Technology and Crafts
Recently Nancy Perkins, Executive Director of the Craftsmen’s Guild of Mississippi (CGM), told me that there has been a discussion in the CGM Board of Directors about the technology in fine crafts and at which point using technology eliminates the individual practitioner’s creativity because the computer software dictates what the individual does – should that craftsperson, then, be granted juried membership in the Guild?
This is by no means a new argument; in the early 1980s, as computers started to become available for home use, I, and several others in the weaving community, wrote programs to do drawdowns; some believed that it was “cheating” – that the computer was doing all the work; in fact, all the computer did was fill in squares where the user told the program a square should be filled, to represent a warp or a weft thread. In the summer 1983 I wrote an article for Shuttle Spindle & Dyepot entitled “Computers Don’t Weave”. Now, over 40 years later, whether one uses drawdown software or not, I think that nobody would consider using it “cheating”, any more than writing with a word processor is.
I can’t speak for the crafts that I don’t practice, but I do use a computerized loom and I think that it allows more creativity not less! I realize that most people reading this blog are weavers and so I am preaching to the proverbial choir. However, feel free to refer people to these explanations when you hear that argument. Also, should you be thinking about a computerized loom, this will give you an idea of the advantages – and disadvantages – of using one. At Convergence™ 2014, I presented a seminar on this topic for people who were considering such a move, so I have thought about this problem for a long time (if you would like a copy of the handout, please click here).
At the core of the argument is creativity, originality and one’s own work.
First, though, we need some definitions since some of those terms are used differently by various crafts. If I say that I wove a scarf with a straight twill, a weaver knows exactly what pattern I am talking about. In weaving, a pattern is usually a particular weaving structure; even if you had to look up a more complicated pattern, for example an “M and W twill”, that says nothing about your creativity, it’s like looking up a word in the dictionary. With the same exact pattern, you could weave a flowing shawl, a well-balanced fabric to use in sewing a garment, a sturdy place mat, and an even sturdier rug. All possible because of your knowledge of fiber, yarn, sett, beat and, yes, creativity.
In contrast, for example, when knitters say “pattern”, they may mean directions that one could obtain from published sources. Depending on how difficult the pattern is – and publications may offer that information – the knitter could buy the recommended yarn and needle size and knit the item from the pattern. There could be tremendous skill in the task, but no creativity. Another knitter may design her own pattern which, in addition to skill, would require creativity as well.
Part of the problem in this discussion, then, is how the word “pattern” is used by different people in different ways – and sometimes by the same person in different ways.
So, for starters, using a pattern does not preclude or include creativity. You have to dig a bit deeper. Although I must admit that the “rule” that I heard that changing somebody else’s work by 20% makes the work original is a bit of a stretch for me. We all “steal like an artist”, but the whole point of creativity is to synthesize those elements in a novel way so that it truly becomes a reflection of us as an individual; that is the essence of Austin Kleon’s book Steal Like An Artist, which I highly recommend.
Back to the loom. What does a computerized loom do for me?
First, let’s consider what we can do with the usual four-shaft foot-powered loom; to form a shed where the weft will be placed, we have to have some warp threads down and some threads up; that is, some shafts must be up and at least one shaft must be down or vice versa. It turns out that taking shafts one at a time, or two at a time, or three at a time gives us 14 possibilities, for each shed. Clearly there are a lot of possibilities for weaving, but we are usually limited because we step on treadles on the floor to activate shafts up or down, and usually four-shaft looms have six treadles because of space limitations, so we have to be inventive about how we use the treadles and there are some sequences that are simply not possible.
As we increase the number of shafts, we obtain more pattern options, but the possibilities can become staggering. I have forty shafts, think about what’s available: shaft # 1 vs. the other 39, shaft # 2 vs. the other 39, and so forth until we get to shaft # 40 vs. the other 39. And then we move to shafts 1 & 2 vs. the other 38, and shafts # 1, 2, 3 vs. the other 37, etc. How many treadles could you fit under a 40 shafts loom? That depends on the width and even a 60” wide loom wouldn’t have enough, and it’s hard to weave on anything wider than 60”.
So, the computerized loom, used this way, is a mechanical device. I enter in the computer program what shafts I want lifted – my pattern – and the computer sends a message to a dobby that lifts the shafts I told it to lift. Not only I don’t have enough room for treadles under my loom, but that many shafts together are heavy and it would be difficult to lift them with one leg and move on to the next shed.
Thus, I enter my pattern in the computer; but unlike 4 shafts where I can look up the pattern, there are no pattern dictionaries for forty shafts! I am not only making decisions about what to do with those “words”, but I am inventing the words! I would say that this is pretty creative.
It is true that once the pattern is entered, there can be less of a chance to make a mistake since the directions are identical every time. However, it is very easy to step on the pedal that controls the dobby too fast and so skip a step, which is harder to detect since the pattern is more complicated, and thus the mistake may not be visible… until we take the cloth off the loom! If you buy a computerized loom, you must be careful of this pitfall until you get used to the mechanism and then you must pay attention, looking at your weaving and at your computer screen in turn, to make sure you haven’t made an error.
The other consideration is floats. Floats are our friends and our enemies; on one hand, they make our patterns, deviating in some ways from the “over under” of plain weave. On the other hand, too long of a float means unstable fabric and more possibilities for snagging. We cannot simply take a four-shaft pattern and extend it, our floats will be too long, even with the closest of setts. And there is a drawback: a closer sett means a shorter float, but it also means a less visible pattern. So, when you design with more shafts, you must come up with creative ways to limit the floats while making the pattern large enough to be visible.
In the September blog I showed a drawdown of a plaited twill that I had designed (it’s on the loom right now). In between the plaiting, I needed threads anchored or the floats would be too long. Plain weave is often used with fewer shafts, but with forty, the plain weave areas were too large and unattractive. I think I spent more time filling those areas with motifs that I did plaiting the twill.
So, what does the computerized loom do for me? I still wind the warp, thread the heddles, sley the reed, tie the warp on and throw the shuttle while weaving. But forty shafts give me more design options, the computerized dobby makes possible the lifting of shafts that would be otherwise impossible – physically and logistically. This allows me to do something totally unique, the hallmark of creativity.
I received the seminar evaluations from Convergence® and they are very encouraging. Maybe I will be chosen to teach at the next Convergence®!
I take the evaluations very seriously and so does the committee. As the slogan of the commercial says: “Never stop improving!”
One suggestion, made by a couple of people, caught my attention: to use a PowerPoint presentation instead of talking from the monograph.
On the surface, the suggestion sounds good, and it is one that I had given a lot of thought before the conference. As a veteran faculty member for over 30 years, I took a class on how to use PowerPoint when it was first introduced, and I have used it ever since, albeit different versions.
So, why don’t I use PowerPoint at Convergence®?
First let me say the circumstances when I do use it – then I will explain some important differences.
When I teach trainees, we have a curriculum. I know what they know (or at least should know) and I know what I must discuss in the talk that I am giving. The students receive a copy of the slides that I use and they can add notes if they so wish.
Another good use is when I give a broad talk to a general audience. That was the case this past spring when I received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Craftsmen’s Guild and I gave a talk about my involvement with Guild, shown below. It was an historical prospective, and if somebody in the audience didn’t know me or the Guild, they would have gotten a snapshot of the last thirty-five years with slides showing past Guild events and people.
Somewhere between these two cases is when I used to present results of my studies at medical conferences; attendees receive an advance copies of all of the abstracts to be presented and each individual can choose what to attend; the material is new, but only those people familiar with the specific field are likely to be interested in hearing what a speaker has to say. PowerPoint slides can show tables, graphs, videos, photos, etc.
None of these circumstances are true for the seminars I taught at Convergence®. While the topics may seem specific, the background of the attendees is very varied. In a past twill seminar, for example, I had an attendee who had just learned to weave and had never woven a twill before and another who wove lots of twills but wanted an overview so she could design her own.
When I present from the monograph, I know what material is there, but I am able to either linger on a topic or be brief, because I can watch the audience. If everyone is nodding, no sense in spending more time on that topic; if people look puzzled, it’s time to slow down and go over the material in a different way. If people are taking notes, I slow down so they won’t get behind.
If I were presenting from slides, this would not be possible: for one thing, the audience would be watching the screen and not me; and I would be watching the screen as well; the lights would likely be dimmed, so adding notes may not be as easy. If I needed to cover a topic in a slightly different way, I may not have the right slide, and I wouldn’t even know it. Similarly, I wouldn’t know to skip slides that are not needed.
The other thing that watching my audience does for me is to allow me to gauge when people are getting unfocused. The rule of thumb is 20 minutes, but 20 minutes is an average for all topics and all listeners; it could be 15 or it could be 30. As I watch people, I can tell when attendees are getting tired, I switch to a tale, or a joke. It breaks up the material and allows a mental breather.
Another consideration is the quality of the colors. When my husband Terry Dwyer takes photos of the samples and pieces, he uses a white balance card to adjust for the quality of the ambient light; the computer that he uses to process the photos and the printer we use to print the monographs are also calibrated for color with a device called a Munki. All equipment is made to agree as much as technology allows: the same blue persists. But transporting a file to a different computer and projector can change colors dramatically and the colors on a screen can also change depending on the lights in the room. I see this all the times with my presentations to our trainees: my blue tracings show up as purple; it doesn’t matter when presenting medical data, but our weavings have color that matters. Just recently I saw a mismatch in a printed publication discussing a yarn; the author was talking about a red yarn, but there was no red yarn in the photo, a purple one instead.
While our technology is wonderful and I am often happy to embrace it, it does not mean that a tool is the best for all circumstances.
Hurrah for Convergence®
I just finished my scarf using the Convergence® yarn in the wood violet color way.
Oh, wait, I am a month late! Oh, well, I guess my scarf is ready for the next one!
I don’t know where the next one will be, but two things I know: HGA’s Executive Director Liz Williamson is working hard to make sure that the conference is as affordable as possible; some convention cities offer more perks than others, so it behooves us to go where they make an offer we can’t refuse. The other thing is that I have never been to a Convergence® – and I have been to all of them since 1982 – where the locale didn’t have something unique in art, architecture, food, etc. I just embrace what the place has to offer. In Milwaukee, I drank beer – I am not much of a beer drinker, but when in Rome…. Besides, most of the excitement is with the Convergence® itself. I am looking forward to the next one, wherever it may be.
Convergence® 2016 was a wonderful experience for me. The exhibits, fashion show, market place, they are always good. The Small Expressions exhibit at the art museum was great, and I loved that museum, those wings opening were phenomenal. It is always fun to see old friends and make new ones. I took Judy Dominic’s studio on soft books and it was inspirational. I haven’t quite gotten to work on finishing my books, but I will. I have tried the pin loom that I bought and the sea silk yarn I purchased will probably go on the loom next (the loom that still has the other Convergence scarf!).
There were two things that really stood out for me. The first was the atmosphere – the excitement, people smiling and carrying on with abundant energy even though I know that, by Friday, everybody was tired; the spirit of sharing, whether it was a mint or a tip on warping; and the rolling-up-our-sleeves-and-make-it-happen attitude, which started with the staff and it became contagious. Perhaps I am wrong, but it seemed that clearing out of the convention center for HGA – the exhibits and the booth – went a lot faster than I can remember in the past. Staff, Board members and volunteers all working together – after all, WE are HGA!
I was walking to my seminar one morning along with an attendee and here comes the loom moving squad. I said hello to them and then I said to the attendee: “it’s not in too many organizations where you see Board members actually doing manual labor.” “They are Board members?” she asked; “Yes, Penny Morgan, your president-elect, and Kathy Perito, your fist vice-president elect. Go, girls!”
The other thing that stood out for me was personal; I loved teaching all 5 of my seminars. I did get tired by Friday, but it was all worth it. Teaching is very rewarding when the students are attentive, ask great questions, and anticipate what comes next. But nothing comes close to the excitement I feel when I look at the audience and I can tell that somebody made the connection: the proverbial light bulb went on! Wow! Nothing can beat that feeling.
Convergence® Yarn and the Plaited Twill
As promised in the last blog, here is a picture of the scarf woven as a plaited twill using the Convergence® yarn, 10/2 Tencel, in the wood violet color way as the warp and a 12/2 grey purple silk as the weft; the drawdown is below.
(Right-click on these drafts to get a larger version in a new window.)
This draft has been derived from the Manual of Swedish Handweaving, by Ulla Cyrus-Zetterström, which was where I first came across plaited twills. My edition was printed in 1984. While there is no draft for a four shaft plaited twill in the book, the explanation of this class of twills and how they are derived makes it possible to adopt the information to four shafts.
The scarf doesn’t show the twill very well both because the warp is variegated and the sett of 24 epi makes each repeat only ⅓” of an inch. However, the twill lines going in different directions reflects the light nicely and gives the fabric movement.
Below is a sample woven with 3/2 cotton which shows the plaited twill much better.
While preparing for my Convergence® classes I wrote about plaited twills in my blog of January 18, 2016. However, I introduced an error when I said that plaited twills couldn’t be woven on four shafts (it has now been corrected). Plaited twills cannot be woven on four shafts using either a straight draw or a double two-tie unit, both of which are employed when weaving plaited wills on more than four shafts, as is shown in that blog. There I also showed a herringbone twill which is related to the four-shaft plaited twill, as can be seen in the drawdown above.
If we look at a slightly different drawdown for an 8-shaft plaited twill from that shown in that previous blog, we can see how the tie-up produces the plaiting: we have right hand and left hand twill lines, albeit broken, which form the basis of the tie-up. Then the threading and the treadling can be a straight draw.
(Right-click on these drafts to get a larger version in a new window.)
Using that principle, we can design plaited twills on any number of shafts. Here is a 40-shaft plaited twill which I designed recently. The tie-up shows very clearly the right and left hand twill lines. I am hoping to weave this twill soon!
(Right-click on these drafts to get a larger version in a new window.)
Countdown to Convergence®
Next month at this time, I will be at Convergence® in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. I am not quite ready yet, but I will be by the time we are set to leave.
Between seminars, studio classes, and a super-seminar, I have five to teach and, to date, over 140 participants. I am truly excited.
That translates to over 12,000 pages to print! Each participant receives at least a monograph and they range from some 50 pages to over 100. The printing has begun – but it’s my husband Terry who is printing, punching and binding. Being organized is the key to getting it done.
Now that I am close to the finish line, here are some highlights of the various presentations.
I am finished with the monograph for Four to More; that will be on Wednesday morning. I have woven some samplers for it and I have written about them in previous blogs. But here is a fancy basket weave on eight shafts that was an early piece on eight shaft I wove.
For the Interaction of Structure and Function on Thursday: twills, silk and shawls seem perfect for each other. Then again, how about this silk shawl with huck lace stripes?
Weaving Errors will be on Friday morning. Those topics, too, have been discussed in previous blogs. But here is a picture from the series on how to fix a broken warp thread. The replacement warp end is shown in gold to make it obvious. Pictorial steps by steps should make it easier for participants to fix them in the future.
I have woven several samplers in color and weave for that seminar on Friday afternoon, each with several samples and I have written about some of them in previous blogs. This is my one of favorites, alternating red and black on a birds’ eye threading and treadling. I must have liked the motifs so much that I just discovered that the eight-shaft deflected double weave I am currently working on has similar motifs of crosses and boxes!
The studio on Saturday will be on Reinventing-Twills. I love twills, and I have written six previous blogs on them. Here is the simplest of twills, front and back, on thee shafts, where it all starts.
I will take a break from writing this blog as I get ready for Convergence®. I will resume after the conference, but on a monthly basis. I hope to see you in Milwaukee!
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