At lunch with hand-weaving and spinning friends the other day, the conversation turned to the vocabulary we use, and whether the language of painters and other visual artists can also be applied to weaving. When creating a hand-woven work, whether it is a household item like a tea towel, a piece of clothing, or something for the wall or floor, it doesn’t hurt to look at some of the language that describes visual arts and turn a critical eye to our woven work. Take out a piece of your own hand-woven, and/or examine a piece of ethnic weaving (say a Navaho rug), or historical weaving (the Bayeau Tapestry), or the work of well-known hand-woven textile makers (Anni Albers), and see how the following terminology can be applied.
A line describes a visual or implied pathway that moves the eye through your work. When you think about it, weaving is composed of nothing but lines, often crossed at 90⁰ by other lines. Weaving designers are challenged to either use the lines as given or to visually or literally bend and deflect these lines so they no longer appear straight. Plain weave invites the eye to move up and down, or across the cloth, whereas a simple twill weave draws the eye in a diagonal direction. Lace weaves allow threads to pull together or push apart to create patterns of tiny holes in the fabric. Deflected double weave uses the characteristics of the yarns and weave structure to encourage the yarns to expand or collapse or react in ways that will pull the warps and wefts away from straight and linear lines.
In addition to the lines created by the threads themselves, a weaver can create lines through the use of colour, texture, and the structure of the weave. Think how stripes and plaids change the way the eye moves across the fabric. Shadow weave encourages your eye to see light and shadows within the straight lines of the weave. A change in texture from smooth to bumpy, or from mat to shiny can influence the eye as it moves across the fabric. Weave structure: plain weave, twill, undulating twill, overshot, crackle weave, summer and winter, block weaves, double weave, and all the ways we weave affect the line of the cloth.
As weavers we also know that this line may change as we examine the evolution of the cloth from how it appears on the loom to how it appears after the washing and finishing of the final item and through to its intended use – a rug on the floor examined from a standing position, a napkin on the table, or clothing on the human body that moves with the wearer.
Shape is considered to be the two dimensional area that is taken up by the object. Handweavers, through the use of a loom and how it functions are most often working with rectangles – long warp threads crossed with weft threads, limited by the weaving width and capacity of the loom. Within our rectangles we weave patterns from simple to complex using colour, texture and weave structure to create the illusion of other shapes (circles, squares, triangles, etc.).
If shape is the two-dimensional area of an object, form is the three-dimensional space. Form follows function. Our weaving, which is two-dimensional on the loom, may take on three-dimensional form in its everyday use – a shawl is draped over shoulders, a tea-towel drying a dish, a pile rug laid out on the floor – all these objects change with how they are used, and how we look at them. We plan and design our weaving in anticipation of its future use and form. Our woven rectangles may be used as is, or cut up and sewn and shaped and manipulated to achieve the final form and function.
Colour and Value
Colour is a broad subject and will be revisited in all its complexity. In simple terms, colour is what the eye sees when the light, striking an object is reflected back to the eye. The colour is composed of hue (the name we give to it – red, yellow, blue and so on), intensity (the strength and vividness of the colour), and value (the relative lightness or darkness of a colour as it moves toward white or black). The weaver’s choice of colour will set the impact, the flavour and the tone of a piece and will affect the viewer’s reaction to the cloth.
Texture brings in our sense of touch – weavers are drawn to touch and feel the cloth, to run their hands over the surface. We want to know if the fabric is smooth or bumpy, cool or warm, soft or crisp, matt or shiny. We choose the materials to use in our weaving based on the smoothness, or bumpiness of the yarns. Texture can both affect and reflect the mood of the maker and convey emotion.
Space is defined as the area within the borders of the woven work. Our rectangle of cloth is defined by the length, width, and perceived depth of the weaving. These may or may not be altered by the final use or function of the piece – bright colours may fade and soften through use, pieces are folded or draped, changing the space they occupy. Background may change the perception of space – the same piece will look different when seen against a bright summer day or a cold winter night.
Balance and Harmony
We arrange the elements within our hand woven materials to create a feeling – of stability, of comfort of elegance, of symmetry or asymmetry – to call out to, or to invite the viewer in.