Thursday, 23 February 2012

Hi from the US!

I am currently in the US on a research trip - there will be lots on the blog when I return! In the meantime, I saw this piece by Sheila Hicks at the Renwick Gallery today and wanted to share. It was breathtaking.

The Silk Rainforest, c.1975, Sheila Hicks

Friday, 17 February 2012

Tapestry and Materiality continued

In April last year I wrote about an article I read regarding the need for art historians to incorporate materiality and making into their academic writing, and to not address the making of an object as something separate from its uses, history, cultural context or meaning. I boldly proclaimed that I was going to attempt to do this with my own research, seamlessly combining issues of making and manufacture with art historical investigation.

So how have I done so far? Pretty well I think. It has certainly helped that I learnt about how tapestry is made well before I learnt about its history and context - as a result I have approached my research on Dovecot with a prior knowledge of the weaving process. In a way, it has programmed me to approach analysis with making in mind. The reason I decided to give this update is that the weavers kindly let me photograph some of their current work, so that I could illustrate my writing with images of different types of weaving.

The two images above are of a tapestry which Emily and Freya, Dovecot's 2 apprentices are currently working on. I photographed it to illustrate how straight diagonals can't be achieved in tapestry. The inherent structure of warp and weft means that any line in a design which is intended to go diagonally across the work will necessarily be stepped. The same it true of curved shapes and edges.

You can see in this tapestry, which Naomi is weaving, that the sides of a circle are undeniably straight. Naomi said that the challenge was to weave the tapestry finely enough and make sure that the circle didn't end up with little flat 'ears' each side.

detail from Kantha Tapestry designed and woven by Naomi Robertson, 2011. The circles on this tapestry are not supposed to be exact, but it illustrates the nature of the warp of a tapestry and the restrictions it poses.
The structure of warp and weft also imposes a rectangular shape on the weaving. This can be overcome by technically challenging weaving methods, or by turning under the corners of the weaving once the tapestry element is completed, but it is something which has to be borne in mind when an external artist is designing a tapestry.

Tapestry on the loom showing the straight edge.

I firmly believe that, for me, discussion of the issues above is an essential part of my work as a researcher - without it, I would be unable to fully appreciate and study Dovecot's tapestries.

Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A little valentine rug post

In 2010 the artist Willie Rodger commissioned a cheeky wee rug from Dovecot to one of his own designs. In the spirit of Valentine's Day, here it is:

The Wee Romp 2010 Willie Rodger, made by Jonathan Cleaver, Private Collection, all photos courtesy Dovecot Studios

I haven't spoken much about Dovecot's production of rugs, as the period of my thesis stops before rug tufting was introduced at the studio. Rugs are, not surprisingly, faster to make and therefore more affordable. They provide extra revenue which can help to support the tapestry weaving element  of the studio. Rug tufting is the only part of Dovecot production which includes a mechanised tool - the tufter. It looks a cross between a drill and a gun, and shoots little forks into the supporting canvas of the rug, from back to front. Here are some images Jonathan took during the tufting process:

This pictures are taken of the back of the work, which is where the tufter stands. It can be a messy process, as you can see from the loose bits of wool stuck to the canvas, with Jonathan finding pieces of wool felted into the pockets of his jeans days later! The use of mechanised tufter does take away some of the artistic control of the weaver, but only to a small extent. More than one colour can be fed through the tufter, so the weavers still use colour blending to achieve different interpretations of design. Plus, the more intricate the design, the more skilled the weaver needs to be at controlling the tufter. It can easily run away itself (I've tried it!).

Once the tufting is complete, the back of the rug is sealed using latex and another layer of canvas. When it's dried, the rug is cut away from the frame and laid flat. The front of the rug is then smoothed using a machine which looks a little like a small lawn mower, with a hoover attached to suck up the trimmed pieces of yarn.

Hey presto, you have a rug!

Monday, 6 February 2012

On Words and Books

I have come to realise that words have a mind of their own. Some weeks they are sorely lacking, as I sit in front of my laptop with either very little new to say, or no way of ordering the words I do have into complete sentences. Other days they come pouring out too quickly, not giving me enough time to structure them into coherent sentences or arguments. These mindsets have happened to me successively in the last two weeks, before settling into a happy medium today in which they flow, not too fast, not too slow. Hurray! I finally realise that this is a cyclical thing - I imagine next week I will be tearing my hair out again.

Whilst I plod on with my thesis, others have been busy publishing some beautiful books on tapestry and textiles. Textiles The Whole Story is a gloriously illustrated book, published by Thames & Hudson, written by Beverly Gordon, Professor in the Design Studies Department of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her intention with the book is to take an holistic approach to textiles, in which they are seen in the context of our bodies, society, the land and communication. The book is structured thematically, rather than chronologically. Some might say that this leads to the exclusion of a historical narrative, but it is an inspiring and thought-provoking tool.

A recent publication which is more specifically relevant to me is Tapestry A Woven Narrative published by black dog publishing. The authors have produced a really rich book, with historical context, contemporary weavers, in focus pieces on three major weaving studios (Dovecot included of course!) and a section on the technique of tapestry weaving. Particularly interesting are the appendices, which include two essays from Dovecot Studios' 1980 exhibition catalogue Master Weavers. Both Tapestry A Woven Narrative and Textiles The Whole Story are available from the Dovecot shop in Edinburgh.

Two further interesting publications are coming out later in the year, and both are edited by one of my supervisors, Dr Jessica Hemmings.

The Textile Reader follows on from Berg's highly successful The Creaft Reader and The Design History Reader. It brings together contributions from makers, academics, curators, blogs and fiction and is thematically structured under the headings 'touch', 'memory', 'structure', 'politics', 'production' and 'use'. Warp and Weft, published by A&C Black, will focus more directly on 'the woven structure and its use in recent experimental art and design'. I can't wait to read both.

And for a bit of self-promotion... The Art of Modern Tapestry, Dovecot Studios since 2012 will be published by Lund Humphries in July, and will be available directly from Dovecot. The book, edited by Dr Elizabeth Cumming, features a historical essay by Elizabeth herself, a shorter essay by Dovecot Director David Weir on Dovecot's recent history and its future, followed by an in focus section which looks at 38 tapestries from Dovecot's history. These include Lord of the Hunt (1912-1924), the Had Gadya series designed by Frank Stella in the 1970s, and quick, slow (2010) by Clare Barclay. The in focus section includes contributions from artists, weavers, patrons, curators and me!

You can probably tell that books are my greatest weakness and luxury - for me, an iPad or a kindle will never manage to replicate the excitement of opening up a new art book, in all its glorious technicolour!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...