The Journal for Weavers Spinners and Dyers

Loom-Controlled 3D Shaping for Garments — An Interview with Sally Eyring

Stacey Harvey-Brown, Online Guild

Today I would like to introduce you to the wonderful world of Sally Eyring. Sally lives in the Greater Boston area of the USA and weaves in metals and regular fibres to create shaped pieces that are woven into shape on the loom.

Commode One - Warp of fine wool and gold lacquered copper wire, various colours copper wire weft
Commode One - Warp of fine wool and gold lacquered copper wire, various colours copper wire weft
Ruff One -  Warp of fine wool and red lacquered copper wire, copper wire weft 16in high, 10in wide
Ruff One - Warp of fine wool and red lacquered copper wire, copper wire weft 16in high, 10in wide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stacey Harvey-Brown I first saw your headpieces several years ago and I was immediately drawn to the drama and the sheer exuberance of them, and obviously the technical expertise and the imagination of them as well. What drew you to creating them in the first place?

Sally Eyring Well, I worked in hi-tech for thirty years and I got frustrated with it. I had been doing crafts at home after work to stay sane. Finally, I quit and I went back to school to get an MFA (Master of Fine Arts), and while I was doing that, I took a couple of weaving classes at Massachusetts College of Art and Design.

One day my teacher said to me that 'When you weave, you always get a rectangle'. I was a 3D major and I thought I would either have to change my major (but I really liked weaving) or I would have to figure out how to weave things that aren’t just rectangles. And so I started experimenting and testing some ideas. For example, I put an area of warp on that’s twice the sett of the regular area. I call the area with the regular sett the ‘normal area’ and I call the one that’s got the double sett the ‘dense area’. They are warped right next to each other and woven at the same time.

I open the dense area shed and leave it open while weaving somewhere between thirty and fifty picks changing sheds on each pick in the normal area, and weaving across the whole warp width. As each dense area shed is changed, I scrunch the dense area bundle of threads together on the previous dense area, which causes gathers in the normal area. In this way the shape is created while the warp is being woven. The shape is created during the weaving, not after it's off the loom, and that is the most difficult thing for people to understand. Of course this causes vastly different length selveges while the weaving is progressing, but that's just another tension problem to solve.

The theory’s pretty easy. The difficulty comes in controlling the tension and figuring out how to weave a given shape. The tension must be handled on the warp threads, but also on the already woven cloth. I had to create a whole group of tension control tools, because once I start weaving dense areas, the cloth beam is no longer useful since the cloth take-up is variable across the width of the weaving. Some of the tools provide tension at the back of the loom, on the warp. Other tools provide tension at the front of the loom, on the cloth.

Anyway, at the same time I needed an MFA thesis. I brought in one of my 3D weaving pieces, the first neck ruff that I had woven. That was the first real piece that I did and they liked it! After that I created a series of headdresses. My MFA thesis was about the immigrant experience and each of those headdresses has an immigration story behind it, mostly from my family. So that’s how I got started creating them.

The headdresses are all woven with a fine woollen warp that includes dense area warp bands of copper wire. All of the weft is copper wire. The copper doesn’t just lay there nicely like yarn does. At every single turn of the pick, you have to take a needle and make a little crimp at the edge. I have two rubber thimbles that I put on my index fingers and I have a small weaving needle that sticks out of each one and I weave like that, using my fingers to crimp the edges. You just have to be careful not to scratch your face! I have lots of little techniques that I’ve developed and I had to develop specialized equipment to make it possible, and easier.

'Commode' is a reference to the wire framework of the fancy headdresses worn in the early eighteenth century in France and England. This was the first headdress that I wove using my 3D dense area weaving technique. In all I've woven about 13 such headdresses, six of which were exhibited for my MFA graduate project and thesis at Leslie University.

Sunburst Jacket - Cotton, linen, rayon
Sunburst Jacket - Cotton, linen, rayon
Ruff Two -  Warp of fine wool and gold-lacquered copper wire, copper wire weft, double weave with leno on the top layer. Springs of heavy copper wire hold each cell open 21in high, 16in wide
Ruff Two - Warp of fine wool and gold-lacquered copper wire, copper wire weft, double weave with leno on the top layer. Springs of heavy copper wire hold each cell open 21in high, 16in wide

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHB You’ve also worked on garments, making shaped garments on the loom, adjusting and altering your tools and your loom to help you achieve your ideas. Have you always had this kind of approach to creativity?

SE What I enjoy the most is the problem solving. That’s how I approach it. I did the headdresses first and then at some point I thought I should really try to do this without any copper because if you always work with copper, a lot of people will say 'Oh well, that’s cool, but I would never do that'. Usually you weave a flat rectangle and then you cut it to shape a body. I realized that because I can weave shapes, I can weave body shapes. So I started looking at a female body and at my dress form. I thought about all the different shapes that there are on the body and I started combining weaving shapes with sewing because I've always sewed a lot.

SHB So are you developing asymmetric designing for garments?

SE Yes, I work with asymmetry a lot. Women like it and men say… 'You know, that’s not straight' as if I hadn’t already noticed or if it was done by mistake! The three-part ruffle on the vest was woven all at once, using my 3D dense area technique. Each part of the ruffle uses a different huck pattern with the two layers on the shoulder woven as doubleweave. Once the ruffle was woven and taken off the loom, I re-threaded and re-sleyed the top layer of ruffles in order to spread the three huck patterns out so that I could weave the body of the vest. So the body of the vest consists of the same three huck patterns that are in the ruffle. The ruffle is attached to the vest with large snaps to make laundering and ironing easier.

The Sunburst Jacket was woven using my 3D dense area technique. The selvages of the sunburst are 11 inches and 54 inches. The colour changes are created by changing the weft while weaving.

SHB So are you developing asymmetric designing for garments?

SE Yes, I work with asymmetry a lot. Women like it and men say… 'You know, that’s not straight' as if I hadn’t already noticed or if it was done by mistake! The three-part ruffle on the vest was woven all at once, using my 3D dense area technique. Each part of the ruffle uses a different huck pattern with the two layers on the shoulder woven as doubleweave. Once the ruffle was woven and taken off the loom, I re-threaded and re-sleyed the top layer of ruffles in order to spread the three huck patterns out so that I could weave the body of the vest. So the body of the vest consists of the same three huck patterns that are in the ruffle. The ruffle is attached to the vest with large snaps to make laundering and ironing easier.

The Sunburst Jacket was woven using my 3D dense area technique. The selvages of the sunburst are 11 inches and 54 inches. The colour changes are created by changing the weft while weaving

Three Ruffle Vest - Linen
Three Ruffle Vest - Linen
Three Ruffle Vest (detail) - linen
Three Ruffle Vest (detail) - linen

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SHB Do you have anything that you’re working towards at the moment, or a project that’s really inspiring you at the moment, other than the tools?

SE There are actually three different techniques that I use. One I call 'expanded areas', where you can add a lot of picks using only a certain area of the warp width to create little bubbles that rise out of the surface of the cloth. These are small areas of discontinuous wefts that are clasped with the wefts next to them but consist of more picks. The second one, which I've explained already and use the most, I call dense area weaving. The third technique I call 'infinite tension' weaving, is my newest technique. It lets you control the tension individually on every single thread in the warp, which means you can weave almost any shape you want. Since every thread has its own tension, every thread can also be a different length to any of the other warp threads. And with each warp thread being its own length, well, you see that the shaping possibilities are endless. My challenge at the moment is to perfect the third technique and get some more experience with it. After that I want to start combining the techniques on a single warp. If I can do that, I can truly weave any shape I can imagine. As I've said, the theory is really easy. Controlling the tension is the challenge, and that is what the special tools are for.

Butterfly Vest - front
Butterfly Vest - front
Butterfly Vest - left
Butterfly Vest - left

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I use ordinary looms for these processes, but with special tools that I invented to control the tension. My favourite 3D loom is a Louet 24-shaft dobby. All of my sculptural pieces and headdresses were woven on a Leclerc Dorothy table loom, except for Ruff Two, which was woven on the Louet. You must have at least four shafts, but other than that, any loom works.

About Sally Eyring: Sally's work can be seen on her website at www.sallyeyring.com She is currently working on a book that describes her techniques, which will be available from Schiffer Publishing sometime in 2020.

 

All photos: Sally Eyring

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This article appears in edition #272 of the Journal for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

The Journal is published on behalf of the Association of Guilds of Spinners Weavers and Dyers. It covers a wide range of textile subjects, including articles on historic textile techniques and cutting edge modern design.

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