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Weaving Architecture: Step 1 of the Design Process

Posted In: Colour and design | Designing your cloth

I start every Colour and Design Workshop off by explaining to my students that there are hundreds of different ways to tackle the subject of design. Every designer has their own particular way of working, of organizing thoughts, and of bringing ideas to fruition.

All I can do, as a designer and a teacher, is to share my own system. It isn’t necessarily better than any other system. But it works for me, and it seems to provide my students with a good strong solid foundation around the process of designing.

I didn’t always work this way, early on there was a lot of hit and miss. But gradually, I paid attention to things that worked, I analyzed why they work, and I developed my system. I’m still refining it, and hopefully I will be able to work on it until the day I die. I want to weave forever. I will never ever tire of making beautiful simple cloth.

We all have pivotal moments in our lives, and one such pivotal moment for me was having the opportunity to be the Teaching Assistant for Jack Lenor Larson at the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1984. Jack and Randall Darwall taught a course called “The Consummate Cloth.”

It turned out to be three weeks of doing nothing but studying sett and finishing our cloth. We wove everything mostly in white yarn and in 2 structures: plain weave and four-shaft twills. We sampled. And sampled. And sampled. And sampled. —And over a three-week period, the 12 students attending created hundreds of samples striving for our teachers’ vision of “the consummate cloth.” Their criteria were simple⎼the end product had to have all of exceptional drape, hand, and bias.

This experience formed the basis of my design process. I break this process down into three main components, which I identify as Architecture, Graphic, and Colour. In today’s post, I’ll start with Architecture. When I think about the architecture of a piece of cloth, I liken it to the architecture of a building.

  • Buildings have good foundations; cloth has hemstitching or a straight header upon which to build.
  • Buildings have studs; cloth has warp threads.
  • Buildings have floors; cloth has weft threads.
  • Buildings have a strong beam structure for exterior walls; cloth has a selvedge.

I build a piece of cloth the way I imagine a carpenter builds a house. And I feel that the most important decision that I make—the very first decision I have to make, right at the outset—is what my ends per inch (epi) are going to be. Ninety percent of what I weave is balanced cloth, because I generally make simple items—scarves, stoles, towels, blankies—things that we can wrap ourselves in. Highly functional and useful. Now, all of these items need to have optimal drape. And what I know is that a 50/50 piece of cloth will have the best drape possible, because it will have perfect bias. (For any newbies out there, a 50/50 cloth has the same number of ends per inch and picks per inch.)

I have spent the last 35 years weaving with many of the same yarns over and over again and I have learned that there is not just one sett for any one yarn even if the structure never changes. For instance, consider the number of setts possible for a 8/2 cotton:

For our visual learners, these photos of finished pieces should give you a better idea of the many possibilities for handwoven cloth:

8/2 cotton warp and weft sett at 22 EPI /22 PPI woven in twill

8/2 cotton sett at 12 EPI woven with boucle cotton at 12 PPI woven in PW

8/2 warp and weft sett at 18 EPI /18 PPI woven in PW

8/2 warp and 20/2 silk weft sett at 18 EPI/18 PPI woven in Twill….crazy huh!

8/2 warp and 20/2 silk weft sett at 16 EPI/16PPI woven in PW

8/4 cotton warp and 7 gauge bambu weft sett at 36 EPI for Repp Weave and then resleyed and opened up to 12 EPI/ 12 PPI in Plain Weave….two dramatically different fabrics from one yarn.

Two things of note….

  1. We can only weave the open setts if we have great technique and know how to control our beater.
  2. As our sett increases there will come a point when we will no longer be able to weave the cloth balanced no matter how hard we beat because the fabric is heading towards warp-predominance. That’s not a bad thing, and under some circumstances might be just what you’re looking for.

At 40 EPI, 8/2 cotton will be totally warp faced. So if you want to use this yarn to weave Repp….you got it baby! One yarn, many different setts and many different types of fabric. How cool is that! So many possibilities hidden in one yarn and it is knowing how to use your reed that makes it all possible.

I sample in plain weave then twill and finally explore supplementary weft structures.

From this testing, I develop what I call my “canvases”—and once I have those canvases I get to add graphic and colour, which I’ll get into in greater detail on the next blog post. Click here to receive future posts in your inbox so you don’t miss out!

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Post Tags: weaving design


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