I’m preparing to play with surface design on warps. The basic idea is pretty simple: stretch a warp out on a long table, then apply paint and/or dyes to the warp. Reel the warp back onto the loom, and weave it with whatever structure you choose. Easy, right?
Well, yes and no. Surface design on warps is a bit like playing a violin. Any fool can pick up a bow and make noise, but making music with a violin requires considerable technical mastery. And getting controlled effects on unwoven warps can be, well, complicated.
For example, here’s an experiment I did last year, using screen printing on warps:
As you can see, even though the images are printed cleanly onto a perfectly tensioned warp, there is considerable distortion when woven. The circles flatten into ovals, and the edges distort and blur. Also, the diagonal lines of the weave structure (a reversing twill) further obscure the image.
This example was made using the simplest approach: screen printing onto a warp that is already on the loom, printing in the small gap between the reed and the fell of the cloth. This method produces the cleanest picture, but is limited to printing that can fit between the reed and the fell. (On my loom, that’s about eight inches.) And distortion still appears at the edges.
For the kimono, I need a panel about five and a half feet long, so this approach won’t work. So I’ve decided to use the other commonly used method – stretch the warp out on a long table and do the printing on the table. To minimize distortion, I’m weaving the warp into very loose “cloth” using a superfine weft, with about an eighth of an inch between picks. I wove a stick in at the beginning and end of the section to be printed, and will use those to stretch out the section evenly on the table for printing.
But before I can print on the warp, I need something to print with. So I spent a good chunk of time this afternoon making these stencils:
The big stencils are about nine by thirty inches; the small one is about two by four inches.
I plan to use these stencils to test a couple of things:
- lengthwise distortion due to take-up: the image will shorten as the fabric is woven, but how much?
- clarity of woven image with a very simple weave structure (plain weave)
- distortion of edge details
In particular, I am using the small phoenixes to test the amount of detail possible in an image, and the large phoenixes to test what happens to a larger design. I’ve prepared 36 inches of warp, which is enough to print two large and many small phoenixes. Now I just need to finish the stencils, which will take another day or two, and I’ll be ready to experiment.
(The stencils, by the way, are carved from fusible interfacing – the heavy “craft” type. Two layers of interfacing, fused together with a layer of nylon tulle in between. The tulle stabilizes the tiny details and the interfacing makes the stencil. I need to coat them with two layers of latex house paint and iron the paint to heat-set it; after that they’ll be ready to use. This technique is covered in detail in Jane Dunnewold’s excellent book Complex Cloth.)
I do plan to experiment with katazome (Japanese paste-resist dyeing) later, but for the first trial or two, I’m going to keep it simple and stencil rather than play with resists.
Finally, I went to a friend’s help-out-with-gardening party today, and when I came home, a certain black kitten was fascinated by my shoes. Here is Fritz, with his head stuffed eagerly into my left shoe:
Apparently the kittens have not yet discovered feline dignity. 🙂