Chashm-i-bulbul and kani weaving samples

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.

~ by Peter Harris on 22/12/2020.

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