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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

25 September, 2011

Friends and journeys

One of the lovely things about weaving is the friends you gather from all corners of the globe.  Well, strictly speaking, there are no corners of course, but you know what I mean…

I have been focussing on my first contextual essay in my masters studies this week, and enjoying the research, but lots of hours in front of the computer is never good for you in the long run, so it was lovely to have two weaving friends from Detroit, Richard and Chris, to stop over on their way down to Cambridge and London.  We first met through Complex Weavers in 2006, and then Chris and Richard came for a jacquard course with me here in the UK prior to renovating the jacquard loom at the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village, Deerfield, Michigan.  They did a superb job with the renovations and cutting cards for a coverlet which they weave in the weaving shop at the museum – well worth a visit if you’re in the vicinity of Detroit.

They also popped in to see a mutual weaving friend, Neil Warburton of Context Weavers, at his mill in Helmshore.  One of Neil’s pet projects has been the restoration of a carriage lace loom (known as coach lace in the US).  These looms have a jacquard head but weave quite narrow fabric, utilising many different techniques including cut pile weaves and loops.  These are based on the principles of weaving velvet, which I learned on my course at the Lisio Foundation in 2004 in Florence, Italy.  US weaver Barbara Setsu Pickett has devised a way of setting up a velvet creel which can be made from easily available diy hardware and put on the back of most table and floor looms, so enabling the non-jacquard weaver to weave these methods.  Richard and Chris are also really interested in carriage lace, and have an old loom in need of restoration at the Henry Ford Museum, so this visit was of mutual interest to them all.

They also visited Dan Coughlan at the Paisley Museum and Art Gallery, whom I talked about in a previous post last year.  Like me, they were bowled over by the wonderful paisley patterns and the transparent gauze weaves that Paisley mills specialised in.

It was great to catch up with them and to pour over some historic documents they have pertaining to the carriage lace loom in Michigan.  I’d love to be able to analyse the bands to see just what techniques were used.

Anyway, having waved them off, I now have to travel myself – back up to Aberdeen to collect my work from the exhibition, Fabric of the Land, which has now finished.  The exhibition may have finished, but I am basing my contextual essay on issues which came to mind whilst reading the brief, preparing work for the exhibition, and the work that was on show in the exhibition.

I love that the masters is stretching my mind in more ways than I had anticipated, and challenges me at every level, and that art throws up more questions than it answers, keeping our minds active and questioning, not allowing us to sit on our laurels or relax in assumptions.

11 September, 2011

Weaving education in the UK

Filed under: Life — admin @ 3:35 pm

For the last 10 days, 12 weavers have been studying intensively at the Handweavers Studio in Finsbury Park, North London on the Handweavers’ Diploma course.  This is one of just two study courses that I know of that non-mainstream weaving students can take.  (I would like to stress that I am not including weekly classes that people can attend, just the intensive courses.)  As a tutor on the Handweavers Diploma, I can tell you more about that. The other is run by Janet Phillips and you can get more information from her website.  The two courses are quite different from each other, and also have a distinct difference to degree courses.

The Handweavers’ Diploma has been developed after the long-running Bradford Diploma for Handloom Weaving ceased in any viable way.  For many years, the Bradford and Ilkley Community College in Yorkshire ran a diploma course that stretched weavers to think beyond recipes and challenged them to extend their knowledge in a supportive, intensive learning environment that weavers with family committments could undertake.  Many people come to weaving after their formal educational years, and quite often have family responsibilities for parents, children and siblings which don’t allow for full-time, mainstream degree-level participation.  The Bradford Diploma circumvented this problem.

My own involvement was as a student in the early 1990s, when the rules were pretty strict, and we were only allowed to use 4 shafts, and not to re-thread a loom once it had been threaded for a set of samples.  We were allowed to replace up to 1/3 of the warp, but all the heddles had to be in place ready for the re-placement without the re-threading of the whole warp.  How this would have been policed is anybody’s guess, but as I am a rule-abiding student, I learned to plan my heddles so that I placed the required number of empty heddles in the sections I wanted to replace.  It stood me in good stead in later warps!

We also had to learn spinning, dyeing and braiding, and take a final examination in all sections, as well as weaving 10 warps which had to display a wide range of original drafts and samples across a very wide spectrum of weaving techniques.

In later years, the Bradford Diploma evolved into an affiliated main-stream qualification (BTEC, I think) with more of an emphasis on design, and expanded to 8 shafts, without the spinning, dyeing and braiding requirements.  However, the learning format remained the same – an intensive study period (a week – 10 days), followed by private study, interspersed with a couple of weekends, and another week at the end of the study.  Design briefs were issued for the various warps.

However, numbers gradually dwindled and because it was now part of main-stream teaching, low numbers meant the course was cut.

This is the point at which Wendy Morris stepped in, and with Melanie Venes as the main tutor, and several other experienced weavers as additional tutors, the Handweavers’ Diploma was developed.  The format has pretty much remained the same, but with no affiliation, the diploma can be tailored much more to the students’ needs rather than to a specified curriculum.  It is a two-year course for weavers who want to take their weaving to another level and provides students with an excellent grounding whether they want to pursue a career as a designer-maker, or a teacher of handweaving, or purely for their own satisfaction.  The initial summer school of ten days gives a good grounding for project-based learning with regular tutor contact and quarterly teaching weekends so that students can gain an intermediate to advanced knowledge and understanding of a wide variety of weave structures, develop their weaving skills to an expert level and build their creative skills and confidence to be innovative in their weaving.

For weavers who are serious about developing their skills, curious about weave, and adventurous in their approach, this is better than a university course, in my opinion.  Each individual is encouraged to develop their own style right from the start.  This year’s intake of 12 students, including one from overseas, was the first and I look forward to seeing how each person develops their weaving skill and expression over the next two years.