Unable to access her loom or studio during the onset of the 2020 coronavirus crisis, weaver Sarah Ward was undeterred. ‘I was desperate to weave something,’ she says. She decided the answer was to weave off-loom, a process that involves wrapping warp strings around a solid surface; initially she used cardboard and then shifted to small pieces of wood. She wove the weft through the warp with a needle threaded with industry waste yarns. These enchanting, delicate and intricate small weaves are described by Ward as ‘studies’. A selection of studies plus her loom-based Ikat Plaid studies are on exhibition at Future Icons Presents during the month of June 2021.
The subjects of her off-loom studies are her favourite weave structures: twill, herringbone, hopsack, houndstooth and waffle. The first question one wonders is how long it takes Ward to weave a study. She admits they have become ‘an addiction’. Based on standard British paper sizes, A6 (105 x 148 mm) ‘takes about two full days of weaving—but it depends on the thickness of the yarn and the complexity of the weave structure,’ while A4 (210 x 297 mm) ‘takes about a week of full-on weaving every day, give or take a day or two depending again on the thickness of the yarn and the complexity’. Ward has started on A3-sized studies that so far, she reports, ‘are taking 2-3 weeks to finish’.
Ward’s contribution to the group show at Future Icons Presents includes her hand-painted, loom-woven Ikat Plaid studies. (‘I call them “plaid” or “checks”,’ she explains, ‘because some of my clients are American.’) Her technique is based on the traditional textile technique of ikat. Ward describes her unique version of the ikat process where she hand paints weft and warp with silk inks.
‘It takes about four days to set up the loom—to make the warp, wind it onto the loom, to thread all the warp yarns through their individual heddles, and through the reed (the beater). Once that’s on it takes about two-three days to weave each ikat study. The warp is industry waste off-white silk. I always start with a white warp and paint it as I go. First I paint the warp yarns, which are already on the loom. They are the vertical stripes in the design. Then I paint the horizontal weft yarns. I isolate small groups of yarns by sliding card under the ones I want to paint. This protects the other yarns. I make a large winding of white waste silk the same width as the warp, and measure exactly where I need to paint in order for the check/plaid to cross perfectly with the painted warp threads. There is a lot of maths involved!’
Ward’s Ikat series explores check patterns, but it also allows her to experiment with colour interaction. ‘As I weave, each weft yarn must line up so that it matches the warp—it should roughly be in the right place if I have measured the yarns and the painting correctly, but the beauty of Ikat is the way the yarns are staggered, creating that beautiful ‘liney’ effect. The check/plaid placement appears gradually as I weave.’
While the studies appear flawlessly beautiful, Ward wants to ensure viewers understand the intention behind both series is to celebrate ‘finding beauty in the imperfections that connect a piece to its maker.’
Future Icons Presents is a collaboration with the annual Mayfair Art Weekend and continues until 30 June at London’s Burlington Arcade on Piccadilly.