May 2017 #2 In the studio

June 10, 2017

The past few blogs have been exclusively about my textile trip to Laos/Cambodia earlier this year. Just because I haven’t been talking about what has been happening in the studio, doesn’t mean that nothing has been happening. The following are some of the highlights over the past few months.

Back in the February blog # 2, I wrote about Joan who was visiting Australia from Hawaii and extended a holiday to explore waving on a draw loom. She managed to get totally fascinated by the process and has since acquired her own loom. Now that is a great result!

I’m mentioning that because it also gave me the perfect opportunity to explore an idea.

Beside the draw loom (on right), I set up a countermarche loom so that it was a cross between a draw loom having long eyed short heddles at the front and a Laos loom with vertical storage at the back. Having the two looms side by side was an interesting juxtaposition. I did like the potential of weaving similar cloth on both looms. Over a period of time, I had noticed many similarities between the functioning of the Laotian (or any S.E.Asian loom) and the draw loom. This was my opportunity to explore what a hybrid loom could do.

Damask is being woven on the hybrid loom. I have 6 shafts set up for a 6end damask on the front and the stored pattern operating as the pattern shafts at the back.

As in conventional Laotian weaving, the pattern is picked up and stored. In this case however the block patterns are being stored. The stored pattern is then used in much the same way as a pattern shaft on the draw loom – raised for the 6 rows of a 6 shaft satin.

And just because I could do it, I also wove a supplementary weft pattern on the same warp. All the patterns that I have used are from “Lao Motif”.

I will return to this as there’s much potential and it’s such a fun challenge to do. However a group was arriving in the studio.

Every two years a group of like-minded weaving mates get together with the challenge of playing and exploring any technique or structure or in reality anything relating to weaving. There’s discussion and a whole lot of fun to go with it! It’s a highlight of a diary and something to look forward to. It’s been going on quite some time and we’ve had several. Sometimes everyone can come, other times there are fewer. This time it was my turn to play host. (Normally I have to go to USA or Canada). Three weavers came to Australia: Kathy, Jette and Bev. By chance they all decided that they needed to play with my Laos equipment. So there was one traditional Laos style loom and two countermarche looms with Laos vertical storage units.

Weaving mates from three countries: USA, Canada and Australia.

We all wove. Here are three “Lao” looms in action.

There was much group problem solving…..

….and fun. Part of the experience was the duet. They’re chalking up how many places (Towns, States and Countries) they can play together in.

Detail of some of the weaving

I got to play i.e. get around to doing, something that I’d been wanting to do for some time. Keeping in the theme of bands of pattern, I explored structures on my 24 shaft computer assist loom.

And at the end of their stay, I have even more potential for play as now I have three looms with warps for me to weave on. I can go back to my damask/supplementary weft (the original hybrid loom).

I also have the original Laos loom. I decided it could do with an adventure with a saw. As I am not using it any more with a warp in a bag at the front of a loom, I don’t need all that length.  I am using a western style back warp beam to store the warp. I have found that it is much easier to achieve even tension. All I need is a length to allow movement between the vertical storage and the front plain weave/ground shafts.

So saw in hand, it is now shorter and taking up much less floor space in the studio.

But I also have a loom with a ground of overshot. That was a careful bit of planning as now it’s so conveniently set up in time for a 5 day workshop: Beyond the Basics.

Ronda and Jan came to explore profile drafting and converting it into basic weave structures: 4 and 8 shaft forms of Overshot, Crackle, M’s and O’s and a combination of Summer and Winter and a simple lace. It was a very productive week and as well as going home with a whole lot of samples, they’d woven on several different styles of looms including the 16 shaft computer assist and had a portfolio of drafts.Here are some of their samples.

And I still had a bit of warp left on the Overshot/Laos loom. I have plans! I can weave a border with both a finer supplementary weft design in the style of Laos patterning and a larger overshot one.

Here it is with the pattern being developed. It is being woven upside down with these long floats to be on the back.

In addition to weavers working in the studio, I have had a bit of life on the road. My touring exhibition Pattern; A Universal Phenomenon had an outing to Moranbah. The exhibition looked fabulous and was extremely well received.

We even had journal making workshops with hand woven fabric covers in Dysart, Clermont and Moranbah. (Unfortunately I don’t have images from Moranbah)

But then Cyclone Debbie came and Central Queensland was flooded. Demounting couldn’t happen. The town was cut off. Eventually the roads got reopened and life returned to ‘normal’ for that community. I am pleased to report that while the town was flooded, no one was hurt. The upside was that the exhibition had an extended life of an extra month. Pattern has one last showing to complete the touring program. It will be in the Childers Art Space from 15 July to 3 September.

Coming up is another exhibition: Stitched up. I was delighted to be invited to be part of this exhibition. I will report on that process of producing that work and the background behind my concept for the work on the next blog. In the meantime here’s a link to the exhibition.

http://www.thelockup.org.au/whats-on/stitched-up


May 2017: Textiles of Siem Reap, Cambodia

June 9, 2017

This is the final post on my textile tour to Laos and Cambodia in January/February 2017.

Siem Reap is the place to stay when you go to see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is both a significant tourist destination, an engineering marvel from the Khmer Empire and an extremely significant Buddhist temple complex.

For those who go to Angkor Wat (and there are busloads!) keep your eye out for pattern.

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However the reason I was there was of course to check out some textiles. I had heard of some places where textiles could be found and that there was lotus fibre produced in the area. I also discovered others while I was there. For those places off the known tourist trail, I would recommend that you take with you the address and the phone number of your destination to give to a tuk tuk driver. Our driver was very obliging and willing to find out where these places were, often with a group discussion with a group of drivers. However we did also end up in interesting places.

A new and little known gem of a museum is the MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum. I was fortunate to meet with Prof (Mrs) Charu Smita Gupta who is the director of this museum and has been involved in its development since the beginning. This is an extremely well set out museum with 4 exhibition spaces. The museum represents textiles from countries on the two major river systems: the Mekong: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar as well as India on the Ganges. Exhibited are historical pieces as well as contemporary ones. www.mgcattmuseum.com

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Prof Charu Smita Gupta with Libby, Truda and I in the entrance at MGC. Photography is not allowed in the galleries.

Artisans of Angkor is on the tourist map. It is also a destination for school groups and that was very pleasing to see. On site in Siem Reap are some working studios as well as the gallery. The work in the gallery is exquisite and well presented. The working studios included carving on wood and stone, metal working including silver plating, lacquer work, jewellery, gold leaf and painting. There was a very sad static display of a loom to represent weaving. The threads were broken and the loom looked as if it couldn’t even work- not a very good advertisement for weaving or for weaving as representative of this place.

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Students watching stone carvers at work.

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The loom at Artisans of Anchor- not a very attractive example of weaving.

However if one has time I would recommend a visit to their offsite complex where the process from spinning through to weaving is very well represented. It certainly wasn’t clear at the facility in Siem Reap that this would be the case. There is very beautiful work produced here.

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Silk being reeled from the cocoons.

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Ikat being tied.

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An example of weft ikat being woven.

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The space housing many looms. It was extremely noisy.

The Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) has a retail space and an area under the shop where the women gather and produce the woven textile. In the main, they are using natural dyes and producing traditional textiles. www.iktt.org

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A section of the gallery

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Documentation of the natural dyes that are used.

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Fabrics being woven with natural dyed yarn.

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Complex weft ikats were also being tied and woven.

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Here the ikat is being rebound after the first dye bath.

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An example of ikat after several dyebaths.

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Ikat on the loom.

I had heard about Lotus textiles before I had come to Cambodia and had spoken to Carol Cassidy about the yarn so some serious research came into play. There are many lotus farms. We even stopped and walked on boardwalks through the lotus.

We did eventually find the Lotus Farm by Samatoa, the organisation the spins and weaves textiles from the fibre. www.lotusfarm.org

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All stages of the process is well documented.

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We saw how the fibre is actually produced. After harvesting the lotus stems are cleaned.

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The fibre is extracted by breaking the stem and pulling out the fibre. Several fibres are then twisted together to make the yarn. Many hands are required to extract a small amount of yarn.

As each length is twisted it is collected in a basket. This yarn is then taken and skeined.

There were looms here but we didn’t see any weaving being done.

Closer to Siem Reap was the headquarters of Samatoa.

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Here it was obvious that negotiations were undertaken for commissions in lotus cloth. We saw some examples of it being used in combinations with other yarns and test samples of woven fabrics.

The lotus yarn is extremely expensive so combining it with other yarns makes sense. I must admit that the yarn itself is not necessarily inspiring (it has no lustre) however it is extremely valuable because of the limited quantities produced. It is marketed as a sacred fibre. Originally it was used to weave Buddhist monks’ robes. Samatoa also produces handwoven silk cloth.

The following are some additional observations that I found interesting.

I found the contrast between the speed used in weaving plain weave cloth and the slower approach to weaving ikats of interest. This was extremely evident at Artisans of Angkor.

What is also of interest is the variation of the treadles to what we would normally use.It appeared that these treadles were standard in this area. You can see them in the movie. Here’s another examples at Samatoa and IKTT.

Note the use of two hanging devices either side of the loom that hold the shafts up while they are needed for weaving. Complex twills can be woven using this system. It require two shafts that are treadled in combination with extra pattern shafts. The two treadled shafts are behind the ones that will be picked up. The operation of this system can also be seen in the movie.

This is the final instalment of the textile tour to Laos and Cambodia. Meanwhile in the studio much has been happening. The next blog will attempt to catch up on that.

 

 


April 2017: Laos Part 3

April 30, 2017

This month wraps up some final information on my January trip to Laos: natural dyeing and mat mi (weft ikat)

In Laha Nam Village near Savannaket we participated in a natural dyeing workshop. Here are some details from the workshop where we dyed with indigo and koa.

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Indigo is grown along the river with the best harvesting time is June/July. We were told about the process of harvesting, obtaining the indigo paste and how to make the indigo dyebath.

The process to obtain indigo paste: Pick leaves and stems- not the whole plant as it will reshoot. Soak 24 hrs in enough water to just cover leaves. Filter. Add lime powder (from hardware). Stir vigorously creating a froth for at least 1 hour. After aeration, allow sediment to settle, drain water and collect paste.

The following ingredients are required to make an indigo dyebath: indigo paste, rice whisky, ash water and “sour leaf” (similar to tamarin). “Sour leaf” makes the blue brighter.

There were a number of pots containing the indigo bath. Some were already there while others arrived in a wheelbarrow.

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It is always interesting to see how different dyers handle the process of using indigo. Usually great care is taken not to incorporate air into the bath. However, here the indigo bath was stirred vigorously incorporating the flower.

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We were provided with a hand spun, hand woven cotton scarf. I cut mine into 3 so that I would have a sample of each dye bath. We put the scarf into the indigo bath working it through vigorously; lifting it up and putting it back in the bath. Again this is very different.

Lucy works the indigo through her scarf.

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We removed our scarves. Normally they would be wrapped in plastic for 24 hrs. We were shown how to “snap” the fabric to allow it to oxidize. It wasn’t just removed and allowed to drip dry. This hardworking of the fabric gives a very even result. They were then rinsed four times. A few of the scarves from the indigo bath.

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Our next dye bath was to achieve two shades of brown. It’s a two-step process with the darker brown requiring an extra stage.

My thanks goes to Libby Hepburn for supplying the above images.

The best wood is from an old “Koa” tree. The young trees don’t give a dark enough colour. Take only a small section from a tree so that it isn’t ringbarked. Chop into pieces/chips. A darker shade requires a hot dye bath while soft shades can be obtained by a cold one.

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The wood chips were wrapped in a cloth and boiled in water. The bark bundles were then removed.

A small quantity of alum was added and stirred to dissolve before adding the fabric. It was surprising what a short time it was left in the dyebath.

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It was then rinsed multiple times.

To make a darker colour, a large handful of lime to a bucket of water was added and stirred. The fabric was added and the dissolved lime worked into fabric till a dark enough colour was obtained and then rinsed. Scarves hanging on the line show the different colours that were achieved.

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Here’s my “scarf”. These hand towels are going to be very useful and because they will be regularly used, I’ll be able to check on colourfastness.

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There were several villages waving mat mi in the Pakse/Savannaket regions. The following covers the process.

The yarn is wound around a frame so that it will be the correct width when it woven. Because a temple is used in weaving this can be an exact measurement. It also means that as the frame is a standard size, so too will be the weaving width.

We saw this motorised frame winder. I did not see anyone doing this by hand so whether everyone has access to this technology is unknown. The number of sections wound equates to the number of pattern rows in the weft ikat pattern. A pattern that is made up of ten pattern rows (often mirror repeated) will require 10 sections on this frame. The winding was very precise so that a full rotation was made before moving onto the next section.

The bundles are then tied. This skill is amazing as there is usually no reference to pattern.

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The “skeins” are removed from the frame.

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And dyed. The ties are then removed. Sometimes multiple dye baths are used.

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The “skeins” are put onto a swift wound onto bobbins. The bobbins are threaded onto a string to keep them in order.

The weft being used in weaving. More on this was written in the previous post.

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March 2017

April 5, 2017

In January and early February I went on a textile trip to Laos. This is the continuing report on that trip from last month. For this report, I continue to discuss the textiles that we came across based on the areas that we visited. Last month I began with Phonsavan.

Textiles in the Luang Prabang area.

Luang Prabang, the northern capital of Laos is a hub for textiles. Local and more distant ethnic groups sell their wares here in markets, villages and galleries/shops. In addition both traditional cloth both new and old as well as more contemporary designs can be found.

 

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The Hmong are known for their wonderful batik textiles in combination with applique and embroidery. We braved a local village where we saw women and young girls stitching. These are very high powered saleswomen.

Ock Pop Tok. They have both a gallery and a “Living Crafts Centre”. Both display contemporary textiles. The Living Craft Centre also has information on textile production including silk production and natural dyes. There are also weavers and batik dyers producing product for the gallery. The following images show yarn and batik drying, and some contemporary weaving.

In addition there are facilities for people to attend a workshop. I took advantage of weaving a supplementary weft recipe. I did not need to pick up the pattern nor thread the loom. Yes, all I had to do was decide what colour weft threads I wanted to use and weave for a couple of hours

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Weavers use the long box loom with a vertical storage unit. String loops are used to store the patterns. The stored pattern is transferred to behind the shafts and put back on a sword to select the pattern for the supplementary weft designs. Many string loops can be used to store very complicated patterns. My pattern only used 40 loops. Several hundred loops can be used in a complicated pattern.

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One doesn’t need language to communicate with weaving. That’s my completed weaving hot off the loom.

And a closer look.

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In addition to the pattern being used as a single supplementary weft it may also be used as a discontinuous supplementary weft for brocade.

On my last trip to Laos and Thailand in 2015 I fully documented how these looms worked.

There are several places that sell textiles. There are local markets of course but here are some shops/galleries/organisations that impressed me.

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum have some great displays of various aspects of textile production and a shop selling textiles.

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Gallery Asiama is run by Linda Mackintosh and exhibits traditional cloth. As well as having many beautiful old textiles, there were a couple of “funery wraps”. These wraps are quite different to anything else I had seen from a weaving structure perspective either on this trip or the previous one. I was told that the technique is no longer being done and were produced in NE Laos and NW Vietnam.

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The technique is either two tie woven as “bricks” or three tie to achieve several colour areas. I saw both examples. The designs were large in scale. These were also found in another gallery exhibiting antique silverware and textiles where they were referred to as “banners”.

Ma Teˊ Sai is run by an Australian who supports weaving in the villages and sells in her gallery. While the techniques are traditional her designs and applications are for the western taste.

Caruso Lao is a gallery selling contemporary Lao textiles, wood carving and turning and silver smithing.

Textiles in Pakse and Boloven Plateau

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In a village just outside of Pakse we saw mat mi or weft ikat being woven. They used a box loom with only 2 shafts for plain weave fabric. The vertical storage is not used here.

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An ethnic village has been set up outside of Pakse that is aimed at the tourists wishing for an overview of traditional crafts from the Atapu region. Each area was represented by a house with representatives from that area often demonstrating or selling their crafts.

There were various warp faced textiles for sale which were woven on back strap looms. Some of these included that woven by the Katu. I loved the warp faced stripe combinations.

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A Katu village. The weavers here use beads on the weft. The yarn may be naturally dyed cotton however I also saw some commercially dyed in brighter colours. Sometimes synthetic yarn is also used.

The process for weaving with beads on the weft.

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As well as many older women, I was delighted to see this young girl weaving with beads. While her design is simpler, the basic technique can be seen. The back strap loom is set up with as a combination of warp stripes to create an overall pattern and to enhance the pattern of the beads. There is only one weft thread. This has many beads threaded on it. The shuttle is to the left.

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When the beads are required they are counted off and woven in the approximate position. The weft is beaten.

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Then the beads are placed in the correct position according to the pattern before being beaten into place.

Here’s a movie of the full process.

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The Dream Home supports women who were victims of human trafficking.

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Pakse Souveni had some exquisite mat mi.

Textiles along the Mekong River south of Pakse.

We saw no weaving being done. In fact there was very little weaving being worn. Life here revolves around farming and fishing. Of note we did see some fishing nets and baskets being made; all useful for this lifestyle.

Textiles in Savannaket area

Laha Nam Village produces mat mi in natural dyes. We participated in a dyeing workshop here.

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The ethnic minority group of the Phu Tai originally came from northern Vietnam. They brought indigo and cotton weaving to the area many generations ago. Around 1975 weaving and dyeing stopped because of competition from Thailand. In 1989 -90 when Laos reopened after the war, a government company was set up to encourage people to work again. The company is no longer working with the villagers and instead they have been encouraged to form cooperatives to weave and sell their produce.

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Cotton is raised on the banks of the Mekong and processed in the village.

There are several cooperatives in this village and over 200 weavers. The one we visited has 22 weavers. Details of the dyeing workshop will follow in another blog.

Here’s some examples weaving that was produced.

We visited another mat mi village in this area. They were producing yardage of a standard size: 75 x 160cm. This was using commercially spun cotton/rayon on a synthetic warp. It was also typified by two weft rows of mat mi alternating with 2 rows of solid colour. The designs were quite contemporary. We bought in what appeared to be the communal shop where the weavers bought the yarn and then brought back finished product for sale probably to an established buyer.

Textiles in Vientiane Area

Carol Cassidy is a western entrepreneur working with the Laotian weavers to created contemporary designs based on tradition. I have visited Carol whenever I have been in Vientiane. As well as being the driving force behind the gallery and studio, she is also engaged as a consultant in Cambodia and Myanmar. She is very much aware of what is happening in textiles in Vientiane, nationally and in SE Asia. She employs several weavers on the gallery site.

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Nikone has a gallery and usually an attached workshop. Unfortunately the weaving workshop was closed due to flooding. She has also developed a range of textiles for sale in Europe and Japan. It is exciting to see that her daughter is becoming involved in the business and catering towards the Lao wedding market. This fabric woven with an ondule or fan reed was one of the treasures I found in the gallery.

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Phaeng Mai- gallery and weaving studio. There are some delightful contemporary woven fabrics in the gallery. It was great to return to Phaeng Mai where I had studied last year.

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Magic Lao Carpets is the first and only carpet making business in Laos. The carpets are hand knotted and are stunning. As well as seeing the finished product, we were able to see all the stages that go into weaving them.

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Each carpet is worked on by a team of young girls. They work from printed graphs.

The silk is hand knotted around the warp. Note the line to check the pattern. Then they are beaten in.

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The pile is trimmed with shears regularly.

There are several other galleries. Mulberries, which I had visited in Phonsavan, also has a gallery in Vientiane.

Some interesting bits and pieces and overall impressions.

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This is how convenient a loom can be to set up. A weaver arrives with the warp all threaded through the heddles. All that needs to be done to weave is to put it on the loom, attach treadles and suspend shafts.

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Often the very long warps (up to 90 m) for the supplementary weft weaving is loosely coiled in a bag and suspended from the back of the loom. In this case the warp has been wound on a board. This will result in even tension across the full width of this loom. Note that this warp board is tied onto the loom and not permanently fixed.

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Bamboo stretchers are usually used. They are placed under the weaving, out of the way. You can tell on this weaving how frequently it has been moved. They are very useful when weaving weft ikat to keep the ikat consistently aligned.

Textile production form a part of daily life. Looms are found under the houses. Here chickens roost on the loom with the most complicated mat mi.

Many communities that are close to the Thai border have been impacted by the death of the Thai king. This is a year of morning. This has affected the sale of textiles for use in ceremonies including weddings. The village of Laha Nam has had a major downturn in indigo mat mi production. It has also resulted in an upturn in entertainment offered on the Laos side of the border with weekend tourism increasing.

It is sometimes difficult to identify which ethnic group is producing which cloth. At one gallery we were told that it comes from “the north”. This may be because a middle man/woman is involved in buying the cloth or that they are directing villages into producing cloth of a particular style because it is popular and readily saleable.

The issue of copyright is seen as a major one by many galleries. The best galleries aim at staying one step ahead of the competition. There are no laws that protect copyright.

How prevalent is handwoven fabric in today’s society? In general daily life women are the only ones who wear traditional dress in the form of the sinh or skirt. Along one road, I surveyed how many women were wearing the sinh as opposed to western dress. In this instance it was about even. It does however depend on where one is. Remote villages are more likely to retain traditional cloth and certain ethnic groups seem to value it more than others. Areas where there are government or public jobs often require women to wear the sinh as a uniform. School uniforms require the sinh to be worn though it is a commercially woven version.

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I thought this market we stopped at along the road between Savannaket and Vientiane provided an insight. On one side of the aisle was a shop selling western clothes while directly opposite was one selling the sinh.

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The one area that still has high regard for traditional textiles and dress is the wedding industry. This will be the only time that men wear traditional dress. The cloth here exhibits a high standard of exclusiveness and workmanship.

We heard that the generation of Laos and International women who had dedicated their lives to promoting weaving either traditional or contemporary were approaching retirement with a lack of young blood coming through. This must impact on the future of weaving and textile production in Laos.

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I saw these two panels in the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum. They reflect the diverse attitudes in ethnic minority groups as to the value of traditional textiles.

The government will play a vital role in the future of textiles. It was very evident that Laos is undergoing great development with financial partnerships with China, Thailand and Vietnam. This is creating new jobs which pay so much more than textile rates. The rate of growth was extremely evident in Vientiane with high rise buildings appearing and in the proliferation of petrol stations along major roads.

The issue of the survival of traditional crafts in contemporary society is not new. As Laos moves into this new era of economic growth and the impact of the popularity of western dress increases, I hope that the knowledge and skills of those working with textiles will continue to be appreciated and for them to have a place for their work.

 

Coming: I will document the stages of mat mi, the indigo dyeing workshop we participated in and eventually a report on the textile experience in Cambodia.

  

 


February 2017 Part 2

March 2, 2017

In this post, I separate what is going on in the studio and my trip to Laos and Cambodia. Both are so different that they deserve their own space.

Two days after my arrival home from the trip to Laos and Cambodia, I held another Linen and Lace workshop in the studio. Four weavers attended. We explore many lace weaves (Canvas weaves, Spot Bronson, Bronson Lace, Swedish Lace, Huck). Nine warps were woven off so they went home with quite a collection. The following are some images taken over the five days.

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Four weavers with some of the warps being cut off.

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Experimenting with finishing using a modified mangling process: glass bottles filled with cold water. A marble rolling pin on a tile or a piece of glass would be a preferred option.

Then two days later I had Joan, a weaver from Hawaii who combined a tourist trip to Australia with an opportunity to weave in my studio. She decided to explore weaving on a draw loom. But first, there was a minor problem. I had a warp on this loom. It had only been there for about nine months waiting for me to eventually get around to weaving it. There’s nothing like someone wanting to weave on a loom to get you to actually weave. This warp was designed to explore 4 shaft ground weaves. Using just 4 shafts how many basic structures can be woven? But before I show what I wove, I’ll outline the parameters that I’d set. The design was to be basically the same with only variation being in the frame in one corner. I wanted to have a fairly restricted design so that I didn’t spend too much time thinking and moving around pattern shafts (time was of the essence after all). Yet to prevent boredom I allowed myself a small restricted area to play in. You will see the overall standard design with variation.

How many structures can be done on 4 shafts? This many!

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Let’s take a closer look. There’s a 1/3 and 3/1 combination. The direction of the twill line is the same.

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There’s a 1/3 and 3/1 twill with opposite directions. This is a very common effect employed in 8 shaft twill blocks.

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Instead of straight twills, how about warp and weft faced broken twills?

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In the High Court judges’ robes I employed “network drafting” of warp faced straight twill with weft faced broken twill. Here I repeat the effect on a draw loom.

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Moving away from twills, a three end lace weave is possible. This followed very nicely from the previous week’s Linen and Lace.

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A standard 4 shaft straight threading can also be used for pick up Summer and Winter (2 tie unit weave).

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And of course 4 shafts can also be used for doubleweave. Normally the sett would be twice as dense and alternate colours would be used. Instead here I have compensated by using alternate colours in thicker yarns. Obviously by the size of the same I ran out of time before Joan arrived.

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Joan got to pull cords and look at how the loom worked before even getting to wind a warp and thread by playing on the tail end of my warp.

Joan had come with a prepared design based on a photograph of a tiled floor. After planning her project/s, drafting her design, and winding the warp prior to learning about setting up the loom, she got to weave that design. The next challenge was to alter the set up of the pattern shafts to interpret a new design. This one was a simple modification.

This image shows both her first and second design.

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The last challenge required her to use as many pattern shafts as possible threaded individually with the exclusion of a border and design a motif across the full width. She enjoyed the freedom of dropping off all the pattern shafts, rearranging them in a different configuration to allow for total freedom of pattern design. The following images shows Joan cutting off her warp and the different patterns she had designed and woven.

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This is what I love about drawloom weaving: the freedom of developing “block” designs using the pattern shafts of a drawloom. The design potential is so much greater than what can be achieved on any multi-shaft loom (even one with the most number of shafts available on a computer assist loom). The only other loom that has greater potential is a jacquard. It however involves computers. This is the “slow food” equivalent of weaving where there is a much greater “hands on” experience.

 


February 2017 Part 1.

March 2, 2017

 

I am going to write 2 bogs for February. One will be on weaving in the studio (Part 2) while this will be the start of more to come.

I have just returned from an amazing textile research trip to Laos and Cambodia. Some was self- directed but there was also an organised textile tour. Over the next few months, I will be assimilating and reporting on aspects of this trip. There is a lot to take in and I have barely unpacked, so only a very brief taster will be shared here. It will be the start of things to come.

First up let me say that it has been just 2 years since I was in the north of Laos at Luang Prabang and 1 year since I was in Vientiane. There have been big changes connected with “progress”. One of note was the number of brand new fuel station along the roads. It felt like every kilometre there was one. Is this a sign of investment and even a raise in living standards? How has this impacted in particular on textiles? What has happened in the time that I was last here? These are some of the issues I will be considering later in addition to where I found textiles and the mechanics of various aspects of weaving.

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The pink line outlines this trip. The orange on in 2015

First a brief overview of where I went. I started off in Ponsovan, then drove to Luang Prabang. Trood Newman joined me on this leg. At Luang Prabang we joined the Textile Tour, organised in a fashion by Intentionally Different. The two experts who absolutely made this trip were Valerie Kirk who has been travelling here for many years and has a wealth of textile knowledge to share and Jit, our local tour guide. From Luang Prabang we flew to Pakse. Using Pakse as a base we explored the area working our way down to Kong Island at the most southern part of Laos. Driving north we passed through Savannakhet to Vientiane where the tour finished. From there Trood and another friend, Libby Hepburn, and I explored the area around Siem Reap.

I am going to structure my report based on the areas that we visited before looking at in-depth aspects of weaving. Well that’s the plan.

Weaving in Ponsovan.

This area was heavily bombed in the Vietnam War and is often referred to as the “Secret War” as often the world didn’t recognise that Laos was a casualty in that conflict. Even now there are many unexploded ordinances (UXO). This has had the impact of much of the buildings needing to be rebuilt. Farming has been restricted because of the uncertainty when it comes to expanding farms and even digging in existing ones. There is a sense of ‘newness’ overlying tradition while at the same time progress being held in check because of the uxo’s and the community being kept poor. UNESCO is involved in clearing uxo. Land that was cleared needs to be re-cleared as more uxo become exposed. Tourism centres around the Plain of Jars. In a cultural sense, the actual jars are amazing. They are large stone jars. Why are they here? What were they used for? What significance in the development of culture did they have? They are awe inspiring. The shapes and forms and how they sit in the landscape are certainly a focus for contemplation. Even the fact that they survived the extensive bombing that happened in this area is a amazing.

 

Mulberries. www.mulberries.org

I was keen to visit Mulberries after my previous trip in 2015 where I came across the organisation in Luang Prabang. Mulberries was set up by Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong is a centre that focuses on the development of a sericulture industry. In 2015, I was aware that she developed this industry that involved the whole community and wanted to follow up on this project. Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong had because of her involvement in strengthening the position of women in the community been presented as an applicant for the Nobel Peace Prize.

This is what I saw.

We drove to the centre on the outskirts of Xiengkhouang and met by a guide. This is the place where obviously the focus is on growing the mulberry trees and the raising of silk worms. We were shown all stages of silk production: reeling, skein winding, dyeing and weaving. It was disappointing that there were not many people working there when we visited. There were a couple of workers using skeining equipment while the dyers were off at a wedding and there were only 4 weavers at work. I wondered if some of the work that could be done off site (winding the silk from cocoon to skein, weaving and finishing) was being done off site and whether this centre apart from the silk worm/silk growing aspect was more of a collection/distribution centre. The weaving produced is sold in the gallery on site and in Vientiane. The retail outlet in Luang Prabang is now closed. In Vientiane, we visited the gallery and met with Mrs Kommaly Chanthavong. An interesting comment that she made was that the organisation was diversifying into soya production to support their community. I must admit that after the visit to the Centre, I felt that the strength of the textile production as to what I had remembered was not as great. More will be noted of Mulberries when we get to Vientiane.

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Mulberries grows 5 varieties of silk worms with several of these being cross breeds.

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Silk being reeled from cocoons.

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This equipment allows for many skeins to be prepared.

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One of the four weavers. She is using a vertical storage system with sticks. There was a loom set up with string looms to store pattern but it had a few cobwebs and was obviously not currently being used. I understand that bamboo sticks are preferred though when the space becomes too cramped to use these, they move to the loops instead.  All four weavers were using sticks. The weavers are from the Black Tai, Red Tai and Lao Phuan ethnic groups.

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A close up look at what is being woven.

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The gallery at Mulberries (Ponsovan)

Next: Luang Prabang.


The High Court of Australia Judges’ Robes

January 4, 2017

This is a special blog. Normally I wait till the end of the month and post. This however is an extra one that documents a remarkable project and a career highlight.

Over the past few months, if you have been following my posts you will know that I have been involved in weaving for the new robes for the Judges of The High Court of Australia. The posts I have made have documented what has happened after the announcement was made. Prior to that we were unable to discuss what was happening, so I had not been able to post progress of this project. The following document also appears on my website.

On the 4th October 2016 the High Court of Australia announced that their judges were wearing new robes. What made these remarkable is that each robe is custom made. A particularly distinctive feature of the new robes is the use of a unique handwoven element, designed to integrate practically and symbolically within the robe.

The robes were designed by Bill Haycock. Margaret Adam created the pattern and cut the robes while Saffron Firkins did the sewing. The sleeves were designed and hand woven by myself. All are based in Queensland.

This is the story of the development and production of this project. It is mainly from my perspective but there are also excerpts written by both Bill and Margaret. I am delighted that they were willing to contribute to this as it will give an insight into the project as a whole.

October 2014. In retrospect the project began then. I had occasion to meet with Bill Haycock in Brisbane domestic airport. The purpose was to see whether I would be interested in working on a commission. He was interested in the potential of hand weaving. Why the airport? At the time, I was commuting between home and Mittagong where I was in charge of the weaving studio at Sturt for two years and the airport terminal was a mutually convenient location. At that stage I had absolutely no idea what the commission was to be and many months passed till I eventually found out.

Bill Haycock, a theatre designer with an international reputation, had by this time already designed new robes for the other two Australian Courts: Australia’s Federal Court and the Federal Magistrate’s Court (now renamed as The Federal Circuit Court). He was approached to design the vey pinnacle of the Australia Court system: The High Court of Australia.

Bill: Since the previous experiences had been so good – both creatively challenging and professionally satisfying I willingly agreed but, since I was already busy with shows and there was no fixed deadline, it took quite some time to absorb the brief, research and develop my thinking to even preliminary designs.

One of the best decisions I made came out of the realisation that the numbers needed were relatively small. There can only ever be a maximum of seven judges on the High Court so even with spare robes and initial prototypes (‘toiles’) and a projection forward of potential new robes we’d initially be creating only about ten robes.

This opened the possibility of using unique hand weaving as part of the design. I met with the very experienced weaver Kay Faulkner in mid October, 2014 and although at that early stage I wasn’t at liberty to say who the client actually was she came on board to advise and be involved in developing hand-woven sections for the new robes. I again turned to Margaret Adam who I’d worked with so successfully on all my previous robes, to see if again she’d cut and organise the sewing of toiles (sample robes to develop and fine tune the designs).

Mid 2015 I finally heard from Bill and discovered what the project was. I must admit that I was, to put it mildly, thrilled to learn what I was about to be involved in.

Bill had by this time been in contact with all the Judges to elucidate their thoughts on design both with the practicalities and the overall impression that they required. From that he developed his design concept.

Bill: The Federal Court robes combined a series of seven equal vertical tucks. Seven symbolically denotes the various Australian states and territories – the same as the larger star under the Union Jack on the Australian flag. This was to represent equality under the law no matter where in Australia you were and a series of horizontal tucks graduating in size from smaller at top (to give more detail ‘above the bench’ and potentially in close-up on television) to wider at the hem represented the scale of Australia as the world’s largest island as well as the breadth of judicial jurisdiction. This symbolism was developed differently for the High Court robes as two sections of hand weaving placed at each sleeve end in a graduating ripple pattern  ( finer to thicker, positive to negative – wool on silk/ silk on wool ) representing again Australia’s vastness as surrounded by sand beaches with internal deserts as well. The High Court’s function as the ultimate court of appeal and decision making also fed into this symbolism as a ‘helicopter view’ of both landscape and law. Further to this the handwoven sleeve ends and back detail incorporates a pair of triangles culminating at the same point referring to this peak/ ultimate facet of the Court’s power.

I prefer such design symbolism to be embedded within the make-up of the robe rather than being ‘applied’ and after much trial and error and a lot of sketches was happy with these linked but developed aspects of the existing symbolism from the other Federal Court robes into these new and quite different ‘T’ shaped robes.

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Photo courtesy Bill Haycock.

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Photo courtesy Bill Haycock

Mid to late 2015. There were many meetings with both Bill and Margaret. This was the time that we had to resolve Bill’s design concept into both a workable design for the pattern and for me to interpret it into a woven structure. These meetings were also time when we bonded as a team. I know that I came away from that first meeting when the three of us met for the first time thinking that this is going to be a great project to work on. The three of us just “clicked”. It was very professional, highly efficient and yet very relaxed. It was also very much three experts coming together, each valuing what the other does. And let’s not forget it was a pretty wonderful commission to be working on. The only thing we couldn’t do was talk about it to our friends.

I sampled for types of fabrics and yarn combinations. I sourced yarn. I sampled for how to achieve “ripples” and scale. There are just so many variations that can be achieved. The whole focus though was on how to achieve a design that would be visible from a distance. Specifics about the design were resolved when the three of us met. The fabric also had to work in with the commercial fabric that would be used for the rest of the gown. Finally the actual style of weaving and yarns were finalised.

The sleeves were to be woven in wool and silk to obtain maximum contrast in lustre enabling the greatest potential for a black on black pattern to be seen from a distance. Wool (2/28) was to be used for the warp logically because it is less expensive as a yarn and to acquire (local as opposed to international). The weft chosen was 2/60 silk. The structure we chose was a networked twill but combining a weft faced straight twill (maximizes lustre of the silk) and a warp faced broken twill to maximize the flatness of the wool.

Now came many hours developing the actual weaving draft. Prior to now, I had been working on the basic concept. Now I had Bill draw to scale what he envisaged. It was from this that weaving draft specifics were developed. Thank heavens for the internet and weaving programs that can be scaled down to enable us both to see how the weave pattern would fit into the same scale of sleeve pattern.

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Photo courtesy Bill Haycock

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One of the drafts that were considered. Bill had a cut out template that could sit over the weaving image.

And don’t forget, in the meantime Margaret was also busy working with Bill on pattern for the robes and how to fit this all together. Before I have Margaret tell her story, it is important to provide some background on how both she and Saffron became involved in the project. Margaret: It was one of those being-in-the-right-place-at-the-right-time stories when I first met Bill. We were both working on a show at the Queensland Theatre Company and a mutual friend, designer Maria Cleary, introduced us and Bill asked me if I would like to make judges’ robes. That was 16 or 17 years ago. I also met Saffron Firkins on that day.

Margaret on the robe design: My first role is to take the sketches and brief from Bill and make the first pattern and robe. Bill and I then meet (with the robe) and start looking at the finer details of lines and textures and shapes (such as a neckline or the point position at the back of the robe). I very much enjoy working with Bill. He lets me make all kinds of suggestions… but best of all …he makes all final decisions. I then start sourcing and purchasing the materials needed… which included talking with Kay about the lengths and widths of the hand woven pieces needed.

And then eventually the day arrived, and we were given the go ahead to start production for the first toile and I put on the first warp; enough for one set of sleeves. The design worked. The yarn worked. The pattern worked.

The sleeves are 75 cm wide when finished. That means I have to weave wider. Often when you thread a loom there is a basic repeat that you thread over and over for the full width. There are 1380 warp threads to be threaded before weaving even starts. Unlike many weaving patterns there is no pattern repeat in the threading. It is constantly changing. No threading mistakes please! I don’t want to rethread.  That’s what gives the wide and narrow ripples across the width. The weaving sequence also changes. The pattern repeat is 150 cm long or if you like when I weave, each of the 2,100 rows that I throw a shuttle for is also constantly changing. That’s what enables the ripples to go from wide at one hem of the sleeves to narrow at the other end. The fabric is hand woven on a 24 shaft computer assist loom. That’s what enables the complexity of the pattern.

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The warp has been wound onto the loon and threading begins.

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Weaving commences

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Weaving progresses

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The first of the sleeve pair is woven. Here it is being cut off the loom.

Margaret had started on the construction of the gown. She now had the handwoven fabric to work with. This was her first experience of working with handwoven fabric.

Margaret: What a treat it was to work with such beautiful fabrics…mind you…it took me an hour to check and then check again before I cut into Kay’s fabrics.

Early/mid 2016. Finally the first toile was complete and ready to be presented to the judges. It was an exciting and yet “hold your breath, hope they like it” time and then came the wonderful moment that we were given the go ahead. I remember the meeting where we all came together to celebrate after Bill had been to Canberra to present the proposed new robe.

At around this time it also became evident that the female Judges required a neck piece that would fill in the top of the gown in much the same way that a man’s collar would. There were currently three female High Court Judges. The fabric for this is based on elements of the gown. It has a rippled effect but in a smaller scale regular repeated design. This fabric is in cream 2/60 silk. This more simplified design is woven on 16 shafts. Margaret designed a fitted insert that sits inside the gown.

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Detail of neck piece fabric.

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Neck piece inside gown. Photo courtesy Margaret Adam

June 2016. The pressure is on to have the fabric woven so that Margaret can construct the gowns for a September deadline and prior to my overseas trip to USA/Canada. I had to weave enough fabric for the seven High Court Judges robes and for three collar inserts. I now have two designated High Court looms.

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Fabric being stored on the loom as it is being woven.

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Fabric just off the loom.

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Cream silk finished for collar inserts.

Meanwhile Margaret starts production. This is when Saffron and I start working together. I went to Canberra and met each of the judges and came back to my workroom to make the individual patterns, and cut each robe. I can sew ….but I am nowhere near the quality of the machining that Saffron gives us…each robe has 7 box pleats spaced 5 mm apart…that’s 49 pleats in total. Each robe also had 25 metres of silk binding and piping….and far too many hand stitching hours to guess!

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Photo courtesy Margaret Adam.

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Photo courtesy Margaret Adam.

Then came the announcement that we were waiting for.

Tuesday 4th October, Bill has the go ahead to announce: I’m pleased to be able to finally say, without embargo, that as of this afternoon’s sitting the High Court of Australia are wearing new robes.

Finally we can celebrate this amazing project. We can also talk about it. Until this moment it has been kept totally under wraps. The media picks up on our achievement with articles being published Australia wide and even a very early morning interview on 612 ABC radio.

Bill hears from the Judges. Bill: The great feedback so far has been how much lighter, more comfortable, cooler and more stylish they are than their predecessors while matching the required gravitas and remaining as flattering but subtle foils to emphasise the faces and hands of the individual judges wearing them.

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October- December. I weave! The commission is for a total of 20 sleeves, enough for current and medium term needs. It is interesting to note that since the launch, the original Chief Justice has retired. Chief Justice Susan Kiefel is Australia’s new Chief Justice and the first woman to hold that position. This has of course resulted in a vacancy and the need for a new robe. I also need to weave more fabric for the collar inserts. Each female Judge requires three and again more for projected needs. What will happen when all the fabrics are used up and if I cannot weave them? The future viability for the continuance of the design is maintained as The High Court has acquired the copyright to my designs.

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This is the very last row of weaving.

14th December. All finished weaving. We all get to celebrate my finish with a Grand Cutting Off Ceremony. Bill, Margaret and Saffron (and children) all experience weaving on the sleeve warp.

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Bill Haycock weaves.

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Margaret Adam weaves.

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Saffron Firkins weaves.

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Then it is finally cut off. We celebrate!

The final step is to wash and iron the fabric and prepare for delivery.

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The full length of one set of sleeves. Note the progression of narrow ripples at one end to wide at the other. How much of the fabric length and width will be used depends on the size of the individual judge.

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Detail of robe. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.

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Front view. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.

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Back view. Photo credit: Adam McGrath, courtesy The High Court of Australia.

All photos unless otherwise credited: Kay Faulkner.