Stories from the weave studio – March

Blues and greys

Handwoven papr and mixed yarns

As the saying goes, if March comes in like a lion, it will go out like a lamb. So far this is holding true with the violent storms at the end of February making way for a long period of milder weather throughout March. With the longer days, warm sunshine and blue skies, and all the plants have taken on a mantel of green, tulips are pushing through, and in the woods anemones and celandines are raising their starry faces to the sun.

Exhibition: Zeven x weven

Just as the March skies have been blue, so have these colours been reflected in the work coming off my loom for the exhibition ‘Zeven x weven’ [Seven x weaving] which opens at the Katoendrukkerij in Amersfoort, The Netherlands, on 13th March and runs until 10th July. I feel very privileged to be part of this upcoming group exhibition together with six other contemporary Dutch weavers, Daisy van Groningen (guest curator), Theo RoodenChristiane MaurerMirjam HagoortBabs van den Thillart and Marieke Kranenburg. The exhibition will showcase our work, demonstrating the varied weaving techniques possible as used by exemplary craftspeople and artists currently working in The Netherlands who are constantly pushing the boundaries of their specialism. Below you can see the many samples that I wove (pictured top left) before settling on the final warp with which to create the wall hangings that will be on show during the exhibition. The four final pieces came off the loom at the beginning of the month, and each has its own distinct characteristics as a result of the materials used and the weave structure. This is one of my fascinations with weave: one warp can lend itself to so many different effects. The possibilities are endless. I’m looking forward to being able to share more images once the pieces have been hung: keep an eye on my Instagram for more details!

Commissioned work

Once the very slow paper weaving for the exhibition had been finished, my loom wasn’t empty for long before I began work on two commissions that have been waiting for attention. I’d already planned the warps for both, mixed yarns (mainly wool) in warm colours combined, in the first case, with a beautiful Alpaca/organic wool yarn ‘Echos’, by the Italian company Sesia, in the weft. The second scarf uses a mixture of yarns in the weft in a simple tabby weave, and relies on the changing of the colours and textures along its length to give the distinctive effect and vibrancy of the colours. The weave structure doesn’t have to be complex to give interesting results. Wool is such a versatile material and still my favourite to weave with – it’s so forgiving on the loom and its inherent stretchiness makes it easy to handle and tension. A real pleasure after working with the temperamental mixed warp I used for the exhibition pieces.

Colour and textural inspiration

I get a lot of my inspiration from nature and my surroundings. However, often it’s the materials that can spark an idea. The beautiful slubby silk yarns (shown below left) from Bart and Francis have a mix of colours that I combine with wool or linen in the weft to add interest. I use anywhere between five and 20 different yarns in the warp, combining them intuitively as I make up the warp. I’ve recently started using a British wool from Uppingham Yarns, spun in Yorkshire by Z. Hinchliffe. This doesn’t shrink and felt as readily as merino lambswool, and when combined with a silk/linen mixed yarn in the weft it gives the resulting fabric more weight and a beautiful drape. The scarf shown below was woven with the remainder of the first commissioned warp (above) using the British wool in the weft and a different weave pattern. The result is quite different, again showing the variety of effects that can result from the same warp depending on the materials used and the weaving draft.

Until next time…

Thank you for reading this far; I wish you all the very best and hope to see you again for my next blog in April. If you’d like to see more of my work and inspirations, I post regularly on Instagram @veronicapock. I hope to see you there.

Nectarine blossom in Orangery at Calke Abbey

Stories from the weave studio – February

Back to the loom

Woven sample with floating threads

February has been a month of grey and stormy days interspersed by glimpses of blue skies and a promise of spring. I have finally been able to return to my loom after what seems like a long time away, and weaving has resumed.

Zeven x weven

Having woven a full 8 metre warp of smaller sample pieces, I’ve been able to determine the direction of my work for my forthcoming group exhibition “zeven x weven” at the Katoendrukkerij in Amersfoort (April-June inclusive).

I’ve now made up the final full width (48 cm) warp and begun weaving. From the samples, I learnt that I needed more colour and white in the warp to lift the pieces and give them more interest, otherwise everything was a little too sombre. As well as the previous hemp, linen, synthetic space-dyed yarn and black paper yarn, the new warp has a blue linen yarn, a brown raffia-type yarn and white paper yarn added to it in varying proportions. Making a warp is the first step of commitment to a piece; once on the loom it’s difficult to make adjustments.

Once the loom had been dressed and the heddles and reed threaded, I began to prepare the weft material. I’ve been using embossed paper which I’ve block printed with an abstracted motif taken from an antique map of Amersfoort. The motif is placed randomly, and the paper is then shredded into strips so that it can be placed between the warp on the loom. This is a meticulous and time consuming process, but well worth it for the result.

I hope to be able to take the finished pieces off the loom shortly … watch this space!

Exploring colour

Whether it is the thought of spring, or just a new direction for my colour choices, I’ve recently begun to use more vivid green in my colour palette. In a collection of scarves woven in November I used a lime green in the warp, and I’ve run with this in some recent mixed media collage work. I often revert to working on paper to explore colour combinations, and these works and my woven practice co-exist, one drawing on the other for inspiration. I love the freedom and immediacy that working on paper gives – a real contrast to weave. Playing with acrylic paints, monoprint and ink washes gives interesting results. I’m particularly liking the combination of a vivid poisonous green with an earthy brown overwash, and can see this combining nicely in a woven piece.

The forms I use investigate the relationships between shapes, negative space and corresponding forms that our eye automatically fills in for us. A sharp contrast between crisply cut lines, soft painterly washes and torn edges provides tension or balance.

Commissioned work

Whilst working with the very slow paper weaving on my loom, I’ve also been planning the warp for a new commissioned scarf, which will be woven in a mixed warp (mainly wool) in warm colours, combined with a beautiful Alpaca/organic wool yarn ‘Echos’, by the Italian company Sesia, in the weft. Wool is such a versatile material and still my favourite to weave with – it’s so forgiving on the loom and its inherent stretchiness makes it easy to handle and tension on the loom.

New work on canvas

During January I made several large mixed media works on canvas, and I was very happy to have all three accepted by the Kunstuitleen Voorburg – ‘Winter trees’, ‘Weathering the storm’ and ‘Cold moon rising’ are shown below.

Until next time…

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.”

Stephen Hawking

I wish you all the very best and hope to see you again for my next blog in March.

Samples on moodboard

Stories from the weave studio – January

Liminal space

Sunrise over frosty canal

January. A liminal time. A transitory space. Caught between the old year and the new. A time to look forwards and to review the past. The start of a new year that still has to find its identity whilst processing all that the old year brought with it. Named after Janus, the Roman god of beginnings, transitions, time, duality, passages and endings, and depicted as having two faces, one facing the old year and one looking forwards to the new, it heralds new beginnings based on past experiences. With that thought, I’ve been reviewing old work, as well as planning new.

Retrospective: colours of Iceland

In 2016 I visited Iceland and the place captured my heart and imagination. The black sand beaches, the dramatic landscapes shaped by ice and fire, the blue of the bergs in the glacial lagoon. This visit gave rise to designs with a strong graphic element and contrasts of dark and light, blue, charcoal and ecru. This resulting one-off fabric was made into these striking bolster cushions.

Annie Morris at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Over the winter break, I visited the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield in Yorkshire, one of my favourite places to spend time. It has extensive grounds and takes in the stunning countryside, the dramatic Emly Moor and rolling hills. Sculpture in nature seems like a natural pairing: work by Henry Moore and Babara Hepworth are prominent, Andy Goldworthy, Damien Hirst and Ai Wei Wei all sit well in the stunning landscape. I’ve been visiting since 1990, and it never fails to disappoint.

My most recent visit took in the site specific installation “When a Happy Thing Falls” by Annie Morris at the Weston gallery. To enter the gallery was to walk into an abstract piece of art, to wander through it, around it, and gaze up at it. A truly immersive experience bathing in and absorbing colour that feels both joyful and intriguing.

“My sculptures are about holding onto something that’s fallen, and to express the hope and defiance of life. The vibrant pigment on the surface is a way of trying to freeze the moment when paint hasn’t yet dried, and is caught in its most raw form. They assemble to create abstract paintings that escalate upwards and express the fragility we all feel in our lives.” Annie Morris

Ongoing work on the loom

On my loom, still waiting for me to return, is the hemp, linen, paper and synthetic space-dyed yarn in the warp that I’m using to make samples for my forthcoming group exhibition “zeven x weven” at the Katoendrukkerij in Amersfoort. Next week will see me continuing with this work to finish the sampling warp and begin work on the actual pieces.

Mixed media and embroidery on canvas

Alongside my woven work, I also make mixed media work on paper and canvas. This is an important step in exploring different ideas, colours and patterns that are all reflected in woven pieces at some point. Collage with painted and printed papers can lead to unexpected results that are stored away for future use. Another technique I use is embroidery – this usually comes towards the end of the process and tightens up the whole piece, providing a sharp linear contrast with the often painterly soft shapes and blurred colours of the collages papers. This work takes inspiration from the trees and plants in my local surroundings and simple words from songs and poems – ‘Cold moon rising’ and ‘Weathering the storm’ are shown below.

Until next time…

So in this between time, this transitory month that still feels nested in the past more than forging into the future, my work has been slow. And the month has already almost slipped out of reach. In my garden daffodils are surging ahead, and the birds are busy. With the noticeably lengthening evenings, it feels almost springlike in the weak winter sunshine. Imbolc, also called Saint Brigid’s Day, a Gaelic traditional festival on the 1 February, marks the beginning of spring, halfway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox. It certainly feels as if spring is on its way.

Thinner and thinner wears the cloth,
however; moths pass out of sight,
beyond belief, their absence is briefly
noted, if at all, as distant memory,
half-forgotten grief.

From Moth – The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane

I’m looking forward to what February holds – more weaving and progress I hope. I hope to see you then for my February blog.

Sunrise over the allotment

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