker strands of the new fleece and am now spinning it into the lambswool with some interesting green-black silk to create a bit of interest - a very slow project done on the side or when I have a moment of longing for spinning. Oh, it is a delight to spin a beautiful fleece - I spin from the grease (i.e. unwashed with the lanolin still in) or from commercially prepared rovings (I don't care too much for carding, there is just not the time and it is one preparation step that industry has made so much lighter). I don't mind the slight odour of urine and sheep, in fact I find it  comforting - it is almost the closest I can get to the nature of the animal without rearing it, and that is a gift from nature in the process of making.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

More tree photos - an afternoon project

It was a sunny afternoon and as the sun was lowering the shadows got to a stage that promised some interesting photos. I got a new camera recently and hadn't used it properly so this was a good time to try it out on a photo project. What I include here are some of the better ones, but I did experiment a bit, including shaking the camera furiously to try to get some interesting shapes and with a bit of camera shake I have made some cropped selections to get other effects that may lend themselves to textile experiments.


A detail from a line of conifers

A conventional picture of a tree - I took a lot of these, and it would be tempting to add lots of tree photos here, but I am trying to keep the photos to interesting ones I got quite excited about

A large branch from a tree with strange twisty branches
Not sure what these are called - like flowers on a not-quite budding tree

Trees in the landscape and near buildings help create particular environments and shape a feeling about a place - here a medieval church with a few trees around it

A yew tree in the churchyard

A diversion - an ancient roman wall which here shows how the stones making up the wall have been laid out in almost a herringbone pattern

More trees in the landscape

Trees in the churchyard and looking beyond - here also something about looking through trees when they have bare branches
Twigs at the end of branches lit up with bright sunlight
A large tree and overhead a few birds in flight. For some time I have been trying hard to capture migrating birds, but always get the camera out when they have almost flown away, or my camera is too weak to capture the full line of birds. Today I think I caught a formation that looked quite good above the trees
 After that small digression back to the trees

More looking through trees, this is the part of my photo project where I moved the camera quickly around to see what would happen, and look at this, the camera caught these blobs of light! - I like these, they work well

I also tried again with grey trees and less light coming through

Here's the effects achieved by this

These shaken pictures take the tree idea and stretches it into something abstract and I think this work is more about the photo than the theme, but it is effective anyway and could be used for abstract textile designs

Here are some details from one of the distorted images, they work quite well too; there are suggestions of pattern, and mark making

Some of these suggest the trees and branches more than others. All in all I really enjoyed the photo project I set myself, a small quick and intense exercise to free up thinking about visualising trees.

Talk by Emma Sheldon - textile designer

Yesterday the Guild I am a member of had a speaker visiting, Emma Sheldon. A young textile designer from a 'mixed media' background and an MA from the Royal College of Art, she spoke about her career so far and her current work in the automotive industry.

This was a very interesting and stimulating talk. She talked through her early steps in the knit and fashion industry, where she had tried various things in the fast paced culture on the New York Fashion scene.

Her student life had carried her to collaborative projects with automotive designers which had given her a profile in the industry where she now works. She has been involved in high-profile projects for Audi, Aston Martin and Jaguar-Landrover. This seems at first sight to be a far call from her experience of developing laser-cut, pleated synthetic surfaces in textiles, but actually she explained the design and collaborative process that they work through and it became clear that the design principles she learned at college she applies in the 'blue-sky thinking' environment in car design. She still uses mood boards to stimulate visions of client's needs, she works on experimental pieces to work out techniques, textures and stretch the process and she collaborates in a group of 6 textile designers to create the whole design concept of a vehicle range from colour finished, metal fittings, upholstery both front and back and any other visible surface it seems.

Interestingly she also described some of the struggles she had had on the way, how she had worried about knowing the detail behind the engineering of any design ideas she helped developed. Some where on the way she had realised though, that actually she does not need to be concerned about the engineering problem, and that that is part of the dialogue between the visual and textural design and the engineering questions that this may give rise to. She was appreciative of everything she was learning and it seemed she was open to new approaches. Her talk showed me that this is a core skill of the designer - that we need to be open and experimental with what we do. That we should never rest and just try something, even if it is just for the sake of the experiment itself.

In the final section of her talk she also made it clear that however 'high tech' her samples looked - and they were grey, metallic, plastic pieces, her actual pleating method was by hand. I am guessing she probably used the computer to design waves and details in the laser cut elements, but it was clear that the craft itself was on an equal level with the tools she employed. She said that a key thing she learned at art school was to learn the skills and craft itself and then one can break the rules, and this seems to have put her in a strong place in what she now does. I enjoyed this talk very much, it reminded me of why going to see student work and new design is always valuable and stimulating for carrying our own work forward.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Theme book - ass. 7 and project 10 to come - photo resource

I have a bit of a collection of photographs that would be useful as source material for tree designs. I will add photos over then couple of months as I take more.

This series has been taken in the same woodland area. There is a nice pond there and the woods are a mixture of commercial conifer areas and deciduous sections.

Reflections in the pond

OK, mostly a water lily scene, but the darker green surface areas are shadows of trees.

Tree and branch reflections

A branch dipping into the water

Reflections of leaves

This one worked well I think - a reflection of trees in a puddle - the pebbles and grit from the path frames the cut, and there are overlays of natural shading, dappled light

A couple of trees in a historical garden - this is about the overall shape of the tree rather than detail

A woven tree from a verdure
A line of conifers with horse jumps
Trees along the river at Angers, France

A great way to respect the tree - a feature outside a building in Angers, France
Trees as decoration on a Danish building, Aarhus

Shapes of branches reaching upwards

Trees in a landscape

Bare branches