Today is the Lunar New Year, a day of new beginnings. An auspicious day on which to share velvet beginnings with you!
First, there’s the loom. With heroic effort, Ricki and I (mostly Ricki!) have gotten the warp wound and beamed, rearranged the modules, and have started threading. Here’s what Amazing Grace (my TC-2 jacquard loom) looks like now:
As they say, a journey of 2,760 threads starts with a single heddle.
Ricki has been doing most of the work so far, but I’m planning to do a lot more threading soon. Ricki graduates in May, and most likely will leave the Bay Area shortly thereafter, so if I’m to uphold my side of the bargain and show Ricki how to weave a project on Grace, she needs to be fully threaded by mid to late April. Ricki’s not going to have time to do all that threading solo, so I’m going to pitch in and help. Done a little bit at a time, it shouldn’t be that onerous, and I’m confident that, with Ricki’s help, I can finish in time for Ricki to weave something on the loom.
I am grateful to Ricki for giving me the kick in the pants I needed to get started with Grace again. I have plans for some fabulous velvet weaving. Mike designed and 3D-printed me a velvet knife that would work with round velvet rods – it has a round channel with a scalpel blade centered in the channel. The round channel runs along the rod and holds the scalpel blade centered over the rod, so you can cut down the middle of the rod and the blade doesn’t roll off.
That’s probably hard to visualize, so here’s a schematic of the knife:
Instead of traditional velvet rods, I plan to use nylon monofilament – 150, 200, or 300 pound-test fishing line, straightened out in hot water. John Marshall put me on to that idea – apparently Japanese velvet weavers have largely switched to monofilament – and I’m eager to give it a try.
For ground warp, I’m using black 20/2 cotton from Lunatic Fringe Yarns. For the pile warp, I’m using rayon machine embroidery thread. I had impulsively bought a giant lot of it on eBay several years back – “giant” meaning over 220 king-size (5500 yard) spools that arrived in two huge boxes weighing over 65 pounds – so I have a more or less infinite supply, and a huge collection of colors. I haven’t tested them for lightfastness and washfastness yet, but the brand has an excellent reputation, and I’m only weaving samples at the moment, so I’m just “winging it” for now.
The plan is to use a black ground warp and my usual brilliant yellow/orange/red colors, perhaps with a hint of blue/purple to provide hue contrast, to create interesting velvet designs. I haven’t any concrete designs in mind, only exploration. I do, however, have a few interesting ideas I want to play with.
The first idea comes from a fabulous Japanese velvet that John Marshall showed me. It is a velvet woven with real gold thread – that is, precious metal thread made from real gold. Because the Japanese are, well, Japanese, though, the gold thread is placed in the ground cloth – behind the velvet pile. So it doesn’t show unless the cloth moves or is draped over something, spreading the pile threads apart and allowing the precious gold to glimmer through. (Not being modest to the point of stupidity, however, they do make the pile sparser than usual, so the gold becomes easier to see.)
Here’s one of the precious metal velvets that John showed me. See how the gold shines through the velvet pile as the fabric turns around the fold:
Well, one of the more interesting yarns in my collection is retro-reflective thread. It’s the stuff they put on running shoes and safety vests, and it lives a double life: Boring gray by normal light, but blindingly bright when viewed in a focused, head-on beam of light, e.g. headlights.
Here are two photos of a sample I wove with the retro reflective thread. The first shows it in normal light. The second shows it with a flashlight directed straight at the sample. See how it glows in the second photo?
So…now I’m thinking that putting retro-reflective thread in the ground cloth, behind a somewhat-sparse velvet pile, could produce some really beautiful cloth. Because its base colors are gray and silver, though, it would probably work better with blues, greens, and grays than with the fiery colors that I prefer…but there is plenty of time to experiment with the possibilities!
My other ideas are not nearly so concrete. I take a lot of inspiration from the Japanese velvet weavers’ design aesthetic. John Marshall very generously loaned me a large number of Japanese velvets, and my expert-photographer friend Lieven just as generously photographed them for me in meticulous detail. Here’s one that shows the power and simplicity I aspire to:
I love the understated elegance of this piece, and the virtuoso skill that lies under it. The red is cut velvet, the rest is uncut velvet. What I love is the restraint on the cut portions: only a few portions of the velvet are cut, with great precision, to create emphasis on the relevant design elements and create a sense of movement through the piece. The design looks simple, but if you look close up, you can see the complex patterning in the leaves – both the cut and uncut velvet leaves – and in the background.
(Do click on the image to see the full-size photo of the cloth, but only if you have a fast connection – Lieven’s photo is about 28 MB. But worth it – you can make out every detail of the velvet patterning, right down to the individual loops. Exquisite!)
Anyway, I don’t yet know enough about velvet to know what is and is possible, so my first plan is simply to explore the possibilities. Mike and I are going to have to figure out how to create the required velvet equipment ourselves, so part of the adventure will be figuring out how to create the weighted velvet spools, and the spool rack to hold them. Mike has 3D-printed some test spools for me already, and I have sketched out some ideas for a modular spool rack that would make it easy to switch out spools if I want to change colors, break a thread, double the number of threads in a pile unit, and so on. I expect a ton of technical experimenting will be needed before I can really start thinking about design – and I am looking forward to every moment of it!
Happy Chinese New Year to you all! May the coming year bring new beginnings to everyone, in all your ventures.