Monday, 26 January 2009

Plain weaves with quality threads

It's a coincidence that there's been a few significant changes in my life at the start of 2009. Mostly not related to my fibre / weaving interests, so I'll just mention in passing that the start of a new working hours and different work locations last week kept me from writing about the many things I'm thinking about and working on in my 'spare' time.

So, where shall I start? Not with the new loom. I'll just say for those of you who haven't heard yet I have a new (extra) weaving loom and am very pleased with it. More on that another time when I can get my photos uploaded.

I was wondering where to start writing about the different subjects of different books I've been reading, I was thinking that I'd been following several lines of investigation at once, then I looked at the pile of books again and they re-arranged themselves in my mind. I see the connection, it's in my title, plain weaves and interesting, quality yarns.

I'm interested in the history of handweaving and different national traditions.

I have found that broadly speaking these differences in the 20th century handweaving traditions I have been reading about:
- the US tends to favour jack looms, overshot, plain yarns and at times very complex weave patterns,
- from Scandinavia I see countermarch or counterbalance looms, more high tension warps such as linen and the distinctive weaves such as rep,
- in the UK I have found more tradition of balanced plain and twill weaves, wool yarns and tweeds, and then fancy yarns in these weaves (see my earlier post about Bernat Klein).
Taking the UK, I read some time ago Theo Moorman's autobiography Weaving as an Art Form, a personal statement, published Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1975, and last year I added to my understanding of her life and work with Theo Moorman 1907-1990: her life and work as an artist weaver, edited by Hilary Diaper, published University Gallery Leeds 1992, ISBN 1 874331 01 4 (hardback) and 1 874331 002 2 (softback). Theo Moorman worked largely by creating designs in plain weave cloth with inlaid yarns.

I rediscovered Theo Moorman once more in Fine-Art Weaving, by Irene Waller, published by Batsford, 1979, along with other weavers of the late 20th C. The work of some of the others looks very dated and "70s" to me (I do know this is currently fashionable, but I recall the 1970s). A few stand the test of time very well - such as the amazing Peter Collingwood. In the introduction, the background of early 20th C British weavers is given, and I found a tantalizing, but short biography of Ethel Mairet (1872-1952).

Nigel, a fan of Ethel Mairet, directed me to A Weaver's Life: Ethel Mairet 1872-1952, Margot Coatts, published by the Crafts Council, 1983, ISBN 0 903798 70 0. Here I found links in attitude to cloth design that reminded me of Bernat Klein - simple weave (she used plain weave, he used simple twills) and an interest in yarn. I quote Margot Coatts (p.82)
"Ethel Mairet's approach to weaving was that it should be an intuitive and expressive response to the colour and texture of the yarn",
and Margot herself (p.104) quotes the representative of Greg's yarn spinning mill, who later created yarns for Ethel, saying that he:
..."very soon realised she was not a weaver, not a designer, but a yarn enthusiast - not just for the look of a yarn but also in the feel".
Inspired by weavers she had met in Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Ethel Mairet started her weaving workshop using handspun yarns. Later Greg's of Stockport created characterful yarn for her such as a fine cotton snarl yarn which she coloured with natural dyes.

Now to move into a totally different part of the world, but more handspun yarns used by handweavers on simple looms to create the most beautiful cloth.

Last autumn I very much enjoyed seeing Kente cloth in the permanent exhibition at Bankfield Museum, Halifax. About the same time Syne Mitchell wrote about Kente cloth in Weavezine, Fall 2008, she referenced "African Textiles" by John Picton and John Mack. I now have two, different editions of this book. =Sigh=

I borrowed from the local library (by request, for 80p) the second edition, which I highly recommend:
African Textiles, John Picton and John Mack, published 1989 by The Trustees of the British Museum, ISBN 0-7141-1595-9. Discovering it to be an invaluable reference, I ordered a book I found on, only to discover that I had ordered the first edition, published in 1979. The second edition has much more material, both writing and photos. So, I found a second edition and ordered that too. It's getting late and if I start telling you how much I like this book I'll be still tapping the keys into early tommorrow a.m., best leave that for now. However, there goes my book buying budget for up to March. Yep, this year I have set myself a budget with monthly amounts and aim to spend less on books -
this is to compensate for buying The New Loom - I'll tell you about that someday soon, with photos!!


Life Looms Large said...

You're really going to tantalize us like this? Saying you have a new loom, but giving us no clues about what kind?

Please....a little hint.....

I can't stand the suspense!

And congratulations on whatever loom it is!!

Peg in South Carolina said...

I'm eager to see where you are going with this. Thank you for the link to Nigel's blog. I've taken a quick look and have found it deserves much more than a quick look.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy the book information and your accounts of your research. The color post was fascinating; I know I'm going to come back to it for reference. (I feel the same way about those energy-saver christmas lights!)

I'll look forward to see what you chose for a loom!

Valerie said...

Thanks so much for sharing your mental meanderings. Your research in some ways parallels parts of the presentation that Randall Darwall did with us at Penland last summer.

I do like your take on sorting out the regional preferences. I'm not Canadian...but live close to the border. It might be worth considering that Canada likely has a little different heritage of weaving.

Leigh said...

Interesting observations about nationality and handweaving traditions. I think I would really enjoy reading Theo Moorman's autobiography. I'll have to see if I can get it through my public library. Sympathies about having to have a book budget, but I know that loom is worth it!

Dorothy said...

Sue and anyone else who is interested - I hope to post photos and write up on my new loom in th next couple of days, I'm tied-down with the day job mid-week.

I just re-read everyone's comments and am struck by how you have all focused on something different. This is re-assuring as sometimes I wonder if I'm trying to write about too many things at once!

I'd love to learn more about other weaving traditions, I hope to buy the books, magazines etc and do the research (!) I'd like to learn the Swedish language too. Alas, I have the Book Budget at this year. It's a great test of will power and I'm struggling. I wonder if I could forgive myself if I give up? I think it would be bad for my self respect! The only way out I can think of is to sell some books - and then replace them :)

I'm glad that Peg has looked at Nigel's blog, I thought it would interest you Peg! He has a very different angle of approach to me and I'm following with interest.

Peg in South Carolina said...

Ahh, Dorothy, I wasn't sure of Nigel's sex......... Thank you.

Dorothy said...

oh, "well I never!" to use one of our common sayings over here. Nigel is a Englishman's name, fairly popular in some generations but probably not for youngsters nowadays. I forget that our language differences extend into usage of names...! I have only ever come across one woman with a similar name, the one and only "kitchen goddess" Nigella.

Peg in South Carolina said...

Over here, and apparently especially in the South, it not uncommon for a woman to have a man's name. I do know Nigel is a man's name. Indeed, I even know a Nigel here (he's English, by the way!). But I just wasn't sure in this case. Perhaps because it is not usual to see a man weaving. I have never been to a workshop or a class, for example, where there was a man.

Dorothy said...

I do find the naming traditions in the U.S. are very different, but then we Brits are now following suit nowadays and there is a far greater variety of names being given to children than ever before.

Interestingly I have heard said that our European neighbours in France are much more conservative and stick with their traditional names, I think this is because of their tradition of celebrating one's "Saint" day, which is like an extra birthday each year on the day of your Saint, so if you were given a name not on the list of Saints you'd miss out!