Archive for January, 2015

Reading: Bauhaus weaving theory

Smith, T. (2014) Bauhaus weaving theory: From feminine craft to mode of design. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press

I found this a difficult book to read. It’s academic writing, with lots of references to ideas and philosophies and people and work that I don’t know, using words that I don’t know or know only in a more general sense, not the precise-in-this-field sense.

It was also difficult because of my expectations, my desires. I want to find a compelling reason for hand weaving today. Not a joy of craft or handmade functional/wearable item way, but an expressive or conceptual way in which weaving provides unique perspective or insight. That may seem narrow, or a backwards approach, it may combine with other things or develop or change out of all recognition as I progress in my studies, but to me today “weave” seems to contain more, to offer more, to have more in processes and materials and metaphors and allusions and human history, than any half lifetime could explore. So a “weaving theory” – what answers would I find in weaving theory? None really for my personal quest, not in Bauhaus weaving theory. After reading this book I have more questions – which in the long run is probably more valuable.

Smith’s book begins with the original manifesto for the Bauhaus published by founder Walter Gropius – an art-craft unity, joining “practical and scientific areas of work” (p. xiv). Weaving was there at the start, and continued throughout the Bauhaus history. And the weavers wrote about their work. “Through texts that explored weaving’s material elements, loom practice, and functional applications, a Bauhaus theory of weaving emerged” (p xv).

Their early weavings were “pictures made of wool” – not taking advantage of weaving’s specific nature, but translating other media, in particular painting. Later Anni Albers “argued that weaving’s processes, structures, and materials are best explored through direct experimentation on a loom” (p xvii). New fabrics were created from experiment, using advantage of what the medium weaving could offer.

The book explores the changing goals of Bauhaus, driven by individuals, politics and economics. Gender issues are explored. In 1922 weaving generated significant revenue, more than any other workshop at Bauhaus. However its status was low – “As the social and economic history of textiles haunted the Bauhaus weaving work, the textile medium, it seems, was dismissed as mere labor, as ornamental form without ‘intuition’, whose ‘inner sound’ could only ever ‘simulate internal necessity'” (p 32).

As time passed the Bauhaus developed a functionalist rather than expressionist approach. The weaving workshop responded. “At once modernist, or insistent on the distinctness of this thing and its space of practice, and acknowledging a specifically modern civic identity … early weaving theory joined together the rhetoric of functionalism, modern marketing, and the new women’s movement” (p 44). “Color and form as an abstract, autonomous terrain of inquiry remain integral to the object, even as it shifts toward use. Utility and formal concerns occupy the same matrix” (p 67).

By 1931 Gunta Stölzl in her writing “declares that there is a rhetorical cleavage between … the development of textiles for use in interiors (prototypes for industry) and speculative experimentation with materials, form, and color,” she also insists that any ‘cleavage’ between utility and experimentation is also bound within the very structure of the woven prototypes” (p 67). [By this stage the theory is definitely moving away from my own agenda – but I wonder, what is the modern day’s art rhetoric?].

The third chapter of the book, “The haptics of optics: weaving and photography” struck some resonances for me, beginning with “tactility”, which for me is one of the great strengths and interests of textiles generally. “The Bauhaus weaving workshop explored the possibilities of color and formal composition through the interlacing of threads, tacitly placing it in comparison to painterly composition and architectural function. Yet the specific palpability of threads and cloth surfaces required a new set of terms” (p.79). Photography, able to show the “intimacy”, the textured detail, the tactile nature of a fabric, provided a new language.

Previously I thought “haptic” was to touch as “optic” is to sight, but here I learnt it is more. Otti Berger “through a subtle and perhaps counterintuitive response to photography, … insisted on the tactility of different materials (the smoothness of silk or the roughness of jute, for instance) as well as the fabric’s contact with the kinesthetic movements of the body within architectural space (with curtains or upholstery fabric)” (p 81). Berger “queried the limits of the visual as modernism’s prized term of formal inquiry” (p 84). There is space and movement within haptic – is this part of the unique perspective or insight I am seeking? Moving beyond the visual to incorporate other senses? (I’m reminded of Hiromi Tango – see 30-Oct-2014).

Smith continues to examine Berger’s work in the next chapter Weaving as invention: Patenting authorship. In a traditionally anonymous field, Berger sought acknowledged authorship of her textile designs. Her initials appeared on sample books. She took out patents on innovative work. “Berger was not the typically creative author-artist – at least insofar as that would have signaled the deep recesses of her inner life, the projection of her soul onto her work. But neither was she the anonymous factory laborer” (p 111). Berger was an inventor. Smith explores ideas around the inventor as author, the anonymity of textiles, a link back to gender.

It was in the final chapter, Conclusion: On weaving, on writing that I lost my tenuous grip on Smith’s arguments. “Recall that the Bauhaus weavers, in their practice and in their essays on their craft, absorbed the languages of other media. In their wall hangings, for example, the weavers adopted the formal principles of expressionist painting; in their workshop’s prototypes for architectural textiles, they assumed the functionalist vocabulary of the Neues Bauen; for their fabrics found in Neue Sachlichkeit photographs and glossy magazines, they considered the limits of optical and tactile perceptions; and within patent documents, one weaver sought intellectual property protection for her textile inventions” (p 141), seems a good summary of earlier chapters. Much that followed was beyond my grasp. The subtleties of “media” or “mediums” are clearly important, but I don’t have the background knowledge to appreciate them. “Weaving is not just a set of processes: it is also, as I’ve indicated, a certain mediation of the semiautonomous zones of form and history” (p 172) I want to understand, I suspect is relevant to my own inquiries. The following sentence, “Textiles are so overtly bound up in the modes of production that define precapitalist and capitalist societies, and the gendered problematics that circumscribe labor, that they are rarely called ‘art'”, seems to point to areas I have been keen to avoid in my thinking, that I want to move beyond.

So yes, a difficult book. It began as a doctoral dissertation, and it shows. There is nothing wrong with either of those things. I’ve learnt from this book and I’m convinced there is much, much more I could learn. I just need to work up to it.

ArahPaint

This morning I’ve been playing with ArahPaint, free software designed as “a drawing tool, which helps textile designers in editing pictures in repeat” (from the User Manual). It’s intended to support the first step in designing jacquard woven fabrics, but I was thinking of stamping and printing.

First some links:
http://avlusa.blogspot.com.au/2014/10/new-program-arahpaint-free.html The AVL blog which alerted me to the software. It has direct links to the software download, user manual etc.
http://www.arahne.si/The Arahne website. Their main product is weaving software for jacquard and dobby looms, and there’s also a draping or texture mapping program which looks complicated but fun (there are demos for both, but I don’t think they’re open source).
http://www.gimp.org/ Gimp is my preferred image manipulation software (also free). I found myself swapping between gimp (to adjust my basic image) and arahpaint (to produce pattern repeats) and it worked pretty smoothly. The windows snipping tool came in handy too.

p4s4_02I used a design based on a shell, from A Creative Approach (sketchbook here and blog post 11-Feb-2012). A few of this morning’s new patterns are in the slideshow below.

I didn’t get into the details of ArahPaint, just tried the things that worked without too much trouble. A few times either the program or I got confused, which was generally solved by starting a new image, closing and reopening the software, or getting a cup of tea. With my gimp experience most things worked pretty much as I expected, and the User Manual helped out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Overall a very useful tool which I will explore further when a project suggests itself.

OCA textile student get-together in Sydney

Kath, Eva, Claire, Judy

Kath, Eva, Claire, Judy

Today the stars aligned and four of the five Sydney based OCA students were in Sydney, and in the Art Gallery. It was great to meet up, to share stories and support, and to show each other a bit of what we’ve been doing.

OCA_Sydney_201501_04Kath has recently done an online workshop with Dionne Swift – Developing Sketchbooks http://www.dionneswift.co.uk/store/developing-sketchbooks-online-workshop-2/.

OCA_Sydney_201501_03Her results were really exciting. What had started life as a standard A5 spiral bound book of cartridge paper had been transformed. Pages were added, moved, larger foldouts inserted (changing dimensions and orientation), cutouts, mini-flips, plus there was development of a theme with lots of ideas to explore, extract, combine, change… There was a real sense of energy, the book now bulging with ideas.

OCA_Sydney_201501_05Kath also showed us some stitching in progress, including a microprocessor and stitches in conductive thread. Apparently there is a light that will flash. A very interesting area to become involved in.

Eva described some of her recent work, sketching and also stitching on her mapping theme. No photos – her kayaking on the harbour in the morning had run late, and she didn’t have time to pick up her bag of goodies. What a very Sydney problem 🙂

OCA_Sydney_201501_02Claire brought some examples of her printing-stitching combinations. The photo on the right shows paper that has been marbled and then stitched. Other examples are in her blog here. She also gave me a goody bag of samples from our indigo dye day – a range of different fabrics, with matching swatches dyed and undyed. A great addition to the resource folder.

Claire has recently done a two-day masterclass in printing, which has revolutionized her work. Some of the drawbacks of distance study with OCA – no demonstrations, no immediate feedback and advice from tutors, and instructions that can be rather vague and brief to keep options open for students with access to different tools and materials. Frustrating, but on the other hand we’re building self-reliance, experience in our own toolsets – and it’s said you learn a lot from your mistakes! Still, with so many short courses available, including many online, there are ways to supplement our learning as required.

OCA_Sydney_201501_06I was wearing my show-and-tell – a light summery top from indigo dyed cotton.

Getting together like this is another way of supplementing our learning. Fun, informative, invigorating – a real boost.

Indigo vat continued

Having an indigo vat in the garage is a very pleasant thing. It was started in the last days of 2014 with Claire (posted 3-Jan-2015) and now it sits there, ready to colour and pattern in just minutes. In odd moments over the past week there’s been:

  • a time series experiment in a mid-weight cotton fabric, 11 swatches, single dips in the vat for periods from 30 seconds to 30 minutes (not shown here because the gradation is minor and it makes a boring photo)
  • some paper-based work (waiting for a sketchbook post)
  • a series thinking about the patterning on the Emperors’ cloak, from my Aztec research (see 17-Nov-2014). That’s the subject of this post.
  • Codex Mendoza folio 108r

    Codex Mendoza folio 108r

    This was spurred on by an article I’ve only recently found, A New Look at Tie-Dye and the Dot-in-a-Square Motif in the Prehispanic Southwest (an aside: one of the advantages of blogging – in my stats I followed a link from a referrer, which was a page of citations of one of my previous sources, and included a link to this new source).

    Earlier attempt

    Earlier sample

    Could I get the appearance of a dot in a square? I chose a white voile cotton as my base – it had produced the brightest, clearest colour and patterning in the comparison done the first dye day.

    indigo_dot_02On the left are a tied and a clamped sample. The tying was done with teflon tape – I didn’t want any additional patterning from thread or cord.
    indigo_dot_03The first idea was white squares in an offset placement, each with an internal dot of blue. I ironed folds in the fabric to help align my ties. It didn’t go so well. Placement is off and there is huge variation in shapes and sizes of “white squares”.
    indigo_dot_04The second piece was accordion folded in one direction then the other, then two rectangles of perspex were tied around – being careful not to distort the fabric or introduce any extra patterning from the thread. I wasn’t clear about the pattern I expected, but this fits the “dot in a square” brief quite well. While this is a good, strong and clear pattern I really wanted a border of blue around the white squares, and to have the squares aligned with the grain of the fabric instead of on the bias. The scale is also rather larger than I was looking for.

    indigo_dot_05On the left is the next set of prepared fabrics. The sample in the centre is the critical one. This time the accordion pleats were folded on the bias, to align the pattern with the grain of the fabric. The package is held in two places, which I planned thought would produce the desired blue border. Instead of the 5 cm wide perspex, the resists are now paddlepop sticks.

    indigo_dot_06I am absurdly smug about the result. The sticks were wide enough to be effective (I hadn’t been sure), all my other adjustments worked as I hoped. There’s a lot of extra layers of patterning, on the bias where the fabric was folded, plus a faint grid in blue – presumably from the bowing of the thin wooden sticks in between the two end ties. The white squares are about 8 cm across, compared to 19 cm on the first attempt.

    By this time a plan was forming for a garment – although not a cloak. The other two fabric pieces shown prepared above gave the results shown below.
    indigo_dot_07The tied pink fabric gives me a small stock of fabric pieces with that colour, and patterning at a smaller scale. It’s interesting to see the different effect on each side. The white stitching was seen on a linen sample earlier (2-Jan-2015).

    indigo_dot_08
    My final pair of fabrics is shown above, with a few process shots and the result. Pink and white fabrics accordion pleated, then wrapped around a pole, tied and scrunched arashi-style.

    indigo_10I’m now playing with everything, looking at how they sit together. More later as the project progresses.

    Reference
    Laurie D. Webster, Kelley A. Hays-Gilpin and Polly Schaafsma “A New Look at Tie-Dye and the Dot-in-a-Square Motif in the Prehispanic Southwest” In Kiva Vol. 71, No. 3, Recent Perishables Research in the U.S. Southwest (Spring, 2006), pp. 317-348 Published by: Maney Publishing [online] Available from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30246777 (Accessed 11-Jan-2015)

    Reading: Steal like an artist

    Kleon, A. (2012) Steal like an artist: 10 things nobody told you about being creative. New York: Workman publishing company

    This book is on the reading list for my next course, Mixed Media for Textiles, so I’m getting a headstart while waiting for the course’s release. You can get a good idea of the contents from the author’s blog, http://austinkleon.com/.

    The book is a fun, quick, entertaining read. There are cute little drawings and quirky hand-written headings and catchy, brisk nuggets of information. I chuckled and nodded in agreement or raised my eyebrows and thought “this one’s not for me”. It would perhaps be easy to skim through in a couple of hours and move on little changed. Or perhaps not. I can see a few changes in myself, and I think if over time I flip through the book now and then I’ll see a few more.

    For example a logbook (see http://austinkleon.com/2015/01/12/six-years-of-logbooks/). I have this blog, and various record books of dye mixes, workshop notes, sketchbooks… I’ve started a logbook along Kleon’s suggested line and after 10 days’ experience feel really positive about it. It’s quick and easy, has become quite natural and – I’ll have to see how it develops but it’s already been useful when the short-term memory blanks.

    The whole idea of “stealing” – that’s what we do. Keep collecting new ideas, lots of them, copy other people’s work, let them influence you. “You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes” (p. 36). Where your copies are different, where you’ve added something yourself, is where you’ll find your own work.

    A new approach to time – “Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing” (p. 67). Who’d think that being bored is valuable. But for me it pinpoints a danger with part-time college work. Rush and push and set a deadline and tick boxes … and the quality of work suffers and the joy suffers. At times I need to push, but at times I need to step away and mess around and give the back of my brain and my eyes and hands a chance to mull.

    That’s three things from this round of reading the book. That’s plenty to be going on with.

    Sketchbook: Indigo

    Tuesday 30th
    As part of the indigo dye day (see 3-Jan-2015 and Claire’s post here) we experimented with dipping paper into the vat.

    20141230aFollowing Claire’s lead I dipped some small cards, then stamped, clipped, brushed, flicked…
    20141230bI folded some A3 cartridge paper into a nice little package and dipped that. The indigo didn’t penetrate into the folds, so it was back to flicking and dripping.

    Wednesday 31st
    20141231aAn uninspiring day. Larger samples of mark making on both cartridge and kraft paper didn’t excite.

    20141231bA “fishbone” fold from “Folding Architecture: Spatial, Structural and Organizational Diagrams” by Sophia Vyzoviti looked good plain, but after dipping the folds were muddled rather than enhanced and when flattened – boring. Other folding attempts were even less interesting.

    Thursday 1st20150101a
    I did a repeat of the fishbone sculptural folds – this time remembering to take a “before” picture, plus dipping on one side only and being more careful of drips, wanting to make the indigo highlight the shaping of the paper. A much better outcome than the previous day.

    20150101eAnother type of folding also came from Vyzoviti’s book. This is like the folded paper game we did as children, where you wrote little saying under the flaps – but it’s a double version. I found it very challenging to fold (there’s a small cut you have to make which is critical), and the results are under-whelming.

    20150101bA new experiment looked at using various white oil/wax drawing implements as resists – sennelier oil pastel, two kinds of children’s crayons, and a candle. The oil pastel was the least effective in resisting the indigo, but produced an interesting texture in the line where it worked. The candle wax was the most effective. I dipped twice to get the A3 cartridge paper covered, and the area of overlap overwhelmed most of the marks. Not much to show, except for some of the lovely, complex marking produced by a simple dip into indigo of basically flat paper.

    Friday 2nd
    20150101cI continued the “history of folds on the page” line of inquiry with a fold based on Ralph Matthew’s origami butterfly (link). I added some extra folds in an attempt to complicate the final patterning, and tied with string. I think the result is finally getting somewhere. Note importance of complex folds, with a large part of the surface of one side of paper either fully exposed or in a simple tuck rather than folded in.

    20150101dFor the drawn resist inquiry I chose candle on A3 cartridge paper, and did a quick sketch of myself – challenging in white on white! The drawn resist gave a ghost face emerging from the indigo.
    Saturday 3rd
    20150102aReturning to yesterday’s drawn resist I thought it was a bit too indistinct, and found I could easily scrape the indigo off the wax areas using my nail or paper clip (it was nearby) – but the result was too white, too sharp edged. A gentle rub with a toothbrush was better, although I think I should have stopped sooner. Could I cover a page with rubbed candle wax, dip into indigo, then “sketch” by removing indigo selectively?

    20150102bThis led to two more experiments.
    First a candle wax sketch of my husband. The basic process used was the same, but I was very gentle and more selective about rubbing over waxed areas to remove indigo. I think this is my best result to date, although that ear is a real problem.

    20150102cThat’s fortunate because the second idea was a failure. I rubbed candle wax over the “full” surface of an A3 sheet of cartridge paper (110gsm – the same used in most of the experiments). After dipping into indigo and drying I tried a number of tools to draw into the blue. Would you believe there is a face in there? The surface was just too inconsistent and too fragile, I couldn’t draw a line or shape effectively.

    Having found that simple (non-waxed) indigo-dipped paper made a very nice base for drawing with conte crayons I decided to make a small sketchbook. Potentially it could contain:

  • “plain” dipped paper
  • wax rubbed then dipped paper
  • paper edged with an indigo treatment
  • separation pages of baking paper (to stop the crayon transferring), possibly with a decorative indigo treatment
  • Sunday 4th – Monday 5th
    20150104aIt took a couple of days to dye and make, but here is my latest sketching journal. The cover is a creamy rice paper behind mulberry bark (indigo dyed of course). It’s roughly A5 in size. The binding is coptic stitch in a natural coloured waxed linen thread. The stitching is uneven – there are only 3 sections, so not enough to build up a rhythm – but I really like the patterning given by the mulberry bark. It seems very appropriate for this book.

    20150104bIn the end I kept it simple – each section effectively has 12 A5 pages of indio-dipped cartridge paper, with all pages separated by baking paper which is mostly just indigo dipped at the edges with more patterning at the start and end of each section.

    I’ve started using the journal, but it will probably be a couple of weeks before I can show results now holidays are over and I’m back at work.

    Reading: Sheila Hicks: Weaving as metaphor

    Stritzler-Levine, E. (Ed.) (2006) Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor New Haven: Yale University Press http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/book.asp?isbn=9780300116854

    I first saw this book during Liz Williamson’s class at Sturt almost 3 years ago (see 24-June-2012). At that time it cost an appalling amount of money. I now have a fourth edition copy for a mere large amount. It is indeed a beautiful book.

    In my post linked above I wrote about the importance of scale. The works in Weaving as Metaphor are quite small – many around 23 x 12 cm. The variety and complexity achieved is eye-opening.

    There are a number of interesting essays. Arthur Danto explores instances where weaving has been used as metaphor, particularly in political analysis. Joan Simon gives an overview of Hicks’s career and in particularly her longterm use of a small fixed frame to create these miniature works. My jotted notes:

  • Wide variety of materials and found objects
  • “evoke evidence of place” (p. 50)
  • “emphasis on different ways of revealing and enhancing the warp threads” (p. 51)
  • ways “to break through the visual plane” (p.51)
  • “integral cohesive forms that stand at the size they need to be as works in their own right” (p. 58), although discoveries inform larger works
  • “the number one decision is color, and that determines what happens” (Hicks quoted p. 58)
  • the readability of the mark – a brushstroke, a sweeping gesture (p. 59)
  • Nina Stritzler-Levine discusses these miniature works in the context of Hicks’s design work. More jottings:

  • “[MoMA’s] concerns about identity at a time when definitions of design and craft were in flux..” (p. 349). I ask when are they ever not, in modern times?
  • “Hicks’s insistence on not giving credence to terminology may derive from her desire for multiple readings of her art.” (p.349)
  • “Pure expression and the utilitarian often join in the most surprising moment.” (Hicks quoted p. 350) “she actually solves problems by integrating art, design, and craft and placing all three disciplines at the service of industry” (p. 351)
  • Painter Piero Dorazio – “She thought the fields of color and the patterns of vertical and horizontal lines in Dorazio’s abstract paintings had a strong textile sensibility” (p. 363). I did an internet search on his images – exciting colours and interactions.
  • Working with a business in India: “they patiently corrupted the things they knew how to do expertly” (quoting Hicks, p. 365).
  • Sensitivity responding to indigenous cultural traditions (p. 377)
  • Of course there’s a lot more – the above is just a sampling of things that touch on some of my current preoccupations.
    The Notes to the text are also rich in information particularly:
    “[Hicks has] offered a taxonomy of her different explorations within ‘four categories’: ‘closed compositions,’ where ‘nothing can be added or taken away’ (her miniatures are included in this category); ‘open compositions,’ which comprise ‘modular elements’; ‘blocked compositions,’ which are ‘made up of similar elements multiplied but limited by the dimension of the surface to be treated’ (architectural commissions), and ‘ephemeral compositions,’ which are ‘acts, manifestations; short-lived, symbolic.'” (p. 385). An interesting way to categorise work, particularly given the emphasis elsewhere on the “autonomous” painting or work of art. I think it could also offer an approach to submitting assignment work – perhaps send a single “modular element”, together with documentation / photos / video of an installation of multiple elements.

    There are also photographs of some of Hicks’s journals. It’s interesting to see the mix of notes, images and just a couple of sketched details of structures and designs.

    All very interesting, and generously illustrated with documentary photographs and images of works. However finally I get to the meat – the catalogue of the exhibition. Perhaps 150 miniatures pictured, each given a page and the facing page giving details of title, date, materials, dimensions, and sometimes some brief comments by Hicks. Measuring one photo chosen at random, it shows the work at 70% the size of the original. You can see so much. There is such an amazing wealth of inventiveness, so much to learn from (I’ve also been reading “Steal like an artist” by Austin Kleon – more on that another day). This book has been my evening reading/looking for a couple of months, and while I’ve spent time with every page I don’t suppose I’ve absorbed half a percent of what I could gain.

    Of course having such detail just leaves one wanting more. Dimensionality is lost, colours are presumably shifted, textures and sheen lost or diminished, colour interaction – what happens when you tilt your head or move around or back or forward – all is lost. This book was originally the catalogue of an exhibition, and just as with Fiber: Sculpture 1960 – present (26-Dec-2014)) an excellent catalogue has left me hungry.


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