Saturday, June 2, 2012

Machine vs Weaver

I've been thinking about machines, and what I've come to see as mechanical weaving.

I'm pretty sure sure humans made machines so we can do things faster and easier. With machines we can make more things in a given time, or need fewer trips to transport material or output, or recreate more or less the same output without repeating the entire series of steps for each one of the output. I'm a firm believer, (you tend to be if you do any time in IT,) machines and output are only as good as how they are made and used; humans who make and use them must know what they're doing. Skills needed to use machines aren't necessarily simpler than, but are certainly different from, doing the same task without machines.

Ben, being an amateur digital and film still photographer, ponders automagical vs manual photography often. I enjoy the discourse, but in the first instance, I disagree with him; in weaving bigger and badder machines surely enables one to get away with learning less, and/or produce outcome disproportionately favorable to the maker's knowledge/skills. And yet I have experienced instanced where - what's the word? - "artistry"? added to or exceeded works of superior technique/competence.

In the 90's, there was a big discussion on what is now the Yahoo Group on whether weaving on computer-controlled looms still fell in the purview of handweaving, and though I didn't really know how computer-controlled looms worked, nor fly shuttles for that matter, I thought the latter was even less hand-weaving. Still do. But I digress.

The two last drafts I've been weaving annoy me. If you have a weaving software, the kind of networked twill drafts, and may other, can be created eye-wateringly quickly. The way I work, the only time-consuming, or personally involved, bits are correcting long floats, (my software finds them for me,) and the threading of the loom. Unless I'm after a specific size/shape/expression, designing on the computer can be soulless. As for weaving on the computer controlled-loom, you feed the draft into the loom, (my retrofit setup is a tiny bit more complicated but not by much,) and weave. I press the one air-compressor pedal for each pick, and I throw/catch the shuttle with my hands.

I used to be not displeased with my detachment from my weaving; I thought it was a cool, calm approach I haven't been able to establish in other areas of my life. The stuff coming off my loom are still what I make, and never who I am. On occasion I worried about the disdain I feel towards my finished pieces, but I saw it as a kind of maturity/objectivity as a weaver, and if the right piece came along, I was confident I could gush like no other.

There is nothing wrong with the mechanical weaving if I were into geometric/mathematical problem solving, but it appears I now want a little more ..."involvement". I don't know what I mean, or whether I'll know when I'm doing it, and at this point I hesitate to call it the catch-all "human factor". I don't know where the paradigm shift came from; if it this the next step of maturing, did it come form soaking up Randy from his video, or from the goings-on with Group R? Or did you put a spell on me? Or did I always have it, and that's why I haven't learned most functions on Fiberworks after 10 years, and still do some things manually when a click of a button can save me hours, days and weeks? (And a double weave blanket with two faces on both sides?!)

Way back, when Connie was a weaver, she had a rod/bar (third pic; in front of her work table) on which she hung scarves; they stayed there until Connie was satisfied each piece was truly finished. I envied her level of involvement, and I'm still more a quality control inspector at the end of the process, but I find myself rebelling against quick-and-dirty weaving.

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Not all is lost. In contrast to my usual flat cloth, I like the textures emerging in these two, the different expressions created with long vs short floats in different directions, mixed with plain weave bits. On the loom, they feel rough, and that's something I've never had on any loom of mine.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting topic. As a tapestry weaver, I find that other tapestry weavers fall into 2 groups: one group who loves to pick the shed by hand on a frame loom, and the other who hates that, and wants a loom with a shedding mechanism.

    As a teacher I am often surprised that my students, who have been weaving on floor looms for years, have a hard time grasping "over under over under," leading me to believe that some floor loom weavers don't actually understand what their looms are doing. (I am NOT accusing you of this, just pointing out the way a floor loom can distance one from the process)

    A professor I once knew used to make all her weaving students weave on large frame looms first, before they could use a floor loom, and it always seemed like such a good idea.

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  2. I find that the trouble with trying to draw a line between what counts as "real" hand-weaving and what doesn't is that you could be forever drawing it further and further back. Is a multi-shaft loom too mechanical? Are we allowed treadlles or dobbies? Or should we all be weaving on warp-weighted or backstrap looms? As Jan suggests, we all need to know how the process works - and heaven knows, over-under is simple enough, we should be able to grasp that! - but then our particular passions may lead us to choose different kinds of equipment to work with. I think the diversity of ways to weave is one of the things which makes it so exciting. I met someone new at the Guild today who was weaving on a neat little Mirrix tapestry loom. I have no interest in weaving tapestry myself, but I was fascinated by the way he had set up his work and really enjoyed my ten-minute tour of his loom! Vive la difference, I guess.

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  3. Jan, I know what you mean. I was frustrated then, but now I'm ever so appreciative I only woven on a Rigid Heddle for about the first five years as a weaver. I couldn't fathom designing something on 4-shafts as a wet-behind-the-ear weaver and as I worked full time, RH suited my attention span perfectly. And that one, I could dress by myself, too. But every time I get confused about things like tied weave or corkscrew, I try to imagine all warps going just up or staying down. I don't hesitate to put on a warp on a frame loom to learn a new structure, either.

    I envy younger and newer weavers who can go straight into complex weaves without worrying about learning basic structures; on the other hand I went from four-shaft twills to complex 16-shafts (there is a reason behind it,) and then about eight years later I decided I won't worry about learning structures until I become interested in a particular one or a group of them, and then I delve into them. That's a good compromise to me, and possibly one made by weavers who got their hands on looms beyond their techniques too early. Or someone who started weaving late in life and is in a hurry to catch up. A perpetual conundrum I finally got over after figuring out I don't have fifty more years for contemplation if I want to weave.

    Cally, we can try to get consensus until the cows come home and we may end up with a wider blurred line. Nah, even if there was one, I don't think it'll make me weave better, knowing that line, and I am almost certain new technology and material wil again change it. But I am intrigued my line is most definitely shifting, and I no longer strive to be a machine, which is a paradigm shift. As always I'm interested in what others think, if they think about it, à propos this line, whether theirs have shifted.

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