May 2018: Part 5 of The Lesser Sunda Islands trip/Looms and weaving processes

June 23, 2018

This blog continues my experiences of the textile research trip to the Lesser Sunda Islands by Sea Trek. It will be the final in this series. This blog covers all aspects of weaving.

Back strap looms are nothing if not portable. They can be easily packed up at the end of the day and put away. They can be easily transported and set up somewhere else. All you need is some sort of structure to anchor it too. The other end is attached by a strap to a means (fabric or carved support) that when passed around the back of the weaver allows tension to be created. By bending forward, tension is removed, allowing the weaver to change a shafts. Here you see the basic elements: the frame provides both a seat and a means of slotting in the back beam. There’s the back strap ready to be put around the back of the weaver. Note that not all back strap looms have a frame. Sometimes it’s just a couple of posts in the ground.

The loom may fit into an existing structure or be tied to one.

The length of the actual loom correlates to the length of the weaving. One end will be anchored by a physical means, the other by the body. This warp must have a very long loom.

A weaver must be able to create good tension. To facilitate this, she or he must be able to push against the opposite end. Here extra pieces of wood have been put to shorten the distance.

How looms are actually used in daily life can only be seen when you look at home. Often they are outside under some sort of roof or under a house.  Sometimes they are in a favourite location. It is probably unlikely that the looms used in demonstrations are usually used on this site. On a wander around Umapura, Bettes and I came across a woman weaving beside a man making a canoe. It was away from the area where the demonstrations and selling were so one could suppose that this site may be used often. I was pleased that we both had an opportunity to weave. We realised how heavy the weaving was to lift to clear each shed or row of weaving. That warp is very dense and there were a lot of threads.

All weaving is done on a circular warp, resulting in only a small gap where it cannot be woven. Only one item is woven at a time.

Ikat.

Making sure everything is aligned when it is on the loom is the tricky bit. I have 5 warps and they are all secured differently to go on the loom.. From top to bottom the first is tightly bound at the top end and individual sections are loosely tied at the bottom. There are multiple warps here with different lengths, thereby indicating several projects. The second is woven at the top at the top , and loosely tied at the bottom with a short stick attached that would float. That might be useful in dyeing of finding the opposite end. The third is undone ready to go on the loom and only has a tight tie at one end. The forth has 10 short sticks bound along the length. The last also has sticks bound along the length and an additional series of knots across the top. All the weavers will have developed skills in how to make the imagery stay in place when it is put on the loom.

Here they are put onto a frame to be organised.

Once everything is aligned heddles need to be made so that every alternate thread will lift. This diagram explains the basics. Note that one heddle is made for every 4 threads or every 2 on the top. The heddle may be made over any combination of sticks or a single thick thread to create a required length. We saw quite a bit of variation. Sometimes there was a rod underneath to make sure the bottom  layer remained isolated from the top.

 

 

This video shows combining two warps, separating out the ikat threads making heddles and then adding in an extra solid colour warp with again their appropriate heddles.

Sticks and rods are inserted to enable the creation of the two sheds or the gap between one set of threads being up of down. This gap is where the weft yarn will be inserted. This yarn is often wound onto a long straight stick. In some places it will be used like this. At others, it may be inserted into a hollow tube. This video shows ikat being woven at Freddy’s studio in Sumba. There was an interesting variation here that we saw no where else: the fabric was beaten. That may be to loosen the threads and ensure they don’t catch with its neighbour. Note how much the warp slides forward sue to the force of beating with the sword. It needs to be continually pushed back.

When ikat is not a component and only plain weave is required or supplementary warps are used, it is possible to wind the warp and make the heddles at the same time.

Weaving pahikung (the name it’s called here) or with a supplementary warp.

This is an example to show the basic characteristics.: a clean finely detailed image on the front with the long floats tied down in a horizontal line at the back.

The supplementary warp is much thicker than the background thread. It appears that it is wound at a 1: 2 ratio. We did not see how the warp is made but I suspect that it uses a similar process to ikat with the additional warp being added at the same time. Perhaps 3 balls of yarn were used. We have seen 4 being used for ikat. Heddles will need to be made for the background fabric. Again we didn’t see this done but perhaps it is most logical to expect this to be done while the fabric is being warped.(as for ikat or a solid colour)

The design is picked up and stored on narrow very narrow sticks. They must be narrow as a lot of them may be required. The weaver here has an existing stored pattern on her lay. A long pin marks her current spot.

If the pattern required 2 stored patterns, one is completed first and then the other.

Sometimes you can find old stored patterns in a market or being sold by a trader.

This image shows the basic components to weave pahikung. From the front of the loom. On top of the weaving, there’s a temple or stick with points on the end to keep the weaving at the same with. This was used universally. Sometimes it may be placed under the weaving. It is constantly moved at very small intervals for the length of the weaving. A sword opens a gap (shed) to allow for the passage of the shuttle. Then there is the rod with all the heddles. A large diameter bamboo stick which is used to create the other shed. A series of sticks of the same width that hold the transferred pattern. A set of heddles that are used for the tie down row. A number of very fine sticks that store the pattern.

During weaving the stored pattern is moved to the front of the loom behind the heddles. They are moved forward and used in conjunction with the plain weave lifts underneath. At a regular intervals the ground weave anchors down the floating warp threads on the back of the weaving. As weaving progresses the supplementary warp because it is not used all the time as the plain weave fabric will lose tension and become slack. When this happens extra sticks are inserted to take up the tension. By the end of the project, quite a roll of sticks will be on the top of the weaving. On a western style loom, we would use either a second warp beam or some system of weights to ensure even tension is maintained throughout. This image shows the bundle of stick that take up the tension. All the pattern sticks have been used. A new set will need to be brought forward.

This movie shows transferring the pattern to the front where it becomes usable, tightening the tension and weaving. Note how the weaver has to keep moving the weaving edge back. It keeps moving forward due to the force of the beat used. This is a very dense fabric.

Finishing

Here are two unusual finishes. This decorative fringe was seen on textiles in Lamalera. (Lambata)

We saw several Sumba textiles with this woven fringe.

The warp of the textile becomes a secondary weft. Once the first textile is cut from the loom, it is turned and the warp becomes a weft for a second narrow circular warp on a back strap loom.

 

 

We were told that often beginner weavers do these. There’s quite a skill to keep the lower edge of the main textile from pulling in.

Once finished the second warp is left cut. And the left over fringe is then plied.

This movie shows the weaving.

On Reflection:

I have seen dyeing. How many ways can you dye with indigo and morinda? And then there was that feast of colour at Umapura. I have enjoyed seeing how textiles are produced and enjoyed the challenge of understanding process. There was a wonderful range of textiles. I have come to an appreciation of the diversity of regional cloth (especially as it was all woven on a back strap loom), its motifs and its role in daily life. It has been a wonderful experience and I feel fortunate in having been there. And that boat- what a magical experience! It really wouldn’t have been possible to go there to all those islands and weaving villages in such a space of time apart from by sea.

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May 2018: Part 3 of The Lesser Sunda Islands trip/ The Limestone Islands.

June 20, 2018

This post follows on from the previous one. It is a record of my experiences on a textile research trip to the Lesser Sunda Islands hosted by Sea Trek.

From Lembata Island we head south across the Sunda Straight to West Timor. (see map from Part 1). From there we’ll be heading west to create a loop that will eventually take us back to Flores.

The landscape changes. The mountains are less steep. No more volcanoes to be seen. Accessibility to plant materials for dyeing appears to be impacted.

I had been to West Timor in 2007- that’s 11 years ago. I wondered what Sue and David Richardson had planned for us to visit and whether I’d see any change.

We landed in Kupang and traveled in this bus.

We visited the Bolok weaving group and saw an extensive dye demonstration. Here an essential ingredient in morinda production, symplocos can’t be grown and candlenut may not be accessible. The conditions just aren’t right for the symplosos so they have to buy it in. In this case in a powdered form. Candlenut may be replaced by nita nut. More to follow in the technical notes in another blog,

We also visited the Museum of Nusa Tenggara Timor with some great displays of textiles.

Then it was onto Baun (Kelompok Kai Ne’e)  and then Barat . Our destination was to an audience with the King and Queen of Amarasi in their Royal Pavillion. The king and queen are in the background while the children perform an opening ceremony.

After the reception we were taken to the complex where we saw textiles and a demonstration of papermaking. I had been here before.  My impression is that it was now a much more active and viable community. It seemed much more prosperous than what I remembered.

This is the royal motif being woven, interspersed with some float work stripes. Note that the additional design element is being picked up as it is being woven.

At the nearby village of Barat we saw yarn skeins of yarn in an extensive colour way. This is just one section of line.

There were also a variety of textile techniques.

There was ikat with lots of morinda, though there was some pale indigo too. The designs were bold. Obviously the design is popular or they have an outlet requiring textiles of the same design. It had a commercial feel.

 

There was also some warp float work done on alternating coloured warp threads. On one side there were warp floats while on the back there were weft floats. Note the appearance of uncut circular warps. From my previous trip, I knew that this was a way of identifying desirable new textiles. There were other designs but it is interesting to note that the design while woven individually is the same.

The patterning was very familiar and it stirred memories of other great textiles and interesting techniques I’d seen in 2007. Maybe I need to come back again. It was only a fleeting one day visit.

We sailed west to Sawu or with an alternate spelling: Savu. Here we visited Ledatadu and Namata. Here was another demonstration and with a couple of noteworthy aspects. Here they were removing the seeds from cotton not with a gin but rather by rolling the fibre on a piece of wood with a round stick.

Plied cotton in 2 colours is used as an extra design element in a stripe.

Some areas of bound ikat were being hand painted. This enables isolated areas of motif being dyed as opposed to whole areas being bound and redyed in the required dyebath. The process is repeated at least 4 times with drying time required between each application.

The motifs in the textiles to have an elegance and to be quite refined.

 

These children in their ikats are just too good not to share.

As well as warp ikat there was some textiles using float work (warp floats on the front and weft on the back)

The village of Namata provided us with a dance performance. It was a chance to check out the textiles.

And of course there was another opportunity to buy. There was evidence of more chemical dyes used for the ikat. This piece has a more contemporary feel.

On Raijua Island we visited two textile villages: Uoja Dima and Namo. It was the second village that proved the most interesting.

There was another indigo demonstration. Until now we had seen only indigo being used from fresh leaves. We were told that because of the “extended drought” indigo was being converted into indigo paste. There will be more on this actual process in a later blog. I suspect perhaps that it is an effect of living on the “limestone islands” with what I understand is their lower rainfall. It seems a well-entrenched process.

Cotton is spun using the drop spindle in a different manner: “upside down”.

The textile motifs here remind me very much of damask patterns from Europe.

There is also a strong Dutch influence. Note the crowns and the KN which stands for Koningsland der Nederlands or Kingdom of the Netherlands

We also saw these solid indigo dyed cloths with tie dye patterning. We were told that these are often worn for funerals and other important ceremonies.

Our last island was Sumba. These textiles were one of the reasons I’d joined this trip. They didn’t disappoint. We visited the villages of Uma Bara (King of Pau), Pau and Rindi, Waingapu as well as the studio: Tenun Ikat Sumba at Prailiu. Freddy, the owner acted as our guide for the time on Sumba.

Here’s some background to the social hierarchy. Sumba has “slaves”. They can never move up the social ladder. They can never own land. The children will also be “slaves”. However if they weave and sell textiles they do get the money. Some textiles are sold as being done by royalty. This may mean that they are produced by the “slaves” of that royal. The word “slave” didn’t seem to imply that they were abused but rather describes a position in society.

The importance of textiles in that community was confirmed. We saw a burial tombs for royalty. There was often a weaver carved into the stone as well as other auspicious objects.

When a royal person dies, the body is wrapped in a foetal position and over time till an auspicious date for the burial textiles will be added. This princess has been covered with 75 textiles in 6 months. The burial we were told will probably be in September at which time there will have been many more textiles added. Apparently the best two textiles will be next to the body and on the outside. A slave always sits with the body.

We saw demonstrations of dyeing at Freddy’s studio. I’ll note now that indigo paste was also used, however actual technical details will come later.

There are two main textile techniques: ikat and weaving with supplementary warps. They may be on their own or combined. The actual technique of weaving with the supplementary warps will be covered later. These are the textiles. The motifs are often strong and bold.

I love the large scale motifs found on the ikat. Here are a couple of examples.

 

 

Just blue but look at the complexity and detail with shades of blue.

This one is just a bit extreme though it did make me smile.

Supplementary warp fabrics are different on both sides. The front imagery is definite with the back having the negative design but with long floats being tied down at regular intervals. The back can just be seen on the underneath fabric. This image also shows the stored pattern behind the heddles on the left. The weaving edge is not shown. As the fabric is woven, the supplementary warp is not used at the same rate as the background fabric. To take up the slack and to control tension, it is wound onto extra sticks. This is the roll of sticks on top of the loom. The full process will be shown in a later blog. The colour showing behind the heddles is not a dyed warp but rather the background warp showing through.

 

 

 

A fuller look at the two sides of the fabric. The wrong side looks as though it has lines in the design.

 

 

Supplementary warp on a striped warp woven beside ikat for a woman’s tube skirt. The top fabric is woven separately and joined.

After weaving, the supplementary warp fabric may be hand coloured.

 

Lastly, here’s an interesting fringe treatment. A weaver sits with a small circular warp and the fringe of a completed weaving is woven as the weft. Here’s a completed fabric. The warp of the finished narrow weaving is just cut. The remaining original fringe is then plied.

The next blog covers all those technical details I’ve been promising.


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


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


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.

 

 


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.