fun on four shafts

I’ve woven off the woolly teaching samples in a mix of twills…

4 shaft twills 3

4 shaft twills 1

…and waffles…

4 shaft waffles

…with a bit of mohair madness for good measure:

brushed mohair

Yup, it brushes up a treat. I have a couple of metres of samples using different treadlings, but, as you can see, I did get rather hooked on the rosepath treadling and the possibilities for colour play. And I reckon the lambswool + mohair would make a wonderfully cuddly cushion.

New warp tomorrow! Either wool in a straight draw or cotton/cottolin in a point draw. Then the other one.

And a thing I am pondering: innovation. I have had some very interesting conversations in the last few weeks, especially with non-weavers.

One of the days I spent at the summer show was in the company of several jewellery designers and it was fascinating to hear them discuss their discipline (not to mention interrupt them to interrogate them further about it). It was clear that for an independent jeweller the pressure to innovate is considerable: you need to come up with a ‘thing’ that you do and that nobody else does. And the result, perhaps not surprisingly, is a culture of great secrecy around one’s techniques and materials. In this culture you would never dream of going up to a fellow jeweller and asking them straight out, “How did you do this?”

Several things about this immediately strike me: (1) that I can’t think of anything further from the openness of the weaving community, which makes me wonder whether openness/secrecy is related to the balance of teaching/designing activity within a discipline (2) that innovation can be a good result, but does it necessarily make a good goal? (3) that history is full of cases of people arriving independently at the same ideas and (4) that quite a lot of what we think of as innovative today may well have very ancient precedent.

One could write a dissertation picking apart any of these thoughts, but for now I’ll limit myself to one instance of no (4) in the latest Journal. Ann Richards has written an article about working with over-twisted yarns to make textured cloth — something she has pioneered and developed in recent times — and notes that they were probably using these kinds of yarns to the same effect in ancient Egypt.

fun on four shafts” was posted by Cally on 1 Sept 2013 at

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13 Responses

  1. Laura
    | Reply

    I always liked Elizabeth Zimmerman’s observation that she had simply ‘unvented’ something new and different, saying that our ancestors had more than likely already done it. 🙂


  2. Issy Valentine
    | Reply

    Skill and quality are often overlooked in the quest for something new…that often is deritive. After all we are the product of all we have experienced so our ideas come from somewhere.
    True unique art and craft develops from the recognisable style and hand of a master (non gender)of their craft.
    I am not sure i have got there yet but i try.

  3. Alison Daykin
    | Reply

    Hi Cally

    What a thought provoking post.

    The first time I went to Bradford for “The Course” we were given a lecture by a lovely gentleman who was in charge of the textile archive. In his first sentence he said there was nothing new in weaving, which was so disappointing to me! But I realised he was right, there are very few innovations in our craft, sadly, it seems, just variations on a theme and it doesn’t now surprise me when I find references to what we had felt was innovation in ancient documents.

    I had a lady to learn to weave with me, nearly 10 years ago, who was a Roman re-enactor and wanted to learn to weave so that she could weave Z and S twist yarn as the Romans had done in a way that looked like a colour and weave blanket. And only a month ago I was contacted by the BBC to see if I could go down to London to show them how a Z and S twist yarn was constructed for a programme about a small piece of cloth that had been found in some catacombs in Rome. And that was not new then! Sigh!

    Everything has gone before… …oh how wonderful to have been that first person who discovered that new weave structure! I just get excited about a way I’ve put colour together with a recognised weave structure to give a cloth new to me!

    I look forward to reading your findings if you ever put pen to paper.


  4. neki rivera
    | Reply

    as someone i met on my first weaving workshop said” there’s no point in keeping weaving secrets. once you become comfortable with the craft you’ll know how it was made” those words have been in my hard drive ever since.

  5. neki rivera
    | Reply

    oops i left out the punch line: just by looking at it.

    • Cally
      | Reply

      As Isabella was just saying over on Twitter, that may be more true for weavers than for jewellers – our processes are perhaps more visible in the end result than theirs are. I wonder whether one could order crafts by visibility and see whether it correlates with openness?? Is it good or bad or indifferent for a discipline to have secrets?

      • Catherine Freeland
        | Reply

        There’s a whole lot of conversations to have on this topic of teaching and sharing. I so appreciate your blog for that reason, and as a beginner weaver, get lots of encouragement from your sharing some of the thinking process behind your design or colour decisions, as well as your thoughts on presentation.

        Do you think the enormous cost of precious metals, if jewellers use those, is partly to blame for the behaviour you mentioned.?

        Apologies to weavers who spend a fortune on fibre to achieve the most luxurious results – until I can confidently say I can weave well, I’ll probably continue with my outrageously varied stash of yarns, some bought and some spun and dyed from fleece and fibre, but generally costing little.

      • Isabella
        | Reply

        Here I am – I was away travelling when I read this thought-provoking (and provocative!) blog and was really twitching to contribute. But impossible to write long comments on the phone so Twitter had to do.

        What I was thinking about was the several years I spent taking work to various events (Country Living Fair, Art in Action, Contemporary Craft Fair etc). I enjoyed being there, meeting people, seeing old friends, looking at others’ work, watching buyers try things on, etc. And sales helped.

        But I was aware that unless you were a really big name crowds would most readily gather around ‘quirky’ work rather than, say, traditional weaving, or dyed scarves. My feeling was that people reasoned they could buy these sort of things anywhere they wanted, in a gallery or a shop. A Fair was the place to see and buy new stuff, out for the first time.

        I didn’t always think the crowd-attracting work was interesting or well-made. But good or bad, I often wondered at the pressure makers were under to stay ahead and come up with new ideas for next year.
        When the ‘form’ is a surface design (like my work) it isn’t so difficult since the originality can be in the design. I do feel it must be infinitely harder as a weaver, or a potter, or a jeweller to keep on innovating in that relentless way since the structure is a key element. I don’t think it’s either healthy or creative to innovate for the sake if sales, and that makers that truly succeed manage to establish their own strong ‘look’ as something desirable and keep just far enough ahead of the imitators.

        Secrets… well, dyers often kept their recipes secret in order to maintain ownership of their specialism. It’s interesting that at Summer School when we were trying some historical recipes we sometimes felt that the recipe had left out something vital!

        • Cally
          | Reply

          That’s really interesting. I am new to the demonstration game, but I have so far found people really curious about weaving as a process — but perhaps those who go to major events such as Art in Action are more likely to be familiar with traditional crafts? Sounds a bit like a drug, doesn’t it: always seeking a new high from a technique we haven’t met before.

          I can’t help noticing, too, that those whose work seemed the most innovative when it was new can end up trapped in a particular style. Of course, they may be very happy with the niche they have made for themselves, but if sales depend on a their signature ‘look’ then it may become difficult to branch out in new directions. There are some ceramicists whose work we have bought from time to time and I actually get quite excited when I see them making things I don’t much like, since it shows that they are moving into new areas. (And in time they may well move into another area which intersects with ‘things I like’ — which is itself a moving target — so it keeps me watching their work.)

          • Isabella

            Trying to reply on phone (don’t ask). Just wanted to clarify that at the places I showed, such as Art in Action, the visitors were certainly very interested in demonstrations where and when they took place. I was referring more to the sales areas, where makers had a stand purely to sell and weren’t demonstrating. That’s where I was aware of the phenomenon of novelty

        • Cally
          | Reply

          Oh look, we’ve reached the maximum number of nested replies – what a milestone.

          Right, got it. Yes, sales without a demo – that can be a challenge for textile designers, I think. And even if your designs, structures etc *are* innovative, it isn’t necessarily obvious to the person browsing.

          • Catherine Freeland

            “I will eat the shuttle ere I reveal the secrets of the craft”………this was apparently the guild motto of Glasgow’s Calton weavers. Just one intriguing thing I learned at the Dovecot exhibition in Edinburgh today. I guess that’ll be the last word or else we’ll enter the grisly history of industrial espionage.

          • Cally

            I’ve given it a lot of thought, and have decided not to eat any shuttles. Unless they are toasted and buttered.

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