Getting up close with the textiles from Bhutan is extraordinary. I can hardly see the weave with a gigantic magnifier so I’m sure I wouldn’t be able to actually weave it! The weavers are often in dimly lit rooms too.
This type of weave is used in making the Kira – the womens’ national dress. The longer horizontal arms are made with a type of soumak stitch manipulated by hand through an open shed. The weavers use a beautiful pointed pick up stick to assist them. This type of stitch allows a long horizonal line without floats. You can see the other diamond shaped patterns are woven by a straight pick up and have small floats.
Here is a diagram of how I think the horizontal work is done using one thread doubled by anchoring it around a warp thread. To go up the vertical the threads are basically twisted around each other and anchored under a warp ready to do the soumak line again. This works because the warp is fine, sett at 115 epi. The diagram only shows the soumak work but rows of plain weave are woven as well.
I also tried this on a much coarser sett and it was a great way to introduce texture and line patterning to a plain weave. The soumak creates a raised texture which sits higher than the surrounding ground weave. As the pattern is worked on the open shed it only shows on the face of the textile.
There’s a poetry about the weave. Over 5 and back 2, working on the diagonal for the pick up pattern and working many different coloured threads. This rhythm is evident not only in the design but the way it is worked. I was a bit surprised by this, but then I shouldn’t have been. This type of skill is taught. It isn’t a free flowing, unorderly work of self expression. It is a highly technical skill which takes 6 years of study to learn (if you attend the college in Thimpu) and order in working is important.
If you look at the illustration of the pattern, you can see the the arrows showing the direction of the soumak weave. It has a mathematical and sublime quality.
I know our textiles tell stories but in getting very close to this special Bhutanese weave I really discovered more about the people and country of Bhutan. These expressions are woven with the style, patterning, colour and structure of the cloth itself. Woven textiles are created to inspire the heart and the Bhutanese have a special word for it – Hingtham which means ‘heart weaving’. A language that has a word for this indicates the value of textiles in the culture. As a weaving community we need to make new special words to succinctly express our passion for our art and its connection to our lives.
Shuttles are the workhorse of the weavers toolkit. Many different types have been developed for every different type of weaving we could do. Starting with a stick, stick shuttles and boat shuttles. They are all wonderful and make our work more enjoyable. As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to greatly appreciate skill and beauty emanating from the human hand. I love finely made and decorated shuttles (and spindles) but they can be difficult to source. Many times my husband has made tools for my craft which have such an enduring affection. Others in my life have made metal components that are customly refined for my own weaving purposes. Some people would look at the motley collection of my equipment and refer to it as ‘a bunch of sticks’. But most pieces have a story, memory and practical purpose.
This little Youtube video is a story about my shuttles. A good place for beginners to see a range of shuttles.
But, sadly, there seems nothing about our weaving programs to my knowledge. Weaving draft software is a terrific tool but I found it took a bit of learning to get around the interface. Using Fiberworks I printed off the manual, read through and underlined all the ‘important’ bits then promptly forgot most of it. SEEING is another way of getting it into my head.
With this ideal, I’ve recorded a short screen video on how to use the straight draw tool to develop a simple threading and how to create an ‘instant’ tie up and treadling with coloured threads. The video is a bit wonky and I’m looking at refining all sorts of things but I think you may find it useful especially if you are new to using software for making weaving drafts. I’ve uploaded to Youtube because they compress and create a universal flash file with, I hope, better odds that more can view it without problems.
In Fiberworks there are five drawing tools which can be used for the treading or treadling (or lift/peg plan).
Straight draw – shown in the video.
Draw on the network
There are advantanges and, I think, disadvantages to using computer software but in handweaving based on floor loom traditions software is increasingly used to develop complex patterning and experimentation in a more efficient way. This doesn’t mean that software is superior to hand drafting in any way, it just allows a different style of experimentation.
I have read that the Australian writer Tim Winton doesn’t use a word processor to write his books. This surprised me but allowed me to think about how differently writing is approached without a computer to cut and paste and move text continuously while writing. However as many of you may have noticed the power of the computer remains impotent if humans fail to use them properly as a tool rather than a solution. Many glossy magazines (or this blog!) have gramatical and spelling errors despite the spell check. And large companies continue to send inappropriate letters on an issue merely because your name is in the database and not updated by the humans. Attention to this type of detail occurred more before computers than now.
So having gone around the world with this, I guess I want to say that weaving software is a wonderful tool that needs to be learnt but it is only a tool. We are lucky that this tool can help make a very tangible and beautiful textile – somthing that can be held, used and loved.
After selling my digital loom I’m a bit lost and almost forgot about my beautiful Saori loom. I’ve brought it inside near the fire so it’s easier to weave on in some warmth.
On one of the weave lists recently there was a query as to why you would buy a Saori two shaft loom as they are quite expensive and viewed as uncomplex as far as looms go. I didn’t get to respond to this but it got me thinking. I think I purchased mine more for the story it has! Last week I went to a big second hand book sale…full of boxes of books everywhere, people rumaging through the books and kids lined up cross legged on the floor reading books. It was a wonderful sight and I came to the conclusion we were all there for stories. Isn’t life all about stories. We create stories about ourselves, our beliefs, views, other people, other places. Stories are the way we live. People who are good at stories fare well in life.
The other attraction about the Saori loom is its simplicity. With so much complexity going on in my life, simplicity of design and function offers a dreamy pleasant story that clears my head. Sounds like an advertisement – yet another form of story.
I wanted to try using video for a while on this blog and have managed to take a short tutorial on the clasped weft technique. What do you think? Any more ideas for video?
Here is what you can achieve with Clasped Weft. It’s an easy technique for making angled patterns and only requires two shafts. These visual instructions use two colours (green and blue).The green weft is wound onto a bobbin on a shuttle and the blue weft is drawn up from the floor underneath the loom.. I think this will look great as a table runner and helps me to weave a little every day. You can plan the design beforehand but it’s such an intuitive technique that feeling the colours and design as you go feels really good. Here’s a link to a video I created.
Here is the blue weft in a ball placed on one side of the weaving on the floor underneath the loom.
Open the shed and bring your shuttle across the open shed (green weft) and pick up the blue weft on the other side as shown. Next, return the shuttle across the same open shed.
Here you can see me pulling lightly on the green weft and drawing across the blue weft which is now looped through the green weft.
Keep pulling on the green weft until the position of the colour change is where you want it then beat the row into position. Change sheds and repeat the procedure.
This next warp is totally great fun.I don’t know why I don’t just do this type of textile every time. The design I was working on is finally at loom stage. It took alot of dyeing and a bit of knot tying for the warp ikat blocks. As you can see the knots I use in the photo are tied from a plastic raffia which I like to use. The knot is from Japanese Ikat Weaving by Jun and Noriko Tomita (p29). At first it took ages following the step by step diagrams but I’ve persisted and now the knot comes easy. Knotting on the warping mill/board like this before dyeing is the most basic ikat process you can do. It’s random and free but adds a real zest to the weaving. Pictured is one of the warp stripes wound and tied on the warping mill. And here is how to do it!
Now the painstaking process of ‘getting it all together’ for the loom. As each segment of the warp was dyed, painted or tied differently they all come together at the warping stage. Here I am spacing the threads in the raddle and putting the lease sticks in. It is very slow work for me as the narrow warps can get tangled easily and I find that a bit of extra patience at this point will reward me with a problem free warping. For this warp I wanted to get a jet black dye which is quite difficult in the fibre reactives I use. I use the black dye to achieve an indigo effect as it is very blue. However, I spoke to Kraftkolour and Graeme told me to add 10% Orange to 90% black – and wow! it worked great.