This past weekend I took a two-day seminar at Shuttles, Spindles and Skeins in Boulder from Sharon Alderman, author of Mastering Weave Structures. The class was entirely lecture/discussion and focused on defining and understanding many of the structures that she covers in her book. She also spoke a bit about how she approaches designing a fabric in order to yield a particular visual or structural result.
I must admit that initially I wasn’t sure about taking a weaving class that included no actual weaving, but now that it’s done, I definitely would recommend it. Sharon’s knowledge (and sample display!) was beyond comprehensive; being able to both see and touch such a wide variety of fabrics was more than worth the price of admission.
Over the course of the two days, we touched on nearly every structure that she addresses in the book. And, the majority of the samples she brought were the ones pictured therein. There were two fabrics in particular that really resonated with me – the corkscrew twill pictured on the lower right of page 41 and the compound cloth featured on the cover. What I found so interesting about both of them is that at first glance, neither were “showy”. Until you moved closer and saw how the yarns were interacting (and in the case of the cover fabric, COULDN’T see) to display both visual and structural effects, they weren’t something that would stop you in your tracks. Both had, for lack of a better word, “elegance”. That special kind of elegance that comes from taking something complicated and making it look simple.
With the corkscrew twill, the color combination between the monochromatic warp and the two colors in the weft gave the fabric dimensionality and life; and in a deceptively simple way. The execution of the fabric is not difficult, and if the draft is turned, it’s even easier (Sharon agreed that industrial corkscrew twills would most likely have had the two colors threaded in the warp so that the weaving could be done quickly with a single shuttle), but a knowledge of color theory as well as structural understanding, and the ability to combine them, were required to get that fabric.
The compound cloth on the cover of the book is, for me, the fabric that really cemented my admiration for Sharon’s work and thought process. At first glance, the fabric looks rather simple – it’s plain weave for both, only requires four shafts (because of the long floats in the silk), and is absolutely straightforward. But, the genius of this fabric is what you can’t see. The teal/copper plain weave fabric (it’s not blue and red, folks, it’s teal and copper – and has an amazing iridescent quality in person) is actually continuous throughout the cloth and the silk is a supplemental warp that floats above/below the ground. The fact that Sharon routinely considers not only the finished appearance of the fabric, but also the structural requirements of the cloth in order to render it stable and useful, is what I think sets her apart. Truly the difference between beauty and elegance.
My head is absolutely abuzz with what I’ve taken on board in the past two days and I know that I’ll need to let things settle a bit before I decide how best to move forward. On the other hand, it’s definitely gotten me unstuck on both the doubleweave and the towels as I want those looms clear for the next round of samples and experiments.
As a parting thought, I now have a notion as to why some handwovens appeal to me and some don’t, and what is intuitively missing from them. I’ll leave you to decide what that is.