Wednesday, 2 January 2008

A workshop with William Jefferies

In November 2006, I attended a workshop led by William Jefferies at the Handweavers Studio in London. A renowned weaver, William incorporates a variety of textural techniques into his tapestry weaving and works with materials such as wool, linen, jute, cotton, silk, coir fibre, steel and hemp.

The weekend was inspiring. William taught each of us according to our needs. He imparted a great deal of information about weaving which we were able to quietly absorb whilst engaged in our individual weaving projects. I learned several textural techniques such as whipping, wrapping and tufting, and my understanding of weaving moved another step forward and came away with a batch of invaluable notes. Shown here is the sample I produced that weekend.

About the artist
In his 2006 artist statement on the Craft Council website, William says: 'I use tapestry weaving like a method of building to produce small pieces. I am interested in the traditions of tapestry which use illusion and picture making but I also like texture and the substance of fabric. I like to use fibres which have character as well as conventional dyed wool. Problems of hanging and shape intrigue me. Inspiration comes from numerous sources. I use drawing and collage to arrive at a committed design.'

Wirework 2b

This is the reverse of the previous sample, showing its warp ends.

A friend, familiar with knots, did the knotting on the right hand side. The challenge was to find a way to hide the warp ends when the tapestry was viewed from the front.

I would like to explore this idea further and also find a way of weaving the ends into a reversible tapestry or finding other ways of 'losing' them inside the fabric

Wirework 2

Another sample with integrated wire, this time around its selvedges (outside edges) only.

Wirework 1

I'm intrigued by the idea of 3-D woven structures. This led me to make this sample with wire integrated into its design. The 11 visible horizontal lines are wires wrapped in weft then inserted into the warps. There are also 7 vertical wire warps which were woven alongside cotton warps at regular intervals. Together they create a grid of wire squares, meaning the tapestry can retain the desired shape when bent in any direction or molded around different objects.

The tapestry is reversible with no ends so it can be viewed from both sides. The number and size of wires inserted in future samples would depend on the strength and bendability required. It throws up a whole range of possibilities.

UV design

In this sample, I was playing around with UV reflective cotton plus warp cotton. I wanted the contrast to be minimal under normal light, but then jump to life under UV. However, the design and execution felt too chunky and clunky and obvious - going straight up the warps didn't have the sensitivity I like to bring into my weaving. However, learning what doesn't work is equally useful information. This design is a small segment of a larger labyrinth design.

Hemp 4

This one contains UV white and black cotton, warp cotton and hemp. At the base of the sample, I had another go at vertical slits and patterns. Again, this part is okay but I think the proportions need to change to make it more zingy and crisp.
I like the idea of the tapestry having one view under normal light, then changing under UV light. To this effect, I could make a distinct black and white design to be viewed under normal light, and also weave it extra white design, obscured under normal light, but which would only jump to life under UV.

Hemp 3

I like weaving across a limited number of warps. The narrow proportions enable the sample to grow at speed which brings a sense of immediacy to the process. Ideas can be tested out and distilled quickly; the warps move differently on the frame during weaving. I like playing around with the sample when cut off the loom. Suddenly it is free to move - I can fold, coil, wrap, and layer it over itself and consider the possibilities.

Hemp 2

This sample continues the idea of the previous one, but here I have made the slits more random and layered to see what happened.

This sample didn't quite work for me in the same way as the previous one. I think it was a matter of proportions, and perhaps it would be better next time to use thinner fibres, or work on a larger scale. I would like to come back to this idea of random slits and disjointed patterns later.

Hemp 1

I love working with hemp. It has a lovely fibrous feel to it, and works well as a sturdy and neutral base. It tends to be quite springy so I find it easier to work with loose lengths. I sourced my hemp from House of Hemp.

Here I've contrasted it with colours and worked in strips up the warps to break up the surface design, creating vertical slits in the process. These slits could be sewn up, but I've left them open here. Edges, meeting points, and spaces intrigue me.

At the bottom of the sample, you can see the warp thread I used as a heading weft (to space out the warps evenly before I started laying in the weft). The intention was to remove it later once the sample had been cut off the loom, but as often happens I just quite liked it there, so it stayed.

One Thread Project: Sample 4

I wove the final sample for this project using a circular warp (which meant that I could loosen the tapestry every so often, pull it round the loom, and tighten it up again). I deliberately restricted myself to only 5 warp ends so that I could weave up quickly and to challenge myself within this limited width. A third of the sample is shown here. Again, I have used warp stained with tea leaves.

Techniques include: plain weave, pick-and-pick, diagonal shapes, blended weft fibres, eccentric weave, knotting, and floating weft vertically up the front of the tapestry.

It is so useful to have physical samples on file. Examining this sample again right now, long after its creation, reminds me of a technique I started playing with while weaving it.

One Thread Project: Sample 3

In this third sample, I stained some lengths of warp with tea leaves. Some of it was untwisted into its three fibre components before dying to create evenly dyed fibres. Some of it was untwisted after dying to create a mottled effect on the fibres. It is all woven in plain weave, with the dyed warp used to create design. The stripes in the central section are woven with pick-and-pick technique. I enjoyed playing around with natural dye, although untwisting the warp by hand did take rather a long time. At some stage, I'd like to try using a cord twister - in reverse.

One Thread Project: Sample 2

In the second sample, I focused on creating a strong dynamic by using contrasting textures. The foreground is made from short lengths of warp which were knotted onto two single warps, one near each edge of the tapestry. These were added at regular intervals after every few rows of plain weave. The plain weave added strength and stability, anchoring the knots in place as the tapestry grew. The short lengths were then frayed to become soft and tousled in comparison to the hard background texture.

One Thread Project: Sample 1

At our workshop with Sue, we agreed to use cotton warp as our single thread for our homework project. The brief was as follows:

'Eighteen Creative Spirits – One Thread – One Month'

'As I mentioned on the course, I have long had the idea to run a weaving workshop where participants were only allowed to work with one thread. The idea being, that by imposing tight restrictions, deeper experimentation with the ‘language’ of that thread would be encouraged. If we can do this ‘blind’ to each other’s creative endeavours, so much the better!'

The Rules

  • One type of thread: cotton warp thread from (Handweavers Studio) any thickness
  • As many samples as you like
  • Colour may be added in the form of staining, painting etc
  • After minimum of two samples (!), you may introduce one other thread (which could be anything – wire, paper, leather, etc but only one type – ie if its wire, then only one type of wire.)

Can’t wait! Good luck, Sue '

Shown here is the first of four samples I made in response to the brief. Faced with only a white weft, I focused on building texture. Techniques used here include: soumak woven eccentrically (ie woven at various angles to the vertical warp); reverse soumak (the same technique woven 'backwards' which creates vertical ridges); wrapping around single warps; plain weave; vertical slits; and distortion of the selvedges (edges) by slackening or tightening the weft during the weaving process.

A workshop with Sue Lawty

I went to a workshop with Sue Lawty, Artist in Residence at the V&A in London, during her Concealed, Discovered, Revealed exhibition. What I love about Sue is her enthusiasm for exploring and discovering. She was very interested in bringing structure and texture, partly through the use of non-traditional fibrous wefts into her tapestries. She encouraged us to experiment and see what happened.

This is the piece I made during her two day workshop, playing around with colour, and for the first time introducing (albeit a bit nervously) contrasting materials and beginning to play around with the dialogue between the fibres. I felt greatly encouraged by her adventurous and inquisitive spirit and came away from the weekend inspired and ready to tackle the homework she set us.

About the artist
In an artist statement, Sue says 'Throughout my creative life I have been drawn to textiles from times past, re-examining structure and exploring textile language. I have poured over tapestry fragments from Peru and Coptic Egypt or raphia cloths from Zaire. The more I research, the more I feel part of a rich woven tradition and the more I endeavour to add something of interest to it. I wish for my work to give me the same frisson that I experience from these humble textiles. In our present technological age, it feels important that the past should inform the present and that the human mark of the individual should be evident.'

A workshop with Joan Baxter

Joan Baxter led a workshop day at the Durham Guild in June 2006. She encouraged us to work in shapes, rather than lines, and have fun, letting the tapestry tell a story as it grew. We got to use her gorgeous hand-dyed yarns. She encouraged us to select a main colour and then add secondary colours as highlights. This gave the tapestry a congruence yet allowed character and other colours to come in.

The lower green section of the tapestry was woven with Joan's yarns at the workshop, the upper blue section was woven later with my own shop-bought yarns.

About the artist
On her website, Joan says: "My work deals with landscape, its echoes of history, its legends, its atmospheres and moods. I am particularly inspired by the rich cultural heritage and wild beauty of the landscapes of the far North of Scotland where I live.I choose to work in the traditional woven tapestry medium because I like the way my initial ideas can develop and expand during the slow and deliberate making process.The process, although a very ancient one, allows me to push boundaries in design, technique, materials and concepts."

Black and white UV design

This sampler consists of the blackest black I could find, and a UV reflective white cotton. I conducted a simple test, by collecting a variety of whites and shining a UV bulb onto them to see which would glow.
This sampler is part of a large design that was intended to be viewed under UV. I abandoned this sample though as I quickly realised that the design was too intricate for the small number of warps. I will rethink the dimensions and work out the correct scale once I have more experience and come back to this design later.
cotton, 2005

Two hearts for the Botanics

This second attempt at a tapestry design was more successful than the previous one. I kept the design is simpler, and improved the choice of colours.
I particularly like the blending in the yellow heart - I blended three colours together (the main colour plus a highlight and a lowlight). The weft is eccentric, meaning it does not run perpendicular to the warp, but is more playful and lively.
I was also quite pleased with the wiggly 'pulse' line woven across the two hearts - it was fiddly to weave but I like the result which looks to me like drawing. The bold black and red at the top and bottom of the design added punctuation.
This piece was exhibited at the Botanical Gardens as part of a group show of the Durham Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. It raised the question of how to present and exhibit tapestry. On this occasion, I put it behind glass in a frame.

First attempt

This is my first attempt at weaving a proper, small tapestry.
I made a basic design by splodging some paint around, selecting and enlarging a section of the painting, then making this the basis of the design.

Basic 5

This sample shows my first attempt at double weft interlock, a technique woven from the reverse of the tapestry. It enables you to run a colour up a single warp to create a line, but without leaving vertical slits.

Basic 4

In this sampler - another run through at basic technique - I used thicker weft and more limited colours than in 'Basic 1'.

Basic 3

This sample makes me think of mountains or a seismograph reading when viewed from the side.

I have woven a couple of times on coloured warp, but quickly found that it is harder on the eyes to weave with anything that isn't white or off-white.

However, I can see the possibilities of coloured warp, for example if the warp was deliberately visible as part of the design.

Basic 2

I used two guides to remind myself about technique:

Tapestry Weaving by Kirsten Glasbrook which is an excellent and user-friendly guide for beginner weavers.

The Tapestry Handbook by Carol K Russell (out-of-print). A precise and highly detailed resource when you are ready to go deeper.

Book Butler is a good price comparison site when searching for out-of-print (and in-print) books. It's well worth checking Ebay too.

Basic 1

Hello and welcome to my blog

I decided to start weaving again in 2003.

All of the entries shown in the January 2008 archive are the weaving samples which I wove sporadically between late 2003-2007.

I started at the beginning, with a series of samplers to remind myself of the basic techniques as I hadn't woven for over a decade. This was one of the first ones.

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

What is Tapestry Weaving?

  • Traditional tapestry is a fabric constructed by hand using a weft-faced weave.

  • This means the weft (the horizontal threads) completely covers the warp (the vertical threads held taut on a sturdy frame) to create a smooth flat surface.

  • The basic technique is plain weave which simply means that the weft passes over one warp and under the next.

  • [There are many additional techniques which can be used to create pictorial, textural and structural effects.]

  • Tapestry has a long history throughout many countries of the world. Remnants found in Egypt indicate that tapestries were woven as early as 3000 BC.

  • Regardless of where or when tapestries were woven, or what type of loom was used, the techniques were very similar and have remained basically unchanged throughout history.

Source: Nancy Harvey, Tapestry Weaving, adapted