If you thought art was the realm of limp-wristed aesthetes, think again! My arms are aching from lugging the paving stones into the house to ensure they dry off before varnishing. By the time I’ve got the pavement delivered to the gallery, arranged it, packed it up and brought it home again, I’ll be able to beat all comers at arm wrestling. ;-)
I had to help speed up the drying process a bit with a hairdryer.
I then had a bit of a wobble about the varnish. I considered doing without varnish at all, but it does increase the contrast and help the leaf prints stand out against the background. It will also help to protect the prints in case anyone does decide to walk on the pavement. :-) And I’m not sure how light fast the prints are – I notice that most of the natural prints on the pavement round the corner have now disappeared.
I had a spare test stone where I tried out some yacht varnish, which had a satin finish but was far too shiny. So I moved on to a matt varnish, which was much better (though still with occasional shiny patches). It also tends to emphasise the pimply texture of the stones.
I tried “spot varnishing” the leaves only, leaving the background unvarnished. But that looked too artificial, as if the leaves had just been painted on. So in the end I painted a thin layer of matt varnish over the whole stones.
Now all I have to do is protect the surface of each stone to avoid damage during delivery to the gallery on Wednesday, and spend a couple of hours arranging them.
What is Urban? is organised by South London Women Artists and runs from 26 February to 11 March 2015 at Brixton East Gallery, 100 Barrington Road, London SW9 7JF, 11am-5pm daily.
The private view is on Thursday 26 February, 6.30-9pm – everyone welcome. I will be there for the first hour or so, as I have to go to my bookclub afterwards.
I do realise that by writing a post about another workshop so soon after returning from mud resist printing in Jaipur I am giving the impression of having nothing better to do than flit around the world attending whichever workshops I fancy, without having to worry about mundane matters such as earning a living. I wish! :-)
In fact I booked this workshop on nuno felting for couture with Liz Clay at West Dean quite a while ago, after I was given some gift vouchers by some very generous friends, Anne and Lucy, for a significant birthday. The mud resist workshop, by contrast, was tacked on at the last minute to a holiday in India that had already been planned. The timing was unfortunate, but hey – you have to grab these opportunities when they arise!
So the last five days I have spent with Carol, my fellow felter from Women of the Cloth, in the bucolic surroundings of West Dean College in West Sussex. Of the 50 or so people attending workshops in this period, only two or three of us had never been before – and I can see why people return over and over again. The facilities are great, the food is plentiful, the bedrooms are comfortable, and the tutors know their stuff.
Liz Clay is a well-known felter who has produced fabric for Givenchy, Balenciaga and Stella McCartney, among others. Her book on nuno felt was one of the first I devoured when I first started felting at Morley College, so it was great to attend a workshop with her in person.
There were seven of us on the course, with varying levels of felting experience. We started by making felt or prefelt samples and cutting shapes using templates provided by Liz. We then stitched these together and felted further (if using prefelt). Depending on the thickness of the felt and the shape of the templates, the result could be a vessel or bag, or an elegant floaty scarf.
We also looked at other ways to add texture and movement, both through pleating prefelts and folding and crumpling fabric before nuno felting.
Liz also made a series of samples of different fabrics sandwiched together with fibre, which encouraged several students to make larger pieces to turn into garments.
After making a pleated sample I was noticed that when it was rolled up it resembled an oyster mushroom – perfect for an exhibition I am working on (details in a later post).
So I worked up a section of a sample neckpiece, which I then adapted before making the finished piece. The part that goes around the neck is inspired by bracket fungus, while the “clasp” is a toadstool. :-)
I now have something to wear for the private view, even though I haven’t made the work for the exhibition itself yet. Nothing like putting the cart before the horse! ;-)
Our most mature student, Dorothy, also chose to make a pleated scarf, doggedly felting and stitching four metres of fabric! At one stage everyone joined in to help her get it finished.
Just time for a final group photo wearing some of our creations before heading home! One student, Jeanette, had to leave early, so is missing from the photo.
And now it really is back to the real world, nose to the grindstone! :-(
[Warning – this is a long post with lots of images!]
Brrr! I’m still adjusting to the drop in temperature since returning to the UK after four weeks in India. :-)
The last week was spent in Jaipur, on a mud resist block printing and indigo dyeing workshop organised by the Jaipur Virasat Foundation. Along with mud resist, there were also workshops on stitching, miniature painting, mirror mosaics, photography and Indian cookery, so it was an interesting mix.
The tutors for the mud resist workshop were Natalie Gibson, Head of the Fashion Print Course at Central St Martin’s College of Art & Design, and Di Livey, former Senior Lecturer in Textiles & Applied Print at Middlesex University, and visiting lecturer at other institutions. Both were wonderfully colourful characters, both figuratively and literally, with endless supplies of patience and guidance.
The workshop was held about 30km outside Jaipur, near the village of Bagru, at Ojjas, a company that specialises in hand block printed textiles. Company owner Raj Kanwar has 40 years’ experience as a textile designer and was instrumental in the revival of hand block and mud resist printing techniques.
The premises are in a specialist light industrial park, designed to minimise the environmental damage that dyeing can cause. So there’s an effluent treatment plant to recycle water and minimise discharges, and the emphasis is on natural and formaldehyde-free dyes.
Most of the other workers were block printing with pigments on huge long tables – one person would print one colour with one block, then others would fill in the colour with other blocks and colours.
But we were there to print using mud as a resist.
Mud, mud, glorious mud
We started by seeing how the mud (known locally as dabu) was mixed up. Potters’ clay (which they get from dried up lake beds in summer), wheat powder, gum and lime are added to water in a shallow stone bowl, and then the mud mixer mixes it with his feet. It’s quite mesmerising to watch as he swivels and scrapes – like some kind of ritual dance! Once it’s thoroughly mixed, the mud gets sieved through fine muslin – he again uses his feet to push it through.
Then it’s on to the printing. The blocks used for mud printing are different from those used for pigment printing – the carving is deeper and not as fine, as otherwise it would clog up with mud. There was a block printer at Ojjas, carving every block by hand.
After printing, the mud is covered with sawdust to prevent smudging and absorb the moisture. Then the fabric is laid out to dry in the sun (on the roof or on the pavement), weighted down with stones.
Indigo and other dyes
After printing a few samples on the first day, we did our first indigo dips the next day. Ojjas uses synthetic indigo in a fermented vat, sunk into the ground. The vat is 10 feet deep, and had a very impressive “flower” (foam) on the top each morning – a good sign of a healthy vat.
To prevent too much of the mud coming off, the printed fabric was not wetted out before dipping. Instead, it was gently submerged, flat, and moved gently from side to side for about a minute. Then it was removed and held over the vat to allow excess liquid to drip off, and laid on earth for a couple of minutes to soak up the rest. After that it was laid to dry on the roof or pavement as before, until it was dry.
After the first dip we could print again on the fabric before another dip to get two shades of blue. We also had the opportunity to use kassis, a dye made from rusty iron, and pomegranate. Kassis requires a mordant, harda (myrobalan), which is made from a small yellow plum (also used in ayurvedic medicine).
Removing the mud and finishing
Once all the printing and dyeing was finished, the fabric was soaked in warm water for a few hours to soften the mud. Then came the hard work (and fun part), rubbing it and slapping it against a stone slab to remove the mud, before rinsing and drying.
We could also overprint the finished pieces with red, blue, gold or silver pigment, creating highlights and more layers.
After all this work, it was fascinating to see the final results. Most people experimented with clothing, dyeing T-shirts, tunics and trousers, but I stuck to lengths of fabric, including silk, linen and cotton. I also added a bit of stitching to some pieces for extra texture. Here are some of my pieces at various stages.
We had an exhibition on the final day along with all the other workshops, where we certainly exceeded them in terms of quantity of work. ;-) And we even made some bunting!
We also visited nearby Bagru, a block printing village where every surface seems to be covered by drying fabric – that is, unless it’s occupied by cows or pigs. :-)
What I learned
I’ve never used a fermented indigo vat before, so this was very interesting for me. A single dip resulted in a mid-range blue, but I don’t know how dark the colour would go with successive dips, as we only dipped each piece twice (the mud starts to come off if you dip it more than this).
Is mud resist a practical method to use at home? You don’t have to use blocks – I used the rim of a terracotta cup, an old piece of circular rubber, and a stone, as well as blocks, to apply the mud to fabrics. A large space helps, but we also saw villagers in Bagru printing on small padded boards while sitting on the floor. Something for the “possibles” list I think!
I am slightly concerned about the fastness of the indigo with only two dips. The fabric was left for 24 hours between dips and before washing, so it will have oxidised well. But I generally dip a minimum of four times to build up colour and fastness, rinse till the water is nearly clear, wash with a gentle detergent, and rinse again. In Jaipur we soaked to soften the mud and then rinsed – no detergent was used. Given the quantity of fabric we were washing, it would have been a lot of work! But I wonder whether this is the normal practice anyway. I bought some natural-dyed garments from Anokhi, and the information on the label recommended washing before wearing to remove excess dye.
Shop till you drop
One of the advantages of having Di and Natalie to hand was their knowledge of the local shops in Jaipur. Here’s a selection of my favourites.
New Madho Store, Shop no 138, Bapu Bazaar
Fantastic haberdashery shop spread over three cramped floors – start at the top and work down. A real treasure trove of buttons, beads, trims, and thread.
Khadi Ghar, 320 MI Road Government-run shop selling hand-spun, hand-woven cotton, silk and other fabrics at fixed prices, providing the weavers with a guaranteed sale of their work.
Saurashtra, 7-9 Inside Jorawar Singh Gate, Amber Road There’s a whole row of shops next to Jorawar Singh Gate that belongs to the same family. Kishor Kumar Maheshwari and his brothers sell everything from bags and scarves to pashminas and blankets, as well as some antique textiles.
Ojjas, 663 Hanuman Nagar Ext, Viswamitra Marg, Sirsi Rd, Khatipura This is Raj’s retail outlet, with a great selection of contemporary block-printed clothes, cushions and curtains.
Nayika, Tholia Building, Opposite Niro’s Restaurant, MI Road Tucked away in a small courtyard off MI Road, near Khadi Ghar, this boutique sells an exquisite selection of printed and embroidered clothing and homeware.
Anokhi, 2nd Floor KK Square, C-11 Prithviraj Road, C-Scheme Traditional block printed clothing and popular café serving safe tasty salads and cakes.
Jaipur Modern, 51 Sardar Patel Marg, C Scheme Sleek Italian-owned boutique selling stylish contemporary clothes and home accessories at Western prices. Also has excellent restaurant.
Finally, here’s a selection of images from other parts of my trip.
My interpretation of this theme started from the view that although we refer to urban areas as “concrete jungles”, the urban environment is but a thin veneer. Without armies of gardeners and maintenance workers, cities would turn wild very quickly as nature reclaims the land. In his book The World Without Us, Alan Weisman claims that if humans suddenly disappeared, residential neighbourhoods would become forests within 500 years.
Even if this urban veneer is regularly maintained, nature finds a way to leave her mark on it. In the autumn, pavements that are more commonly pocked with the remains of carelessly discarded gum become the canvas for leaf prints, as the leaching tannins from the leaves are pounded into the concrete by scurrying commuters and shoppers.
So I decided to try to recreate these ephemeral marks on pavements, by arranging dead autumn leaves on paving stones, soaking them and stamping on them. Although rather removed from my work as a textile artist, it does relate to my experiments of using leaves to make eco prints on fabric.
Inevitably, trying to reproduce a natural process in a more controlled fashion has proved quite challenging. When I started in November, we were going through a period of wet weather, so I left the stones uncovered and just went out every day to stamp on the leaves.
However, when the weather became drier, the leaves quickly dried out and started blowing away! So I had to water them again, cover them in plastic weighted down with stones, and then stamp on top.
And on a couple of occasions I went out to find that local urban foxes had left their own organic deposits on the stones! :-(
In my initial experiments with different types of leaves, I had assumed that oak leaves, being relatively high in tannin, would give good prints (they often work well on fabric). However, this proved not to be the case on concrete – it was maple leaves that worked best.
I also tried adding vinegar and bicarbonate of soda (separately!) to the soaking water to see if they help the tannins to leach faster. To be honest, I haven’t noticed a huge difference with either of them.
I had to get my final submission for the exhibition in before I go on holiday tomorrow, so today I unwrapped a couple of the stones to take some photos to send with my application. They are actually quite difficult to photograph, as the prints show up differently depending on the angle of the light, but here are a few examples.
Unlike the random prints I previously photographed on pavements, which were darker than the stone, these prints are often lighter, resulting in a strangely ghostly photographic effect.
I have no idea why this is, and I was a bit disappointed at first, but the effect is growing on me. And in the close-up shots you can see a surprising amount of detail.
So I’ve given them a last water, re-covered with plastic and stamped on them for the last time before I go to India for a month.
The next challenge will be getting them to the gallery at the end of February and arranging them without doing my back in – they are very heavy!
I won’t be blogging again till I get back from India, as I won’t have the time or technology while I’m on the move. But I’ll certainly be telling you about the mud resist indigo block printing when I get back – adieu till then!
We were lucky enough before Christmas to win a competition on Facebook for a book published by Textile-link, a Dutch publisher that specialises in creating books about textiles from information and photos that people upload to their site.
The book we chose, Felt Passion, contains inspiring photos of felt created by 95 German artists living (a previous book, Felting for me is…, featured Dutch and Belgian felt artists). Other books focus on general textile arts.
Felt Passion contains fantastic examples of felt that really pushes the boundaries, from needle-felted figures to nuno, from sculptures to stitched felt. Kim has done workshops with three of the featured artists – Maria Friese, Ariane Mariane and Andrea Noeske-Porade – and can testify to their expertise and enthusiasm to share.