Friday, January 30, 2015

Progress So Far

My original plan to pick The Beast up was thwarted by winter weather - I didn't fancy the M62 in snow in an unfamiliar car - so college work was initially limited to a colour study and texture study.


I also blocked out 8 or 9 swatch ideas in my sketchbook, with space to put the sample pieces after they are washed and finished, to help me make the final ideas. I also tried spinning some art yarn, trapping chenille in silk and the green slub yarn in the warp to try to mimic the spots on the onside of the shell.

I then set off to Bradford a week later than planned, to pick up The Beast and also have my first tutorial. I arrived early, so I could work through some of the patterns in my college notes. First I went back to the vertical rib and tried different combinations of colours. I also used clasped weft to add blocks of lighter areas.

I also tried a variety of hopsacks and stitched hopsacks.

I also used my art yarn. I prefer the weft faced twill at the bottom to the crepe at the top.

My tutor gave me some good feed back and some more ideas, but I've got a lot of small samples to work through before I make the final decisions on the swatches to make!

Saturday, January 24, 2015


Well, it's nearly a week since I returned home from Bradford and I have done...nothing. Zip. Nada.


My car has been in for repair this week and I have been driving a very nice but completely unfamiliar courtesy car, so when the snow came on Wednesday, I didn't fancy the freezing fog over the Pennines and decided not to go to Bradford to collect the Beast. This means all I have been able to do is dream ideas for swatches. I need to capture them in my sketch book before I forget them, but haven't managed to find a rhythm for the days yet. In part this was because I wanted to finish clearing the workspace where the loom would be (very time consuming) but also partly because I have travelled down to Oxfordshire and back over the last couple of days to collect my parents ready for the Strictly Live! Tour tomorrow. (When I booked the tickets, Dad hadn't had a date for his impending cataract op. He's now had it, it's not gone as smoothly as it might and he's currently not allowed to drive). I take them back straight after the show tomorrow, then come back Monday, so hopefully I can get to it then.

Until then, I'll keep dreaming in twill...

And as for tomorrow? Bring on the sequins!

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Winter Workshop: Day 7

Well, I started today with an injury! I've been breaking the weft threads by hand when I've been changing them, and this morning I wondered why it hurt :

Well, it hurt because the linen in the thread had cut my skin on the side of my finger, somewhat similar to a paper cut. Ouch!

I carried on with the plain weave copying the pattern of the warp threads as weft.

Towards the end, I changed how I beat the fabric, and I much prefer the tighter beat. It's far more even.

However, I had misinterpreted the expectation of the weekend. I thought by the end I needed to have some of my 8 swatches done, and actually, I needed to have tried all sorts of different effects and patterns with different yarns this weekend, as I was gently reminded by my tutor (oops).

By this stage I had very little weaving time left before the group critique, where we had to present our work and comment on everyone else's. Oops again.

Just time to try another weft rib across 4 warp threads, but this time in two alternating colours, so it builds up alternating blocks (here in the sandalwood and green). I might try this again to match the colour study but adding a thin grey into the green and swapping the sandalwood for dark natural. I also tried a 4/4 twill in two different colours. First I used the green slub which is in my warp, which really mimics the diagonal lines in the shell. Then I switched to a thicker yarn, to see the effect of using a different weight yarn. It really pops with the thicker yarn.

Finally I used a very thin grey thread used with three strands held together to try satin (bottom, just above the green) and sateen (top).

I still have lots more things to try from my notes, but I'll be taking a break now as I've left the loom (aka Harris Tweed aka The Beast) at college - no way could I take that back on the train! I'll pick him up later on in the week. Before I do, I'd better make some space in my work room, or he'll never fit in...

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Winter Workshop: Day Six

Today has been all about the weaving!

I started by trying each of the yarns in turn in plan weave (each of the warp thread alternating up, down, up down, etc.), to see how they interacted with the warp threads, to better match the shell's exterior and interior:

Note the inspiration pictures pinned up - this is a must, according to my tutor. I must continually reference my visual research for each swatch, although obviously, the visual research I reference may change slightly for each of the 8 swatches, e.g. be a paint study, a collage, a scanned image as it is here, etc.. Better get my cork board back on the wall above my work table when I get back home!

Then I started playing with different shaft patterns. First, hopsack, in the green, natural and dark pink chenille, where little block patterns are made:

The green is 2/2 hopsack, where the warp pattern is two up, two down, and I passed the weft through twice before changing the shed (swapping the ups and downs). The cream and the chenille are both in 4/4 hopsack, where the warp threads are lifted 4 up and 4 down, and the weft passed through 4 times before swapping them over.

Then onto rib patterns. First I tried some green bouclĂ© in a vertical rib (warp alternating one up, one down, but the weft passing 4 times) , then a horizontal rib in the cream and natural, (warp lifts 4 up, 4 down, but the weft is passed through just once).


Towards the end of the day, I began to work on my first swatch, which is simply the pattern of the warp threads woven across them as weft. The green is a transition area where I'll cut and finish the swatch for presentation.

Tomorrow is more weaving in the morning, then group crit, where we look at each other's work and comment on it, followed by individual tutorials, then home. I've loved it, but it's been intense, and I'll be glad to get back to my own bed!

Friday, January 16, 2015

Winter Workshop: Day Five

Considering how much I've done today, I have very little to show for it!

This morning was library familiarisation and a bit about research techniques as part of the Contextual Studies unit (no, me neither). Unfortunately the morning derailed a bit firstly due to a very persuasive catering student who got us in the training restaurant for their coffee morning. Service was a bit of a shambles, but they were very very polite and apologetic in all the right places and the scones were ace. The
second derailment occurred when the tutor had to leave early to go to a family emergency (don't worry, not major!), so we did some of the research for the group seminar but didn't deliver it. That will be postponed until March, which gives me some time to find out the contextual influences on and of the Pre-Raphaelite movement (safe ground, I know some stuff!) and Abstract Expressionism ( not so sure!). However I did find out that the artists grouped together as part of the Abstract Expressionist movement were based broadly in New York in the 1940s and 1050s, vehemently disliked the label and resisted it as they felt their individual styles and subject matter were so different and extended way beyond Jackson Pollock's dribbles and Mark Rothko's stripes.

The afternoon was back in the textile workshop. I'd tried to get a head start before the morning session but managed to break the second warp thread I threaded and then threaded some up wrong (I inadvertently had a caffeinated coffee a breakfast and was a bit jittery!).

Anyway.... By 3pm I had threaded all the warp threaded through the heddles:

Then managed to sley the threads through the reed quite quickly (this keeps the threads a nice even space apart and also acts as a beater to push the weft threads down firmly):

And then, I took over an hour to tie the threads onto the front beam. Well, I tell a lie, it took less than ten minutes to tie them on, but it took me over and hour to tighten them so they were all the same tension with no saggy bits. I think I must now hold the record for the slowest time to read a loom! The tutor then demonstrated some of the different patterns we could make and finally, at 5:20pm I was able to start weaving! Don't mock my small progress here though:

Because in the forty minutes it took me to do this, I had to pull three threads out and rethread them through the reed because I'd got two of them crossed, and one linen/silk thread kept slipping and going baggy one so needed sorting out. But I got there!

More tomorrow...

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Winter Workshop Day Four

Today's missive has hardly any pictures as I had my hands full most of the day!

First was some maths to work out how far apart to space my yarns and therefore how many threads I needed in my warp to weave across 8 inches of fabric. (132 in this case, adding a couple extra either side to make a firm selvedge. Then it was an hour and a half to measure out the 7 metre long threads on the warping board.
Here's an oh-so-arty shot of  my warp. Rather nice, I think.

After lunch I then started to dress the loom. I had about four hours and I hoped that would be enough to take the warp off the board and onto the loom, but of course because I've never done it before I needed to stop at each stage and check I wasn't going wrong.

I made a huge braid of the warp (sorry, no photos) then took a while to space the threads out evenly on the back of the loom. After that it took about an hour to wind the warp onto the back roller (have you any idea just how long 7 metres?) For those with the technical interest, I'm using linen blends (mainly linen and wool but some linen and silk) and they are fine, so I will be using a 16 ends per inch reed (eek!). After that I began threading the warp threads through the heddles -the little holes in metal bars that allow you to lift the threads up and down. By 5pm I had done half of them, but then needed to stop, tidy up my bench in the art studio and move my gear into the textile studio (BA students need the art studio tomorrow) and then needed to find out how to log on to the computer. So my loom is currently left like this:
Library familiarisation and research techniques tomorrow morning, then back to the loom in the afternoon!.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Winter Workshop Day Three

Went into college this morning with a vague sense of dissatisfaction - the colour work was too flat. Everyone else had such depth, and even if they were working with neutrals their work had a vibrancy that mine seemed to lack. To perk myself up, When I got in, the first thing I did was the string print that I ran out of time for.

Ta da!

Something I liked! I also made a number of partial prints of parts of the string, but forgot to grab photos of those!

Then I decided to make a colour study based on the black and white viewfinder piece, and began to experiment with different ways to use the brushes to try to get something with more depth. It was very time consuming, (it's on an A3 page), so isn't finished yet (story of this week so far!)

Now I felt a bit more like I was getting somewhere.

We were also challenged to use the viewfinder not on the object itself but on a piece of colour work from yesterday, and work that up, perhaps including texture. I returned to Lady Windermere's Fan, even though the blue wash means it's not right for my design. It jars too much. I forgot to photograph that too, and again it's not quite finished (sigh), but honestly, you're not missing much.

Next step was to take my little shell and my sketch book into the CAD room (computer aided design) to scan into Photoshop and zoom into small areas. Eureka!

Now we're talking! Zooming in to look at the detail on the inside of the shell has really helped me to find a more cohesive colour palette. By the end of March I need eight fabric swatches  for my assessment and they need to be obviously related - in fact we will be winding 7 metre warps which will be long enough for all eight swatches, so I needed to find that link that would thread through all of the images.

After lunch we started to design our warp. First step? Armed with a colour study and/or photos from our sketch books and a shopping basket ( I kid you not!) we browsed shelf upon shelf of coned yarns to suit our colour palette. I found some neutrals based on ecru and a pinkish brown and tried a couple of different yarn wraps to start designing the warp.

First I tried using a linen/silk as my main neutral with three other tones picking up colours from the photos of the shells (top left). I decided it was a little 'icy' so swapped the main colour to a neutral linen/wool with pink/brown tones  (top right). I much preferred this but of course I managed to pick a yarn that my tutor reckons there isn't enough of for what I needed (same goes for the linen/silk in the first wrap). After spending what seemed like ages trying to find another cone of it, my tutor found an almost-but-not-quite-matching cone. By this time, three of the other weavers had made their wraps, done the maths and started winding their warps (yikes!) but had all gone for more random striping than I had. Also, seeing how to calculate the number of ends of each block of colour (not quite as simple as just counting them!) freed me up to swap out the maize yarn for a subtler green with a slub and a sheen, and also add a sandalwood to get a reddish brown in there. By 7:30 tonight, 10 hours after starting that large colour study, I had finally designed my warp (bottom). It's really subtle, randomly striped and I love it!

Tomorrow, I wind my warp - yikes!

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Winter Workshop Day Two

Today started with finishing up the black and white studies, so I used a small viewfinder on my shell and scaled it up into an A3 page. I used graphitone washes and pen and ink. I really like this and can see weave pattern possibilities:

I also used string to draw the shell, with a view to printing from it. I ran out of time today, so did a quick charcoal rubbing instead for now.

Then we started work in colour. First we made a colour wheel and also experimented with adding white, burnt umber or black to the true colours on the wheel (that's the set of small squares at the bottom), to create tints, tones and shades. I used Spectrum Red, so my purple came out very dark - it needed some Rose Tyrean added to lift it to aubergine, but it's still a bit dark. Would be interested to try Primary Red which is much pinker red, to see what that comes out like.

Then it was colour studies. I went back to the shell and made a range of neutrals to explore. Apart from the shape, it's not particularly representative -stripes in the black and white study, spots in this! I like the palette though, and the lift of the pink.

After lunch we went into the print studio, and tried batik techniques on paper. We used Procion dyes to add the colour. I tried different paper and began to explore different ways to later on the colour. I took photos of the pieces before I ironed them to melt the wax.

I'm so glad I took those photos, because once I'd ironed the abstract pieces (2&3), I didn't like the effect of the melted wax soaking into the paper at all. The black and pink one didn't work, as the batik wax masking small spots of pink all came off when I washed the black over anyway *sigh*. I picked most of the blobs of wax off the shell shaped one (now dubbed Lady Windermere's Fan for obvious reasons) before ironing it, and I wish I'd known I could do that to the others. Ah well.

More colour studies tomorrow morning, plus scanning and manipulating photos, then it's into the textile workshop in the afternoon and a start on the looms - squeeee!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Winter Workshop Day One

So this is it! Back to college and in a totally new discipline. Excitement and nerves were all mixed together as I arrived in Bradford last night. This morning we had a tour of the department and a look at previous students' work. We also found out more about the course structure.

This afternoon, it was starting the visual research for the first project brief, Organics. First we just explored the different black and white mark making tools we had. It was supposed to be random, but I think it will take a while to stop thinking like a primary teacher, because I just *had* to turn it into a title page for my sketch book...
Then I had to focus on one object, and use a view finder to zoom in. I also used it to carry on exploring with some of the media I've not used before like the graphitone.
I liked my first drawing (top left) but it went downhill from there. The final piece, on the buff paper, is awful, much more like a deformed killer whale than flint, and to be honest, I couldn't see how I could get a weave structure from it for fabric deign (although the demented killer whale could lend itself to colour blocks in different greys).
In the last half hour, I tried a shell instead, which I think has much more scope for weave patterns. I enjoyed sloshing the ink over the wax resist on the paper, too!
Tomorrow it's finish this off and then start exploring colour. I'm completely shattered, but I can't wait!

Sunday, January 11, 2015

New Year, New Beginnings

You may have gathered from the last post that there has been a bit of reflection, nay one might even say navel gazing, going on at here at Casa del Tales. The upshot of it is I have decided that 2015 is the time to take my life in a different direction. I left work at the end of last term and I am going back to college to do a part time HNC in Contemporary Constructed Textiles, specialising in weaving (its official title is something to do with Fashion and Textile Design, but we don't touch fashion particularly, it's all about designing and making the textiles). It is a Bradford Course, meaning it's run  by Bradford School of Art and Media, part of Bradford College. The College has grown from a number of different establishments including Bradford Technical College, which was strongly rooted in textile education. Woolly people may well have realise that Bradford wasonce  the centre of the worsted textile industry not just in the UK but in the world; Cottonopolis lay to the west of the Pennines, Worstedopolis to the east.

As the course is part time, I will come to Bradford three times in each academic year. The remainder of the time I will work at home, designing and weaving first swatches for particular projects, then moving onto fabrics with a finished use in mind.

Alongside this, I will be setting up my own handdyed yarn and fibre business. I aim to build on the positive response I've had selling at Guild meetings and to groups and grow my online shop. Currently I have a shop hosted by Etsy, but I'm looking to move over to my own shop on my website soon.

I haven't left teaching completely - my Head wants to keep me for supply and I'm quite happy for this, too, and there is always scope for developing textiles workshops for schools, right?

So there you go. Pretty big news, huh? I'm hoping to use this blog as a kind of diary of the college process. The business side will stay with the podcast, which will soon be moving over to my own website at - it's still a bot under construction, but there is a link to the Etsy shop, if you want to take a look. Meanwhile, stay tuned for more textiles adventures (or misadventures!)

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Oh Dear

I had such plans for the Knitting and Crochet Blog Week and then, WHAM!
Work smacked me upside the head so hard that by the time I remembered to blog, it was three weeks after the event.

Oh dear.

No use crying over spilt milk, though. What's done is done, and can't be undone, as someone's granny used to say.

It's probably a sad indication of my work/life balance that the funny things and observations I used to blog about here don't get recorded anymore, not even on Twitter. I don't know if that's because they don't happen to me anymore, or because I'm just rushing around with my head down so much that I don't notice them.

William Henry Davies knew what he was talking about, though:
What is this life if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
And stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
Streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
That's what I feel life has become increasingly like over the last few years. No time to stand, no time to stare, no time to breathe, no time to just be, even.

So, a little late perhaps, but here's my New Year's Resolution.

I resolve that I will take time out of what I know will be a busy year and stand and stare, to breathe, to be and I invite you to join me.