Japanese bookbinding workshop

I’ve always loved the simple elegance of Japanese bookbinding, so when I saw a workshop advertised by Lois offering the chance to make a simple Japanese bound notebook with a printed fabric cover I jumped at it.

We started by printing the fabric with Jonna Saarinen, a Finnish textile designer whose zingy colour palette was perfect for the hot summer evening. Jonna had brought along a collection of printing blocks, but encouraged us to make our own using thin foam glued to blocks of MDF.

bookbinding blocks

First we experimented and practised on paper and scrap fabric.

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There were some very imaginative designs, including watermelons, Warhol-esque tomatoes and a landscape of mountains and stars! I decided to stick to a simple spiral block, printed in two colours.

bookbinding tomatoes

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Lois owner Helen Ward had probably the worst job of the evening – drying the printed fabric with a hairdryer on such a hot evening. That’s what you call a trouper! :-)

Printing complete, we moved on to making up the books with Magda of Check Out My Print! After cutting the fabric to size, we glued it to one side of some card, and patterned paper on the other.

bookbinding cover

Then we punched holes in a pile of paper, lined them up with the covers, and stitched them together. Thankfully, this was less complicated than it looked. :)

Result: six beautiful notebooks and six very happy novice bookbinders!

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Many thanks to Helen, Jonna and Magda for a very productive and enjoyable evening!

More art shows

It’s tiring, this art lark. :) Yesterday was certainly full-on, with two student shows during the day and then open studio visits in Camberwell in the evening.

I started with the Textiles Foundation exhibition at Morley College, as it was close to me and close to my heart. The first thing I saw was a window display of rust and indigo stitched scrim vessels – part of Gav Ross Belton’s Imperfect Beauty display. Please forgive the imperfect photo below, with its pesky reflections!

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Inside was a whole array of his further experiments, using rust and indigo on materials such as paper, scrim, silk and muslin. Some had echoes of Alice Fox, another artist whose work I admire.

I also liked Alison Ripley’s structured felt and stitchwork, inspired by cellular structures.

There was more felt and stitching in Alexandra Anderson’s scarves resembling the texture of melon skin.

And Petra Mavsar’s printed wallpaper and fabric had pleasing symmetries that looked to be based on bird of paradise flowers.

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Natasha Hanckel-Spice’s Code Knit played with the idea of binary code translated into machine knitting with wire and wool, in contrasting colours – another one that was tricky to photograph!

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The Textiles Foundation exhibition runs at Morley Gallery until 2 July.

After lunch with Women of the Cloth it was off to the RCA Textiles show. As ever, the weaving section was especially strong. I particularly liked Wuthigrai Siriphon‘s samples made from recycled PET bottle yarns and polyester combined with silk, paper, cotton, mohair and wool.

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The machine knitted garments using dip-dyed yarns by Jessica Leclere were very effective.

Jeehyun Kil used more unconventional plastic and metal tubes to create 3D geometric forms and nets that are flexible enough to drape and change shape.

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In a similar vein, Yue Wei creates bags and other structures combining materials such as perspex, leather and resin.

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Carly Mikkelsen, by contrast, used more conventional textile materials in unconventional ways- for example, by joining strips of thick layered felt.

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Finally, I loved Amelia Gibbs‘ ethereal fabric collages combining pleated, stitched an shredded silk with feathers and crystals.

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The RCA show runs until 5 July.

Then last night we did the rounds of some of the Camberwell open studios taking part in Camberwell Arts Festival. So much going on, too much to mention – you can see the full list here. But here are a few of my favourites.

Pauline Amphlett Prints

Gabriela Szulman Art

Tony Blackmore

Liz Charsley-Jory

Rafael Atencia Design

The Camberwell Arts Festival ends tomorrow.

Buying barkcloth

I’m happy to introduce my first guest posting on this blog – by ESP!

Those of you who have followed for a while may have seen occasional references to my Ever Supportive Partner, and assumed from the somewhat sardonic tone that the moniker was ironic. Much of the time it is :-) but in fact ESP does have a deep interest in textiles – just not in the type of textiles I make!

He is particularly interested in carpets and rugs, but a visit to the British Museum exhibition on barkcloth sparked off a fascination with this unusual material. So when a piece came up at auction, the fact that it measured around 4 x 2.7 metres was not enough to deter him. Read on…

It started with a British Museum exhibition of some rarely exhibited textiles and ended with a slightly impulsive purchase of an implausibly large piece of Tongan barkcloth.

Shifting patterns – Pacific barkcloth clothing displayed 77 garments from the museum’s Oceanic collection, dating from the 1700s to the today. Kim blogged about it in March, describing the techniques for adding texture and dyeing this strange material. Production has died out through most of the Pacific, though there has been a recent revival of native Hawaiian crafts, and large-scale production continues in Tonga.

The Tongans continue to create large pieces of barkcloth for use in marriage and funeral ceremonies. The exhibition had photos of large cloths laid for recent royal funeral processions. Lengths of ngatu – the Tongan name – have long been used to line pathways for members of the Tongan royal family to walk along and even drive their cars on.

Women preparing a large tapa (en.wikipedia.org/Tauʻolunga)
Women preparing a large tapa (en.wikipedia.org/Tauʻolunga)

Then last month an example appeared at an auction house in Salisbury in one of the regular carpet, rug and textile auctions at Netherhampton Salerooms. When only one other bid was made I jumped in and won it at £90.

Barkcloth, or ngatu, is made from the pounded inner bark of the paper mulberry tree. Thin shoots are cut and the bark is removed. Strips of inner bark are removed from the outer, producing strips a few cms wide and 2m in length. These are then soaked for a few days.

Initial beating of the barkcloth  tu tu strips (en.wikipedia.org/Tauʻolunga)
Initial beating of the barkcloth tu tu strips (en.wikipedia.org/Tauʻolunga)

These strips are stretched by pounding and eventually glued together with a root starch like tapioca. Sheets are built up to a certain size by an individual household and are then moved into a larger communal building to be beaten and glued into larger pieces. The examples at the British Museum showed how textures were literally beaten into the cloth by patterned grooves in the wooden mallets, though there’s no evidence of this on my cloth.

After drying the cloth, rust brown dyes are applied. The dye should come from the red bark of the Koka tree, a type of cedar. There’s a video of the process here. Other sources say that mangrove roots or even orange soda are used. Painting, perhaps using blocks or stencils, follows. Modern pigments produced from brick dust and soot, tyres, and ironmonger’s paint are used as well as more traditional colourings.

Buying something unseen at auction is always a bit risky. A rather dubious and tatty-looking cloth was delivered in a van. Carefully unrolled in the garden, it was soft, fibrous and layered.

The design is a traditional one. There are rows of doves, Norfolk pines (with sun, moon and stars), sea eagles, the Tongan crest and lions. The lions reflect British historical ties. Alongside the doves, on the edges, are the langanga – measurement units which give a clue to the original size of the cloth. This is just a fragment of a much larger piece.

The Tongan seal, the eagle, the pines and the doves
The Tongan seal, the eagle, the pines and the doves

Words painted on the cloth say KO HALA PAINI – the pathway of pines. This is a reference to the road, fringed with Norfolk pines, that leads up to the royal palace in the Tongan capital of Nuku’alofa.

There’s a modern cloth with a very similar design and size in the National Museum of New Zealand, which actively collects modern barkcloths. The painting has much better detail and precision.

There are barkcloths in various UK collections but they don’t seem to be on display. There’s a piece in the British Musem that the Blue Peter programme helped create in the 1970s during a visit to Tonga. In 1972 it was claimed to be the largest piece of barkcloth ever to leave Tonga. The cloth on my wall is a little bigger. :)

Shifting patterns – Pacific barkcloth clothing has been extended and is now at the British Museum until 6 December 2015.

What ESP doesn’t say is how we eventually managed to hang it. After it had lain rolled up in our hall for a couple of weeks (where it was a perilous trip hazard every time I came downstairs), we finally connected two sturdy cardboard tubes using bamboo and fishing twine and draped the cloth sideways over them. It means you can see only one half of the cloth (and sideways at that), but given the limited space we have available, that was the best we could do! Please don’t tell the British Museum. ;-)

The barkcloth - or at least half of it  - hanging on the wall
The barkcloth – or at least half of it – hanging on the wall

Chelsea Textile Design Summer Show 2015

It’s degree show time again. I missed Chelsea last year, so made sure I got there early this year.

As well as the large number of Chinese students, which I’ve commented on before, what struck me this time was the increase in the number of installation pieces, rather than textile samples or garments. Some were interesting, some considerably less so.

As usual, my personal highlights are influenced by my interest in form and texture.

Top prize for use of innovative materials must go to Lok ka Kong, aka Kristen Kong, whose collection of beautifully delicate organic forms was made from dried watermelon rind! She said she had experimented with apple and aubergine before settling on melon. These were also dyed with beetroot.

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The colour and texture reminded me of the extraordinary garments made by the Aleut in the Arctic from sea mammal gut – you can see some in the British Museum.

Talking of texture, Jing Tan incorporated plywood, rubber and stitch, among other things, in her display of work that seemed to have been inspired by coral and marine life.


The texture of some of Qinrun Yu’s pieces brought to mind Dale Chihuly’s fantastical glasswork, so it was not a total surprise to learn that she used glass wax in combination with knitted wire or yarn – even though I’d never previously heard of glass wax. Yu says her work was inspired by sound waves and movement.

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Kuniko Maeda, too, was inspired by motion and its relation to emotion, assembling identically shaped pieces of neoprene into stunning multilayered adornments.


Siying Sun also used layers of fabric connected with beads to decorate her white, green and orange garments.

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Having started off using lots of plastic bags in my own work, I loved Kloe Peart Price’s sugar-almond hued pieces of woven, knotted and stitched plastic bags – they were such fun.

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Plastic also featured in the work of Vanessa-lee Hamlett, whose punk-inspired prints were created from black bin bags and sacking, combined with a belt made from black plastic bags and jute fringing.

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The Chelsea Summer Show runs until 27 June 2015.

Hard and soft

A few months ago I made a felt wall hanging using ombre-dyed indigo muslin and some pebbles I found on an Italian beach.

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I thought I would experiment further with combining hard and soft in this way, this time in 3D form, using smaller pebbles I found on Welsh beaches.

This is a ball I made. I was quite pleased with the finished version on a technical level, but felt that it lacked something.

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Then I remembered a very early felt piece I made at Morley College, when I was experimenting with using marbles as a resist.

embroidered crater flask

So I decided to add some simple embroidery to jazz it up a bit.

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That was better, but I wonder if I should have used more than one colour.

Then I tried a more abstract shape in my usual colour palette.

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I’m not sure whether to add embroidery to this as well, and if so what colour. What do you think?