How to find a starting point for your design

Planning a summer lace scarf: Part 1

Purple lace scarf draped over a garden bench.

Every weaving project starts with an idea.

The initial prompt might come from something quite tangible: what can I do with this beautiful yarn? Or from an event: what can I make for a birthday gift, the arrival of a new baby, to wear on a special occasion? But given the impulse to weave at all, where can we look for ideas that we can turn into fabric?

In this series of posts I am going to walk you through some key moments in the design process behind a collection of lace scarves, which I called Highland Summer. This is a fairly simple design on the face of it, but I’ve chosen to use it as an example because it involves a number of steps that readers often ask me about.

In particular, it is a block design that can be interpreted in different weaves for different purposes, so I will work through the process of turning the profile draft into a threading draft. My original draft was for 16 shafts, but I’ll be looking at ways to develop designs for however many shafts you have.

Before we get to that, however, we need a place to start. Let’s think about summer.

(If you don’t like summer, feel free to substitute a season of your choice!)

What do you think of when you think of summer?

My personal list of ‘things I love about summer’ goes something like this:

  • long days
  • picnics
  • late evening walks
  • the blue waters of Balnakeil Bay
  • luscious red fruit
  • relaxing chat at outdoor cafes
  • overwhelming greenness
  • ice cream

There seem to be strong themes of eating, or of being outdoors, or both at once. So right away I have some possible avenues of exploration.

Colour

What are the colours of summer? I can explore them by looking through photos of those places that inspire me. One strong note that resonates with me is the amazing colour of the ocean off the northwest coast of Scotland: brilliant blue and turquoise could be the foundation of a fabulous summer colour palette.

But so could the reds and purples of summer berries and home-made blackcurrant ice cream.

Or the too-much-green of a summer garden, where everything is in full bloom.

Texture

What are the textures of summer? Close your eyes and conjure them in your mind. I’m thinking of smooth, silky ice cream contrasting with sand underfoot (and hopefully not in the picnic). The crunch of fresh vegetables. Waves break in long shallow curves over the beach. The tide retreats, leaving broad ripples in the sand. Bare feet on grass. Dappled shade under trees (I’m not a sun worshipper). Cool drinks in tall glasses, beaded with condensation.

There are no wrong answers to these questions, as they are entirely personal. I could as easily say that I like to stay indoors and read a book: the Scottish summer weather can be very supportive of a love of literature! But there’s another starting point… What makes the perfect summer reading? Is there magic, or romance, or drama? Or is it a time to soak up facts? To travel in the mind to places I have never visited?

Speaking of facts, what about data?

Data

As I wrote the paragraphs above, I was surprised to realise just how many of those summer impressions I have already turned into weaving. But there is one important factor in my initial list which can be explored somewhat differently. One of the hardest things about living in Scotland are the long winter nights; and our greatest reward is the long evenings of summer. We are currently enjoying the best part of our year. (That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact!)

Sun graph for Dundee in 2020 showing amount of daylight, twilight, night throughout the year
That graph is practically a weaving already

All those daylight hours… how about finding a way to celebrate them? It seems as though there is an opportunity here to incorporate some data into design. It is quite easy to find data about time. Data about weather, too. Simply googling ‘average summer temperature in [wherever you are]’ will bring up some useful figures. In the UK, the Met Office website is loaded with data about rainfall, temperature, hours of sunshine and much more.

The beauty of data is that it generates patterns we might not otherwise think of. The profile drafts I shared earlier were quirky, asymmetric arrangements which were in fact based on data about the average summer temperature in different parts of Scotland. I might have been tempted to smooth them into something more regular, but it gave me more satisfaction to let the data tell its own story.

Going further

So now I have a whole bunch of ideas, great! What do I do with them? The short answer is: stay with them. Don’t rush to the loom, or even to the weaving software, with the first thought that appeals to you. Take time to go a bit deeper.

For instance, when you feel inspired by colour you might take some photos to capture the moment. But then take time to look at those photos and reflect. What was it that attracted you, made you pause and get out your phone or camera? Use pencils, paints, yarn, scraps of coloured paper – whatever you find accessible – to investigate the colour stories that appeal to you. If keeping a sketchbook sounds too intimidating, then don’t keep a sketchbook. Keep a shoebox instead, and use it to gather notes, rough drawings, fabric, yarn wrappings, postcards etc.

If you want to expand your design horizons, then one resource I would highly recommend is a book: Sourcing Ideas for Textile Design by Josephine Steed and Frances Stevenson. I went to search for it online in order to share a link with you, and discovered that a second edition was recently published, so that’s very timely. Other books you might like to explore are Finding your own Visual Language (Jane Dunnewold, Claire Benn, Leslie Morgan) and Making and Drawing (Kyra Cane).

What’s Next?

In my next post I am going to talk about some of the practical issues when designing with blocks.

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First posted on weavingspace.co.uk © Cally Booker

2 Responses

  • I’ve recently signed up for your blog and I found this article so interesting! I’m a novice weaver, having discovered it a few years ago in my retirement years. I bought a Louet Erica 4 shaft loom last October after previously using a rigid heddle loom. My current project is to weave a prayer shawl as a gift for someone. Thinking about the person I’m making it for, I chose green, white and blue for the warp and a variegated yarn in shades of purple and pink for the weft. When I make these shawls, I like to pick a Bible verse to meditate on and to create a prayer from, as I’m weaving. I’ve chosen Psalm 23 for this one. As I started sampling my chosen yarns, I realized that two of my warp colours actually fit this Psalm – green for the green pastures and blue for the still waters. I’d never thought about this way of choosing colours before, and I’m really delighted to read that using books is one way you’ve mentioned. I’ve still got so much to learn about weaving!

    • Hi Liz, welcome to weaving! There’s so much to explore in this craft, it will keep you busy for years… I think your approach to designing each piece is really thoughtful and it is a lovely place to start your work. Something you might think about is gathering together a ‘mood board’ for your design, with images and colours that reflect the feeling you want to capture from the verse you’ve chosen. It doesn’t need to be an actual board – again, the shoebox method is great here for collecting sources! – but the process of gathering and reflecting on visual material can be very helpful. It will support you both in planning individual pieces and also in refining your ‘design sense’ overall.

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