Wandsworth Artists’ Open House 2019

I’m delighted to be taking part in Wandsworth Artists’ Open House for the first time this year with my friend Emma Gibson. The event runs over the first two weekends in October.

Emma makes beautiful handmade contemporary jewellery.

She works mainly in silver, combining traditional and experimental techniques to produce bold pieces, which often retain the texture of the hammers used to forge them.

Emma allows for an element of chance in her work so that even if a design is repeated each piece remains individual.

I will be showing and selling some of my basketry work – another first for me!

I will also have my latest batch of upcycled indigo and ecoprinted accessories and clothing.

When: 5-6 October and 12-13 October, 11am-6pm
Where: 46 Drakefield Road, London SW17 8RP

Hope to see you there!

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First Time Felting review

There are many craft books around these days that are project-led, showing pretty things that you can make once you’ve mastered a particular technique. These are great for inspiration and showing beginners what they can aspire to – but they can also be frustrating if they skimp on technique in favour of result.

first time felting by ruth lane

So it’s refreshing that First Time Felting: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide by Ruth Lane prioritises technique above all else. I think this is particularly important with felting, where even the apparently simple process of pulling off a small piece of fibre from wool tops can be tricky.

I should declare an interest here. I’ve never met Ruth Lane in person, but we follow each other’s blogs and I have written guest posts for the Felting and Fiber Studio, for which she is one of the co-ordinators. But the review below is my honest opinion.

The book is divided into needle felting and wet felting – sensible, as they are completely different techniques. Each process is broken down step by step with accompanying photos, making it very easy to follow.

Throughout the book Ruth also gives extra tips on technique, highlighted in tinted boxes. These cover everything from how to remember which way you turn the felt to blocking the finished piece so that it holds its shape.

It starts with an overview of different types of wool and embellishments, which is very helpful, though perhaps a photo showing the difference between wool batting and wool tops might have been useful for beginners (there is an extensive glossary at the back that explains all the terms used).

first time felting

I would also like to have seen a mention of Bergschaf wool, which is popular in Europe (and increasingly popular in the UK), but maybe this is difficult to source in the US.

There is essential health and safety advice – not just on how to avoid stabbing yourself with a felting needle, but on posture (avoiding hunching) and working on the correct height of table when wet felting. Many felters suffer from back problems, so it’s important to try to develop good habits from the outset.

I’m obviously not an absolute beginner when it comes to wet felting, but the book starts with needle felting, a technique that I use only occasionally, usually for covering a wool core. And then I usually wet felt it afterwards. 😉

So I learnt a lot from this section, from how to make a flat shape to deep needling attachment techniques and how to make bendable joints. For more advanced shaping Ruth also covers felting around a wire armature and string jointing, using a teddy bear as an example.

The section on wet felting is equally comprehensive, covering the basics like laying out, wetting down, the pinch test and rolling. I also learnt for the first time about palming – so even experienced felters can get something out of it!

There is also advice on special techniques for nuno felting, dealing with edges and seams, and mosaic or collage felting.

In short, this is a book that offers beginners a solid grounding in felting techniques – and even more experienced felters may learn a thing or two!

First Time Felting is published by Quarto Books and costs £12.99. But if you’re quick they’re running a giveaway over on Felting and Fiber Studio, so you could win your own copy!

Basketry – function and ornament at Ruthin Craft Centre

Practically everyone who is anyone in the world of British basketry is featured in “Basketry – function and ornament” at Ruthin Craft Centre in north Wales, so it’s well worth making the effort to visit this wonderful, inspiring exhibition, curated by Gregory Parsons.

As the title implies, the show includes everything from beautifully made functional baskets to pieces whose impact relies more on form than function. I must admit that I tend to be drawn towards the latter in the selection below.

Alison Dickens
Anna King
Anne Marie O’Sullivan
Clare Revera
Dail Behennah
Jane Crisp
Joe Hogan
Laura Ellen Bacon
Lise Bech
Lizzie Farey
Lois Walpole
Maggie Smith
Mandy Coates
Mary Butcher
Mary Crabb
Polly Pollock
Rachel Max
Sarah Paramor
Stella Harding
Tim Johnson

“Basketry – function and ornament” runs at the Ruthin Craft Centre until 13 October 2019.

As you  may have gathered from all these recent posts on basketry, it’s an area in which I have developed quite an interest. So much so that I have signed up for the two-year City Lit basketry course. This is quite a commitment, but I’m really looking forward to starting on 19 September.

Look out for a few more basketry posts in future! 😉

Casting baskets in glass

Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that Ever Supportive Partner (ESP) has accompanied me on many jaunts and tried his hand at a few textile ventures, such as dyeing with safflowers at the World Shibori Network conference in Oaxaca in 2016.

So now it was payback time. ESP has done a couple of glass courses recently and was keen to go to a four-day masterclass at the International Festival of Glass. He suggested I accompany him.

I was a bit concerned at first, as the term “masterclass” usually implies that you need some experience to be able to attend. However, I found a class with Georgia Redpath that looked right up my street, making beautiful geometric moulds for cast glass. So after checking with the organisers that complete beginners were welcome, I booked.

Unsurprisingly, I was the only person in the class with no previous experience of working with glass. But Georgia made me feel very welcome. And her work was as stunning in real life as it was on her website.

georgia redpath cast glass georgia redpath cast glass

When casting glass, it takes time to heat up the glass and then let it cool gradually. This meant that our glass would not be ready to collect until a few days after the end of the class.

So we started with a group exercise, where we each made a couple of small moulds from card. These were then cast together as two group moulds so that we could see the process and the end result during the class.

We each made one mould with a star-shaped base and one with a circular base.

card moulds for glass casting card moulds for glass casting

These were grouped together and silicone moulds were made.

silicon mould for glass casting silicon mould for glass casting

Then another mould of investment plaster was cast from the silicone mould.

plaster mould for glass casting plaster mould for glass casting

These plaster moulds are then filled with glass and put in the kiln.

group exercise glass cast group exercise glass cast

I love the clean geometric lines of Georgia’s work, so I made a small geometric mould as one of my samples.

geometric glass mould

However, I also wanted to incorporate the work that I do as a fibre artist, so I made a couple of small coiled bowls from some dead lily leaves I found in the hotel garden(!) and a 3D stitched kantha piece. These were cast in Gelflex rubber rather than silicone, as it is more viscous and less likely to seep through holes in the fibres.

bowls for glass casts gelflex moulds of bowls

Here are the plaster casts of the rubber moulds. It was amazing to see the amount of detail picked up, right down to individual stitches.

plaster moulds of bowls moulds for glass casts

We then calculated how much glass was needed to fill the plaster moulds and left them for a couple of days with Georgia to be put in the kiln.

It was very exciting to return a couple of days later to pick up the glass casts. Unfortunately, on one of the bowls I had underestimated how much glass was needed, so there was a small hole in it.

glass cast bowl with hole

But I’m still pleased with the detail picked up in the glass. And the others were equally detailed – on the stitched piece you can even see the weave of the cotton muslin as well as the individual stitches.

cast glass embroidery cast glass bowl geometric cast glass

I have limited facilities for coldworking (finishing them off by rubbing down and polishing) but I’m extremely happy with them even as they are.

It was a great workshop, and Georgia is a very enthusiastic and encouraging tutor. It’s made me think more about moulds and negative space and how I might develop this in my work. So thanks to ESP too for pushing me out of my comfort zone!

Georgia’s studio is at the Ruskin Glass Centre in Stourbridge, where you can see lots of other stunning examples of studio glass in the British Glass Biennale, which runs until 28 September 2019.

Dyeing with dried indigo leaves

Because we had such a long hot summer in the UK last year my homegrown Japanese indigo lasted well into the autumn, and I didn’t have time to use all the fresh leaves for dyeing.

I’m always reluctant to waste anything so at the end of the season I cut the remaining stems, tied them into bunches, and hung them in my airing cupboard to dry out. Quite a few of them had flowers on, so I snipped these off and dried them separately in a paper bag to save the seeds.

bundles of indigo leaves

Within a few weeks the leaves had dried out and gone slightly blue (dried bunch on the right).

dried indigo leaves

I stripped all the dried leaves off and stored them, hoping to find a method of making an indigo vat with dried leaves.

I then managed to acquire a copy of John Marshall’s excellent book Singing the Blues, which contains lots of ideas for using fresh indigo leaves, as well as a method of making a vat with dried leaves. Eureka!

John’s method involves heating the leaves with soda ash (alkali) and thiox (thiorea dioxide – reducing agent), but I didn’t really like the idea of heating thiox, which produces harmful vapours above 40ºC. So I decided to try making the vat with lime as the alkali and fructose as the reducing agent. This is how I make organic indigo vats, following Michel Garcia’s 123 recipe (1 part indigo, 2 parts lime, 3 parts fructose).

The problem, of course, is that I had no idea about the quantity of indigo contained in the leaves. It was at the end of the season, and some of the plants had flowered, so the level of indigo was likely to be low. When I extracted indigo from fresh leaves earlier last year, I obtained 4g of solid pigment from 215g of fresh leaves – but I don’t know how pure the indigo was.

dried indigo leaves in pot

Fresh leaves weigh more than dried leaves so I decided to assume 4g of indigo in my dried leaves, which was probably on the optimistic side!

Here’s what I did:

  • I simmered my 104g of dried leaves in 5 litres of water for 20 minutes to remove impurities, strained the leaves and discarded the liquid.

dried indigo leaves in water

  • I simmered the same leaves in another 5 litres of water with 8g of lime and 12g of fructose for 20 minutes. John Marshall says a dark blue film should form on the surface, but I didn’t see this. The liquid was a very dark yellow. I strained it and kept the liquid anyway.

straining dried indigo

  • I then repeated the previous step three times. The second time I got a little blue, but by the third and fourth times there was significantly more blue and even a little indigo “flower”.

  • I combined the second, third and fourth extractions and decided to discard the first extraction, as it didn’t look as if it contained much indigo.
  • I let the extractions cool down and then added a couple of pieces of cotton – one plain, one with shibori bindings. I left them for five minutes, wrung them out and hung them to oxidise.
  • There was barely any colour at all after the first dip, so I repeated this three more times. The final result is shown below. The colour in the photos actually looks a bit darker than in real life.

shibori in dried indigo leaves vat shibori in dried indigo leaves vat

So the technique does work. The pale colour is probably due to low indigo levels in the leaves at the end of the season.

It is quite time consuming, but may be a way of preserving indigo leaves for later use if you don’t have time to use them fresh or don’t have facilities for composting.

Willow bark basketry with Maggie Smith

I’ve just returned from a three-day workshop on willow bark basketry with the wonderful Maggie Smith. Having worked with neither willow nor bark before, I was slightly worried, but Maggie’s work is fabulous so I couldn’t pass up the chance.

baskets by maggie smith baskets by maggie smith baskets by maggie smith

We started by learning how to strip the bark from willow, with a knife, willow brake or by pounding. Easing the bark off around joints or knots without tearing it can be tricky!

maggie smith stripping willow

But by lunchtime on the first day we had all started to pile up little rolls of bark. The colour of the interior was amazing, ranging from pale yellow to chartreuse green to deep orange. However, this colour does tend to fade as the bark dries.

willow bark stripping willow bark rolls

Maggie told us to discard any preconceived ideas about what we wanted to make and study the bark very carefully to see what was suggested by the marks and texture.

willow bark exterior willow bark interior

I liked the arrangement of holes on one of my pieces of bark so decided to make a pouch consisting of a random weave container wrapped in a whole piece of bark.

The next day we learnt how to cut the bark into even strips, and I started making my random weave piece around a sawdust mould.

willow bark random weave willow bark random weave

Then I cut the whole piece of bark to length, punched holes in it and wrapped the container, stitching on a handle to keep it in position.

willow bark random weave

I left it to dry overnight and the next day managed the tricky task of removing the mould without damaging the bark!

As I had a bit of time left, I also made another coiled piece, using different widths of willow bark strips.

willow bark coiling

Here are the two final finished pieces.

willow bark baskets by Kim Winter

And here are some of the wonderfully diverse and inspiring pieces produced by other students in the class.

willow bark baskets willow bark baskets

Even better, I managed to add willow bark to my cordage collection!

willow bark cordage

 

Lines and Fragments by Tim Johnson

tim johnson little bags

“Understanding particular properties of particular plants during identification, harvest, processing, selection and finally making not only equips ourselves for making tasks in hand but also gives us a deeper connection to place and its complexity.”

The artist and basketmaker Tim Johnson has spent the past 25 years exploring the relationship between place and material, as this exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham makes clear.

Take the series of 42 little bags simply hung in three rows on the wall (and I would happily take them, every single one). It’s a fascinating display of sampling – the same technique with different materials, or the same materials with different techniques. Each one is absorbing in its details and range of possibilities.

His 2D Lines and Fragments series also incorporates found objects as well as earth pigments, dried herbs and fruit.

tim johnson lines and fragments

And his Curve series moves on with willow and earth pigments to develop the 3D form.

The Cortina works play with light and shadow – I particularly like the use of dried bean pods here.

Another one used yellow plastic coated wire.

My favourite pieces were  the Keeping Time baskets.

I particularly loved the cross sections of the bulrushes when close up.

Tim lives just outside Barcelona with another basketmaker, Monica Guilera, and there were some collaborative pieces on show.

It was also interesting to see some of the sources of his inspiration, including a squashed lampshade found in the road. 🙂

Lines and Fragments runs at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham until 31 August 2019.

Cyanotype workshop

Cyanotype is a photographic printing process made without a camera. Objects are placed on a light-sensitive surface and then exposed to ultraviolet light. The result is a cyan (blue) silhouette – hence the name.

The process was discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1842, but the most famous user was probably the botanist Anna Atkins, who published a series of books of cyanotype prints of algae.

I was intrigued, then, to attend a cyanotype workshop at the weekend with Helen Dixon at Bainbridge Studios, to find out how the process is being used by modern day artists.

We started by preparing our own light-sensitive paper by coating it with a mixture of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate and leaving it to dry in the dark.

coating cyanotype paper

Helen had prepared some paper before the workshop, so we used this to experiment with photos we had sent in advance. The photos had been converted to negatives, and we made a few prints changing the UV light source and the exposure times.

After exposing the negative, the parts of the paper that were exposed to light look much darker. When we washed the paper with water, it turned blue.

rinsing cyanotype

The colour will continue to intensify by itself (rather like indigo oxidising!), but you can speed up the process by spraying with hydrogen peroxide.

spraying cyanotype with hydrogen peroxide

This is the original photo I sent, of a hazelnut cluster. Below it is the negative that was produced.

hazelnut clusterphotographic negative

And here are the results of playing around with resolution, exposure times and light source.

cyanotypes of hazelnut cluster

Unexpectedly, you sometimes get a better image with a lower resolution photo.

We also made marks with pencil and ink on acetates and exposed those.

acetates for cyanotype cyanotypes from acetates

After lunch, we continued experimenting with different objects, but this time we put a sheet of glass on top and put them in the sun to expose them. Even though it was overcast, this worked very well.

exposing cyanotypes

Here are a couple of pieces I made using plant material – on the left are gingko leaves and ferns, on the right is grass.

cyanotype plants

And here are a couple of pieces I made using torn strips of tracing paper.

cyanotype tracing paper

It was a great workshop – and gives me another blue technique to add to my repertoire! 🙂