It’s an early blog this month. It seemed appropriate to post at the end of the era of the weaving workshop rather than the end of the month.
I quite often start off by contemplating what has happened in a month and say “It has been a very busy month”. Well this “month” has exceeded all expectations. It has been a remarkable couple of weeks. It has been a time for finishing projects, another indigo play day, a celebration of weaving, and farewells.
In amongst all of these activities, there had been many visitors revisiting the studio. Many people have expressed their disbelief and sorrow at what is about to happen. The following is a letter provided to me by Julia Charles. You may remember her from last month’s blog as the granddaughter of Betty Charles who had donated the big rug loom. She expresses a point of view shared by many.
Like anyone who has a close connection to Sturt I love the place, the culture and environment. My grandmother was pivotal in introducing me to Sturt. She boarded at Frensham. She loved Miss West and considered her a dear and lifelong friend. She served on the council. She would take me to visit Sturt every time I visited her on her farm. She donated the large loom in the Weaving Workshop after bringing it back from Leeds in the UK after the war. I am a graduate from the Wood a School. I went on with two fellow graduates to found Splinter Workshop. I teach Applied Object Design at the UNSW College of Fine Art. My subject is popular and the students love taking their designs from concept through to construction. They love making. The process and materials are integral to the creation of the object. There is new leadership at COFA and electives are being slashed. An emphasis is being placed on digital design and digital media. Students are not happy. People will not cherish 3D printed objects, handed down by their grandparents in decades to come. There must be serious thought given to whether it is wise to do things just because we can. It is important to embrace and explore new technology but we need to be careful about doing that at the expense of traditional skills which are so highly valued, especially the rarer they become. I was so sad to learn on the weekend at the Wood School Graduate Exhibition that Sturt is following this same trend. They are sacrificing the Weaving Workshop and Cafe in favour of a digital design lab. I feel that this is a very sad ‘development’. It is very short sighted and fails to recognize the inherent and rare value of what Sturt has to offer. It is completely unique. Once lost, this extraordinary space will not be easily restored. It feels like there is a failure to recognize the extraordinary facility, wealth of knowledge and skills which are so special and are not being valued. I’m not sure how much funding has been poured into the new Swimming Pool. I imagine it would be possible to raise funds to build a digital design lab without sacrificing the more traditional crafts. It doesn’t have to be either or surely. I would be happy for this message to be passed on to the Director, the Principal and the Board of Governors. I am writing to express my concern about the loss of this great facility which I feel is not in the best interests of the Sturt creative community. Warm regards, Julia Charles
The students in this term completed an amazing amount of work. I am so very proud of their endeavours. As well as finishing off individual projects (and some were finished before this last month), there have been on- going student challenges. Students were finishing projects right up to the very last day. We certainly made full use of this last term. I’ll include these chronologically to give a sense of how things developed.
Belinda has woven a sample of woven warp shibori. She used the opportunity to explore the basic concept of woven shibori as well as producing something for the proposed indigo bath.
Maureen had discussed the design for this project and dyed the yarn at Sturt and then wove it at home on her 24 shaft Toika using her own hand spun alpaca on a silk warp. The colour variation in warp and weft came about because of the different rates the fibres accepted dye.
Barb cuts off the first section of the warp of 5 napkins. She decided to cut off at this point because she was concerned about not having enough time to finish the warp. This was the second last class and only one week to go.
There have been three main challenges that most students took advantage of and two last minute ones that some squeezed in.
The challenges are designed to encourage students to develop design skills and strategies. Many beginner/intermediate students are not comfortable designing their own projects while the more experienced enjoyed a different design approach. They involve me issuing design parameters and threading the loom and then the students wove their design. Apart from the parameters there were no rules. In this way a great variety was achieved enabling everyone to see great diversity in colour and pattern.
Challenge #2. Number 1 had been completed a month ago. The parameters for #2 was to explore stripes, checks and anything in between. To explore colour choosing yarn from the box. In addition they may choose to explore supplementary weft pattern (overshot style) either building up pattern as they wove or selecting one from Davidson. The pattern threaded was “Rose Valley” with each repeat coinciding with a warp stripe. This was a 4 shaft challenge. It started off on the last donated countermarche loom but due to Bev’s desire to weave a wide rug, the warp was moved to a 4 shaft jack.
Most wove the challenge. Others felt they had to concentrate on finishing their own project. All appreciated the diversity of colour effects and design potential. Weaving tea towels means that the sample is something useful they go home with. It’s also possible to do one in a day.
Challenge #3. Identify a grid 8 squares wide x 8 to 30 squares long. No vertical or horizontal row should be greater than 3 either coloured in or left blank. A diagonal line of some description was desirable though it needed run 45 degrees from corner to corner. I had wound the warp in red and white stripes with one section of alternating colours. The loom was threaded in a straight twill for the red bands and point for the white. They wove on what is for many a favourite loom: Marjorie Ey’s donated 8 shaft mechanical dobby and were able to go back and forwards at will. They like the fact that once pegged they don’t have to think of what they are doing and just weave. They also accept the fact that there are limitations in that a design cannot be easily changed on this loom. It’s fun to just “do” though.
Tuesday was last to weave so she gets to be first to examine what was woven.
The finished tea towels with the drafts that students had developed.
Challenge #4. This was the first warp woven on the “Faulkner” loom. (see last month’s post) The parameter was to identify a column 8 squares high. As usual there was to be no squares coloured or left blank greater than 3. This was then the starting point for developing a twill line. Students had to tie up the treadles using this for treadle #1. The sequence was to move back one for each progressive treadle. I had threaded the loom with a variety of 8 shaft twill sequences: straight, broken, advancing, extended, point, Ms & Ws etc. Again they could go forward and backward at will.
As the first tea towel was woven and pattern emerged there was some discussion that they wanted to get pattern too. It was with great delight that they realised that all tie ups would give all this pattern and that everyone was different.
Not a bad effort in just over 2 weeks of weaving.
I couldn’t resist a last play in an indigo dye bath. And play it was…..
John, the 3 month resident potter from the UK had dunked some pots. He then thought to sand back the indigo on the ridges to get a defined pattern. When dyeing both pottery and wood the magic of indigo where it turns from green to blue does not happen. Rather the indigo stains these materials.
A collection of small porcelain bowls. At the top was the one that had been floating, then others that had been dunked and others with indigo still in them. There’s also a beautiful indigo circle on the piece of wood.
The Sunday before the last week was marked by a “Celebration of Weaving”. It was not a wake but rather an opportunity for weavers past and present to get together and remember weaving achievements and celebrate friendships made. A few couldn’t make it on the Sunday so came on Saturday. Saturday was also the last class for that group though the majority came only on Sunday.
Melanie Olde (second from right) was a previous tutor and long term resident weaver. Gill, a past student gets to weave on the prototype. Challenge #5 was set up both as a challenge for students and a means of providing visitors with the opportunity to weave on the loom that was developed at Sturt.
Challenge #5. The loom was threaded with two blocks of 4 shaft twills as stripes. Weavers could choose to weave as tabby or 1/3, 3/1 twill blocks in any configuration and in any colour way. This warp went on with less than 2 weeks to go. A mug rug meant a very fast project and with the opportunity for many to weave.
Then Sunday arrived. I wondered how many people would come. I was delighted with how many did throughout the day. The studio played host between 10.00 and 3.00 with some staying just a short while and others stayed most of the day. Many brought a plate of food to share. It was also the last day of the cafe so we took full advantage of the coffee. It was also the last opportunity for weaving to be finished for some. Here are some images as the day progressed.
Elizabeth Nagel wove and taught here for 50 years. She read out a report on a “friendship quilt” that was completed by a group one year. Some of those were known to those present. The story of its progress was universal: who was going to weave what, colours, sizes that varied and how weavers chose to put their quilts together.
Monique Van Nieuwland (third from left) also taught and was artist in residence. Our stints often followed. It was very pleasing that all tutors who spent a significant amount of time here were able to attend.
Libby Turner reflects on Sturt and its history. While she only came to the weaving workshop in the last 15 – 10 years she has had a long association with Sturt. She has slept in the cottage when Winifred West was living there. Her mother was great friends with her. She knew the people from those earlier years and spent much of her formative years here. Of recent times she has attended the tapestry weaving class. Those are some of her tapestries on the wall.
It was a grand day!
Then the last Tuesday Class came. They wove and they celebrated.
There were the challenges to be collected. On the right are some of Challenge #5. I couldn’t resist a final challenge. Challenge #6 happened with barely a week out. As well as being a challenge in colour (That lime green and orange was designed to be a challenge in its own right), students could design with in a 24 x 24 grid. Maureen got to weave her coaster, for the rest I wove their designs.
Bev also finishes off her brown and cream scarf. She’d had two projects on the go at the same time. The scarf was started while she waited for wool for he larger project to arrive. By having patterned areas combined with space she was able to weave this quickly, even though it was on an 8 shaft table loom.
Tuesday cuts off another project on one of those left over black warps. I’m pleased to say that all left over warps got used. Students took advantage of not having to thread looms in the context of time constraints.
Last month I mentioned that it was my intent to weave a number of loom bench rugs. In the midst of all the social catching up and saying goodbye occasions (and there were quite a few) I did manage to get 3 woven. I was the last person to weave on Tinkerbell. I hope at some stage this grand old loom will find a home hopefully at Sturt somewhere. It also will be dismantled.
At the “Celebration of Weaving” I found out the history of another loom. Unfortunately not all looms have plaques. This is the oldest loom at Sturt. Ruth Ainsworth who was a friend to Winifred West (she established Sturt) went to England to learn to weave. She brought back with her a European loom and a potter’s wheel. Elizabeth Nagel showed this photo of the loom on Sunday and presented me with the book. The book contains early images of Sturt: spinning, dyeing (our indigo day was in the same place), weaving, “carpentry”, flowers and children’s library, all in this building that houses the weaving workshop and cafe. I was very pleased to note that Maureen had just completed her rug on this loom, in some way completing a cycle.
It seemed appropriate to take the final photo of the Tuesday class with this loom. L to R: Tuesday, Bev, Belinda, Maureen and Isobel. Barb had already left before I remembered this photo opportunity. Unfortunately I did not get an image of the Saturday class consisting of Tuesday (no wonder she got so much woven), Helen, Maggie, Bronwyn, Ruth.
And then it was time to pack. Five of my looms needed to be dismantled for the move home.
And then there were none, just those that the maintenance guys have to dismantle. The other room has many as can be seen in the celebration images. Six have been identified to go into accessible storage for events like the Summer School while others will go into more permanent storage. The six looms that I have identified will make a great core group for if/when ever weaving can be made available.
The drive home enabled me to reflect on my time at Sturt. I certainly leave with mixed emotions. Here are my final thoughts.
I have been there for two years and had completed two – three month residences before that. Sturt has provided a remarkable experience. It is a very creative environment. I have enjoyed creating my own work in that historic of all buildings. I have certainly enjoyed passing on knowledge to students and watching them grow as weavers. And as a bonus they have become valued friends. My time at Sturt would have no meaning without them. I have been challenged by the space and often working with very old and initially poorly functioning looms. I have accepted that challenge and with a sense of achievement know that I made a difference. The students certainly expressed their appreciation. There were new looms and some of my own which made a difference. I had the privilege of working with Doug Rosemont in developing a new loom and who could forget my delight and honour of having it named after me. This would not have happened if I hadn’t been there. I value the exchange between workshops, the swapping of ideas, the creative energy, the friendships. I have had the opportunity to spend time with other tutors, students and residents; seeing what they do, sharing, swapping stories. For those of us who live on site, there has been many a night getting together over a meal and a glass of wine and it has been a wonderful time just getting to know fellow artists, all of us working in our own medium but often facing the same challenges. I have enjoyed getting to know the staff and working with them. There have been many others who I have known though Sturt and their friendship I also value. So I celebrate my time at Sturt.
But it is with some regret that I leave. It is the people who count. I feel mostly for the students. The weaving community will be poorer for this loss of facility. Students at Frensham will also be poorer for this loss of opportunity. Sturt as an entity has just lost a quarter of its family. Hopefully weaving will continue in some form. I know that Mark as Head of Sturt intends to try to make it happen. I feel for the loss of the cafe and the impact it will have on the community that is Sturt. I hope that other workshops survive and worry for the future of Sturt. The addition of a digital lab I hope will prove a valued asset across all workshops and not just Frensham. Weaving can also take advantage of this technology if it has a presence.
In this era of having “hands on” classes eliminated from educational institutions, I also reflect on the future of weaving in particular. Weaving is not just something that was in the past. It has value in this digital age too. There are computer assist and jacquard looms, both one could suggest use current technology. However there is also value in weaving simple cloth using the most basic of technology. There is weaving for the professional and weaving for a hobbyist, for young and for old, for the able and disabled. There is weaving that stimulates thought and promotes the sense of creativity and achievement by what is made. In this fast paced age, it provides balance. It also promotes community. So the loss of the facility at Sturt is disappointing. But as Isobel says when we were sitting around the table at the last day of weaving “We have to make and keep on making. It is up to all of us.” For that group, there is a development that may ensure that they continue to weave together, as well as individually. That is something that they want and a positive outcome. And I will certainly continue to make and share knowledge.
So on this last post on the “Sturt Weaving Workshop”, I celebrate all the Sturt has stood for, wish all of the Sturt community the very best in their creative endeavours. To the weavers I say in particular a heart-felt thank you. It has been a pleasure working with you and being part of your lives. No doubt our paths will continue to cross.
To mark my time at Sturt and to present as gifts I wove this series of bookmarks. The colour is that of the sign on the Weaving Workshop. I did consider adding dates, but what dates? Should it be the date that weaving first began at Sturt: 1941 or when the formal workshop was begun: 1951? Should I put 2014 as the ending date. It is the end of the workshop building but I sincerely hope it is not the end of weaving all together.