Christiane Maurer: Making a Double Weave
Born in Germany, Christiane spent most of her youth in Sweden, Luxemburg and South Africa. She has got a MA in Industrial Design from Universität der Künste Berlin and a PhD in Design from Delft University of Technology.
Since finishing her studies, Christiane work’s as a designer, researcher and university teacher. She currently lives in The Netherlands and in Germany.
In this interview, Christiane talks about her passion for weaving and we learn step by step how to make a double weave. In doing so she contemplates if textile artwork is less interesting when it is digitized and then executed by a machine.
TextileArtist.org: What initially attracted you to textiles as a medium?
Christiane Maurer: I love textiles since my childhood. I guess the initial reason to work with them was that they were always available and cheap. Many textile techniques can be executed with material that is at hand.
And, more specifically, how was your imagination captured by stitch?
It started with needle paintings I saw somewhere; I was about twelve then. I was fascinated by the way colours could be mixed in this technique and by the glossy finish of the embroidery.
What or who were your early influences and how has your upbringing influenced your work?
Due to my father’s work, we used to travel a lot. I think our two-year stay in Johannesburg in the mid-seventies had the biggest influence on me. I had never before seen life this extreme.
We lived downtown in a large apartment building. There was a lot of violence and abuse all around: the injustices of apartheid, of course, people dealing and taking drugs on the streets, assaults and killings. But on my daily way to school, I also went through streets with Indian groceries, full of mysterious fragrant and colourful things, under Jacaranda trees that were filling the sky with purple blossoms.
And then there were the ladies sitting in the shade of those trees. Always laughing, singing, making and selling wonderful things from what they had at hand: little beads, dried grass, scrap material. This was the moment when I got hooked on crafts.
What was your route to becoming an artist?
I never considered to become or to be an artist; I always thought of myself being an industrial/textile designer who is occasionally moonlighting in one-off textiles.
About ten years ago, I started the double weaves. Because the technique is very time-intensive, I only made them once in a while. About a year or two ago, however, I decided to spend more time on non-commissioned work, and I am very glad that I did.
Most of the work you can see in this interview and on my website is made quite recently. This is why I have not shown around my work a lot, yet. I guess I still have to get used to calling myself an artist…
The Double Weave
How do you use these techniques in conjunction with weaving?
Most of my work is about exploring the effects of combining colour and graphic patterns. In machine embroidery, I often use satin stitches for brightness and contrast. My favourite technique, however, is weaving and, especially, double weave.
Essentially, a double weave consists of two layers of fabric which intersect each other according to a chosen pattern. This technique permits to design graphic patterns with clear colour contrasts.
In my weaves, each layer consists of one or more colour gradients, which interact through the pattern. Letting the tonal qualities of the gradients come close to each other in places, and then again making them move apart into large contrasts leads to almost vibrating patterns.
Making a double weave is a lengthy procedure, it takes me several months to finish one. This is how it goes:
Generally, I start in Illustrator. I have some ideas in mind about the pattern and the colour schemes I want to build. By working with different transparent layers, the mixing of colours in double weaves can be approached quite realistically.
One just has to bear in mind that the vibrant gradients on screen will be much duller and less subtle when they are translated into textiles. This has all to do with additive versus subtractive colour mixing and the fact that most available weaving yarns have a quite limited colour range.
In the next step, the design has to be translated into a weaving draft. The yarn I use will be woven at 24 threads/cm (as it is a double weave with a plain weave texture, 12 threads will show on the surface, the other 12 on the back side). A weaving that is 100 cm wide will therefore contain 2400 threads in the warp. The gradient has to be translated into my yarn colour palette.
Using a Pantone textiles colour guide to get the right RGB values, I have already made a swatch palette in imaging software as well as in my weaving programme to make sure that the colours will not change when I switch from one programme to the other.
In the weaving draft, this is shown in the colour strips on the top and the far right. The colours alternate between the two layers. The main field shows how the double weave will look. The challenge here is to get a good gradient with limited colors, avoiding stripes or blocks. Unfortunately, there is no shortcut to get this right in a fast way. You just have to try and colour every thread diligently by hand.
Making a double weave like this is not exactly intuitive work. During the whole project, I make annotations about the things I am doing to improve the work flow for the next time.
For example, a spreadsheet that shows the position of each thread on the warp is extremely helpful. Each row of the sheet is one of the 2 cm sections of the warp and shows its corresponding threads and the required yarn colour numbers.
Once the draft preparations are finished, the warp will be set up. I am using a sectional warp beam, which means that you can wind 2 cm wide sections on the warp beam instead of having to warp them all at the same time.
The above mentioned colour schemes in the weave draft have to be brought onto the warp in exactly the same order. The front of the picture shows a bobbin rack with 48 bobbins for a 2 cm section. Every colour from the spreadsheet is wound on a bobbin and placed on its designated spot in the rack.
A tedious part of the process begins: winding up a section on the warp beam. The 48 threads are lead through a tension box, which ensures that all threads are wound up neatly in the desired order and at the same tension.
For the next section, the bobbins in the rack are replaced with new colours and the last steps are repeated time and again till all threads are on the warp beam.
Now, every thread has to be lead through its own heddle. Heddles are connected to the shafts of a loom (my loom has 16). Lifting a certain combination of shafts in each row you weave is what makes the pattern.
The weaving has not started yet, the threads of the upper and lower layer lie relaxed one-by-one next to each other.
Now all warp threads are tied and on tension. The weaving can begin!
The first rows. This is not yet the intended pattern, just some crazy rows to get the tension of the warp right.
Starting to weave the pattern. This is the moment to check if nothing went wrong in the warping and tie-up and to correct it, if necessary. Like the warp, the weft consists of alternating rows in the colours of the two layers. To get a good gradient, I often weave with six or more colours at a time.
The pattern emerges.
Watch Christiane’s Making a Double Weave video here.
Do you use a sketchbook? If not, what preparatory work do you do?
I have tried sketchbooks, but they do not match with my way of working. I prefer to keep digital notes.
Every time I start a new design, I make a folder with a working title, which is very generic: it can be the date I start with it or significant colours and techniques I am going to use. In it goes everything that is relevant: photos, lots of preparatory sketches made in imaging software, the text documents and spreadsheets that contain all technical information I need to weave the cloth, such as size, cloth density, colour numbers, yarn calculations and so on.
My project folder also contains the final files in a weave or embroidery programme. Working this way permits to make preparations in different media and to add extra information that comes along the way, without making a mess of it.
Tell us about your process from conception to conclusion.
A lot of my work is about exploring perception. In the double weaves, this is mostly about the inter-dependence between colour and graphic structures. How do colours work in combination with certain patterns? How do gradients interact if I set them out against each other and which influence does a graphic pattern have on the interaction? I like it that the technical limitations of weaving force me to look deeper into what is happening than I would have, had I used painting as a medium.
In the embroideries, I try to capture how textiles are perceived. I find it fascinating how the appearance of textiles changes. Depending on the distance of the viewer, the appearance of the same fabric can vary from an architectonic presence to functional element to tiny vivid structures. Add the effects of light and movement, and you get endless variations from one piece of ordinary fabric. We appreciate these effects, but because what you see is both fleeting and omnipresent at the same time, we are seldom conscious of what is happening.
I am currently working on two series of embroideries which deal with these effects. In the first, I try to explore what is seen when one looks at a fabric. I photographed several of my own, mostly woven, fabrics and converted them into machine embroidery. What do you see when you zoom in and out of a given fabric? What attracts attention, what becomes important? Or what is fading away?
Because I want to explore the qualities of a fabric rather than make a photo documentary, the photos had to be re-converted into textiles again. To avoid any further subjective interpretation, I use the digitizing functions of my embroidery software to translate the photo into embroidery.
In the second series, I start with the same question but explore how movement influences the appearance of a fabric. It is based on a series of stills of a fabric that is moving in the wind. The photograph registers only one instance out of all the possible combinations of movement, light and shadow and makes it explicit. Using the same method as in the first series, this results in a series of embroideries that document how movement changes qualities such as tonality, transparency, brightness and contrast in a fabric.
What environment do you like to work in?
I am lucky to have two working rooms at my home: a study with my computer and lots of books, and a studio where I keep all the weaving and embroidery equipment.
What currently inspires you?
I am planning to look deeper into the relationship between crafts and industrial production. I deliberately choose very time-consuming techniques in weaving versus digitized machine embroidery, the latter not in order to save time.
What is important, are the technical characteristics each medium offers and which, in their combination, lead to new means of expression. Should crafts be valued more if they are time-consuming? How much manual work is needed to make it ‘crafts’? Is textile artwork less interesting when it is digitized and then executed by a machine?
The variety of expressions
Who have been your major influences and why?
I have always loved how textiles express different cultures. How materials, techniques and patterns can be used in different ways, and the enormous variety of expressions resulting from it.
As a child and in my teens I read all books about crafts I could get my hands on. I was also keen on learning textile crafts, but the books available focused more on technique than on artistic expression and were outright frumpy.
One name, however, stuck: bobbin lace artist Leni Matthaei made a deep impression on me in my early teens. Instead of making boring flower patterns, she used this old technique to create expressionist works of art. It was an eye-opener for me to see that a traditional technique does not have to be used in accustomed ways, but can be modern and exciting.
During my design study in Berlin, I became familiar with the work of the artists and colour theorists of the early 20st century: Munsell; Bauhaus artists such as Itten and Albers; Sonia Delaunay. Especially Munsell’s colour system has a lasting deep influence on my work.
A longer stay in Japan in 2002 permitted me to learn more about Japanese crafts. My interests went especially to Shibori art.
How has your work developed since you began and how do you see it evolving in the future?
I began making textiles in my childhood and have never completely stopped since. There were, however, long periods in which I valued working in design theory highly above actually designing.
After finishing my master in Berlin, I went to the Netherlands to get a PhD on Design Theory at Delft University of Technology. My research focused on perception, especially on affordances. Since then, I worked as a researcher and university teacher.
Several years later, the itch to do something with my hands became irresistible. I bought my first simple loom and taught myself weaving from books. A series of fabrics in bright colours that I was proud of gave me the courage to show them to a few textile firms. This was the start of my career as a textile designer, which I combined with my job at university.
For about thirteen years, I developed collections for woven home textiles and gained a lot of technical knowledge about the making and marketing of textiles.
In retrospect, this felt like living a double life: the gap between theory and making was too large for me to see its potential and to make use of it in my own designs. In my recent work – the double weaves and embroideries, I intend to close this gap by combining knowledge and experiences from industrial design and design research with the making of textiles.
What advice would you give to an aspiring textile artist?
There is so much to learn about textiles and textile art, you could spend a lifetime doing it, and you should. Take it in, make it your own.
When you have found a way of expression that suits you, be stubborn and stick to it till you master it. Learn from others, but don’t bend to their opinions.
Can you recommend 3 or 4 books for textile artists?
I am very fond of the NunoNunoBooks. Reiko Sudo and her team show and explain their experiments in textiles according to a theme. I have FuwaFuwa (fluffy), KiraKira (twinkle), SukeSuke (see through), ShimiJimi (stained) and BoroBoro (ragged).
Another Japanese favourite is Memory on Cloth by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada, a book on contemporary shibori art.World Textiles: A Visual Guide To Traditional Techniques by John Gillow and Bryan Sentence is a richly illustrated book that never fails to inspire me. And, finally, Colette Wolff’s The Art of Manipulating Fabric is an amazing, and in its consistency almost scientific approach to how a simple piece of fabric can be endlessly varied through folding and stitching.
What other resources do you use? Blogs, websites, magazines etc.
I read the textileartist.org blog of course! Also, blogs on art, the newsfeeds of TextielMuseum, the wonderful museum and textile lab at Tilburg, Netherlands. Additionally, I am subscribed to Selvedge and Embroidery.
What piece of equipment or tool could you not live without?
I love all my equipment dearly and would not easily part with it. My 16-shaft computer driven Louet loom and my Pfaff embroidery machine are key tools for my work. Just as imaging software, that I use daily, and weaving and embroidery software.
Do you give talks or run workshops or classes? If so where can readers find information about these?
Let us know what your favourite aspect of the artist’s work is by leaving a comment below.