Stories from the weave studio – December

Space

Last hydrangea bloom

The midwinter solstice on 21st December came just a couple of days after the full cold moon, the last full moon of 2021, which also brought the first hoar frost of the winter. Bright blue skies and the world transformed, magical and glistening. The ground at my allotment was covered by a crisp frozen shell. A last hydrangea bloom shone out like a star, and the dead grasses and seedheads were dressed in silver.

The longest night was clear and bone cold, and familiar constellations vied for attention in the spiralling sky. Gazing upwards into the night sky somehow magnifies the loneliness and fragility of earth, so small and insignificant in the vast vacuum of space. On nights like this, I feel very conscious of the constellations rushing and whirling through space in their continuous lonely dance across the heavens.

The Dog, and the Plough, and the Hunter, and all,
And the star of the sailor, and Mars,
These shone in the sky, and the pail by the wall
Would be half full of water and stars.

Escape at Bedtime by Robert Louis Stevenson

New work – paper weaving

In the spring of 2022, together with six other weavers, I will be taking part in a group exhibition at the Katoendrukkerij in Amersfoort. I’ll be displaying new work drawing on the history of the building and its current use as a block printing workplace and heritage centre. Currently on my loom is a series of smaller woven pieces – experimental samples using hemp, linen, paper and synthetic space-dyed yarn in the warp and handprinted, handmade papers in the weft. Intrigued by the history of the Katoendrukkerij (cotton printing factory), which was originally a woollen mill, and its location in Amersfoort, I abstracted an image of an antique map of Amersfoort from the 17th century, and made a very rudimentary block print using balsa wood. My crude attempt only serves to highlight the skill of the craftspeople carving the original block prints in hardwood. So far I have an interesting collection of samples on which to base my final work.

New collection of scarves

Reflections in a still canal, and leaves caught before they sink and decay. Colours ripple on the surface: sky, tree, leaf, bird. All these colours and textural effects are stored in my visual memory and resurface on the loom. This month I decided to challenge my usual colour choices by making up a lambswool warp using an almost fluorescent lime green, chamomile pink, moss greens and sky blue warp. Limiting my colours to six and then randomising the order in which these are threaded onto the loom gives rise to serendipitous patterns and effects in the weave. By further varying the weave pattern, I can create an individually unique, yet still coherent, series of designs. The effects achieved echo the complexity of colour in nature. Nothing is flat colour, everything seems to be composed a myriad of different shades and hues.

Honeycomb weave

A favourite weave pattern of mine is the honeycomb weave. This sculptural weave works well when using very contrasting materials in the warp and weft, for example, very fine yarns in the warp combined with very thick threads in the weft. There is a huge amount of depth in the resulting material. The pieces below use the hemp, linen, paper and synthetic space-dyed warp together with vintage newspaper (left) and recycled string (right). Once off the loom, when the tension has been released, the individual cells become even more pronounced.

Thresholds

Ending the year with a holiday in the UK has been a real pleasure – some time to relax, restore, renew. The pandemic has meant that social contacts have been very limited, but it’s been relatively easy to find space and solitude in the beautiful countryside in the local area. At one of my favourite National Trust properties, Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, the gardens are quiet and ready for the new year to begin. Signs of fresh growth are still few and far between, but nature seems poised in her slumber, ready to burst into life now that the days are getting longer again. The threshold of the new year beckons.

Calke Abbey doorway

Until next time…

Trees in winter have a stark beauty, etched against the sky. With all their leaves gone, their structure is exposed, fractal, but strong, not vulnerable.

The wet dawn inks are doing their blue dissolve.
On their blotter of fog the trees
Seem a botanical drawing.
Memories growing, ring on ring,
A series of weddings.

From Winter Trees by Sylvia Plath

For the time being, I’m enjoying winter walks amongst the woods and hills, and preparing to return to my studio in January. My paper weaving is waiting for me there – slow, fragile, patient work for a new year.

Bare trees against the sky