Wednesday 31 October 2007

A weaving book for your shelves....

With grateful thanks to Cally for her recent recommendation, I want to introduce other weavers to a very useful book.

The Complete Book of Drafting for Handweavers, by Madelyn van der Hoogt, published by Unicorn Books and Crafts Inc., 1993, ISBN 0-916658-51-1.

As I've said before, it's difficult to know what's in a book without seeing a copy, and although I've known about this book for sometime, the reviews I've seen did not make clear to me what the content was and why it is a very useful book for me. I thought, "(hmm..) I know how to draw and read drafts, I'm familiar with basic weave structures, I think this isn't the most important book for me." I have already a few books that introduce basic weaving skills and a few books that are good on different structures, including pattern books.

Then came Cally's comment: "I worked my way through a number of the exercises and my understanding grew by leaps and bounds" gave me a different angle on this book. I decided to go with instinct and ordered a copy from Fibrecrafts (who were able to tell my by phone that they had a copy in stock).

My reaction when this book arrived was "this is it! the book that fills in lots of gaps in the jigsaw!" I had previously discovered from various internet sources that there were all sorts of weaves and techniques not in the books I owned. Also, that various books on particular topics are out of print and 2nd hand copies not easy to obtain.

I particularly value this book for including within one set of covers: block weaves, profile drafts, lace weaves, understanding damask, tied unit weaves, patterned double weave, lampas, network drafting... etc. It is all the more valuable for being very easy to read and understand (as I'd hope, given the author is well established as a journalist and magazine editor). It does so much more than describe weave structures, it explains them in full, taking you through the design and weaving process.

In the acknowledgements, at the start of the book, the author tells us that it "brings together most of what I've learned about weaving in more than ten years of passionate study". This book hadn't been in my hands long before I realised that the price paid, which had held me back from ordering the book before, was a bargain price for so much of someone else's experience (it works out at £2.10 per year of her study).

There's a recommendation in the introduction that the book should be read from the beginning without skipping bits, this is not my ususal approach and I was happy to see the author is sympathetic to my bad habit, but says "try to alter your habit for this book", and explains why. Out of respect for an author who has been able to assemble so much information, clearly expressed and in careful order, I aim to be a good reader and work through from the start, following Cally's example of working through the exercises. I'm hoping to take part in an Online Guild Workshop on "Advancing Twills" in November, so it will probably be into 2008 before I progress beyond reading, but I'm sure this is a good learning path for me to follow.

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Book on South & Central American textiles.

I'm writing about this book because I have it from the library and am reading it most evenings:

Textiles of Central and South America, by Angela Thompson. Published by: The Crowood Press Limited, England, 2006. ISBN 1 86126 826 2, £25.

The author of the book has been traveling the world to collect textiles for 20 years. She's written other books, they all seem to be about embroidery. I particularly like this book for reasons beautifully summed up on the inside cover of the book:

"In writing this book, Angela Thompson has drawn upon her many years of study, meticulous research and passion for the subject to offer the reader a fascinating insight into a people and a tradition that are inextricably linked with the wonder of handwoven cloth."

Mmm. I agree with every word of that. I love to read a book written by someone passionate about their subject that really knows their stuff. It's got lots of super photos and diagrams. The textiles are described in terms of who makes them and where they are made, so you feel you are getting to know the people and their stories and their culture. I like that. I don't think you can consider the tradition without knowing the people.

She starts with a general history chapter. I found this interesting, I studied very little history at school and all i know of central and southern Americas is about the first ships to reach there from Europe and how the natives were killed by the common cold virus. And I remember odd bits from Nancy Drew adventure books, and National Geographic magazines. Well, the bits and pieces fit in with a bigger picture now. It was a good chapter.

The next chapter, Designs and Symbolism, I found a bit boring. I think that's just me - I have a limited interest in the origin of the designs, but I thought it was a thorough and well written chapter. She is a helpful author for someone who doesn't want to read the book from page one to the end in one go - she breaks up what she has to say into reasonably short sections under a heading, so you can pick and choose the bits that most interest you.

I was much more interested in the 3rd chapter, about "Yarns and Fibres", and the next one was "Spinning and Dyeing" and after that "Weaving", "Costume and Accessories"... soon this book was traveling all around our house so that it was always to hand when I got spare time to read.

I've read books by other authors about other textile traditions that don't give you the full picture, the people, history, fibre, spinning, yarn, weaving, making up clothes, decorative finishes etc. I think it can come across as a bit disrespectful to look at the textiles without putting them in context - I like this author's attitude.

If anyone out there was wondering about what I'd like for a present sometime, I hope you've got the idea this book should be on the list!

Favourite bits of this book: illustrations of the animal and bird motifs used, descriptions of different loom types (backstrap, horizontal, upright, floor looms) and the way they are used, descriptions of basic garments made from the woven cloth, an amazing patchwork made of scraps of all sorts of woven cloths (p. 138), a section on "Embroidery as a Political Statement" (yes!), photo and description of the wonderful tradition of free-stitch machine embroidery to decorate bright red bowler hats, as worn by women in the Chivan area of Peru.

Saturday 20 October 2007


As an isolated,largely self-taught weaver, spinner, and dyer, one of the things I've found difficult is assessing the different pieces of equipment and books on offer. I have only a handful of times been able to meet up in person with other people involved in these crafts, and there aren't any shops close to where I live. Many online retailers give very cursory information about the content of a book, who it's aimed at, etc. and it's difficult to judge whether a particular title is the book you would choose if you could pick it up and look at it. I've had a few disappointments when a book I've bought was not at all what I expected.

There is one outstanding retailer for book reviews, the Canadian business Camilla Valley Farm.

I have found the Online Guild very helpful, I enjoy being able to participate in e-mailed discussions, and having access to resource files where there are book and equipment reviews.

I've also gleaned a lot from doing web searches, from picking up bits and pieces on blogs and web sites. My local county library has a few books of interest in their catalogue and I've found it useful to be able to request books from my local branch, but am also aware that the 80p charge each time may deplete my budget for buying books (it costs more for books that are "out of county", so I don't bother with ordering them).

What I'm working around to saying is that while I'm currently doing less weaving, spinning and dyeing due to having a heavier load of other commitments than heretofor, I am still accumulating books, reading them, and making plans. So, here's a promise of promise of more book reviews in the near future, until my life settles down and I get back to weaving etc.

I'm also still knitting socks, and just bought a pair of red soft leather clogs to wear around the house which show off my handknitted socks beautifully! (And shouldn't every Dorothy have a pair of red shoes?)

Saturday 13 October 2007

Holiday souvenirs

You may have noticed a gap in posts - I've been on holiday, and then came home to a new job. Craft activities this week have been reduced to thinking of things I've no time to do, and knitting a sock.

I don't get out and about much and rarely take holidays, so I made the most of my week off. A trip to visit friends and relatives in the south of England also fitted in with calling at a couple of art shops, a second hand book shop, and returning home via Uppingham Yarns, in Rutland. I discovered they have more stock gets on their web site, and came home with a little cone of glow-in-the-dark nylon thread(!) as well as a variety of shades of Shetland wool and soft cotton yarns for weaving. They are pleasant and helpful people, and the shop is in a very beautiful old town, so I was glad I had taken the time to get there.

I had a day at home before setting off again, and then I drove northwards to stay with an Aunt in Edinburgh. My Aunt is a fine art painter and we had a lot of interesting discussions about art, form and composition, and the design process, etc.

Other highlights of my trip to Edinburgh were seeing the work of Edinburgh basket and tapestry weaver Anna King in an exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland, and calling in at the studio / shop of Joyce Forsyth, a knitwear designer / maker.

Anna King's exhibition astounded me. I had no idea that basket weaving might be used to produce fascinating and beautiful art, until I saw Anna's work. Her baskets incorporated materials you might not expect - such as feathers and nails, and were simply beautiful objects. One particularly attractive piece, shaped rather like a pear, was woven from pine needles. Anna's work has given me a new concept of "basket"!

Her tapestries were also works of simple, harmonious beauty. There were abstract pieces and simple landscapes. I learnt so much from just looking. One thing I learnt is that tapestry can be made with the finest or the coarsest of yarns and anything in between. The skill is in the design, colour and yarn choices and careful working. Having tried tapestry weaving once myself, I found the warp tension difficult (on a fixed wooden frame) and the piece inclined to distort between sections in different yarns. I saw no indication that Anna has such problems! The weaving was immaculate, I was most impressed, and inspired.

I first discovered Joyce Forsyth about 5 years ago, she has a little shop on Candlemaker's Row, close to the famous statue of Greyfriar's Bobby. I have one of her jumpers which I treasure and save for special days. It is, like many of her garments, knitted from Shetland yarn in a Fairisle pattern. This sounds very traditional, but all Joyce's garments are strikingly different, modern and original. My jumper has the most beautiful cuffs, collar and bottom edge, that I can best describe as like corded waves in different colours. Items I saw on sale last week included many with wonderful flounced edgings. The colour choices are superb - there are brightly coloured garments using oranges and reds, or blues, greens, purples, and then there are softly coloured garments in beige & browns or greys. Although her shop is small and her stock is small, I would be surprised if anyone did not find one or two garments in the colours they most like to wear. The prices are higher than chain stores, they are comparable (or cheaper) than production machine knits on sale in other Scottish knitwear shops and the more expensive high street shops, whilst from Joyce you get something far more individual for your money and have the satisfaction of supporting the career of an artist. I took a fancy to a lovely cardigan at £125, I didn't have the money, but will save up to get something another time. Joyce wasn't there herself this time I called in, but I have met her before, working at her knitting machine in a corner of the shop and happy to talk about her work.

...thanks to Janet for suggesting I write about my visit to Joyce Forsyth! (Janet is another fan of Joyce's work).