TextielMuseum in Tilburg and Kubota in Antwerp

Last week I visited the Netherlands to see the splendid exhibition commemorating the 500th anniversary of the death of the artist Hieronymous Bosch. The exhibition is in ’s-Hertogenbosch, the city after which the artist took his name, but we stayed in nearby Tilburg, which happens to have an excellent textiles museum.:-)

The TextielMuseum in Tilburg is housed in an old spinning mill, now a national monument, with modern extensions. The ground floor recreates the woollen blanket factory that occupied the premises from 1900 to 1940, with baskets of fleece and carding, spinning, spooling, and weaving machines, all powered by a steam engine.

Next door, by contrast, is the modern TextielLab, a specialist workshop with computer controlled machines offering students and designers the chance to collaborate and experiment with weaving, knitting, embroidery, tufting, passementerie and laser cutting. Visitors are free to wander and see the machines in action, samples of experimental work, and take part in workshops – it’s an engrossing experience.

Laser cutting in TextielLab
Laser cutting in TextielLab
Weaving in TextielLab
Weaving in TextielLab
Weaving workshop in TextielLab
Weaving workshop in TextielLab
Tufting sample in TextielLab
Tufting sample in TextielLab
Tufting sample in TextielLab
Tufting sample in TextielLab

Upstairs, the temporary exhibition Co-creation explores in more detail three collaborations between the TextielLab and prominent design agencies. Studio Samira Boon’s work on textile structures inspired by origami interested me greatly. By combining suitable yarns and weave, Samira produced complex self-folding textiles known as “Super Folds”, which create a 3D structure.

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Also on the first floor, another temporary exhibition called Switch examines 25 years of Dutch design. It includes some wonderful felted hangings by Claudy Jongstra.

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There were some interesting rugs too, including the “accidental carpet” by Tejo Remy and Tanja Smeets, made from used woollen blankets.

Accidental Carpet

The “Kiki Carpet” by Kiki van Eijk resembles a large embroidery and was inspired by the decor of 19th-century dolls’ houses.

tilburg 10

The “Algae Growth” carpet by Studio Maarten Kolk and Guus Kusters looked at the issue of sustainability. The designers digitally printed the backing and treated it with the remnants of ink from the ink cartridges. After tufting, the carpet was then moistened so that the ink flowed from the backing to the pile.

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Last but certainly not least, the final temporary exhibition on the ground floor is a retrospective of Sheila Hicks. Spanning seven decades of her work, the show includes some wonderful examples of her remarkably varied work, reflected in the show’s title “Why Not?”

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More information about all these exhibitions on the TextielMuseum website.

Before coming home, we stopped off in Antwerp for a couple of nights, where the Fashion Museum (MoMu) currently has eight kimono by Itchiku Kubota on display. I’ve blogged previously about a lecture I attended on this master craftsman, but this is the first time I’ve seen any of his kimono in real life.

Unfortunately, they are displayed about six feet behind glass panels, so it’s not easy to see the detail. This, anyway, is my excuse for the not-so-great images below.

Six kimono are from The Universe section of his Symphony of Light series, ablaze with flames and swirls of colour, rich with embroidery and gold leaf highlights.

kubota 1 kubota 2

The two kimono from the Mount Fuji series are more subtle, with the textures created by shibori clouds delicately rippling across the pale surfaces.

kubota 3 kubota 4

Traditions and Dreams – Kimono from the Kubota Collection runs at the MoMu Gallery until 19 June 2016.

Dyeing with daffodils

It’s spring and daffodils are everywhere. But as the flowers fade they need to be deadheaded, so I thought I’d see if how well they act as a dye.

According to Jenny Dean’s Wild Colour, fresh flowers give a stronger colour than dried, but I had to collect the flowers over a few weeks, so I dried them until I had enough. Then I soaked them in water for a couple of days.

daffodil dyeing 1

The colour was already a deep yellow after this, but I simmered them for an hour anyway before straining out the flowers.

I added a silk top that I’d mordanted with alum and simmered for another hour, then left it overnight to soak. After washing and rinsing, the top was quite a dark mustard colour.

daffodil dyeing 2

But this lightened to a more greenish yellow when dry.

daffodil dyeing 3

Contact printing with geranium (cranesbill) leaves toned the brightness down a bit.

daffodil dyeing 4 daffodil dyeing 5

What would Wordsworth think?:-)

Chinese embroidered collar

Last night I went to the private view of the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair. We usually attend every year, but this is the first time I’ve bought anything!

joss graham shibori 1

I was very tempted by a stunning indigo stitched and bound resist piece shown by Joss Graham. Joss said it was made in Indonesia using the tritik technique – aka nui shibori stitch resist. The stitch resist border surrounded an area of white dots on blue created by binding, with a white central elliptical area, presumably created by capping (some of the threads from the stitching were still present).

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Detail of border
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Detail of central area showing remaining threads from stitching

The piece was about 12 feet long, and it was the practicality of how and where we would display it (along with the price!) that made us reluctantly leave it.

However, I couldn’t resist an Chinese embroidered collar from Molly Hogg Textiles. Made for a child, the collar consists of five lobes of exquisitely precise stitching.

chinese collar 1

Some of the patterns bring to mind Japanese sashiko stitching; others are more like elaborate geometric samplers.

chinese collar detail 1 chinese collar detail 5 chinese collar detail 4 chinese collar detail 3 chinese collar detail 2

Molly wasn’t able to tell me much about the collar, and I’ve not been able to find any similar examples of collars with this type of embroidery on the internet.

But generally it seems that in China collars were made separately from the garment, allowing them to be worn almost like necklaces with different outfits. If anyone has any idea about how old this is or which part of China it might come from, do get in touch!

The London Antique Rug and Textile Fair runs until Sunday 17 April. Admission is free.

Marian Clayden Art Textiles

As someone who does quite a lot of tie dye, or shibori, I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t heard of Marian Clayden before visiting this exhibition at the Fashion and Textile Museum. Yet her skills – and influence – extended well beyond dyeing – for example, her work was behind the widespread popularity of velvet devoré in the 1990s (I had several scarves!).

Clayden was born in the UK and went to Nottingham School of Art. But it wasn’t until she emigrated to Australia in 1962 that she took up dyeing, teaching herself from a book. She then moved to California and was commissioned to produce all the textiles for tours of the musical Hair.

Her work from this period very much reflects the palette of the period, in purple, orange and brown – but the painterly effects she produced are far from common.

marian clayden dress marian clayden dress

These dresses were made using stitch resist (nui shibori), which normally produces broken lines – so I suspect that after stitching and gathering the fabric she then bound over the top of the stitching.

After receiving a grant from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1971 she was able to scale up, producing large hanging pieces of silk using several stages of stitching, dyeing and discharge.

marian clayden silk hanging marian clayden silk hanging

My favourite from this period was cotton rather than silk, in more earthy colours of blue and ochre – a detail is shown below.

Marian clayden hanging

I also liked a wonderful coarse cotton mask, inspired by Australian Aboriginal masks.

Marian clayden mask

In the mid-70s Clayden developed an interest in clamped resist (itajime shibori) and discharge dyeing – most of these pieces in the exhibition were from later periods, like this silk organza coat from 2001.

marian clayden coat

She also became increasingly interested in texture, experimenting with non-loom weaving. This stunning hanging consists of ropes made from cotton roving, dyed, discharged and hand plied.

marian clayden rope hanging marian clayden rope hanging

Her innovation continued throughout the 1980s, perhaps best exemplified by her “toaster print”, originally produced by coating the ridges of a sandwich toaster with ink, adding the fabric and closing the toaster.:-) You can see this on the tulip coat below.

clayden toaster printclayden toaster print detail

Clayden also developed the technique of ombre discharge, producing subtle shading, and cut velvet panels, widely imitated by the cheaper devoré semi-sheer cloth with pile patterns (my scarves!).

clayden ombre dyeclayden devore

For me, two other pieces in the exhibition highlight Clayden’s global range of influences. The Japanese aesthetic clearly shows in these beautifully minimal “towers” of cotton strapping discharge dyed and wrapped around dowelling. They were inspired by palm trees wrapped in fronds that she saw in Hawaii.

clayden towers

Then, in 1992, Clayden was invited by Aid to Artisans to work with felt makers in Hungary. The result was a series of felt hats and waistcoats, dyed, discharged and appliquéd.

clayden felt hat clayden felt waistcoat

Marian Clayden Art Textiles runs at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 17 April 2016.

Inspired by an armadillo

Sorry about the radio silence, but after the Christmas rush and a month’s holiday I lost a bit of my creative drive.😦 But now the days are getting longer (and sunnier) I can feel my mojo returning – last week I dyed my first indigo batch of the year.

During this down time I visited the Grant Museum of Zoology, a wonderful collection of skeletons, fossils and pickled specimens. Not surprisingly, I was enchanted by the samples of coral and also a python skeleton, as well as the micrarium – an imaginative display of microscope slides.

However, what got my brain cells whirring was an armadillo in the same case as the python skeleton. It was slightly tucked away behind another specimen (not good for photos), higher than my head height (also not good) and behind glass (worst of all). But the way the armour “bands” overlapped as the creature curled started me thinking about furling and unfurling – here’s an image of a three-banded armadillo so you can see what I mean. (I also love the texture!)


Sketching ideas on the bus on the way home I came up with the strategy of felting around a series of different sized resists and then inserting one inside the other before felting them together.

armadillo inspired 1

This is the result of my first experiment. There’s a stone in the bottom to keep it stable when vertical, but I felt that the individual scales were too elongated, and there was a gaping hole at the centre.

armadillo inspired 2

Experiment 2 was more successful, though the red spiral was probably overkill. The piece was not stable enough to stand vertically but I decided that probably didn’t matter (though I did start wondering about the best way to display it). I was happier with the shape, so decided to see what would happen if I added more scales.

armadillo inspired 3

Experiment 3 was not a success! I thought I would try a colour spectrum, but I didn’t really have enough shades of blue and I didn’t blend those I did have properly. (And the photo makes it look even worse!) Also, the scales were too far apart and didn’t overlap enough.

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Finally, experiment 4 resulted in a piece I was happy with. By curling the free end, I think it would be possible to use that to hang it from a hook.

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Still more experiments to do with varying the shape of the resists – I think the free end could be shorter and pointier. And it’s definitely more vegetal than armadillo!