One of the challenges of textile design, especially jacquard design, is that your initial sketch is very likely going to be in another medium – pencil, paint, or perhaps a digital image. Except in very limited circumstances, designing is not done at the loom.
So what’s the problem with that? Well, every medium “thinks” differently. So what you see in the sketch is not at all what you get in the finished piece, even if you work really hard at your simulation. Moreover, you don’t want your piece to look exactly like the simulation. Why? Because cloth is not paint, pencil, or pixels. Cloth has a lot more to offer: texture, drape, and luster, among many other things.
One of the great challenges for me in the “Bipolar Prison” piece is figuring out how to take full advantage of its woven nature. I created the initial sketch in Photoshop, but I want to do more than just weave a digital painting, like a low-resolution printer with limited color palette. But the draw to think in pixels is so strong that it’s difficult for me to visualize textile-specific possibilities. I can’t add them to my sketch, therefore they’re invisible. And so I just don’t think of them.
I talked to a weaving friend about my digital dilemma. “I just can’t think of anything in the Bipolar Prison piece that takes advantage of the fact that it’s a textile,” I said. She replied immediately, “Well, why don’t you do some weaving things? You could vary the texture and size of the yarn in the warp. You could make the bars actually three-dimensional by weaving them in double weave and stuffing the tubes. You could use a different yarn for the face so the texture looks more like skin.”
All great ideas, and fairly obvious to someone who is thinking in terms of woven cloth. But they just hadn’t occurred to me because I had been designing in Photoshop, thinking within the capabilities and limitations of a digital painting. This is the danger of designing in a different medium! What you see is not what you get. Without a conscious effort to think in your medium, it’s easy to lose its special possibilities, and unconsciously settle for a mere imitation of your sketch’s medium. This is the mistake I made in Goodbye, Ma. The phoenix looks almost exactly like the digital painting – but it could have been much, much more.
So, with Bipolar Prison, I’m making an effort to “think textile”. It’s going to be challenging, but also exciting; I hope it will produce a more interesting finished piece.
And where am I on Bipolar Prison? Well, I’ve finished beaming all three warps. (The white warp is not shown in this picture, but it’s on the lower beam.)
I’ve started threading, but it’s a slow and tricky process. I’m threading three warps at once, from three sets of lease sticks, and because the TC-2 has fixed heddles, threading is an ergonomic nightmare. I’m using a bungee cord to hold most of the heddles out of the way, but the space created is only about four inches on either side, so there really isn’t room to thread comfortably. So I am doing it in small bits, in between rearranging the studio.
I’ve also started work on translating the image to jacquard design. Translating the digital image into something I could process in Arahweave (my jacquard design software) was quite a challenge, and took several hours. My next step will be to design the twenty weave structures used in my design. That will be a serious challenge as well.
Here, just to demonstrate that what you see is not what you get, is the original digital painting, next to the Arahweave-ready image. (The colors don’t matter to Arahweave; they just need to be distinct, and correspond to the correct weave structures.)
Most of my time, however, has been spent on studio reorganization. I have completely rearranged the furniture in both garage and indoor studio (which meant moving a ton of stuff – literally!), and am building more shelving in both places. I am sore in places I didn’t know I had. I’m estimating another week should complete the reorganization – which is great, because I’m eager to get back to weaving.
The cats are starting to think that all this new furniture-building is old hat. Here’s Tigress, yawning atop the shelving unit I built yesterday.