People often ask us how we come up with our designs. I’ve been putting off trying to answer this question! But it’s time to go behind the scenes and take a peek inside our heads.
There are two main components of a weaving design: the weave structure and the yarn colour. The weave structure is the interlacement of warp (vertical threads) and weft (horizontal threads). Depending on the structure, the warp or weft threads may be more dominant, or they may be visible in equal proportions. It’s possible to achieve lovely effects even with just two colours. Our Skye Wool Grey and Peat Throw is a good example.
There are lots of other variables: the density of the warp and weft and the thickness and type of yarn for example. We use only woollen yarns but even then there’s a huge variety: worsted spun vs woollen spun; different types of wool from different sheep breeds; how much twist there is on the yarn; and whether or not the yarn is plied (individual strands twisted together).
But before we start designing the first question is: What’s it for? Throws need to be thick and warm; tweed has to be hard wearing; shawls require a lovely soft drape; and scarves want to be nice and soft. These considerations are uppermost when we choose our weave structure and yarn.
Even then there are plenty of design choices to make. Sometimes we like to keep it simple and let the yarn speak for itself – as in our grey Skye Wool throws, woven from pure, undyed local wool. At other times we want to challenge ourselves. Our 8 shaft loom allows us to create some unusual weave structures. We love herringbone but also want to throw something different into the mix – creating fabric that is both traditionally Scottish but also very specific to us. Our Plaited Twill and Diamond Tweed are two of these more complex structures.
The question of overall design is more difficult to pin down. Everyone has their own design approach. Some people create mood boards, or scan ‘trend watch’ forecasts for the next hot look. For us it’s more about looking at what’s around us. I’m always taking photographs of Skye landscapes and nature, and these are often the starting point for a design. Sometimes it’s the colour combinations, sometimes the patterns and textures – particularly in close-up details.
We are also inspired by our materials, particularly the natural colours we get from local wool. But to be honest we haven’t got a very organised design approach; we just spend a lot of time looking at things, making sketches and thinking about possibilities. Fortunately the act of pedalling away on the loom seems to create a stream of ideas!
From design to weave
When we’ve decided the basics we need to develop the design and then work out to how to weave it. While most designs can be worked out on squared paper, we also use a computer program which makes it very easy to see the effect of changing one component.
We also have a small table loom where we can weave samples and decide which works best.
Design in action
A good illustration of the design process I’ve just described is our new wedding shawl. We knew we wanted the shawl to be light, lacy and textured, but with our looms we’re limited to a 16 pick repeat. We chose ‘huck lace’ as the weave structure as it provides varied patterns and textures even on a small number of shafts.
I started by weaving a huck lace sample blanket on the table loom, using every possible pattern variation that our big loom could manage. We’re limited to two different textures on our looms so we decided which two we liked best and then experimented with different ways of distributing them across the width of the shawl.
Here I’m weaving the huck lace sample for the wedding shawl.
Once we’d settled on the design it was time to work out the detail of how to weave it.
That means things like how many warp threads (‘ends’) per shawl; how many ends per texture; the heddling set-up (which ends get threaded onto which shaft); how many cones to wind for warping, and so on. That whole process will have to be the subject of another blog, but you can find out a bit about it in the Story section of our website.
Then finally, it’s time to get weaving!
If you’d like to know more about designing fabrics have a look at my favourite book on the subject, Designing Woven Fabrics by Janet Phillips. I went on one of her courses a couple of years ago and loved it! It was great to take some time out to experiment and try new techniques.
Now, what shall we design next?!