tied up in knots

I’ve enjoyed all the exercises in the ‘Textile Structures’ section of OCA Textiles 1. One exercise involved making a frame and wrapping, binding and interlacing materials in an improvisational way to create areas of solidity and space, light and shade. I made a little frame from bamboo skewers lashed together and using white and natural yarns and threads, traversed the space with knotting, binding and needleweaving. I used a book by Ros Hills – Colour and Texture in Needlelace – to learn some new stitches.

knotting and needleweaving

textile structure and shadows
1, 2, 3, 4

The next exercise asked you to construct a grid, but I used a ‘found’ one – a pallet from one of Alan’s beachcombing expeditions and added verticals of rough macramé jute to weave through and tie to. I wanted something in keeping with the materials I was planning to use to create this textile structure – rope, twine, scraps of balloons from an old celebration, fragments of net, shells, seaweed – the randomness cast up by the tide on a Tiree beach. There’s a little white fleece from the fences there too, and a little dark Hebridean fleece brought back from this woolly place on Mull across the water.


There are some detail shots of the different sections here.

I’d love, one day, to see this beach twine sculpture on the island of Gigha. I did see this dramatic figure at Machir Bay on Islay a few years ago. I love coming across unexpected art like this.

beach woman

sacred in ordinary

The little tapestry that came out of thinking about laundry, sacredness and prayer rags is done (and even packaged and waiting to send off to my tutor!). It came out very close to what I envisaged. As I wrote in the previous post, I chose the word ‘sacred’ from a list in my course book, and focused on the idea of the sacred in the mundane, as expressed in Kathleen Norris’s book ‘The Quotidien Mystery: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work’. I sketched a design for a stylised drying green but didn’t think I would be able to execute it technically, and then I started thinking about rag trees, which I’ve seen in Cornwall and Ireland, which led me to prayer cloths, found all over the world in various forms. I love the idea of cloth embodying prayer.

I decided to work with a combination of wool tapestry and cloth rya knotting that could evoke both rag trees and clothes lines. I auditioned various yarns for the tapestry but decided to spin my own in the end. I was trying to achieve a spacious meditative feel for the background, blending colours of sky, clouds and leaves.

spun yarn
spun yarn

Each scrap of fabric knotted into the tapestry has meaning for me, associated either with a person, an idea, or a memory. I like the result overall but I would change some of the sizes of the pieces, as I don’t think the balance is quite right – I was trying to create the kind of wildness you see in a rag tree, and if several neighbouring pieces are too similar in size it looks like a fringe and that freedom is lost. This happens in the third line down, which is the one I’m least happy with – it also breaks the rhythm of the diagonals and I think the line should be less horizontal. I was trying to create some variety in the diagonals but that one looks stolid instead of dynamic. I like the way some of the fabrics fray and curl up – this creates the ‘alive’ feeling I was hoping for. I photographed the piece outside where the wind could touch the cloth to emphasise this.


I’m not sure whether the piece works in the end or is just too literal. I wanted it to be abstract and symbolic more than representational. What do people think? I couldn’t have made it any bigger as that was limited by the size of my frame, but I wonder if it would have been stronger at a larger scale. Technically there are problems with ridges in the weaving which I think comes from using a simple frame with a single shed stick; and I would need to do a lot more weaving to find out why it twists in opposite directions at top and bottom.

I’ve also been working on my theme book for the final assignment of the course, which has an absolute deadline of 16th June. My theme is ‘hospitality’, thinking particularly about asylum and sanctuary for all kinds of people who might not be made welcome by everyone. After reading a little piece in Country Living about ‘How to Lay the Perfect Table’ I decided to focus on ‘How to Lay the Imperfect Table’. These are some of the pages from my theme book. Most of what I’ve done so far is playing with the ideas but I’m ready to start sampling now.

theme book
theme book
theme book


The main focus of this stage of my OCA Textiles 1 course is tapestry weaving. There are several exercises, leading up to a resolved sample. The first is to try out different techniques. I used Kirsten Glasbrook’s book Tapestry Weaving which has a lot of hands-on information and excellent photos of various techniques to build into a sampler; and a book by Nancy Harvey, also called Tapestry Weaving, which goes into much more detail but is not so clear visually (at least not for me because I find it easier to see what’s happening from photos than diagrams. If you’re the other way round, the Harvey book has lots of good diagrams).

This is my first sampler, trying several different techniques, and a limited range of yarns – some plain tapestry wools (not rug yarn but the kind sold for needlepoint) and some Noro yarn. I’m trying to use up some of the materials I have already, to overcome a bad habit of always feeling I need the ‘right thing’ to hand.

tapestry sample

The next exercise was to create something expressive using a range of different materials; I was thinking fire or more specifically ‘deep into his fiery heart, he took the dust of Joan of Arc’ (from a Leonard Cohen song I’m listening to a lot right now). This one includes combinations of fibres and found materials – sari ribbon, embroidery threads, polythene bags and plastic netting, video tape, wire, handspun yarn, cord, torn fabrics, net, beads, knitting yarns and tapestry wools. I’m noticing I lean towards working on quite a fine scale.

tapestry sample - texture

The third exercise was to use rya knotting in addition to the tapestry weaving, to create texture. Again the scale is small, and this uses handspun, plastic bags, net, silk and novelty yarn, inspired by the sea.

tapestry with rya

The final sample involves choosing a word from a list and working a sample based on a storyboard. At least, they call it a storyboard but that means something different to me – I think what’s wanted is what I think of as a design board. I chose the word ‘sacred’ and as I’ve recently been reading Kathleen Norris’s ‘The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work’ that seemed like a good place to start. Clothes lines led on to prayer trees and also reminded me of this TIF Challenge piece on memory. Here’s the design board – the weaving is still in progress.

design board

paper weaving

This exercise was to create structures from strips of paper, card and other materials.

paper weaving
two sheets of painted card interwoven

paper weaving
cutting the paper weft into curves

paper weaving
magazine page woven with scrunched tissue paper

adding diagonal lines
adding diagonal lines

weaving strips of a plastic bag
weaving strips of a plastic bag

I like the middle one because of the texture and the way the weft breaks up the image; and the bottom one, with the effects of transparency, and the fragments of words.

yarns and braids

I’ve moved on now to the ‘textile structures’ section of OCA Textiles 1, having sent the previous fabric manipulation work off at last to my tutor. The first thing to do in this section is collect yarns, and combine some into braids.

Most of my yarns are in boxes, so to help me remember what’s there, I added a few pages in my sketchbook: for some yarns that came to me from a loved one; some of my own handspun; various knitting yarns gathered over the years; and the results of a hunt for other things around the house that could be used as yarn. (I also went down to the beach and came back with a bag of findings, but more of that later.)

sketchbook pages
1. embroidery wools, cottons and cords, 2. handspun yarns, 3. non-yarn ‘yarns’, 4. knitting yarns

It was fun making a selection of plaited braids and ropes – my ‘ropes’ are plied on the wheel, since the principle seems identical. I also included a felt and fabric cord and a couple of single ply art yarns, spun with particular themes in mind. I can’t yet spin whatever I can think of, but it does give a lovely sense of freedom to think that I can at least have a go!

braids and spun yarns
1. ropes and braids, 2. ropes and braids