Chelsea Summer Show

The graduate show season is here, and this morning, en route to The Vorticists exhibition at Tate Britain, I popped in to Chelsea College of Art and Design  to have a look at the work of the students on the BA Textile Design degree course.

Infuriatingly, only one exhibit that I saw gave information about materials or techniques used, and there weren’t many people around to ask (Yu Suganuma was the exception). Very few have their own blog or website, and I wasn’t allowed to take photos. The photos below come from the Chelsea College website, which I’ve also linked to  (though it gives scant additional information).

Yu Suganuma: Beautiful, calming woven hangings with triple and even quadruple layers, all woven at the same time, in cotton, linen and metallic lurex threads

Chloe Hamblin: Delicate Spirograph-like structures in coloured thread, suspended together like a collection of exotic bird feathers

Florence Spurling: Heavily embellished and embroidered machine knits, including a pair of “loopy leggings” hung with hundreds of washers – must be quite heavy to wear!

Stephanie Deaves: Unusual marbled rubber and marbled and stitched paper

Peggy-Sue Moseley: Sheer blouses and tops incorporating heavy stitching and other materials, inspired by the underwater world

Lauren Ashworth: Manipulated fabric and dye combinations to produced fascinating textures

There’s some fantastic work here, so if you’re interested in textiles it’s worth seeing if you can spot the names to watch in the future! The show is on until next Saturday 25 June.

Baskets at the British Museum

My basket-making efforts can’t hope to compete with an exhibition on at the British Museum at the moment. Part of its Australian season, the Baskets and Belonging exhibition brings together a lovely collection of Aboriginal baskets made using different techniques and from different materials.

These include a contemporary woven basket made from strapping tape and a coiled basket made from ‘ghost net’ – bits of fishing net that have been cut loose and left to drift. There’s also a small basket made from kelp, used to carry water.

Bicornial baskets could be used for fishing as well as carrying goods

But I was particularly struck by the early 19th-century bicornial, or crescent-shaped, baskets woven from cane. Some had short handles for carrying by hand; others had much longer handles that you wound round your forehead, leaving the basket dangling down your back and your hands free.

Like me, they used whatever materials they had to hand. But processing the cane or kelp undoubtedly took a bit longer than cutting up plastic bags!

The exhibition is in room 91 of the British Museum until 11 September 2011 and is free.

PS I also visited the Afghanistan exhibition while I was at the museum – well worth a look for the stunning Bactrian gold, including an amazing braided belt and a folding crown, and gorgeous carved ivories.

Prism at the Mall Galleries

Today, on the recommendation of a fellow student, I went to the Mall Galleries to see Prism, an exhibition of textile-inspired art.

Maybe it’s all the work we’ve been doing in class on constructed 3D textiles, but the pieces that attracted me most were vessels or sculptures made by weaving, coiling or knitting.

Anita Bruce

Anita Bruce knits and crochets beautiful, delicate constructions from enamelled copper wire. Previous work has featured sea creatures and plankton, but here she was displaying deconstructed pieces of Unst lace, based on traditional Shetland knitting patterns.

Julieanne Long

Julieanne Long is also interested in natural forms and was showing some striking giant black and red basketry seed pods that incorporated cable ties and other found objects.

Mary Anne Morrison

Mary Anne Morrison‘s ‘Peelings’ are made from coiled and stitched textiles that circle around and in on themselves to produce their own dynamic.

Joan Richardson

Finally, Joan Richardson incorporates fabrics and other found objects into her pieces of knitted copper wire and paper string.

I must admit that when we started this term on weaving and basketry techniques I wasn’t entirely enthused. But earlier this week I had a go myself in class at knitting with very fine wire, and I loved the colours and delicacy of the result. As ever, a bit of lateral thinking and imagination when it comes to materials and techniques can be very inspiring.

Sample of knitted wire

PS I forgot to say that the Prism exhibition at the Mall Galleries closes tomorrow, so you have limited time if you want to see it!

Contemporary Textiles Fair in Teddington

On Saturday I went to the Contemporary Textiles Fair in Teddington. It was held in the Landmark Centre, a converted church, which is  a lovely airy space for showing wares at their best.

With nearly 80 exhibitors, there was lots to inspire. Here are some of my favourites.

Cécile Jeffrey
Cécile makes beautiful fluid knitwear. I have one of her short wool cardigans, which I wear a lot, and I splashed out on a lighter long jacket for summer. Cécile is more than happy to tailor-make a piece to your specific measurements – she’s making me a version with shorter arms, shorter waist and shorter length (did I say I was short?). It will be ready in a couple of weeks.

Ray Reynolds
Ray (short for Rachel) makes lovely landscapes from felt, machine and hand embroidery and machine embellishment. The colours and textures are gorgeous, inspired by the Hampshire coast. (And she admired my felt bag – which I didn’t make! )

Mandy Nash
More felt – I particularly liked her 3D pots with slits exposing different coloured layers. She combines natural shades of Norwegian and Shetland wool with vibrant merino. Mandy actually trained as a jeweller but she likes making felt items that complement her jewellery.

Taran Taraan
Bonita Ahuja studied woven textiles at Chelsea College of Art and makes beautiful pieces with different materials embedded. Some of her work reminded me of Japanese boro (fabric that’s been patched and sewn together) – and she did say she gets a lot of inspiration from Japan. A friend I went with bought one of her scarves – I’m sure she’ll get a lot of wear from it!

The Woolshop by Stanley Spencer

I went to Tate Britain today to see the Watercolour exhibition. Afterwards, I popped upstairs to see the latest paintings on display.

That was when I came across The Woolshop by Sir Stanley Spencer. I’m quite a fan of Spencer – I’ve been to his gallery at Cookham, and last year I visited the Historic Dockyard at Chatham to see his Shipbuilding on the Clyde series, newly restored and on loan from the Imperial War Museum. But I’d never heard of this painting.

The Wool Shop by Sir Stanley Spencer
The Woolshop by Sir Stanley Spencer

The painting is full of lines – the woman’s hair, the ply of the wool, the stripes on the salesman’s jacket, even the grooves on the pillar and the pattern on some of the rugs and fabrics behind. The salesman – apparently Spencer himself – grasps a skein of blue wool above the woman’s head, but it feels as if what he really wants to do is grab her hair, just below. In his other hand he holds a roll of purple yarn. She, meanwhile, caresses a yellow skein that matches the colour of her sweater, holding it as if it were a baby.

For me this sums up the tactile experience of visiting a wool shop – all that yarn in all those colours, crying out to be handled and stroked.

Edited to add: I have since discovered that the woman in the picture was Daphne Charlton. Spencer lived with Daphne and her husband George at the White Hart Inn, Leonard Stanley, Gloucestershire in 1939-40. While George Charlton was away, Spencer had an affair with Daphne, and later painted several pictures, including this one, recording various domestic incidents of their life together.

Student textiles display at Morley College

I spent all of yesterday afternoon frantically trying to finish my nuno scarf so that it could be included in the display of work by students on the creative and experimental textiles course at Morley College.

You may remember that the velvet circles didn’t felt very successfully onto the scarf, so I had to find some way of attaching them. I originally planned to use the embellisher to dry-felt them, but looking at the scarf, I felt that some sort of texture was needed. So during the week I hand-embroidered some with French knots in graded colours from orange to yellow. The result was a lovely tactile contrast to the burgundy velvet.

I went into college intending to use the embellisher on the rest of the circles, but after experimenting on some scrap velvet I decided I didn’t like the effect – it was a bit flat, and the embellisher caused some of the edges to fray quite badly. So instead I attached the rest with machine embroidery, again using colours ranging from orange to yellow.

The good news is that I just finished the scarf in time to be included in the display. The bad news is that I didn’t have time to take a photo of it before it went in the display case. So the photos below aren’t great, as they were taken through the glass case, with all the reflections from the lights and camera flash.

Still, if you’re in the Waterloo area in the next week and have a few minutes to spare, pop in and see the display for yourself. Our tutor Debby Brown has put in a lot of work – I hope we did her proud.

Student display at Morley
Nuno scarf and felt pot
Student textiles display at Morley College
Sample album and embroidery sampler
Student textiles exhibition at Morley College
Eyeglass and smartphone cases made from recycled plastic bags

Morley College, 61 Westminster Bridge Road, London SE1 7HT

Imperial Chinese robes

I finally got round to visiting the exhibition of imperial Chinese robes from the Forbidden City in Beijing at the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s located in the part where they usually have the fashion exhibits, so the light is quite dim and you need to get up close to the cases to admire the detail.

The emperor had five categories of formal wear: official, festive, regular, travelling and military. Of course, the embroidery and craftsmanship is exquisite, with traditional Chinese motifs of waves, clouds and dragons in goldwork and hues of ever paler pink, blue and green on imperial yellow silk. The emperor even had a pair of yellow silk embroidered riding trousers resembling dungarees!

The robes of the empress and imperial concubines featured a wider range of patterns and colours, including the purple and gold robe embroidered with cranes and golden clouds that adorns the posters and publicity for the exhibition (see above), peonies, and a beautiful simple pattern called cracked ice and plum blossom. Annoyingly, I can’t find a photo of it on the V&A website, but Portland Classical Chinese Garden has a stone walkway in this pattern. Also, to my eye it looked quite Japanese, so it’s interesting to see that it also features on Japanese porcelain.

Imperial dragon robeBut what was most astonishing was the condition of the fabrics in the exhibition. The dragon robe shown above is nearly 280 years old, but it looked absolutely pristine. According to the V&A blog, “The well-being of the robes was the duty of the Imperial Household Department staff. In days before the invention of air-conditioners and humidifiers the robes were protected from fluctuating temperature by sturdy wooden cupboards and chests. Insect-repelling incense was placed inside the furniture, and palace eunuchs regularly aired the clothes to prevent the build-up of mildew.”

I could do with some of those eunuchs around here.