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“Proper ornamentation…is pleasant thought expressed in the speech of the tool.”

Detail of opphämta borders

Detail of opphämta borders

Pleasant thought, the speech of the tool. What a lovely way to describe design well-conceived, craft well-done. Authors from earlier generations certainly had a way with words!

The editor who wrote that line, W. R. Lethaby, is referring to good design. He penned his view in the late Arts and Crafts period in his Editor’s Preface to Hand-Loom Weaving Plain and Ornamental by Luther Hooper (Pitman and Sons, 1925 available on Handweaving.net). It reflects the value of traditional craftsmanship but his premise is still well worth considering.

“Workmanship when separated by too wide a gulf from fresh thought—that is, from design—inevitably decays, and, on the other hand, ornamentation, divorced from workmanship, is necessarily unreal, and quickly falls into affectation.”

Various towel designs

Various towel designs

I can weave warp after warp and be technically sound in the weaving, but if I don’t put some thought into the design—color, structure, presentation—it will inevitably become tired. It’s no longer “pleasant thought.” My weaving has to grow.

On the other hand, if I push experimentation too far, making the “ornamentation” the focus, the fabric won’t serve its intended purpose and sounds a sour note. It is trying too hard to be what it’s not. It becomes “divorced from workmanship.”

There are many definitions of good design. What I consider good design may differ from your perspective, but across the spectrum of definition, something that is well-conceived, well-executed stands out.  The tools we use may differ, but they all express our sense of design.

This concept goes way beyond what to put on the loom next or what to offer in a sale line. This can – and should — inform our whole design process.

My weaving springs from what I find pleasant. My tool is the loom. What tool do you use to express your pleasant thought?

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