Building blocks

Once again our Handweavers Diploma group has set a new challenge, with a view to an exhibition sometime next year. Rather than produce finished items, we are each going to create swatch books based on specific weaving structures, design sources, or any other inspiration. The choice is ours, and the resulting diversity of work should be very interesting. We have always found we learn most through exploration and sharing ideas, and so the challenge seems the perfect occupation during lockdown.

I have chosen to focus on block designs, and to explore the different weave structures which can be used to create blocks. My design inspiration is the German Bauhaus weaving artist Anni Albers, and lockdown has given me the opportunity to read about her life, and to re-visit many of the designs I had the pleasure of seeing at the Anni Albers retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern in 2018. I felt a special connection to her work, as she herself felt inspired by ancient textiles from around the world, most especially those from Peru, which she regarded particularly highly.

I was particularly drawn to her plain weave wall hangings, where she combines abstract modernism with the simplest of weave structures – although the simultaneous weaving of multiple layers is conceptually far from simple! I have chosen to limit myself to 6 shafts to create a design based on her 1926 study Black White Yellow. I am most grateful for the illuminating analysis of the tapestry by American weaver Jane Eisenstein, and also for the discussions I have had with fellow weavers Janice McGonigle and Melanie Venes. The simple combination of just 3 colours in a double weave structure creates intriguing design possibilities – and it has been so liberating to explore and play without the pressure of producing a finished item!

Clockwise from top left: Anni Albers – Black White Yellow 1926; my exploratory swatches

Another design inspiration was a wonderful exhibition of African textiles which I visited last autumn at the Brunei Gallery, within SOAS, University of London. This was an opportunity to see some of the exquisite Karun Thakar Collection, arguably the best and largest collection of African textiles anywhere in the world. Many of these textiles are woven in narrow strips which are then joined to create larger pices of cloth. I was particularly drawn to the cloth woven by the Ewe people of Ghana or south-west Togo, with its deceptively simple block designs, often in a limited colour palette. Taking a particular cloth as a design source, I developed a ‘summer and winter’ weave pattern which I then wove in linen, recycled ‘jeans’ cotton and silk. ‘Summer and winter’ weave structure is so-called because when classically woven with a light warp and dark weft, the front and back of the resulting cloth carry the same design, but dark on one side, light on the other.

From left: images of cloth from the SOAS exhibition of African textiles, middle: front and back of summer and winter design, right: exploring pssibilities of design, including a polychromatic variant

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