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Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, the Fabrics!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

It is so nice to be able to step back in time and revisit past journeys through our photos. The digital age has made it so easy to click, click, click and I think I took over 4000 pictures on my first trip to India. While having that many photos is wonderful, it also makes it hard to pick just a few, LOL. In this post I’ll share some of my favourite pieces that made their way home with me on that trip that I told you about in the January 29th post (click here if you missed it!).

Just to remind you, the village is in West Bengal, north of Calcutta. This village is famous for its extraordinary weavers, very fine weaving, Saris and an inlay technique called Jamdani. The majority of the weavers wove on simple 2 shaft looms, with fly shuttle attachments. Warping is an extremely meticulous process due to the fine warp threads and the finished fabric is breathtaking.

The piece below was woven on 2 shafts with reeled silk. The warp was black and the weft was the colour of copper. If you look right down in the bottom left hand corner of the photo below you can see what the cloth looked like when it came off the loom….simple flat plain weave. All of the texture that you see in the body of the cloth was done by using the thumbs to force the warp threads apart after the cloth was taken from the loom. When I first brought it home it had a wide border all across the bottom about 6” wide but over the years I have been adding texture to the piece by demonstrating how the warps threads were moved. I don’t have much space left to demonstrate…so I’ll have to go back and get another one. When I hold this cloth in my hands I realize that another artisan used their thumbs on every square inch of the cloth shifting the warp threads exposing the weft threads.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

I have draped the scarf on Mary our wonderful model to show you this simple piece of plain weave in all its glory.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

The next piece is an amazing example of beater control. It is woven in plain weave with weft faced bands of 3/1 twill. The warp is like a cobweb, so incredibly fine it almost disappears. A band of gossamer plain weave is woven and then a band of 3/1 twill is woven that covers the warp as it becomes weft faced but because the threads are so fine it has a drape and effect that is absolutely stunning.

You can shift those weft bands into the open space but in the 9 years I have had this piece they have never shifted on their own.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Another of my favourite simple plain weave pieces has several things going on.  The warp is cotton with a silk weft. This scarf is so soft…..it is difficult to describe just how it feels in the hand.

At first glance it is easy to see the horizontal space that is left every few inches, again controlled by the beater but it also looks like there is denting in the warp.  Denting is a technique where you leave an empty dent open in the reed. Those black vertical lines look like empty space but upon closer inspection it is really 3 ends of one colour and then one end of black, there is no denting happening in the piece just the illusion of it. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to use my thread magnifier to figure out what is going on in these pieces.

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

The last piece in this post is woven on 4 shafts and is plain weave threaded into blocks. Some threads are on 1 and 2 and another block is on 3 and 4.

It can be woven with a simple tabby tie-up where both blocks weave plain weave from selvedge to selvedge like you see at both ends or it can be woven with one block always weaving plain weave while the other block doesn’t weave at all. The is accomplished in the tie up. The threads on 1 and 2 are always changing places but the threads on 3 and 4 stay in the middle and have one pick that floats over the entire block of them and the next pick floats under them. When you weave this way through the entire length of the cloth you end up with stripes where your warp has no take-up because there is never any interlacement through them, just over and under them.
Those stripes are the wavy ones and they were warped in silk where the other plain weave blocks are warped in a very fine wool. The entire weft is the fine wool. There is also a fabulous graphic threaded into those blocks. It is such a simple idea and every part of this cloth, the hand, the drape, the shiny, the matte, the thin stripes, the wide stripes, the colour……screamed take me home! 🙂

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

I am so happy to be able to share these particular weavings because this cloth and the weavers of this village challenged beliefs that I had carried around since I started to weave 30 years before. They challenged my ideas around sett, use of reed and beater and about what you could and couldn’t do with thread or structure…it changed my entire thought process around design. I had always loved plain weave but I gained a profoundly deeper respect for it than was there before. I will be eternally grateful to these weavers, for their extraordinary skill and vision and for the gift they shared with me during my 10 days with them. Namaste.

Like this post? Please feel free to share their beautiful work on Pinterest using the graphic below!

Handweaving in India, Part 2: Oh, The Fabric!

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In Memory of Ann Belau

Once upon a time there was an online weaving guild and some weavers formed groups to follow along with the guild. There were big groups and small groups, formal guilds, and informal get-togethers. Some groups took on weaving projects or challenges together. Sometimes, they put on shows to share the beautiful things they created.

Ann Belau belonged to two of these groups. One was a small local group in Three Rivers, CA; the other was the venerable, valley-wide guild Handweavers of the Valley. It’s clear Ann was a key member of her weaving groups—a teacher, an organizer, an event planner—and that she was driven by her own innate desire to learn as much as she could of spinning, dyeing, and weaving.

Left to right: Ellen Henderson, Ann, Linda Hayden, Mary Lou Hanson, Sophie Britten.

I really connected with Ann and her weaving group when, last October, she designed the foyer for the 39th show and sale of her local guild—displaying her study groups samples of all the episodes of the online guild. It was, by all accounts, a stunning display of colour and weaving. As guests arrived, Ann sat at her loom and gave teaching demonstrations of preparing the loom for weaving. At the time, I was thrilled and inspired and a little awed to think that I had had a part in such a truly remarkable achievement.

Ann has left us now, although she will never truly leave her family, her community, and her weaving friends, by all of whom I know she was deeply loved.

But I am still thinking about Ann, about her weaving group, about the people she connected with, and about the people who connected with those people. I am reflecting on how weavers who belong to an online weaving guild—in the cloud!— still find ways to organize, to connect, and to form community and engage with one another in meaningful ways.

I always get this sense of awe watching people take up the lessons of the guild and run with them. But there was something about Ann and her group that laid it out for me in a new way. Somehow, thanks to Ann and the people connected to Ann and the people connected to the people connected to Ann–I saw something new about the creative spirit and how it tends to organize.

First, we weave and then, we find one another. We self-organize–in guilds, in small weaving groups, at the community centre, in our homes. We are bigger than the organizations we create, but we also sometimes find our home there, as Ann’s daughter says Ann did. We decide to create beauty out of our own spirit; then we find our partners, our sisters, our friends. And then we create astounding things together. We work, we create, we talk, we share, we laugh, we learn—and we produce beauty.

Maybe we are like the bees. Maybe each of us is a single bee. In solitude, we weave our own life and experiences. But then we find one another and come together, and maybe then we are like a hive. And within our hive, we reach out with our sisters for craft, for mastery, and for beauty. And then one day, when we leave the hive, maybe we are like Ann—we launch into the open air with sun on our face, the wind in our hair, the blue sky over our wings—on a mission to find the flowers, and then to dance their location for her sisters, also working and dancing under the sun.

This is what we do. It really is what we do. It is the most beautiful thing imaginable. And I am so, so privileged to be included in that. I have all of you to thank for it, but it took Ann to show it to me.

To see some of Ann’s beautiful work, please read this blog post written by her daughter, who has given us permission to share the link here.