Stories from the weave studio: February

A sense of place

Snow changes everything. I cycle past this unremarkable tree growing against this unremarkable wall almost every day, but during the recent cold weather the reflection from the snow cast it in a completely different the light. The orange tag sings out against the grey that has been rendered Payne’s grey in the reflected light and the trunk glows in contrast. A fleeting moment, depending on the angle of the sun and the presence of snow. Next time it snows, this tree will have grown, the wall will have weathered, and the tag may be lost.

It’s familiarity that brings a sense of place – a feeling of belonging. Knowing each twist and turn a path takes and where the uneven paving slabs are. Snow removes this familiarity and makes us look at the world with fresh eyes. I’ve become preoccupied with this image. The colours and form. It’s stored, in my mind’s eye, waiting to be used.

Black and white inspiration

With the world reduced to black and white, I’ve coincidentally also been working in a very limited colour palette. Unable to travel, I’m using old maps as a reference for memory, weaving them into my work as a metaphor for the contours of a well-trodden landscape.

On the loom

Delving deeper into the concept of fixing a transient memory, a happening, an event, into something solid, I’ve been weaving with newspaper. Trapping the stories and events of the day in the warp. This is an incredibly slow process as I can’t use shuttle to insert the paper weft. Every piece has to be inserted by hand and eased into place before changing the shed and using the beater. The result is an abstract motif which is punctuated by the highly textured warp.

This work takes reference from some very early work using various handmade, sliced and painted papers.

Crafting Business

This renewed direction in my work has come about after working on my artist’s statement as part of the Crafting Business programme run by Crafts Council NL in conjunction with Crafting Europe. It was fascinating to be a part of the online Crafting Business Seminar, with speakers contributing from eight different countries across Europe. Participants came from as far afield as the Ukraine and Georgia to those closer to home in The Netherlands, the UK, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy, and it was an insight into how other programmes were run and how other craftspeople work. The seminar was recorded and will be available to view online shortly.

Dutch landscape

In winter, there’s a stark beauty in the polderlands of the Randstad region of The Netherlands where I live. Wetlands and reeds provide a sanctuary for migrating birds, and there’s a melancholy in the colours and forms. At first glance the landscape seems empty and colourless, but looking closely, the dogwood branches glow ruby red in the cold scarce light, and the trees and reeds are subtly painted with mossy greens and rich warm browns and greys. Moving through the landscape, an underlying rhythm of jewel-like pops of colour emerges: dun, ochre, earth colours and steely blue. Broken by the constantly flat horizon and the big, big sky. The wind rattles the reeds, like so many whispers, bringing to mind the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s The Hollow Men.

 We are the hollow men
    We are the stuffed men
    Leaning together
    Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
    Our dried voices, when
    We whisper together
    Are quiet and meaningless
    As wind in dry grass

The Hollow Men, by T.S. Eliot

A continuous thread

Originally from the UK, I’ve lived in The Netherlands for many years now, and am beginning to feel a sense of place here. The local woods, which I’ve grown to know intimately since the first lockdown of last spring have become a constant friend. Seeing the seasons turn and the ebb and flow of the months is grounding. Limitations and travel restrictions have meant being unable to return to my home country for many months now, and I can feel the pull of the hills, the wild ancient places where history lies thick in the ground. As life moves on, with each passing year, more and more experience is gained, and all of this, a combined life in The Netherlands and the UK, is reflected in my work through the colours, patterns and materials. Experience grows year on year, and the work that I do now is an extension to that of a decade ago, and, throughout it all, there is a continuous thread that makes it distinct. A personal palette and handwriting that continues to evolve.

Thank you for joining me on my journey through the year. I hope to see you here again for my next blog in March; it would be great to have you.

With warm February wishes, Veronica

Stories from the weave studio: January

New beginnings

Winter on the canal

Buds and catkins are already forming on the willow trees, the first stirrings of life as nature begins to react to the increasing levels of light. The cold sky reflects off the canal; the light is blue in these northern climes. The days are getting longer and, after a flurry of snow at the weekend, the temperature has warmed again.

January is named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, transitions and endings, and is depicted as having two faces, one looking back at the old year and one looking forward to the new. This time of year naturally lends itself to quiet contemplation and embarking on something new.

On the loom

Still on my loom from before the holiday break is a warp in blues and greys. I find it useful to come back to something already begun after a time away from the studio, as I can pick up from where I left off, not needing to start from scratch. It often helps to have time to let an idea sit and be turned over in my mind, before returning to it with fresh ideas. Two more scarves have since come off this warp, and a short section using a beautiful soft mohair and ecological wool that I plan to use for cushion fabric.

Studio view

The creative process isn’t always the tidiest or most Instagram-able; my studio space moves through various stages of messiness and chaos, punctuated by a periodic tidy. The materials are often inspiration in themselves, so it helps to have them on view. Then happy accidents can occur where two colours or textures next to each other will suddenly leap out at me as a possible combination for a new piece of work. The studio here is in a state of relative calm.

Drawn to the sea for inspiration

At this time of year I feel drawn to the sea. To feel the winds from colder places icey on my face and smell the salt on the air. The beach is strewn with treasures: cockle shells in soft browns and greys, striated pebbles and rare finds like cuttlefish bone, otherworldly, glowing luminous and pearlescent on the sand, and the dark mysterious ‘mermaid’s purse’, in this instance the egg case of a skate.

The way to the beach passes through dunes, a mixture of grasses and shrubs, toughened and blasted, twisted into contorted forms by the prevailing wind. The flow of the grasses is echoed in the weathered wooden balustrade of the steps leading down to the sand. The Dutch coastline is peppered with the concrete remains of the Atlantic wall. These brutalist concrete structures were built as a coastal defence and fortification against allied invasion during the Second World War, and still remain as a stark reminder against the skyline. Their battered patina has blended them into their environment.

Future work

Right now I’m starting out on some new, more conceptual woven work; something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. Work starts on paper, using inks, wax resist and mono print, playing with colours and forms. Simultaneously, I’m turning to nature for inspiration, and also the yarns I have to hand in my studio, searching out the more unusual materials that I’ve come across. And of course referring back to woven samples made last year.

A small seasonal sale

As a fresh start to the new year, I’ve been sorting through older woven sample scarves and old stock. These are now available at reduced prices in my shop. I also have just a couple of my calendars left in store; you can use the code CALENDAR2021 to get 25% discount at check out. Making space for the old, so that I can welcome in the new.

Finally…

Beginning the year in lockdown has its challenges, but spring is just around the corner and I’m looking to nature and stolen moments at my loom to carry me through until things get better. And for the moment I’m going to enjoy what winter has to offer.

Blue night. Enormous Arctic air. Orion’s belt.
A geostationary satellite.
The birds all sheltering or flown

Blue night by Sean O’Brien

Thank you for reading this far. I hope to see you here again for my next blog in February; it would be great to have you join me on my journey through the year.

With warm January wishes,

Veronica

In the woods

Stories from the weave studio: December

Tradition

Winter trees

Today, 21st December, marks the winter solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. The longest night. It’s a time for tradition, timeless festivals and rituals. For bringing light into the darkness with candles and fires. The days are short and the woods are bare, the tree branches laid naked against the sky. The low sun throws its weak rays across the landscape and the colour is rarified. Cold mornings with ice forming on the canal.

As a weaver, something that I feel very strongly is a connection to the past, to the skilled artisans who have woven cloth since the first rudimentary looms were developed to weave flax in ancient Egypt in 5000 BC. I feel connected to the past, connected to the materials, and connected to the fabric that itself that has so many traditions and memories associated with it.

A quiet time

The last commission of the year has now been woven and cut free from the loom. The studio lies silent and still, holding its breath, waiting to see what the next year will bring. This is a quiet time in the studio, but full of potential. A time to reflect on the year that’s passing (and what a year 2020 has proven to be), a time to plan for the year to come.

Complexity out of simplicity

I already have plans for my next pieces of work. These will be more experimental, using some unusual combinations of materials. There are so many possibilities with weaving, the choice of material, colour, texture and pattern, that I find it important to simplify my choices when starting a new body of work. The weaving patterns I use are actually quite simple, and I have a small number of designs that I use to weave with; the complexity comes in the choice and combination of colours and textures, something that comes from years of experience in working with the material.

Throughout this year I discovered a way of working with different colours and materials, and what I’ve learned will continue to evolve throughout next year.

Moving forward

Weaving on the loom is being in a constant state of flow, progressing onwards as the unwoven warp moves through the loom and onto the front beam, transformed into woven fabric.

At the beginning of the year, no-one could have predicted what upheaval 2020 would bring. Moving into 2021, the world is in a state of flux. Just as at the start of a new piece of work, I don’t know what will lie at the end of the journey or how the path will evolve. Thank you for reading this far. I hope to see you here again for my next blog in January; I’d love to have you join me on my journey through the year.

Have a wonderful festive season, stay safe and all the very best for the new year.

Veronica

This calendar for 2021 features my unique handwoven designs and is available now in my shop.