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».
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.
Learning 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!).
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.
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.
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