Foraged Colour collaboration III

My work with the Foraged Colour project from initial ideas to final cloth

Foraged Colour is an Arts Council funded project conceived by seam member Linda Row, which began in February 2020. I was one of four textile artists; seam member Gill Hewitt , Eve Kumari and Frances Westerduin, collaborating with Linda Row to create unique, handmade textiles from British wool and dyed with foraged colours.

Exploring my initial ideas for the project led to my decision to create two lengths of fabric, one depicting woods in spring, and the other woods in autumn, from the same warp. Sampling enabled me to try out different British wools and refine my ideas before weaving the final cloth.

The Final Cloth

The colour-graduated autumn cloth would highlight the subtle differences in colour that can be achieved when dyeing your own yarn, and the range of foraged colours available in Wiltshire and Somerset. We had yarn left over from sampling, a limited amount of undyed yarn and a strict budget. Whilst I wove the final samples, Linda was busy dyeing yarns for the final cloth. This all took place during the first lockdown.

Cataloguing colours: a winding sent to Linda Row in the post

We worked together by sending yarns and windings back and forth through the post. Linda working on replicating some of the sample colours and filling in the colour gaps; with me using windings to check there was a smooth colour graduation, and crunching the numbers to work out the quantities of each colour that I needed. The creams and yellows were dyed from ivy berry, hydrangea flowers, honey fungus, coreopsis and weld; the oranges and corals from madder.

Working out the numbers was nerve wracking. The wool yarn count – Nm (normal metric), the figure that tells you how many 1000m of yarn there are per kilogram is an average figure. I allowed a 10% error margin but in hindsight it should have been 20%, as I only just had enough dyed yarn for the final warp!

I needed to weave two drops of the colour-graduated cloth. Now I was concerned about not having enough of one of the colours, resulting in the two pieces of cloth not matching when stitched together on the dress – potential disaster! So, before I started weaving, I wound all of the colours for the weft graduation onto paper quills, and then split the quills into two piles; a set for each drop. It worked perfectly (with a lot of measuring) when I wove the two pieces of cloth.

Only a single drop was needed for the spring green cloth. I tied three sets of brown yarn into the warp, to bring in the tree trunks idea, one for each of the three insets in the dress. To contrast with the uniformity of the colour graduation I wanted to suggest the randomness of the leaves and dappled light in early spring. Unfortunately, I only had one smallish skein of a fresh bright green. Once again, I wound the bright green onto quills, and portioned it out for the whole length of the cloth.

I started weaving the pattern intuitively, but I found that for a production length (I am not a production weaver) it was very mentally tiring, it took a long time to keep making choices, and there were deadlines. To speed up, I wrote down the last 20 cm of my pattern and repeated that for the rest of the length – this worked, it was a long enough repeat so that there was no obvious pattern.

After finishing the lengths, Linda whisked them away to cut out and make a wonderful dress. I also created a panel of windings that showcased the different colours of yarn used by the five artists on the Foraged Colour project.

We only had one chance to exhibit the Foraged Colour project, at the Lansdown Gallery in Stroud in September 2020. The touring exhibition will continue as soon as the current restrictions are lifted. We look forward to seeing you in person.

Penny Wheeler

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