elenahpowell

Data weaving/why weaving can be art

In Edinburgh, Edinburgh College of Art, Rambling on January 18, 2015 at 6:33 pm

If art school has taught me anything, it’s what I like.

Data, numbers, information
Recording and visualising mundane/useless information
Graph paper
Cats (…nah, I knew that already)
Making things for a very specific audience (usually one or two people)
Making ‘ambient’ work/things not intended for a gallery/white cube – things to be worn/used/lived in and with
India ink pens
Lines.
Threads.
Things that fit together perfectly. More so if they’re not made for each other.
Colour coding
Mindless/mindful pattern making

Weaving is all of those things (except cats) in one way or another. It’s perfect. Too perfect. The best bit is that weaving is a series of numbers that describe the way threads/lines fit together perfectly to become a surface. I MEAN WOW. Lines. Fitting together. Because of numbers! Aaaahhhh!

I use an eight shaft loom (you can get sixteen!). Weaving drafts are just a series of numbers. The threading pattern describes which shaft each warp thread belongs to, the lift plan is which shaft(s) to raise to make a gap in the warp threads to pass the weft thread through. Changing the gap (shed) over and over produces fabric. Lines squished together into something solid.

Any series of numbers can be altered to fit within the 1-8 range (yes, ideally it wouldn’t have to be altered. But I can’t really afford a sixteen shaft loom..). You just use multiple threads to make up the number. So, dates, coordinates, phone numbers, temperature, monetary values, ANYTHING NUMERIC can become a pattern. Anything. Isn’t that amazing? I could weave the fluctuations in the currency markets if I really wanted. And the best part – the fabric doesn’t look like the input.

I can’t reliably draw drafts by hand. It’s complicated and I can’t visualise that sort of thing very well. But there is software. And it’s amazing. I can only get a trial version of the one I love, because it’s a decade or so old and seemingly impossible to get ahold of the full version. Doing the drafts digitally (whilst quite removed from the whole handmade-ness of the rest of it) is really really really useful. Takes no time at all to come up with a useable, stable pattern.

I say stable, until recently I hadn’t figured a way around using drafts that repeat the same number consecutively. Turns out that was already a thing – overshot weaving. Between each line of the pattern you weave plain weave (under/over) so you’re making a piece of fabric and a pattern on top of the fabric. So you have two shuttles going at once, which got a bit tangly. But it means I can do even more things, and more textured things…

This is the draft of what I’m weaving at the moment – it’s mine & Steph’s birthdays 14219942071994 (but then reflected back to make a longer pattern). I tried it with other people and this was the nicest looking, clearly we were meant to be. Each little square is a thread. In the warp that I wound there were just under 200 threads (it was quite thick yarn) in 6″ or so. It’ll be a scarf for me, seeing as I haven’t made one for myself. And I’m using pretty much every colour and type of yarn that I have – so merino wool, wool, wool blends, cotton, recycled cotton, recycled sari silk, recycled linen and mulberry silk. Because the yarn is quite thick the finer details of the draft aren’t quite so visible.

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I got a bobbin winder for Christmas (AMAZING), so it no longer takes half an hour to wind a very loose bobbin. Always a good thing. It came with a load of bobbins and another shuttle (the wooden thing the bobbin sits in), so I can actually do overshot. Which is good. I bought a raddle too – I’d made a really shit one. But it was just too shit. And now the raddle matches the rest of the loom and will be pretty much indestructible.

More weaving…

A scarf for Em made from her date of birth…

 

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That was the longest (and probably the best) thing I’ve done so far. And the most recent finished thing.

Before Christmas I wove this…thing. I’m going to sew it into something eventually. That draft is based on the molecular structure of dopamine (long story, lets not go there…). Things have people have said about it: it looks like a tea towel, it looks unloved. I’m going to come back to the pattern I think. Different yarn.

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And the piece of fabric I made on the course… mindless pattern!

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I started an Etsy shop selling data scarves (you give me numbers, choose your dimensions and yarn and I weave you a scarf), I’m waiting on the yarn to arrive for my first order (eeeeekkkkk!). If I get a spare day at some point I’ll probably do a pre-made one to sell too (either more traditional weaving patterns, because I do love that zig zag, or something I’ve written myself. Or both.).

I got given a lot of merino yarn (factory seconds) and it’s so beautiful and soft. And came in skeins. Approximately 1kg skeins. To be wound by hand. I still haven’t finished winding the last one. I’m using the grey as the warp for my scarf, so far there’s only been one thread that likes breaking (it’s done it twice, the same one!). It doesn’t look too weird either, because it’s space dyed I was a bit worried it’d look odd in something that it wasn’t made for.

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I think that’ll probably do. Once the yarn comes for the next scarf I might do a more detailed ‘here’s how I do a thing’ thing. There’s reading to be done (three quarters through Wolf Hall, started 2015 with a bit of a Tudor theme. Two books into the Shardlake series).

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