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Architecture © Jane Stafford Textiles

MY Thoughts On COLOUR and DESIGN:

I start every Colour and Design Workshop off by explaining to my students that there are hundreds of different ways to tackle this subject.  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 system.  It isn’t necessarily better than any other system except that 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, analyzed why they work and developed this system.  It is still being developed and hopefully I will be able to work on it until the day I die.  I want to be weaving that long. We all have pivotal moments in our lives and one such pivotal moment for me was having the opportunity to be the TA for Jack Larson at the Banff School of Fine Arts in 1984.  He taught a course called ‘The Consummate Cloth”.  It was 3 weeks of studying sett.  We wove everything in white yarn and in 2 structures…. plain weave and 4 shaft Twills.  We sampled and sampled and sampled and sampled and over a 3 week period the 12 students attending created 100’s and 100’s of samples seaching for his idea of “the consummate cloth”.  His criteria was simple, the end product had to have exceptional drape, hand and bias.

This experience formed the base of my design process which is broken down into 3 parts.  I call them Architecture, Graphic and Colour. 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 like I would imagine a carpenter builds a house and I feel that the most important decision that I make at the outset, is what my ends per inch (epi) will be. 90% 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. All of these items need to have optimal drape and I know 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 I know that 2/8 cotton sett at 16 epi and woven at 16 ppi will make a very nice and stable cloth when it has been washed that is suitable for a simple top. 2/8 cotton sett at 18 epi and woven at 18 ppi will make a nice drapey thirsty towel and I know that 2/8 cotton sett at 20 epi and woven at 20 ppi will be a good whacking hard beat and as a towel it won’t be as thirsty as 18epi/18ppi but would make a great piece of upholstery, strong and sturdy.  I know these things because I am a steadfast sampler. Every single yarn we sell in this business has been extensively sampled for sett so that I can find all the fabrics possible from one yarn.  We sample in plain weave and twill first and then do supplementary weft structures later.  From this testing I develop what I call my ’canvas’.  The sampling provides me with all the structural information that I need to create a fabulous piece of cloth that doesn’t have any graphic or colour on it yet. It is a blank canvas and I draw on it and paint millions of different colours on it over and over and over.  These canvases were the base of 20 years of production work.

Now……I don’t want to talk too long or you might not come back, but I will let you know that I’m going to work up some drawings for my next post about why 50/50 is so important to bias and I will also post some photos of different setts used with the same yarn. In the meantime if any of you want to see some of the canvases I have used over the years you can go to Jane’s Helpline and search for my Master Sett Chart.  It is by no means complete, there are still so many canvases in different yarns to add, but we do what we can when we have a spare minute.