27 July, 2009
Are you full of questions? Do you always want to know what happens if you do this or that? What would happen if you took that path in life, or this one?
I’m a curious person.
In weaving, that’s a great thing if you want to stretch yourself. I’m a sample queen because of my addiction to wanting to know what happens if I try one yarn, or another yarn; what happens if I wash this fabric on this cycle of the washing machine compared to that one, or if I handwash it? What will happen to the cloth if I combine these two yarns of different shrinkage potential in this way, or that way?
In life, too, curiosity can be a wonderfully enriching quality. You see a book title, or have a discussion with someone about something that they are interested in, and you suddenly find that you want to know more. This happened to me with philosophy – I blame AC Grayling and his columns in the Guardian. They’ve been published in book form, and I picked them up through The Book People for a ridiculously cheap price for all 4 and they changed my way of looking at things. I became interested in philosophy as a subject – huge as it is! Then a student came for a weekend whose son is studying philosophy at uni! She rang him up and asked him for a beginner’s book list in philosophy and that got me reading more. The more I read, the more fascinating I found it. The different areas of philosophy piqued my curiosity, but because I knew that I would get lost if I didn’t restrict myself, I honed it down to philosophy of life rather than, say, religion and politics.
In weaving samples, you quite often find yourself at the end of a set of samples with yet more questions as well as immediate answers to your original query. “Ok, I know this result happens in this particular case, but what if I did that?” And so, off you go again on another quest. I guess this could be called being a sample junkie, but that’s ok for me if it keeps my brain active and questioning.
In life, too, thinking deeply to provide an answer to a question quite often leads down other avenues of thinking. The danger with this in both life and weaving is that the questions can sometimes polarise us when it’s not wise to do that, but if we stop every so often and take a mental step back from ourselves, we can take a more objective overview and decide whether this path is one that we want to pursue, or whether we need to reassess where we’re going.
I do want my sampling to lead somewhere, so I always have an ulterior motive. My driving force is textural effects in weaving, and my sampling informs my artwork. What I’m wondering is: Is curiosity for curiosity’s sake a positive thing?
19 July, 2009
Weaving instills this incredible sense of wonder in me. Part of it is the creation of something useful and/or beautiful out of simple thread. Part of it is the huge variety that weaving engenders.
Yet another part is the connection between peoples from all ages, history and cultures, as the creation of cloth is one of the oldest forms of crafts. It never ceases to amaze me that separate groups of people in different geographical places in historic times worked out how to spin fibres of both vegetal and animal derivation into yarn, and then how to turn these yarns into a parallel arrangement, fix it to a frame or to a post to be able to apply tension whether completely contained within the frame, or tensioned by the body, and then weave another yarn over and under the tensioned threads to create something which could be used to cover, to carry, to wrap, to protect.
Once colour was applied to this, it became something that everyone could personalise, whether individually or tribally.
And from that has sprung all the uses that weaving creates today even down to micro-fabrics used for arterial repairs for example.
When I am demonstrating at a show, and someone asks what weaving is used for, I love being able to tell them that you can create the finest of sheer gauzes right through to the thickest rugs, that weaving is used in medicine and in car manufacture, as well as for their clothes and home furnishings. Many youngsters don’t know that their trousers and shirts are largely woven, whilst their T-shirts and jumpers are knitted, in the same way that many city kids don’t know that milk comes from a live animal. It’s just outside of their everyday knowledge. So it’s wonderful to be able to get enthusiastic about weaving and open their eyes and their wonder about the things around them!
The actual apparatus of weaving too is so varied, depending on where you go. My trip to Oman to set up a western weaving workshop for the Omani government early in 2008 was fascinating as I visited Bedouin weavers who use a simple copper pipe frame to create their warp-faced rugs, braids, key-fobs, cushions and mobile phone covers. Another group of weavers, the mountain weavers, use pit-looms, much more technically advanced, and yet they too created warp-faced rugs and braids. Another weaver in a more urban environment used the same pit loom to weave plain weave undergarments – using fine cotton counts rather than the thick wool and goat hair. Every year the wonderful Muscat Festival showcases local traditions.
Here in the west we have such a variety of looms and equipment to choose from. That’s fun too, explaining to someone what makes this loom better for what they want to do than that loom, why a table loom could be a better option for them than a floor loom, or vice versa. And the more I learn about weaving, the more I continue to be inspired.
Weaving means different things to different people, but fundamentally, whatever we make, whatever equipment we use, whatever techniques we employ, we are still creating something tangible, beautiful, useful, from the simplest of elements. Wow, that’s worth celebrating!
13 July, 2009
We all know that the subconscious is a powerful thing. Something I experienced today, and many times in the past, shows just how much it works in everyday things.
I’m doing sample weaving at the moment, with lots of plain weaving and overshot picks. I have a 24shaft AVL Compu-dobby loom. For those new to weaving, this is a big loom, with 24 metal and wood shafts that hold the heddles (or eyes) through which the warp is threaded. The heddles are metal as my loom is some 30 years old. The action of the loom is a lifting one. When I want to separate the threads to insert the weft yarn, I press a foot pedal which raises all the shafts that I want to use. The gap between the threads on the raised shafts, and the threads on the shafts which stay down is where I place my weft yarn.
So far so good. The only problem is that when you are weaving plain weave on 24 shafts, you are lifting 12 shafts at a time – half the warp on one pick (row) with alternate ends, and half the warp on the remaining ends on the next pick. As the width of the warp increases or the closer the warp is set, the weight becomes heavier because the number of heddles is increased. I am weaving with 17” out of a possible 36” with the warp sett at 24 ends per inch. So the lifts aren’t as heavy as they could be, but heavy enough. The AVL loom has two pedals – the right one to lift the shafts, the left one to move the selection on to the next pick. So my right leg does all the lifting. And my right knee is beginning to complain after 13 years of weaving on this loom.
I was weaving a series of samples where the first one uses an overshot pick after each plain weave pick. Overshot is a weave where you raise blocks of threads in order to create areas of floats where the weft yarn doesn’t intersect with the warp. These are comparatively lighter than the plain weave picks. The second sample had two picks of plain weave between each overshot pick; the third and fourth samples had four picks of plain weave before each overshot pick.
When I was focused on my weaving, everything went smoothly, but every so often, as with most people, my mind would wander a little, and I would lose my conscious awareness of where I was in the weaving. If my subconscious was expecting a plain weave pick, and the next pick was actually an overshot one, my right leg pushed way too hard and slammed onto the ground as it didn’t encounter the resistance it was expecting. On the other hand, if my subconscious was expecting an overshot pick, and it was actually a plain weave pick, the effort to push the pedal down to raise the plain weave shafts was really hard.
It made me stop to think just how powerful the subconscious mind is. We’ve all heard stories of mums who save their children through doing feats of extraordinary strength which normally they would never be able to contemplate. So it just makes me realise how much our own minds can limit what we achieve. If our subconscious believes we can do something, even though it would appear that we physically shouldn’t have the strength, we can achieve it. Mental muscle!
Hmmmm. Food for thought!!
5 July, 2009
This is the time of year for the local farmers to wait for a couple of days of fine weather to dry the grass crop and then cut and turn and collect for hay. We’ve just had a few days of glorious weather which has led to them working flat out to get the hay in before the next bout of rain.
During the grass growing season, you can see where the walkers go. Most of them are very good and stick to the paths, even if the paths go straight through the middle of the field and therefore the middle of the crop. The grass is laid flat in a narrow V shape so you can see where to walk, thanks to the guidance of the person who went there before you.
Then when the crop is gathered in, it is like the picture has been swept clean. Except that it hasn’t. The main field has a yellow look to it. But standing out dramatically against this is the narrow green strip where the sunlight has got through to the base of the grass where the walkers have flattened it. So the marks of people’s passage through the crop is there for all to see.
This is something that always gets me thinking about cause and effect – the butterfly analogy – where a butterfly flapping its wings in the Amazon rain forest could have an effect on the other side of the world through a weather system begun through the actions of the butterfly’s wings. Whilst that is a philosophical point, and sometimes a little hard to imagine, it’s useful to remember that what we say and do and how we interact with people has a dramatic effect. Our passage through our lives is marked in a similar way to the field. We leave marks of our having been there through how people remember us, whether we have made a difference in other people’s lives through our actions, whether in love or hate, obsession or indifference, for good or for ill.
I’m reminded of the bad effects this can cause through a memory of a young friend who had a great passion for horses, and was setting up a riding stable with her parents. A few years before, she had had a relationship with a very possessive man, and they had been apart for about a year. The trouble was he was determined that if he couldn’t have her, no-one else would, and he started assaulting her both psychologically and physically. To their shame the police didn’t take her concerns for her safety seriously, not even when he sent two men to beat her up with a baseball bat in her own home! A few months later, she was dead – gunned down by him and a friend of his in a quiet country lane near where I live. She had been forced off the road whilst driving, and then the ‘friend’ pulled the trigger. She was a wonderfully lively, positive young lady with a life brim full of possibilities who affected everyone she met in an uplifting way – except him. His demons couldn’t let him see anything other than his loss. He was caught and lots of us testified to his obsession and behaviour and now he is serving a long, long time in prison. But he destroyed a beautiful person.
Of course, such a sad story can be countered by many happy stories – how individuals can make a huge difference for the good in many people’s lives, purely by the nature of their personalities. I’m sure you will know of at least half a dozen people who have this kind of personality.
But it behoves us to remember that how we live our lives has a direct impact on many people, whether we come into personal contact with them or not, and I for one want to make that a positive experience, whether I know about it or not!