Artist in Residence & Fibre Explorations

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Day 1

  When I thought about what I really wanted to learn on my residency I thought about the endless variations and scope of weavings and realised there is no limit to its possibilities. So I had to narrow it down. And narrow it down to those things not so easily learnt. And to me, the double weave technique kept popping up. It seems to open up so many creative possibilities and holds a fascination that I have been very excited to explore.

So prior to my residency I wound on a warp of two distinctive colours, with the plan to thread this straight onto the loom for some double weave magic.

It was good to start the week with the concentration of threading this warp on. I always think of threading as the discipline before the creative play that is weaving. 

I am very much a freestyle weaver, loving the freedom that the Saori weaving gives you, permission to create how and as you choose, it’s almost like your hands take the direction and you follow on. Not so with double weave. This week is about getting out of my comfort zone, following charts, graphs and instructions and having a clear end result in mind. So I switched my mindset and focused on learning new techniques.

I first worked some rows as a simple plain weave, before separating the dark and light into the two separate layers of weave. As I got used to following the chart and I could see the results taking shape, I found my mind starting to work on the possibilities double weave can inspire. By working on the basics of structure, the possibilities of building on from that are endless. Tomorrow I will extend on the double weave, adding more details and techniques.

I also brought with me a white warp ready for some shibori weaving. It took a moment to set it up on the loom (thanks Kaz) and I made a good start. This weave is all white, no colour changes as you go as the magic will happen with those extra threads we weave in to create the resist for dyeing. I am adding texture though and am also planning to add the texture with other natural yarns – silk, cotton, linen – I am fascinated to see the resulting play of colour as the different fibres take up the dye differently. 

Day 2

  After a lovely morning walk on the beach I was keen to get back to the studio. With two looms already in action and plans for warp painting and more today I was itching to get started. 

While I wove the shibori weave yesterday a design was forming in my mind, one that may take longer than I have time for, so I spent quite a lot of the morning working on that. It felt good to fall into the rhythm of weaving.

Today was also about dyeing, or more precisely, warp painting and ikat. So first up we gathered a varied selection of cottons and one linen and wound those into a warp. With some resists tied we then headed to the dye pots and mixed colours to paint onto the fibre. Using warm earthy colours, with rich deep shades, so different from the softer ones I tend to do at home, we massaged the colours into the warp and also into a skein for the weft. Needless to say I’m longing to get the warp on the loom and start the weaving. 

Much of the afternoon was spent working on the double warp – concentrating on trying different techniques, tubular, one sided opening, central opening and swapping and mixing the colours. Tomorrow I will add Leno to it. I’ve never been someone who does swatches and test runs, so this is a great discipline for me, concentrating on techniques rather than the end product. But of course design will always work its way in and I think the end result will be acceptable. 

After the concentration of double weave, the rail reed was a lovely way to unwind and spend an hour or two. The rail reed varies the warp threads, spreading them out or bringing them in close together. This creates endless possibilities of structure, shape and form, with open spaces inviting a pop of colour or a fine translucent thread. This is a style of weaving that takes patience, allowing the threads to move into their changing positions over the course of the weave, rather than expecting them to just jump from spot to spot. This is what I plan to master tomorrow – giving those warp threads the time they need to move as they choose

Day 3

With two days of weaving and learning behind me it felt wonderful to walk into the studio and have no less than 3 looms up and running with different projects. I also still had the dyed warp ready for rinsing. 

But before any of that could begin we had some lovely visitors who were interested in seeing and hearing all about the residency. Like many arts, weaving can be a solitary activity, so it is always invigorating and inspiring to meet others, whether experienced weavers or just starting out. We can all learn so much from the conversations that flow so naturally with shared interests.

It was a lovely change of pace and a very enjoyable morning. Afterwards it was back to the looms and first of all I set about finishing the shibori weave. I am keen to get it off the loom and ready to dye tomorrow. Yesterday’s dyed warp was ready for rinsing. A simple enough process and it was soon out on the line drying in the sun. The colours have come out beautifully, rich and deep without being too bright. We dyed a skein too, using the same colours, but mixed differently, a softer, earthier colour. It will be interesting to see the changes when they are woven together. 

I spent some time on the rail reed weaving today too. The weave is a very loose and fine one, with pops of blue and green throughout. Today I tried to slowly change it, spreading some colour along the full width, still loose and translucent, but with some solid blocks of white to counterbalance it. It is an interesting way to weave, being able to vary the movement of the warp threads, but having to take it slowly, not rushing the threads into their new positions. It is a fascinating concept that I am very keen to explore some more.

Day 4

  Last night, I took the shibori home to our lovely B&B and tied all the shibori threads ready for dyeing in the morning. As I tied them I realised how I could improve on my threading, to make it both easier to tie and easier to make those ties as tight as possible. My shibori threads weren’t the best, but they were acceptable and I managed to get them fairly tight.

So first thing this morning we mixed some colours, and I gently spread them over this strangely shaped bundled up piece of weaving. While I didn’t want the colour to soak too far into the tied sections, I also wanted the colours to blend gently, without leaving too many areas bare. So I had to be very gentle massaging those colours through, being mindful not to get too carried away. Then it was time to set it on to heat and head back into the studio to our next project.

I was keen to do some more double weaving. I’ve learnt so much with this project and today was no exception, with some Leno lace work, first the dark blue opening up little windows to the green below, and then reversing the colours and repeating the process. We could have done so much more but time was getting away and by now the shibori had cooled and was ready for that magical moment of cutting those tight little threads. It is always a magical moment when you first open up a dye project and see the transformation the colour has brought. I have to say I was very happy with the result. The colours were blended nicely, but you could also see patterns from the undyed areas. I like to think future projects will be a whole lot better, but as my first attempt I was happy. I think this one is destined to hang in my studio.

Today is my last day of this amazing week, so the afternoon was spent tying up loose ends. But we did find a moment to look into the world of Saori cloth construction and sewing. The large length I wove prior to our trip looks perfect for a long sleeveless jacket and while there was no time for the cutting and sewing, I can go home and confidently set about the work. We also looked at the versatility of cutting your woven cloth on the bias, how this simple style can create everything from loose summery tops to long stylish dresses. If stock on our ashculme textile website starts to fall it’s because I’m busy weaving some cloth for an exciting new wardrobe for myself.

So my highly anticipated week is drawing to a close. Out old dog is exhausted from all the walks on the beach (coming from regional NSW it was an exciting change to chasing alpacas!) my husband has breathed in lots of sea air and visited some great places with his own guide in Dave who has so many interesting stories and knowledge. And we have gained a ridiculous amount of weight with all the goodies we kept eating, both from Kaz and our wonderful landlady who would invariably leave a basket of fresh food by the door.

And what have I gained? So much – knowledge, inspiration, excitement and confidence in moving onwards with my own weaving studio, not only weaving the pieces I love to weave, but having that space available for people of all walks of life to come and explore their own creative side, or just to use the space for the quiet contemplation that weaving can bring. And I have gained in friendship, which really is the most important of all, isn’t it.