Elizabeth Calnan: Designer, Weaver and Tutor

Liz took us on a journey through her life as a fibre artist at the October 2008 meeting.

Learning to weave from the wonderful weaving teacher, Warril Evans at the Strathfield TAFE and at times threading a loom and weaving with one of her daughters sitting on her lap because she did not want to be put down and Liz wanted to weave.
When did I feel like a weaver? After many years of weaving, lots of samples, lots of articles sold, lots of mistakes and learning curves.
What did I need to weave, to plan and present to the public? Discipline, good training, patience, experimental approach.
Trying everything I could think of on each warp – sampling and experimenting.
Good training from Strathfield School of Textiles 1980-1991. Advanced Certificate in Designer Textiles, Advanced Weaving Certificate, Advanced Spinning Certificate.

The family moved to Griffith in 1986 and were there until 1989. There were six looms in the district and four of them were Liz’s. In Griffith Liz began felting and also started the experimental weaving group. Felt required lots of help (the children loved rubbing soapy hands or feet on felt). Larger pieces had to be laid out inside a tent to keep the cat from helping. Early exhibition work in 1989 was mostly felt with a gradual change to more weaving with an increasing interest in graduating colours and adding textured yarns. Group exhibitions were staged with friends and with the Society of Arts and Crafts of NSW.

To sell your work an article should feel and look good, drape well with all mistakes and ends mended. Wraps and scarves should have a durable twisted fringe, garments need to be well finished, easy to wash and maintain and light fast dyes used. Give or throw away those articles not good enough.
If you are selling, the product must be your own design and it should be recognisable as yours. Hand dyed warps produce a unique product.
Use the best, make adjustments to suit your body, maintain your equipment. Use the latest technology eg weaving programs.
Buy quality yarn. Buy or dye a good colour range. Don’t just work with the yarns you have in the cupboard because you feel you should use them.
Keep records
Keep samples of fabrics you have woven. Record all of the data at the end of each project – these are starting points for the next project and save time. Mark off the diary for each piece as it is woven.
Being aware
Use the latest magazines such as International Textiles, Textile View, Ornament, Textile Fibre Forum. Check the latest web sites for fashion reviews. Look at other weavers web sites to see what they are doing, read blogs. Go to a variety of exhibitions.
Plan well ahead
Set goals and try to stick to them. Try to make sensible decisions about how much can be achieved in one day.
Take time off
Care for yourself. Working in one position, in repetitive activities can cause injury. Vary the work. Work for short periods of time, practice a variety of exercises. Use protective clothing, dust mask and gloves for dyeing.
Adopt Cecily Falvey’s motto Happiness is weaving every day
This is the hardest bit, it’s so easy to move on to the next piece of work. The time for each piece is:

  • 1/5 of the time planning, obtaining the yarn, doing the design work, working out the pattern, choosing the colours
  • 1/5 getting ready to weave – warping, measuring out lengths of thread, dyeing, dressing the loom
  • 2/5 of time weaving
  • 1/5 of time finishing and marketing. Mending, pressing, washing, sewing on label, preparing care instructions, delivering the article

Why do I weave?
Weave to sell, weave to exhibit, test a technique, to express a concept, for love, to satisfy a creative urge.
Weaving to sell
To sell, the product should appeal to 90% of the craft buying market. It should have a quality finish. It should be durable. It should wash or dry clean.
Design concepts, needs to be a fashion accent, work with a colour theme.
Scarves and wraps are woven for income and are woven on the loom which is fastest and easiest on the body.
Weaving to exhibit
These are mostly completed for your own satisfaction. They must be different and striking. They usually take longer to do. They require more samples, more experiments, more decisions, more time spent designing. They often require a slower weaving technique. They often involve combinations of fibres, weave structures or materials. May involve additional costs for mounting.
Must be able to be hung or displayed easily. Must maintain its appearance and shape over the display period. If selected for a travelling exhibition, must be able to be packed, shipped and when rehung, be in its original condition.
Weaving for love
Special projects: Liz wove a wrap for one daughter to wear as bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding. Great uncle’s 90th birthday scarf in fine wool and cashmere.
Craft Shows allow you to interface directly with customers. See reaction to your product.

The act of weaving is rhythmic and meditative. Liz desperately needs to weave every day. There is satisfaction that you have created a product from an idea and yarns on a cone. Your product – adding value. Individual sewn on label. Swing tag with information on inspiration and technique. Skill in production, quality finish.
The designs for the Liz’s prize winning double weave hangings on 32 shafts were developed from bookmarks. But some were 3000 plus picks and Liz printed them to a roll of paper just to find out if the design looked to be in proportion. The design grew from seeing computer circuitry and the concept of how the internet is changing communication.
This piece was entered in Living with Beauty: Handwoven Textiles for the Home at Hagnauer Gallery, Business of Art Centre, Manitou Springs, Colorado.
I sent the hanging across with an “Oh well” feeling and was selected as one of 53 pieces from 166 entries. I was stunned to win “Best in Show”.

Follow up versions and commissions
Some are easy, others are dreadful. Beware – your green is never the green the client imagined. “Match this colour” works better if you are given pieces of paper from a coloured magazine.
I usually resist commissions but one done recently was using reflective tape warp, poly coated in resin and needs to be rolled flat onto beam but has no elasticity or take up. I also wove rubber over it as plain weave and twill.
Building the studio
Loom heaven, lots of looms. Table looms are great for sampling, floor looms when you use your feet to change shed are much quicker to weave on than a table loom. Counter balanced floor looms are quiet looms, quickest for weaving plain weave and simple balanced weaves. Jack looms usually have a good shed, are easy to tie up, relatively light to treadle but are noisy so can’t be used in the TV room. The shafts of countermarche looms rise and fall to create a large shed and are quiet, light to treadle but take time to tie up. Dobby looms have a mechanism that takes all the hard work out of tying up – you simply insert the pegs for each shaft you want to lift.
Weaving software encourages experimentation as you can see what the woven cloth will look like and try colour variations. The weaver still does the work, designing, warping, threading, weaving and finishing. And yes, you can still make mistakes. I still spend time unweaving but at least you can tell the program to weave backwards.
Why do I have lots of looms? I am time poor and if I do one or two pieces off each loom I have an exhibition quantity quickly. I hate threading and I like to work on a variety of looms, it saves the body.
Teaching weaving
I’ve had wonderful students and enjoy teaching. Beginners learn more with weekly lessons. They need at least four 8-week courses to be proficient and progress on their own.
Favourites to weave
Hand-dyed wraps, clasped wefts, working with colour in plain weave. Collapse weaves are quite tricky as the collapse occurs in the finishing. Block weaves – this is when a compu-dobby loom is wonderful.
My wonderful mentors
I have two people whom I must thank:
Warril Evans for her assistance in finding articles and note checking.
Barbara Roper for her encouragement and understanding of block weaves.

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