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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

8 November, 2015

Textile Society Conference – Textiles and Architecture

It’s been a while since I posted, but life has been busy.  More on that in a blog later this month.  However…..

The Textile Society 33rd Annual Conference was held at the newly extended Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester this weekend.  The topic was Textiles and Architecture and the speakers included Prof Alice Kettle, Dr Lynn Hulse, Jane Scott, Dr Lindsey Waterton-Taylor, Sally Freshwater and Prof Lesley Millar MBE.  It was a full day of inspiration, diverse approaches, technical and innovative explorations.  We were also able to take advantage of a current exhibition at the Gallery called Art_Textiles which has its own publication available from the Gallery.

Prof Alice Kettle started the day’s presentations with quotations from Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and references to Anni Albers – both guaranteed to grab my attention and get the thinking juices going!!  Taken from The Pliable Plane from 1959, and posing the juxtaposition of architecture (grounded/fixed/permanent) and textiles being not only the antithesis but also complimentary and inter-related, Alice went on to give her definitions of certain terms – walls, curtain walls, etc and to engage us with different approaches in architectural and textiles, including some of my favourite practitioners such as Ann Hamilton, Christo, and Janet Echelman as well as her own work in public buildings and site-specific commissions.

Dr Lynn Hulse presented a very different research project on the embroidered furnishings of the Lethbridge Sisters (1899-1922).  This was a fascinating glimpse into the lives and practice of Lady Julia Carew and Lady Jane Cory who produced some amazing and large-scale embroidered panels and countless interior furnishings for the homes in which they lived. These were much more than home furnishings and were rightly regarded as fine art by the society of the day.  Lynn will be publishing a book on the sisters in early 2016.

Jane Scott, a lecturer in textiles in the University of Leeds, is working with humidity and textile properties to create knitted fabrics that have a physical reaction to their environment, moving in animation when exposed to high humidity and moisture and gradually returning to primary states when the humidity or moisture level drops and the fabrics dry out.  It was totally engaging to watch video of the actions of the fabric.  We are so used to external forces working on fabric, such as drapery, movement of the body, wind, but there was something eerily mesmerising to watch the contortions of the fabric under puffs of water spray, reminding me powerfully of the compelling yet repulsive attraction of watching the squirming of a slug after being sprinkled with salt.  We are used to seeing electronics working within textiles (e-textiles) now, but Jane also incorporated wood veneer within her textiles and used knit together with the wood veneer as a responsive architecture to create dimensional pieces which move according to the climate in which they find themselves.

Dr Lindsey Waterton-Taylor is a weaver after my own heart!  Dealing with multi-layered woven fabric, Lindsey gave detailed cross-section diagrams to a multi-discliplinary audience to express the intricacies of weaving 6-layered fabrics for specific technical requirements in an engineering environment using inelastic yarns and fibres.  As a weaver who uses multiple layers and tubes within tubes myself, this was wonderful brain food!  Our respective end-uses are poles apart but the mental and technical challenges are fairly similar.  Lindsey incorporates the performance characteristics from the woven technical textiles within multilayer multilevel 3D forms into modular forms – think of it as textile ‘vertebra’.  Her work is exciting and has medical as well as engineering applications.  This is weaving as architecture in ways in addition to buildings!

Sally Freshwater is well known for her architectural and site-specific artworks involving the suggestions of sails and other flexible fabrics in sculptural installations.  Looking at translucency and opacity, and looking at various artists who have created large-scale site-specific artwork her talk was more a ‘thinking out loud’ musing of ideas that inspire and promote thinking through her practice.

The final presentation by Prof Lesley Millar was a typically meaty presentation of text, textiles, interior spaces, literary references, and philosophical thinking discussing ‘how the use of textile structures in architecture influence our perception and interpretation, and ultimately our memory, of things experienced’ (taken from the conference abstract).  As ever, it was so jam-packed full of content that I wished for a transcript that I could study with time to absorb all the connections she made.  Using images sourced from exhibitions Lesley has curated in the past, all of which have had a huge impact on how we, in the UK, view and understand textiles as art, including from Textural Space, and Lost in Lace, and also the recent exhibition in Salts Mill, Cloth and Memory, we were taken on a narrative of threads which joined, defined, revealed and concealed interpretations and left us with plenty to think about.

In addition to all this mental stimulation, we were also able to take time over lunch to visit the Art_Textile exhibition.  One of the highlights for me was my first real experience of an Abakan, a large tapestry piece by Magdalena Abakanowicz.  Interestingly, I was also drawn to the shadows created underneath the piece by the positioning of the lighting on both sides of the work.  I was also really pulled in by Anne Wilson‘s delicate stitching of holes on old damask table linens.  They had an ephemeral appeal to me, the tiny stitches of colour like finely ground powder grains, piled on top of each other to give a feeling of brightly coloured growths of decay, ‘blossoming’ on the old fabrics.

At the end of the day, I was left sitting on a crowded train with my brain in overdrive and a contented smile on my face!  Stimulation for mind and soul.  Many congratulations to Sonja Andrew, Dr Brenda King and all those involved in co-ordinating and organising such a stimulating day!

Next year’s conference will be on Saturday 5th November 2016 at the Wellcome Trust, London and is entitled Textile Futures: Technology Materials and Preservation.  It will examine recent advances in textile design, materials and technology, particularly emerging ideas and appraoches that may change the way we design, make, use and preserve textiles in the future.  I urge you to register your interest early : conferences@textilesociety.org.uk

9 November, 2014

What weaving means to me

I don’t know about you, but I get sent a number of requests from students asking for me to complete questionnaires for their dissertation research.  Some of them are not thought through and in that case I reply tactfully that they need to do a bit of basic research themselves before sending out questionnaires willynilly.  But this week I have had one that gave me pause for thought.

In my own masters research, I read a lot about the importance of tactility in everyday life and art, as that is something I feel passionately about – textiles are for touching for me, although I respect that many ‘art’ pieces are not designed to be handled.  My work is about erosion in all sorts of guises and about tactility and I want people to interact physically with my work.  It’s also a medium that, for the handweaver, insists on physical interaction at different times during the making process.  In every step of creating a warp, I interact with the materials physically, although the planning is all brainwork and 3-dimensional spatial planning inside my head.

The questionnaire I received this week asked me if I find weaving challenging.  This I interpreted two different ways – challenging as in ‘difficult to overcome’, and challenging as in ‘mentally and maybe practically demanding’.  The first meaning isn’t so relevant to me, but the second most definitely so.  If it is not challenging, I am not pushing myself.  Occasionally I do something that doesn’t take too much mental effort but just requires the physical input of weaving – my Xmas cards, for example – but mostly I am challenging myself to develop new ways of doing or learning.  Using the natural world as my inspiration I strive to envisage ways of using weave structures and materials to allow me to interpret geology, growth and erosion patterns from flora, fauna and minerals into textural expressions.  I use all the things I have learnt previously, and play with them, investigating how I can merge ideas or structures to create a different take on something and make something unexpected happen.  Serendipity plays a crucial role but first I have to think things through and move things in a certain direction so that serendipity can have the room to intervene.

Charlotte also asked if weaving is a stressful occupation, and whether it has helped me improve other skills such as problem solving/mathematics/social skills?  Well, yes, occasionally I do get stressed when something goes wrong, but it’s usually if I am in the wrong mind-set anyway, or I feel under pressure from outside forces.  Where I am the person totally in control of things, then I don’t usually get stressed, even when things go wrong.  It takes as long as it takes.  But I know for sure that it has certainly helped me improve problem solving – thinking laterally, seeing what is around me that I can press into service when something physically goes wrong with the loom (happily a fairly rare occurance), being spatially aware of how a flat fabric will shape up into a 3-D piece once it is removed from the loom, thinking in terms of numbers of shafts and patterns when working out what designs to create, and socially, well I get the chance to travel and meet lots of people, sharing with them my technical knowledge, love of weave and my particular way of looking at the world….  All wonderful things to be able to do and share.

I also talked about how weaving can be meditation – getting in the zone allows you to drift away from the pressures of everyday life and focus entirely on the moment, what your body and mind are doing right now, right here.  It has also helped me work out how to approach difficult situations in my emotional life, moral issues raised by a teenage son, and gives me a sense of perspective when things get overblown in my mind.

The questionnaire went on to ask about other aspects of weaving which also required further thought but I stopped for a while to think about just how important these particular questions are to what we do.  We are engaged with our hands, minds, emotions and body, using sight, touch, smell and spatial awareness in the physicality and preparation of weaving.  Yet the act of physically throwing a shuttle allows us to engage analytic thought (if we wish!), but also to focus on the moment, awareness of our bodies, throwing the shuttle and moving the shafts, and also, at the same time, the mental distance from everyday things to allow our subconscious minds to sort out knotty and complex emotional and mental issues whilst we are physically engaged in a rhythmic exercise.

No wonder weave is all-engrossing, and that it continues to be a craft form that gains adherents, devotees, and fanatics (I count myself in the latter group!! ), even more as our daily lives are more and more engaged with digital technology.  The fact that it is found world-wide, and is such an old craft form, is testament to its endurance as an essential craft for our physical but also our mental well-being.

Thank you, Charlotte, for reminding me what weave means to me.

Happy weaving!

1 October, 2014

Technology v Longhand – Either/Or or Both? Reading, writing and weaving

Filed under: Art,Education,Life,Philosophy,Teaching,Travel,Weaving — admin @ 11:15 am

Today I chanced across a post on my Facebook feed.  I don’t usually spend much time on Facebook, but this one article caught my eye and I read further….  http://mic.com/articles/99408/science-has-great-news-for-people-who-read-actual-books

I have always had a reluctance to use e-readers, although I have one.  Wherever possible, I much prefer to pick up a physical book.  I could never put my finger on it, but especially when doing research reading for my masters, I found myself unable to concentrate if reading text on an e-reader.  At the end of the piece, I wouldn’t have understood it and would have to read it again and again.  It frustrated me that I couldn’t turn page corners down to emphasize where I had found an interesting point, although I could highlight text, but finding the text again wasn’t so easy, especially if I was carrying several trains of thought in my head at the same time.

Then, once I had ‘liked’ that article, several others popped up underneath the original one.  This time there were three other links to articles that drew me in. The first one was about writing  ….  http://mic.com/articles/98348/science-shows-writers-have-a-serious-advantage-over-the-rest-of-us

I am a diary girl.  It helps me to keep track of ideas, emotions, events in my currently rollercoaster life, and it also helps me to gain a sense of perspective on my own and others’ actions.  It started a few years ago, proved its value during my masters journey, helped me to keep a memory of places visited on my trips, and now is a way to help me keep track of what I’ve done, upcoming deadlines, and a memory jogger as my own memory is having serious issues!  I know memory is highly subjective anyway, and we only keep a memory of how we view something, and that that memory is subject to change, but I am very aware that my imagination interferes with my memory and I cannot always rely on remembering something accurately.  This is incredibly frustrating and I hate not being able to trust my memory.  So the journal is a vital tool in holding on to my emotions and reflections of events, places and people at the time.  Of course, journals can be manipulated as we write them and most people writing a journal on a computer undo sentences and rewrite.  It is easy to do, and can allow streams of consciousness writing which are then re-written.  In a physical journal, if you don’t want to end up with phrases crossed out, you are required to construct the sentence and therefore the slant in your head prior to committing it to the paper.  I know that my own emotional issues have been helped by writing them out both on paper and in an e-diary.  Curiously, I findthat I tend to get more emotionally involved in my writing if I am writing in a physical diary, and to stay with the emotions longer – not always a good thing.  Writing emotionally on the keyboard is not so immersive and reading back my writing on the laptop has a distancing effect, as if I am reading someone else’s writing.  This can have value, especially if the emotions you are expressing are not positive ones.

The next article seemed to bear out my own thinking  http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/reading-paper-screens/  and led on to another article that seemed to encapsulate my own experience when note-taking in tutorials/lectures at university during my masters….. http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/a-learning-secret-don-t-take-notes-with-a-laptop/

I had done both methods and totally related to mindless typing of verbatim discussions, missing the wood for the trees in a discussion and wondering what had just happened when the session was finished.  After a few ‘typed’ sessions, I reverted to hand-written notes and understood far more from patchier notes.  It also struck me that court recorders might have to disengage with the content of what they are recording in order to distance the mind to focus on the taking down of accurate records.  Theirs has to be verbatim notes but if they actually thought about the content, would their emotions have an impact on their efficiency of record taking?  I’d love to hear from a court recorder about how they work.

This got me thinking about how we learn in weaving.  I am currently studying Marian Stubenitsky’s book ‘Echo & Iris’.  I struggle with learning something new.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it usually takes me about 3 weeks to process a visiting tutor’s weaving workshop.  I just have to stay with the discomfort of not knowing what people are talking about or understanding the fundamentals of a new technique and suddenly it will ‘click’.  When working through a book, I read the information, weave the samples, and then analyse the physical weaving.  When teaching drafting, I do not allow my students to start off with the computer.  Even if they have the weaving software, I encourage them to do the drawdown with pencil and squared paper.  Why?  Because in the slow process of physically drafting by hand, their brains can assimilate the visual knowledge and turn it into comprehension of the relationship of warp and weft.

I’ve just been weaving 8S versions of some of Marian’s samples.  It took me a while to realize that I work better with Bonnie Inouye’s method of tie-up and to change Marian’s tie-ups into a Bonnie-method.  Then suddenly I could see what the two sides were supposed to be doing.  I could then work out how I wanted to adapt the liftplans to give me the results I was looking for.  During the writing of this blog, I have had a sudden ‘click’ moment about how to get the effects I am wanting to achieve but I am going to go back to the software to check if my thinking will actually work before I weave it.  I am able to do that because I know what I am looking for, but if I didn’t, I would go back to drafting longhand to understand the principles before going to the software to develop designs quickly (relatively speaking!).

What am I trying to say here, in my long-winded way?  I think that technology in reading, writing and weaving is very useful, can be time-saving, can also allow for weaving experimentation in a way that old-fashioned drafting precludes by its very ease of use, but that comprehension is required before that experimentation can occur and for me, longhand drafting can aid in that comprehension in a way that technology cannot provide.  It’s very interesting to read (electronically) the four articles looking at how digital reading and writing can impact on our memory and comprehension and to note that it would have been very probable that someone like me would not have had access to this kind of material prior to digital technology.  The dissemination of information is so wide-spread thanks to technology.

For me, digital technology is wonderful, but not the be-all-and-end-all.  It has its downsides, things I don’t like about it.  I am aware that I stare at the screen whereas I don’t force my eyes when reading a book.  I change my posture lots when reading a physical book, but find myself hunched in one position not having moved for ages when looking at the computer screen.  I now ensure that I switch the computer off for large chunks of my day, and I limit myself to a certain length of time on the computer at a sitting.  Writing this blog and reading the 4 articles have taken up the best part of a morning.  A useful exercise for me, and therefore not time wasted, but I could have been weaving……

Ultimately, the proof of the pudding is in the weaving, and nothing is more effective than sampling to check that not only the weave structure but also the yarns behave in the way that you intend.  Although I am using a table loom for this warp, the work I will develop from it will be woven on a computer-assisted floor loom – a perfect marriage of technology and hand!

Happy Weaving!

12 January, 2014

Ends and beginnings

So this is the end.  The end of 3 years dedicated study.  The end of 3 years of intense research, playing catch-up with art history and philosophy of art.  An amazing 3 years of expanding horizons, challenging tutors and fellow students, access to an amazing university library and different departments.

So a time for thanks.

Thanks to the university library staff, especially Richard Swift who patiently sourced books for me and accepted (and bought) recommendations from me of books I thought they should have in the library.

Thanks to the members of staff in different departments who found themselves accosted by this weird weaver doing fine art, questioning them about their subjects, and asking for reading recommendations – Jean Bennett from the Art Therapy department who gave me insights into the work of Ellen Dissanayake and introduced me to Rosalyn Driscoll, and suggested hanging my work in Allestree Woods;  Adrian Watson from the Geography Department who suffered me sitting in his undergrad lectures asking lots of questions and catching up with the theories of plate tectonics; Roger Suthren and Dorothy Satterfield, Geology, who suggested I sat in on Adrian’s lectures and were excited about the work I was doing, seeing its potential as teaching aids for undergrads; and Jackie Williamson, the weave professor, and Charlie the technician whose occasional support have been much appreciated.

Special thanks to Tom Hackett who patiently guided me through the basics of art philosophy, pushing me gently into the MA programme of theoretical study and encouraging my naive questing for understanding and my initial ignorant questions; and Sebastian Blackie, the course leader of our multi-disciplinary course (now sadly disbanded!) for his encouragement and searching questions and critiques.

To my fellow students who diminished in number as the course wound down until there were only 3 of us left.  With their probing and skills from other fields, they challenged me in ways that textiles students would not have.  Not having the textile background, they asked questions which made me realise the extent of knowledge which textiles people absorb without being aware they know it.  I had to reappraise everything I had done and now do with eyes open to different ways of seeing the work.  They suggested ways of thinking which I had not considered.  They encouraged, challenged, praised, and critiqued, and without them I would not have developed in the way I have.

To my class cohort of Carol and Steve, especial thanks.  We have been through a lot together, personally, professionally and as students.  We have laughed, cried, supported, accompanied, and encouraged each other over a taxing 3 years during which time each of us has had major personal challenges to confront.

And now to the future.

The results come in next week but all the work is done so it is time to focus attention elsewhere.

Thanks to the Professional Weavers Network of New Zealand, and Creative Fibres Forum, I have a wonderful 2 month tour of New Zealand to look forward to starting in March.  This is the trip of a lifetime and I am so excited!!  To be working my way around a place I have longed to visit for many years (but never thought I would) is just an amazing thing!  So in the time between now and then, I have to focus on collating all the workshop information and double-checking it, writing my keynote speech, brushing up all the lectures I am giving, and weaving the final work which will go in the exhibition that takes place in New Zealand – a collaboration with Agnes Hauptli.  Plenty to keep me occupied and inspired.

And from my MA research weaving, I have so many ideas to try out that I shall be working on this for many years to come.

So farewell MA and hello to the rest of my life!

Happy weaving!


5 January, 2014

Reflections and Resolutions

At this time of year, it’s great to reflect back on the achievements and aspirations of the previous year.  Even more so for me this year, as this is the final week before I complete my masters degree.  In presenting my work for its final assessment, it is encumbent on me to look back over the entire duration of this course which for me was three years part-time study.  Part-time, my foot!!  Whilst I only attended university one day a week, this has been three years of concentrated study and development which has been challenging in many ways – not least getting back into debating and being intensely questioned as to my motives and reasons behind every decision – and also incredibly empowering.

I started off by thinking I knew what I wanted to do and how I would go about it, but soon had my certainties blown up into little pieces.  I had never learnt about art history or philosophical approaches to art.  I didn’t have the knowledge of the art world that my fellow students had – after all, why would I?  They all had an undergrad grounding in art whilst I had been a professional musician for so many years, then a weaver who learns as she goes.  I had no art training at school or in higher education, and had never really been interested in studying art or art history at any point in my life up til then.  So what a learning curve!!  It has been fascinating and illuminating.  I now find myself really appreciating cubism in a way I would never have dreamed of before, but it now makes sense to me!  And reading philosophers as diverse as Plato, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, even Derrida (!) to mention just a few of the philosophers and philosophies studied, has given me insights into my own thinking and has shown me how to challenge my beliefs about everything.

So what about the weaving?  Well, that too has changed immeasurably since the beginning of the course.  I still have been investigating geology through weave, but my emphasis changed from small scale to large scale, and looking at processes of erosion as well as those of plate tectonics and mountain building.  My approach is no longer as literal as it once was.  Ambiguity has become much more attractive, with viewers bringing their own interpretations into play as opposed to me telling them what they are looking at!  The work’s development has also closely tied in with my teaching and study group commitments.   In having specific areas to weave samples for sample exchanges, I had to bring a discipline to bear to incorporate work I was developing for that with the work that was developing in the masters process.  Far from being restrictive, this has been liberating.

I’ve talked before about the freedom that having to follow rules can bring.  This has certainly been the case during this process.  At every stage I had to make assessments, evaluations and decisions about what to continue forward.  I’ve always been a breadth person rather than an in-depth person, but that was challenged at every turn during the course.  And in having to make choices about what to focus on, I found myself becoming freer and more experimental in my approach, challenging the ways in which I work, daring to dream bigger than the loom, pushing myself to do things I would have discounted as being too demanding or way-out before.   And as I became more focused on the subject of my weaving, the freedom of experimenting within parameters brought new insights, new realisations and new techniques to the fore.

In a university course these days, you have to underpin your artistic practice with a view of the world – your philosophy – drawn from your own life experiences, and philosophy found through culture.  Mostly people look at western culture, but I found that I have a certain affinity with some eastern approaches.  I also discovered the phenomenological work of Maurice Merleau-Ponty – who looks at the body and mind in conjunction being the site of our experience of our world, as opposed to our consciousness alone.  This resonated with me, especially as I came to realise how little conscious awareness we have of our tactile sense.  Over a period of time, my focus became less one of weaving expertise and more one of physical engagement with textiles, especially experiencing textile art work through our hands which is usually now forbidden.  This led to a sudden realisation that we also are not allowed to engage physically with natural forms such as stalactites any more as the chemicals in our skin can adversely affect the development of these formations.   So gradually, my focus emerged.

Looking back over my journal for the three years, I have had so many great ideas that I can take forward and develop that I don’t think I will ever run out of things to try even in a very focused field of geology through weave, and one thing several viewers of my work have imprinted on me is that it can be translated into a number of different things depending on the experience of the viewer.  This I find really exciting and which will also lead me to develop the work in further ways…..

So whilst this time is a period of reflection, it is also a period of resolutions – to keep my mind open to possibilities which may seem fantastical, but that’s no reason not to try; to be open to what negative comments can teach me in a positive way; to keep on learning and growing with the same spirit of excitement and wonder that the last 3 years have given me; and to share what I learn and love with others as much as possible because we all learn and teach each other and you never know where the next ‘aha’ moment will emerge!

Happy Weaving!


3 February, 2013

Results and exhibitions

Filed under: Art,Education,Nature,Philosophy,Publications,Travel,Weaving — Tags: , , , , , — admin @ 6:40 pm

It’s been a while since my last post, but life has been busy…

After a delayed Christmas, the New Year began with assessments for my masters degree.  Happily, I did ok and got a merit and a distinction in the second stage.  Now the bar has been set and I am going to do my damnedest to get better marks in the final stage!  A lot of effort in reading, assimilating, writing, and weaving to come, I think.  I do like a challenge, which is just as well!!

With winter well underway, it’s always lovely to get out and visit an exhibition or two.  Both of those we visited this month were on the verge of closing, for which I can only apologise as now you won’t get the chance to see them! :^((  The first was calledTheFirst Cut and was on at the Manchester City Gallery and Platt Hall Museum of Costume.  Artists were from America, Australia, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, Taiwan and the UK and all working with paper in unique ways.  It was a fascinating insight into the many different and varied ways of working with paper, and the exhibition was based around five thematic concepts: i) Imaginary Worlds, ii) Drawing with a Knife, iii) Mapping New Territories, iv) Papering the Body and v) Off the Page.

My favourite works seemed to congregate mostly in the Off the Page category which features works derived from books, whether cut, deformed, twisted together or shredded publications.  An artist I love who wasn’t in this exhibition is Guy Laramee, and his geologically inspired work just blows me away!  In the same mould, Noriko Ambe’s work  is based on topology and contour cuts which are absolutely magical and in a much smaller scale than I had imagined from seeing her work online.  She also applies the same techniques by cutting into artists’ monographs and using her knowledge and understanding of their work to create strangely disturbing work reminiscent of the technique of reverse applique.

In the Mapping New Territories section, my attention was drawn to Georgia Russell’s cut map of England where she removed the shape of the UK from a page of an atlas only to discover that on the reverse was a map of Iraq.  So what?  Well, some could say she was prescient as just 3 weeks later, Iraq was invaded by coalition Western forces.

Papering the Body was located in the Platt Hall Gallery of Costume, about 1 1/2 miles away from the Art Gallery.  Susan Cutts made a gorgeous ballet dress and pumps which were shown against a window on the half-landing of the C18th stairs while Violese Lunn’s delicate and ethereal dresses revealed the traces of a spine or organs against the light.  These garments looked so delicious that you could imagine wearing them and becoming a fairy princess!  The only problem was that they were all unwearable!! Still, one can dream….

In the cut work, I loved Andrew Singleton’s work inspired by the Eagle Nebula which hung suspended against two walls in a corner of the main exhibition hall.  The shadows were exquisite and the swirling patterns had an energy which threatened to burst out from their corner position.  Negative space is just as important as positive space in cut pieces and all the exhibits in this section were entrancing and engaging at all their different scales.

There was so much to see and absorb in this exhibition.  My companion was back for a return visit whilst I only had the opportunity to see the work just once, but the catalogue helps to remind me of each of the artists’ contributions.  Photography was allowed but unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me as this usually isn’t the case.  You can, however, get the catalogue for a reasonably-priced £12.99 from the Manchester Art Gallery.

The second exhibition, again just as it was about to close, was Light, in Derby’s Quad.  The poster had an image of a close-up of the sun broiling its atmosphere, so I just had to go and see what it was all about.  In fact, the video, Brilliant Noise, by Semiconductor, was a black-and-white rendition of various shots of the sun’s activity.  It lasted for just over 9 mins and was so mesmerising I had to watch it again.  I found it firing off all sorts of ideas related to my current work on geology and the natural world, and had to scribble down thoughts whilst sitting in the darkness!

Another piece called RINK – a skating drawing floor, by David Ward, was a long piece of over 21 minutes.  It was a projected cyle of light drawings and was fascinating to watch illuminated lines taking themselves for a walk!  I stayed in the exhibit for around 10 minutes, but I would have liked to have stayed for the full 21.  I wonder if anyone did?

One static exhibit, of 3 silver gelatine prints by Tristan Hessing, was just exquisite.  Small linear prints like a topographical rendering of a scanning microscope on a piece of stone, silver etched against the black background, almost engulfed by the surrounding darkness of the black, they almost hovered above the surface of the paper.  I was half-expecting them to do the 3-dimensional 360 degree turn!  Being small images against the much larger black background, they drew you in really closely, so that you found yourself almost nose-to-glass to trace their delicate lines.

The MA is encouraging me to see more exhibitions, read so much more widely than ever before (and I’ve never been a narrow reader!), and to think about things in a much deeper and considered way.  It’s certainly expanded my world!

But now it’s back down to weaving – a lot to do and an ever-decreasing time in which to do it!!

Happy Weaving!


16 December, 2012

Winter weaving….

Filed under: Art,Education,Life,Nature,Philosophy,textiles,Travel,Weaving — admin @ 6:10 pm

Although the Xmas period is generally one of crazy activity, I always like to warp up my loom so that, when I need recharging, I can disappear into the Loom Room and do a little weaving!  You know that lull between the excesses of Christmas and the indulgence of New Year?  When your body needs calming down and your mind needs something else to ‘chew’ on?  That’s the time to contemplate the threads and do some therapeutic shuttle-throwing!

I always find the week between Christmas and New Year incredibly invigorating where weaving is concerned.  This year I have a series of pieces to try to weave for the Stage 2 assessment in January for my masters degree.  It’s also coming up to a year of frantic weaving to create some amazing pieces for a joint exhibition that Agnes Hauptli and I are touring in 2014.

As some of you may know, Agnes and I are travelling companions when we meet up every 2 years in the US for Complex Weavers Seminars, and we try to take a road trip of around a week to explore the area around the seminars’ location.  Two years ago, we spent some time in Arizona and Utah, visiting the Grand Canyon, on a boat trip down Glen Canyon, were wowed by Bryce Canyon, and stunned by the beauty of Antelope Canyon.  This year, we visited the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virgina, and took in the wonderful caves full of stalactites and stalagmites.  Our joint exhibition is all about the geology of these amazing places, and fits in really well with my masters topic of expressing geology through weave.

Our exhibition tour will start in New Zealand in February 2014, and probably be in two venues before moving on to Lyssach in Switzerland, then on to the Seattle area in time for Complex Weavers (we hope) and finishing up in the UK.  I hope you notice that all the locations are areas of great geology!  We’re really excited about this – it’s a huge undertaking and will challenge us in many different ways, not least writing exhibition proposals and finding venues.  We also are planning on publishing a catalogue.  But first, we have to do some weaving!

As part of my masters, I am hoping to set up a new blog to record the process of organising the exhibition and doing the weaving, and hope to include short videos and photos as we go.  This will also keep anyone interested in the progress of the work for the exhibition updated, so this will need to be set up over the week between Christmas and New Year.  I have to say that I’m really excited about this adventure.  It is a chance to work in large-scale and to put the philosophy and theory of what I’ve been researching into practise.  It’s a daunting prospect, but as Susan Jeffers so eloquently put it, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway”!!!!!

I suddenly realised a while ago that Richard and Chris Jeryan challenged me to put on an exhibition of my work when they were here learning jacquard weaving all of 5 years ago!  We agreed on a 7 year window, and this will just fit the challenge!  So I can put all the blame on Richard and Chris when it all gets a bit stressful!! :^))  Thanks, guys.

So whilst my DH is slaving over the hot stove preparing the Christmas lunch, I’ll be chilling out (literally!) in my workshop working on some stalactites!

If I don’t get round to posting next weekend, can I take this opportunity to wish you a peaceful and happy Christmas time, whatever your religious convictions (or not…) and

Happy Weaving!

18 November, 2012


This week, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar day, Lace: Heritage and Contemporary Textile Practice, at Nottingham Trent University based around lace and organised by Amanda Briggs-Goode. Nottingham has a long association with lace, being one of the most important centres for the lace industry in the past, and there are still beautiful buildings and archives of lace in the area.

The symposium was part of a festival of Lace in Nottingham running from September to February called Lace: Here: Now and speakers ranged from technical lace embroidery for the engineering sector to contemporary makers and artists. One of the speakers was Prof Lesley Millar, who I have written about before in respect of the amazing exhibitions she has curated, both for lace and for textiles in general over the past fifteen to twenty years. Despite suffering from a debilitating lurgy, Prof Millar gave an insightful and inspirational talk as the concluding presenter.

Of greatest interest to me was Prof Julian Ellis, OBE from Ellis Developments, a company which work with machine embroidery to create textile engineering for companies such as British Aerospace, and Ford. He also brought some medical embroideries covering topics as replacement ligaments, stents and artificial veins.

During the lunch break, delegates were able to visit the lace archive held at the NTU, as well as Journeys in Lace, Part Two, a current exhibition of Nottingham Trent University lecturers and students around lace which incorporated perspex cases of archive lace which cast beautiful shadows on the base of the gallery walls. The academic and technical staff involved were from several departments – Textile Design, Fashion Design and Decorative Arts and the approaches were varied. I was impressed with both the work and the presentation, with shadows being a strong element of a number of pieces. I particularly enjoyed Tessa Acti’s Lace Bird, comprising 3 suspended bodices from embroidery thread on nylon mesh fabric using digital embroidery; Ottis Sturmey’s Twisthands’ Dissolution, which felt a little close to home with its red lace effect cloth spilling to the floor from a hole in a 1st world war soldier’s helmet; and Chloe Blount’s A story of Nottingham Lace – a hand-drawn written piece in the form of lace. The latter was provided with a magnifying glass so that the work could be seen in detail. From the students’ work, I particularly enjoyed Claire Bradshaw (Decorative Arts, 2nd year) digitally printed, laser etched, polyester piece with faces punctured by holes which read as confusion from the printed side, but read as a lace piece in the shadow.

After the day’s proceedings, we attended the opening of Lace Works, a temporary exhibition at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, where work around the theme of lace was presented by Teresa Whitfield (hand-drawn lace in pen and ink), Timorous Beasties, Lucy Brown, Cal Lane, Joy Buttress, and Nicola Donovan.  Teresa Whitfield’s work is exquisitely drawn pen and ink recreations of archival lace, both hand made and industrial.  Timorous Beasties have been working with Scottish lace manufacturers Morton Young and Borland to produce a series of net curtains as you’ve never imagined them before!  The long length hung dominated the stairwell of the Museum with a blurred but evocative shadow on the wall.  Lucy Brown uses second hand, found and vintage clothing in her tapestry-style weavings called Offerings.  Cal Lane’s work is lace in heavy metal form, using welding equipment to create lace-like effects in spades, and industrial metalwork.  Joy Buttress is engaged with intricate detailing and crusted forms inside garments like nightwear, underwear, petticoats, with the work suspended high above the floor, lit by bare bulbs from within, making the viewer feel as if they are voyeuristically invading a secret world as they peer upwards into the secret recesses of such private garments.  Nicola Donovan’s work was the one that appealed to me the most as she has created mould growths from tiny lace elements, showing them sprouting from corners of the room, spreading slowly, invisibly, across the edge of a mantelpiece.  Easy to overlook, but intricate in their detailing, these exquisite ‘fungi’ told a story of decadent decay.

Unfortunately, not expecting photographs to be allowed, I didn’t have my camera, and there is no catalogue to accompany Lace Works, so I urge you to take a trip to Nottingham before December 14th if you want to take in both the Bonnington Gallery where Journeys in Lace, Part Two is being shown, and the Musuem show.  Lace Works continues until February 2013 if you can make it in the New Year.


28 October, 2012

Autumn Trips, Tricks and Fancies

Filed under: Art,Education,Life,Nature,Philosophy,Teaching,Travel,Weaving — admin @ 2:23 pm

Well, aren’t the autumnal (fall, for my US readers!) colours absolutely stunning this year?  I’ve been on several journeys of late, and the hardest part has been keeping my eyes on the road instead of on the trees!!!  The variety of oranges, yellows, reds, browns and greens has been amazing, and several times I thought I saw trees on fire, only to look and realise that actually it was the sun (?!! – yes – the sun!) shining through the changing leaves!  It’s a meditation to look at a single tree demonstrating several stages of autumn – from green leaves through yellowing to orange and red, and then bare branches as the top or sides (depending on the prevailing wind).

Since I last wrote, I have been in wonderful Shetland, visiting the Ann Sutton Foundation on the island of Yell, with fellow weaver, Kathy Schicker.  We were there to give a presentation as part of the Shetland Islands Wool Week (actually a fortnight!), and whilst we were there, we did a bit of maintenance and trouble shooting on the AVL looms.  We also got the free run of a cottage (thanks, Maggie) and a car (thanks again, Maggie!) so that we could explore a little.  Hosted by Andy Ross, he of the wonderful operatic singing voice, we did our presentation both to a live audience and online, with live streaming.  A first for us all!

I found it a little strange not to see trees but soon got used to the changing landscape.  We had all weathers from sunshine to hail storms, with plenty of cobweb-clearing breezes!

On the isle of Unst, a view across the island from the north.

Here’s just a snapshot of the landscape, but the feeling you get from being on islands like these is like nothing else.  I’ve visited the Isles of Scilly, right at the other end of the UK, before and it is a similar feeling.  The air is clean, the night sky just wonderful (when there aren’t clouds) and though we just missed the Northern Lights, the sheer profusion of stars made up for it!

And the Shetlanders know how to have a good time!  We went to a Fiddle and Accordion festival which was both a concert and a dance.  What a great event!  We also spent some time on the island of Unst looking at the geology, looking out to the Muckle Flugga, watching the sky change moods in seconds.  You really feel the presence of nature in a place like that…

Anyway, after a wonderful long weekend it was back to reality, and a trip down to Wokefield Park, near Reading, to teach at the Kennet Valley Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers biennial residential workshop weekend.  I had eleven students and they were learning how to create texture using three techniques – woven shibori, stitched double cloth, and overshot.  The woven shibori is very gratifying because you can get instant results, especially if you have steamers on hand to fix the shaping.  Thanks to Pat for those!  The others depend on fulling wool to do its thing during finishing.  These days, you don’t always know what you’re getting when you buy wool, and if the EU have their way, all extra information about the breed of sheep, etc, is going to disappear from labelling.  Now perhaps the general public won’t notice, but for people working with wool, this is disastrous!  If I want a long wool and lustre yarn, and can’t see the yarn in person because I’m buying it online, I won’t be able to know what I’m ordering until it arrives!!  Isn’t it ironic – on the one hand you have bureaucrats wanting us to fill every little detail in about everything, balanced against bureaucrats removing information that is essential to the user!

Anyway, moving on from my little rant, here is a photo of the 11 weavers, hard at work.

Hard at work, silent except the clattering of looms!

They were a lovely bunch of people!  Thank you, folks, for a great weekend.

Then it was back down south to Farnham for a flying visit to a free seminar offered by the Crafts Study Centre on writing for craft.  It was short (1 hour, 50 mins, including tea and coffee), and I would have really appreciated a full day looking at different ways of writing such as serious essay and review writing, as well as the caption writing we did, but I realised that I need to look beneath the surface content of other people’s writing, and into the style and format of how they write, so I shall be trying to do that in future research.

One of the tasks we were given was to write a short (50 words) caption to an item in the two exhibitions they currently have on show at the Crafts Study Centre – Alison Britton, and Robin Tanner.  I selected a collection of items in the Robin Tanner collection – a letter from Robin, bowls and teapot by Lucie Rie and a linen tablecloth by Rita Beales.  I actually managed to scrawl down two versions in my allotted ten minutes – one for a blog, and one for the exhibition.  Here they are :

Blog             “An evocation of times past – an immaculately hand-penned note to a dear friend, the hand-thrown teapot and bowls made by that friend, Lucie Rie, placed on a hand-woven linen tablecloth – the essence of a rural life well lived by etcher Robin and writer Heather Tanner.”

Caption      “A snapshot of the essence of handcrafts at a specific time (1960s) in British history is encapsulated in this combination of hand-penned note by etcher Robin Tanner to his dear friend, potter Lucie Rie, sited with her bowls and teapot on a handwoven linen table cloth by Rita Beales.”

In the first I was seeking to capture a mood, and in the second to be much more matter of fact.  It would be good to know what you think, so if you are so inclined, do drop me a line and let me know your thoughts.

Well, I’ve rambled on for nearly twice my usual length.  Thank you for sticking with me this long!!

Happy Weaving!


23 September, 2012

Complex Weavers Seminars – Washington DC

Well, what can I say?  As ever, this was a fabulous conference held in a very stimulating city with lots of things to see and do.  And if that wasn’t enough, the Shenandoah, Blue Ridge and Appalacian Mountains are just 1 1/2 hours awayby car in northern Virginia with their stunning skyline drives, richly forested slopes, and wildlife that freely roamed, and, hidden beneath, the most amazing limestone caverns!

My imperturbable travelling companion (aka Agnes) and I were hosted by two fellow weavers, and our warmest thanks and appreciation go to Janet and Chris for having us to stay and putting up with us!  We had a wonderful road trip, albeit a bit too short for what we would have liked to have done, exploring caverns and examining rocks, as well as enjoying wonderful views over the valleys and mountain ranges in the borderlands of Virginia and West Virginia.

The results of this immersion into nature will doubtless come out in our joint exhibition in 2014 which we hope will tour three continents!  Planning got underway and we are very excited about the next year and a half.  We are going to start a separate blog devoted to the exhibition, background information and stuff nearer the time and once a few more venues have been firmed up, but for now I will say that it will be based on our excursions together in the various wilds of the US occasioned by the venues of the CW Seminars.  Our shared love for natural history is the foundation and it will be different from anything anyone has ever seen us do before, although with some input from current skills, of course!

But for now, back to CW Seminars.  What makes it so special?  Well, probably the atmosphere for starters.  Here we are, weaving enthusiasts with a high level of curiosity about many different aspects of the huge field that is weaving.  By no means is it all about shaft envy!!  In fact, CW covers the widest range of topics possible, from inkle loom weaving to jacquard weaving, from a historical perspective to the widest ranging topic of weaving around the world.  Some lectures focussed on specific structures and techniques, others on a broader scale.  The collective level of expertise is awesome, but as Carla said to me, “we may be serious about our weaving, but we don’t take ourselves seriously.”  And she’s right. So much laughter, so much sharing, and so much collective friendship!

Some of my weaving friends from the UK came for the first time, and they told me that the warmth of welcome was wonderful.  At meal times everyone eats together, and very rarely do you find yourself sitting at a table with the same people.  In fact, I try to ensure that at each meal time I sit with at least one person I’ve never met before so that I can find out about them.  I met so many first timers and it was wonderful to hear their weaving experiences and life experiences.  Some are very highly respected in the weaving world and I felt nervous about introducing myself to them.  Other people had less experience in weaving, and were curious to know more, being like absorbent sponges in this hotbed of ideas and skills.  All in all, this isthe most stimulating conference I ever get to go to because of the huge range of knowledge, skills, and experiences of the participants.

Why is this?  Well, partially I think due to the fact that all the class lecturers are from within the membership of the organisation.  And this leads to a wonderful synergy of sharing and appreciation of the knowledge and skills of others.  We are all participants in the conference – not brought in as ‘outside experts’ which I think brings its own hierarchy.  We can, and do, all learn from each other.  We may not necessarily want to use the techniques being shown to us, but we can pick up nuggets that may relate to what we do from an apparently unrelated topic.  This is where the ‘aha’ moments come in – the sideways connection from an approach we hadn’t considered.

This, to me, is one of the incredible assets from attending CW Seminars.  Sometimes, I think CW more effectively stands for Curious Weavers, because that is what we are.  Curiousity leads to new understandings and developments.  Curiousity leads to explorations and play.  Curiousity leads to greater breadth and creativity.

Huge thanks and appreciation go to the Seminars team.  Unsung heroes, who give unselfishly of their time and efforts, for over two years, but without whom the event would not happen.  May you enjoy getting back your weaving time, and also, once you have recovered from the herculean emotional and physical effort of ensuring that everything ran smoothly, appreciating what you also gained from both the working together and the incredible energy you generated to make this conference a wonderful experience for us all.  Perhaps you might also enjoy a certain amount of smugness, knowing that you did such a good job and have now passed the baton on to the organising committee for CW Seminars 2014.  I have certainly started saving for Seattle!!!

Thank you, guys!!

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