Process: The Production Handweaving of Rilla Marshall PDF  | Print |  E-mail
Rilla Marshall loom


 Process:  The Production Handweaving of Rilla Marshall



1.  What products does Marshall Arts Fine Handwoven Textiles make?

        Handwoven, hand dyed and sometimes hand felted scarves.

2.  Describe your studio set-up.

        For the past year and a half, my studio has been in my home: a one room studio apartment in Corner Brook that I share with my partner.  I eat, sleep and work in the same room.  I have two looms:  an eight harness 60" Cranbrook countermarche that I use mostly for my art practice, and a small 36" four harness Leclerc Fanny.  The Fanny is my production workhorse.  I also have an electric bobbin winder purchased on Ebay, the only electrical element to my equipment.  We will be moving to Halifax in May 2009 and I will make the dining room into my studio and will actually be able to close the door at the end of the day.

rilla marshal warp

3.  What materials are used to create your textiles?

        Cotton, raw silk and merino wool.

4.  What equipment is used to create your textiles?

        For my production work, I use my four harness, 36" Leclerc Fanny loom and my electric bobbin winder.


5.  What hand techniques are used?

        I wind my warps by hand on my warping mill, thread and beam my loom by hand, handweave my scarves, hand twist my fringes with the help of a four-pronged fringe twister.  Scarves are then hand washed or hand-felted and then hand-dyed one at a time.

6.  What are you inspiration sources for the texture and colour of your textiles?

        The coastal elements of the East Coast of Canada inspire my pattern designs and textures:  the ruffles of kelp, the repetition in the patterns in the sand, ripples in the water - the visual stimuli of the place where the ocean meets the land.  My colours draw on a variety of sources.  I often lean towards vibrant, multi-hued colours in my dyeing and take my cues from my everyday observations of colour:  bright orange lichen on gray rocks, mixed berries on yogurt, mussel shells. Observing the juxtapositions of colour in the world around me is very important.


7.  How does your equipment or methods make the production process more efficient?

        Coming up with efficient methods using the equipment I have is an important part of designing for production.  I always wind a warp long enough for weaving multiple scarves one after the other so that I only have to go through the threading and beaming once for a batch of six scarves.  I often will tie on a second warp to the end of a previously threaded warp when I am doing multiple batches of the same scarf design rather than having to re-thread for a different style.  Having a rotating warping mill helps me measure out my long warps much faster than having a wall-mounted warping mill.  During the weaving process itself, I always use the same weft for the whole length of a single scarf - I never switch weft colours because it slows down the rhythmic momentum I build up while weaving.  I often choose materials for my warp and weft that allow me to do production while still maintaining a one of a kind aesthetic when it comes to colour.  For example, when my Seaweed scarf design is on the loom my warp of raw silk and merino wool is all white, and for each scarf I choose a different colour of fine cotton for the weft.  Once a batch of six Seaweed scarves is woven and comes off the loom, each scarf is individually dyed so that only the silk and merino take the colour while the cotton remains whatever colour it is.  This allows me to do production work while still keeping all steps of the process engaging because no two scarves are exactly the same.  I have an electric bobbin winder that helps make things pretty speedy.  Also, when I finish my fringes on each scarf, I use a four-pronged fringe twister which allows me to twist two fringes at a time.

8. Do your chosen materials have any specific characteristics that are manipulated through process?

        There are two main ways that I have harnessed the characteristics of my chosen materials through process manipulation.  The first is through my choice of materials and their ability or inability to take on acid dye.  I work with factory dyed cotton, natural raw silk, and natural merino wool.   Because cotton is a cellulose fibre, it will not readily absorb colour from acid dyes which are meant for protein fibres such as silk and wool.  This is called differential dyeing and is a key design principle when I am working on my scarves.  I design each line of scarves that I produce to be dyed in acid dye after being woven.  Because only the silk and wool will take on the colour (and each take the colour differently) while the cotton remains it's original factory dyed colour, each scarf results in a rich multi-hued colour and no two are exactly the same.  The other characteristic of my materials that I manipulate during the process is the amazing felting ability of merino wool.  My line of Seaweed scarves are hand felted after being dyed.  During the felting process, the warp stripes of merino wool shrink and felt while the cotton and raw silk don't, creating gentle seer-sucker stripes that run the length of the scarf.  I hand felt them instead of throwing them in a washing machine because I want to control the amount of felting that occurs and do not want the scarves to over-felt and result in a scarf that is too short or too ruffled.


9. How does your process enable you to create large quantities while maintaining a one of a kind aesthetic?

        I think the quality of handwoven scarves is evident in their look and feel, and because mine are so fine, the artistry is apparent as well.  As I explained above, the prime process that enables me to do production weaving while still creating one of a kind pieces, is the differential dyeing method I use and the rich colour palettes that result.

 10.  What are the essential three processes that define the look/feel/quality of your textiles?

        1 - The fine handwoven feel or hand to the scarves, they are very soft.  2 - The hand felting of my Seaweed scarves is very distinct and has become a bit of a recognizable signature in my work.  3 - The third process is definitely the differential dyeing and the incredible array of rich colour that results in a big crayon box of choices.

finishing wash

11.  How does your production process affect the design development of new textiles?

        Because I have established specific methods and processes that work well for me and the way I design my production work, I tend to keep those processes prominent in my mind when I am designing for production.  As a production weaver, I do a lot of wholesale orders, which means that I have to be able to pay myself a fair wage as well as cover my materials and overhead with those wholesale prices.  Having efficient production methods is essential to the viability of my business and the sale of my work as well as making the most out of my skills.  I very much enjoy the problem solving of process based work and the perimeters I must work within when designing for production weaving.

 12.  What role does chance play in your design/production process?

        Chance plays a role in my design process where I am working through an initial idea and simply playing with pattern and materials.  Once I put a design into production, the only element that is really left to chance is the colour through differential dyeing.


13.  What role does handweaving play in your production process?

        All my work is handwoven.  This means that it takes between 45 minutes to 2 hours to weave one scarf while sitting at the loom.  This means that I can't produce the volume of work that someone with a mechanized loom would, but it also means that I am able to find markets for everything I make.  If I was able to produce a higher volume of work, I would end up spending much of my working time looking for markets to sell my work instead of making it.  I love handweaving:  it is rhythmic, repetitive and very satisfying to watch the physicality of one's own body be harnessed to create cloth and it keeps my business within a human scale.

14. How is the design process different for production weaving vs. weaving in your personal art practice?

        In production weaving, efficiency plays a vital role in making choices in every step of the process.  In my woven art practice, unless I have a deadline, efficiency plays no large role in my decision making.  But, planning is essential to creating quality work for both.

 Images provide by Rilla Marshal and used with permission

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