I take a lot of photos of buildings. I’ve been a weaver for 12 years now, and architecture has been a constant source of inspiration over the years, yet I rarely pause to consider why I’m so drawn to large-scale structures. Over the last few weeks I’ve been consciously trying to identify what I love about buildings and why I always reference them in my work, and the answer I’ve arrived at is that I see a natural relationship between the form of a building and the form of a woven textile. Call me crazy, but I’ve come to see such a clear link between the two that I feel embarrassed for not recognising it before.
I love the uniformity of architecture, but also how the natural element of sunlight provides subtle variations, using shadow and light to make sure no two pattern blocks are quite the same. (Image credit: Emma Wood)
These links between architecture and weaving are apparent starting right from the very framework. Neither is a field that welcomes improvisation; both require careful and considered planning. The same way a building needs to start blueprints and a constructed frame, weaving begins with a threading plan and a warp. It is around these frames that the other materials and elements are woven and bound, following a pattern or design, and allowing you to watch a three-dimensional object grow before you. Weaving has never felt flat to me (no matter how fine the fibre) and when working with complex or multi-layered structures I can feel it echoing the depths of a building: protruding balconies, hidden apartments within, external textured surfaces.
Even in something as simple as windows I feel echoes of textiles (Image source: Emma Wood)
I’ve always said that weaving is a craft for planners. Instead of simply picking up your shuttle and starting, the best weaving requires you to start by knowing what you want the end result to be. From there you can break down the patterns, then to each pattern you can assign a structure, then you can draw up a lifting plan, and then calculate your threading plan before finally winding your warp. Very little about weaving is impulsive, and I find a close correlation here with architecture. Buildings are never impulsive. They are planned, they are considered, and they stand confidently and decisively in their space. I’m drawn to this concrete confidence, and to these results of careful planning.
The boldness in the sheer scale of some buildings can give me goosebumps (Image source: Emma Wood)
Then there’s also the sheer scale of architecture: the large repeat patterns formed by windows, the oversized and confident block colour palettes, and the contrast of an angular skyline against a cloudy grey sky. With its wide avenues, low-set skyline and abundance of post-war modernist architecture, Berlin continues to be an inspirational jackpot. I’m coming up to my seventh year of living in Berlin, and I’m still finding new buildings that take my breath away.
Large colour blocks, grey skies, multiple layers. This cluster of apartment buildings in Neukölln is an inspirational jackpot (Image source: Emma Wood)
One of the challenges I continue to face in my work is how to reconcile my love of super-scale architectural shapes and patterns with the relatively small repeat limitations of my loom. I would love to capture through weaving the feeling I experience when standing in front of one of these inspirational buildings. It’s something that I’ve tried every now and then over the years, but have never succeeded at. Although Jacquard weaving my cloth over the last few years has allowed me to explore larger repeats and bolder shapes, it never feels like enough. What can I say, I’m greedy for scale.
No matter how large the scale of the inspiration, I always feel constricted by the small scale of my end products. Something gets lost in translation during the design process, and I don't know how to resolve it (Image source: Marcus Nyberg)
Over the last few months I’ve been developing my next collection, and trying to find ways to continue to explore scale and pattern size within my work, and to express this notion of architecture. There’s also another question that arises, which is one of practicality: how can I convey the boldness of scale that I’m so drawn to, whilst still working within the limitations of relatively small products, like cushions and blankets?
With the next collection, I'm dreaming bigger and bolder than I ever have before, and am hoping not to lose this feeling along the way (Image source: Emma Wood)
I have no clue what the answer is, but I also feel okay with this. One of the great joys of working for myself is having total freedom of creative development and growth. I don’t know what the future of my work will look like, but as I find the magnetic pull towards bigger and bolder work intensifying, I’m quite excited to see what the future will look like.