Isabella Whitworth

probably more than natural and synthetic dyes, wax, resists, and history



I’m crunching a lot of words these days. As a voluntary editor for the Journal of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers I normally spend at least part of my day reading and commenting on articles, corresponding with authors, checking facts and figures, proofreading or generally nitpicking. I happen to care about commas, colons and how to spell practise. (If it’s a verb, use an ‘s’. That’s if you’re British).

Writing up part of the co-authored DHA paper from La Rochelle (see previous post) is also a priority and it’s a lengthy task which may stretch to several thousand words.

My main computer is in the studio and it’s here that Journal, editorial and some research work happens. The studio is also where I keep dyes, brushes, wax pots, frames and silks. Theoretically it’s the place I make things too – but studio work has suffered heavily over the past months from the quantity of research and editorial commitments.  I consider everything I do absorbing, but there is only one of me.  And there’s the question of changing heads.

From art college training I realised, and perhaps learned, the intense concentration needed to draw or paint. If I have to interrupt work on a drawing or experimental textile, creative thought-trains chuff-chuff deep into irretrievable tunnels by the time I get back, and I lose the metaphorical plot, as has this sentence. Essentially, I find it intensely frustrating to be interrupted when I’m working on something new.

With an established design, it isn’t so difficult as it’s only half new. Sometimes I can change heads from the particular analytical demands of editing, and work on a  textile. I know what I’m aiming at, and although each textile is unique it’s like being guided by written music. Instructions have been established; technique and interpretation are what matter.

This week I’ve been constantly switching heads. I’ve been editing articles on shipwreck dye cargoes, medieval woad vats, or working on the history of a Leeds dye manufacturer: then I migrate two metres to wax pot, silk, frames, dyes and an established design theme. In three paces I unscrew Nitpick Ed-Head and replace it with Agent Zig-Zag. Zig-Zag, because that’s the design I’m working on this week.

I can’t always do this head-switching lark. I can’t always manage to ban the activity I’m not doing from my thoughts, and then nothing works at all. But this week it’s going OK.

8 thoughts on “Head-switching

  1. Hi Issy Missed you at my PV, no apols and you haven’t been in touch. I hope I haven’t upset you. If so, inadvertent. RX

  2. Hi Richard – I’m answering this one via email.

  3. Oh yes, I know what this feels like! Do you find that verbal-work and visual-work come from completely different places?

    • Well, it does feel like it. I know it’s a bit more complicated than the left and right hemisphere brain stuff I used to read about. The efficient communication between the two hemispheres seems what’s most important.
      It just feels like two heads…

      • I’m not a fan of the left/right brain simplification either – too many people use it as an excuse for excluding things they don’t like! But I do find that when I am really concentrating on drawing/design then I find it very difficult to form sentences. Not sure what that is in terms of heads, but it feels very odd.

      • I agree – when I’m supposed to be demonstrating at a fair or show I have to be very careful because I can’t easily talk and wax / paint / dye at the same time. I demo something technically interesting, but easy to do, so that I can explain it without at the same time creating a spectacular mud pie…

  4. Isabella your last comment makes so much sense! I never thought that it’s the reason why re-enacting is so hard (takes a lot of energy) but that’s it. “aha ah” moment ! thank you
    And being the proofreader of my husband who is a technical translator, I can understand what your job for the Journal means. Thanks for doing it for us.

    • Thanks Francine – it’s good to know I ‘rang a bell’ for you with the last comment. Proofreading is intense work, n’est-ce pas? But it’s also good to know we are appreciated on the Journal. There is a very dedicated team involved, all of whom add their own particular skills and expertise, and all are volunteers.

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