Saturday, 20 May 2017

West Berkshire and North Hampshire Open Studios

This May has been a month of exhibition and making at the Open Studios. Together with two other artists we have been showing at City Arts in Newbury, which as an old chapel has large spaces to fill.

In order to fill the space in interesting ways the last two months or more have been spent making hangings and felt pieces. These have been hung together in a bit of an installation and I have used some tables to show other things, as well as a table for me to work at. It has all worked out well, and I have had time to do some tapestry weaving whilst there.

Here are some impressions from the exhibition:

This is an overall view of one end of the exhibition space, you can see the hangings, the folded book hanging from the ceiling and some of the tables.

These two pictures provide details of the green hangings, with a drawing (top) and green felt piece (below)

This image shows an interesting effect in the book: perforations from stitching lets the light through

A view of the full length of the book

A table set out with experimental pieces, felt and embroideries

A second table set out with small tapestries, sketchbooks and drawings on the theme of trees.

A view of the other end of the exhibition space with the table we have been working at - my friend came for a few days to learn tapestry and I have been working here on a small piece.

And finally - a couple of bookcases have been very useful in displaying the small tapestries. I had bought some perspex stands to show them off in a gentle sort of way, and you can also see the weaving frame ready to be used with a couple of reference books.
It has been an interesting event: the number of visitors has swung, with an increase over the bank holiday Monday, and I have been pleased that some people asked whether I give courses, which suggests that some are interested in the work. What people haven't done is bought anything. It is not a climate conducive for people to spend, and as textiles are relatively specialist I did not really expect many sales. I think people still prefer paintings or prints as primary art works for the home - textiles as decorative items are not common and my works are necessarily easy or ready for hanging. There has been a lot to learn during this last month and I am pleased to have been part of it, what will happen next year is another question and something I need to think about quite hard.

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Penultimate course at West Dean - monoprinting

The monoprinting course was a slightly longer course - three day - structured around a technical introduction in the morning and then a day of applying these with the occasional technical session in the afternoon. The first couple of sessions introduced water based inks and the last two days we worked with oil based inks.

The course pushed us to bring in some rigour to our work - the very first session was a test of how pure a line we could achieve. Here are some examples of these lines:

And then some line drawings based on a photograph of biloba leaves. Here is the templates, which is a transparency from the photograph.


A print onto a background primed transfer of ink in grey. I modified the black ink throughout as I find it a bit harsh and the prints are quite soft.

Here the background was a wet monoprint with suggestions of the leaves in blue-grey tones and then the print of the leaves over this; below a detail. You can see that the edge is dark: this has come about as I left finger marks on the edge when I was holding down the paper (A4 paper on an A4 plate does not leave much for taping down the paper. I therefor used this device as a frame which has worked out quite well. The lines are quite bold and strong, perhaps a bit too think for the lacy effect of the composition.

We also learned to print using organic materials such as leaves and interesting when these soft leaves stick onto the brayer they can be used to transfer ink onto a piece of paper, such as below. I am not sure whether this appeals to me - firstly I thought the leaves I used were too precise and sharp and secondly in transferring the leaf imprint I think the results are a bit too much like 'wall paper' and I think that would need some further exploration to use in interesting ways.
A detail:

I also tried some grasses but these ended up sticking to the brayer for some time and left a lot of organic debris behind that made a mess and left disturbances in subsequent prints. Clearly one has to clean brayers well if using organic matter in this way.

Here's a detail from a better print using small leaves on blue loktah paper. In fact I printed on different papers to see how they worked, including cartridge, pastel and loktah paper. I think this latter paper was quite interesting in prints where the ink was dark and dense enough to bring up the print. A few examples left the ink too thin to show up properly and mark were faint and washed out.

This example of a print using the small leaves is on newsprint, unfortunate as the print is quite a subtle and soft result.

I also made a series of prints based on cathedral arches, which I will include  when I have photographed it.

Drawing day at West Dean: making gesso, pigment solutions and silverpoint

I am close to the end of the FDAD at West Dean, I have one course to do and an essay and on the way to the end I recently attended a drawing day and a monoprinting course.

The drawing day was very good - Frances Hatch, Evie Hatch and the conservator Judith Wetherall all brought something valuable to the day. We had a thorough introduction to making gesso using rabbitskin glue and calcium carbonate as well as descriptions of the use of pigment in the development of paint.

We were then ready to cover pieces of heavy card, water colour paper and a piece of MDF in rabbit skin glue used as size and gesso and once this was dry by the afternoon we could then apply marks using metal, mainly silver to create silver point drawings.

My sample pieces include elements incorporating textile fibres and organic matter. Here are the initial samples showing the use of pigment:

Three tests on a piece of sized card showing plain gesso, gesso with terre verde (a green pigment) and gesso binding down wool. 

Gesso samples on watercolour paper, the hairy section includes a gummed silk fibre.
As mentioned, in the afternoon we tried out silverpoint using a sharpened silver wire. This is an old method to drawing, used before the pencil was developed, and in the main it leaves a fine, subtle line, which artists such as Leonardo da Vinci used. You can use a broader tool such as a spoon to create a softer mark.  I am not a great drafts person and I like bold varying gestures, so this fine line effect does not sit naturally with me. I am glad I tried it, but will probably not be pursuing this technique in depth.

Paper with wool and gesso which I intend to use as a base for further work - in fact that is what a number of the samples will be for at some point.

A dried leaf with applied gesso and blue gouache.

A piece of thin worn plastic from the West Dean gardens applied to wet gesso with a little gesso applied over it.

Gesso made blue using gouache and then silver point lines and scratches applied.

 Blue silk and other silk and wool fibre.

A piece of gessoed water colour paper with gummed white and green silk fibre. I then drew with the silverpoint in lines echoing the fibre strands, and finally thin lines of rabbitskin glue with terre verde. The picture was taken in bright sunshine which cast fine shadow lines from the silk fibre.

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.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Completed tapestry woven works: Crapapple in white and green and a white textured piece

Crab apple

Throughout December until now my work has mainly been on tapestry weaving. In a previous post I showed a work in progress where I wove on a wooden block and it has turned out to be a fairly respectable piece in two parts.

I should say that these blocks were quite hard to weave; I used a kebab stick as a shed tick and had to needle weave to complete the surface. When the work got to the top and the last rows had to the be woven I had to sometimes/often lift individual warps with a pointed implement to get the needle underneath - a very slow and laborious process.

The warp was linen and the weft was a varying mixture and blend of all manner of handspun and commercial yarn: wool, silk, paper, linen, angora, viscose, latex covered yarn and more. I used only natural and white for one block and white-greens for the other. The greens were mainly dyed using Dylon cold water dyes.

They were photographed in more of a studio setting and so the colours seem a bit more enhanced, but they work together and suggest plant shapes as I had planned:

Here are some details of the different sides of it:

Basically I have wanted to work with interlaced wrapped elements for a while so this was opportunity to try this out, and as you can see the top of the white block was a mass of interwoven twisting elements.
Trying to work out how to finish off the linen warps around the nails, I platted the threads around the nails and tucked them under which in the end was the tidiest and allowed the threads to be cut and they now lie flat against the wood. 
Another couple of detail images showing each side of the green-white block: Here I used some twisted wrapped elements but used more as features on the surface rather than as a mass, and on the other side I woven in a more graphic pattern partly inspired by Bauhaus type compositions, weaving it flat without any surface additions.

White texture
Over Christmas and into January I was working up a largish sample (26x54cm) in white tones using a mixture of handspun yarns, commercial natural and synthetic fibres. I had bought this raw silk which had a very interesting texture, quite stiff to the touch (although it went soft in handling during the weave) and I had wanted to wrap a number of warps to enable the yarn to be shown off properly.
I set out to create a sample that would be big enough to be a wall hung piece and would show off the different textures of mohair, paper yarn, rayon, wool, cotton and linen, and which would provide a neutral background to the raw silk.

Here's the final tapestry, off the loom but quite finally mounted:

You can see that I built in some areas using small squares woven in paper yarn to make the background area a bit more interesting than eccentric weft only - the squares were pretty randomly placed and spanned either 3 or 4 warps.
Close up you can see how the texture on the right works - the raw silk lies in bunches over 3-5 warps:

Looped mohair was also used and I think this needs to be used sparingly if used in this sort of work, or as features in large tapestries as it projects out from the surface and can be a bit too much of a contrast if the surface needs to be flat. In general I should mention that with so many different thicknesses and qualities of yarn I needed to keep an eye on how thick the weft became. Sometimes it probably got a bit too thick or thin, although overall the final piece feels fairly even. I think that you can use the density of weft to good effect in a textured tapestry and I want to explore this some more once I get onto my new loom (an old Dryad rug loom - more to follow soon).

I am quite satisfied that the bunches of yarn around the warps worked as I had planned. I wonder whether you could wrap around even more warps and then use that effect in particular ways, but this would probably need a larger piece. As it is a couple of people have said that the  final effect feels like fungus on trees or perhaps more like the texture of birch bark, so I am happy that the organic feel of trees has been captured in this way.

I like the use of paper as a design detail in the squares, but see that I probably need to continue learning to control my edges as they tend to move in and out a bit depending on the thickness of the weft.

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Tapestry weaving again

Although I am working on various things in the studio, I am currently veering towards tapestry weaving at the moment. It has been the main occupation of mine this winter, partly because I decided to submit something for an exhibition and partly because I just enjoy working in this way.

Tapestry weaving is tremendously stimulating, whether you spend a great deal of time designing or whether you think about the process as you build up the work through weaving. In the autumn I  went on a short course led by Fiona Hutchison which was very good for running through various techniques and introducing ways of thinking about tapestry weaving from a process perspective.

During that weekend I made two samples. One was an assembly of smaller elements each introducing a technique. A very useful way to explore colour and the way various yarns and fibre work together:

The warp was a multi-coloured cotton crepe, quite thin, so that I had to consider how dense to make the weft. I should say here that I am not a purist in terms of weft threads. It could be said that tapestry weaving needs to be woven using a smooth worsted wool or mohair (or some other non-elastic and tightly spun yarn) or perhaps a nettle yarn, and then only use these fibres throughout to gain a uniform work. I think this is an approach following in the tradition of gobelin weaving, however I feel closer to the experimentalists of recent decades who tested scale, texture and process.
So, I am less concerned about the purity of the weft: whether using weaving or knitting wool, synthetic novelty yarns, metallic or lurex or different types of braiding yarns, they can all contribute something to the texture of the weaving, and affect the way the light is reflected from the structure. I once found work by a Baltic tapestry weaver on the Web who was equally liberal in her use of different weft yarns and she made very large-scale works that looked quite spectacular. Using various different yarns in the weft does present its own problems: you have to look at how thick the different combinations of yarn work together, and I learnt on the course that hand-spun yarns may require more packing (probably because they can be loosely spun, but that depends on the original purpose of the yarn). Basically it would be difficult to achieve a smooth even surface with mixed fibre wefts. I usually combine knitting yarn with firmer yarns, linen, cotton and denser wools and this works OK. I am also exploring  the possibilities of showing warp in the weave. This is something Scandinavian weavers do well, and if work was done on a very large scale the warp could potentially become a dimension of the final fabric object.
The second sample was using a single technique I had wanted to try for some time:

This is a way of creating texture building up sections that project over each other. I really liked this and can see some good potential for future works.
The sample was quite robust. Weaving loosely would not work in this case as you need to build up the weft to force the warps to space out. So I wove this using fairly thick weft elements and that feels quite good too, as in this case I could work out colour mixes along the way.
Over the Christmas holiday
I mentioned that I have been working on something that would be submitted to be assessed for an exhibition. This work was something I worked on most of the holiday this winter and I have now submitted it. I can provide a brief glimpse of it here, and will add pictures of the final thing once I know whether it has been accepted:
The wooden block with the weaving is one of two pieces that together make a 3D work I have called Crab Apple in Green and White. There is quite a lot of wrapping going on, and as my work concerns itself with nature and the notion of the organic there are suggestions of branches, twigs and growth. This has been quite a fun thing to work on as the format created constraints and I was able to work in a looser way with the weft to think about the way the relationship with how the warp sat on the blocks would work. Overall it was a satisfying work and I think the final dynamic between the blocks and the synthesis of the weavings is coherent.