Friday, 18 February 2011


Two upcoming conferences will allow me the opportunity to share my research with a different audience. The first, 'Boundaries? New Histories of Art, Architecture and Design' is a postgraduate conference at the University of Bristol, organised by the RX - Research Exchange in History of Art group. I will be presenting a 20 minute paper titled 'Tapestry and Beyond: Claire Barclay's quick, slow'. I am really looking forward to meeting research students from other universities and having the opportunity to discuss my research with people working in a different area. The abstract for my paper can be read here.

quick, slow (detail), Claire Barclay, 2010, tapestry woven by David Cochrane, Dovecot Studios
A few weeks later I will be at the 'Pairings: Conversations, Collaborations and Materials' conference at Manchester School of Art. The paper will explore the relationship between Dovecot and Harold Cohen. The abstract for this paper can be found here.
Untitled (detail), 1965, designed by Harold Cohen, woven at Dovecot Studios. City Art Centre: City of Edinburgh Museums and Galleries. Currently on display in Currie Library.
 The conference organisers recently updated the website with names of the key speakers and a list of provisional speakers. It is quite daunting seeing my name up there with some very prominent academics! I am particularly looking forward to hearing Glenn Adamson, as well as textile artist Alice Kettle. Lesley Millar, from the University of the Creative Arts, will also be very interesting - last year she spoke at a Warp and Weft Symposium in Wales and her knowledge of contemporary textiles is expansive.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Talking Textiles: Fibre and Fabric Study Day

York Museums Trust has recently been undertaking a project with textiles conservator Mary Brooks to assess their collection and experiment with different ways to make their textile collections accessible. As part of this, they teamed up with the Social History Curators Group to run a one-day study session about identifying yarns and fabrics.

The purpose of the study day was to give curators the basic tools and knowledge needed to recognise the different yarns and weaves in their collection, in order to better inform their displays and help curatorial staff understand their conservation needs.

Mary Brooks has decades of experience as a textile conservator and made a very effective tutor. We started off examining different types of yarns, each of us having a chance to feel the texture of samples including milk protein, alpaca, linen and polyester. The sense needed to identify them was not only touch, but sight and smell - one particular wool sample still smelt of the sheep it had come off.

We then moved into the collections in groups to see if we were able to identify the textiles on display. Our group went to the War Galleries, beginning with a 17th Century Buff Coat. The body of the coat was made from a protective leather whilst the sleeve featured woven strips of silk and silver woven together. Further on in the gallery were a number of different uniforms from the First and Second World War. The main yarn used was wool, with the exception of a couple of waxed cotton coats worn by members of parachute regiments. The display featured a contemporary bullet proof vest worn by today's police force - it weighed at least twice as much as a 17th Century breast-piece. As Mary informed us later, most of the high-tech research carried out on textiles today is led by the armed forces.

After lunch we had the opportunity to look at the yarns under a microscope, the first time most of us had used one since school. We were taught the different characteristics, such as the twist in cotton and the scales on wool (these make wool suitable for felting as they enable wool to bind together).

For the final part of the day we moved forward to looking at different weave patterns. I now know the difference between a plain weave, twill weave and satin weave, and exactly how the differ from tapestry weaving. We had come full circle: fibre, yarn, weave.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Tapestry as a textile

The concept of 'categorising' tapestry has always been one of difficulty. Is it a craft? A textile? A work of fine art? What about the elements of design? Or the difference between a tapestry designed by a weaver, or one designed by a so-called fine artist?

One thing which I have been considering if the profound difference between woven tapestry and other woven textiles (for the purpose of this blog I'll be referring to them as cloth). The differences are not just concerned with weaving methods, but also design and function.

Weaving Method

David Cochrane weaving a sample for a project with Claire Barclay at Dovecot, 2010
Both tapestry and cloth are woven using warp and weft. The warps are prepared on the loom, parallel to each other, and the weft is woven through them. This is where the similarities end. During the weaving of cloth, both the warp and weft remain visible and the weft is woven through the warp from one side to the other. In tapestry weaving, the weft covers the warp (exceptions to this rule occur in some experimental tapestries) and is not seen in the finished piece. In addition, the weft is not woven from one side of the tapestry to the others - instead a number of bobbins (as seen in the image above) are used in sections of the tapestry, both small and large, to create areas of different colours.


The design process for tapestry and cloth is different in many ways. The patterns or colours in cloth can either be incorporated during the weaving process or printed onto the fabric afterwards. Because of the industrial production of some cloths, patterns are often repeatable, such as the one below:
Harold Cohen for Heal and Son Ltd, Vineyard, c.1959, screen printed cotton, 48in, repeat 21 5in
Tapestries are more finite and this has an impact on the design process. The weaving of repeated patterns in tapestry is not time-saving - the tapestry will take just as long to weave if the design is one large image or a small image repeated 10 times. Becuase of this, designs for tapestries are conceived as you might a painting. The design is held by the four sides of the tapestry and the complexities of repeating patterns need not be a concern.
Verdure, designed by Liz Rideal, woven at Dovecot Studios

Cloth today is both utilitarian and artistic. It is industrially woven in enormous amounts for clothing and upholstery. But there are also a number of individual weavers who create beautiful weavings which cannot be seen as anything other than works of art.
Laura Thomas, Grasses, jacquard woven silk and cotton, 60x70cm, 2007
Throughout history tapestry has been utilised for its acoustic and thermal abilities. Often woven in wool, cotton or silk, tapestries were used to warm drafty stone castles in Medieval France. Today, large tapestries are still commissioned to act as an acoustic tool hidden in a work of art. But the primary function of tapestry today is one of aesthetic. People purchase them to hang in their homes, or corporate buildings for the same reason they purchase any other work of art: to enjoy looking at it. 
St Catherine's Triptych, designed by Tom Phillips, woven at Dovecot Studios, St. Catherine's College, Oxford
It is clear that the term 'textile' encompasses a wide variety or practices and creative methods. This should be celebrated. Textiles have one of the richest histories out of all of the arts -  and their development from their use as shelters from the elements to items worthy of display in a gallery makes a fascinating story.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...