Textiles Fair at American Museum in Bath

Last week was a blue fingernail week as I charged up the indigo vat to make some new stock for the Textiles Fair at the American Museum in Britain, which is on Saturday 19 August in Bath.

I do wear gloves when dyeing with indigo and when rinsing the work, but it’s impossible to remove stitches and bindings when wearing gloves, so I always end up with blue hands! The indigo washes off my skin fairly easily, but my fingernails remain blue for a couple of days.

Removing the stitches from this machine stitched shibori jacket was particularly time consuming. The main threads rip out very easily, but then I’m left with lots of tiny bits of thread that have to be picked out with tweezers! Still, I think the result was worth it.

machine shibori jacket

At least this ombre dyed linen cutwork dress didn’t need unstitching. The issue here was trying to match the ombre dye on the separate silk slip that goes underneath to retain modesty. 🙂

ombre linen cutwork dress

In fact I have a bit of an ombre thing going on at the moment.

And of course there are always scarves to overdye.

indigo shibori scarves

And more blue fingernails from unstitching these silk cushion covers.

ori nui cushion covers

The Textiles Fair is on Saturday 19 August, 11am-5pm, at the American Museum in Britain, Claverton Manor, Bath BA2 7BD. Entry requires a garden ticket (£7 for adults, £5.50 for over-60s).

And if you’re around East Sussex this weekend, some friends of mine are taking part in an exhibition at Marchants Hardy Plants – so you can stock up on some fabulous perennials and ornamental grasses as well as seeing some lovely textiles!

Expect fabulous felt from Carol Grantham, elegant embroidery from Lucy Goffin and Barbara Kennington, superb stitched portraits from Chrissie Messenger, and more!

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion at the V&A

I make textiles, not clothes, as my sewing skills are somewhat basic and I’ve always been a bit intimidated by the glamorous world of fashion. But I was drawn to this exhibition because Balenciaga was more than a designer – he was a sculptor, or engineer, of fabric.

As the exhibition explains, “Most designers start with a sketch and then seek out a material. Balenciaga began with the fabrics and designed around them. ‘It is the fabric that decides’, he said.”

So he collaborated with the Swiss company Abraham to create gazar silk, a lightweight but sturdy fabric that could stand away from the body while retaining his sculptural silhouettes. However, he didn’t rely on fabric alone: as the X-ray behind show, this apparently loose, unstructured tulip dress was supported by a stiff corset and bar tacks under the arms to ensure a secure fit!

balenciaga tulip dress

This historically inspired silk taffeta evening dress was supported by hoops, and the fabric was “bagged out” so that it filled with air to create more volume as the wearer walked. Less glamorously, the hem was secured with ties just above the knee (seen at the end of the video).

balenciaga evening dress

Intriguingly, many of his sculptural shapes were created from a single piece of fabric, like this evening dress.

Not all his sculptural designs were practical – only two of his famous envelope dresses were sold, and one was returned because the buyer couldn’t go to the toilet when wearing it!

Neither were all of Balenciaga’s designs minimalist. He worked closely with companies such as Lesage, who made luxury embellishments and accessories, including the stunning embroidery on this evening coat, made up of white pearls, teardrop and pink feather-shaped sequins, and Swarovski crystals.

balenciaga evening coat

Upstairs, the second part of the exhibition features the work of designers who have been influenced by the master, from Huert de Givenchy to Oscar de la Renta.

Balenciaga: Shaping Fashion runs at the V&A until 18 February 2018.

Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic at the National Gallery

You sense that Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili has a bit of the devil in him. When the Clothworkers’ Company approached him about commissioning a tapestry for their dining room, he sent back a list of conditions – a non-wish list, if you will. He didn’t want to meet them, he didn’t want to see where the tapestry would be hung, and he didn’t want a discussion about the content.

When the livery company agreed to all his demands, Ofili came up with a new ruse. In a fascinating BBC TV documentary following the creation of the tapestry, he twinkles:

“I thought it would be funny to see if the weavers could actually weave water. So I found myself making the watercolour and trying to release the pigment even more and giggling at the fact that it was almost impossible for them to achieve it – there’s no way they’re going to be able to do this! So let’s just sit back and watch!”

And watch we do, open mouthed as, over nearly three years, an amazing team of weavers at the Dovecot Tapestry Studio in Edinburgh translate Ofili’s watery triptych of free-flowing colour and grazing charcoal into a shimmering fabrication of wool.

One of the weavers, Emma Jo Webster, explains: “The watercolour’s multilayered, so you’re often looking at the colours underneath to come up through the row as well. So rather than just a block of colour the mixing is very important….If you want to weave something that looks all the same colour but you don’t want it to look flat, like cardboard, you would make a mix of very close colours and then it will just gently look like the same colour.”

Viewing the tapestry close up at the National Gallery, you can see what they mean. Like an Impressionist painting, the flecks of individual colours dance before your eyes, before coalescing into luminous pools of colour bleeding into each other as you move further away.

The central scene could be seen as a modern-day Genesis, with Adam strumming a guitar while languid Eve’s cocktail glass is refilled by a somewhat abstract barman (based on footballer Mario Balotelli!) lurking in a palm tree. Storm clouds loom in the distance, presaging an imminent end to this paradise.

The setting is wonderfully theatrical, and not just because of the male and female figures on either side, holding back the curtains to allow us a glimpse of this intimate tableau.

Around the walls floats a chorus of grisaille dancers, their sinuous voluptuousness and billowing veils straight out of an Indian temple. But many have moustaches and goatee beards – another sign that not is all as it seems?

Chris Ofili: Weaving Magic runs at the National Gallery until 28 August. After that the tapestry will be permanently installed in the Livery Hall at Clothworkers’ Hall and will be available to view by appointment. Contact archivist@clothworkers.co.uk for more details.

Chris Ofili: The Caged Bird’s Song is available on the BBC iPlayer for a further 21 days (apologies to readers who live outside the UK, who may not be able to view it).

Lumps and bumps

Thanks to all of you who commented on my last post, suggesting I should cut away more felt from the flint. So I did – and you were right, the balance of felt to stone is much better. 🙂

Wrapping rocks can get quite addictive if you let it – I also enclosed a bit of coral.

coral and felt

This week we’ve been working on lumps and bumps with Pam de Groot, essentially based on the principle that the thicker the felt, the less it shrinks.

Here’s a piece I made inspired by the Phyllidia exquisita sea slug, or nudibranch.

felt inspired by Phyllidia exquisita nudibranch

And here’s something that resembles a funny-coloured garlic clove when it’s closed, but opens up to reveal its balls in the centre. 😉

Undulations and enclosures

I really enjoyed the last online workshop with Pam de Groot, so I’m now doing another one on Surface form and space.

The first couple of weeks focused on undulations.

felt undulations felt undulations

By varying the thickness and spacing you can create different effects, so it’s always exciting and fascinating to see what other people have produced in the online discussions. One enthusiastic felter has produced a whole undersea tableau with her creations!

Here I combined some undulations with spikes, just for fun.

Now we’ve moved on to felting foreign objects, starting with stones. As you might imagine, this combination of hard and soft was right up my street. And ESP will be delighted that I’m actually doing something with all the stones I collect on our holidays (and which normally end up in his suitcase to carry home!).

I started with a small granite pebble.

Then I had a go at making a felt necklace. To be honest it’s a bit of a squeeze getting it over my head – I should have made the cord a bit longer!

Finally, I found a flint in the garden that had three holes in it – two of the holes connected to form a mini tunnel. So I tried felting this and then cutting to reveal the holes. Here are a couple of different angles, showing the flint before and after felting.

If I did it again I would probably have fewer layers of felt to try to maintain more of the shape of the stone.

I’m also not sure whether the felt covers too much of the stone texture and whether I should cut away a bit more of the felt. What do you think?