Discovering Something New Inside the Classroom

Gaelen McCartney Glasgow School of Art, Scotland


December 1, 2015

To give you a little background, back in the states, I study Fibers and Materials Studies at the Tyler School of Art at Temple University. This is a conceptual fine art program where I concentrate in creating fiber-based pieces of work. Over here in Scotland, I am studying Textile Design at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA). This is a design-based program where we learn about creating designs for interior and fashion fabrics. It’s safe to say, I was a little bit startled at the beginning of the term adjusting from conceptual art to design intended for the consumer. Here at GSA, I am focusing in weave design.

Our project for the term was to create a collection of five designs for a Scandinavian design firm that makes couch covers, pillowcases, curtains, etc., mainly for Ikea furniture. We started off the first three weeks by doing primary, secondary, and color research, and began drawing and developing our idea. After these weeks, we were finally able to get on our looms!! I have been using a dobby loom this term, and the ones at GSA are around a hundred years old. This loom uses one pedal to control the pattern that you are weaving. With this, you create a peg plan of your pattern, which is controlled by the pedal. When you push down on the pedal, the peg plan will lift certain threads. By pushing the pedal up and down again, the peg plan moves to the next line of the pattern and lifts up different threads. You repeat this over and over again until you’ve woven your desired length. After we threaded our looms and created our first peg plans, we began weaving!

For our project, we had to come up with a theme for our collection. So coming from a conceptual background and some of my interests, I immediately began looking into the social gender norms of children. I looked into the way society separates toys, colors, hairstyles, sports, and clothing by children's gender. I was also really into the idea of motion and the distortion of images. I wanted to take these two ideas and merge them together. I planned on painting the symbols of gender onto the warp threads and then weave the sample to purposefully distort the image. It is my intention to purposefully be distorting the gender norms that society places on children through my weavings. I tested this for my first three technical samples.

At our first group review (students from different specialties and two tutors) we were all given advice to go back to the drawing board and focus on our ideas to define our designs. Going back to the drawing table, I realized that I needed to narrow down my ideas and think of the designs as a whole. I decided to just focus on motion and the distortion of image. From here I created more paper weavings of photographs I had taken that were blurred because of motion. I then scanned these weavings onto the computer and printed them out large-scale. Taking these printouts, I then painted the images that I saw onto a semi-thick paper using disbursement inks. I learned this technique from the printing technician. It works where you paint with these inks onto a semi-thick paper, let the painting dry, and then you iron the painting onto whatever you’re working with. In my case, I’m ironing it onto my warp threads before I start weaving. This technique will allow me to give a more detailed image on my threads than if I was just painting on the threads.

I created seven more technical samples experimenting with my images, looping, thread color, and using strips of plastic. Through these samples I played around with three different weave patterns. After I finished my technical samples and had a tutorial with my tutor Elaine, we planned out our final warp. This was going to be around twelve inches wide and six meters long. Even though we only have to hand-in five final design samples, we are all trying to create around ten so that way we can narrow down our five best.

When I began working on my final samples, I narrowed my paintings down to four final ones to use for my designs. During the creation of my final designs on the loom, I continued to experiment with techniques and materials. I played around with fishing line, continued with looping, and tried weaving the sample in all white threads first and then printing my image on top. I really like the way that the samples turned out and the incorporation of the images and the weaving.

So besides using just the dobby loom, I’ve been able to learn how to use the Jacquard loom. This is a computerized loom in which you can actually weave your images. The loom works in that each heddle (the part of the loom that holds each individual warp thread) is controlled individually rather than a limiting number of harnesses (the harness is the part of the loom that holds the heddles). By each heddle being able to be lifted individually, you can create any image using a wide variety of weave structures. I experimented with the Jacquard loom and created four mini technical samples to play around with weave structure and color, and then created two final samples. It’s an incredible machine and I was super excited to learn how to use it because Temple just purchased one before I left for Scotland so I’ll already know how to use it by the time I get back.

With that, I have learned so many things during my studies so far here, and that’s just from my studio course. Going from the conceptual to consumer end of things was difficult to transition to, but the techniques and skills that I have acquired will help me within my fine art practice when I return home. I can’t wait to show you all my work when I return!