One of my favourite things with rag rug making is I can have an idea in my head and make it real, whatever it is that might inspire me, a quote for example, or a ghost story. I’m finding it harder translating this sort of thing into my weaving. There is such constraint and pre-planning needed which one simply does not face with the open vastness of a length of hessian and shelves of fabric waiting to be cut up.
My first proper weaving project was simple enough, the autumnal sunset that inspired it was easy to think of in terms of colour and proportion. But usually the things that spark my interest are broader themes and narratives – how can I explore those on a loom? With rugs and my other endeavours (and no doubt tapestry weaving) I can think literally, but with weaving I have to start thinking differently, abstractly. This is the c-change for me, the challenge.
I’m not an artist, I’ve had no training in design or in fact in anything visual. This is where I now have to turn, so where to start? A textile artist friend has been very patient with me, suggesting I use those narratives and themes which interest me as ‘jumping off’ points to explore the more concrete things associated with them. So much of my life as an academic is spent in front of a computer screen messing with datasets or in front of a stack of books and papers, I am now having to think about getting out and seeing things in the flesh. No bad thing.
In the meantime I’ve let myself muse on finding something at hand I can look at, play with, take apart, to think about differently, to see differently. I remembered a glass paperweight I’ve had since childhood, it belonged to my grandmother and has always been a prized possession. I don’t know why I’ve always loved it, but there you go. I started off taking photographs. I’ve also brought some gouache paints and although I’ve probably not held a paint brush since primary school, that will be how I spend the rest of this freezing Yorkshire day, playing with the shapes I can see. And how will this end up as something woven? Who knows, but I’m less freaked out by that question than when I started.
My interest in archaeological and historical textiles has meant the theory and practicalities of weaving have always been with me, but actually doing it myself has been a bit of a holy grail – it is what proper craftspeople did. When I actually started weaving it felt like I was always meant to do it, I loved every single second of it, every single process, I love the physical act of it, the unity as it were with the machinery, the legacy of it, the simplicity of it, the creating from nothing of it – but there was an heretofore unconfessed disappointment, something was lacking. Once you knew what was what, the seemingly untameable and confusing mass of wood, wire and cord, was in fact not the challenge I had thought it might be.
I had assumed weaving would be something so unattainably difficult to do, my only concern on setting out was how to make the loom ‘go’, not what I would actually put on the loom itself. Weaving, I had assumed, would be a technical exercise, not an artistic one. The challenge weaving has brought to my door is very different to the one I had expected, but it is one I am very excited about letting in and exploring fully.