Soft Engineering Exhibition

This afternoon I had a lovely time at the Soft Engineering exhibition and attending the talks at Whitchurch Silk Mill I have been to this exhibition before when it was in Winchester but this time there was the edition of Julie Hedges. The exhibition is all about how textiles can be shaped. This is one of the subjects I love to learn about and experiment with.

Being a weave technician at the University for the Creative Arts in Farnham I was very interested to learn that all of the exhibitors have at one point or another been students or employed by the same university. This is how they got to know each other and are all good friends. It was also very interesting to know that even though they are established makers they still get together to talk about and show each other their work. Being able to bounce ideas off each other seems a very important way for them to develop their ideas. I think sometimes it’s easy to forget that even professionals are still learning, can be unsure about their work and need to discuss what they are doing with someone else.

There were four makers exhibiting:

Alison Ellen

Alison Ellen is a knitter who originally trained in weave. She felt that weave was too restrictive so started experimenting with knit. She is now exploring knitted garments without seams, tops in particular. I was already aware of knitting in rounds and therefore it must be possible to knit certain garments without seams but she does this in such an interesting way using shaping techniques and adding texture. She uses combinations of stitch and varies the number of stitches row by row as well as entrelac and modular knitting techniques to create curves, movement and shaping within her garments.

Anne Richards

I have attended talks by Anne Richards before but always come away inspired and feeling like I have learnt something. Anne Richards originally studied biology and discovered her passion for weave when she started doing this in her spare time.

Now she is known for creating sculptural pieces, particularly necklaces and bracelets. She shapes her weaves mostly by using high twist yarn. High twist yarn have a very high twist count when spun giving it a lot of energy. When it is put on to a cone it settles down making it easier to weave but once it gets wet the fibres swell putting stress on the yarn causing it to shrink up. 

Her three dimensional textiles exploration was inspired by an accident when she accidentally created pleats not actually being aware of how high twist yarns behave at the time. She creates her pleats by playing with warp/weft dominant weaves, S/Z twist yarn and different fibres. By using them in different combinations she can create different effects. She also discovered that if she uses silk/steel yarn she can manually insert some pleats once the fabric is woven.

Some of her designs were inspired by origami mountain and valley folds and the mobius strip. She also cuts/stitches woven fabric together to add a different dimension. She no longer weaves most of her work herself but employs highly skilled weavers to do this for her. Her samples we finished using a folded and stitched edge.

Deirdre Wood

Deirdre Wood studied ceramics and then knit before discovering her love of weave. Having been inspired by the strip weavers around the world she now embraces this technique herself. She loves the strip woven cloths of west Africa, in particular the mud and ikat cloths of Mali. 

Strip woven cloth is created by weaving narrow strips of fabric and stitching them together to create a bigger cloth. Cloth is traditionally made this way due to a lack of resources to be able create larger cloths. There may be no access to a large loom or the finances to buy the quantity of yarn outright before starting weaving. 

Deirdre weave strips and then manipulates, twists and sews them together to create striking designs. She creates some double sided strips for when they are folded back upon themselves. Through experimentation she found that if she graduates the yarn type across the width of the strip e.g. silk to cotton or linen when she washes it the yarn shrink differently causing the strip to curve. It became very mathematical when she decided to work out how long she would need to weave the strips in order to make a full circle. She engaged the help of a computer professor to help. She adds ikat techniques in to her work which she dyes using a collapsible frame she made herself. 

Julie Hedges

I went to this exhibition mostly knowing what to expect but learnt about a new technique I have never heard of, ply-split braiding. Ply-split braiding is essentially where you start off with number of cords which you then commence to thread though the middle of each other. 

Her interest in this techniques was first sparked when she when to an exhibition at the University for the Creative Arts, Farnham in 1989 displaying some of the historic fabrics they hold in their collection. She further learnt about it when she worked at the university and staffed a workshop with Peter Collingwood who was the first westerner to research ply-split braiding in depth. 

During a trip to Rajasthan she became inspired by the camel girths which are made from camel hair using ply-split braiding techniques. Julie likes using four ply linen or cotton cords for her work,  She then uses a grip fid (traditionally used for rope splicing) topull the cords through the middle of each other so that two of the plies are over and two under the cord. Julie often makes her own cords and explores thickness and stiffness to develop her structures, often combining variations. 

There are a number of techniques to create different effects: ply-split darning, single course oblique twining and two layered oblique twining. She quickly realised that she could create 3D shapes which naturally lend themselves to jewellery.  Natural structures provide some inspiration but mostly her next piece is inspired by a previous.