Refining and Resolving my Weave Processes, Techniques, Materials and Colour
Through prior screen printing on sheer cotton muslin itself I recognised how well the imagery within the printed material exemplified key themes of fragility and disappearance within marine and coastal ecosystems so I wished to extend their use with weave through material, method, and technique. Every decision made reflected favourably upon environmental sustainability and minimising waste, of only using what I needed, of finding and selecting reclaimed materials, of repurposing, and reusing as part of my creative process.
From tutor feedback, my ongoing research and critical review including making through sampling processes and interest in extending material use and widening my weaving technique I incorporated weave with print. I researched different materials which would best reflect my context for making and what I wished to communicate. I was fortunate to locate hundreds of metres of used hempex rope which was worn and had faded through use which conveyed age and wear well. I liked the aspects of fraying on the rope which indicated use and its greyish colour which had discoloured through time and reflected the colour palette of the printed muslin. The rope itself was made from a synthetic hemp as a three-strand twisted rope from hard-wearing polypropylene fibres which is often used for decking. This reflected my increased creative focus to minimise the environmental burden through using materials that are already available, they have been used and can be used again to prevent waste. Through my research process I was made increasingly aware of the ever pressing need to create new materials to consume more, to generate the next best material which in itself can compromise the environment despite its seemingly environmental credentials. While it can be applauded that production methods accrue no or little waste from naturally sustaining sources this however begged the question whether the material was something needed or wanted in the first instance? What after all is the root cause for innovative material making which has increasingly drawn me into the new versus old debate, of increasingly respecting, valuing, using, reusing, and repurposing what materials we have. Ultimately functionality, purpose and meaning are fundamental to my own making processes, of optimising what can be found, reclaimed, reused, and repurposed.
That said I sought to respect the material in use to work with the hempex rope to forge a woven piece that encapsulated my theme through how I used the materials and related to the qualities of the rope. Despite its use the hempex rope still felt soft to touch and could readily be tied into a series of weaving knots, especially hitches like the rolling hitch, half hitches, Italian hitch, cow hitch with clinch and Palomar knots. Several knots were used from sailing and fishing to highlight coastal and marine relevance like the bowline, cleat and hoop hitches, anchor hitch, stopper knots and reef knots. I wished to communicate marine and coastal struggle through the series of knotting within the weave to maintain a loosely constructed weave which was breaking and falling apart and of the strands of rope left dangling unfinished and fragmenting as its overall weave was disintegrating as unable to hold together to be preserved. This idea of disappearance was communicated through the absence of sections, of the mix of areas missing to a myriad of knotting and weave within concentrated sections, of a fragile declining construction barely hanging together.
Initial preparations to weave, the mast acted as the weaving frame which was set up from a dinghy boat. The warp has been knotted around the hempex strands along the length of the adjusted 5m mast to suit the size of the printed sheer muslin. The start of the construction of the weft can be seen from use of the hempex rope through a series of knotting from weaving and sailing.
The process of weaving was extremely liberating with its loose and flowing construction. Although initially I could have readily reverted to a more tightly woven weave, I remained focused upon the context which was helped by being surrounded by sails, a mast and related sailing equipment. I could be more easily emersed within the knotting within the weave as so much around me reminded me of the sea and sailing. It was deeply satisfying being in relationship with the used material, to construct in response to the material in use, of relating and responding with the physical qualities of the hempex rope. It brought back memories of playing with rope in my garden with my father as a child just as my son had enjoyed the same pursuit as a child with his grandfather, of trailing out metres of rope from different boats throughout the years to make all sorts of creations. The knotting process within the weave brought back such positive memories as I touched, held, and pulled on the rope. The physical qualities of the hempex rope with the knotting, twisting, and turning evoked such feelings of strength and resilience, of the capacity for further use, to recover despite age and wear. On handling the hempex rope the importance of reuse was felt beyond recycling, of respecting the rope for its own sake and optimising its own qualities to make with meaning, to continue to create with relevance and understanding through the materials, processes and techniques used.
I have been deeply influenced by Susan Beallor-Snyder and her manila rope sculptures. This much sought-after artist uses a ‘free weaving’ technique and sees the power of the work in its scale, and in the narrative embedded within – its swirls of chaos, layers of inner turmoil, and endless knots of stress. These one-of-a-kind sculptures allow her to infuse simple materials with thought provoking depth and profound emotion. The artist searched to find the right material to express her feelings, Beallor-Snyder went to Home Depot and saw Natural Manila rope and as “It was rough and smelled like some kind of musky oil,” she said. “The little shards were uncomfortable to touch” but perfectly suited her narrative of emotional struggle and expression. The artist said that the free weaving work is spontaneous and intuitive and that she often gets lost in her thoughts as the work just flows. Susan Beallor-Snyder acknowledged that this work is very emotional as it represents struggle and therefore it cannot be rushed or forced, or it just does not work. I feel an affinity with this artist’s process and use of materials. As someone who works with print and weave within environmentally supportive ways, I can relate to the use of such rope materials to create warp and weft in disrupted and distorted ways to represent environmental struggle. I felt increasingly enveloped within the weaving process and its relationship with print through intuitively responding with the hempex rope weave process and knotting within the weave.
The three-strand rope was firm and flexible, a good choice for loose weaving and more decorative knotting. The hempex rope kinked when being knotted and untwisted readily but held together well. The properties of rope vary according to its construction and composition which yields many possibilities and options going forward for larger scale weaving using a range of techniques and approaches.