I (Penny Wheeler) am loving being a part of the Z-Twist artist-in-residence program.  Z-Twist is a three month residency created by Somerset Art Works (SAW) and Stroud International Textiles (SIT) for three contemporary designer-makers; Debbie Smyth, Lucy Lean  and myself.   Z-Twist is about giving makers space to research, collaborate, experiment and share knowledge.  We were placed in traditional textile and education settings for a period of three months to enable us to develop new bodies of work, supported by textile manufacturers, local heritage collections, Somerset College equipment and SIT.  Z-Twist started in January 2014; we have had a successful exhibition of our work at the Pink Cabbage Gallery in Stroud, as part of Select 2014, and we have a forthcoming exhibition at Somerset College from July 11 to 18, with the Make Create Cultivate Symposium on July 12 and 13.

I applied for Z-Twist in October 2013 after meeting the project manager, Patricia Dixon, at the Make the Most symposium in the September. I was particularly interested in working with a weaving mill and working in collaboration with a team; the other makers, our project manager, SAW and SIT. The application process was an initial two sides of A4 responding to the brief and then selection for interview.  My approach was to propose a concept, ‘warmth of belonging’, that was topical and also bought together all aspects of the brief.  The trickiest part was including new technology with weaving.

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Flooded field patterns, Somerset Levels, January 2014
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Bright lichens on pollarded trees, Somerset Levels, January 2014

‘Warmth of belonging’ is about the warmth we get from textiles, in particular woven blankets, linked to the emotional warmth of belonging to a place, or community, in Somerset. My industrial partner was Fox Brother’s & Co. Ltd, in Wellington Somerset, and I was at Somerset College two days a week , so I was travelling frequently from Bath to Taunton by train. On these journeys the dominant feature was the flooding of the Somerset Levels, the awful inevitability of the rising waters, and the misery caused. It was a shocking contrast to the lush, vibrant landscape in spring and summer.

‘Warmth of Belonging’, hand loom-woven and hand-stitched lambswool.

My response was to hand-loom weave a blanket that reflects on the flooded Levels. The monochrome landscape contrasting with the vibrant yellow lichen on the pollarded trees; the cutting off, isolation, and the disconnection. Wool as a medium is a departure for me, as usually I like to use more structural yarns like paper.  I also experimented with laser cutting at Somerset College to make sets of rigid heddles, sticks and shuttles in acrylic, to introduce educational and community groups to weaving as part of the Z-Twist education programme.

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Selection of rigid heddles, sticks and shuttles made at Somerset College using the laser cutter.


Do come along to the Z-Twist exhibition; Genesis Centre, Somerset College, Wellington Road, Taunton, Somerset TA1 5AX from 11 til 18 Jul Monday to Friday 10 am – 5pm; the preview is on Friday 11 July from 6 to 8pm.   The Make, Create, Cultivate Symposium is about exploring the imaginative and innovative use of raw materials and is on Saturday and Sunday 12 and 13 July, also at the Genesis Centre at Somerset College.  For further information see sawztwist.wordpress.com.

Penny Wheeler

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