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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

31 January, 2010

The Sunday Spell

I know I’ve said it before, but Sunday is a good weaving day for me.  I don’t know what it is about Sunday that makes it feel different from the other days in the week, but I often find I get into my weaving and that it flows easily on a Sunday.  Today was a good one again.  I had a piece of Tchaikovsky running around in my head (one of the movements from Symphony 5 or 6 – the one that goes da/ra- dadaa/- da da /dara da/da;- da /ra-dadaa/-dadaa/- dadaaaaa;- da/ra-dadaa/- dada /dara da /da;- da /ra- dadaa/- dadaa/- dadaaaaaa.  Da/ra-dadaa/-da da/da da da/-da da /daa da/daa da/daaa/~~~da/ra-dadaa/-da da/da da daa/-da da /daa da/daa da/daaaaa  repeat….   Did you get that???? <G> Handy hint – it’s in 3!)

Anyway, it was providing me with a good weaving rhythm and my legs and my arms were working in perfect synchronicity.  My selvedges were perfect, the beat was pretty even and I was ‘in the zone’.  I just love times like that!! 

After this lovely session of weaving, when I took the dog for a walk this evening, I was thinking about rhythm and I remembered listening to the shower this morning whilst I was drying myself.  It was dripping – as showers always do after they’ve been switched off – and whilst it was mostly fairly regular, there would suddenly be a short period where it went erratic and whilst I was listening, it did one of those irregular patterns – it sounded exactly like the rhythm at the end of Tchaik 5 or 6 before a dramatic pause (the new listener in audience always thinks the piece has finished and starts to clap!!) just before the final coda.  Anyway, this particular section just before the pause is one of those nightmare bits that you really have to know by heart as a performer and I always feel for the poor percussionist on the cymbals – it has to be the career ending part for them if they get it wrong ! – and the rhythm seems totally random.  Now, where did Tchaikovsky get that idea from?  Was he suddenly aware of his shower dripping or did he hear it as rain drops splashing off a tree?  Or something else?    

This kind of sudden thought always makes me smile and that put me in mind of a sudden thought I had whilst walking Charlie earlier this week.  We are very fortunate to have hedgerows criss-crossing the countryside here, delineating the field boundaries, and most of those hedges are of hawthorn.  This time of year, of course, we can actually see into the hedge itself, and I love to spot the rabbit holes and other roosting places of various animals.  What made me smile was when I saw about 3 or 4 rabbit holes all clustered together under a tree, I had a sudden recollection of a childhood memory.   I used to read the cartoon books of Rupert Bear, with his red jumper and yellow checked trousers and scarf, and his friends who were other sorts of animals like badgers, mice, foxes, as well as people such as the Professor and Tiger Lily, a Chinese girl, and imaginary creatures such as fairies, elves, pixies and the like.  They used to disappear down rabbit holes into caverns and wonderful homes under tree roots.  In a way it was related to Alice In Wonderland  (another book I love) and the cartoon still appears in the Daily Express newspaper.  It was put into book form and I loved the adventures of Rupert Bear.   His parents would give him good advice and morals – you know the sort of thing – and were always fair!!!! 

I love the feelings that these kind of thoughts and memories evoke.  The sudden warmth of that memory not only made me smile, it made me very thankful for books and imagination, and authors.  We have so many creative people to thank for making our lives more beautiful – composers, writers, artists.  I guess I’d also like to be a creative person who makes other people’s lives more beautiful through weaving. 


24 January, 2010

Kuwait Impressions #3

Filed under: Art,Education,Travel — Tags: , , , — admin @ 3:05 pm

On my last day in Kuwait, we visited the Al Hashemi II dhow which stands proudly on the waterline below the Radison SAS hotel.  Although the Maritime Museum was closed for a conference, we were able to wander over the dhow and take photographs.  It is a truly impressive structure.  You will get lots of information about the building of the dhow, and its two sister ships, through the web link at the top of the blog. 

As you can see, I like to take more unusual angles and this one through the deck canopy to the mast and rigging really appealed. 




There were some amazing ropes and coils of ropes.  I won’t bore you by putting all my images up but this will give you an idea of the size and complexity of the ropes.




This is the view from the top deck towards the stern.  The dhow reminds me strongly of the galleons of Elizabethan times, and is the sort of image that comes to mind for pirate ships in old stories, and the vessel in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis, an old favourite of mine and one of the Chronicles of Narnia – a wonderful series of children’s books that I read and re-read even now!  I didn’t know that there was a film version of the book until very recently, so will have to watch it now! 


The wheel which you can just see on the left foreground here is huge – larger than me and I’m 5′ 8″.  It might help you to get an idea of the scale of the vessel.  There are men working on the deck caulking on the mid-deck to the right.




The attention to detail on board this vessel is meticulous.  These are the cabin roof joists in the stern below decks.  They are hand-gilded. 




The rooflights in the main cabin are beautiful, standing proud of the top deck. 





I couldn’t get my images of the ballroom, which is located in the belly of the boat, to do justice to the space, so I hope you will find images on the hotel website which will compensate.  However, these are the doors leading from the lobby into the ballroom and to me they have an Egyptian feel to them.  Beautiful and elegant.



Here’s a closeup so you can see the detailing.




Well, that’s all I had time for.  I hope to go back one day, if I’m invited, and would encourage you to visit if ever you are in that part of the world.  I had a wonderful time and met some wonderful women.  The Kuwait Textile Art Association is a diverse group of people and very welcoming.

More Random Ruminations

I was threading up my loom this morning, getting ready to weave my Complex Weavers Collapse, Pleat and Bump Study Group samples for our annual sample exchange, and I was listening to a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5 performed by the Polish National Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Antoni Wit.  I was enjoying the performance of a piece which I have played many times as oboeist in several different orchestras over the years, and noticing the differences between this particular recording and some of the live performances I’ve played in.  Then it suddenly struck me….

Music and dance can be performed many times by many different artists.  Many conductors, orchestras, soloists, dance troupes, and choreographers use work composed by someone else but interpret it in a personal way. That is an accepted part of the music and the dance world.  And it happens with classic works and with contemporary works.  We get cover versions – other artists covering a song written by someone else, and often performed originally by someone other than the creator. 

However, in the visual and written arts, that rarely happens, and when it does, it is regarded as plagiarism and a bad thing.  This dichotomy interests me!  Why is it that such different methodologies appear so polarised depending on what art form you are engaging with?  There are exceptions of course.  If someone in the visual arts already famous in their own right does something reminiscent, say, of Bridget Riley, then that will usually be accepted as ok because they are already established in their own oeuvre.  However, if I was to re-interpret a Bridget Riley piece, then I would be copying or not showing originality.  Isn’t it curious? 

And as a writer, if I was to write a story based on a writing style of someone famous, then that would probably be ok.  But having just recently read Swiss Family Robinson, and currently reading Robinson Crusoe, it strikes me that the two books are more than just superficially alike!  Daniel Defoe got there first, a couple of centuries earlier!! 

As I straddle both camps – that of a musician and that of a visual artist through my weaving – it is interesting to note what I can and can’t do, ethically speaking.  It is not expected of me as a musician that I should compose my own work.  It is expected that I can play my instrument to a high standard and perform and re-interpret other people’s compositions.  As an artist, it is not expected that I re-interpret someone else’s compositions.  It is expected that I create my own visual language and have the skills to interpret my thoughts in the way that I chose to express myself.  As a conceptual artist, it is enough to have the thoughts and have followed them through to a conclusion.  It is not even expected that I have the skills to realise them – it is the thought process, not the physical manifestation which is the important element.  Hmmmmm.

What do you think?

22 January, 2010

Kuwait Impressions

Welcome to part 2 of my photos of Kuwait. 

I was only there for a few days, and a few of the museums Patricia and I went to visit were shut.  The one I’m really sorry about was the Tareq Rajab Museum.  If I ever get back to Kuwait, which I sincerely hope I will, then that is at the top of my visit list!! 

The first of my images today is of the Liberation Tower.  A communications tower which was started before the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, but remained remarkably undamaged.  It was completed after the liberation of Kuwait and is a landmark in the city.  A Google search will bring up some lovely images, but here is mine!

The next image is a minaret that is just outside Sadu House and I thought it was rather attractive!

The next stop was the Museum of Modern Art.  An unassuming place, situated in what looks like a derelict area, with the new Maritime Museum (only just opening) across the way, it was previously a boys’ school, and later a girls’ school before it acquired its current status.  It had an exhibition of a Norwegian artist’s work which was very vibrant, as well as its own purchased works of Arabic and figurative art, and many sculptures in the courtyard.  I wasn’t sure if it was permitted to photograph the paintings, so I took the safe option and didn’t.  However, the sculptures were ok….

 This inner sculpture courtyard had some lovely pieces in it, which are shown below.

I loved this piece, with its hands as molars set into a huge bottom mandible!

This was one of several pieces exploring the tension of trying to escape from confined boxes.   Very powerful images.

This was one of several sculptures in both bronze and wood, of Arab figures with no features but which convey the nature of the Bedouin and their timelessness.  Very contemplative.

This is the outer courtyard where the administration offices and the guest suite is located. 

Then it was off to Kuwait Towers, the iconic water towers that are always shown whenever Kuwait features in the news. 

These two water towers dominate the sea front at this part of the coastline.  Kuwait sweeps round pretty much a 90 degree angle at this point, and the Towers are on the edge of the corner, so they have a big vantage point.  The pinnacle houses the lighting system for the two towers. 

This angle made me reflect on Mandelbrot’s fractal of the Gingerbread Man.  If you don’t have a clue what I’m talking about, google Mandelbrot, or fractals and you’ll come up with some stunning images!  The Gingerbread Man is one of the fractal shapes that recur time and again….

This image was taken from the revolving observation platform towards the top of the larger tower.  Although the glass was somewhat murky (all that dust), there is a lot of atmospheric dust in the area, and I loved the looming look of this office building which I’ve nicknamed the CheeseStraw, or should that be Cheese Twist?   It looks like a brooding sculpture!

In the evening, we were heading to the old souq when I caught sight of this reflection of the sunset in an office building, and as we were stopped at traffic lights, I used the opportunity to capture it. 

This sails sculpture in the sunken centre of a large pedestrian underpass leading towards the old souq is a water feature.  A beautiful piece of public art.   

Finally, we dropped in to the Al Hashemi 2 Maritime Museum, which was shut, but the boat was beautifully lit. 

On Sunday, I’ll post the remaining photos of the Al Hashemi 2 which has a very interesting story….. In the meantime, Saturday is Midlands Textile Forum‘s regular quarterly Babble & Dabble Day!  So I look forward to seeing some of you there!

21 January, 2010

Kuwait images

Filed under: Life — admin @ 6:31 pm

At long last, I have now managed to get images uploaded, thanks to my website folks!! Yay!!

I still have some teething problems as I can’t seem to put more than one image up in one row, so sorry about this.  I’ll have to do several posts to show you what’s what.  Anyway, this is the view from my hotel window, showing the Kuwait skyline on my first morning, which was the best one for visibility.  All the other mornings had a severe dust haze over the entire city.

We are now in Sadu House, and this is the library.  If you look closely, you can see Peter Collingwood’s book ‘The Maker’s Hand’ on the bottom display shelf…..  This link has some really good images of the House.  Enjoy.

Sadu House was a family home, and this is a shot of everyday implements!

The rooms in Sadu House that aren’t the main part of the museum retain a family quality to them.  The covers on the seats are Sadu weaving incorporated into the furnishings, along with the wall coverings.

Bisht – the traditional covering cloak that a man wears over his dishdasha.

“Weaving in the settled urban environment was men’s work.  Much of the work was done after the pearl fishing season when the men had extra time on their hands.  The wool was bought in bulk and distributed to the women for spinning, then taken to a workshop for the weaving.  Most of the fabric was a plain unpatterned weave.  The woven fabric was made up into outer garments, called bisht, worn over the dishdasha, either as a protective cover or a ceremonial cloak.  It has been a traditional part of the Arab wardrobe for generations, in both towns and in the desert.”  (Information from Sadu House museum exhibit)

One of the methods Sadu House use to tell the story of the Bedouin and their Sadu weaving is the use of wall drawings to create the scene,as you can see in the bisht image.  I love these, so here are two more….

This is a lovely drawing showing how the sadu weaving was incorporated in the everyday life of the Bedouin in their desert environment.

This image is a typical Sadu weaving with the geometric patterning.  It is really decorative and intricate and takes a while to weave.  The Bedouin ladies’ hands get toughened with this kind of warp-faced pick-up technique.  Many more modern images find their way into the weaving these days, including scissors and simple camel shapes.

This cloth is dyed with natural dyes and again shows the warp-faced nature of the cloth they weave on very simple ground looms.  They sit on the warp to weave.  You can see some weavers in the link I gave you at the top of the page.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you some of Kuwait’s landmarks that I visited with Patricia.

17 January, 2010

Update on Kuwait, and other things

I was hoping to have got some great images of my trip to Kuwait online by now, but I am having problems uploading images to WordPress, so whilst my website people (doesn’t that sound posh?!!) are getting back to me (hopefully with a solution), I thought I would put forward a few things that I propose to do this year.

1.    The workshop I gave in Kuwait on Colour and Texture was really well received and it got me to thinking about writing some blogs on what I cover.  So over the next few weeks, I shall be putting down some of the thoughts I have and suggested exercises I recommend to help with using a design source into a piece of textile art.  Although I am a weaver, my workshops are geared to most textile practises.  Obviously, I don’t have the intimate knowledge that, say, a shibori dyer would have to a particular technique relating to shibori, but I can give suggestions and put forward ideas that might inspire or prompt further research. 

In fact, translation of ideas into textile techniques is my particular area of expertise.  Over the 4 years or so that I have been giving these workshops, it is this aspect of my presentation that strikes a chord with so many people.  The technical information that most people require can easily be found through books or guild membership.  For instance, I often give these workshops to Embroiderers Guilds, and whilst I am no dab hand with a sewing machine or a needle, I can see potential effects in different media which can lead to a different and effective approach.  My approach to colour might well be similar to yours or to other peoples.  I have read many books and attended quite a few workshops from other people in the past, so there are bound to be many similarities.  However, there might be a different way of looking or a combination of ideas that suddenly clicks in your mind.  That’s the kind of connection I’m looking for. 

2.    Over the years I have had a fair number of emails asking for advice on all sorts of things related to weaving (and sometimes not!!) and I’ve been asked several times recently to share my responses in a wider way online.  So I will, on occasion, publish a few of the queries, and my answers, and it would be lovely if anyone wants to contribute and chip in with ideas, suggestions, or questions.  The weaving community, as so many others, is a warm, friendly (usually!!), and sharing community, so I look forward to hearing from you.

3.    So that’s to come in the weeks ahead.  In the meantime, and on the same track, I would like to tell you about a company that’s organising textile tours in the UK.  Textile Holiday Tours UK has been set up by Lorraine Traer-Clark and she has got together a varied collection of tours that might appeal.  The Gardens and Textiles Tour is one I am leading in May and July, and I’m very excited about it.  As you can see, it’s right up my street in terms of colour and texture and it should be a lot of fun! 

4.    I’m also really excited about a new publication by a weaving friend of mine.  Robyn Spady has just announced the publication of her monograph on Handwoven Decorative Trim – an introduction to weaving passementerie trims.  http://spadystudios.wordpress.com/  (Jan 8th).  Robyn is a committed (and I mean that whichever way you wish to read it!!! <LOL>) weaver and a great gal!  We have had some lively times together and hope to meet up again at Convergence this summer where Robyn is giving a workshop, whilst I am leading 4 seminars. 

That’s all for today, but I do hope to have some Kuwait images up very soon.

11 January, 2010

Kuwait visit

I am sitting in my hotel room overlooking the bay towards the old Kuwait City.  Through the heat haze and the dust raised by the building works in the city, mingled with the higher dust raised by troops in the desert, I can see the murky outlines of some stunning high rise buildings.  To the far right, on an edge where the land peaks before scalloping back into another sweeping bay, sit the iconic Kuwait Towers – the water towers which are seen on TV whenever Kuwait appears on the news.  I hope to visit them today and to be able to post some images.  They are beautiful with circular mosaic patterns in blues and whites.  These towers used to be the tallest construction in Kuwait, with other buildings restricted to no more than 4 or 5 levels.  That has now changed.  The Liberation Tower, a communications building erected after the expulsion of Iraqi troops from Kuwait, topped the height stakes for a short while and that can also be seen from my window.  However, it has now been overtaken by office buildings and the latest under construction which winds around its centre.  Once complete, this building which is being clad in glass will be a very dramatic presence in the business centre of Kuwait. 

It is wonderful to be here, and a bit of a relief!  With the big freeze in Europe, so many flights were cancelled that I nearly didn’t make it at all.  Happily, after 24 hours of delays, lots of queues and many phone calls to try to re-route, I managed to catch a flight to Bahrain and then a connection on to Kuwait.

  My hosts, the Kuwait Textile Arts Association, and especially Patricia Redding who is looking after me, are wonderful people.  The Kuwait Textile Arts Association, which is under the auspices of Al Sadu House, promotes the knowledge and skills of textile related arts in Kuwait and the Gulf region, and they frequently have visiting tutors and lecturers from around the world.  For example, next month, they have a speaker from Mali talking about Mali textiles.  They are also in the beginning stages of organising a textiles tour to China! 

The group is a multicultural non profit organisation and was established under the patronage of Sheikha Altaf Al Salem Al Sabah in October 1994.  The aim to nurture and promote the art and craft of textiles and fibre arts, and to facilitate sharing and exchanging of ideas, knowledge and skills in Kuwait and the Gulf Region.  Membership is open to any person interested in furtheringtheir knowledge of the world of textiles.   If anyone reading this blog is interested in joining, you can contact Patricia at presidentktaa@yahoo.com 

On Saturday morning, I led a Colour and Texture Workshop and met a diverse group of ladies, from countries across Europe, Canada, India, and Kuwait.  English is the language of communication (thankfully for me) and the workshop was held in the Al Sadu House, a beautiful old-style family house near to the Parliament Building in Kuwait City, which was re-opened in January 2007 after extensive renovations.  Al Sadu means weaving in Bedouin, and the house holds an interpretive exhibition about weaving in Kuwait, including the nomadic Bedouin weaving and urban weaving for bisht making.  A weaving co-operative has been set up and visitors may see and learn the skills involved in Sadu weaving. There are several warps set up in one room for weavers to weave.  Goods are sold in the shop, and courses in textiles are held.  Sadu House has instigated a programme for schools to help children learn about the weaving heritage of Kuwait.  There is also a lovely library with many Arabic, English and French books on textiles, including Peter Collingwood’s ‘The Makers Hand’, which was like seeing an old friend!  I have taken a few images but I hope to go back today and take some more to share with you, but photographs are not usually permitted at Al Sadu, so my images will be subject to Sadu House copyright. 

Last night I gave a talk in the central courtyard of Al Sadu House about the history and development of jacquard weaving, and told the story of my jacquard power loom.  There was a full auditorium and the audience was wonderfully attentive.  It was really strange to me to start my talk, only to be faced with some photographers standing right in front of everyone, snapping away!  If this is a tiny taste of paparazzi, then it’s just as well I’ll never be famous!!!  It was really unnerving, but I carried on, chatting away as if they weren’t there.  Apparently, this is quite normal, but it was a new experience for me.  One incredible follow-on to my story of Hattie is that one of my audience was at one time a lecturer in Constructed Textiles at Heriot Watt University in Galashiels, where Hattie lived before coming to me, and she had woven on Hattie!  What are the odds of that – travelling so far to find, quite by chance, someone who actually knew my loom up close and personal from the UK! 

I now have two days to discover more of Kuwait City, in the company of Patricia.  She comes from northern England but has been in Kuwait for many years so is an excellent tour guide!  Tomorrow, I hope to put up images from today’s sight seeing along with more of an explanation of Al Sadu weaving in Kuwait.

2 January, 2010

Take Three

I’ve written this blog several times now.  The first time round I was reflecting on Christmas, then I decided that what I’d written was probably too controversial!  The second time, I was talking about change but felt that was also too provocative!  (Ironic, isn’t it?  Something which purports to document the writer’s thoughts and yet I feel I have to censor so I don’t offend anyone!!!  What does that say about me?!)  So I’ve decided to write about a book I’ve just read which seems to me to be a great message for this time of year.

The book is The Year We Seized the Day.  It was written by Elizabeth Best and Colin Bowles, both living in Australia, and was given to me by fellow weaver and friend Agnes Hauptli.  In it are passages of reflection, and of hope for the future.  The book is about walking the Camino, the road to Santiago.  Other writers have written about it too. Most notably for me was Paulo Coelho, in his book The Pilgrimage.  Fellow weaver Louise Lemieux Berube has also walked the road to Santiago.

It’s just started to snow here.  I’m surprised because, although everywhere else in the UK seems to have had bucketloads of snow this winter, so far we have escaped.  Ice, yes, but snow no.  Whilst others have been snowed in and struggled to get around, we have been smugly driving, walking, shopping.  But it seems that that is about to change as it is coming down thick and fast!  And I haven’t even walked the dog yet!!  That’ll teach me for reading a book and writing this blog before getting washed and dressed!! 

Weaving wise, it’s been a quiet time.  Not because I’ve not got any ideas – far from it!  My brain is bubbling with all the things I want to try!!  But, I managed to aggravate an old spinal injury by putting my reading glasses on the audio speakers, just like I do every day, only this time I twinged something which has put me out of action for a week so far!  Poor Dad, the first time he visits in 7 years, and all the plans I had for things for us to do together completely scuppered!  The plus side, I have had time to do some reading – all the magazines that arrived before Christmas have been read, as have several books! 

Also weaving wise, I want to pay tribute to a wonderful weaving friend, Pat Williams.  Pat died shortly before Christmas and will be sorely missed.  A lovely, gentle, walking encyclopedia of weaving, with humour and generosity of spirit, Pat was a stellar teacher and an encouraging mentor.  We shared a room at the Jacquard conference in North Carolina last January and had a great time.  Although I knew of Pat’s health problems, she never wanted to talk about them, preferring to focus on more positive things.  Pat, you will be missed by all who knew you. 

I’ve got a little out of sync with my blog postings.  Next week I’m off to Kuwait for a week of lectures and workshops, so I’m not sure whether I’ll manage to post anything from there, but if not, you’ll hear all about it when I return.  In the meantime, I hope 2010 will bring at least some of your hopes and dreams alive.