October 2017: Student work and a review of the Hybrid Loom Project

November 6, 2017

This month I’ll review the latest 5 day class in the studio and the results of the challenge with the hybrid loom.

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Rochelle returned to continue weaving her throws. She brought back the throw she had woven the previous month for finishing. After laundering, this throw is so soft and cuddly and it has achieved the magic of tracking: a random twill like effect that sometimes appears on plain weave when the twist of the ply and the sett combine.

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This is one of the best examples of tracking, I’ve seen for a while. It sure does add interest to this cloth.

And then she started another throw.

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And finished it. Here’s another very cuddly alpaca throw.

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While Rochelle was weaving her throws, the focus for this 5 day class was on weaving floor rugs.

Sue brought a palette of hand spun alpaca.

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She wove stripes on plain weave and explored some weave effects.

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Here the rug is coming off the loom.

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What a great result Sue. It is nearly finished, just half one side of fringing to go.

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Marja returned to the studio to weave a rug on a twill threading. She was inspired by some of the effects that could be achieved by sequencing of colours in the weft.

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Here it is coming off the loom. It’s exciting to see how the colours and patterns work together.

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She has totally finished her rug. Congratulations Marja.

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I flagged last month that I would review the results of the experimental warp from the hybrid loom: one that has a countermarche action and long eyed heddles in combination with storage systems from S E Asia.

Here are all the techniques that were woven on that one warp with no rethreading of the warp.

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To recap: I had put the warp on by pulling it through the vertical storage system. I then threaded the shafts in a straight twill on 6 shafts. This combination allowed me to pick up a pattern to be woven as a supplementary weft on a plain weave ground. By picking up a different set of pattern shafts in a block of 6, I was able to achieve a 6 end damask effect as if I was weaving on a draw loom. That vertical storage system had now become in essence the second set of heddles found on a draw loom. (May blog)

Next I found a technique in Becker’s book and explored that (last month). I picked up the start of that pattern and stored it on the vertical storage and added a horizontal system. That same picked up design was used to weave an isolated motif as a supplementary weft. Not bad for just one warp isn’t it? There are 3 totally different techniques: supplementary weft including brocade on plain weave, damask and the plain weave with twill motif from the Han Dynasty.

The question is posed: which is the more versatile loom? Is it a conventional draw loom or this hybrid loom that is basically a conventional countermarche loom with a Lao/Thai addition? Could I have woven all those techniques on the draw loom?

The answer is of course yes with some forward planning. If I knew I was going to weave these techniques on a draw loom, I would have threaded the back set of shafts (the pattern shafts) two to a heddle. (Normally on a draw loom if I was going to weave a 6 end damask, I would put 6 ends through the one eye.) The front set of shafts would then be threaded in a 6 end straight twill. The effect is the same. However the only difference is the Lao/Thai vertical storage system is always set up 2 to a heddle. The only forward planning I made on my hybrid loom was to choose to use 6 shafts instead of the conventional 2 because I knew I wanted to explore how easily damask could be woven on that system. And because I was limited by 2 threads through the heddles of the vertical storage system, I knew that the satin for the damask needed to be multiples of 2. The rest of my experimentation happened because I saw a technique and had the perfect set up that allowed me to play.

The next question to ask is which can achieve the more complex repeat patterning? If both looms are set up the same: 2 warp threads through either a pattern heddle or through the vertical storage system and an appropriate ground weave, the only limiting factor will be the way that the pattern is achieved. On my draw loom, I am limited by 50 pattern shafts. If I had a single draw system then I could individually pull each row, in essence picking up whatever pairs I wanted for each row. On the Loa/Thai loom, I pick up the pattern and store it. Once stored the pattern rows are used in sequence. The number of pattern rows could be hundreds. In the Lao/Thai system the weaver picks up the design with a stick and transfers the pattern to behind the front ground weave shafts to be stored. The picking up of motif takes time. On a draw loom with an individual pull, the weaver conveniently sits at the front of the loom and pulls cords to select the pattern a row at a time.

Lastly, announcing the 2018 studio class schedule. Full details are coming.

8-12 January (4 places left) and 19-23 February (1 place left) Linen and Lace Learn how to weave trouble free with linen. Explore various lace weave structures. Linen and lace is a beautiful combination. Looms will be set up so you will not need to thread before weaving.

26-30 March (provisional) From a Twill Threading.

30 April- 4 May Beyond the Basics

11-16 June Special

6-10 August Two ties or Summer and Winter

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September 2017: Student work + John Becker’s book/Weaving informed by S E Asia.

October 4, 2017

I’m in the studio this month. This blog covers both student work and some research.

Scheduled was a five day studio class in Double Weave. For two weavers: Sharon and Marja this was their focus. Looms had been pre-threaded so that they could just weave. However there were theory and design activities often revolving around what they were actually weaving as well as developing an awareness of the diverse range of applications that were possible. The following are some images from the five days and a sample of what was attempted and completed. There was more but I missed taking some images.

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Sharon weaving layers.

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Marja wanted to master double weave pick up for imagery. She did!

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Windows of colour being woven: double weave blocks.

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From the same warp, their own designs on an off sett layer.

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Just a bit of fun: layers that swivel.

In addition to the scheduled work in class, Sharon took the opportunity to pull up and dye her fabric woven in the previous class. The technique was warp shibori woven on a warp of linen/cotton with a silk noil weft.

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The warp has been pulled up and dyed. Shown here is Sharon undoing her resist.

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This fabric is destined to become a blouse.

At the same time that Sharon and Marja were weaving double weave, Rochelle continued with her bird in Theo Morman.

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By the second day the weaving was completed. Now there is thought being given to the next steps in completing this wall hanging and a single repair to make. It is a gigantic achievement for a first time weaver.

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For her second warp, Rochelle decided to weave a throw in alpaca, plain weave and checks. Here it is finished in 3 days.

These weavers sure got through a lot of weaving and can certainly be proud of their efforts. I was certainly impressed by their dedication as they took full advantage of the studio hours. Of course while they were committed to what they were weaving, there were times of wonderful companionship and laughter. Special friendships have been formed.

Some may question why Rochelle got to do other things than the listed course: double weave. I can be flexible. My aim is always to accommodate weavers who want to learn- no matter what the topic is. First in with a booking will always be welcomed. And if one class fills on a designated to a topic (remember class size is strictly limited), then I can always list a second.

I have been “playing”. It’s always a good idea to take time off every now and then and explore a topic or do something different.

So what has….

IMG_2101“Pattern and Loom” by John Becker,

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my experiments on a countermarche loom with long eyed heddles, and a Laos style vertical storage loom or what I refer to as my hybrid loom and

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this technique using horizontal pattern storage from Vietnam/ Thailand/ Laos, got in common? Opportunity!!

Firstly this is a new, second edition of John Becker’s book published in 2014 by NIAS Press. The information is basically the same but it does have a different layout and in particular a better size of illustrations. I am enjoying this edition which does away with the “need” to have the two parts of the original (below) which has the larger diagrams and drafts in the second “half”. Note that this edition has “with the collaboration of Donald B. Wagner” on the cover. It is due to his effort that there is an updated version.

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This is the original edition with the two halves. The diagrams in the main book were difficult to read so having the second supplement was beneficial.

I was having a look through the new edition and not having gone very far was very excited to see a technique that was running parallel to some research that I was intending on following. There is this textile that is in my collection and that was intriguing. What I knew about the process in its weaving had commonality with what I was seeing in Becker. I won’t show that textile now as it will come in another post and will only muddy the waters now. However this and what I saw in Becker has sent me off in a new direction of “play” on the hybrid loom.

My hybrid loom had the remnants of a long warp. It has been used for previous “play” at the start of the year. The one thing that I have discovered about this loom is its great flexibility. Here was an opportunity to use it in a different way and maybe finish the warp. I will need to use it as a conventional countermarche loom for weaving rugs in a month or so and this warp really does need to be finished.

The technique I was about to explore is on page 22 in the new edition for those who have it but it is also in the older one. The technique is from the Han Dynasty of China (206BC to AD220). Yes, it is also fascinating because it is so old.

It uses one shuttle for weaving and combines plain weave being woven on two shafts with pattern being picked up and stored. The result combines a pattern in warp faced twill on a plain weave background. Structurally it is excitingly simple.

Becker for blogThe book also shows a horizontal storage system being used. However, I also knew that I could store it on the vertical storage system. Initially this is what I used.

 

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The pattern is picked up in pairs, transferred to behind the shafts and stored.

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I have used the vertical system to store a single diamond motif. This may be used to weave the start or end of the entire motif. I started with this system because it was something I was familiar with.

But here was the opportunity that I’d been waiting for. I would also try out using the horizontal storage process. It’s been on my “to do” list for a number of years. I wanted to understand its advantages and limitations. When asked in Laos why you would use one rather than the other, I had been told that the vertical storage has the capability to store a much longer warp. But how easy is it to use the horizontal system? What are the advantages or disadvantages? It’s usually only by actually using the loom that you can understand how it works.

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But then I took up the challenge and used the horizontal system. I learnt that the pick up requires the making of half heddles and got fast at doing half hitches. This is different to what is shown in Becker but in keeping with where I needed to go. Becker uses pre-tied loops. The knotting of half heddles with half hitches is quite efficient. This system also requires less yarn in creating the heddles than the full loops used by Becker: therefore less opportunity for tangles. I have also taken on board the heddle support rods that I had noted in Laos and Thailand. Using these created a mostly clean lift with few tangles and a very convenient way of keeping them in sequence.

Once the design was picked up and stored, weaving progressed reasonably quickly. To weave the design all I had to do was raise the heddle bar, transfer the pattern to behind the reed and weave two rows of plain weave.

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The first design is woven. It’s interesting to note that when the direction of the pattern lifts are reversed and providing the same weaving sequence of two rows of plain weave for each lift is maintained, then each side of the motif looks different.

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Here’s a closer look. I like that both sides of the design are not the same: left to right and bottom to top.

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And a second one using a different coloured weft. Note the different twill direction.

This second towel uses a different plain weave sequence. Weaving with the left and then the right treadle now becomes right then left and the direction of the twill line changes. Logical but fascinating!

And there’s still  enough for one more “play”. And that will be revealed next month.

 

 

 


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


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 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.


March 2016

March 30, 2016

A textile tour to   Laos and Bhutan Part 1.

This trip started with a Laos extension with 2 friends (Bettes Silver-Schack and Deb McClintock) before we joined the tour to Bhutan.

Laos: Vientiane

The main purpose of this part of the trip was to attend the Paeng Mai Weaving School. This was just too good an opportunity not to value add. Deb had attended the school several times prior to this trip and was keen to re-attend, so we organised a 4 day class where we each chose a specific topic. Of course while we were in Vientiane we also added in a much textile related activities as we could.

Any basic loom information can be found on my previous trip to Laos/Thailand. The looms are similar. Here, I will be focussing on specifics related to the topics covered in the course.

I chose to work on the supplementary warp technique (Muk).

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This is the traditional cloth from which I took my inspiration. I selected 2 of the supplementary warp motifs. As well as supplementary warp, it has weft ikat and brocade (discontinuous weft).

The basic loom was set up before I arrived though it was decided to move it as the light wasn’t great.

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One of the advantages of this style of loom is that it can be easily dismantled and reassembled. Before adding in the extra warp, weaving of the ground begins. About 1 cm is woven. This provides a means of anchoring the supplementary warp later on.

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The supplementary warp was wound. This is an extremely large warping board capable of winding a 60 metre warp. The principle of using a threading cross (bottom centre) is the same.

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The supplementary warp is chained and taken to the loom.

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Note the supplementary warp( white) is kept separate from the ground warp (black). It follows a different path and is tensioned separately. The angle of the supplementary warp under the ground warp is quite exaggerated. When required it is raised above the ground warp. When not required it will stay well out of the way. The warp is positioned on the loom frame before combining with the ground warp.

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Once positioned, the supplementary warp is placed in its correct position in the ground warp. Each supplementary warp is passed through the vertical storage system, between the ground weave shafts and through the appropriate dent in the reed. The ground and supplementary warp alternate. The ground sett remains the same.

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The supplementary warp is then secured on a stick at the front.

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The next step: Adding the supplementary warp heddles. Each warp thread is allotted to a shaft ( length of bamboo) and a heddle constructed. In this case there are 6 shafts with the supplementary threaded point twill (11 threads)

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When required according to the design, the shafts are picked up and raised. This “S” shaped hook secures the selected threads while 2 ground rows are woven. In this case 5 shafts were required and are on the hook. It varies every 2 rows according to the drafted design. That “s” hook is suspended by a series of rubber bands to give stretch to allow movement of the shafts on and off the hook.

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Weaving progresses. Note: The single supplementary warp threads alternating with a single ground thread. (The weaver would be at the top of the image).

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Close up showing some supplementary warps picked up and left unused. There is no danger of the warp being accidentally caught.

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The warp is weighted to ensure it stays down.

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I’ve finished weaving…. well me and my loom buddy, Tan,  have finished. Whenever I got up she would keep weaving and she was at it before I got to the studio and after I left. I did weave at least half. At least it got finished just before time was up on the last day.

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Meanwhile Bettes has worked on a brocade technique (Chok) using a vertical storage system.

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Deb had decided that she wanted to master a lace weave technique that she had seen on a traditional cloth. The loom was set up to aid the picking up of the leno groups but it is all finger manipulated. It originally was a Tai Lue technique.

Deb has mastered ‘Pineapple” leno.

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The finished scarves. From LHS Bettes, mine and Deb’s scarves.

The following are a couple of interesting tips.

Until now I had used a knot above the head of the weaver to tension the warp. It must be undone and then reformed. However this modification means that the knot does not have to be shifted. The rope allows for the warp to be released, advanced and then retightened.

The following are a couple of interesting places to visit.

Lao Textile Museum

This is a privately owned museum which had a display of looms, traditional textiles and a shop with the focus on silk. I noted a couple of loom modifications. There was also an amazing collection of textiles.

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On one of the looms that was set up, we noticed the bottom bar is extended. This is an alternative device that separates the supplementary warp from the ground warp.

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This is an example of the supplementary warp fabric woven on this loom.

Carol Cassidy     www.laotextiles.com  A well known and long time USA entrepreneur/weaver, living in Vientiane who works with local weavers selling through her workshop/gallery.

Taykeo Textiles Gallery  An amazing collection of historical textiles as well as modern traditionally based ones. Taykeo Sayavongkhamdy is owner.

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Detail of one of the silk supplementary weft brocade cloths based in a traditional design.

Bangkok

A free day in Bangkok while we waited to join the tour to Bhutan, meant that there was an opportunity to visit The Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles. Deb had organised a private tour with a curator. Unfortunately there’s no photography allowed of the exhibitions but at the end of the tour we came across this weaver and some interactive displays. This is an amazingly complex fabric. And she managed to keep track of what was going where while talking to us.

 

The Jim Thompson House is also worth a visit. www.jimthompsonhouse.com

Over the next few days I hope to post the second instalment of my last adventure where I go to Bhutan- where there are the most amazing living textiles.

 


December 2015

December 31, 2015

 

My studio is nearly finished. What a very nice way to end the year. I am so looking forward to working in this space. To do is some tiling and then to move looms. It should be finished for the first class in the New Year. Here’s progress this month.

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The painting gets done. I say goodbye to the purple wall. I need light in here to work.

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The painting is finished.

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And the very next day, we had heavy rain. The gutters overflowed but there I was dry inside.

Kathryn, Barb, Ann and Maggie were in the studio at the start of the month. They worked on independent projects with great results.

Kathryn experimented with 4 layers of weaving, swapping the layers around to achieve different effects.

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Ann explored different 4 shaft twills.

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Barb explored twills on 8 shafts.

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Maggie explored woven shibori  with shirts that had been cut up.

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Here she is pulling out the resist threads to reveal the dyed pattern.

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Fabrics washed and hung out to dry.

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A very important part of any workshop is time out.

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In this Festive Season, I’ve had a lovely few days weaving in the new space. I’ve got that warp to finish off.

For this next experiment, I had rethreaded the original warp on 4 shafts as I wanted to see how it would perform. The loom action for those of a technical bent is counterbalance (when two shafts go up the opposite two go down linked by a pulley system) I’d also increased the spacing of the warp. I also wanted to explore was the effectiveness of using normal treadles on this loom. Two sticks of wood as treadles were very floating and of course have a tendency to move. Maybe fixed treadles would make for more effective weaving. I have taken bits from a couple of looms to rig up these treadles. The original ones were very heavy. I knew I would have issues working the vertical storage component if it were too heavy. Of course it was much easier to weave. By the way the extra horizontal bars will be necessary if I’m to do any sort of patterned four shaft weaving.

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I got to weave about 30 cm of plain weave before I came to the pattern area. OOPS! These treadles even though they are as light as possible make moving the picked up pattern to behind the shafts just way too difficult. There’s just too much weight. So back to the drawing board and I have put back on the bits of wood. Four shafts tied directly to the treadles. It works!

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A comment would be though that it is much easier to transfer the picked up pattern when there are only 2 shafts. Having 4 shafts would have meant that I could do some extra patterning similar to what I had done on the draw loom. What I’ve tried here with the treadles and their inherent weight problems will mean that I’ll need to find an alternative to make that possible. Some features of a western style loom are not as efficient in this case as the original Laos loom.

Here’s my 46 stick pattern. This is a much more complex pattern than I have previously used. The piece of paper attached to the beater makes seeing the threads much easier. The purple against the dark wood is really hard to see.

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Note the series of pattern sticks storing the design.

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Here’s a quick preview of some of the classes starting in the New Year. Full details of these and others will be posted under “My School” soon.

18-22 January. Linen and Lace.

22-26 February (5 days) or the weekends of 20/22 and 27/28 (4 days)    From profile to structure

25-29 April         East Meets West and more

23-27 May          Networked Twills.

27 June – 1 July               Special

19 – 23 September         From Parallel Threadings

This time last year I was in Canada experiencing snow. I have my own snowflakes. They seem appropriate for here.

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