May 2021 roundup

Apologies for the lateness of this post – as life starts reopening I suddenly seem to be very busy!

The big news this month is that I’ve managed to get to a real exhibition – the first one for months.

When I first started learning about the shibori technique, I read about a Japanese textile company called Nuno, which created innovative fabrics that often had shibori characteristics. So when Japan House in London announced the exhibition Making Nuno: Japanese Textile Innovation from Sudo Reiko, I booked up straight away.

japan house nuno 1

The exhibition is small but perfectly formed. A loom installation has the reels of thread set up to mimic one of the Nuno designs, and is beautifully lit to create striking shadows. Peering between the threads at the loom makes you feel as if you’ve just hit warp speed (ho ho).

japan house nuno 2

The exhibition focuses on three of Nuno’s innovative fabrics. Polyvinyl alcohol is a synthetic resin that shrinks at 60°C. It is screenprinted onto polyester taffeta in a grid pattern and then heated to produce the wriggly “Jellyfish” fabric.

japan house nuno 5japan house nuno 3

“Chemical lace” is made by stitching ribbon onto a water-soluble base, which is then dissolved to leave just the ribbon design.

japan house nuno 4

The third fabric laminates washi paper onto velvet, producing a rich contrast in textures. Sorry there’s no image of this – it was white on white and was difficult to get a good photo.

A series of films shows the production process of many other fabrics in different mills around Japan and is worth watching. Upstairs, a patchwork “curtain” showcases samples of even more fabrics.

japan house nuno 6

Making Nuno: Japanese Textile Innovation from Sudo Reiko runs at Japan House until 11 July.

Twining and coiling

On the making front, I managed to finish my twined dodecahedron!

twined dodecahedron

I wasn’t sure whether to trim the ends further or leave them wild and woolly – Instagram opinion was fairly unanimous about leaving them wild. 🙂

In class at City Lit we made some twined ladles with paper string.

twined ladles

The string I used for the first one (on the left) was a bit bulky, so I made another one (on the right) that was much better.

I also had a go at starting twining with an overlapping base, which was a bit fiddly but worked OK in the end.

twined overlapping base 2twined overlapping base

I also experimented with coiling, trying out a technique described in Annals of the South African Museum, a book owned by my tutor Polly Pollock. This technique, which incorporates ribs in the coiling, was used on bee skep in South Africa.

First of all I tried making a flat sample with rigid ribs (cane) and a bundle of dried unknown vegetation as the core, wrapped with very fine chair cane.

bee skep coiling

Then I tried it in the round using softer materials (polished flax for the ribs and core, and hemp for wrapping). This was much easier.

bee skep coiling soft

Finally, the first issue of the Basketmakers’ Association Newsletter that I edited was published this month. It was hard work for me and the volunteer designer Anita, but we’ve had extremely positive feedback, so it’s good to know that our efforts are appreciated!

ba newsletter may 2021

April 2021 roundup

It definitely feels as if spring has sprung. The weather has turned (for now), the garden is a riot of green, and I’m back at college. There does seem to be a sense of hope and renewal in the air – let’s hope it lasts!

Our first sessions back at City Lit are focusing on twining with John Page. We started off using sisal and jute, getting a feel for tension, increasing and decreasing the width, and use of colour.

twining with sisal and jute

We also looked at an alternative start, the square start, which results in a double-layered base, which can be two different colours. I combined this with waling in three colours, ending up with a bowl where the inside is completely different from the outside.

square start basket inside square start basket outside

I also had a go at making a bowl in my signature pattern from discarded telephone wire, begged from phone engineers whenever I pass a junction box.

bowl made from telephone wire

We then moved on to making pouches, where we learned about the tendency for flat pieces to twist, and the importance of using reverse twining to help counter this. It produces a chevron pattern, which adds extra interest.

twined pouch

I also attempted to make a ribbed pouch, by using alternating thick and thin stakes and thick and thin weavers. My hope was that the thin weaver in front of the thin stakes would recede, while the thick weaver in front of the thick stakes would protrude, giving a ribbed effect.

However, this didn’t work out, partly because the last stake on one side is the same thickness as the first stake on the other side, so while the thin weaver will be in front of the thin stake on one side, it will be in front of the thick weaver on the other side! It’s not very obvious from the photos, so you’ll have to take my word for it. However, it does give the stakes more prominence in the overall pattern.

Thin weaver in front of thin stakes
Thin weaver in front of thick stakes

So far we had worked with soft materials. For homework we were asked to make a sample of twining materials on rigid stakes. Nobody said it had to be flat and straight. 😉

I had some cane that was coiled up, so it was curved. I cut out a series of C shapes and twined them together roughly in the centre. I decided not to use reverse twining to see if I could get the piece to twist. And it worked!

Time to try some openwork twining. One of the handouts we were given had various diagrams showing different types of staggered twining, including one over a double warp (“staggered weft twining over double transposed warp” was the actual description). Nothing like jumping in at the deep end, so I had a go.

First I tried a flat piece, which worked fine – once I remembered to keep the warps in the same layers and not to cross warp threads of the same colour.

Then I tried a piece in the round, but I couldn’t get the pattern to work continuously. You can’t see it in the photo below, but the pattern along the edge where the rounds joined is a complete mess. It wasn’t until I gave up and looked more closely that I realised that I needed an odd number of each colour of warp threads – d’oh! When I pulled out one of each thread the pattern did indeed work – though I then had too many twined threads.

So I had another go, this time with odd numbers of warp threads – and it worked. I finished off by twining around the warps from both sides at the bottom to create a pouch. Apologies for the photo – it’s tricky to shoot a two-sided see-through object.

And after all this, I’ve also made progress on the twined Work in Progress I showed you last month. Hopefully by next month it will be finished!

March 2021 roundup

The big news this month is…drumroll…I have finished the Tetrapak dog!

tetrapak dog 4tetrapak dog 5

Any suggestions of what to call him or her? 🙂

I also tried a variation on a theme, making a circular coiled pot with a lid based on my previous tortoise vessels. Because the peaks resemble limpet shells, I’ve called this a limpet pot.

limpet pot 1limpet pot 2limpet pot 3

Another construction I’ve been involved in was a bike shed in the front garden. This was not particularly creative – I just mention it because it took a lot of time and effort this month! The very heavy shed arrived in bits and had to be pieced together on a concrete base that we had previously laid.

Much huffing, puffing, and swearing ensued, not to mention a couple of broken drill bits. I also ended up falling into wet concrete at one point – and the local wildlife were determined to leave their marks too!

But now the shed is up, and I am able to get into the house without squeezing past a couple of bikes and associated paraphernalia. We just need to plant a fast-growing shrub to cover up the unattractive exterior.

bike shed

With restrictions on lockdown slowly lifting, our two-year basketry course at City Lit is due to resume in mid-April, more than a year since it stopped. I’m really looking forward to being back in the classroom, especially now that I’ve had my first coronavirus vaccination.

We are going to be starting on twining, so I thought I might try to get ahead a bit and started on a new experiment. This is very much a Work In Progress! 😉

twined wip

Hopefully this will be more presentable next month.

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy Easter.

February 2021 roundup

I’ve spent most of February working on a commission for a tortoise vessel. Someone saw my black and yellow one on Instagram and asked if I could make one in a different colourway.

As before, I started by making the individual scutes.

coiled turquoise tortoise scutes

Then I joined them together and added the border.

coiled turquoise tortoise lid

Then I made the base with the hidden tortoise design.

coiled turquoise tortoise vessel

The client was very pleased, and so am I.

Dorset buttons and looping

Although our basketry group has still heard nothing about when our course will resume, we are still meeting every fortnight on Zoom, and choosing a theme to work on for each session.

The first one was Dorset buttons. To be honest, I found this a bit fiddly. I normally like fiddly, but maybe I needed a break after the fiddly work on the tortoise. But I did manage to produce a button!

dorset button

Then we had a go at looping. I found this more relaxing and tried two methods. The first one was looping around a stone, starting at the opening on top and closing it together on the bottom.

looped stone top
looped stone bottom

As you can see, the looping pattern looks quite regular on the top and sides, but becomes more irregular and organic on the bottom where I pulled the loops together to close up.

I also made a looped basket with homemade cordage, this time starting at the bottom and working up to finish at the opening. The advantage of this is that I made the cordage as I went along, so didn’t have to worry about how to hide the joins.

Tetrapak dog update

I’ve made a bit of progress on the dog. The back half is complete, along with the head and the front legs.

Back legs and tail
tetrapak dog  head
Head

I only need to drink another five cartons of orange juice to get enough material to finish it!

Packaging material and ice

One of the highlights of my month was receiving a delivery (replacement butter dish, not very interesting) wrapped in some fantastic packaging material – some kind of pierced brown paper.

What was interesting is the way the paper had opened up and retained the form of what it was wrapped around, a bit like memory foam.

Apparently, according to comments on my Instagram post, it’s called Geami WrapPak. I’ve saved it until I can work out what to do with it!

We also had a very cold spell, where temperatures didn’t rise above 0ºC for several days. A basin of water I’d left in the garden froze solid – a chance to try making an ice sculpture by moving the frozen block into a different position every day.

However, the temperature rose again before I could get the full propeller effect!

As I write this, it’s warmed up enough for the first frogspawn to appear in the pond.

The other news is that I am to be the new editor of the Basketmakers’ Association newsletter. Although it’s called a newsletter, it’s a 68-page journal that is published four times a year, so it will be quite a lot of work! But there is a very supportive team (we are all volunteers), and I’m looking forward to making lots of interesting contacts with some fantastic basketmakers. So wish me luck!

January 2021 roundup

So where did January go? Perhaps there’s a wormhole associated with Covi-19 that makes a month where every day seems to be the same suddenly pass in a flash. It’s too late to wish you all a happy new year, but Chinese new year is coming up on 12 February, so happy Year of the Ox to everyone!

Second shell vessel

Between Christmas and new year, I had an idea to try making another shell vessel to go with the tortoiseshell vessel. This one was inspired by a scallop shell.

I started by making some sample pieces of the shell segments.

scallop sample coiling

Once I’d worked out the process and shape, I made seven segments of varying sizes.

scallop shell segments

Then I stitched them together and added a border.

scallop vessel lid

The base was a bit trickier. Even with wire in the core I found it difficult to get the correct scallop shape. In the end I created a fan shape by leaving small gaps. So the vessel is not ideal for holding tiny items, but I think the effect is quite shell like. Some commenters on Instagram have also said it reminds them of an art deco shell clutch bag.

scallop coiled vessel

Here are the two vessels together.

scallop and tortoise vessels

I’m now thinking about a third vessel to complete the series, but it may take a while! 🙂

Bindweed vessels

I also carried on experimenting with bindweed, this time making some random weave vessels.

bindweed random weave vessels

Someone on Instagram suggested that a large group would look good as an installation – so I made some more.

bindweed random weave vessels

I’ve now run out of bindweed. I discovered that bindweed harvested after a heavy frost is rather brittle, so I guess I’ll have to wait until it regrows later this year!

Forces in Translation

My City Lit basketry course, which was due to resume this month after being halted last March, has again been postponed due to lockdown. 😦

However, an interdisciplinary group of basketmakers, anthropologists and mathematicians, called Forces in Translation, organised a couple of one-day public online sessions. These explored, among other things, cycloid weaving, looping in the Pacific, windmill knots, sand drawings and the topology of knots, through demonstrations, talks and practical activities.

cycloid weaving half hitches windmill knots windmill knots

Some of the maths was a bit challenging (Gauss topological notation for knots anyone?) and I wondered how I could apply it to basketmaking. But it was intellectually stimulating, especially once I grasped the principle, so maybe that’s the point. 🙂

Now I’m saving up my orange juice cartons to make a Tetrapak dog from windmill loops. This is an updated version of a cigarette packet dog, which apparently was popular in the 1950s.

So far I’ve got enough for three legs, so this could take a while!

tetrapak dog legs

Merry Christmas 2020

The image above is a work by Ruth Asawa shown at an exhibition in London I visited at the beginnning of this year. How long ago it seems, when museums and galleries were open and we could visit without making an appointment in advance!

It’s been a tough year – but we’ve survived, unlike many.

Thank you for reading, following, liking, commenting – online support has meant so much during this period of social distancing.

I wish you all a safe and relaxing Christmas, and hope that the light will return next year.

Autumn harvest

For the last week or so it’s been heavily overcast in London – a series of dull grey days that seem to sum up the feelings of everyone as we headed towards the end of the second national lockdown period (though some areas will still be pretty restricted in what they can do when it ends).

But yesterday, the first day of meterological winter, the sun actually appeared, bringing all the autumnal colours to life during my walk in the park, especially this glorious purple cotinus tree.

cotinus tree cotinus tree

There were also loads of roses still in bloom – in December! This was in the walled garden, which is very sheltered, but even so – it seems that climate change is definitely having an effect.

roses in brockwell park roses in brockwell park roses in brockwell park

At the weekend, back in my own garden, it was time for a bit of a tidy up. My gardening approach tends towards the neglectful (my excuse is that it’s better for wildlife), but with most of the branches bare it became clear just how much the bindweed had run amok. So I spent a bit of time untwining it and coiling it into loose bundles. I also cut back the Virginia creeper, having enjoyed its stunning leaf colours before they fell.

As the stems of both the Virginia creeper and the bindweed were so long and flexible, I decided to try using them for some random weave. I used the thickest stems to make a hoop, and then wove the other stems around it to produce a shallow dish.

Here’s the one made from Virginia creeper. It’s about 25x20cm (10x8in). The little dried tendrils caught on everything, making it tricky to weave with, but they add  interesting detail.

random weave virginia creeper dish

And here’s the bindweed dish – much smaller, around 11cm (4.5in) in diameter.

random weave bindweed dish

Here they are both together. The perspective does funny things – the bindweed dish is relatively much smaller than it looks here.

random weave dishes

I also managed to finish knitting the sweater that I started while watching the US election results, so it’s not been a bad week. 🙂

knitted sweater

Burkina Faso technique at City Lit

For the past few weeks my creative mojo has been curled up in a little ball somewhere under the duvet and refused to come out. It started with a relative’s sombre funeral (nothing to do with covid-19) and continued through the agonisingly drawn-out US elections (when all I wanted to do was sit in a corner and knit while watching CNN). Now I just seem to be in a state of general lethargy.

The first lockdown in March/April was quite a fruitful creative period for me. With exhibitions and shows cancelled and no deadlines to meet, I was able to rediscover the joy of creative play and experimentation. This time round it’s a bit different – the thought of a long dark winter with no or few opportunities to meet up with friends, visit exhibitions and restaurants, or travel anywhere is dispiriting, to say the least.

A little light in the gloom was a course in Burkina Faso plaiting with John Page, run over four consecutive Saturdays at City Lit – one of the few remaining courses that was held face to face rather than online. Because it counts as education it was allowed to continue, albeit with perspex screens, copious hand sanitation points and mask wearing.

Henrietta and Jo, two of my cohort from the two-year City Lit basketry course, also attended, so it was good to see them and catch up in person.

Traditionally in basketry you have upright stakes, around which you wind the weavers. But with Burkina Faso plaiting there is no distinction – the stakes and weavers are constantly changing places. And if you use rigid materials, such as cane or willow, it tends to produce a rather lovely spiral. With softer materials, which are easier to manipulate, you can also weave more regular rows.

We started with rattan (cane) and soft materials like sisal, to learn the basic technique. Because cane is a regular thickness along its whole length, it tends to form a cylinder, but the ends can be tied off to produce a vessel that could be used as a bird feeder or garlic basket.

burkina faso cane piece

Here are some samples made by the group in varied materials, including cane, sisal and telephone wire.

burkina faso group samples

We then moved on to using willow. Because willow rods taper, they naturally form a cone shape. We practised making flat tops and spiral tops.

burkina faso willow vessels

We also tried making flat-bottomed vessels. Quite a lot of strength is needed here to pull the willow into place!

burkina faso flat bottomed willow

Finally, we worked with rush – first time with this material for us all. It’s strangely spongy but is much easier to manipulate than willow.

I started by making a small rush pouch.

burkina faso rush pouch

Then in the final week most of us made rush bags.

burkina faso rush bag

Learning a new technique or working with new materials is always stimulating, and I could feel my creative mojo starting to stir at last!

Here’s a flat spiral I made using paper yarn.

burkina faso paper spiral

And I started making a pouch from telephone wire.

burkina faso phone wire pouch

But then it wanted to turn into another spiral – so I let it!

burkina faso phone wire spiral

Then I had another block – what to do with the ends? The consensus on Instagram was to leave them loose and wild, but they were rather long, and the piece just didn’t feel finished to me. Then someone suggested bending the spiral outwards to create a double-walled vessel. This was slightly tricky, as it meant I would have to plait in reverse. I couldn’t work out how to do that, so I had to plait from the inside looking through the other side of the basket.

burkina faso phone wire spiralburkina faso phone wire spiral

But I was pleased how the piece finally resolved itself in a sort of jellyfish form. And I left the ends free, so managed to have my cake and eat it! 😉