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The value of hand-woven textiles – Swans Island Blankets hand-woven in Maine

Swans Island Blankets

Manta de 100% lana orgánica de Swans Island Blankets en Maine. Precio: (versión grande en azul indigo) 1059€ (2013)

¿Who´d not love a blanket like this one?

It´s hand-woven, made from organic merino wool, and is dyed with natural dyes.

No, it´s not a blanket from Anna Champeney Estudio Textil in Spain, although you might think so.  It has, in fact, been woven thousands of miles away by Swans Islands Blankets, en Maine, USA.

baby blankets

Baby blankets by Swans Island Blankets

The company makes these blankets just once a year, and includes one-off as well as limited edition pieces.  And if you´re looking for their largest size, measuring 275 x 225cm, dyed with indigo, you´re looking at price tag of around 900 pounds.  Expensive, maybe, but definitely worth it for those who have that kind of disposable income.

Maybe it´s not something most of us can think about but a heirloom baby blanket costing 147€ is really quite reasonable for a high quality product.  And with a Swans Island blanket and you always have the opportunity to add personalised monograms available as an extra.

In Galicia, Spain, where Anna Champeney has her textile studio, she is always suprised to hear so many people lamenting about the fact that “people don´t appreciate the real value of craft”.

p_elle-decorBecause if you look around there are actually quite a lot of examples of high-class craft businesses … who stay in business.  So obviously they are doing something right and there ARE people who value craft.

….  Anna believes the main problem occurs when either the product itself isn´t of sufficiently high quality or else the promotion and marketing is not right, “I and many other makers have a lot to learn when it comes to marketing.  It´s hard job to achieve the level of promotion that other, bigger craft businesses achieve when you work alone because you are responsible from everything – from the design and actual making to writing blog posts and even cleaning of the workshop”.

Swans Island Blankets has a team of at least 6 weavers and have 4 AVL looms, together with a person  responsible for the dyes … and others who look after the online shop, fairs, etc..

What is the moral of the tale?

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Hand-woven one-off scarves in silk and wool with natural dyes. Available direct from Anna Champeney Estudio Textil in the textilesnaturales shop.

For craftspeople like Anna, it´s necessary to try and forge a way ahead to match the quality of the product with the quality of the presentation.

For clients and potential clients of craft weavers like Anna it´s important to try and judge the actual quality of the design and workmanship rather than rely on a slick marketing or a sophisticated online shop.

 

 

 

Visit to Central St Martins, CAA y SCP – London – 11 de Enero 2013

 OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisit to Central St Martins (Kings Cross, London).  At this moment in time the area around Kings Cross is undergoing a huge transformation into a new, dynamic part of London which promises to be very lively.  At the moment you can just see a mass of construction cranes which frame a number of older buildings.  This photo was taken from the new Granary Square towards the emblematic”Post Office Tower”.

What’s this got to do with textiles you may ask?  Well, obviously as a weaver I was interested in visiting Central St Martins, one of the best art colleges for studying constructed textiles in Britain.

I had the chance to listen to a talk given by Caroline Till, course leader of the MA in Textile Futures at CSM.  Very inspiring, and it left me feeling energised and very excited about the different collaborations students have the chance to participate in during the MA, the excellent facilities for visual communication, the focus on trend forecasting, and the intellectual rigour which lies behind the whole teaching philosophy at Central St Martins.

CAA / Contemporary Applied Arts (metro:  Tottenham Court Road)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI always try to get to CAA when I’m in London and this time I was drawn to some particularly subtle and painterly felt wallpieces by established maker Heather Belcher.  Framed pieces by textile artist Mathew Harris also attracted me for their rich colouring and strong graphic composition.   Gloves are not the first thing that comes to mind when you think woven textiles so I found the fingerless mittens by Jennifer Shellards quite fun. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

SCP (metro:  Notting Hill)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was good to visit the Notting Hill store of this very British design company and find a really good range of woven blankets and cushions.  Neither the colouring of Donna Wilson’s new range of cushions and blankets nor some of the finishes really convinced me, though and I preferred the classic design from Welsh textile mill Melin Tregwynt, who celebrated their centenary last year (see cushions in left photo).  Hay was the Danish company whose designs I found the most stylish, though, and the quality was the highest of all the work I saw.

Well, that’s my “fix” of London textiles and galleries for the moment, I’m off to Paris for Maison et Objet next week and then return to my textile studio in north Spain at the end of the month.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHasta luego London!

Anna

Article – How To Design Woven Textiles by Anna Champeney

Article – Learn creative weave design techniques and see your work transformed as a result – by weaver and designer Anna Champeney

Courses which introduce you to weave design skills are pretty hard to find, unless you study textiles at art college so how can you learn creative weaving skills?

The fact is that however technically adept and experienced you may be, unless you do obtain these skills then you may well become stuck, creating competent – even highly technical textiles which may still be lacklustre and overly generic from a design perspective.

The fact that many technically competent weavers lack design skills constitutes a huge barrier to progress for many.  Nevertheless, it IS possible to learn design skills, though, if you are doggedly determined, passionate, and disciplined.  And whatever your motives, you will find your work will become transformed as a result.

What do we mean by creative weave design?

Let´s be clear what we´re talking about here and what we´re not talking about.  The design techniques discussed here are not how to create an original weave draft or invent a new twill variation.  Of c ourse, the more experienced you are as a weaver the more technical knowledge you can draw on (it´s like having a more extensive vocabulary when speaking a a second language) but you can always benefit from applying design skills to your weaver work, whatever your level.  The design skills we´re referring to are the initial stages of design and involve working off-loom, to develop ideas for weave structure and pattern which stem from sources of inspiration which are outside the loom.

In fact, it´s often recommended that you don´t think about the technical limitations at this point.  If you find yourself censoring oherwise wonderful designs by your lack of knowledge tell yourself “I´ll worry about the technical stuff later”.

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Yarn wraps can help you plan stripes and see how differently coloured and textured yarns interact

The pre-weaving design process is a very creative and enjoyable process and the starting point can be any source of inspiration – a photograph, an object or group of objects, a phrase or a theme like “cityscapes”.  It is good to set yourself a design project with one particular theme.  Enjoy freeing up your imagination and taking yourself beyond your normal limits.  By taking the initial theme and working through a set body of techniques you explore the theme using many different design media – which can include paint, collage, photogaphy, yarn wrapping (see photo) and digital media.

You may re-work some ideas a number of times to distill them, explore them further and reduce them down to their essence, learning to recognise which of the ideas really inspires you most.  You can expect to spend at least a couple of days on design work based on a theme – so relax and enjoy your creative play and try to connect with your instinct – feel your way, training your eye and your hands to follow what most attracts you.  If you learn to this you can only gain in confidence.  Only at the end do you select one or several of the designs and work out how they can be represented as weave.  This in itself can be a difficult and lengthy process and often involves confronting technical, material and sometimes economic or time limitations.  But this is also a very valuable process, as you learn to adapt your design further or create a draft which nudges you to go beyond your safety zone.

When learning design skills as a technically trained weaver, outside the college system, it is important to let go of limited thinking and free yourself up.  Painting, collage and photography can be great fun, but fear of the unknown might prevent you  so don´t let thoughts like “but I don´t know how to paint!” stop you from having a go, you´ll be surprised.  Remember that creative thinking always involves going beyond your comfort zone and being prepared to try out new things.  The abililty to do this is part and parcel of creating exciting woven textiles!

My own experience by Anna Champeney

I am a British design-maker who came to weave as a second career aged 30.  My original background was in contemporary craft curatorship in the UK with some marketing and art history. I launched my my professional weave studio in a very mountainous and particularly beautiful part of rural north Spain since 2005 and since then have been working full-time.   In 2011 I started lecturing part-time at ESDEMGA, the College of Fashion within the University of Vigo, Galicia.

b 300 pix vert with text copiaLearning my weaving skills in different studios – in the UK, Spain and Denmark – was not exactly easy, given where I live, but it was far easier than finding weave design courses so I had to look at other ways to learn the skills that I considered vital to moving on in mycareer, improving the quality of my work and starting to develop my own personal style.

Right from the start, my first Spanish weave teacher, the Catalan textile artist Francisca Pellisa, encouraged me to do my own cloth drafting, to keep extensive records, and to sample.  So right from the start I had a model for developing my own style, adopting a reflecting and observant approach to weave, and avoiding becoming dependent on weave magazines.

Texile books were an important source of information to me because opportunities for meeting and talking about design methods with other professional weavers in my area were few and far between.

I am luckier than many of my fellow Spanish weavers in that being a  native English speaker, I can read a number of excellent books which give you clues about woven textile design.  Mastering Weave Structures (Sharon Alderman), Ideas in Weaving (Ann Sutton and Diane Sheehan), and Weaving Textiles that Shape Themselves (Ann Richards) all include sections on designing.   Anni Albers´ Selected Writings on Design is also a classic.  I also learned about colour theory from books, including the classic by Joseph Albers, investing considerable time (probably weeks of self-study if I were to add the time up) in doing colour exercises with colour, yarn and paint, and trying to figure out how colour theory can be applied specifically to weave rather than other artforms (most colour books are aimed at fine artists or graphic designers rather than weavers!).

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From wood grain to textile – Anna Champeney finds inspiration in the wooden railings on a local footpath to translate into woven cloth.

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Woven hanging inspired by wood grain

But I still felt I needed some more practical tuiton from professionals so in the end I invested in one-to-one design tuition from Gina Hedegaard, Danish textile artist and professional weaver, whose approach combined knowledge and experience of both traditional weave training and with art school techniques.

I learned a huge amount from Gina, whose exercises on working with colour and composition were excellent, as were her comments and guidance.

What I learned from Gina I then applied over a couple of years self-study – always combining this with full-time work.

Later on I had the chance to learn with Melanie Tomlinson, the British designer-maker of printed steel 3d illustration and jewellery.  As well as a gifted and professional maker she is also a fantastic teacher and mentor.  Really, it is thanks to Melanie and Gina  that I have really been able to progress;  books are great but there´s no substitute for learning from professionals face-to-face.

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Weavepoint software is what weave designer Anna Champeney uses at her studio in rural Spain

Gouache painting, photography, Adobe Photoshop, collage and poetry are my preferred design media.  Later on in the process I also use Weavepoint design software which is brilliant for drafting and testing out different colourways.  The whole design process – from initial theme to finished product – requires patience and time.  Earlier on in my career I tried to block out an annual design month every year but this proved impossible when being a full-time, self-employed maker.  It was thanks to Melanie that I stopped hoping for an ideal work-free time do do design work, and start to incorporate designing into my weekly work pattern.  I still don´t devote as much time as I would like, but establishing a regular time to work on designing is very important.

See Anna´s latest design work (2012/2013) inspired by the Cantabrian sea in north Spain