I recently wove a blanket and decided to call it Looking Down From The Howgills as it was largely inspired by two photographs I have from this wonderful place where I live – one taken from The Calf, the highest point of The Howgills, looking down into Sedbergh:
the other looking along the length of beautiful Dentdale:
I have been playing with these textured throws for years, ever since I first wove this structure at Bradford College when I studied there for an HNC in Handwoven Design in 2004/05. A lot of people tell me the structure of the weave is deflected double weave but I think of it as “plain weave with floats”. Some of the yarns shrink more than others and by playing with this differential shrinkage I am able to create texture in an otherwise flat cloth. Previous blankets have been woven from a mix of cotton, chenille, silk, and linen. But this time I wanted to create one in 100% wool and not any wool but my own yarns.
I started with a palette of blues and greens. It wasn’t hard to find colours that picked up on those in the photographs as I take all of the colour inspiration for my yarns from this very landscape:
I have several different blues and greens in my palette and two different dyed yarns – Cumbrian Tweed and Bluefaced Leicester. By combining the different yarns in multiple ways I could create a subtle undulating ripple of colour across the whole fabric. The yarn was wound on the warping mill in a fairly random-looking fashion, but there is always a method to my madness even if it’s not obvious to the casual observer!
I have often described my approach to weaving as ‘painting on a loom’. I get myself into a terrible pickle when I put warps on the loom because I change things around as I am setting up. This is not the way it’s supposed to be done but it’s how I work and it keeps things fresh. Too much structure, too much planning, and too much in the ‘right’ place takes away my spontaneity. As I wound this warp and looked at how the colours blended my ideas just continued to develop and so did the blending of colours as I sleyed the reed:
There has to be a ‘shrinking factor’ for these blankets so, wanting to keep the whole thing woollen, I used complementary lambswools from my stash. These wools are softer than my yarns, spun with less twist, and so they shrink more, especially if you give the wool room to shrink (i.e. long floats!):
Ten metres of weaving (and about a week) later it was time to cut the cloth from the loom and check it for faults. I was fascinated by how, in this off-loom state, before washing, this woollen cloth caught the light and looked almost irridescent:
Had I woven this fabric in silk and wool I would have maintained that sense of shine and trapped light. That’s a thought for another piece. This one however was cut, pieced back together in a different dimension, and sewn, then washed to create the overall textured effect I was after:
The irridescence is gone but the subtlety of shading remains. I wanted the colours to ripple across the surface of the fabric, from side to side, echoing the colours of the landscape, as the pattern of floats rippled up and down, mimicking the stone walls which climb from valley floor to fell top in these Yorkshire Dales. As the Cumbrian poet Norman Nicholson wrote in his wonderful poem, Wall:
They built a wall slowly,
A day, a week;
They built it to stand,
But not stand still.
They built a wall to walk.
The finished blanket is currently on display as part of Farfield Mill’s Resident Artist exhibition, Design in the Dales (running until 01/01/19). I hung my poncho next to the blanket – I also wove this in my Cumbrian tweed yarns. My sewing efforts were rescued by Katriona Field who lives in Garnett Bridge, near Kendal, who added the beautiful collar and twisted tie detailing.