December 2020 Ask Me Anything

Welcome to the December Ask Me Anything blog post!

I thought this would be a good way to share a little bit of what goes into running a solo weaving studio from the North East of Scotland. You can ask me anything from the world of textiles, from questions about colour and inspiration to the slightly less fun but just as important business side too! You can submit questions for next month's blog on the first of each month through my Instagram Stories or by posting in the comments below.

Blue, beige and grey cones of wool on a wooden rail with beach grasses in the background
Cones of cashmere

What comes first? The story or design?

For me, the story always comes first. My whole business is based around a central theme and everything from the logo to the patterns relate back to it. Arra was the name of my great grandmother who was born and raised on the Orkney Islands where we usually (but not this year) visit a lot and I try to keep a coastal theme at the centre of all my designs.

I've found that building a story around the business and designs helps people to relate to my work. Everyone has a memory or some kind of link to the ocean and the Scottish factor seems to resonate with many of the visitors to the studio too.

It makes it easier to design pieces which flow together and creates a natural colour palette which can run through each collection.

How do you manage to make the colour of the fabric look exact in photos or as near to the actual colour that it is?

I think this is an issue that's always a bit of a struggle with textiles, especially for product images which have a lot of colour.

Natural light is always the best starting point. I try to take photos of fabric outdoors on dull days if i can but if they have to be indoors I have a few tricks before I start! The first thing I do is to turn off the overhead lights, the studio lights have a bit of a yellow tint to them and can really change the colours in an image. Then I set the white colour balance on my camera, it's great for the studio where there's not much natural light and helps the camera to automatically adjust as you take the photos. If there's bright, direct sunlight then I pin a very thin cloth over the window/door to diffuse it as much as I can.

Once the photos are taken I sometimes use editing software to tweak images a little if they need but try to keep any changes very subtle if I can.

Tips for shooting textiles?!

This crosses over a little with the previous question but once you have all of your lighting sorted there's still a few things you can try.

I like to take photos of my products in context as well as up close for details or on a neutral background. It can be useful with scarves and blankets especially to have images which show the size of the piece so if you can take images of them being worn by a person or draped over furniture then it really helps.

It's hard to take photos of textiles without them looking flat and cold, especially since they are so tactile, so draping a fabric can help to give it a little more life!

I think it's definitely something that you have to practice but it's so important to have good images. You can have the most beautiful work in the world but if you can't demonstrate that to anyone (especially these days where everything is online) it almost doesn't matter, which is such a waste!

What do you use to edit images?

I try to edit images as little as possible because I want them to look as close to real life as I can but when I need to crop an image or brighten it up a little I use photoshop on the laptop or SnapSeed on my phone. Most of the images I use on social media are taken with my phone so it's really useful to have an app that's simple to use on the go. You don't have to have expensive photography equipment to get good images, a phone, good natural light and a free app can do the job just as well!

How long does it take to set up the loom before you can start weaving cloth?

Generally, commissioned pieces are smaller or one off designs, so they don't take as long as setting up for a studio collection does but it can take anything from a few days to over a month to set the loom up. It depends on a few factors, including the complexity of the design, the type of yarn and the set up method. If the warp is very long I usually use a tension box and bobbin set up which can be slow but means you have a much more even warp which is less prone to mistakes or for shorter warps I use a warping mill which is quicker but can cause tension issues.

Fine yarns take longer to thread through the heddles, they can be fiddly and tangle and the finer the yarn, the more you have to do! A complex pattern can also slow things down, I like to take my time and double check each thread as I go so that I don't have to correct mistakes at the end. There's been a couple of times when I've had to rethread over 600 ends because of a mistake made near the start which is the absolute worst!

How do you decide what weight of yarn to use?

This really depends on what the end use of the fabric is. I need to consider a few factors when choosing which weight of yarn to go for, things like; Does the fabric need to be warm or cool? Does it need to drape well? Does it need to be hardwearing or can it be a delicate design? These all have an impact on the final design and can help narrow down which weight of yarn to pick.

For example, for a lightweight summer scarf it would be fine to use a fine single ply yarn but for an upholstery fabric I'd stick to a two ply yarn with a higher twist and a pattern with minimal floats.

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