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  • Sara Nordling

Oops, I skipped a step...

detail of weaving with stripes and double weave pleats

I am currently putting the finishing touches on my design exercises for my workshop at MAFA (Mid-Atlantic Fiber Association) at the end of this month. As those of you who have been following my blog know, I teach design and I write about design. I guess you’d say I was somewhat of an expert.

However, I fell prey to a common problem that artists and designers can run into. I think that I can skip some steps in the design process and that it will still turn out just fine. That I am good enough and have enough experience in design that it won’t matter. It will turn out just fine. People may not even realize. However, I know that it could have been even better had I taken the time to do all the steps and designed it properly.

What do I mean by that? When I teach college students about design, I have them sketch out many thumbnail ideas before they decide on their final project idea. I have my drawing students do preliminary sketches as well to work on compositions that work best on the page. I will often doodle out designs and ideas ahead of time.

One of the design exercises for the conference involves developing a stripe pattern. I sketched out some ideas and played with different lines before deciding on my pattern. The next step is to play with that stripe pattern in different ways. This is the step I sometimes skip. I am finding much richer designs once I go to the next level, taking my initial design, and tweaking and manipulating it further. Playing with paper, gluing shapes and lines, can inform your design process in ways sketches and drafts cannot. This is a good method to use, especially if you feel stuck and your creativity needs a boost.

Are all designs you can come up with on paper able to be translated into woven cloth? Maybe not. Most however, can work, or be adapted to work, for weaving.

Double weave pleats, white background, black stripe with red pleats.

Staccato, double weave pleats

An example of the use of line to create rhythm.

For those of you who would like to give this a try, begin with stripes first. On a 6” x 6” piece of white paper, design a series of stripes that run parallel to the edge of one side of the square using cut black paper as your lines. Arrange your stripes in such a way that you show rhythm. (This, by the way, is similar, but not identical, to one of the exercises we will be doing in the workshop.) Once you have that one designed, translate it into stripes that are black, white and at least 2 shades of gray (you may use colored pencils if you don’t have gray paper). Next translate this same black and white stripe pattern into an analogous color scheme leaving no white in your design. (Again if you don’t have the colored papers, colored pencils will work). Do either of these latter two designs change the rhythm of the first design? Is that okay?

After you have played with these designs for a while then you can think about weaving them. Chose one of the three striped designs you created. What it is you want to weave? A scarf? Towel? Yardage? Or what? Then consider your stripe design. Do you have to repeat it across you weaving? Scale it up? Scale it down? Turn it horizontal? Mirror it? Use it horizontally and vertically to create plaid? What weave structure(s) will you use? Twill, satin, plain weave, summer and winter, or a combination of weaves are some possibilities. How many shafts do you have available? Does that limit you in any way? Are you going to weave your black and white, your gray values or your colored stripes? What will you choose for weft? Will that make a difference in the appearance of your stripes? What yarns will you use?

That was a lot of questions! You answer these each time you plan a new project. The more you work with these questions though, the faster most of the answer come.

Is this the only way to design? No. It’s not even the only way I design or teach people to design. However, it is a useful tool. Working on paper takes away the pressure of yarns, setts, weave structure, and lets you design for design’s sake. After that you can translate or adapt the design to work for your next weaving project.

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