Textiles at Tate Modern

Yesterday I visited Tate Modern to see the Richard Tuttle installation I Don’t Know. The Weave of Textile Language before it closes on 6 April.

Image: Tate Modern
Image: Tate Modern

Well, I don’t know. I didn’t get it. The scale is impressive, the colours were gorgeous (the fabric was provided by an Indian textile mill), but it left me cold.

Much more interesting was work by an artist new to me, Nicholas Hlobo. This South African artist combines paper, rubber and stitch in beautiful, tactile pieces. He uses rubber from inner tubes and satin ribbon to bring together masculine industrialisation and feminine domesticity. The suture stitches also bring to mind surgery and internal organs.

hlobo1 hlobo2 hlobo3 hlobo4

There are also some other interesting pieces in the same Energy and Process section on level 4. Chen Zhen’s Cocon du Vide sculpture is a hollow chrysalis-like form made of rosary and abacus beads, resembling a figure bent over in prayer.

chen zhen1

In a section entitled Homeworkers, the work of three female artists use materials and techniques traditionally associated with feminine craft and the domestic sphere to make political points.

Margaret Harrison’s Homeworkers is a banner-like canvas highlighting the manual labour involved in piecework and the money paid.

margarte harrison

The Pikes by Annette Messager manages to make stuffed heads and toys made out of old tights look startlingly creepy.

annete messager

And Geta Brǎtescu’s embroidered panels feature different versions of the same machine-stitched motif to represent the character of Medea, who took revenge on her husband Jason by sending his new bride a poisoned dress.


The Arte Povera and Anti-Form section features artists who used everyday materials in their works to upset ideas about how art should be created and displayed.

Jannis Kounellis’s untitled piece of uncarded wool displayed on a wooden frame had visceral appeal, especially as some of the wool was dyed blue (which could have been indigo!).


Godret Stone by Korean artist Seung-Taek Lee features the stones used in traditional Korean weaving.


Finally, I had a look at the temporary exhibition Louise Bourgeois: Works on Paper. I loved the organic forms of her etchings, but the exhibition also includes a couple of her fabric books.

Ode à la Bièvre has been deconstructed, with each page displayed in a separate frame. The varied techniques include lithograph printing and dye on fabric as well as abstract drawings patched together from her fabric stash, including napkins from her bridal trousseau. One page (last one on the second row down) looks like shibori. :-)


Louise Bourgeois: Works on Paper runs at Tate Modern until 12 April 2015.

Spring: new life and death

Spring officially starts this week, though the frogs in our pond have been frisking for more than a fortnight.


To celebrate the new growing season and longer days I cranked up the indigo vat and did my first batch of scarves this year.

spring indigo 2015

These will soon make their way to my Etsy shop, which is looking sadly depleted, as this is the first opportunity I’ve had to do any dyeing since before Christmas. I’ve also got a stall at the Intrigue Emporium at Shoreditch Town Hall on 3 May.

The What is Urban? exhibition is over, so the paving stones are back in the garden. I’m now frantically trying to finish my piece for the next South London Women Artists exhibition, on the theme Death and Transition, which opens on 17 April.

I had to submit an image for the catalogue this week, so this required a strategic close-up shot of the section that was most advanced. :-) Here’s a sneak peek.

Fungus close up

More about how this relates to the theme of Death and Transition in a later post. But I can tell you now that the piece is a lot lighter than the paving stones! ;-)

Also looking further ahead, Carol and I will be running a Women of the Cloth felting workshop at the South London Botanical Institute on 30 May. The workshop will be part of the Chelsea Fringe, the alternative gardening festival linked to the Chelsea Flower Show. Carol will be teaching people how to make needle felted birds, while I will be showing them how to make wet felted bird pods.

felt bird pod1

It’s going to be a busy spring!

Sunday, March 15, 2015


Fascinating piece about the bagworm moth!

Originally posted on Daily Japanese Textile:

Twigs and other found materials, bagworm silk, cultivated silk, thread

This cigarette-sized pouch is made of minomushi, or bagworm moth, cocoon panels. Bags and sashes made of bagworm cocoons enjoyed some popularity in the early 20th century. For this information, Daily Japanese Textile is indebted to Ms. Haruko Watanabe, the very knowledgeable owner of the wonderful Gallery Tsumugi in Tokyo, which specializes in a wide variety of antique Japanese textiles.

According to Wikipedia, bagworms “construct cases out of silk and environmental materials such as sand, soil, lichen, or plant materials.”

(Second bagworm photograph from What’s That Bug, and contributed by Ben.)

The Japanese word minomushi (literally, straw coat insect) derives from the visual similarity between the straw coat once worn by the Japanese to protect against rain and snow and the minomushi’s cocoon.

(This photograph by Baron Raimund von Stillfried-Rathenitz, ca. 1880.)

View original

Barkcloth at the British Museum

If you live on the Pacific islands of Polynesia or Melanesia, there are few land animals to provide wool or fur, so you’re pretty much restricted to plant materials to produce textiles. Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing at the British Museum is a small but fascinating exhibition on this specialist area.

Barkcloth is made by soaking, scraping and beating bark fibres until the desired quality of fabric is attained. The display of beaters included ones made from wood, stone, shell and even whalebone (rare).

The cloth is then decorated by painting, rubbing, stencilling or stamping, and the tools for various techniques are on show. A kupeti is a textured board on which the cloth is laid and then rubbed with pigment to produce a pattern – one on display is made of banana leaf and coconut husk fibre, which didn’t strike me as terribly robust. There is also a wooden roller used to apply black pigment, which produces a pattern of parallel lines, while intricately patterned stamps made from bamboo, wood or turtle shell are carved using sharks’ teeth.

In Hawaii, ribbed cloth is made by laying dampened fabric on top of a grooved board and pressing it into the grooves using a special tool. It is then painted with natural dyes made from berries, leaves and roots and sealed with varnish. There are some lovely examples in the exhibition.

barkcloth hawaii

I also liked the elaborate stencilled designs from Fiji, where barkcloth has great value, representing textile wealth.

barkcloth fiji

And this fringed waist garment was decorated with geometric patterns using a pen made from coconut fronds.

barkcloth coconut

In the New Georgia group of the Solomon Islands they use indigo to print designs onto white cloth.

barkcloth indigo

In Tonga barkcloth is used to commemorate important lifestage events. There was a piece with a pattern of aeroplanes (no picture I’m afraid – it was too high to photograph properly) made during the Second World War when Queen Salote of Tonga personally sponsored the purchase of Spitfires for the Allied war effort!

In the late 1700s Western missionaries encouraged the wearing of barkcloth tunics to cover the body. This beautiful example from the Society Islands was decorated with seaweed impressions.

barkcloth society islands

This rare piece from the Cook Islands depicts creatures resembling centipedes.

barkcloth cook islands

In recent years there has been revived interest in using barkcloth, shown by this striking skirt made by Dalani Tanahy in 2014. Hula groups in Hawaii are starting to wear barkcloth costumes again.

barkcloth modern skirt

Shifting patterns: Pacific barkcloth clothing runs at the British Museum until 16 August 2015.