City & Guilds degree show 2017

Having grumbled about the Chelsea degree show this year, I feel I should give credit where it is due and commend the City & Guilds degree show for its professionalism.

All the exhibitors had artist statements (most of which were not too burdened with gobbledegook “artspeak”!) explaining their intentions and way of working. Some also had copies of research behind their ideas and approach.

Although it doesn’t have a textiles degree, we usually visit the show because ESP is interested in the stone carving. Among the examples of foliage, drapery, and lettering (some of which was quite innovative this year), I particularly liked Liz Middleton‘s limestone pillows.

Liz Middleton limestone pillows

And although there isn’t a textiles specialism, there were some textiles on display.

Hannah Hill‘s funny, energetic, feminist embroideries make the point that embroidery has never traditionally been considered an art form – it’s just “women’s work”.

Hannah Hill embroidery
Image: Hannah Hill

In the same room, Kirsty Armstrong showed large sheets of oxidised (rusty) steel, which she had used to make a latex “print”.

Kirsty Armstrong steel and latex

Natalia Gonzalez Martin’s meaty amorphous sculptures were made from chicken wire, plaster and wax, partly covered with gauze. Displayed on plinths, they raised the question of who in society has the power to decide what cultural objects should be displayed in museums and galleries.

Natalia Gonzalez Martin sculptures

I wasn’t sure how her work would fit in a domestic setting, but I did buy one of her monoprints!

Natalia Gonzalez Martin monoprint

The City & Guilds degree show runs until 2 July.

SLWA My Place exhibition

I’m very excited to be taking part in the My Place exhibition organised by the South London Women Artists. The work of 30 artists will be on show, each exploring their sense of place and belonging.

My piece combines ombre-dyed cotton scrim and felt, because my place – where I feel most at home – is by the indigo vat.

ombre dyed felt

The colour indigo is traditionally thought to stimulate right brain or creative activity, but for me it is more of a meditative experience, disrupting the coppery sheen of the surface as I dip the fabric, and watching the magical alchemy as it turns from green to blue before my eyes. The white clouds in the sky above are mirrored by the clumps of foam, or indigo “flower”, floating on the surface of the vat.

My Place runs from 7 to 12 July at Brixton East 1871, 100 Barrington Road, London SW9 7JF, 11am-6pm daily.

The private view is on Friday 7 July, 6-9pm – everyone welcome!

Chelsea Textile Design Show 2017

Maybe it’s the heat, or maybe it’s my age, but I was a bit disappointed with the Chelsea show this year.

I noted two years ago the increase in installation displays, and that trend continues. Lord knows I’m the last one to criticise adventurous use of materials – I’ve experimented with paper, plastic, metal, plaster, stone, wood and shells as well as fibre in my work. But then I’m not doing a degree in textile design. When a display includes nothing that could be remotely defined as a textile I start to think that maybe they just ran out of space in the fine art exhibition area opposite.

Also, as a visitor I like to know the story behind the work. What was the inspiration or theme? A sketchbook showing the development of ideas is always fascinating. Although many of the displays had “look books”, too often they didn’t add much information – just more images. And a table of apparently random samples is not really presenting work in its best light.

Still, enough of the gripes. Here are my favourites based on my personal prejudices.

Charlotte Hanford had one of the most coherent displays, including an explanation that she was inspired by launderettes, including the circular machine drums. Her weaving even included lint gathered from machines in various launderettes!

Another imaginative display by Tracy Chu consisted of stitched vessels made from glow-in-the-dark thread, which had to be viewed with torches in black boxes.

Image: Tracy Chu

Jessica Grace Adam was inspired by corals and sea urchins.

And Jee Yeon Yang’s structural stitched pieces had a similar feel.

I also liked Nadya Prajoga’s delicate stitchery on sheer fabric.

Cherry Moxon‘s sculptural knits in earthy colours spoke of decay and erosion…

…while Mengfan Zhou used more unconventional plastic tubing.

Given my own recent experience of working with metal, I was interested to see India Badby combining metal and textiles, and some of the techniques looked very familiar!

Alice Gordon combined print and pleat, including some origami techniques.

And Haewon Youn’s printed pieces represented measures of emotion.

The Chelsea textile design degree show runs until 24 June.

Entangled: Threads & Making at Turner Contemporary

Yesterday I went on a bit of a nostalgia trip to Margate, a seaside resort on the north Kent coast. Somewhere in the loft is a photo of me aged 5, grinning into the camera without any top front teeth, waving a bucket and spade on a beach that apparently stretches for miles into the distance.

Childhood holidays apart, in recent history Margate’s main claim to fame was as the home of artist Tracey Emin. Then, in 2011, the Turner Contemporary gallery opened on the seafront, on the site where the eponymous artist stayed when visiting his mistress Mrs Booth.

The current exhibition, Entangled: Threads & Making, was finally enough to lure me out of my metropolitan bubble – and it was so worth it.

Intriguingly, the exhibition begins in the lift, where Samara Scott has covered the walls with old carpet decorated with yoghurt, plaster and food colouring. Sounds bizarre – but it makes for a wonderful riot of colour and texture.

But I did wonder how long the artist spent going up and down in the lift while installing it! 🙂

The colour continues with Anna Ray’s Margate Knot – 2,000 intertwining padded elements tied together, inspired by the colours of the cliffs, lichens and buildings around Margate.

The exhibition includes pieces by big names, such as Louise Bourgeois, Sonia Delaunay, Sheila Hicks and Anni Albers, but here I’m focusing on artists I hadn’t heard of whose work particularly appealed.

Christiane Löhr has two pieces in the exhibition. Her Horse Hair Column connects floor and ceiling and took four days to install. In another room, eight incredibly delicate structures made from grass stalks and seeds are displayed on a low stone plinth. Her close observation and knowledge of her materials means that she knows exactly the right time to pick the grass so that it has the right degree of flexibility and rigidity.

Paola Auziché’s Natural Fibres consisted of 37 pieces made from fibres such as chenille, hemp, raffia, cotton, jute and hemp, inspired by minarets in Baku, Azerbaijan.

Next door, Laura Ford’s Penguins looked on in bemusement.

More animals – ceramic sculptures of a lizard and a crab by Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro – were covered with handmade cotton crochet by Joana Vasconcelos.

Ursula von Rydingsvard cut cedar beams to resemble thick thread or reams of fabric for her work Thread Tremor.

I also loved Aiko Tezuka’s Loosening Fabric #6 (Entangled). The photo doesn’t really do it justice, but she has unravelled the threads of the central part of this piece of fabric so that it seems to flow down the wall and onto the floor. It can take an hour to unpick just 10cm of fabric!

Entangled: Threads and Making runs until Sunday 7 May – sorry for the late review.

While I was in Margate I also visited the extraordinary Shell Grotto. Nobody knows who made it or when, or why – it was discovered in 1835 and opened to the public in 1838. The walls of the passages and rotunda are covered with mosaics of around 4.6 million shells, most of which are British, though not necessarily local – the main shell used in the backgrounds is not found in Kent but around Southampton.

I even made a start on my own shell collection with a hearty bowl of spaghetti al vongole at the wonderful Hantverk & Found! 🙂


Josef Frank at Fashion and Textile Museum


If the long cold winter is getting you down, I can thoroughly recommend a visit to the Fashion and Textile Museum to see  “Josef Frank: Patterns – Furniture – Painting”. The riotous lushness of his colourful designs will send your spirits soaring.

The exhibition covers his textile designs, furniture and watercolours, including many paintings that have never been seen in public before. But it was his textile designs I found most entrancing, so I focus on those here.

Josef Frank (1885-1967) was born in Austria and trained as an architect. However, he was interested not only in construction but also in interior design, feeling that a home should be a cosy and comfortable haven.

In 1925 he founded the design and furnishings firm Haus & Garten, but in 1933, with anti-Semitism on the rise, he moved to Stockholm with his Swedish wife Anna. For almost 30 years he worked with Estrid Ericson at Svenskt Tenn, producing more than 2000 pieces of furniture and around 200 carpets, wallpapers and textile designs.

Frank was a great admirer of William Morris, as can be seen in his stylised motifs from nature, geometric order and repeat patterns.

Teheran, 1943-45
Nippon, 1943-45
Nippon, 1943-45


Aralia, 1928

There was humour, too, as in this design called “Italian Dinner”, showing aubergines, peas and garlic growing alongside a river stuffed with seafood.

Italian Dinner, 1943-45
Italian Dinner, 1943-45

Some designs zing with colour.

Three Islands in the Black Sea, 1935
Three Islands in the Black Sea, 1935

Others use a pared down palette.

Aristidia, 1925-30
Aristidia, 1925-30
Window, 1943
Window, 1943

Other natural inspirations included birds.

Green Birds in the Trees, 1943-45
Green Birds in the Trees, 1943-45
Anakreon, 1938
Anakreon, 1938

I also liked Rocks and Figs, clearly influenced by Chinese ink paintings of mountains.

Rocks and Figs, 1943-45
Rocks and Figs, 1943-45

In contrast, Terrazzo was inspired by agate rocks embedded in a terrazzo floor.

Terrazzo, 1943-45
Terrazzo, 1943-45

And Manhattan featured maps of New York.

Manhattan, 1943-45
Manhattan, 1943-45

Finally, there was also a complete room showing examples of how the furnishings worked together. So that’s where Ikea got the idea from! 😉


Josef Frank: Patterns – Furniture – Painting runs at the Fashion and Textile Museum until 7 May.

Svenskt Tenn still sells textiles, wallpaper and furniture designed by Frank – and its website has much better photos than mine!

And here are a couple of felt flowers I made, inspired by the exhibition. 🙂