FIBRE ARTS - WARP AND WEFT
Weaving is the natural extension of basketry and like ceramics is age old. It is a process of interlacing two or more series of flexible materials, at right angles, of which the across is called weft and the down is called warp. Wool, cotton, flax, hemp etc. can be woven along with metals such as spun threads of gold and silver.
The complexity of woven patterns is achieved by manipulating the number of warps and wefts. Weaving patterns are traditionally worked out on paper, but today can be designed with computers. Warps and wefts are laid out on a 'loom'. The warp is raised or lowered singly, or in groups, between which the weft is passed then pressed down into place.
Early looms were simple structures called 'warp-weight'. Warps were hung from an upper bar and weighted at the bottom and the weaving process was downwards.
WEAVING IN AUSTRALIA
The first large scale weaving in Australia was practised at the Womens' Prison, Parramatta where female convicts manufactured rough woollen blankets. The prison was established to accommodate female convicts who had misconducted themselves in the colony and became known as 'The Factory'.
The enterprise was designed to defray the cost of clothing the convicts in New South Wales and in Van Diemen's Land and was under the official management of the Reverend Samuel Marsden, as Chaplain and as Magistrate. The women were employed in sorting, spinning and carding the wool for the male workers who manned the looms.
In 1803, there were three manual looms in production then an additional three looms were installed, four looms for flax and two for wool, under the hand of master weaver, George Mealmaker.
THE AUSTRALIAN WEAVING INDUSTRY
Over the next 150 years the Australian weaving industry grew, stimulated by the first and second world wars and employing many thousands of people. But in the 1960's and 70's imports steadily increased so that Australia's ability to compete was considerably undermined. In the 1970's the public's interest in handweaving underwent a revival and many weaving and textile courses were introduced. However by the 90's these had all but disappeared.
Although there are artisans making cloth on hand looms in home studios or small weaving businesses, who keep alive the skills and traditions of earlier weavers, today the only way to learn the craft is with Guilds or by private tuition.
Today, with modern computerised and dobby looms available, weaving has the potential to become more sophisticated, but even so it is still hard for the 21st century handweaver to match the beautiful fabrics and woven textures of the past.
A primitive and almost universal craft of early man, basketmaking has survived as one of the few crafts which cannot be mechanised. Archaeological examples of the wealth of materials woven as basketry roofs, mats, containers, corn granary linings and votive offerings show the craft's age-old usefulness as a means of shelter, transportation, storage, and the satisfaction of spiritual and aesthetic needs.
Coiled basketry relies on the technique of sewing, where material is formed into a spiral which is then bound together by stitches to anchor the coils. The manipulation of coils and stitching will produce distinctive patterning.
Basketry, like most handcrafts, underwent a decline in the beginning of last century. Cheaper containers made of wood, cardboard, metal and later plastics, provided a quick and easy substitute for labour intensive, durable, aesthetically pleasing basketry as everyday containers.