Substance – all about noticing

by maggie

To make ( art or craft – I hope you have all be listening to Greyson Perry’s Reith Lectures) is to take notice.
This week I wanted to talk about one of the modules of my BA (weave) from Farnham. It was all about taking notice. Paying attention to things that might otherwise have gone unreguarded. Substance, in the world of weave, refers to the feel of a fabric: its drape, its weight, its texture. In fabric design, we chose the yarn, the intersection and the finish. All these things go to make up a fabric’s substance. Colour and visual pattern is less than incidental, despite the apparent importance this has in most decisions about fabric choice in the very day*.

At the start of the module we were given leaves to examine. Think of all the different type of leaves there are: from the plastic shininess of ivy or holly, to the gentle downy softness of sage. How could we reproduce the feel of the leaves in a woven fabric? As you all know by now, I like to make life difficult for myself, so instead of trying to reproduce the touch of something straight forward, I chose the Savoy Cabbage…**

Although I had chosen an essentially two dimensional craft to master I was determined to breach the third dimension as much as possible. To recreate the substance of this leaf I needed to permanently pleat or gather sections of the fabric so forcing other areas to deform in to the little bubbles that characterise this kind of cabbage.
I’m fairly happy with the results I achieved at the end of the module. The majority of the fabric is linen, in a grid of wool yarns. Differential shrinkage in the two materials during the finishing process causes the little squares of linen to buckle up. There was a lot of experimentation to get the right proportion of linen and wool, with the useful spacing between them to allow the wool to felt and shrink. The cool ‘boney-ness’ of the linen even does somewhere towards reproducing the smooth feel of the surface of the leaf.

I later went on to use the knowledge I had gained during this module to produce a black, red and white wrap. Here longer floats between area of the ‘cabbage’ fabric evoke cinders in dying fire. I had noticed the pleasing longer floats when preparing my other samples and took my investigations further.

here the linen panes are attached to the wool back cloth during weaving, shrinkage in the wool enables everything to move and then stay in possition

here the linen panes are attached to the wool back cloth during weaving, shrinkage in the wool enables everything to move and then stay in possition

This module was all about noticing – which is more than looking – understanding what you are looking at perhaps, or connecting, drawing conclusions. Notice the leaf, and it’s essential properties. Notice the yarns, the intersections, the finishing processes. Notice the process the experimentation, of research.

I am still noticing things, of course. But as I am not weaving at the moment what stays with me most from this module is, how important non-visual aspects of an experience are in our heavily visual world.


* That’s because by the time we are choosing colours we have already decided whether we want an overcoat or a shear silk camisole.
**I did have a tutor who was successful in designing a fabric that felt like garlic skins, so it’s not that bizarre.