Monday, 25 May 2015

Tex1 Project 9 - samples in tapestry weave

The tapestry section sets out firstly to teach us basic techniques, and secondly to explore different materials experimentally within the tapestry language. I have done a little tapestry weaving before, so I have tried to get through the first sample quickly, using the materials I had at hand, rather than working too hard a colour choices etc.

First techniques-based sample in progress:

I have not designed anything onto the warp, but am developing a sort of system on the hoof, using yarns that are at hand. This picture shows some new things I have already learned such as eccentric weft and variations on pick and pick, but I also wanted to test the white linen as a warp - this is strung double for strength, but it is not of much value with the yarns I have used here; what I mean is, it is not visible and the linen would be good to use in a piece where the warp could be shown. By creating a border I am practicing joining, which is looking good so far. I have joined the border on every three passes and this is just right for the thickness of the yarns being used. The other thing that is being tested here is the use of knitting yarn. Apart from the linens (there is a natural medium thick linen in soumak which is not visible in the picture) the wools are all fairly open spun, soft yarns. These are not usually good for tapestry as they lack the body of a robust weaving yarn (often the weight of the wool fibre will be higher), and I predict that the final piece will be a bit floppy. The other thing I am accidentally testing here is weaving without starting a row of knots. I was taught to use a row of knots as a foundation for a tapestry, but I was watching a film while I was warping up to start, and clean forgot to set the foundation straight. This will probably be a problem when I cut the sample off, we will need to see.
Further work on the techniques sample
Here you will see that I added another border after I had done the pick and pick, and the row of knotted dots. We are also asked to try out the ghiordes knot, which I learned as a rya knot when I was a child, using a ruler to ensure equal length of each tuft. In Denmark in the 1970s it was fairly popular to have a rya rug in the living room under your coffee table. We had one, and my friend's parents had one. They were usually in a geometric patterns, and you can now buy these as 'vintage' items. Back to the sample; I added the knots in the centre and decided to add into this another contrasting colour (wool dyed in onion skins) to create a bit of life in the sample. The knots are made of four strands of hand-spun wool, a fine blue cotton, first another space dyed wool, which I later replaced with a space dyed hand-spun silk. I like the knots very much (surprisingly as I do not care for hairy carpets and felt ambivalent about the rya rugs of the 1970s), but they work well here in contrast to the flat weave of the rest of the sample. Right now I am not sure how to finish these sections of knotting as I approach the last section of the sample.
 Here's the final sample
Overall it is a useful sample, it suggests a design that might become a rug - but then there is a direct line between the flat weave of tapestry and for example kilim rugs and knotted works, so probably not surprising. I still like the shaggy bit, it makes the surface interesting. The band at the bottom works in connection with the colours in the pile, and the bright hidden centre gives a sense of something to be revealed. There are also things to learn from this though. Compositionally I do not like the three borders where they meet in the top corners. They look too straight (a bit like op art) and of a different aesthetic to the lower sections which are more 'craftsy'. You can also see that the warps have spread and the piece is slightly pushed out towards the top half. This is likely to be because I used thicker rug yarns that may have expanded the spaces between the warps.
I made a diverting sample of needle woven yarns on an open weave onion bag
Running stitch is a bit like weaving, moving the needle up and down through the fabric. The yarns made the fabric more robust-feeling, and the browns to blues to greens all have affinities.
Samples using different materials as weft
After the techniques sample we are asked to create a sample using unusual materials. I made two samples to try different things out. I experimented with creating a paper yarn using narrow strips of tissue paper and spinning them on the spinning wool. These were then plied into a two ply. This paper yarn was then used in a  soumak line in the 'grey' sample.

The small ball of yarn on the right here is the home made paper yarn, to the left some plastic which is highly adhesive. This came off some new frames and is used to prevent damage to the frame in transit. It was not easy to weave, in fact it was a pain to weave through the cotton string warp.

Here's the sample using the plastic 'yarn', the paper yarn and I also used a ripped polyester scarf as well as a plasticky ribbon. Both sections were woven double, but the section right contained the outer seam of the scarf so it was a bit less dense as a weft than that on the left. This makes the 'beads' of the weft smaller and denser.

Next, the other sample, using natural fibre yarns, including nettle yarn woven in double floating wefts to show off the fibre better,  elastic bands, sisal string, wool, cotton, linen and a cotton tubular knit yarn lain in as a floating weft with the hand-spun white wool-mohair towards the top. The final weft was a coarse un-dyed linen. At least these samples allowed for the warp to show. the one above used a cotton wrapping string, the bottom one used the double linen used before. Both warps were quite hard on the fingers but they look quite good.

The back of the sample shows how I have finished the sample, by weaving in the warp threads. This was a technique I learned from Fiona Hutchison, the Scottish tapestry weaver, and which is described in Joanne Soroka's book (2011). This way of finishing makes a neat edge and allows for the sample to stand proud with no distracting knots, frills or any other loose ends.
I thought I might also manipulate a picture of the weave to create something separate and unique from the structure

As you will see, there is a something suggestive of shells in the curves of this picture, and that points to the final sample I have been pondering for a while.

Final sample

I have thought quite a bit about the final sample, as I have for a while wanted to try out a technique in soumak that I explored in a class under the tapestry weaver, William Jefferies, a couple of years ago. At the time I made a small sample, but I have often thought that it might be used in different ways for different types of expressing a particular form, and in various scales. For a first 'proper' sample in the technique I wanted to use the lines and shapes of shells. I know that shells are a favourite source of designs for textile people, and I think that this might be because they have simple organic shapes that are harmonious in their proportions and they are useful for repeats as well as single shapes. Anni Albers (1965) used shells as an example of a design source in her book on weaving design, and this might also have spurred others on to looking at shells in their work.

In any case, the final sample is unlikely to look like shells, but will contain some essential elements of the shell texture. In preparation I have spun some silk and plyed it with wool. Well, at least some was wool, Wensleydale wool, which I love for its hairiness, its sheen and its smoothness, but I also had some packs of a mixture of alpaca, nylon and merino fibre, so that was also part of the ply in some of the yarns.

Here are some of the yarns I spun - the bottom one is unlikely to be used in the shell sample as it contains a purple silk ply that contrasts too harshly with the smoother yarns, and shells have essentially very smooth surfaces. The soumak technique, as it will be applied in the sample, will allow for the yarn to be seen in its substance, so that the plyes should be visible and the shininess of the silk be apparent to evoke the pearly surface of the shell. I have also not decided what the colour will be of this, I may play with Paintshop Pro and see what colours can be derived from the cream notes in the shells.
A couple of shells I have looked at came from some strange spoon type objects left by my grandmother. They are quite large and very smooth. The handles have been removed as they were broken and unsightly. What is not so clear on the pictures is that one shell is very concave, while the other is shallow. The technique I will use will work on the relief of the surface of the tapestry, so the curve of the shell will be represented in an undulation of the surface of the piece.

These last two shell pictures show the softness of the lines in the shell surface. There are lines running along the shape of the shell in two directions - from the place where the shell would have been attached to its counter part out towards the peripheral edge, and a set of soft curving lines following the lines of the shell's roundness.

As you can see the shells have a warm orangey creamy colouring on their outer sides, and on the inside a whiter more grey tone. In the concave shell there are iridescent greens and pinks. The wool-silk yarns are naturally cream-white so perhaps I should not manipulate the colour of these, but this is something I need to think further about as I work with the photos of the shells some more. I find that I am not usually good at staying within a monochrome range and almost always end up adding colour in some way.

Oh dear, I made a sample to test the materials in the construction of the shell sample and have decided I no longer want to make it! The delicate sense of the shell's surface is not at all captured in the weave - this is probably due to the tightness of the ply in my spinning as well as some of the wools I added to the blends. In any case I will not do a shell design for the final sample. The final sample will have its own entry in  a separate post.

The sample in preparation for the final sample. Some plain weaves, eccentric wefts and clusters of soumak increasing in bulk to create an undulating surface. The intention was that the relief effect would be created in two sections, leaning to left and right, but I no longer think that the soumak properly shows off the silk/wool yarn I spun. In fact, the top part of the sample is better, a section with some floating wefts of the silk-wool yarn and some single lines of coloured yarn. But this is not enough to sustain the last sample, I wanted it to be the relief effect that was the focus, so I will do this, but choose greens instead and consider it as pre-work for my final assignment in project 10.
Here are a couple of pictures of the  piece at different angles to try to show the relief of the lower half.

Here the starter row of knots can be seen in more detail.

Albers, Anni, On Weaving, Wesleyan University Press, 1965
Soroka, Joanne, Tapestry Weaving: Design and Technique, The Crowood Press Ltd, 2011 

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