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John Boyd Horsehair Fabrics and Lower Cockhill Farm

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Today I joined a group visit to two local venues of interest organised by the Friends of Holbourne Museum.   In the morning we converged on John Boyd Textiles in Castle Cary, one of only two horsehair textile manufacturers in the world.  Sadly, due to the specialist nature of the manufacturing process we were not permitted to take photographs inside the factory but the building itself was of interest, having formerly been a flax mill manufacturing linen fabrics and ropes.

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The horsehair is imported from China and Mongolia, where horses are still bred in sufficient numbers.  The tails are cropped and take two years to grow back.  The fabric width is dictated by the length of the horse hairs, white hair is shorter, about 20 inches and black and brown up to 25 inches.  The white hair is more expensive and is also processed in the factory by picking through it by hand to remove any coloured hairs which can take two days!  This pure white has become highly desireable for interior design use.  The hair can also be dyed and this is also done on the premises.

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We were shown the warping drum which will wind warps up to 50 metres.  The warp is normally cotton but silk and other fibres, even lurex, are used, depending on the design of the finished fabric.  There were two floors of about 10 looms, each closely monitored and tended to by one lady weaver.  This skilled work can take up to 15 years to learn and one of the weavers had been working for the company for thirty years.  Some of the looms were set up for dobby style patterns.  The looms are 150 years old and all the maintenance is done in house.  After weaving the fabric is pressed between hot plates in an old cider press.  This flattens out any undulations and gives a sheen to the fabric.

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The home page of the John Boyd website features a short but interesting film about the process.  We also had a chance to visit the town museum which had a small display on the factory where I was able to photograph the hair bundles.

The horsehair fabric itself is used predominantly for interior furnishings, seat covers being the most widely recognised use as the fabric is easy to wipe clean and very durable.  Examples can be found in historic buildings such as No. 1 Royal Crescent and the Holbourne Museum in Bath.  In recent years the fabric has become favoured by designers for use as a wallcovering.  I came away with a few small samples which I will treasure, in the knowledge that the fabrics cost from £150 per metre!

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If you look closely (click on the image for a larger view) you should be able to see that I have arranged all the samples with the horsehair running horizontally, as it is woven.  The top left sample uses black and scarlet cotton warp with dyed black horsehair weft.  Top right uses white horsehair dyed red with a red cotton warp.  Middle left uses a black warp and the horsehair is all natural browns and blacks.  Bottom right uses natural white horsehair with an ivory white cotton warp.  Bottom left  (my favorite) is white horsehair dyed turquoise with a turquoise cotton warp.  With this last one even though the white horsehair has been dyed you can still see the variation in colours of the original hairs in the overall weave.

After a very jolly lunch at Mother’s Tea Rooms in Castle Cary we trundled along the fringes of the Somerset Levels to the hamlet of Cockhill.  Here our group were shown around an ancient farmhouse and barn with beautiful traditional 15th Century cruck beams.  The special feature of the house is the Painted Room upstairs.  Little is known of why the room was decorated so splendidly but it is possible that this and the suite of rooms surrounding it were developed to accommodate a VIP visitor.  The paintings have been expertly restored.  The colours are vibrant and the designs are naive but appear to have a religious theme.  The room felt very special and I would have liked to have spent longer there, without the group to be able to experience the art and atmosphere more fully.

The day was dull and wet which meant that indoors it was quite dark as the rooms were not lit.  I did not take any photographs but I have found this Flickr feed which shows the rooms and the rest of the building perfectly.  The designs remind me of folk art wall paintings by Polina Raiko I saw recently featured on this blog.

Project 10 A design project – Stage 2 – Pediment ponderings

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A little more research on entrances inspired by the photograph of my Grandparent’s old front door led me to the ubiquitous images of the temple entrances at Petra in Jordan.  I had not realised that there was more than one facade carved into the mountain, having remembered seeing the temple portrayed in the films She and later Indiana Jones and the Last CrusadeThis website has some more wonderful photographs of the city.

I found an image of a doorway that reminds me instantly of my Grandparents’ house.  Look at the two together.  What do you think?

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There’s definitely a theme running through here.  I need to do some sketching.

1st January 2012

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A new year and, hopefully, a new and renewed energy for all my projects.

OK, so it has been a while since I updated my progress here.  I took on extra work to help with the Christmas excesses and this meant very little time to get in my work room and experiment.  I am very grateful that my office job took a good long Christmas break so that I was able to help prepare for the festivities in a relaxing way.  It felt like this was the first Christmas I was able to enjoy without feeling stressed or guilty about not making other people happy.  I have been trying to catch up with my studies and feeling happy about the other areas of my life has meant that I was able to make more progress than I had hoped.

A RESOLUTION FOR

2012

Be kind to yourself.
Seek to do only what makes you happy
and hurts no-one else.
Know that you are loved and travel
safely the path to your truth in the coming year.

Fun stuff

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I have been experimenting with printing on fabric using my inkjet printer.  I am extrememly chuffed that I managed to get hold of a 3-in-1 printer on Freecycle the other day.  It is the simple kind that feeds the sheet in flat so there is less chance of anything getting mangled inside the thing.  It works perfectly and I am just waiting for some new ink cartridges from Amazon to get really busy making gifts for Christmas.  It is also going to be very useful to have a scanner available.  Our old printer does not connect to the new laptop I bought this autumn and I have been having to mess about in my daughter’s room on the ancient, slow PC, annoying her whilst I try and scan and print useful stuff.

The method I was recommended was to use freezer paper which they sell by the metre in Country Threads in Bath for patchwork designs.  Freezer paper is the kind of packaging for food which is plasticized on one side.  This means that you can cut it to size and iron a layer of fabric to the paper so that when you feed it through the printer it stabilizes the fabric.  My first experiment mostly worked but one corner got a bit messy so I shall have to remember to move the images away from the edges on my original document and that should avoid problems next time.  The images are good and bright, which surprised me.  I somehow thought that they may look more faded.  So if I want something to look a bit more aged I will have to either alter the original image digitally or pre-treat the fabric to a tea bath.

Hailstones are rattling down outside my workroom window.  It is dark and dank out there today and the weather is set to get colder finally.  We are very glad of our Aga stove which keeps the house cosy during the day when the central heating is off and is invaluable for drying my dying and painting samples quickly.

I dyed a batch of fabric and sheeting in the washing machine over the weekend using Dylon for the machine.  The original colour looked good and strong on the side of the box so I was a little disappointed that the resulting colour was quite wishy-washy.  I won’t let this put me off and will have another go later in the week.  I know that machine dying is never going to be quite as effective as other dyeing methods but it is good to try this out, and it is much easier to dye large amounts this way.

 

Woven Lives – a documentary film by Carolyn Kallenborn

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I would love to see the full version of this film:

http://www.vidasentretejidas.com/

The blurb says:

“Drawing upon the richness of sights, sounds and beauty of the people and landscape of Oaxaca, Mexico, Woven Lives provides a fascinating look at contemporary Zapotec weavers from six different villages. This colorful documentary celebrates their extraordinary textiles and illustrates how the art of weaving cloth has helped the Zapotecs retain their culture and identity for thousands of years. The story traces the integration of ancient techniques with new technologies and explores how the artisans are now looking to the past to help them move forward into the future.”