Monday 17 March 2008

Designing Woven Fabrics

I'm borrowing my title today from Janet Phillips' new book, just published by Natural Time Out Publications. My copy, a new from the press, signed, first edition arrived yesterday morning.

Janet has been a professional handweaver for 30 years. She started out with a 1st class honours degree in Woven Textile Design from the Scottish College of Textiles, worked in industry as a designer, and was working as a freelance textile designer when her first book "The Weaver's Book of Fabric Design" was published by Batsford in 1983.

Janet's first book is very good, regarded as a standard reference by handweavers in the U.K. even 25 years on.

Her second book is exactly what I had hoped when I placed my pre-publication order. This is the book which is going to by by my side as I move from exploring weave structures to designing fabric. It's based not just on Janet's knowledge of weaving, but also her knowledge from many years of teaching handweaving. She explains things in her own way and is very thorough and careful in her writing. She doesn't talk down to the reader, nor does she assume any more than a basic ability to warp up and weave and four shafts to play with. The back cover says she "has a deep commitment to teaching others" - that really comes across in the style of writing and presentation.

Part 1 is all about weaving a multiple section sample blanket that demonstrates how different twill threadings work with different treadlings. She writes about all the sections first, in some detail. She takes you right through to how to finish the blanket when you take it off the loom.

Part 2 Design Criteria and Part 3 Designs, build on what is learnt from the sample blanket. It teaches you to look at the samples, think about them, plan and weave a project based on the samples using different yarns and colours (her examples are stunning). One thing that really impressed me was a section about dyeing and over-dyeing. She takes a yarn that is already dyed and then over-dyes to get related shades or complex effects. I realise I have hardly started to explore the possiblities of yarn dyeing. Also, I have hardly started to think about fabric design.

So when shall I place my order for the yarn for the sample blanket? I'm keen to get on with this project. Looking around I have about 18" of a twill sample warp to use up on the loom. I have a box of assorted colours of 2/12 mercerised cotton, and was thinking of winding a warp to explore doubleweave. I was planning a project weaving some simple mats in predominantly yellow mercerised cotton for one for my sisters. I have a little problem to sort with my loom aprons and tension.

I'm not sure what the order for doing things is going to be, I like having choices and possibilities lined up, I guess you'll just have to watch this space to see where I go!

Designing Woven Fabrics, Janet Phillips, pub. Natural Time Out Publications 2008,ISBN 978-0-9957620-0-0
(Follow this link for more details of Janet and her work or to purchase the book.)

The introduction to this book ends "I look forward to seeing cloths designed by weavers based on my ideas that are original, individual and which bring out their own personalities through the very essence of a woven fabric". Me too, hopefully from my own loom!!!"

Saturday 8 March 2008

Handweaving in England - 1939

An odd title, you might well think, but I am reading a book written in 1939 by Ethel Mairet, an English handweaver, who "set up her hand loom in defiance of the march of time" and went on to teach many other weavers, in several different countries.

The book is "Hand-weaving To-day, Traditions and Changes", Ethel Mairet, first published Faber & Faber 1939, my copy is the 4th edition, from 1959.

It is beautifully written, I was surprised by the use of colloquial language in a book of this time, but this makes the story flow as she tells a brief history of weaving worldwide and then in specific countries. She looks at the development of industrial weaving in England from a philosophical "post war" point of view. Writing of the influence of William Morris, she says:
"Although the Arts and Crafts movement had the disastrous effect of isolating the individual craftsman and separating him from the trend of industrial development, it did save him from extinction."

As I read this aloud at breakfast time my boyfriend commented "ah, she is of the Modernist era, then". Yes, indeed, she says:
"...we are now at the start of a post-War consciousness, a post-War art and life, entirely different from that at the beginning of the century. The idea of controlling the machine and making out of it something beautiful, is gradually developing. We are at least beginning to feel that our own age has something to express."

Curiously, this book is about hand-weaving, and yet what she seeks to do seems to be to marry the hand-craft and the industrial. This I had not expected from the title. This little book reads as an essay appealing for the standard of industrial work to be improved by going back to learning from the skills of hand-spinning - "the foundation of weaving" - and hand-weaving.

In a chapter on "Handweaving and Education" she says:
"there is much need in England for well-trained weavers. They are needed as designers for industry and for the individual small workshops doing work of fine quality".
She says the training of weavers should take 5 - 8 years:
"It is the gathering of experience that is important as well as the mastery of best technique. There should be an historical background - a knowledge of what has been done, but it must be used only as a help to creation."

In some ways, this book is charming as a picture of its times, rather dated. But it also has lovely descriptions of "contemporary hand-weaving " in Scandinavia, The British Isles, and France, and a fascinating account of the Welsh Mill form 18th century to the present day. To my surprise I read:
"there are still over a hundred small mills scattered about Wales, mostly in remote valleys, wherever there is a suitable stream to run the water-wheels...".

1939 is a long time ago, I wonder how many of these mills were still manned after the 2nd world war?

At the end of the book are short related essays by other authors. One is on sorting fleece, another I am looking forward to reading is about "Weaving at the Bauhaus" by one of the weavers who worked there.

For a weaver interested in philosophy, history, and the development of different weaving traditions, this is a very interesting book indeed, and as we are having very wet weather this weekend, I'm happy to be a bookworm :)