Chashm-i-bulbul and kani weaving samples

•22/12/2020 • Leave a Comment

The dimensions of this project were chosen simply to provide scope for sampling. I could foresee that if I wanted a width of 100 2-up-2-down stitches, or grid units of design, it required 400 warp ends, of a length that was generous but not wasteful.

I started with an abundance of tussah silk 1/20’s singles yarn in natural white, so much so that I wound off the warp 4-at-a-time, a set-up for unexplainable tangles later on. The silk had thicks and thins but seemed reliably strong, with enough texture to hold wefts in place. Threading the heddles on 4 shafts, broken point twill 8 threads each way, then 2 per dent in the reed, was easy. I eventually settled on a metric reed 85 dents in 10 cm. (about 43 ends per inch).
Initially, all I had available for comparable-sized wefts were: a quantity of the same tussah silk previously dyed dark gold, enough that I sometimes used it for shuttle weft; small amounts of dyed pashmina wefts from an earlier project, that were on the thin side; and two sorts a bit thicker than the silk – a stash of very fine 2-ply knitting wool in a random choice of colours, and some 2-ply, matte, 80% silk remnants dyed for another project.

For Sample 1, my first after a couple of warp-density trials, I decided to use the pashmina wefts, because I used them before on a warp of the same tussah silk, for a full twill-tapestry sample, my best attempt to work at a scale approaching the 80 threads-per-inch standard of Kashmiri kani weaving. I chose a simple, easily-recognizeable floral sprig, previously copied not-to-scale from a printed photo of an antique fabric.
I have almost always copied motifs from antique shawl fabrics to illustrate my studies, trusting their appropriateness of style and technique, while indulging my uneducated taste. I would always prefer to copy stitch-for-stitch, but often I cannot see the fabric texture because of the limited resolution of the print or screen versions, so the talim instructions follow my most judicious draft of the design on a brick grid.
I made two colour-ways to sample mid-tone and contrasty colour schemes. In a fit of enthusiasm I mailed the blue-and-white version to a colleague in Srinagar, but he never received it.
As well as the warp, there are two sorts of background weft in this hybrid technique, one the shuttle weft appears throughout, the other the background portions of the design in the kani-woven picks. Where these two are the same and contrasting with the warp colour, the chashm-i-bulbul pattern shows readily.

The pashmina wefts were very fine handspun 2-ply’s from a Kashmiri women’s group, that showed a range of skills, thicknesses, evenness, and fragility. Anytime I found myself working with a thin spot in a tapestry weft at the same time trying to navigate critical design details, helped to explain the distracting irregularities I observed in antique fabrics that look like repairs or other needlework.

In Sample 2, two more copies of the same design, I determined to use thicker weft yarns to help the design show more clearly. The motif on the left uses the 80% silk yarns I mentioned and a brilliant white shiny silk; on the right, the wool yarns weren’t quite so disproportionately thick and provided a smoother finish.
It became clear that the stitches of coloured wefts present a simpler, brick-grid arrangement on opposite pairs of warp threads, that tends to obscure the underlying chashm-i-bulbul structure.
It’s surprising how well lighter colours cover the darker shuttle weft, but the white silk pops out excessively.
Because of the blending effect of so much background, similar colours like the two tones of leaf-fill in each copy merge together.

In Sample 3, I tried two colour-ways of another, more detailed small motif, using the same wool wefts. Again, it was a design drafted visually from a published photo, with typical outlines and panicles of identical small blossoms (a boon to the weaver).

Here is an opportunity to compare the same design – the same talim instructions – on the one hand rendered in the chashm-i-bulbul structure, and on the other woven in traditional kani technique, straight twill and 2-picks-per-talim-line.


Then in Sample 4, I wanted to see if I could work from a genuine Kashmiri talim, not from designs prepared by me. I was still using wool for the coloured wefts, but the same natural white tussah silk for background wefts as well as the warp.
As I worked through it, I became convinced that the “fine lines” style of this design was not perfectly suited to my application: because it was a two-picks-per-talim-line talim, in the present technique each line is only read once (the second pick is the shuttle pick), so a kani weft making a long traverse will more often end up in the “wrong” starting-place for the next instruction, adding to the floats and overlaps on the working side. And in the end, I felt that the chashm-i-bulbul pattern lost out because of both the thicker wool wefts in their brick-grid arrangement, and the white-on-white of the background areas.



So for my latest sample I dyed some of the same tussah silk yarn to use as my coloured wefts, and chose a design with broad patches of colour to try to view the loom pattern.
The design was drawn on square-grid paper from a published photo by someone for Kashmir Loom Company. At the time I worked on it, I was trying to prove that brick-grid designs (2-picks-per-talim-line) offered more clear and painterly renderings than square-grid designs (4-picks-per-talim-line). For that I was able to transfer the design to brick-grid on the computer and round-off the corners, but it is still basically a square-grid design with thicker outlines and “bigger” details. The advantage there is if the talim line is repeated L-to-R and R-to-L, each weft returns more-or-less to its starting-place, ready for the continuation of the design. Working my way along, I noticed and respected the designer’s own weaving experience for providing effective, reachable details and a balanced rate of complexity.

Now, in the last two samples I used the same white silk for shuttle weft as the warp, and I am still dissatisfied because it makes the loom pattern less visible and the kani design more pale. I would like to emphasize both, but not at the expense of the other, so for some more small samples I plan to go back to using a mid-tone shuttle weft with all threads the same thickness now that I have those left-overs of dyed silk. Weavers with more experience handling a wider range of threads and combinations for loom weaving, may get other ideas.

Chashm-i-bulbul and kani weaving

•05/12/2020 • 1 Comment

I have had an abiding interest in the question, What other weave patterns might be combined with talim-based tapestry designs? ever since I learned that representing these designs on a computer-screen grid was one thing and transferring them to weaving – or stitchery, or beadwork or knitting – was another. Kani weaving is traditionally done on what I know as straight 2/2 twill, on a 4-shaft counterbalance loom. Each weft pick is a regular succession of over-2-under-2 stitches, that can be represented by units on a grid, and given to the weaver as pick-by-pick, step-by-step instructions in the talim. In kani weaving, usually either 2 picks or 4 picks are woven to the same talim line. On the computer screen these two variations can be represented by a brick-grid or square-grid format, respectively. To refine my initial question: What weave patterns will provide a regular correspondence between the raised warps presented on the loom and the grid-units of the design instructions?

Early experiments were encouraging: I found undulating twill and broken twill patterns that could be worked on an existing 4-shaft, straight twill threading.







Each grid unit of design corresponded to the placement of stitches in each pick, but the difference in weave pattern was also visible.









Chashm-i-bulbul – “nightingale’s eye” – is a favourite traditional pattern in Kashmir for fine loom-woven shawl fabric. A kind of “bird’s-eye twill” of concentric diamond shapes, it is accomplished with a broken point-twill threading on 4 shafts and a reversing sequence in the treadling cycle. At first glance, the weaving draw-down presents varying numbers and groups of stitches in each pick, over and under 1 warp or 2… problematic to co-ordinate with a regular arrangement of design grid-units.

More recently looking again at the draw-down, I realised that every second pick was a regular over-2-under-2 succession of stitches – all the weave-pattern connections, the points on those little diamonds, were expressed in the alternate picks, that could be shuttle-woven. All in all, the grid-units of the tapestry design could be co-ordinated with the over-2-under-2 stitches, the alternate picks shuttle-woven as ground wefts, and the tapestry wefts passed over the intervening pick on the working side as they often are.

Chashm-i-bulbul is a balanced weave, the same number of warps and wefts per measurement. If each over-2-under-2 stitch, corresponds to one grid-unit or one nal of a traditional talim, then 4 picks altogether corresponds to one row of square-grid units or two rows of brick-grid units. Two of those picks are shuttle-woven background. So, a talim line ordinarily repeated in 4 picks is woven only twice, and a talim line in the 2-picks-per-talim-line format is woven only once – the return pick will be the next talim line.

The routine is much like simply weaving kani-style, except for the alternation of kani picks and shuttle picks. I’m using a chashm-i-bulbul treadling cycle of 20 picks, which I think of as 5 groups of 4 picks. In each group the first pick is kani wefts going L-to-R; second pick is a shuttle pick L-to-R; third pick is kani R-to-L; fourth pick is shuttle R-to-L. For the first pick I just have to choose a treadling that shows the warps 2-up-2-down; after that they will come up automatically.





So in each cycle of 20 picks, there is 10 picks of kani weaving – each pick different if it’s a brick-grid design or 5 talim lines woven twice each if it’s a square-grid design. Knowing where I am in the design makes it easier to not lose my place in the chashm-i-bulbul treadling. All those shuttle picks help to weave up faster, and make the fabric width more stable than if it were all tapestry.

Next time I’ll discuss my succession of samples that kept me company in the summer of the pandemic.

a rude waking

•09/11/2020 • 2 Comments
a rude waking

The idea for this piece was how shocking and unfair it is to be waked up and right away have to do something about it. And, having observed otherwise civilized cats at their sadistic play, how different would our relationship be if I was this size? Then there were the challenges of getting the depiction I wanted: a stare-down with the redoubtable Zorra, who was caught off-guard in “Triumph of…Whatever”; and a shot at the conceit of letting patterned drapery suggest the erstwhile sleeper underneath, with maximum foreshortening.
No doubt there are connections with other pieces in my oeuvre – the bad things happening, the extreme perspectives, the lying around in bed. Gary Larson was an early influence. I’m surprised how little it has to do with the last piece, maybe a respite.

Srinagar waterside

•21/06/2019 • 1 Comment

Srinagar, in the basin of a broad, flat valley – an ancient lake bottom – is a city threaded with waterways, defining urban settlement and marshy market gardens alike. Like railways they go against the grain of road traffic, running past people’s backyards more often than shopfronts, following their own exclusive right-of-way.  A first-time visitor in 1978, I fell under the spell of the unmotorized quiet and gliding passage of boats paddled or poled through the narrower channels.

That sense of separation from the vastly increased and modernized hubbub of road traffic and background events was still there when I photographed this scene on a winter afternoon in March 2012. The ordinariness of a run-down neighbourhood convenience store at a slack time of the day. with a few streamers hung up like a colourful marquee. I didn’t see any of the people in the picture, not then nor until after I decided to make the tapestry, didn’t think there might be something going on among some including an army picket, with others listening or trying to mind their own business. It happens sometimes, in the time it takes to weave a tapestry, that my understanding of parts of it changes.
The colourful streamers are a packaging innovation, strings of foil packets of snacks, sold for 5 or 10 rupees apiece. I had a habit of buying them from a friendly kiosk on the boardwalk to my hotel, so they belong in my nostalgia trip, and a reminder that things have a way of getting old before you know it.

optical colour mixing

•15/02/2019 • Leave a Comment

From my beginning days as a tapestryweaver, I appreciated the practice of combining various yarns in the weft to obtain exactly the hue and tone required. It appeared to follow the same familiar rules as for mixing paint colours, that all you require is three primary colours – red, yellow, and blue – with black and white for shades and tints. But the more experience I gained trying to weave pictorial subjects, the more I realized there were other phenomena at work – happening all the time, or prepared for particular effect.

Optical colour mixing is after all an optical illusion, and “connecting the dots” is a puzzle the brain is always trying to solve. The colours never actually mix if you peer closely enough, but if you pull back you get an impression of the colours combined, often somehow more lively, more vivid, than a patch of smooth colour.

A book that helped to illustrate for me in printed pages how this appears, is “Optical Color & Simultaneity” by Ellen Marx (Van Nostrand Reinhold; New York, 1983). It presents a lot of examples of colour effects and viewing exercises in the non-objective style of Johannes Itten’s illustrations.

In the history of painting, optical colour mixing was the basis for the technique called pointillism, where the component colours can be discerned in each dab of paint. This is like the individual stitches or “seeds” made by the weft, yet it’s so much easier using yarns, which never get muddied together, and the exact mixture and placement can always be reconsidered.
Many of the effects of colour mixing can be simply stated and understood, yet hard to measure or manage except by experience. Some of them can be important secondary cues to the perspective being established showing a landscape or three-dimensional space.

A weft composed of a wide range of lights and darks will have different effects than a similar overall hue composed of mid-value, harmonious, or heathery yarns. Wefts of a contrasty mix of bright hues will tend to advance, but wefts of mid-values and diffuse colour will tend to recede, compared to solid colours. Varieties of visual texture can be used for placement and emphasis, not just to imitate the texture of an object.

An increasing trace of light blue or grey evokes a landscape receding into the distance.























One yarn in common can link all the weft shades of an object or lighting situation. Often I must pause at a new stage in weaving a project, to compose a connected range of weft shades, adding and dropping the transitional colours. The number of changed yarns necessary to distinguish tone steps may vary depending on yarn similarities and contrast ranges within the mixtures.

A yarn in common can be used to suggest the effects of transparent layers, or cast shadows.

…notably not reflections, which are often unaffected by the colour of the reflective material.

















A variety of transparent effects in foliage










Because there is no white paper baseline to compare colours in tapestry, and there is this uniform, tiled surface of stitches, neighbouring wefts strongly influence each other, but this may be hard to see at first. Compositional lines and shapes may only emerge from an arm’s-length reading of the differences among these stitches… or a look back after hours of work.




Interactions between colours known as simultaneous and complementary contrasts, can produce surprisingly vivid effects, a reminder that you should beware of producing them accidentally. It’s conventional wisdom that mixing complementaries in paint tends toward neutral gray, but in optical mixing, a trace of complementary hue brightens, not cancels, the predominant hue.





It’s ironic that I have found so much scope for combining yarns in tapestry, at the same time I have devoted so much study to Kashmir shawl weaving, a tapestry technique so fine that wefts can be only a single thread, and the designs are so thoroughly digitized that each weft stitch is specified one of usually a dozen or so colours. Instead, the hallmark of that tradition is design intricacy.


The most basic framework for organizing colours is the colour wheel or circle, with the three primaries yellow, red, and blue in tri-corner positions, the secondary colours orange, violet, and green ranged between them along with as many transitional hues as you have room for. For a colour course at the Ontario College of Art, I acquired a set of coloured papers that gave me a representation of the colour wheel in twelve steps, then for each step I prepared a screen that provides 50% coverage. This set of cards makes for a creative game of solitaire, observing the effects of complementary contrast, near-complementary interference… as well as ordinary colour mixing.

Here is a simple but surprisingly clear example, to view the effect of mixing adjacent hues. If I select a colour to simulate, and the two adjacent hues on each side, I have a range of five, enough to span from one primary to another. Leaving 3 alone, I exchange the screens between 2 and 4, also 1 and 5. They all give a somehow balanced impression of the colour of interest at 3; 2 and 4 are similar, convincing, and more vivid than 3; at 1 and 5 the more divergent hues and their light/dark contrast become more distracting (I learned to call this “razzle-dazzle” – the effect of yarn colours so contrasting, it’s more sparkle or noise than blending). In practice, there can be more than two yarns in the weft: highlights and accents of a range of hues and light/dark tones, probably anchored by the best available mid-range choice.

When it came to constructing colour wheels in weaving, the logic and progress of my study dictated that I consider any given yarn colour to be one of my “primaries”, a mixture of yarns in one weft a “secondary”… and a combination of more than one weft, by hachure for example, a “tertiary” mixture.
One of the first observations is that colour in wool yarns expresses the whole range of light and dark value native to pure hues, from yellow intense but very light, to violet approaching black. Arbitrary mixtures of these are likely to produce a lot of razzle-dazzle.

3 primary yarn colours


To address this, in a colour wheel composed of just three primaries, I selected yarns that were lighter (thus less intensity) so that value wouldn’t be a problem. Helped by that, they blend and transition smoothly from one to the other, with impressions of green, orange and mauve along the way.





The same 6 yarn colours in various mixtures

The same 12 yarn colours in various mixtures.

On the other hand, both six yarn colours and 12 yarn colours offered plenty of scope for blending intermediate hues, subject to the distractions of light/dark contrast, and the toning effects of colours too dissimilar. Each of 24 wefts consists of 12 single yarns of one colour or in fixed proportions such as 6+6 or 6+4+2.

4 primary yarn colours

Even just four “primary” colours is a big improvement on three. Of the four yarn colours, I chose the yellow-orange and yellow-green to blend more easily with darker hues. It was not very successful – the yellow-green yarn seems too yellow to blend well with the blue. The yellow-orange yarn is mistaken for yellow itself, while the mix of the two yarns makes for a darker mustardy or olive tone of yellow.



Perhaps my best insight was that my available yarn colours – all of them – are fixed and therefore “primary”, with connotations of both arbitrariness and resource. Drawing from a wide range of yarns offers multiplying combinations that can only be discovered and judged by eye. I’ve learned that light tints of various hues are the hardest to substitute, and that it’s useful to distinguish the faint hues of various grays.

The “experience” I keep citing as the way to gain control of these colour effects, is long but never in the sense of a programmatic apprenticeship or delayed gratification. The hours I spend weaving are all pure play anyway, but even more so when I’m sampling not in preparation for a bigger project, but to observe colour effects and relationships.

5 colour square sampler format

sampler for Annapurna


Book Review: “Kashmir Shawls: The Tapi Collection”

•15/08/2016 • 1 Comment

TAPI cover

Cohen, Steven, ed., “Kashmir Shawls: The Tapi Collection”, The Shoestring Publisher, Mumbai, 2012

For too long I was eager to get my hands on a copy of “Kashmir Shawls: The Tapi Collection”(1), the lavishly-produced catalogue of shawls in the collection recently unveiled as the Textiles and Art of the People of India (hereafter TAPI), founded by Praful and Shilpa Shah, of Garden Silk Mills in Surat, Gujarat state.  As a tapestryweaver and student of the design and weaving techniques of Kashmir shawls, I was looking for new insights and inspiration in essays by the highly-regarded contributors Steven Cohen, Rosemary Crill, Monique Levi-Strauss, and Jeffrey Spurr, and large-scale close-ups of the fabrics themselves.  I was rewarded with a mass of intriguing technically-minded information, an unexpected homage to my mentor, the late Grace Beardsley, and many heretofore unseen loose gems of shawl fragments.

Kashmir shawls have been treated as collectable art objects, although they are relatively numerous, anonymously made, and usually un-dated.  Dealers and historians have had a free hand to speculate and argue about the age of an antique piece, based on its place in generalizations about the stylistic development of imagery and overall design.  One of their major points of agreement is that the set of collectable Kashmir shawls is closed – that the craft of shawlweaving died out when the shawls lost their fashion status in the late 19th century.  But before then, their tremendous popularity was a complicating factor, constantly pressing for designs that were new, or that responded to the tastes of export markets.  The history of the shawlweaving industry demonstrated craft skills pushed to their limits, an innovative digital system for storing and retrieving designs, and a diversification of weaving methods hearkening the Industrial Revolution.  This mix of tradition and innovation continues to the present.

For years, I have searched for any account of shawlweaving published in English that demonstrated the observer’s understanding of weaving.  The most often quoted historical observer, William Moorcroft(2), described the tapestry-style image-making as “loom embroidery”, an ironic reversal for tapestryweavers accustomed to hearing “tapestry” applied to all sorts of techniques and resemblances.  Replies from curators and historians too often begin with disclaimers about their knowledge of weaving.  But published descriptions of pieces sometimes include threadcounts, usually a good indicator of quality.  In his introductory essay, Steven Cohen advocates another objective measurement, the average weight of the fabric, rendered as grams-per-square-metre, or “gpsm” for short, to provide a basis for judging the date and place of its manufacture.

Here was an opportunity to take grams-per-square-metre measurements as part of the expert scrutiny invited for this private collection of shawl fabrics.  Prior to this, the only example of systematic weight measurements was performed by Grace Beardsley in her close analysis of the shawls of the Koelz collection at the University of Michigan, published under the title “Wrapped in Beauty”(3).  From a copy of her manuscript she gave to me, here is her entire discussion of the weights of shawl fabrics:

Weight.  Although no fiber analysis was run on the Koelz shawls other than an occasional burning test to rule out silk or vegetal fibers, each shawl was weighed to assess relative weight.  Presumably, a pashmina shawl woven of finely spun goat hair would weigh less per square meter than one of sheep’s wool, other factors remaining constant.  Of course, none is really constant in weaving, but what aspects, if any, of fiber content can be illuminated by shawl weights?

“A comparison of weights per unit area is shown in Figure (shawl weights).  The range is considerable.  If the weight of the twill tapestry patka, discussed under turbans, is included and those of the three cotton-lined shawls excluded, the range is found to be 100 to 370 grams.  The median falls between 230 and 240 grams per square meter, about the weight of a square meter of ordinary cotton bed sheeting.

“Among the eight lightest shawls, those of 180 grams or less, UMMA 17337, labeled “pashmina,” rightfully should be included, for even with a cotton lining it weighs only 189 grams per square meter.  Others in the group are UMMA 17313, 17312, 17331, 17326, 17342, 17327, and 17317.  All are estimated as of late eighteenth century to 1830 manufacture.

“At the opposite extreme, the eight heaviest shawls range from 300 to 370 grams per square meter.  None is of the early nineteenth century, and five of them have been designated as of middle to third quarter of the nineteenth century.  So it seems that in Koelz shawls at least unit weight increased as the century advanced.  A comparison of Koelz figures with other shawl weights is elusive, for the single mention in shawl literature of actual weight is made by Watson, who notes “woven shawl made at Kashmere of the best materials and weighing seven pounds.”  (Watson 1866: 121)(4).  However, as he states neither style nor size, there is little basis for comparison.

“One might expect the heavier shawls to be more compactly woven or to show coarser yarns, or both.  Differences in Thread [sic] counts are neither great nor uniform.  Shawls of both the lightest and heaviest groups have warps set anywhere from 30 to 42 per cm.  The only exception is the Balti long shawl with an extremely low warp count of 22.  Its weft count of 30 per centimeter is within the 30 to 58 range of all other shawls of the two groups, the heavier group being somewhat stronger in the higher weft counts.  But for the most part, the heavier weights must be attributed to thicker and only somewhat more compactly beaten up weft yarns.  Thicker wefts, of course, allow more area to be woven in less time than does the use of finer yarns under comparable conditions.  Disparity between warp and weft diameter is usual, especially in the later woven shawls, and may run as high in extreme cases as wefts eight times the diameter of warps.  As a device for singling out pashmina shawls, weight measurement can be described only as a way of identifying shawl groups in which pashmina shawls are likely to be found.”

TAPI 12A fragment 134 gpsm

TAPI 12A fragment, 134 gpsm

TAPI 12 whole shawl and detail 66 gpsm

TAPI 12 whole shawl and detail, 66 gpsm

Grace Beardsley’s weight measurements were conducted as part of a thorough but general assessment of the Koelz Collection shawls using commonsense methods available at the time.  More recently the measurements of the TAPI Collection shawls were performed in the hope of establishing a new scientifically objective basis on which to detail the provenance of individual shawls.  Yet, though the need is obvious enough, it does not seem possible to weigh representative portions of a fabric, apart from taking the average of the whole fabric.  Especially in the case of whole shawls, anyone who has handled or even just viewed one would expect the density of a heavily decorated border or palla portion to be much greater than the plain-coloured central field.  The most likely explanation for the disparity in gpsm calculations for TAPI Plates 12 and 12A is the huge proportion of plain field included in Plate 12.

Tapestry-woven and plain-woven areas in the same structure (twill), may weave up at different rates.  The slack introduced by interlocking multiple tapestry wefts may tend those areas to beat up more compactly.  Long, continuous weft passes introduced by shuttle across a plain field come under tension to bend around successive warp threads, and require more force to beat into place.  In tapestry-woven areas extra weft yarn lengths taken up by interlocking and floats and skips, will add to weight.  Shawl tapestry wefts have been cited as singles thicker than the 2-ply warps (5) for better coverage of the background warp colour, and tensile strength in wefts is less important.  Thicker threads will build up faster.  Less weight of material, but more finely-spun, is required to produce a fabric of equivalent area at a higher sett, and with increased design resolution and detail.  At best, differences in “gpsm” are essentially differences in quality to meet market expectations, within the limits of manageable weaving practice, cost of material, and pressures to increase productivity.  To say that higher gpsm is an indicator of date or place of manufacture, is to imply merely that industry-wide standards of quality declined, or that the output of certain weaving-centres was inferior.

On the other hand, because design information was recorded and reproduced using the talim system, as precisely as digital media can record and playback music, the same design can be woven stitch for stitch by different workshops or different generations of weavers, at the same or different standards of quality.  If the design can be indistinguishably duplicated then the physical properties of the copy become important.  Truly comparable measurements of gpsm may provide useful commentary on production standards and market conditions, but they cannot trump the experienced eye of a design historian.  One can move from accumulations of particular evidence toward generalizations, but to determine the particular identification of an intricately figured piece of weaving just based on this technical characteristic, is reductionist.

There is an air of second-handedness to Steven Cohen’s knowledge of weaving.  He keeps referring to “2 & 2 weft-faced twill” as if it were one concept, when in fact it is two: first, the 2-up-2-down twill weave structure, usually woven with a balance of equal numbers of warp and weft threads per inch.  Important for the repeatability of the design is consistency in the weaving practice, because what would be a perfect circle in balanced weave becomes a flattened oval if the actual weft count goes higher.  This would be termed “weft-predominant” or at most “weft-faced” fabric structure where an increasing proportion of the warp is covered.  In shawlweaving the design is displayed by the different-coloured weft threads, so this desirable feature can be emphasized by using slightly thicker wefts, carefully matched design instructions, and a degree of weft-predominance not so much as to make the fabric thick and stiff.  The warp colour always remains visible as demonstrated by shawls with striped warps, and sometimes to marvelous effect as in the illusion of transparency in “moon” shawls.
Cohen’s remarks about the origins of shawl weaving, the association of twill weave with wool for thickness and warmth, plainweave with cotton or silk in more tropical lowland regions for thinness, were helpful.   Even if there was an earlier Kashmir shawl industry producing natural-coloured or dyed-in-the-cloth shawls – and a lot of the patkas in paintings described as showing plain shawls, have decorated ends – to attempt to introduce tapestry-woven pictorial decoration is still a remarkable leap.  The demand this elicited for a luxury product spurred all its refinements: vanishingly fine threads, design artistry and complexity, and the technologies of precise weaving instructions to manage tapestry imagery in a weave structure that keeps shifting diagonally.

If Jeffrey Spurr had provided or been able to refer his readers to a full explanation of the talim system, the ease with which imported design ideas and customer preferences can be incorporated in Kashmir shawl designs would be obvious.  A text in G. W. Leitner’s compilation (6) explains that designs, as simple line-drawings, could be drawn by artists anywhere, in anybody’s royal atelier, and sent to the Kashmiri shawlweaving workshop where a highly skilled and experienced weaver, the “tarah guru” (“colour-caller”) converted it into line-by-line weaving instructions, called “talim”, that specified the colours and scale in weaving.  That would be the “Kashmiri input…incorporating foreign, sometimes peculiarly Sikh, motifs”, described by Janet Rizvi in her review of Frank Ames’ “Woven Masterpieces of Sikh Heritage” (7).  There she says Ames is “undoubtedly correct in associating them (“innovative designs”) with the establishment of Sikh rule”, and in her review of the present volume (8), she says Spurr’s “suggestion that it (“variety of new motifs”) originated in Europe and reflects the European fad for orientalism is persuasive”.  She could be right both times.  Both imports could be converted into talim with easy technical facility, much as European producers could draft newly-arrived Kashmir shawl designs, for their Jacquard-woven copies.  Not only that, but archived component designs for palla, field, vertical and transverse borders could be mixed-and-matched, and colours substituted through the simple use of a colour-card as a reminder to the weavers.  Moorcroft’s account lists 88 varieties of shawl goods and the markets they were traded to.  Spurr erects a structure of umpteen divisions of “style”, “mode”, “phase” and “type”, in an attempt to pigeon-hole individual shawls, and while his allusions to different evidence and influences are informative, precise categorization is probably too limiting.

More broadly, aside from specific European or Gothic imagery on the one hand, or Sikh iconography on the other, a weaver might observe that emerging 19th c. European weaving technology, particularly the Jacquard mechanism, heavily influenced later Kashmir shawl style: reduced numbers of colours due to the limited number of shuttles a semi-automated European loom could handle; tiny, dispersed details everywhere, answering the need for weft tie-downs in a shuttle-woven fabric; the monstrous vegetative growth of the palla motifs invading the central field reflecting the runaway thousands of cards in the Jacquard chain.  If European shawl customers were used to seeing these effects, and always looking for something fashionably new, and the expositions were awarding prizes for new, more elaborate designs, Kashmir shawl designers would feel compelled to produce these kinds of designs, even though they were not a natural expression of tapestry technique.
In her contribution on embroidered shawls, Rosemary Crill notes that a corner ornament matching a row of upright palla motifs was too difficult to weave, therefore embroidered.  In fact it could have been woven, but would have required a specific new talim to take into account the tilt in its orientation.  On the other hand, I think human and animal figures might be better embroidered because they are likely to be closely judged by additional criteria of recognizable and expressive gesture, not just the symmetry of leaf and flower.  Monique Levi-Strauss attributes the reduced variety of colours to the invention of synthetic dyes in mid-19th-century, certainly a moment that led to the appearance of distinctive new colours like intense pink.  When viewed in the context of technologically competent craftsmanship, these examples become practical and artistic choices, not constraints.

As a craftsman looking at a fragment showing one or two copies of a beautifully intricate motif, I’m not stricken with regret that the piece is incomplete, not collectable.  The inspiration, discipline, and skill of the maker shines through, even if the mirror is a fragment.   How the mirror got broken is another story.  The catalogue of pieces complete and incomplete, even recovered from garments for which they were cut, is fascinating, the format generous, the colour printing unexceptional.

It was a revelation to me to see the production of shawls in Kashmir described as an “industry” in the pre-Industrial period (9)  – a large-scale production involving what we would now call division of labour, proprietary technologies, supply and demand.  Though it had elements of rivalry and secrecy, shawlweaving is not an hermetic, miraculous, forgotten process.  The weaving of any type of cloth is a relationship among many parameters of material and structure, understood by experience and established by practice.  Unlike the chemistry of ceramic glazes for example, the attributes of cloth are tantalizingly visible, even in photographs, but they cannot be taken for granted.  Weight of a representative piece of fabric, if it can be meaningfully measured, is just one simple characteristic.  The Kashmir shawl is a complex product, probably driven as much by what its patrons demanded as what its weavers could achieve.  As one of the most successful stories of craft in the service of art, there is much that needs to be understood and appreciated about it.

(1) Cohen, Steven, ed., “Kashmir Shawls: The Tapi Collection”, The Shoestring Publisher, Mumbai, 2012
(2) Moorcroft, William, and George Trebeck, “Travels in the Himalayan Provinces of Hindustan and the Panjab from 1819 to 1825”, (H. H. Wilson, ed., London, 1841) Oxford University Press, Karachi, 1979
(3) Beardsley, Grace and Carla Sinopoli, “Wrapped in Beauty: The Koelz Collection of Kashmir Shawls”, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, 2005
(4) Watson, J. Forbes and John William Kaye, eds., “The People of India….”, India Museum, London 1868-1875; note by PH: this weight is incredibly heavy – even my full-size, plain long shawl of coarse sheep’s wool from Pakistan is only a couple of pounds – 1125 gm. / (1.4 x 2.6 = 3.64 sq.m.) = 309 gpsm
(5) Moorcroft, op. cit., vol. 2, p.168 ff.
(6) Leitner, “An Account of Shawl Weaving…from Linguistic Fragments Discovered in 1870, 1872, and 1879”, Lahore, 1882
(7) Rizvi, Janet, “Woven Masterpieces of Sikh Heritage”, Marg, Vol. 63, No. 2, December 2011; Ames, Frank, “Woven Masterpieces of Sikh Heritage”, Antique Collecters’ Club, Woodbridge UK, 2010
(8) Rizvi, Janet, “Kashmir Shawls: The Tapi Collection”, Marg, Vol. 64, No. 4, June 2013
(9) Pauly, Sarah Buie, “The Kashmir Shawl”, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, 1975

Toy Piano Counterbalance Loom 3 – How well does it play?

•16/04/2016 • Leave a Comment

I had two sorts of problems using the toy piano loom for the first time, one simply due to the selection of inappropriately-sized threads, the other suggesting a modification of the loom itself.  ready to thread heddlesIn spite of its overall small size, It was not difficult threading the heddles with a fine crochet hook – the knots forming the heddle eyes tended to hold the eyes open.  As suspected, the pipe clamps holding the front and back rollers need some running assistance to improve their grip, or else a complete redesign.  The open-sided rollers allow the selvedge warps to slide off the hump to become too tight or too loose, depending on when the slippage occurs.  When weaving got under way, I found I badly needed an apron area below the fell line to park my accumulating kani/bobbins between uses – I improvised one out of cardboard.

loom dressed
I was disappointed to find that the warp I wanted to use was too heavy.  It was a British-spun tussah silk single, the finest thread in my store of mostly thick tapestry yarns.  It would have been more traditional, and more size-appropriate to use some of the same hand-spun pashmina two-ply that I had for the weft, but I thought it wouldn’t be nearly as strong, or as easy to distinguish the raised pairs (nals) of warps I needed to count for my tapestry imagery.  I wanted 400 warp ends – 100 nals or pixels of my design – in the available width of my loom, about 5 inches at 80 ends per inch (a kani-shawl standard) and the full width of the pattern-repeat I wanted to use.  I found that my initial heading was weaving up at a steep 40 picks per inch.  By removing 10 groups of 4 threads across the width, I reduced the warp to 90 nals, about 72 ends per inch, but found the heading still weaving up at less than 50 picks per inch.  I was reluctant to remove more warps in search of a balanced weave, because too much of the pattern-repeat would be missing.  As the weaving proceeded I had to look out for warps sticking to each other, but with the extra slack of tapestry wefts I was able to weave at about 50 picks per inch.
jig for tying string heddles The second problem was one built into the loom: I had tied the string heddles symmetrically – the eyes midway between the supporting bars – without considering where they would sit in relation to the passage of the warps from back to front beam.  It turned out the warps were deflected downward slightly.  One disadvantage was that the side panels of the loom blocked more than necessary a clear view or access to the shed opening.  Another was that because of the interaction of the counterbalance harness, warps on one shaft would become more slack when others were raised.  My anticipated fix for this is that the vertical arms of the counterbalance harness can be shortened 1/4 inch, or the point where it attaches to the side panel can be raised the same amount.  Both methods would have the effect of raising the whole harness assembly a tolerable amount, without disturbing other features.

working side
Nevertheless, it was possible to proceed with my woven sample, with extra care but no backtracking or significant lost time compared with the inherently slow pace of twill-tapestry.  In a month of steady half-days of weaving, I completed 160 talim lines, 320 picks on 360 warp ends.

sample closeup

The finished sample flattened out in width off the loom, and is approximately balanced-weave (width 5 3/4 inches = 63 e.p.i.; length 5 1/4 inches = 61 p.p.i.).  Close inspection showed that seeming irregularities in the weave structure I had seen in photos of antique fabrics could just be due to differences and unevenness in handspun wefts.  The resulting sample was useful to show, and received more recognition than I expected, simply for its fine threads.  I thought it was a barely workmanlike effort, but showed improvement as the weaving advanced.  It provides a demonstration of the fluid, delicate line that can be achieved with two-picks-per-talim-line (2PPTL), and the beginning of a useful field-repeat pattern.  This same design, which is from an old traditional talim, is now being used for a sample woven at the School of Designs, Srinagar, to try to prove the merits of returning to 2PPTL practice.
The loom worked, but I think sheer portability is its only advantage – more elbow room and better working conditions would be worth more in any situation except where I want to be able to demonstrate the actual weaving process on location.

Poker-playing in Srinagar

•03/04/2016 • 1 Comment

When I left the School of Designs to get a ride from Jehangir Chowk to the airport, I’d been warned a couple of times that autorickshaws were not allowed on the airport property, leaving me about 1 1/2 km. short of the terminal.  I tried to get acknowledgement on this point with the drivers who were interested in me – seemingly nobody took notice.  But it was rickshaws that was offering to take me, it was a nice day, I was in plenty of time, and no authorized “sumo”/minibus seemed at first glance available.  I have felt self-conscious before, hiring a 6 – 9 passenger vehicle for my sole use (as in the pre-paid taxis from the airport), so I took the autorickshaw.  The agreed fare was Rs.250.  My driver threaded his way steadily through the heavily-trafficked and the hidden by-ways.  It was already the right choice.
As we neared the airport, I began to wonder why my driver was trying to get the attention of a sumo driver.  Finally he succeeded, and I realized it was to take me the “last mile”.  I paid my driver his Rs.250 in large notes, and it developed there was some momentary issue about “change”.  On reflection, I suppose he had tried to negotiate some portion of Rs.50  with the sumo driver.  The driver of the empty sumo, probably on his way to position himself for a pickup, shepherded me helpfully through the airport entry checkpoints and baggage screening, to reach the terminal drop-off.  In response to “As you like,” always a clever and charming deflection, I was happy to give him Rs.100, for a total of Rs.350, instead of the sumo fare of Rs.550.  When did I think it might have been less than Rs.50?  When did he think it would probably be more?  He, at least, was right.  Did he get the Rs.50 note earlier?  I don’t think so…he seemed too easy-going for that.
It was a case where we all knew there was a problem, my autorickshaw driver couldn’t explain to me what the worked-out solution was, and for all the reasons previously stated, I trusted that there was one, that he wasn’t just going to drop me off at the airport gate with a show of helplessness, or I-thought-you-knew-about-it.  They shone, and I was blessed.

Toy Piano Counterbalance Loom 2: Construction

•10/12/2015 • 2 Comments

side panel draft
The transition from a two-dimensional model to a three-dimensional prototype for a working loom is essentially simple.  Most of the provisions for the mechanism are visible in the drawing of the side panels: the tracks for the up-and-down movement of the shafts, the sockets for the front and back rollers, slots to drop in the front and back beams.  The two panels were machined from thicker pieces of hardwood using a hand-held router, a bandsaw, and a drill-press, and various homemade jigs to guide the work.  The dovetail joints at the corners were arranged to hold the two sides of the frame rigidly parallel.

1. side panels

1. side panels

2. frame elevation view

2. frame elevation view

3. frame assembled

3. frame assembled

4. frame bottom view

4. frame bottom view

5. roller clamp holder

5. roller clamp holder


























At one end of each roller is a pipe clamp held in an elaborate wood bracket glued to the side panel, to grip the roller tightly in any position.  At the other end of the roller is a series of holes for inserting a lever to advance and tension the warp threads.  The pipe-clamp installation grew to seem overly delicate and fussy as construction proceeded – it may require improvement.

6. shaft components

6. shaft components

7. frame and harness assembly

7. frame and harness assembly

8. harness assembly in place

8. harness assembly in place

9. harness assembly closeup

9. harness assembly closeup

11. harness action

11. harness action

10. harness assembly bottom view

10. harness assembly bottom view











The installation of the shafts and their connecting mechanism needed careful observation and trimming to ensure smooth movement in their tracks.  The features of the design and construction are evident in these few photographs – more photos are available on request.  Note there is no provision for a reed and beater – because the warp will be only about 5 inches in width, beating-up the weaving will be done with a hand-held comb.

12. loom complete

12. loom complete

13. loom bottom view

13. loom bottom view





































My next chore will be to tie about 400 very small string heddles.  To transfer them to the shafts, the entire harness assembly can be lifted out of the frame, and one group of shaft sides pulled off the connecting dowels.

Toy Piano Counterbalance Loom 1: It Works in Theory

•28/11/2015 • Leave a Comment

School of Designs 2012

traditional counterbalance loom

Early in my study of Kashmir shawl weaving, I built a small portable loom to weave samples of the shawl motifs I reconstructed, and to demonstrate the twill-tapestry weaving process.  I was fortunate to be able to get these results using rigid heddles and a wide colour range of appropriately-sized tapestry yarns I already possessed.  But I noticed that some weavers looking at the loom could not accept that the 2/2 twill weave-structure I could obtain using only 3 rigid heddles (raised or lowered as needed in relation to a 4th static set of warp threads), was the same as the traditional weave-structure they obtained using a 4-shaft counterbalance loom.  Another distraction was the relatively coarse fabric I produced, 20 e.p.i., compared with their extremely fine threads traditionally used at 80 e.p.i.
I resolved that an improved loom for demonstration purposes had to be more recognizeably the same as the traditional loom, and that heddles sized for finer threads would allow me to re-create more extensive designs with scale and texture more like the original.
I set about trying to imagine how to incorporate in a portable loom, the appearance and mechanical advantages of a counterbalance harness that usually takes the form of a structure of cords and rollers or pulleys from which the shafts are suspended. Like any table-top loom where the treadling is accomplished with fingers instead of feet, it was easy enough to raise two shafts and lower the other two to obtain a shed-opening without any interconnecting mechanism.  As each 2 shafts are lowered by treadling, to have the alternate shafts rise mechanically would be more reassuring and logical for the weaver, more recognizeable and convincing for the observer.
sample loom notes p1Initially I replaced the system of overhead cords and rollers with an arrangement of levers and pivots located under the shafts, but then wrestled with the objection that it would add too much to the height and wasted empty space within my portable loom.  The breakthrough idea was that the arrangement of levers could occupy a little space within the sides of the shafts and pull up, rather than push up, the rising shafts as the lowering shafts are pushed down.34 up





I built a two-dimensional model representing a view of one side of the loom from within the frame of the shafts.  I found that it moved as predicted with no unexpected friction or binding, and working with the model allowed me to observe the limiting factors of its geometry and make adjustments to try to obtain the biggest consistent shed-openings.  Work is proceeding on a three-dimensional prototype before I can really assess the advantage of having this mechanism installed on both sides of the loom, and whether the transverse portions of the shafts will interfere with it.

2-2 twill treadling