Category Archives: Weaving

Square is Blue

Or I thought I knew Bauhaus but I didn’t know Jack

Or Travels with my design connoisseur friend Kevin and a hangover.

The Bauhaus Archiv in Berlin is housed in a small building of unexpected charm. I’d anticipated something stern, but just look at this:

The museum was designed in the 1960’s by Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement, and posthumously constructed between 1976 and ’79 proving controversial even within the Bauhaus group, with Max Bill calling it “a screwed-up old man’s design”.

It is idiosyncratic. It’s a small museum, capable of displaying only a third of the archive at any time. Despite its modest scale however it seems pretty comprehensive, covering chairs and lighting, larger pieces of furniture, architectural models, ceramics and (having done no advance reading about Bauhaus before I visited I was also surprised to discover) a lot of carpets and tapestry.

In his 1919 Bauhaus Manifesto Gropius stated, “There is no essential difference between the artist and the artisan.” The tension between art, craft and the machine-made is evident in the Museum’s juxtaposition of tubular steel furniture and wicker (wicker!), horsehair or hand-woven textiles.

The official Bauhaus website (A collaboration between Berlin, Weimar and Dessau)  says “The outcome of Gropius’ approach was not established from the start but was to be discovered in the spirit of research and experimentation, which he called “fundamental research” applied to all the disciplines and their products, from the high-rise to the tea infuser.”  In other words the Bauhaus was as much an ongoing debate as an ideology.

I think this is why the museum is quite text-heavy, each section having what looked like a lengthy written introduction. To be honest I barely skimmed the writings although Wassily Kandinsky’s quote “Square is Red” did jump out. (Kevin and I stood in front of this for a few moments going “Uhhh…”)

In the visitors book on the way out we noticed someone had written “Personally, I always felt Square is Blue”

Kevin’s Model B3 chair – also known as the Wassily chair, after Wassily Kandinsky – designed by Marcel Breuer.

Photos 1,3 & 4 by Oliver Lins, Olex,where you’ll find lots of beautiful photography, and more about Bauhaus

Photo 2 from Bauhaus Archiv Berlin

Photos 5 &6  show two designs by Anni Albers from What I Do

Photo 7 shows Mies Van Der Rohe’s Cane Chair from here

and Photo 8 came from here


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Filed under Bauhaus, Design, Museum, Weaving

>Clare Island


Hipstamatic picture of the road to Ballytoughey

Hipstamatic picture of the road to Ballytoughey

Clare Island is a small island off the west coast of County Mayo, Ireland. It was once the home of pirate queen Grace O’Malley and has a raggedy, wild beauty.

Beth Moran has been living here for about twenty years, and running Ballytoughey Loom for fifteen. Every Summer she runs workshops in natural dyes, spinning and weaving. Depending on the time that you’re there she might bring you out foraging for lichens to use as dyes, but the week I was there we used onion skins. The range of colours you can get is extraordinary.

The first dye bath gives a rusty brown colour, then the second gives my favourite; a yellow the colour of gorse bushes. An aluminium mordant fixes the colour, the addition of iron produces a rich moss green.

Skeins of wool drying in the sun

Skeins of wool drying in the sun

While the dye pots were bubbling away we were spinning more wool.  Although some spinners and weavers do, Beth doesn’t wash the wool before spinning. The lanolin in the wool makes it easier to handle.

She has two spinning wheels, one a traditional Irish one and the other from Scandinavia. Despite the Irish wheel’s fairytale look, I unpatriotically preferred the Scandinavian one. There wasn’t the same foot pedal ‘backwash’ and it was quieter.

Both require you to do the equivalent of patting your head and rubbing your belly simultaneously. You control the pace and direction of the wheel with your foot, and feed in the wool by hand. Initially it’s hard to get a rhythm going but as with so many handcrafts once you do it’s a peaceful, meditative pleasure.

irish Spinning Wheel

Irish Spinning Wheel


Scandinavian Spinning Wheel

Scandinavian Spinning Wheel

Setting up the loom with silk though was neither meditative nor pleasant. It seemed to combine mental arithmetic with repeated needle threading, and having been at an Island session the night before I was ill-equipped for either. In fact it gave me a real appreciation for child labour and I vowed I’d never deprive a five year old of a job again.

Luckily there’s a beautiful cove nearby and swimming to look forward to at the end of the day.

Beth swimming in the Cove

Beth swimming in the Cove

Fiddly as silk is to work with, I’m just grateful I didn’t use linen. Once silk is on the loom weaving it is fine but linen threads feel like tiny blades, and need spritzing with water to prevent stretching and breakage. (Yet another reason why linen – and the weavers thereof – commands my respect)

By my last day in Ballytoughey Loom I had seven eighths of a silk scarf  (and one-eighth fringing) which my husband has very loyally worn at least twice. For weeks afterwards I kept waking up in the morning with my fingers in my hair, having dreamt about the seaweed in the cove, or about  skeins of silk slipping through my hands; having dreamt about going back to Clare Island.

>Clare Island

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Filed under Linen, Natural Dyes, Silk, Spinning, Weaving, Wool