Unfinished business

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If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I have a bit of a butterfly tendency. One minute it’s felt, next it’s indigo, then it’s on to embroidery or natural dyes.

I’m sure I could achieve more by concentrating in depth on one thing for a particular period – but there are so many exciting ideas to explore! :-) And I do revisit themes and ideas, often from a new angle, having learnt something else in my wide-ranging explorations.

Anyway, when I was putting my stuff away after returning from the workshop with Maria Friese, I came across a piece of felt smocking that I’d stitched on commercial prefelt but not felted. (The holes you can see are – ahem! – moth holes.)

felt smocking1

This was from a while ago, when I was pondering the connection between smocking and origami tessellations. It led to some very interesting email exchanges with Jane Araújo, who designs amazingly complex lacy knitting patterns and came up with some very helpful suggestions about how I could pursue this further.

Needless to say, I got distracted by something else, but I was reminded of it when I was talking to Maria about origami and felt. I think I’d left it unfelted because the prefelt was very fine and I was worried that the lovely pattern and texture would just disappear and I would end up with an uneven lumpy bit of felt.

But of course it didn’t – it retained the structure very well after felting.

felt smocking2

And it looks even better with the light coming through – perfect for a lampshade or backlit panel.

felt smocking3

With the felt I also came across a couple of linen table mats I’d stitched, ready for dyeing. And as the weather has been a bit hot for felting I charged up the indigo vat.

This was also the opportunity to try another technique that I read about on the excellent Momiji Studio blog. I’ve never tried tesuji shibori because I couldn’t visualise how to bind the fabric onto a rope, but blogger Jessica gave a great explanation.

I used a rather pedestrian open-weave cotton scarf in a large grid of different colours – and it certainly made a difference.

tesuji shawl1

The discharge effect on the central orange section was interesting.

tesuji shawl2

And the mats came out OK too, though I think the stitching on the second one could have been a bit tighter.

mokune table mat1lace table mat 2

But given how long they’ve been sitting around, I should be grateful that the moths didn’t much through the thread! ;-)

British Folk Art at Tate Britain

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It’s official – I am an artist! ;-) Earlier this week I applied to join South London Women Artists, and I just heard that I’ve been accepted.

There are those who high-mindedly maintain that an artist is someone who paints, draws or (occasionally) sculpts. I don’t do any of these, but Joan, my sister Woman of the Cloth, who is a weaver and already a member of SLWA, encouraged me to apply.

Fortified by this acknowledgement of my status, I hot-footed it off to Tate Britain to see the British Folk Art exhibition. Now, the Tate is not exactly overflowing with textile art – the last time I saw this many textile works in a show was at the Alghiero Boetti exhibition at Tate Modern.

This “art vs craft” distinction has been around a long time, of course. When the Royal Academy was established in 1769, it explicitly ruled that “no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shell work, or any such baubles should be admitted”. I wonder how they would classify Tracey Emin’s embroideries or Grayson Perry’s pots.

The feminist in me suspects that this was another way of excluding women from the hallowed halls of the art establishment, but I learnt from this exhibition that embroidery used to be a trade that employed both men and women, and that membership of the Worshipful Company of Broderers used to be restricted to men.

And the textiles made by men in this exhibition are certainly impressive, especially two large-scale patchwork pieces.

The first is by James Williams, a tailor born in Wrexham in 1818, who spent 10 years producing an inlaid patchwork of eclectic motifs made up of 4,525 separate pieces of cloth. It includes Adam (no Eve!) surrounded by a menagerie of creatures such as a giraffe, a toucan and an elephant; Jonah being swallowed by the whale; a steam train crossing the Cefn Railway Viaduct; and a Chinese pagoda.

williams

The second is a Crimean War quilt, made from more than 10,000 individual pieces of coloured wool serge from soldiers’ uniforms. The British government promoted quilt making as a pastime to distract soldiers from alcohol and gambling during long periods of inactivity and also as therapy in military field hospitals and convalescent homes. The intricate geometry must have required extreme military precision, as well as considerable strength, given the thickness and weight of the cloth.

crimean

A slightly more modern patchwork piece also has a military connection – the Jolly Roger for the submarine HMS Trenchant, made around 1943.

jolly roger

Smaller pieces include amazingly elaborate sweetheart pincushions, made by soldiers and sailors while on duty and sent home as objects of their love. This was also a tradition that started during the Crimean War; by the time of the First World War the pincushions included preprinted ribbons bearing messages such as “Think of me” and featured details such as the serviceman’s regiment or division.

pincushion

Another extraordinary military piece is a circular embroidery from 1918 listing all the names of the 1st Middlesex Regiment who were awarded military honours during the First World War. In the centre are those who received the highest decoration, the Victoria Cross, while the other names are embroidered in different colours in concentric circles.

victoria cross

The military notwithstanding, embroidered samplers in the 18th and 19th centuries are more traditionally associated with female domesticity and piety. But, perhaps as a way of subverting the restrictions they were under, some women did not limit themselves to religious verses or records of family occasions: on show here are several samplers illustrating the counties of England and even the relation of the planets in the solar system.

sampler

Two individuals get special sections to themselves. George Smart (c 1775-1845) was a tailor in Frant, near Tunbridge Wells, who became famous for making pictures from textile scraps. His fabric collages of the local postman leading his donkey or an earth stopper (someone who blocked a fox’s earth the night before a hunt) falling off his horse were stuck onto hand-painted or lithographed backgrounds and earned him a considerable reputation and royal appointment.

george smart

And Mary Linwood (1755-1845) was once regarded as one of the leading artists of her day. Her skill was in reproducing paintings as embroideries – she called them “needle paintings” – using different lengths of stitch to emulate brush strokes. Copies of works by Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough and John Russell are on show. She had a permanent gallery in Leicester Square for 50 years and was even mentioned in Dickens’ David Copperfield.

linwood

However, after her death she fell out of favour, as art came to be associated more with originality and creativity. As the exhibition notes: “She remains largely unclassifiable, lacking the originality demanded of the fine artist, and the ‘authenticity’ of the folk artist, yet also disconnected from domestic craft traditions.”

British Folk Art runs at Tate Britain until 31 August 2014, after which it will be at Compton Verney in Warwickshier from 27 September to 14 December 2014.

Felting in France

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Apologies for the long silence – I had a sudden rush of website work before I headed off to Acheres, just outside Paris, for a five-day felting workshop with Maria Friese and Ariane Mariane. Both these felters are German, living in France, and the students were mostly French, but also included one Swiss, one Belgian, one American (who had lived in Acheres for 20 years) and two Brits – Abigail Thomas of Felt meets Cloth and me.

The five days was split up into two sessions of two days and three days, and students could mix and match, working with one tutor for all the days or spending two days with one and three days with the other. I elected to stay with Maria for all five days, as her work has a really organic feel that appealed to me. As we got talking we discovered other mutual interests in origami and pitcher plants, so I think I made the right choice!

We spent the first two days making a sampler to practise techniques – attaching spikes, and using resists and prefelts to create surface designs.

Maria's sample

Maria’s sample

Maria suggested making a rectangular sample, but I opted for a circle, which was a bit challenging when it came to squeezing in as many elements as possible!

No - it's not a blue pizza, it's my sample!

No – it’s not a blue pizza, it’s my sample!

As usual, it was fascinating to see the different interpretations of the same techniques.

paris25 paris26 paris27 paris28 paris29 paris30

The other group working with Ariane Mariane made sample pieces of jewellery in the first two days, and then we all got together to admire each other’s work and compare results.

Image copyright Ariane Mariane

Image copyright Ariane Mariane

Image copyright Ariane Mariane

Image copyright Ariane Mariane

For the next three days we worked on a project incorporating those techniques. Those of us with Maria made a vessel; those who worked with Ariane could choose to make a hat or a bag. Maria and Ariane had brought in lots of samples to inspire us!

Vessel by Maria

Vessel by Maria

Vessel by Maria

Vessel by Maria

Vessel by Maria

Vessel by Maria

Hat by Ariane, modelled by Monique (image copyright Ariane Mariane)

Hat by Ariane, modelled by Monique (image copyright Ariane Mariane)

Again, we started by making samples to calculate shrinkage, before moving on to the main piece. I got a bit obsessed by the flaps, so decided to try making a Chinese-style vessel adorned with these.

Sample to calculate shrinkage

Sample to calculate shrinkage

Work in progress

Work in progress

Finished vessel (with Maria in the background)

Finished vessel (with Maria in the background)

I also had a little time at the end to make another sample using one of the other resist techniques.

paris9

Ours was a relatively sedate class – next door, we could hear the sound of bags and hats being thrown on the floor to help the shrinking process!

Finally, on the Friday evening, we held a small exhibition for friends, family and other visitors to come and see the fruits of our labours.

Student work

Student work

Student work

Student work

Student work

Student work

Student work

Student work

Maria's work - what we are aiming for!

Maria’s work – what we are aiming for!

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All in all, it was a fabulous five days of learning a lot from thoughtful tutors and making new friends. Highly recommended.

ESP amused himself by going into Paris every day and visiting as many museums as possible(19 plus Versailles in total!). He did so much walking that I think he must have strained a ligament in his ankle – he’s currently walking with a limp. :-(

We then headed down to the Dordogne to visit Joan, one of my sister Women of the Cloth, and her husband Anthony, who have a house there. We talked about the possibility of us running some workshops there next year – very exciting!

As the weather finally cleared up, we went back north for a couple of days in the Loire valley. We stayed in the extraordinary Chateau de Chemery, with a loom and spinning wheels in our room, and visited the stunning gardens of Villandry and  Chaumont.

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A felt planter at Chaumont!

A felt planter at Chaumont!

chaumont4

chaumont5

chaumont6villandry1

Sadly, we were one day late getting home due to a faulty brake caliper, a long wait for the AA and a stupendous thunderstorm. But that doesn’t spoil a trip full of inspiration and excitement – can’t wait to get felting again!

The Point of the Needle at Hall Place

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It hasn’t been a very creative time for me over the past couple of weeks. Too busy with my day job, earning money towards my next felting workshop – five whole days with Maria Friese and Ariane Mariane just outside Paris in a couple of weeks’ time. ESP is going to wander the streets of Paris (and no doubt stuff himself in fine restaurants at lunchtime) while I enjoy some fibre fun with a group of like-minded enthusiasts. I’m really looking forward to it!

So it was a relief to escape for half a day with my sister Women of the Cloth, Carol and Joan, to go back to Hall Place in Bexley for an exhibition by the New Embroidery Group (their website is currently being redesigned).

hall place1

Contradicting its name, the group was actually established more than 40 years ago. Its president for many years was Constance Howard, famous- among other things-  for her green hair, for establishing the embroidery department at Goldsmiths College, and for producing The Country Wife textile mural for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The Country Wife by Constance Howard

The Country Wife by Constance Howard

The exhibition in the Stables Gallery was small but beautifully hung, with lovely views onto the lavender in the gardens beyond.

I particularly liked the works by Buffy Fieldhouse, who used a mixture of paint, stitch, paper and fabric – and rusty nails! – in her pieces.

Be What You Are I by Buffy Fieldhouse

Be What You Are I by Buffy Fieldhouse

Nailed It by Buffy Fieldhouse

Nailed It by Buffy Fieldhouse

I also liked the rhythms and movement of Liz Holliday’s contours and earthworks against the regular outlines of fields.

Past Present: Maiden Castle by Liz Holliday

Past Present: Maiden Castle by Liz Holliday

Past Present: Cissbury Ring by Liz Holliday

Past Present: Cissbury Ring by Liz Holliday

And the delicacy of Kathie Small’s herringbone stitch on paper was appealing.

Neurons by Kathie Small

Neurons by Kathie Small

Afterwards we strolled around the beautiful gardens and greenhouses, where I couldn’t resist the sculptural symmetry of the gorgeous succulents.

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I also have a bit of a current obsession with pitcher plants: one of the things that fascinates me is the way the stalk curls up from underneath – how does it keep the pitcher stable when it is full of liquid?

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Another spiralling plant that I’ve never seen before.

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And some wonderful woven hanging baskets where the furry roots of the ferns seem to form part of the structure.

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The Point of the Needle runs at Hall Place until Sunday 29 June (yes, I know, I know!). It then moves to the Oxmarket Centre for the Arts in Chichester, where it runs from 8 to 20 July.

Eco printing samples part 2

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In my previous post on eco printing I wondered whether the faintness of the prints, especially on felt, was due to the fact that the steam couldn’t penetrate the felt very easily when it was rolled up.

simmer sample group

So I performed a similar experiment but this time I immersed the bundles in hot water and onion skins and simmered them for an hour. Then I left them to cool overnight and opened them up the next day.

The results were definitely better, particularly on felt.

simmer sample felt eucalyptus

Interestingly, the eucalyptus on felt (above) printed orange, no matter what the mordant, while the rose leaf and petal dipped in iron mordant (below) came out best.
simmer sample rose felt

The iron mordant also worked best for sycamore leaves on felt (below).
simmer sample sycamore felt

Oak leaves on cotton mordanted with aluminium acetate (below) gave a  lovely clear print, regardless of which mordant was used on the leaves (or even when none was used at all).

simmer sample oak cotton

Sycamore and rose leaves also printed quite well on cotton, but those dipped in the iron mordant were clearest.

simmer sample rose cotton simmer sample sycamore cotton

On silk, iron-mordanted sycamore and oak leaves did best, while eucalyptus and rose leaves were pretty similar for all mordants.

simmer sample sycamore silksimmer sample oak silksimmer sample eucalyptus silk simmer sample rose silk

Conclusion? It looks as if full immersion rather than steaming is the best way to go, unless I can get a large pressure cooker or find some other way of forcing steam through the fabric more efficiently.

Shibori rust dyeing pt 2

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To give you a break from yet another eco printing experiment, I thought I’d share another shibori rust-dyed scarf with you.

rust onion scarf6

This scarf is made of a double layer of heavier silk (it’s actually a man’s evening scarf), so I thought it would be more robust than the very lightweight silk ponge scarf that I used last time.

I bound it with rusty screws, slightly more loosely than last time. Because the silk was thicker and double layered, the rust colour didn’t spread as far or as fast as last time. By the time I had finished binding the screws on the silk ponge, the scarf was already a rusty colour all over, whereas with this scarf there were only faint traces of colour.

I was also concerned that although there would be good colour on the side of the silk that touched the screws, the other side of the scarf would be too pale.

So after binding it I put the scarf into the pot containing the onion skins left over from dyeing the eggs, heated it up and left it for a few hours. Then I removed it and left it to cool overnight.

When I untied the scarf the next day, it looked very dark at first.

rust onion scarf1

But as it dried it became paler, and there was an obvious difference between the two sides of the scarf.

After drying, ironing, soaking in bicarbonate of soda, rinsing, drying, and ironing again, this was the final result.

rust onion scarf2 rust onion scarf3

You can that the presence of the iron screws darkened the colour quite significantly – it’s much less golden than the eggs were.

And the kumo shibori pattern on the side of the scarf that was in contact with the screws is paler with darker rust marks compared with the other side.

rust onion scarf4 rust onion scarf5

Which side do you prefer? I’m not sure. But I have a reversible rust-dyed scarf with no holes, so that’s a result. ;-)

rust onion scarf7

Eco printing samples

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My eco printing so far has been a bit hit and miss, so I thought it was time to be a bit more systematic. From the reading I’ve done on the subject, there are so many variables – from the pH of your water to the time of year you pick the leaves or flowers – but I thought it would at least be useful to have a few reference samples to work from.

I used four different types of fabric:

  • white merino felt
  • white cotton (pre-mordanted with aluminium acetate)
  • lightweight cream silk from an old wedding sari
  • some sort of synthetic open-weave fabric from an old curtain.

Only the cotton was pre-mordanted – the other fabrics weren’t treated in any way.

Then I prepared four different mordants:

  • vinegar
  • milk
  • alum solution
  • iron solution (well, not really! I’d bought some ferrous sulphate but couldn’t find it anywhere, so I ended up shaking some rust flakes in water in the hope that the effect would be similar. Of course, rust doesn’t dissolve in water, so this was pretty pointless really).

And the vegetable matter I was testing:

  • eucalyptus leaves
  • rose leaves
  • oak leaves
  • Japanese knotweed leaves
  • onion skins.

I laid out a strip of felt and put five eucalyptus leaves on it. The first one had no mordant; the other four were each dipped in a different mordant. I then laid five rose leaves next to them, treated in the same way. I put the strip of synthetic fabric on top, and rolled the bundle around a piece of bamboo, and tied it up. This was bundle 1.

I repeated this three more times with different combinations:

  • Bundle 2: cotton and silk with eucalyptus and rose leaves
  • Bundle 3: felt and silk with oak leaves, Japanese knotweed and onion skins
  • Bundle 4: cotton and synthetic with oak leaves, Japanese knotweed and onion skins.

eco sample bundles

I colour coded them with different bits of yarn, although it was pretty obvious which was which. Then I steamed all the bundles for 1.5 hours and left them to cool overnight.

The results were mixed, to say the least.

Bundle 1 - eucalyptus and rose leaves on felt (above) and synthetic (below)

Bundle 1 – eucalyptus and rose leaves on felt (above) and synthetic (below)

Bundle 2 - eucalyptus and rose leaves on cotton (above) and silk (below)

Bundle 2 – eucalyptus and rose leaves on cotton (above) and silk (below)

Bundle 3 - oak leaves, Japanese knotweed and onion skins on felt (above) and silk (below)

Bundle 3 – oak leaves, Japanese knotweed and onion skins on felt (above) and silk (below)

Bundle 4 - oak leaves, Japanese knotweed and onion skins on cotton (above) and synthetic (below)

Bundle 4 – oak leaves, Japanese knotweed and onion skins on cotton (above) and synthetic (below)

The onion skins were by far the strongest on all fabrics except the felt, whichever mordant was used.

Onion skin with alum mordant on silk

Onion skin with alum mordant on silk

Onion skin with milk mordant on silk

Onion skin with milk mordant on silk

The cotton gave the strongest prints overall, in rather an acid yellow (presumably due to the aluminium acetate mordant).

Eucalyptus prints on cotton

Eucalyptus prints on cotton

Japanese knotweed and onion skins on cotton

Japanese knotweed and onion skins on cotton

Onion skin with milk mordant on cotton

Onion skin with milk mordant on cotton

Rose leaves with no mordant and vinegar on cotton

Rose leaves with no mordant and vinegar on cotton

I was most disappointed with the felt – the best prints were the eucalyptus and the Japanese knotweed, but they were very faint.

Eucalyptus on felt

Eucalyptus on felt

Japanese knotweed on felt

Japanese knotweed on felt

Very little printed on the synthetic fabric at all, as far as I could see.

Why were these prints so faint? I’ve seen amazing prints produced by textile artists like Irit Dulman, especially on felt. I wondered whether steam alone can penetrate right into the bundle of felt, which is fairly thick. So I did another experiment where I submerged the bundles in a pot of onion skin dye – this will be the subject of a future post! :-)

In the meantime, to try to darken the prints, I put all the samples above into a post-mordant of ferrous sulphate.

The iron worked wonders on the silk. It really brought out the Japanese knotweed prints, turning them a dark khaki. And the eucalyptus and rose leaves became much more distinct.

Silk eco print with iron post-mordant

Silk eco print with iron post-mordant

Silk eco print with iron post-mordant

Silk eco print with iron post-mordant

The prints on the cotton that were previously strong yellow turned much darker, and two of the oak leaf prints that were previously very faint came to the fore beautifully.

Cotton eco print with iron post-mordant

Cotton eco print with iron post-mordant

Cotton eco print with iron post-mordant

Cotton eco print with iron post-mordant

Even on the synthetic fabric the prints were now faintly visible, whereas before they were practically non-existent.

Synthetic eco print with iron post-mordant

Synthetic eco print with iron post-mordant

Synthetic eco print with iron post-mordant

Synthetic eco print with iron post-mordant

The felt remained disappointing, however.

Felt eco print with iron post-mordant

Felt eco print with iron post-mordant

So maybe if I’d used a proper ferrous sulphate mordant on the leaves before steaming, the results would have been different – who knows?