I usually blog about designing and creating trimmings, looking at choosing styles and colours. This post is completely different and, of necessity, quite technical. I know it will be of interest to fellow weavers but I hope it will give an insight into the complexity of recreating antique pieces for people with no previous knowledge of weaving.
I was recently asked by Max Donnelly, Curator of Nineteenth-Century Furniture at the Victoria and Albert Museum, to analyse the braid on an Aesthetic Movement chair, in a private collection, to document how it was made. Unfortunately, the original was so fragile that it was not possible to send a piece to me so I had to work from photographs.
The silk braid is approx. 10mm wide with a black background woven in a “basket weave” pattern and pale gold circles – to echo the patterns on the wooden frame – at regular intervals.
As this was a design I had not seen before I needed to try to work out how it had been made by analysing the pattern – counting the threads and working out which goes where. I find it easier to work from a blown-up photo orientated to look as it would on the loom. Fortunately, I also had a photo of the back of the braid which helped a lot.
Looking at both sides of the braid I could see that it is woven as a type of double cloth. There are black and gold threads in the warp with both being woven into the gold background, but only the black threads used to weave the surface layer. The gold spots are made by the weft threads “floating” over the surface while the gold warp threads are not woven in at all but float between the two layers.
There are only 8 black warp threads each spaced with 4 gold threads in between and 2 gold threads on each outer edge. That gives a total of 40 warp ends.
Whilst that isn’t many threads weaving a circle is tricky and means that each black warp thread needs to be on a separate shaft with the gold threads spread out over another 14 shafts – a total of 22 shafts for 40 warp ends.
The weft is 6 ends of silk floss thread and alternates picks of black and gold.
Even after counting the threads and working the design out on paper – as much as possible – the only way to be sure you’ve got it right is to put it on the loom and have a go. This is particularly true when you’re working from a 2D photo rather than an actual 3D sample. I decided to start with thicker threads so that I would be able to see more clearly whether I was on the right tracks. It took several “tweaks” to get something I was happy with and then I re-threaded the loom with finer thread and finally used silk floss as the weft to prove that everything still worked, and so that I could work out accurate quantities and the time needed for weaving a metre.
Working something out is an iterative process and I can quickly tell if my attempt doesn’t match the original. In which case I cut it off the loom and make some changes! I’ve taken some of the stages out of the photo above, in all it took me about 10 versions before I was happy with the result.
My final sample looked like this:
Unfortunately I didn’t have any black silk floss to hand, but I think you can see that the design is very accurate.
For any weavers reading this the following documents how to actually weave it: