Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Introduction to Weaving with Sheet and Wire

extile techniques are traditionally worked with fibers such as linen, cotton and silk. However, they can also be applied to metal.
I weave high karat gold and platinum sheet and wire by hand. The process of weaving creates "fabric". I shape that "fabric" into ribbons and ruffles, spirals and loops, which become earrings, brooches, necklaces and pendants. I create two collections of limited production and one-of-a-kind jewelry, each based on a different technique.
Figure 1 Plain Weave: sheet warp and continuous wire weft (over 1, under 1)
Schematic adapted from Arline M. Fisch Textile Techniques in Metal class diagrams, San Diego State University, Fall 1991.  Used with permission.
Weaving is the interlacing of two sets of elements, one vertical and one horizontal. In my first collection, the vertical element - the warp - is sheet that is cut into strips or wedges. The horizontal element - the weft - is multiple strands of thin wire twisted together. The pattern is a Plain Weave (Figure 1), in which the wire crosses over the sheet, then under the sheet, continuing over one warp, under one warp. The strong color contrast in my Large Ruffle Brooch (Figure 2) makes it easy to read the Plain Weave: the warp, the vertical element, is sterling silver sheet; the weft, the horizontal element, is comprised of red magnet wire (resin coated copper) twisted with black silk thread.
Figure 2 Large Ruffle Brooch Barbara M. Berk
When the warp and the weft are the same metal, as in the 18kt gold Ruffle Brooch (Figure 3) it is not as easy to read the pattern. The lighting on the brooch highlights the warp strips; the wire weft can be seen at the end of the bottom ruffle: it is composed of four strands of thin wire twisted together. This creates a thicker weft, which is more malleable than a single wire of the same diameter. As the twisted wire weft crosses under the sheet, the sheet is pressed down over it, which locks the weft in place and adds strength to the piece. (The Ruffle Brooch warp is 36 gauge sheet, the weft is 26 gauge round wire.)
Figure 3 Ruffle Brooch (18kt gold) Barbara M. Berk; photo credit Ralph Gabriner
My second collection is based on a technique that also uses two elements, but both elements are single strands of wire: a thin wire weft and a thicker wire for the warp. The pattern is called Soumak: it is an ancient rug weaving technique named for Shemakha, the city in Azerbaijan in which it originated. Figure 4 shows the weft traveling over two warps and back around one warp, thereby wrapping around each of the warps in turn. The Bow Brooch (Figure 5) is a Soumak weave: the pattern is easiest to see where the ends flare out, in the lacy area above the pearls. The thicker warp wire (20 gauge) is 18kt gold, providing the strength; the thinner weft wire (28 gauge) is 22kt gold, providing the malleability needed to do the tight wrapping that creates a dense weave. The warp is the skeleton, the weft is the skin; the two alloys in combination create a structurally sound piece.
Figure 4 Soumak: continuous wire weft wraps around each wire warp
With both Plain Weave and Soumak, each piece is woven individually. The weaving is done flat: the Plain Weave rests on a thick sheet of plastic, so as not to mar the metal during weaving, and the Soumak is supported in a small vice. Neither pattern is woven on a loom. Rather, both patterns rely on an open-ended warp system, which allows the weft to be easily placed over and under the warps without distorting the warps in the case of the Plain Weave, or easily wrapped around and pushed down the warps in the case of the Soumak. When the weaving is completed, the edges are finished and then the woven "fabric" is shaped into a sculptural form. While the metal is soft enough to weave and manipulate with fingers, it work hardens in the process of weaving and again in the process of shaping, resulting in a stable piece.
Figure 5 Bow Brooch Barbara M. Berk; photo credit Dana Davis
Weaving can be executed with sheet as both warp and weft; with sheet warp and wire weft (as I do in my Plain Weave); with wire warp and sheet weft; with wire as both warp and weft (as I do in my Soumak); with combinations of sheet and wire warps and/or wefts; and either on-loom or off-loom. One can create patterns in the weave by changing the interaction between warp and weft, i.e., varying the number of warps the weft "skips" and varying the rotation of the "skips". One can weave the metal flat and then shape it, or one can create a 3-dimensional form during the weaving process.
Textile techniques in general, and weaving in particular, offer the opportunity to work in new ways with familiar forms of sheet and wire. In the process of mastering these techniques, one can explore color, pattern, texture, structure and scale.

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