Firth of Tay – notes and thoughts


I promised that I would post a round-up of the various components of this design. They have all appeared in this blog, but scattered over more than a year – a fairly realistic illustration of my scattered thought processes.

The overall design is a very personal one, incorporating three different ideas.

One is the use of statistical data as a source of pattern, specifically the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation which I described here. I have used the SIMD data to derive miniature portraits of various towns and villages. Well, I think of them as portraits, though in practice they are basically bar charts. Each block in the finished piece is a woven bar chart roughly 5″ long which portrays one place.

The second idea comes from old maps: the linear kind, such as maps for pilgrims, which show the desired journey as a more-or-less straight line and which highlight places to rest, stay overnight etc. I wanted to weave a linear map which would be autobiographical, highlighting places which have been important to me since I came to live in this area more than 20 years ago. So I sat down and made a list of 20 years’ worth of place-connections to be woven in chronological order.

The final component is the river. The line that links together all my places – indeed, the whole region – is the Tay. I decided to focus on the tidal stretch of the river, even though some of my places lie further upstream. This was mainly because it is the Firth of Tay I see every day. Its moods and rhythms are the moods and rhythms of daily life in Dundee. The Tay estuary is mainly shallow and the surface of the water is very lively: lots of small choppy waves all bumping into one another. This is why I chopped up the blocks into segements where the colours are reversed.

That’s a brief summary of the motivation; now a brief summary of the practical side.

I have 16 shafts at my disposal and I wanted to use double weave with 8 shafts for each layer and a gradual layer exchange (switching one pair of shafts at a time). My sampling began with this warp threaded for an advancing twill on 8 shafts in each layer – but with a completely different plan in mind. I loved some of the effects but this is the wrong idea for them: they need to be developed with an idea of their own.

The next sample warp had a simple straight draw threading, which was a bit dull but allowed me to try the liftplan I’d previously worked out and see how it scaled to my proposed weight of warp yarn: two strands of 60/2 silk per end. I found that even though the layer changes are frequent, the fabric was still quite slippery and it benefited from the introduction of a stitch here and there. (I referred to the excellent article by Doramay Keasbey in The Magic of Doubleweave to work out what I needed.)

Being happy with the weight of yarn, I then sampled for colour. The Tay is famously silvery, of course, but I found that the silver-coloured silk on its own was a bit too pink: OK for some highlights, but I wanted more blue. The threading I used here is the one I settled on. It’s a more rapid advance than the one in the first warp so the blockiness is less pronounced, but it’s still choppier than the second version.

I tried a whole host of wefts on the last sample warp and liked them all, so a final choice was very difficult. I wanted to have a single unifying weft not lots more choppiness, and settled on a mid-value grey bourette silk which gives the finished fabric a satisfyingly rough texture.

The last step was to test the whole plan with a mock-up in Excel. I couldn’t model this in Fiberworks without spending hours copying and pasting specific units of the liftplan. (My chain needed to be 72 lags, eight for each of nine possible layer combinations, and the maximum Fiberworks tie-up is for 64 treadles.) But it is amazing what a lookup function combined with conditional formatting can do.

yardage mockup sideways

The ‘extreme’ blocks at the right-hand end of the chart represent one particular place which has quite a skewed SIMD profile. I wasn’t sure whether it was too extreme for the rest, but decided to stick to the plan anyway. In fact, I like the extremes in the finished piece, maybe even more than the middling places, though it did make it difficult to take a ‘representative’ photo.

Firth of Tay sideways

Firth of Tay – notes and thoughts” was posted by Cally on 8 Feb 2014 at

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12 Responses

  1. Michelle

    The piece of work is amazing, but with the explanation it becomes an inspiration and incredibly special. Thank you for sharing so much detail!

  2. Sandra Rude

    I love that you put so much of yourself into this project. That’s when the work becomes more than mere interlacements, because it has meaning beyond just the threads. It’ll do well at Convergence, I’m sure!

  3. Inga Trine Boegh

    Thank you, Cally! Your blog is very interesting, I love it! Trine

  4. Meg

    It must be so very satisfying to have completed this. Where is it going to be exhibited? And what was the final size?

  5. Diane

    Fascinating! Thanks for sharing your process – the final work is wonderful.

  6. Margreet

    Cally, lovely personal description of your process of this weaving. Loved reading and following it over time.

  7. Margreet

    Oh, and it’s stunning!

  8. Alice

    This beautiful piece, which is so heavy of concept, succeeds well on the purely visual level. Translation: I really love it.

  9. neki rivera

    fascinating process. and i totally agree w. alice

  10. Cally

    Thanks, folks! I am never sure whether it is good to know about the ideas and personal thoughts that go into something. It is important to me that this works as a visual piece (and, indeed, a tactile piece) – so I am relieved that you find it engaging in that respect – but as I’m not a conceptual artist, I am not sure that I want to weight it all down with a load of concept… Does it add value to know that I have obsessively plotted out a data-decorated timeline beside a tidal river? Dunno.

    Also, Meg, I am not sure where it will go. I made the Convergence submission deadline by the skin of my teeth, so I’ll wait and see what happens there before planning other options.

  11. Jane

    thank you for sharing the story. it’s a lovely piece and even better for knowing the thinking too

  12. creativespinning

    Wonderful, Cally. Thanks for sharing. I recently exhibited a sketchbook, along with other members of Devon Guild of Craftsmen, and the woven and handspun samples that came from the inspiration, work, etc. I was astounded by the number of comments in the visitors’ book that said being able to see the journey from idea/inspiration to the finished item enhanced the whole experience for them by a quite considerable amount. And yet the finished items speak for themselves…