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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

31 July, 2011

Well, well, well…. a woman on a mission!

Filed under: Life — admin @ 1:15 pm

If you follow my blog, you will know I love a challenge.  And even better is a time-related challenge!!

I’ve had a week when I was at home alone and I gave myself a challenge to do as much outside work on the house as possible whilst DH was away in France with 60 music students on tour.  Painting walls and doors was the first thing on the agenda, getting up at 6 am to ensure that I fulfilled my day’s work quota!….but I saved the special project to last!

We have a water pump which hasn’t been drawing up water all summer.  DH wanted to find out why.  So I decided to do it in his absence.  It entailed the use of a jack hammer to break up the concrete area in front of our main door, as I suspected that we had an existing well.  A friend came and did the hammering and I shifted the large amounts of concrete, and uncovered ….

A superb well – around 30 feet deep and built in brick but done in a way I’d never seen before.  Mind you, my experience of wells isn’t huge – maybe three in my lifetime!  There was about 6 feet of water at the very bottom, but the pipe to the pump was hanging in empty air around 4 feet from the surface of the water.  No wonder it wasn’t drawing!  The water table is too low at the moment!

My friend, who is a builder in his 70s, built several courses of bricks to bring up a proper well head and topped it with beautiful Staffordshire blue bricks – very heavy, dense bricks used in the past to create damp courses to stop the uprising of moisture up a wall.  He intends to build a couple of stays and a cross piece so that we can have a bucket.  But we shall be putting in a few bars across the mouth of the well topped with some wire mesh so that no-one can either fall in themselves, or drop anything down the well – by accident, or otherwise!!

As I write, he has come to help finish digging up the concrete so we can put gravel down.  Another piece of our house’s history come to life!  I love living in an old house!  You never know what you are going to find next!

Oh, yes….  DH loved what we have done – Phew!!

What was so wonderful about the whole week though wasn’t just the uncovering of an amazing piece of construction, but it was the hands-on full-on manual labour.  Not a huge amount of thinking, but a lot of hard physical work that left me exhausted in a good way, and thoroughly satisfied with my day’s work.  There’s something to be said for physical labour.  I slept like a baby, and enjoyed every day.

Next week we have another building challenge.  Hattie, my big old industrial power loom, and star of the YouTube video, Jacquard Loom Walkthrough, is beginning a new phase of her working life, and is going on a journey to Devon, to the Coldharbour Mill where she will be a carpet loom.  So this week is one where we have to take down the studio wall again, and dismantle her before a crane comes to lift her out and take her on her drive to the south west.  Wish us luck!!!!

24 July, 2011

How nature and jazz combine

Filed under: Art,Education,Life,Nature,Philosophy,Weaving — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 1:00 pm

I’ve been weaving several different pieces for two exhibitions over the last few weeks.  And while I weave, sometimes I listen to music on my ipod, and sometimes I weave in silence, letting thoughts run through my head.

One of these thoughts was about the weaving I’m doing at the moment.  I am weaving pieces inspired directly by nature, and as I was weaving, various things happened like knots in the yarn, or a sudden slub or a shaft not picking up correctly.  Now normally, I would stop, and sort each of these problems out, not wanting a blemish in my work.  That I equate to the oboe training – precise, clean, accurate, as perfect as possible in preparation and performance.  That is my perfectionist side.

But as I was about to get off the seat and sort one of these problems out, I suddenly realised that nature isn’t perfect.  Nature’s most amazing versatility comes from its blemishes, its accidents, its mutations.  It’s like jazz.

Jazz musicians don’t agonise over a wrong note.  They relish the opportunity to bring in unusual harmonies and enjoy the wandering path within the basic framework of their chordal structure.  That’s what nature does.  There are ‘bum’ notes all over the place in nature, part of the rich mosaic and randomness that we find so fascinating.

So I decided not to get up and sort out the ‘blemishes’ but to see what transpired further down the line in the finishing process.  This was a liberating decision for me.  Time to let out the tenor saxophonist of my soul, and push the analytical oboist to the back of my mind!

And you know what?  I soooo enjoyed the weaving.  I decided to make random decisions to change a weft yarn when one ran out, and just to go with sudden instinctual decisions.  It was like heaven!!  Instead of being controlled and having everything go according to plan, I just went with the flow and did whatever I felt like!!

Also, as you may know, I am a sample queen.  Well, as usual, I sampled.  But this time, the sample was woven at the end!

What??  Has she gone raving mad??!  Well, yes and no.

I decided that as this was to do with nature – and my deadlines were verrrrrry tight (inspiration doesn’t always come according to a timescale!)  I would just jump in and weave my ideas.  If they worked, wonderful and I could enter the work.  If not, well it didn’t matter, and I would use the ideas generated for further pieces in the future.  I always want a sample to show me what I’ve done, but I didn’t have the time to weave a sample, take it off the loom, finish it and then make adjustments, so I did what I never recommend people to do… I wove the project first and wove the sample (reference) piece at the end of the warp.  Hey ho….

Moral of the story – sometimes it pays to do things a different way.  Sometimes the sky doesn’t fall in because you don’t do things perfectly.  Sometimes it frees you up to do what you don’t usually do.

Have fun in your weaving – however you do it!!

17 July, 2011

Weaving – the design process

Filed under: Art,Education,Life,Nature,Weaving — Tags: , , , , — admin @ 1:00 pm

Today is a bitter/sweet day.  This morning, I waved my son off on his next big adventure – a career in the armed forces.  He’s now on his way to boot camp – or Phase I training as the Army like to call it!  An intensive 14 weeks to see how he shapes up.  I know he will come back from that a different man with new friends who he will have to rely on for his life, and vice versa.

My way of coping with emotional times is to immerse myself in weaving.  Thankfully, I have a project on hand that requires all my brain power to work out (and no obvious comments there, folks! LOL)  This is one of the pieces that I mentioned about for the Elements exhibition in Aberdeen (Fabric of the Land).  Whether this will work out, I don’t know.  It’s a new adventure for me, and as usual, I am feeling my way blindfolded along the path.

Which leads me to today’s blog.  A fellow weaver told me recently that I should write about how I plan my pieces because it’s not a usual way – whatever ‘usual’ means….  So here goes.

Nature is generally my inspiration, and this time it is a photo of a foreshore where the sea has eroded the rock away in parallel lines with the sand between.  It’s dramatic, and very dimensional.  This is the kind of challenge that I like.  I don’t have a clue how I’m going to achieve the piece, but I know that I want to weave it.  So I mull it over for a while.  This can take anything from a day to 3 or more weeks.  This particular piece I have only really considered for a couple of weeks, when I realised that I wasn’t particularly enjoying the planning process for another piece.  If I don’t enjoy the planning process – if it doesn’t spark my mind – then I know it’ll be a dismal failure.

I don’t mind failure – in fact, I need failure to help me work out what I do want – and usually failures point the way to another project later on, but I know in my gut when something is going to be a ‘dog’ on the loom.  So I listened to my gut and abandoned the first project.

I had a vague idea that to create the amount of dimensional effect I wanted, I would need to weave areas in double cloth, with one layer shrinking, and the other layer not.  So far so good.  But I didn’t want the double cloth areas to be straight lines vertically – I wanted a certain amount of movement as nature would have.  So this led to a lot of thinking about how to achieve this on my 24shaft AVL Compu-Dobby I loom.

I’m not generally a stripes person, but I realised that if I wanted areas to be sand inbetween the eroded rocks, then I would need warp stripes, but how to blend that in with the rocks and generate a bit of movement?  In the end, I settled on small amounts of block weaves either side of the ‘rock’ double cloth which would allow me to modulate how the sections are woven.

Now for the serendipity.  The weaving is going well – I have 3 panels of 2m long and 38″ wide to weave.  That bit’s the easy bit.  After that comes the ‘suck it and see’ bit when I put it into the washing machine and then the tumble dryer and see what happens.  Gulp!!

I have given myself permission to fail, and not to have to enter it for the exhibition if I don’t want to.  We had to submit proposals (maximum 3) to the organisers at the beginning of July, and although I put down three pieces, if this doesn’t work, I shall contact them and notify them that I’ll only be submitting 2 or 1 for selection.  Selection is on 1st August, and because I’m not in Scotland, I can send images by post before the deadline, so if I’m not happy with the results, I will only send the ones I have.

The good thing about this is that I don’t have to submit the finished articles unless they’re selected.  The bad thing is that everything hinges on my images.  Good images and I might stand a chance.  Bad images and none of my pieces will even be selected.  But that’s how it goes.

What I am really pumped up about is that it has forced me to think in a different way and I know that will lead to something I’m pleased with, whether that’s with this piece or further down the line…

So, if my friend thinks this is a different way of working, will you please tell me how you plan things?  How we think and work out problems is a fascinating study and it’d be great to hear how your mind works!

Till next time, happy weaving!!

10 July, 2011

Silk purse from sow’s ear or similar results!

I don’t usually call my weaving a pig’s ear (!) but sometimes, when things don’t go according to plan, it can feel that way!

I have been weaving a series of pieces for two exhibitions, one based on tree bark, the other on geology and erosion.  The tree bark series was largely an experiment (hint – it’s not usually advisable to do experiments on exhibition pieces!!)  I decided to use a technique called shibori, usually associated with dyeing, to create pieces with surface texture.  I also decided I would like to go tree-hugging, and if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter, you will know that I hugged an oak tree this week!

If this sounds a little bizarre, stay with me…

Firstly, I prepared a cotton and silk warp with straight threading, and then wove a texture structure with silver weft.  The silver is the real thing and perhaps an extravagent weft to use, but I wanted a metal that was thin enough, and that would tarnish over time.  The silver I use is from The Scientific Wire Company (the name is enough to make you want to buy something from them!) and is 0.1mm, so almost as fine as human head hair.  It wove up beautifully, and once I had cut it from the loom, I went to my friendly neighbour farmer and asked if I could hug an oak tree.

You can imagine his face!

Anyway, permission given, I nailed the silver fabric to the oak tree and gently pressed it into the grooves of the venerable oak.  It held just as I intended, and I glued it to ensure it kept its shape.  Once the glue was dry, and the donkeys left me alone long enough to do the job, I peeled it off the tree.  Walking home with the piece was fun in a strengthening wind, and curious motorists nearly ran off the road….

Back in the studio, I have tweaked things a little and done a tad of tea-dyeing, finding out in the process that it takes 5 tea-bags to get the depth of stain I wanted…

The other two pieces both used shibori, one with a silk noil weft, and the other with a copper weft, again 0.1mm in dark brown.  I put both of them in the washing machine and after they had dried, the results were great fun!  I hadn’t really expected the silk noil to hold its shibori pleating, but it did!  I rather suspect that if I were to wash it again, it would all fall out, so I won’t be doing that for a while.  What was 38″ wide on the loom shrank down to 12″ wide when finished.  The copper wire weft also gave me wonderful results!

So now I am finishing them in a way that will suit the hanging requirements of the exhibition.  I can’t show them until the exhibition has been opened, but then I hope to post some photos to share my excitement.

The silk purse bit was from a stainless steel/wool mix weft (from Habu Textiles via Handweavers Studio in London) which I wove in a willow type weave, then pressed against a willow tree.  It didn’t work and looked a mess, so I shrugged, and put it in the washing machine, just to see what would happen to the failure.  Wow!  When it came out of the machine, I though Christmas had come!  The stainless steel has collapsed to a wonderful undulation which I would have loved to have planned!!

Willow detail (stainless steel/wool)

Willow detail (stainless steel/wool)

So when you get a piece that didn’t work out like you planned, don’t despair….  turn to the washing machine!!  You never know what alchemy will work its magic for you!

4 July, 2011

Small cogs in a Big Wheel

I spent a lovely weekend with the members of the Kennet Valley Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers.  It was a particularly well-timed visit as they were basking in the success of a mammoth Fleece to Fabric challenge called The Newbury Coat.  The papers made much of the group’s not managing to break the record they previously set 20 years ago, but didn’t state that the coat was for a much larger man this time, and was made without the big carder they had before.  So with more hand-held equipment, fewer spinners, and a larger coat, it’s not surprising they didn’t quite manage the time.

What I think is much more significant is the team effort involved in the whole project.  Obviously something like this requires organisation and precision timing, but the sheer number of people involved in the fleece preparation, the spinning, the weaving, the dyeing and the tailoring, is staggering.  That this was undertaken by the Kennet Valley Guild, with some spinners and weavers coming from nearby areas to assist, is nothing short of marvellous!

They were celebrating the achievement on Saturday with champagne and beautiful cake and it made for a very lively meeting!  With a workshop on texture the next day, I was able to stay over and enjoy some of the members’ company for a second day.

What I want to write about today is the shared experience of being part of something big, like the Newbury Coat.  A project that brings people together with enthusiasm, being part of something bigger than yourself, working as a team for a greater purpose, is something that is so important both to communities and to individuals.  Even though people’s lives are so busy, there are those who will volunteer to help with something that brings people together.

This year, in my neck of the woods, has been a good one for this sense of community this year.  The Royal Wedding was, for many, a great excuse to get together as friends and neighbours to have a street party.  Our village holds an annual rock concert (which was also this last weekend), showcasing our local bands and raising money for the Air Ambulance.  It is always a sell-out family occasion and greatly enjoyed by the vast majority of local folk.  (There are always one or two moaners in every village!!)  And we are not unusual.  There are fetes and fairs all over the country where communities get together.

We live on a road which frequently sees old steam rollers and horse-drawn carriages and curricles going past on their way to a meet or a fete in the summer months.  People have deep love for their hobbies, interests and enthusiasms which is so good to see and enriches every person that takes part.  This diversity of interests leads to motor rallies, re-enactments of historical battles or challenges, getting together for a fete to raise money for charity, putting on agricultural shows, gymkanas, athletics and sports meetings, dramatic performances, concerts, festivals for all sorts of events.  We are so lucky to have this richness and diversity of activities in which we can participate.

But I just wonder how many of us really do take part in something like that?  We all like to enjoy them, but if a few more of us would lend a hand, we would actually enjoy them even more.  The old adage, what you put in you get out, is so true.

It is noticeable that where people volunteer to take on a small part of a big project, not only do their communities benefit hugely from this, so do they as individuals, making connections with people they don’t yet know, building stronger and more resilient communities where people help each other and give mutual support.

The Brits are really good for pulling together in a crisis.  Maybe this economic situation will keep bringing us together more, for the long term, in projects that engage and enthuse us!  What will you do in your community?