Hexagonal basket making

I spent yesterday near the Ashdown Forest in Sussex doing a hexagonal weave workshop with the lovely Polly Pollock. We were working in the cosy studio of another basket maker, Annemarie O’Sullivan, as the squally showers drenched the garden and fields outside.

Polly Pollock hexagonal weaving

Using flat cane, Polly started by showing us how to make the base of the basket. Weaving in three directions (triaxial weaving) looks a little tricky but if you remember some basic rules it should be OK.

hexagonal weave base

To form the sides of the basket you need to create corners, which require pentagons rather than hexagons.

hexagonal weave corners

Then it’s back to hexagons and business as usual.

hexagonal weave basket

The trickiest part is finishing off. I made my first acquaintance with an Archimedes drill (if you pierce cane it tends to split) and after a bit of nerve wracking precision cutting it was complete!

Here are all our baskets lined up, finished with different coloured chair cane – guess which one is mine! 🙂

hexagonal weave baskets

Depending on where you place the corners you can produce different shapes.

hexagonal weave vessel

And of course you can used dyed cane too.

dyed hexagonal weave

Annmarie runs various basketry workshops – check her website for details.

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Innovative weaving: Anni Albers and Ann Richards

Regular followers of this blog will know that my primary textile interests are to do with form and texture. So I haven’t paid much attention to weaving (although my recent explorations in basketry rely on weaving techniques). Two recent events have punctured this insularity.

The Tate Modern exhibition on Anni Albers opened about 10 days ago. After its exhibition on Sonia Delaunay in 2015 this seems to be continuing the art world’s discovery that textiles can be art too.

Ironically, Albers faced a similar prejudice when she attended the Bauhaus art school in Weimar, Germany, in 1922. Despite its pretensions to equality, women students were often shepherded into the weaving classes rather than painting or sculpture.

But Albers made the most of the hand she was dealt. Weaving, with its warp and weft, admirably fitted in with the modernist grid concept, but by using unusual materials, such as cellophane and metallic threads, her pieces created painterly effects such as the impression of shifting light as well as retaining their texture.

La Luz 1 by Anni Albers
La Luz 1

In 1933 the Nazis forced the Bauhaus school to close, and Albers moved to the US with her husband Josef. As well as teaching, she started making “pictorial weavings” – artworks to be hung on a wall rather than used as fabric. I found these to be some of her most interesting pieces, experimenting with twisted warp threads, double warp layers, and gathering yarn to create bobbles.

Variations on a Theme by Anni Albers
Variations on a Theme

Dotted by Anni Albers
Dotted

As well as art textiles, Albers also worked on architectural commissions, including room dividers and window covers for furniture designer Florence Knoll in 1951. These included very open weave lattices in linen that filtered light while also allowing air to circulate.

Albers’ most ambitious pictorial weaving was a memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, commissioned by the Jewish Museum in New York. Although she was from a Jewish family, Albers had been baptised as a Protestant and didn’t regard herself as really Jewish. But her piece, Six Prayers, beautifully interprets the Torah scrolls and Hebrew script.

Six Prayers by Anni Albers
Six Prayers

Albers was a master of technique, creating multilayered, highly textured pieces. But she also saw thread as a material she could use to “draw”.

She also turned to more conventional drawing, painting, embossing and printing techniques in a series of entangled knots, one of which was interpreted in this rug.

anni albers rug

Albers didn’t keep many sketchbooks, but she did produce lots of samples, which are absolutely fascinating.

anni albers sample

Albers is probably best known for her seminal 1965 book On Weaving. The exhibition includes some of the source material she gathered for the book, including woven pieces from around the world.

Anni Albers continues at Tate Modern until 27 January 2019.

On a slightly smaller scale, the other event that made me reassess weaving was the Praktis 2018 exhibition in the lovely Bury Court Farm in Hampshire. Two friends, Barbara Kennington and Lucy Goffin (aka Material Being) were  exhibiting some of their exquisite embroidered waistcoats, stitched pictures and paintings.

material being waistcoats
Image: Material Being

Also taking part was weaver Ann Richards, who uses high twist yarns to create pleating that happens spontaneously when the fabric is soaked in water. Ann did a demonstration while I was there, putting a small woven piece in a glass of water, whereupon it pleated by itself, apparently by magic!

The pleats instantly reminded me of arashi shibori, and I couldn’t resist buying a bracelet.

ann richards bracelet

Along with two other textile artists, Alison Ellen and Deirdre Wood, Ann is taking part in the exhibition Soft Engineering: Textiles Taking Shape, which will be moving to Whitchurch Silk Mill in Hampshire next year.

Textiles in Turin

The main point of my visit to Turin was to attend the Slow Food Convention (Terra Madre Salone del Gusto) – mainly an excuse to gorge on so many delicious things! However, I encountered a surprising number of textiles on my trip so thought I’d share some of them with you. 🙂

Disappearing dye

The Japanese stand at Salone del Gusto offered several workshops, including the chance to dye a T-shirt with Commelina communis, aka Asiatic dayflower.

Well, I’d never heard of this flower so of course I had to sign up!

Fumiko Fujii, the dyer running the workshop, explained that the flowers are collected and then pressed flat on to paper, which is soaked in water to extract the blue colour. However, it is not fast when washed! For this reason it is used to paint the initial designs on kimono and washed out later.

So Fumiko had added some indian ink to the dye so that it wouldn’t wash out, and I used this to draw my practice design on paper – the snail logo of the Slow Food organisation.

However, when it came to painting the design on the T-shirt, I decided to use the pure Asiatic dayflower extract – and not wash it! 🙂 I added some red highlights with dye made by soaking hibiscus flowers for three days. It was much trickier painting the T-shirt because the absorbent fabric caused the dye to spread.

But it was lovely to meet Fumiko and learn about another Japanese dye.

Egyptian dresses

The best-known textile in Turin is of course the Turin Shroud. But in the city’s wonderful Egyptian Museum are some garments that are far older and definitely authentic. These pleated linen dresses, for example, are in amazing condition for fabric that is around 4,000 years old.

There were also some great examples of Coptic weaving and embroidery from the 3rd to 11th centuries AD.

And this is the remains of a design for weavers to follow, drawn on papyrus.

I also loved the patterns created by the bandages on mummified animals.

There was some great weaving too.

And the patterns caused by some of the displays turned them into mini installations.

Fabulous felt

Finally, we made a trip out to the suburbs to the Leumann Village. Rather like Saltaire and Port Sunlight in the UK, Leumann Village was built by enlightened entrepreneur Napoleon Leumann to house workers in his cotton mill. The village included a church, a school, public baths and a railway station.

Today the factory is home to various factory shopping outlets, but there is a small museum where you can see how the workers lived.

The day we visited there was also a textile fair and exhibition, which included some fabulous sculptural felt work by Esther Weber.

Catching up

So sorry for the radio silence – the past few weeks have been filled with doing rather than writing! Here’s a round up. (Warning – lots of pics!)

Kent workshops

I had a wonderful time at the two workshops I ran in Kent on felting and ecoprinting. Two very enthusiastic groups of ladies made some beautiful work. Hopefully we will be able to arrange some more workshops in the future.

Exhibitions

I went to a surprisingly interesting exhibition about teeth at the Wellcome Collection (closes on Sunday).

Artistic window display featuring dentures and dental implements:

More (and more!) dental implements:

And a cute Italian poster for toothpaste:

I also went to the Chelsea College MA Textiles exhibition (finishes today). I loved these beautiful ethereal garments made from discarded fishing nets by Jialu Ma:

Hongyangzi Sun’s knitted magnetic building blocks were lots of fun:

I also liked Anum Rasul’s architectural textile constructions, combining hard and soft elements:

And Miles Visman constructed a fascinating colour exercise showing how embroidered panels change under different lighting:

Inspired by nature

I spent a lovely weekend in Deal in the gorgeous cottage of a friend, going for walks on the beach and in the countryside and sitting in the garden.

Dead hollyhock:

I thought this was a giant dandelion but I’m told it’s meadow salsify:

Spot the crab (or ex-crab):

Work in progress

I’ve been experimenting with coloured backgrounds in ecoprinting:

And I’ve also been trying some weaving with palm fronds. In my back garden is some kind of palm. I don’t know what it is or how it got there – I didn’t plant it! The lower part has lots of dead fronds so as I was tidying it up a bit I thought I would try a bit of weaving with them. They are surprisingly easy to work with and I like the frayed ends where they were removed from the trunk.

 

Workshops and American Museum Textiles Fair

I thought I’d already posted about these events but it was actually on my website and newsletter, so sorry about the short notice!

Workshops

Next week I’m running a couple of workshops for beginners on felting and ecoprinting. The venue is The Old School, School Lane, West Kingsdown, Sevenoaks, Kent TN15 6JN, just off the M20. For more information and to book, please contact Judith Yarnold, judithyarnold@gmail.com, 01474 852669.

Introduction to felting

Tuesday 21 August, 10am-4pm

Felt is one of the oldest known fabrics in the world. It’s made by wetting layers of wool roving and rubbing and rolling with soap until the fibres interlock to form a robust fabric. This one-day workshop introduces you to the basic felting technique.

In the morning you will start by making a flat piece of felt to learn the basic technique. You can decorate it with yarn, silk and other embellishments.

In the afternoon you will make a 3D object (a small bowl) by felting around a resist. Again, you can decorate this in various ways.

We provide: All materials, but please bring an old towel and a plastic bag to take your work home with you

Numbers: Min 5, max 10 in class

Cost: £60 to be paid up front + £6 for materials to be paid in cash to the tutor on the day

When: Tuesday 21 August, 10am-4pm. There will be an hour’s break for lunch. There is a small shop that sells food about 5 minutes’ drive from the venue or you can bring your own.

Introduction to ecoprinting workshop

Wednesday 22 August 2018

Ecoprinting is also known as botanical contact printing or bundling. It involves making a bundle of leaves in fabric and steaming or simmering in water or dye. In these conditions, certain plants leave their imprint on the fabric.

We will be working with silk in this workshop, as it is one of the easiest fabrics to use with this technique. In the morning we will go on a foraging walk to look for leaves and other foliage to use for ecoprinting. Then we will come back and make a couple of small samples using iron as a mordant. They will steam or simmer during our lunch break.

In the afternoon we will unbundle the samples to see the results and then lay out a larger piece (a silk scarf). While this is steaming we will experiment with hapazome (flower pounding), another method of using plants to make marks on fabric.

We provide: All materials, but please wear old clothes and bring an apron

Numbers: Min 5, max 10 in class

Cost: £60 to be paid up front + £15 for materials to be paid in cash to the tutor on the day

When: Wednesday 22 August, 10am-4pm. There will be an hour’s break for lunch. There is a small shop that sells food about 5 minutes’ drive from the venue or you can bring your own.

American Museum Textiles Fair

Claverton Manor, Bath BA2 7BD
Saturday 18 and Sunday 19 August, 10am-4pm

Spend the weekend browsing antique, vintage and world textiles as well as yarns, and makers’ suppliers at the ‘home of quilts’ in the South West. I will be bringing my latest batch of upcycled indigo shibori and ecoprinted garments and accessories.

 

A week of indigo

It was definitely a blue fingernail week last week! It started with a couple of days in Hove with a wonderful group of textile friends who try to get together every couple of months to do a little felting or stitching.

This time, Barbara was rash enough to offer her garden to do some indigo dyeing – though some parts (usually featuring pale limestone!) were definitely out of bounds to people carrying dripping blue fabric. 🙂 The weather was glorious – the last two days of our prolonged heatwave – and the food and drink was plentiful and excellent. Barbara even baked a belated birthday cake for Carol, my partner in Women of the Cloth.

In between the eating, drinking and laughter we even found some time for dyeing, and everyone produced some great work.

When I got back home, it was time to filter my second indigo extraction from my homegrown indigo, which I’d fermented and left to settle while I was away. This produced another 4g of indigo.

Then on Friday I harvested 75g of indigo leaves, blended them with iced water till it was bright green and strained it through silk.

I used this to dye two silk scarves, one plain and one ecoprinted. Interestingly, some of the leaf prints seemed to resist the dye, while others changed colour as they were overdyed.

Also interestingly, the silk I used to strain the vegetation shows a range of colours, from the expected turquoise, through pale green to red from indirubin.

All natural indigo contains indigotin, the blue pigment, and indirubin, a red pigment – the indirubin is usually hidden by the indigotin, but shows up once the indigotin is exhausted.  Fascinating to see it separated out here!

Extracting indigo from homegrown plants

A couple of years ago I grew Japanese indigo in my London garden for the first time, and tried dyeing with fresh leaves as well as making a reduced vat.

This year I planted more Japanese indigo – I got the seeds from Ashley Walker of Nature’s Rainbow at the natural dyeing workshop I did in January. He said that there were two variations – broad leaved and narrow leaved, and that he had found that the broad leaved variety contained more pigment. So I planted them in two separate patches, and thanks to the wet spring and summer heatwave they have grown really strongly.

I’d read about extracting pigment by drying and composting the leaves, but this seemed to be quite a large scale process – I got the impression that I would need several years’ worth of leaves before this became worthwhile! But then I joined a Facebook group on indigo pigment extraction methods, whose admin Brittany Boles published a description of aqueous alkali precipitation extraction and also linked to a detailed account of the process by Fibershed.

So last week as our heatwave reached its peak I took the plunge and had a go at fermenting some of my homegrown indigo.

indigo harvest

I cut about half the broad leaved plants down to 7-8 inches and stripped off the leaves, ending up with 215g. I covered them with bottled water (chlorinated water is a no no and there wasn’t much rainwater around!) and kept the leaves submerged with a couple of stones.

indigo fermentation start

A couple of days later I could see an oily slick on top of the water – a good sign that fermentation was happening.

indigo fermentation middle

Then only a couple of hours later the water had turned bright green and there was a characteristic fruity smell – bingo! I decided to remove the leaves, because if you leave them for too long the yield of indigo pigment apparently drops drastically.

indigo fermentation end

I added lime (calcium hydroxide) to reach pH 10 and then whisked…and whisked…and whisked until the liquid was a deep indigo blue.

Because I’d used a dark grey bucket, I decanted a bit into a clear jar so I could get an idea of how the pigment was settling. Two days later I could see a dark blue line at the bottom of the container where the indigo had settled.

indigo precipitation

So I decanted most of the liquid from the bucket, adding it to my current indigo vat.

indigo decanting

Then I poured the sludge at the bottom into a coffee filter.

indigo filtering

After filtering and drying, I was left with 4g of homegrown indigo.

indigo pigment

I also saved the stripped stalks of indigo and stuck them in a jar of water. One week later they have developed new roots – ready to replant for the next round!

indigo rooting

I don’t know how pure the pigment is – apparently this method produces fairly low grade indigo, with bits of leaf and other impurities. But it’s a great feeling to have grown and extracted my own indigo pigment! 🙂

Second random weave puzzle ball

After my first attempt at a random weave puzzle ball I was determined to try again incorporating what I’d learnt. This time I went for five layers!

random weave puzzle ball

The inner three layers were woven from hemp that I bought at the textile market in Belgium. The innermost ball is black, so you can’t see it very well. (Lesson for next time – make the inside ball a light colour!)

The fourth layer was made from paper yarn dyed with onion skins.

And the outer layer was paper yarn dyed with indigo.

random weave puzzle ball

With five layers it was even more fiddly to get the inner moulds out, but I got there eventually without destroying the outer layers. I’m not sure I could do any more layers though!

I also had a go at making a random weave cube – this was a harder shape to mould. Because I left open areas it was also harder to photograph, as it’s difficult to distinguish the different surfaces.

open weave cube open weave cube