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A common cloth

The Common Cloth workshops were one of the first things that we thought about when starting up the show. We wanted a community centred activity that we could run for free, with minimal facilitators and materials. To teach the greatest number of people a process and allow them to continue by themselves, asking the person next to them for guidance if needed. We spoke about embroidering onto a large cloth, creating a mammoth patchwork but in the end we settled on a loom. The idea of lots of people crowded around one loom filling in each others blank spots, adding their own design to many and creating a sort of patchwork that is created in the construction of the fabric.

First we had to create a structure or space that would allow many to work on the same project at the same time. The only real necessity of a loom is to hold a warp, the simplest of structures can act as a loom, such as matchboxes. Playing with the design of a loom and designing our own version to fit with our concept was both fun and fundamental. As we were working with a limited budget and space, a conventional flat tapestry loom was out of the question. We designed the looms with many sides all facing into one another, so that someone weaving opposite can see you and talk to you. Instead of one blank space to fill, each loom has 3 working warps. The translucent parallel lines of the warp can be easily seen through until it’s entirely filled and the fabric complete. The different sizes of the looms are made to complement each other, so that when they are full the fabric completes the structure and makes them an object in their own right. The looms are left in the gallery space exhibited as a communal art piece which has been woven by many hands.

Weaving is one the simplest of things to pick up. It’s wonderful to see someone sit down and intuitively know what to do, even if they’ve never seen a loom before and would consider weaving as something mysterious and unknown. A lot of the joy I take from these workshops is talking to the participants and explaining how this simple process they are doing is the same process that made the fabric of their trousers and many of the fabrics around them. To those who are not incredibly curious about all of the fabrics they see, like I am, it doesn’t necessarily occur to think about how a fabric is made. Using these workshops as a tool to start noticing the fabrics we take for granted helps to begin to understand that perhaps textiles have greater meaning. The elevation of textiles to be seen to an art context is something that interests us and nurturing discussion around all fabrics.

A common theme that interests us is the idea of craft and making being therapeutic, allowing your mind a little break whilst you concentrate on something else. Whilst taking part in a workshop and sitting around the same table with many busy hands allows for conversations to start and flourish with less self doubt than usual. We can then just make without designing first, there is no preconceived construction in mind, we allow the process to decide what happens on the loom in front of us. Of course this isn’t how every participant approaches the workshops, alongside this freeform weaving we also have participants who relish the idea of sitting and thinking about what they are going to do, what colours they will use and in which order they will use them. The act of weaving is simple but also restrictive. You have to guide yarn over and under the warp, and once at the end change direction and repeat in reverse. This constraint allows the mind to be fully creative in the aspects we have control over, such as colour and texture, without have to decide how to bring this idea into reality. There is only one way to make the fabric, the boundaries of a process are also the most freeing aspects of it.

After the fabric is complete we cut the fabric off, and try to unpick what the person was thinking and who could have made what. Parts of the cloth are incredibly neat, in equal rows of stripes finished with a row of tassels. Others are a tangle of yarn or half finished elaborate designs.

Having making in the gallery space is incredibly important to us. The wonderful thing about craft is that it bridges the gap between art and viewer, making the object much more accessible. The act of making is as important as the object itself and by bringing these aspects together we create a space that is alive and for all.

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