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Steel Yarn Macrogauze - part 2

by Peter Collingwood 1922-2008

14 February
Correspondent from Japanese newspaper came plus weaver who took photos. Quite a long interview, so could hardly begin work until about 3 pm but managed to weave in last four rods of this second strip. Only problem was having to mend two threads broken during the turning on stage; knots are so difficult as the yarn has a will of its own, a bit like nylon. Shorter warp was exactly correct in length.

Taped four warp sticks together so that they would stay equidistant when rolled on with hanging. That plus paper seems to be working OK.

My feelings about the yarn come to the surface when I mistakenly tell the visitors that its colouring was the result of "hate treatment".

15 February
Cut off the second strip; no scissors really want to cut across 576 steel threads even if rewarded afterwards with a sharpening.

Save all the warp ends and begin to make third warp, using mainly the golden brown colour. This causes the by now routine swearings as threads catch on the flanges. Wind a cone of dark colour; find that dropping it is the worst possible thing to do as it jars the yarn and some coils come off the top, so have to rewind the whole thing.

In threading, the wire loop finally breaks so a dulcimer string is sacrificed to replace it. As I warp and thread, I begin to feel like a convict counting days to his release. I work out that the total number of threads is 5184 and by the end of the day I reach number 1152, with the third strip not yet fully warped.

Am beginning to tolerate the face mask, except for the itchiness of nose it stimulates. Reminds me strongly of operating and being unable to scratch my nose with sterilised gloves; even sometimes asking a nurse to give it a rub.

16 February
Warp and thread last 10 bobbins for third strip. Start weaving it and put in three rods. This strip uses mainly the golden brown steel yarn, but mixed with a little of the dark and a few threads of the bright steel yarn. No problems but the unavoidable slowness of work becomes irritating.

17 February
I manage to weave in 6 rods today, more or less half a complete hanging. One aspect of the work which always annoys me is the constant moving about of the weights. I take them off the bobbins in one position; I then move the warp on and the weights have to be shuffled and rolled across the floor for hanging on the bobbins in their new position. I remember we have an old children's toy, a circular platform surrounded with an old car tire. It can be pushed around because it has four small wheels underneath. So I try loading weights onto this and shoving it around; I think it will save time.

Fax from Arai; has been in India and returned early because of illness. Says he is glad all problems solved. No mention of my ordering extra yarn which I had been imagining was keeping him silent.

18 February
I finish the third strip. No scissors are happy cutting all those threads at the end but the large Chinese ones are the best. Even they need occasional attention from a diamond-embedded sharpener.

Save warp ends. Unpack second parcel from Japan. Wind onto cones the remains of the dark colour yarn from first parcel. Cones do seem to be the best solution despite their drawbacks. Now looks as if the yarn in both parcels will be about sufficient.

Activator for glue runs out just as this strip is finished; but cheerful Phil Treby kindly delivers three more cans of the stuff to the door.

19 February
Because of going to Barbican to see Cooper/Rie exhibition not much work done.

20 February
Warp making and threading all day. Wind more cones; find there is an optimum size to make them; if they are made larger the yarn just slides down in coils round the base of the cone, a circumstance as oath-provoking as the yarn snagging on sides of bobbins. Now looks as if I may have a whole bobbin left over of each colour.

21 -23 February
Interruptions slowing things up. On 22nd Nimori Kawazaki and Chiaki, a friendly interpreter, came , being met at Stanstead by J and E. Learnt quite a lot about the Cultural Centre from him. He came to it and found there was no budget for art works, so he looked through all the estimates of all departments involved and managed to `liberate' several million yen for this purpose. He is really the artistic director, not Mr Arai. But being a textile city they wanted to get the `world's best textile artists' (I just report what he said) to provide these works and decided on Sheila Hicks, myself and Arai.

Arai has a position as adviser to Metalpha on the steel yarn. Nimori kept on repeating that my macrogauze is the very first big art work to employ it. It puts a heavy responsibility on me to make something to justify their choice. In Kiryu they have also encountered this sliding effect of steel cloth when warp turned is on...Their simple solution was to have both S- and Z-twist two-ply prepared and to use them end and end in the warp! (Later; learnt this was not so) Arai is now using the much finer yarn in clothing samples, lucky man.

The cost of the yarn is 200 per kilo which comes to about $150 per pound, tho' Nimori does think the cost will come down. He suggests a good way of attaching the strips to the steel bar with bolts going between the starting rods every 10 cms. Also if I cannot test-hang it here, he is sure I could use the stage of the Centre's own theatre.

Have a meal at the White Hart inn with them and J, E and Nippa. Tried unsuccessfully to put him off eating his black pudding, saying it was made from human transfusion blood past its use-by date. He photographs everything, even the black pudding, and uses a super-small video camera until battery runs out.

By end of 23rd have a quarter of strip 4 left to do.

24 February
Finished strip 4 and decide to knot the final end before I pull it off loom, as this is what Nimori says the Japanese expect me to do. Very hard to make a neat overhand knot with 9 steel threads because it will not slide up close to edge of weaving as linen does and it is only possible to keep it small and tight by putting spot of cyanoacrylate on it before final tightening (as I do with unibond when weaving with linen). But the glue means the tail can be safely cut very short.

25 February
Get rid of warp ends, finding I can with a little trouble save some double-length pieces. Working fairly hard manage to warp and thread the 576 ends for strip 5; this being the central one it feels like a watershed. Send a fax about our decisions to Mr Yamazaki unfortunately miscalling him Kamazaki; no wonder spell check wanted me to substitute kamakazi! Bought a new and better face-mask, which I can tolerate.

26 to 28 February
Weave the fifth strip, knot its ends and take out half of the old warp ends. So a strip in four days is quite possible.

Curving of long rods as they reach cloth beam is still an unsolved mystery; try putting in some extra warp sticks in the form of aluminium strips from old Venetian blind. Notice that the metal roller is not turning easily, must do something about it.

1 March
Start 6th strip which is a light coloured one, using the "natural" steel yarn. Strengthen the roller brackets. Only make half the warp and thread it. Find that an incipient cold seems to have been cured by putting drops of an anti-congestant on my face mask; so it is being continually treated as I breathe.

2 - 5 MARCH
Weave strip 6 and finish its fringes at both ends. Another sneezing `cold' and cough, which I presume is due to the steel fibre dust. So force myself to wear the mask almost all the time.

6 - 9 MARCH
Weave strip 7. As I beat the initial linen heading picks, the back cross bar comes free from the two G clamps and 32 bobbins plus their warps and weights land in a horrible muddle on the floor. Looks inextricable; but thanks to the non-stretchablity and strength of the steel yarn, it is not effected by this disaster and is fine once I resurrect it.

At one point at the rod cutting table, find I am just about to hacksaw my way through the wooden measuring ruler, instead of the rod. This repetition is obviously having its effect on my concentration.

10 MARCH onwards
Last two strips woven without much trouble. At one point a drop of cyanoacrylate fell onto the under layer of threads. These became fused into a solid mass of parallel steel yarns. I applied the release agent (intended for first aid with human disasters) and with difficulty prised them apart but they were then permanently tacky and looked hairy and non-shiny. So I had to replace them completely. Luckily it was near the end of strip 8 and so was fairly easy to do.

Jason took photos during the last strip using his big floodlights and correcting filter. But actually the ones taken without filter looked better. Took some shots myself of the very last pick with E's camera. This was on 17th March, so it has taken 45 days to make. Of course that was just the weaving.

For many hours in following days, I knotted the ends, putting a spot of glue to keep the overhand knots from slipping. Also rolling up properly with paper. Seeing a strip laid out on floor really showed it's impressive size, and also, I think, showed no inequalities of tension.

Also had to prepare 9 large tubes for the eventual packing off to Japan. This meant elongating some tubes with added sections, attached with strips of sheeting held in place with PVA glue. This makes each hanging almost exactly 10 kilos when packed.

Also had to cut 72 stretch rods and fork them at one end, ready for the test-hanging in Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich.

The amounts of unused steel yarn are 4 lbs dark, _ lb medium and 10 lbs light. I can understand why there is such a small amount of the medium, because it was mixed with both the dark and light. And I think the dark is less than the light because of initial mistakes with it. But its a shame the golden medium one is almost finished.

25 March
Tied equal-sized string loops to top rods of all the strips; to make fixing to bar at theatre easier. Using a Workmate bench, found a way of making an extendible rod-measurer. This should ensure accuracy when cutting final rods to exact length of telescopic ones.

Rolled all strips up on full length paper; changed numbering of strips to more logical sequence.

26 March onwards
Took everything to Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich. When got there discovered that "everything" did not include the special vice I use for rod cutting. Searched in town for suitable replacement, but could only find a hopeless small one. So Jason went all the way back to Nayland to fetch mine. Meanwhile I rang Elizabeth asking her to look for mine and have it ready for Jason.

Drank coffee and thought about the job ahead. Looked carefully at the 8 metre long pole (an aluminium scaffolding pole with prolongations bolted on at each end) that the theatre had prepared for me. It was hauled up by three hemp ropes which went together to one belaying pin on a gallery above. So little chance of pulling them individually. Also the pole was really too flexible; it would have been nearly impossible to keep it horizontal and parallel to the floor, as it was gradually raised.

So when Jason returned told him this and he agreed it would be a waste of time to try and work with these disadvantages against us. Told Ian McMillan, the stage manager, and paid him about half what we had agreed for the whole operation; viz. 100. So packed everything back into car and went back to Nayland.

Wrote to Minori Yammazaki about this, suggesting ways of doing it all in Japan, but before I faxed this decided that we could at least make the rods for the upper half of the hanging here in workshop.

So each strip in turn was suspended from the 2 angle brackets on my gallery rail with a tape measure on either side. Then the two telescopic stretch rods were put in the top section, adjusted so that the reading on tape was the same at both sides - a really fiddly business as altering one side immediately altered the other- and the final rods cut to match these lengths. With these in place, the operation was repeated for second section down. Not possible to work on lower half of hanging as I have not the height in workshop. Rolled each strip up roughly when this was done, knowing this was not the final roll-up.

Eight strips were done like this using the old telescopic rods, which I realised would look very amateurish if used in Japan. So worked out simple metal type consisting of a brass tube (nicked from the nearly completed Shell Building when delivering a hanging there about 40 years ago!) with a threaded rod slid in both ends, their position adjustable with a nut and butterfly. Each threaded rod (called studding) had a forked end. Two of these took at least a day and a bit to make and worked perfectly. Cannot imagine why I have not thought of this idea before.

Over next few days, laid out each strip on living room floor and went over it carefully, looking for places were the weft was sagging a bit below a woven-in rod. Combed it back and dabbed with cyanoacrylate. I can see that it might have been better to have looped last weft at each rod around all the picks in a sort of blanket stitch and so controlled this sagging. Wound each strip tightly in its paper, someone pulling at other end. This is the final roll-up.

Began to cut more rods to be used for lower half of strips in Japan, each with a fork at one end only.

Final packing and labelling and invoice writing took many days ( I write this on 12th April, when it is at last finished). Used many metres of packing tape of various types, Stuck a Description of Contents in plastic envelope on each tube.

They will be picked up on Monday 14th April and should take 5 days to reach Japan and so be there when we arrive on 26th.

28th April In Japan
In the Centre, Kiryu, find only one bracket to support the top bar is in position. Obvious difficulties with getting the 5 brackets level as the glass ceiling slopes above, so all measurements have to be made from the floor upwards.

The work is done by Mr Ohno, a younger man sculptor and Kaori, a girl sculptor. They use two amazing telescopic lifts to hoist themselves up and down. There is a caged-in platform at the top for the passenger. This rises vertically from a base which has wheels plus 4 spread out feet. Worked from a single electricity cable; called UPRIGHT and made in USA. If both needed for a job have to be used alternately as there is not enough power to work them both at once. I have been provided with a table to which a metal vice was attached with much drilling and hammering and bashing. All the 9 cylindrical parcels which I last saw in Nayland are there. By midday the top bar was fixed; it was in two halves which met at the central bracket and with a lot of manoeuvring the bolts were put in and tightened.

While this was happening, each strip was unrolled and bolts pushed through the top edge (between the two woven-in rods) at the correct 10 cm intervals..using an unused bit of top bar as a guide. This made it much easier for Ohno eventually to fix the strip to the bar. Also Minori Yamazaki attached little black plastic pieces to the rods which might rub against the rough concrete wall, "in an earthquake" as he said in a matter of fact way.

29th April
By end of this day the first strip, the left-hand one, was at last in position. The stretch rods Jason and I had measured in Nayland (for the top two repeats) were inserted and thank goodness it all worked. Absolute dead silence from all present as these were put in, except for the clicking of cameras and sound of Minori running around with his Sony VCR. Always a little gathering of onlookers, even though the Centre is not officially open yet. Then the telescopic rods were carefully adjusted by Ohno and handed to me so I could cut the stretch rods for the lower two repeats. Being the lightest strip it did not show much against the grey concrete.

30th April
Work went much faster today and by its end 6 strips were up. Difference between the three colours of steel yarn is not as great as I had hoped. We nickname Ohno, Mr YoYo, because he is constantly going up and down. Decided to fix the top of each stretch rod to the woven-in rod with a twist of stainless steel wire; not visible from the ground but necessary for safety reasons.

Bottom edges of strips are level but each twists slightly. Try laying a long rod here to correct this. By the end of the day decide that something heavier is needed as there is also a tendency for the lowest threads to sag and not lie in neat straight lines. So Minori's father who owns a metal works will supply a thin stainless steel strip to be bolted on to back of lower edges.

Steel yarn reflects the light so much that in some areas see brilliant rectangles alternating with dark ones. The top fixing bolts look quite decorative and a much better idea than my usual sewing.

As got dark Minori tried altering lights from opposite wall so they shone across onto the macrogauze. Gave very strong shadows which I did not like. He said by using several lights he could get good illumination without shadows.

Junichi Arai arrived late (his teaching day in Tokyo) and when he came in and saw the 6 strips, he began clapping and others joined in. He seemed very pleased, "a dream come true".

1st May
Must have got dates wrong in diary, thereby losing April 31st entirely. In any case when arrived at Centre, strip 7 was already going up, and by lunch time it was all finally done. More clapping; looked fine.

Long interview with Akiko Minosaki for Kiryu Times with Arai and Tatsuo of Metalpha sitting in. Latter explained the yarns origin; the steel micro filaments were first made for use in industrial filters. Yarn is now treated so the surface is sealed and it will not cause nose/chest effects. Also they are trying to develop a red colour. Gave out many stainless steel rings today, Arai, Chiaki (translator) and Tatsuo immediately wearing theirs'.

The Official Opening
11th May was the official opening, which was started by a dramatic Kojo drummer and ended with last movement of Beethoven's Choral symphony. In between many speeches by an array of dignitaries on the stage. Sheila Hicks' huge stage curtain was well received and she was interviewed about it as part of the entertainment. Many photos about its making in her exhibition in the Centre's gallery.

One of the architects came up to me on this day and said he liked my hanging best of all the art-objects in the Centre. A good note to end on.

Peter Collingwood 1997

Part 1

Peter Collingwood was the pre-eminent British artist weaver of the past 50 years. His technical and aesthetic innovations have been appreciated around the world, most notably in his Macrogauze wall-hangings, in which his traditional skill and visual abstraction work in perfect harmony. A master craftsman and the author of several works on weaving, his work as a teacher and his generous spirit had a profound and lasting impact on generations of students.

In 1998 Peter and I had discussions regarding his hope of having these notes live on for the common good. I was happy to edit/format them and make the web space available.   ~   Jerry Coopmans