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11 May 2022

Craft Secrets - Discover how we use yarn winding to design

London Craft Week began on Monday, bringing global craft to the capital for the 8th year. Featuring both established and emerging talents, brands, designers and makers, it is a week to discover, celebrate and learn more about amazing craft practices. Discover brilliant demonstrations, fascinating behind-the-scenes tours and hands-on classes where visitors can try making for themselves. There is a full programme of events on the LCW website, including digital events you can access from wherever you are.
To tie in with London Craft Week, we wanted to share part of our process that is absolutely essential to the way we design - and it's so easy to pick up, that we hope you'll give it a try too! Each collection we design begins with inspiration (often a series of paintings) and colour exploration using yarn windings.

The design team will explain this way of working and share techniques and tips so you can get started yourself... so let's meet them!

Below from left to right: Cara, Harriet, Emma and Ingrid.

Harriet and Emma were first taught the art of winding yarn around a piece of card whilst studying at Central St Martins. "The idea that a thread could be used as yet another ‘tool’ was liberating. You could abstractly draw or paint albeit using wool, silk, cotton or any of the yarns available" remembers Harriet.

Emma also views the yarn in practical terms, "It is so much more precise than painting or drawing and the colours glow because they are 3D physical representations, as opposed to flat colour. Plus it is easy to experiment, as sections can be unwound or cut off the card if one wants to change the composition."

Colour is absolutely central to our work, and we find the infinite combinations fascinating. Colours can be perceived so differently depending on the other tones surrounding them, the weight or density of the lines used, how they are blended and with which other colours. Each slight change makes a big difference overall: we have spent the last 30 years experimenting and creating and we haven't exhausted all the possibilities!

Designer Cara explains, "Windings are a great tool to look at colour combinations and proportions - the position of the colour and which other colours it is next to can drastically change the overall look and massively affect the colours around it. Even if you are limited to a few colours, you can still get a huge variety in tones by mixing them together in stripes."

You can clearly see how the windings inform the finished woven design when they are displayed side by side. In these photos, the weft is a direct translation of the winding and it's always amazing to see the colours translated into a woven stripe.

Windings also work well for our double-sided scarves which are ‘weft faced’: the weft (yarns that go right to left across the loom when weaving) is all visible on one side and the warp (the yarns that go vertically on the loom) is shown on the other. We can design these entirely on windings and not really need to weave a sample!

All our windings are kept as they provide a valuable resource and document the process of each collection over the years. They are also a work of art in their own right - we've been asked many times if ours are for sale!

The good news is they are really easy to do yourself, anyone can do them (get the children involved too) and you don't need fancy equipment or materials.

You will need:
Yarn, wool, embroidery thread
Stiff card to wrap around
(this can be any size you wish, but don't go too big or too small to start with!
We use anything from 5 x 20cm to 10 x 60cm)
Sticky tape - on a dispenser if possible
A picture/photo/painting for inspiration
(try to find an image with a wide variety of colours and tones to create lots of depth and interest)
A comfy place to sit!

Ingrid's top tip is to carefully study your inspiration piece before you start. "I like to pin them up and just really look for a while. What elements of the painting do you really love and how can you emulate that? Notice the palette used, how the colours work together and how much of each shade there is overall. This will help you to abstract and distill those elements into stripes."

When you are ready to begin, tape the end of the first yarn in place on the back of the card. Then slowly and methodically wrap the yarn round and round the card until you have created the first block of colour or stripe.

To change colours: cut the yarn you have been winding with and tape it on the reverse of the card, then tape your new colour in place and carry on. If you want to make mini stripes, you can wind on a colour leaving tiny gaps then add the second colour in the gaps. Once you have wound an area, use can shift yarns around slightly to even the spread or close-up any unwanted gaps.
The joy of winding is that it really can be as simple or as complex as you want to make it. The more you do, the more you will learn about how colours work together and each one will inform subsequent ones. A word of warning though... they can be addictive to make!

We would love to know if you do try some yarn windings of your own - you can contact us in the usual ways and share photos of your work. We have also been wondering if this would make a good workshop to add to our programme of craft evenings? Please let us know if you think you'd like to come and learn more about this fascinating technique from our designers in our inspirational studio space and we can start to make plans if there is interest.
Designing Video