Inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe

There’s a wonderful exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work at Tate Modern at the moment. She is best known for her flower paintings, which are indeed wonderful – you can almost feel the blossoms unfurling before your eyes, the strong lines offset by gorgeously subtle colour gradations.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Jimson Weed No 1, 1932
Jimson Weed No 1, 1932

(Interestingly, O’Keeffe always denied the interpretation that her flowers were representations of the female body. This idea came from her husband, photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, who tellingly wrote: “Woman feels the World differently than Man feels it….The Woman receives the World through her Womb. That is her deepest feeling. Mind comes second.” OK, this was written in 1919, but some might say that attitudes towards women artists (or indeed women in general) haven’t changed much since then.🙂  )

But I digress. One of the new discoveries for me in this exhibition was her charcoal work. Two early pieces, Special No 9 (1915) and No 15 Special (1916-17) seemed to glow on the wall, while her Eagle Claw and Bean Necklace from 1934 just blew me away with its precision.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Special No 9, 1915
Special No 9, 1915
Georgia O'Keeffe, No 15 Special, 1916-17
No 15 Special, 1916-17
Eagle Claw and Bean Necklace, 1934

There are lots of other great works, but in the last room Sky Above the Clouds III (1963) made me think of ombre indigo, which inspired me to try making a nuno felt piece.

Georgia O'Keeffe, Sky Above the Clouds III, 1963
Sky Above the Clouds III, 1963

I started by making a small sample using ombre indigo dyed cotton scrim topped with natural merino. After making this I wondered how it would look in reverse, so I made another sample with the scrim on top.

blue and white nuno felt ombre samples

I then did a small straw poll on Twitter and Instagram, asking people which version they preferred. As so often happens, opinion was divided! There was probably a small majority in favour of scrim on top – but then one person said that they liked them both and couldn’t I join them together?

So after a bit of re-engineering, here is the final work in progress.


On a larger scale in a portrait format I didn’t think the elliptical shapes would work, so I went for a repeating grid of circles instead, despite misgivings about being able to make them regular enough.

blue and white nuno felt ombre wallhanging

I also added some white tussah silk to the plain white circles for a bit of extra texture, which you can just about see in the detail shot below.

blue and white nuno felt ombre wallhanging detail

Georgia O’Keeffe runs at Tate Modern until 30 October.

Diana Harrison at Crafts Study Centre in Farnham

I first came across Diana Harrison’s work at Cloth and Memory {2} at Salts Mill in Bradford three years ago. Her contribution to the exhibition was a series of handkerchiefs dyed black and then discharged and laid out like flagstones on the floor in subtle quiet shades of charcoal, cream and peachy pinks.

diana harrison handkerchiefs

The handkerchiefs have returned as part of a solo exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham, part of the University for the Creative Arts, where Diana teaches. Diana Harrison: working in cloth includes samples of her work from the 1980s up to the present.

The Textile Society organised a tour of the exhibition with Diana herself last week, and as it was the day before I was exhibiting at Thread at Farnham Maltings I went along.

Diana started off with an embroidery degree at Goldsmiths with Constance Hawker before going on to the Royal College of Art to study printed fabrics. Here she developed her technique of masking out areas of fabric before spraying them with dye – one of her dresses featured in Vogue.

She continued this at Studio 401 ½, where she made lots of upholstery fabric. After experimenting with flicking and splattering dyes she moved on to dyeing fabric black and then discharging it and stitching, which brought her fame in the quilting world – her work has been bought by museums in Japan and the US, among others.

Diana Harrison box

One of her best-known pieces was Box, made for the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition on quilts in 2010. This exhibition includes only the “lid”, but you can see the whole piece and hear about the context in the video below.

Some of her most recent pieces, Pillowcases, use a similar technique, stitching fabric together before dyeing, discharging and then unstitching and sometimes overprinting with pigment.

Diana Harrison pillowcases

Diana’s fascination with the way things are constructed is evident from the selection of found objects on display. A self-confessed hoarder, she is forever picking up roadside rubbish or coastal debris, including bits of old tyre, tape, coffee containers and envelopes, finding points of comparison between squashed frogs and Japanese clothing.

Diana Harrison found objects Diana Harrison found objects

One of my favourite pieces was a series of six strip-like panels made for the Lost in Lace exhibition in Birmingham in 2011. Each panel represents a decade of her memories – delicate networks of thread, cloth fragments and dog hair suspended on grids of black pins.

Diana Harrison lost in lace Diana Harrison lost in laceDiana Harrison lost in lace

Other recent work includes similar panels with ghostly images of dancers behind, made for an exhibition in Poland, and balls of dates, where all the dates she has worked at Farnham are printed on a piece of fabric and then moulded into a ball.

Diana Harrison A4Diana Harrison date ball

After the talk we were also lucky enough to see a slide show of her pieces in context, as well as some of her sketch books and a sample collection that we could handle. Diana also kindly showed us her collection of commemorative hankies and Japanese boro collection.

Diana Harrison sample Diana Harrison sample Diana Harrison sampleDiana Harrison hanky collectionDiana Harrison boro collection

Diana Harrison: working in cloth runs at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham until 8 October.

Felting workshop with Dagmar Binder

I’ve finally joined the International Feltmakers Association (IFA). I’ve been meaning to do it for a while – just never got round to it.

One of the main advantages for me is that public and product liability is included in the membership fee, which is handy.🙂

Another is the chance to meet other local felters (the IFA is organised by region) and to attend workshops with well-known tutors without having to travel to the Netherlands or Belgium (though I will probably still pop over there occasionally).

And so I found myself last weekend in a lovely room in north London with Dagmar Binder and 10 other enthusiastic feltmakers. I’ve long admired Dagmar’s work, especially her surface structure and subtle painterly colour blends. Dagmar had brought along plenty of samples to inspire us.

dagmar samples dagmar samples dagmar samples

We started the first day by making a sample, experimenting with different fibre layouts and combinations with needle felt to produce different results. This was very illuminating and will be a useful reminder for future experiments.

dagmar sample

The workshop was for two days but the sample took quite a long time – I took mine home to finish in the evening on the first day. So our time for making a bigger project was a bit limited.

But as you know I am never short of ambition🙂 so decided to try a multi-pocketed circular layout inspired by a dahlia. Here are a couple of shots of the work in progress.

felt work in progress felt work in progress

I did scale my ambition back during the day – the original plan was to have some central spikes – as I needed to get it to the stage where it was felted sufficiently to be able to take it home to finish without it falling apart.

This is the final piece after finishing at home.

felt dahlia felt dahlia

I’m pleased with the result but as ever see room for improvement. If I did it again, in less of a hurry, I would lay out the petals more evenly. And I’m not happy with the central section, which is too large.

Also because I tried to avoid having too many layers of fibre in the centre I truncated the resists for the lower pockets. However, I think that extending all the resists to the centre would make the centre less flat and would give the piece more volume overall.

It reminded me of an earlier dahlia-inspired experiment (on a much smaller scale), based on the same principles but slightly different technique – here are the two samples together.

felt dahlia samples

This was a very useful workshop. I learned a lot about stabilising felt, combining needlefelt and fibre, and different layouts of fibre to produce different effects.

Dagmar is a patient tutor who encourages students work out answers for themselves by close observation of what happens throughout the felting process.

dagmar teaching
Dagmar (right) advising students in class

Thanks to Cathy and Sue and other members of the IFA for organising the workshop.

Thread 2016 at Farnham Maltings

thread flyer

I’m very excited to be one of the exhibitors at Thread…A Festival of Textiles at Farnham Maltings on Saturday 24 September. I’ll be selling my latest indigo shibori and ecoprinted scarves, along with a selection of upcycled hand dyed indigo and ecoprinted garments. And the infamous bargain bucket of samples and seconds may also be putting in an appearance as I get ready to clear the decks before Christmas!

With around 45 exhibitors alongside a programme of talks, workshops and demonstrations, it promises to be a great day out for textile lovers.

A day ticket costs £5 in advance or £7.50 on the door, but you could win a pair of tickets here! (Closing date is this Friday.)

By lucky coincidence, the Textile Society is organising a talk at Farnham the day before. It’s by Diana Harrison, whose memorable piece at the Cloth and Memory {2} exhibition at Saltaire a couple of years ago was made up of handkerchiefs laid on the floor to resemble paving stones.

In the video below she talks about making her famous Box quilt.

Interview with artist featured in Quilts 1700-2010: Textile artist Diana Harrison from Victoria and Albert Museum on Vimeo.

So it’s going to be a busy textile weekend!

Museum of Flax in Kortrijk

For rather complicated reasons involving border control in the European Schengen zone I ended up last Saturday in the (to me) obscure Belgian town of Kortrijk.

It was a very pleasant surprise, with interesting restaurants, a medieval béguinage that is a Unesco World Heritage Site – and  Texture, the Museum of Flax.

Belgium was once the largest producer of flax after France, and the museum is housed in what was originally a flax depot dating from 1912, with the eponymous plant growing outside. [Edited to add: It seems that this plant is not flax after all – my mistake!]

flax museum 2

In the interactive section on the ground floor you get the chance to handle various parts of the plant after it’s been processed as well as learning about its cultivation and uses. Flax is very fast growing – 100 days from planting to harvest – and unlike cotton doesn’t require much water.

Fibre flax, used to make linen, is different from oil flax, used to produce linseed oil, which as well as being important in art is also used to make linoleum. (Adding linseed oil to cows’ diets also apparently reduces methane emissions by 20%!)

During harvesting the plant is pulled out of the soil whole rather than being cut, to keep the fibres as long as possible. After the fibres have been separated from the woody tissue they are put through a heckle, or large comb, to straighten them and ensure they all lie in the same direction before spinning and plying.

Because the fibre is hollow, linen is breathable and absorbs water. It actually gets stronger when it is humid, and is used in equipment such as fire hoses. It’s also anti-static. Dollar bills are made not of paper but of 75% cotton and 25% flax.

In the 16th century Kortrijk was the linen damask capital of Europe, while ordinary basic linen was also mass produced here.

But the industry was badly hit when the Industrial Revolution came along. It had to change from small family-run businesses that carried out the whole process to increased specialisation in particular processes such as retting or scutching offered to textile mills, in England among other places. There was quite a large British population based in the town in the second half of the 19th century, introducing pastimes such as tennis and football (wot no cricket?).

flax museum 1

But the late 1950s brought more problems, with cheap Russian flax and synthetic fabrics entering the market. Although “Courtrai flax” is still renowned, along with the finished products of lace and damask, innovation was once more the key to survival. The exhibition includes various examples of new uses of the fibre, including sound-absorbing cabinets, car dashboards and shelves, and composites used in the manufacture of bicycles, musical instruments and soles.

On the top floor the Treasure Chamber contains some exceptional examples of linen and lacework, including these amazing collars and bonnets.

flax museum 4 flax museum 5 flax museum 6 flax museum3

The museum shop naturally contains a good selection of linen and other items, but nothing quite as spectacular as these.