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You know how there sometimes seems to be a time when many things relating to the same subject seem to slot into place – whether it is a political mood such as we saw in the US and in the UK and elsewhere during this recession, or a vogue for an artform such as glass or ceramics where they suddenly become more popular with the general public – well, it seems to me that textiles are currently enjoying a rise in fortune, and along with that, jacquard weaving.

I know I’m biased, but there seems to be a resurgence of interest in this creative mode of weaving, largely due to the increased and cheaper availability of computerised jacquard looms suitable for study in university or the private studio.  Jacquard weaving has more of a presence now in conference topics and exhibitions and in textiles courses at university and this leads directly to increased interest in past techniques, historic  equipment and contemporary interpretation.

I find it really interesting and exciting to be involved in jacquard weaving.  My particular take isn’t a traditional one, although I use old looms and employ historic techniques of cutting cards, and lacing the cards together.  I find that having to use these old techniques has taught me so much about designing successfully for jacquard, especially as my looms only have small repeat sizes and different methods of repeat.  This is where you miss out if you do everything by computer.  That ‘up close and personal’ method of creating a mise-en-carte and ensuring it is going to repeat correctly, and working it so that you can use the same mise-en-carte to be able to cut several different versions of the same design, is something that just using the computer with a non-repeating design page will never give you. 

The possibilities of the non-repeating huge hook potential of some of the computerised hand jacquard looms is very exciting, but you can learn so much from having to keep within certain boundaries.  You can push those boundaries to the very limits and then some!  Sometimes unlimited choice is too much and you need to reduce your focus so that you can develop skills and knowledge. 

This is being brought home to me particularly at the moment as I have a student from New Zealand with me who is firstly learning with me, and then will be developing her skills further with Vibeke Vestby at the ETN conference workshops in July in Linz.  Agnes Hauptli is an experienced weaver but she has never woven on jacquards before, and studying on my sample hand-jacquards and visiting Macclesfield Silk Museum and Paradise Mill has given her an understanding that she just wouldn’t have had if she had learnt purely on a computerised hand jacquard loom. 

With conferences such as the ETN conference in July, with its emphasis on education and exhibition of jacquard work, as well as the interesting conference on jacquard held in North Carolina in January this year, jacquard is enjoying a well-deserved place in the sun.  How long it lasts is anyone’s guess, but whilst it is here, museums are set to benefit as well.  Museums such as Macclesfield Silk Museum, Whitchurch Silk Museum, Tilburg Textile Museum, and many others are wonderful centres of heritage equipment who are working with existing practitioners and new designers to make their museums relevant to today’s visitor as well as keeping alive the traditional skills that are in grave danger of disappearing. 

There is room for both computerised jacquard looms and the old traditional ways of doing things.  For me, creating a mise-en-carte, cutting and lacing my cards, whilst occasionally frustrating in the length of time it takes, is also a way of feeling connected to the weavers of the past, and elsewhere in the world.  It is a way of checking, double-checking and confirming that the design decisions I’ve made are good ones and of understanding deeply the main fundamentals of jacquard weaving.  With the computerised looms, there is increased accessibility for people from non-textile and non-weaving backgrounds. 

The computer age has enabled its technological predecessor to take centre stage again.  Long may it continue!!