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.

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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.

 

Goodbye flaming June, hello flaming July

June has passed in a flash, as I have been preoccupied with running a four-week crowdfunding campaign for the Friends of Windmill Gardens – another of the hats I wear (which is much needed in this weather!). I’m relieved to say we exceeded our target.

Central Saint Martins textiles degree show

I did take some time off, though, to visit some of the degree shows. My favourite this year was the textiles degree show at Central St Martins, which always seems to be particularly strong in constructed textiles. AND they produce a decent handbook with photos and statements about the students’ work.

I was particularly impressed by Andrea Liu, who had tanned, dyed, woven and stitched smoked salmon skin that she collected from a local warehouse. Perhaps not surprisingly, she won the Mills Sustainability Prize.

csm andrea liu

I also liked Zoe Atkinson‘s rhythmic 3D knitted fabrics that incorporated solid materials like leather, calling to mind organic and manmade armour.

As a felter, Henrietta Johns doesn’t really fit into any of CSM’s categories of print, knit or weave, but naturally her experiments with felting through stencils and using natural dyes made her work of interest to me.

thread 2018

Last Saturday I got up at 5.30am to pack up the car and drive to Farnham Maltings to set up my stall at its flagship textiles show, thread 2018. This is the third year I’ve done it and I always enjoy the quirky venue, the interesting range of exhibitors and the great organisation.

Despite the heat, the morning was extremely busy – it was some time before I could get a photo of my stand without lots of people in front of it. 🙂

 

Then in the afternoon I gave a talk about my upcycling work. It was both flattering and terrifying to see the number of people who turned up for it – some were even sitting on the floor because there weren’t enough chairs! No pressure at all…

Thankfully everyone seemed to enjoy it, judging by the questions and enthusiastic comments at the end. And it was lovely to see some familiar faces, like Ginny Farquhar of Alice and Ginny, who I met at thread last year and who is also interested in natural dyeing (as well as much else) and is also growing Japanese indigo this year – we were able to compare notes!

And many thanks to my friend Magdalen Rubalcava, who got up early to come with me and hold the fort on the stall while I was giving the talk.

SLWA exhibition Silence is Over

After packing up and driving back to London after the show, it was straight off to the private view of Silence is Over, the exhibition by South London Women Artists.

I was pretty late so missed the speeches and poetry, but it was fantastic to see how the collective billboards turned out – very strong, thought provoking and provocative.

After that it was off to bed, exhausted! Hopefully July will be a little more relaxed. 🙂

 

 

 

Silence is Over: SLWA exhibition

South London Women Artists’ latest exhibition, entitled “Silence is Over”, opens at the Portico Gallery in West Norwood, London, next Friday.

Participating artists (including me) were each given an identical blank canvas to interpret the theme of coercive control and sexual abuse. The canvases are going to be assembled in a series of billboards, reclaiming a space traditionally used for advertising and often objectifying women.

I decided to highlight the excruciating and disabling practice of foot binding that effectively disabled many Chinese women in the past. So I made a pair of lotus shoes and then shredded one of them, showing bloodstained bandages spilling out of it.

“Lotus shoe” sounds like an object of beauty, but it conceals the agony behind the process of foot binding. The four smaller toes of young girls were curled under, pressed until they broke, and then bound tightly against the sole of the foot, breaking the arch so that it was artificially raised. Infection, paralysis, rotting toes and lost toenails were common problems.

The “ideal” foot size for an adult woman was 3-4 inches long. Why? Some say that men found the tiny steps and swaying walk of women with bound feet erotic. Others say that it was a way of controlling women, confining them to home and repetitive but economically important tasks such as weaving, spinning and other handwork.

The practice was officially outlawed in China in 1911, but the last factory making lotus shoes did not close until 1999.

“Silence is Over” runs at the Portico Gallery, 23A Knights Hill, West Norwood, London SE27 0HS, from 29 June to 3 July. The private view is on Saturday 30 June, 6-10pm – all welcome.

 

Loewe Craft Prize 2018

The exhibition by 30 artists shortlisted for the Loewe Craft Prize 2018 includes some great textile pieces. Some of the work I have seen before at the Craft Council’s Collect shows in the past couple of years, but it’s no hardship seeing them again.

My favourite is Simone Pheulpin’s ‘Croissance XL’ (XL Growth), which looks from the distance like a cracked geological sample.

Up close you can see that it’s actually made up of densely pleated strips of cotton – quite amazing.

In a similar vein, Scalaria Bifurca by Mercedes Vicente is a coiled shell-like structure made of canvas spirals.

And on a smaller scale, Rita Soto’s banded horsehair brooches twist sinuously, like distorted snails.

Richard McVetis’s 60 stitched felt cubes represent the passing of time, as he stitched one cube every hour.

Yeonsoon Chang’s  three panels of indigo-dyed abaca fabric (dipped more than 30 times) doesn’t look much in the photograph, but gazing on the fabric is quite a meditative Zen-like experience.

ARKO, a self-described “straw artist”, weaves and stitches rice straw into beautiful undulating forms, bringing together traditional techniques and contemporary life.

I also liked the shingled room divider, made from three different types of wood by Wycliffe Stutchbury – light on one side and dark on the other.

Ashley YK Yeo’s hand cut paper cube is delicately exquisite, beautifully lit to enhance the shadows.

And Sam Tho Duong’s jewellery, made from gold-plated silver and freshwater pearls, seems to glow from within.

Finally, a special mention to Steffen Dam, whose cabinet of glass curiosities call to mind the glass sea creatures made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka.

The Loewe Craft Prize exhibition runs at the Design Museum in London until 17 June 2018.

Contemporary Textiles Fair 2018

Sadly, a mini Beast from the East swept in again at the weekend, with biting winds and snow flurries keeping footfall down at the Contemporary Textiles Fair at the Landmark Arts Centre in Teddington.

One very unfortunate casualty was the installation “Journey” by Ross Belton, half of the Modern Eccentrics duo. Ross had naturally dyed and rusted 120 metres of fabric made from recycled hotel sheets that meandered through the woodland outside the Landmark.

However, due to the Siberian blasts and heavy snow it had to be taken down on Saturday for health and safety reasons. 😦  Here’s one of Ross’s photos before this happened so you can see it in all its glory.

Luckily, the exhibition by featured artist Debbie Lyddon was well under wraps indoors – although, ironically, exposure to the elements often plays a part in the making of her work! In “Moments of Being”, seven Sluice Creek Cloths (named after a local tidal inlet) were pierced with holes, bound with iron wire and then placed in the sea to speed the change and degeneration of the cloth and rust the iron. They thus represent the movement and change of natural processes over time.

Debbie also creates structures covered in salt crystals – intriguingly beautiful and strange.

Image: Landmark Arts Centre

Despite the lower visitor numbers I made some good sales and some new friends – roll on next year!

flextiles stall at contemporary textiles fair 2018

My work at Tate Modern

It’s not a solo exhibition – yet. 😉 But you may remember a couple of years ago that I took part in an exhibition organised by South London Women Artists (SLWA), entitled Pillow Talk. It was a collaboration with the Women’s Art Library (WAL) and took the form of a pop-up reading lounge in a geodesic dome furnished with a selection of readings, cuttings and ephemera from the WAL collection and art pillows by SLWA artists as seating.

My contribution, a felt snail pillow, was inspired by the idea of a nomadic library, carrying information about the ambitions, stories and histories of women artists around the country.

Felt snail pillow
Photo: Cygnus Imaging

Now the exhibition (and snail) has reached Tate Modern. As part of a homage to the centenary of women getting the vote in February 1918, Pillow Talk will form part of the Uniqlo Tate Late event on Friday 23 February, 6-10pm.

For this event, the pillows will be laid out on the floor in the shape of the female symbol where visitors will be invited to sit, read and have conversations. At its heart will be a mobile library full of publications, catalogues, magazines and ephemera about women artists.

Pillow photos: Yoke Matze

We’ll be on Level 2 in the Blavatnik Building – hope to see you there!