The big news this month is…drumroll…I have finished the Tetrapak dog!
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.
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.
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! 😉
Hopefully this will be more presentable next month.
Week 6 of lockdown and my creative mojo has gone walkabout. When I look back on the past five weeks I can see I’ve tried a lot of new ideas and materials. By comparison, this week has mostly been about collecting materials and honing familiar techniques.
The weather hasn’t helped. April in the UK has been the sunniest month on record, and the lockdown finally goaded me into getting my bike fixed (bike shops remain open). So I’ve been getting more of my daily exercise on two wheels, discovering the delight of relatively quiet roads in the city.
I’ve also been out gathering materials. The one new thing I did try this week was making cordage from dandelion stalks. Much to ESP’s horror, I failed to remove all the dandelion heads before hanging the stalks up to dry in the garden. So I may not have to go too far to gather dandelions next year! 🙂
Once the stalks were dry, I sprayed them with water to rehydrate before twisting into cordage.
I’m fascinated by the dried dandelion heads left over – they remind me of miniature jellyfish.
I’ve also been gathering dying daffodil leaves for more cordage and coiling. It made me reflect on how things have changed. Four years ago I was obsessed with collecting the dead flowers to dye with; now I’m more interested in the foliage!
I still do some dyeing, mostly with indigo, so I’ve been shibori stitching some recycled items ready to go into the next vat.
I’m currently working on a fiddly coiling project for my City Lit course, which involves lots of sampling. I’m not ready to talk about that yet, but for relaxation I made another coiled bowl from sash cord and wool. Unlike the coiling for City Lit, it’s something I’m able to do while watching TV (another activity I’m doing rather a lot of!).
Talking of shibori, this week’s kimono from the V&A exhibition is a modern garment made in 2019 by Yamaguchi Genbei, decorated with a dramatic depiction of Mount Fuji.
Made from machine-spun hemp, this summer kimono was part of the Majotae project, which aimed to produce hemp on a commercially viable scale for clothing, as it is particularly suited to the Japanese climate.
After the intense physicality of the willow basketry module at City Lit just before Christmas, it was a relief to have a break and think about something else.
The submission deadline for the next South London Women Artists exhibition was 6 January, so this provided the perfect opportunity. The theme for the exhibition is “Equinox”, and my original idea was to make some random weave eggs containing felt “yolks”, representing spring. However, an email then arrived saying that all works had to be 2D. So it was back to the drawing board.
An equinox occurs twice a year, around 21 March and 21 September. The March equinox is generally regarded as the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, while the September one is the beginning of autumn. It is so named because the length of the day and night are approximately equal on those dates.
I started thinking about the lengthening days and the warmth of the sun’s rays returning after the dark winter, and had the idea of making a stitched piece representing this. I found a piece of indigo shibori cotton that was roughly half dark, half light, to resemble the Earth, and pinned it to a piece of cream linen.
Then I started stitching.
I decided to use simple kantha (running stitch) to represent the sun’s rays, in differing shades ranging from cream to dark orange.
Kantha stitch also produces a slightly rippled effect, which evokes the oceans.
I left the edges raw, expecting (hoping) they would fray slightly, but in fact they frayed very little.
It was very restful, after wrestling with willow rods, to be able to sit and stitch quietly, even if it took rather a long time! 🙂
Once it was finished, I had the tricky job of mounting it. I didn’t really want to put it behind glass, as I think it deadens it and I didn’t want to lose the texture. So I stitched it to a heavier piece of cotton before stretching it over some stretcher bars and adding backing. This successfully removed the wrinkles without flattening the ripples too much.
Equinox runs from 3 to 22 March at St Marylebone Parish Church, 17 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LT. The private view is on 4 March, 6-8pm – everyone welcome.
Because we had such a long hot summer in the UK last year my homegrown Japanese indigo lasted well into the autumn, and I didn’t have time to use all the fresh leaves for dyeing.
I’m always reluctant to waste anything so at the end of the season I cut the remaining stems, tied them into bunches, and hung them in my airing cupboard to dry out. Quite a few of them had flowers on, so I snipped these off and dried them separately in a paper bag to save the seeds.
Within a few weeks the leaves had dried out and gone slightly blue (dried bunch on the right).
I stripped all the dried leaves off and stored them, hoping to find a method of making an indigo vat with dried leaves.
I then managed to acquire a copy of John Marshall’s excellent book Singing the Blues, which contains lots of ideas for using fresh indigo leaves, as well as a method of making a vat with dried leaves. Eureka!
John’s method involves heating the leaves with soda ash (alkali) and thiox (thiorea dioxide – reducing agent), but I didn’t really like the idea of heating thiox, which produces harmful vapours above 40ºC. So I decided to try making the vat with lime as the alkali and fructose as the reducing agent. This is how I make organic indigo vats, following Michel Garcia’s 123 recipe (1 part indigo, 2 parts lime, 3 parts fructose).
The problem, of course, is that I had no idea about the quantity of indigo contained in the leaves. It was at the end of the season, and some of the plants had flowered, so the level of indigo was likely to be low. When I extracted indigo from fresh leaves earlier last year, I obtained 4g of solid pigment from 215g of fresh leaves – but I don’t know how pure the indigo was.
Fresh leaves weigh more than dried leaves so I decided to assume 4g of indigo in my dried leaves, which was probably on the optimistic side!
Here’s what I did:
I simmered my 104g of dried leaves in 5 litres of water for 20 minutes to remove impurities, strained the leaves and discarded the liquid.
I simmered the same leaves in another 5 litres of water with 8g of lime and 12g of fructose for 20 minutes. John Marshall says a dark blue film should form on the surface, but I didn’t see this. The liquid was a very dark yellow. I strained it and kept the liquid anyway.
I then repeated the previous step three times. The second time I got a little blue, but by the third and fourth times there was significantly more blue and even a little indigo “flower”.
I combined the second, third and fourth extractions and decided to discard the first extraction, as it didn’t look as if it contained much indigo.
I let the extractions cool down and then added a couple of pieces of cotton – one plain, one with shibori bindings. I left them for five minutes, wrung them out and hung them to oxidise.
There was barely any colour at all after the first dip, so I repeated this three more times. The final result is shown below. The colour in the photos actually looks a bit darker than in real life.
So the technique does work. The pale colour is probably due to low indigo levels in the leaves at the end of the season.
It is quite time consuming, but may be a way of preserving indigo leaves for later use if you don’t have time to use them fresh or don’t have facilities for composting.
Last weekend I ran a workshop on indigo shibori dyeing for the London branch of the International Feltmakers Association, of which I am a member. I’ve attended previous IFA workshops on felting and natural dyeing, and the participants are always enthusiastic and engaged, so I knew I was in good hands!
I wanted participants to experience the difference between synthetic and natural indigo, so we began on Saturday by setting up three vats. The first was what is known as a 123 vat, popularised by natural dye guru Michel Garcia – this was made up of 1 part indigo, 2 parts lime and 3 parts fructose. The other two vats were made of synthetic indigo in different concentrations.
To start with we focused on clamping and binding shibori techniques, and soon everyone was having fun with pegs, marbles and lolly sticks, while the more adventurous grappled with some plastic pipes and string to produce arashi shibori.
In the afternoon we moved on to stitching. Because this is more time consuming, it meant that keen students could take their pieces home to finish stitching in the evening so it was ready to dye the next day.
There was time at the end of the afternoon to undo the first bound and clamped pieces and the makeshift washing line outside soon began to fill up!
On Sunday the we continued to experiment with different techniques (sometimes combining more than one) or fabrics, learning how the same technique can look very different on different fabrics.
We also found a more photogenic place to hang our work. 😉
At the end of the day everyone had a good collection of samples to take home and seemed very happy!
Last year the Victoria & Albert Museum in London had a display of some stunning naturally dyed silk by Sachio Yoshioka’s dyeing workshop in Kyoto, Japan. Below you can see four short documentary films made to accompany the display.
When Sachio Yoshioka took over his family dyeing workshop in 1988 – the fifth generation to do so – he decided to eschew the use of synthetic dyes and use only natural plant-based materials.
Through extensive historical research he tracked down plants and dyes used as far back as the Heian period (794 – 1185) and has encouraged Japanese farmers to grow previously rare or forgotten plants such as gromwell, whose roots produce a beautiful purple dye.
Kasane are layers of colour combinations found in the garments of aristocrats during the Heian period. The formal kimono worn by women of the court showed layers of different colours at the neckline, cuffs and hems. Changing the colours to reflect, for example, plants in season was seen as a mark of good taste and education.
Kasane were also used with paper: poems and love letters would be enclosed in several sheets of seasonally coloured paper.
The exhibition at Japan House is arranged by season, starting with kasane for spring, such as cherry and willow.
The deep red silk of the cherry kasane is dyed with safflower; placing a translucent white layer of silk above it produces a pale cherry blossom pink. The green layer representing mountain scenery is produced with indigo overdyed with yellow from amur cork.
The willow kasane has white at the bottom to represent the white underside of willow leaves, while the green comes from light indigo overdyed with yellow from Miscanthus tinctorius.
Summer kasane include wisteria, with beautiful purple coming from gromwell.
The delicate patterned silks also produce lovely shadows on the different layers.
And of course there are indigo kasane.
There are also samples of the plant materials used in dyeing on display.
And some of the tools and equipment used in dyeing.
I was also lucky enough to attend a talk by Sachio Yoshioka and a demonstration by his daughter Sarasa Yoshioka, the sixth generation of the dyeing family.
Sachio Yoshioka believes it is the duty of his workshop to continue producing beautiful bright colours from plants. “Study the old to discover the new” is his motto. He has produced a “dictionary” of 260 colours, all produced by layering plant dyes. The mordants he uses are all traditional too, including camellia ash, smoked plum, alum and iron.
His favourite colour is purple, the colour of nobility – it can take 8-9 days to get a satisfactory shade.
Sarasa Yoshioka demonstrated how they paint paper with dyes (in this case yellow kihada from the amur cork tree on top of indigo to produce green).
Their most famous use of this technique is using red pigment extracted from safflowers to paint paper that is used to make camellia flowers for a Buddhist ceremony at the Todaiji Temple in Nara. You can see this in one of the films above.
Extracting red pigment from safflower is an extraordinarily complex process – I’ve written about this before. And it takes 1.5kg of dried safflower petals to produce enough dye for a single sheet of red A3 paper!
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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!