Barkcloth workshop with Bobby Britnell

I’ve written previously about the barkcloth exhibition at the British Museum and the acquisition of our own unfeasibly large piece of Tongan barkcloth. So when I saw that Bobby Britnell was running a barkcloth workshop at the SIT Select Festival I just had to sign up. Ever Supportive Partner (ESP), having played an instrumental part in buying our barkcloth, came along too.

Bobby discovered barkcloth when she was visiting southern Uganda and has used it in much of her recent textile work. She and her husband also set up a charity, Hands Up for Uganda, drilling a borehole for water, helping establish a model working farm and developing and selling traditional local crafts.

Bobby explained that barkcloth comes from the mutuba tree (Ficus natalensis), is 100% organic fibre and the first non-woven textile. While we got on with the first exercise, practising running stitch on some printed barkcloth, she described how it was harvested and processed, passing round some grooved wooden mallets used for pounding the cloth – these were lighter than they looked!

We did further exercises, attaching strips and then squares of barkcloth to backing pieces, experimenting with different stitches and thread, including raffia.

On the piece with squares, above, I stitched the squares to the reverse side of the backing piece to provide a contrast of colour and texture.

But barkcloth doesn’t just come in terracotta. Black barkcloth is produced by burying the cloth for several days, while a different species of the mutuba tree produces a cream bark cloth. This can be successfully dyed – and Bobby had brought along some lovely examples to show us.

We also had a go at piecing two different coloured barkcloths together, using insertion stitch (which was new to me).

In the piece above you can see an extra row of stitching (not mine!) in the dark barkcloth. This is quite typical – the pounding process often results in small holes or openings in the cloth, which are patched using handmade sisal thread.

We also experimented with punching holes in the cloth and sanding the surface to create a different texture. This was rather more to ESP’s taste, having been horrified that the workshop was largely based on stitch! He also had a go at weaving thread through the barkcloth fibres, which produced a really interesting effect.

As usual, it was fascinating to see the variety of samples produced by different people from the same materials.

All in all, a great workshop with a fascinatingly tactile material.

Even better, now that ESP has learnt how to handle a needle and thread, he’ll be able to sew on his own buttons when they come off! 😉

 

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Metal and textiles taster

Last weekend ESP and I attended a workshop together for the first time. The workshop, held at Morley College’s Pelham Hall, was billed as a one-day “Textile Metal Taster”.

Pelham Hall is an amazing converted Victorian chapel equipped for clay modelling, wood and stone carving as well as metalwork (there’s even a forge). ESP has done stone carving courses there, but this was a first-time visit for me.

Pelham Hall

I was expecting to be working with wire, mesh and textiles, but this was very much an introduction to proper basic metalwork techniques. We started with cutting, using tin snips and air tools. I had a few problems with the air tools so stuck to cutting by hand with the snips, where I felt I had more control.

Then we did a bit of beating with hammers, hole punching and soldering. I cut a circle of steel, punched a circle in the centre and pierced some holes.

As you know, I hate waste, so I then used the spot welder to attach all the tiny metal circles produced by the hole puncher.

One of the tutors said the tiny bowl on the right reminded him of a dalek!

In the afternoon we had a go at heating metal so that it changed colour – you can get some lovely rainbow effects, like oil patches on the road after rain. Naturally, I spot welded some more circles onto mine!

I didn’t do any proper soldering, but played about with the solder to produce different textures instead.

While I produced various small samples, ESP combined lots of different techniques in one piece. This included bits of metal that were left over after I had cut out more spots!

He also played around with a piece of flattened copper tubing, heating it with flux and punching it.

I really enjoyed the workshop – the tutors were enthusiastic and encouraging, and it’s surprising what beginners can produce in a day. One of the students made a bird bath; another made some angel fish.

However, I did think that the textile content was fairly token. There was a pile of fabric scraps, and we were shown how to rivet and attach textiles to metal by soldering with a copper strip. Rather than treating metal simply as a way of holding up textiles I guess I was expecting the two media to be combined in a sculptural piece. I realise this is a lot to ask in a day, but a collaboration with Morley’s excellent textiles department could produce some interesting results.

There was a box of embroidery threads and ribbons there, so I did make an effort to introduce a textile element to one of my samples! 🙂

I’m also thinking about how to incorporate some of my samples into felt, so there may be more to come on this!

Cochineal dyeing with Michel Garcia

The official title of this workshop with Michel Garcia at the 10th International Shibori Symposium in Oaxaca was “Cochineal dyeing in four ways”. It was rather an understatment, as we ended up with 19 different colour swatches from cochineal!

Michel Garcia cochineal demo

Mexico was an appropriate place to do this workshop, given that cochineal is the most popular dye used there. Mexico once had a monopoly on it – it was the second most valuable export after silver – but after the Mexican War of Independence in the early 19th century cochineal was also produced in Guatemala, north Africa and the Canary Islands.

You can visit cochineal farms around Oaxaca. The cochineal beetle, Dactylopius coccus, lives on Opuntia cactus species. The red colour comes from the carminic acid that makes up around 20% of its body. To make the dye, the dried beetles are ground up in a pestle and mortar and then added to the dye bath.

Michel used three different fabrics – wool, silk and cotton – along with different combinations of mordants and astringents to produce 19 different shades from cochineal, ranging from pink and orange to purple and dark brown. It was an extraordinary demonstration of the variations in colour you can get from one dye.

Cochineal on wool

The fabric Michel used for this was actually a mixture of wool warp and cotton weft, so it was interesting to see the difference between the way the protein and cellulose fibres reacted.

cochineal samples on wool

For two of the swatches in this photo he used a one-bath process – one containing persimmon, citric acid and cochineal, the other containing gallnut, citric acid and cochineal. You can see very clearly how the tufts of wool at the edges have taken up the colour much more strongly than the cotton weft.

The other three swatches were premordanted (with alum or symplocos) before dyeing in a separate cochineal bath.

Cochineal on silk

Michel also compared the one-bath and two-bath processes on silk.

cochineal swatches on silk

In the photo above, two swatches were dyed in one bath, the first one containing unripe persimmon, citric acid and cochineal, the second one cutch, citric acid and cochineal.

The other two swatches were premordanted (one in saturated alum and the other with aluminium tartrate) before dyeing with cochineal.

Cochineal on cotton

For the cotton demonstration Michel used strips of cotton that he had prepared with different combinations of aluminium acetate and ferrous acetate mordants – it’s a great idea if you do lots of testing with natural dyes.

The strip below was dyed with cochineal and pomegranate rind.

cochineal swatches on cotton

The strip below was dyed with cochineal and gallnut extract.

cochineal swatches on cotton

Finally, Michel demonstrated his artistic side, using different combinations of mordants to paint an image onto cloth that didn’t appear until it was submerged in the dye pot. 🙂

Michel garcia cochineal dyeing

All in all, a very intense but stimulating workshop.

Felting workshop with Dagmar Binder

I’ve finally joined the International Feltmakers Association (IFA). I’ve been meaning to do it for a while – just never got round to it.

One of the main advantages for me is that public and product liability is included in the membership fee, which is handy. 🙂

Another is the chance to meet other local felters (the IFA is organised by region) and to attend workshops with well-known tutors without having to travel to the Netherlands or Belgium (though I will probably still pop over there occasionally).

And so I found myself last weekend in a lovely room in north London with Dagmar Binder and 10 other enthusiastic feltmakers. I’ve long admired Dagmar’s work, especially her surface structure and subtle painterly colour blends. Dagmar had brought along plenty of samples to inspire us.

dagmar samples dagmar samples dagmar samples

We started the first day by making a sample, experimenting with different fibre layouts and combinations with needle felt to produce different results. This was very illuminating and will be a useful reminder for future experiments.

dagmar sample

The workshop was for two days but the sample took quite a long time – I took mine home to finish in the evening on the first day. So our time for making a bigger project was a bit limited.

But as you know I am never short of ambition 🙂 so decided to try a multi-pocketed circular layout inspired by a dahlia. Here are a couple of shots of the work in progress.

felt work in progress felt work in progress

I did scale my ambition back during the day – the original plan was to have some central spikes – as I needed to get it to the stage where it was felted sufficiently to be able to take it home to finish without it falling apart.

This is the final piece after finishing at home.

felt dahlia felt dahlia

I’m pleased with the result but as ever see room for improvement. If I did it again, in less of a hurry, I would lay out the petals more evenly. And I’m not happy with the central section, which is too large.

Also because I tried to avoid having too many layers of fibre in the centre I truncated the resists for the lower pockets. However, I think that extending all the resists to the centre would make the centre less flat and would give the piece more volume overall.

It reminded me of an earlier dahlia-inspired experiment (on a much smaller scale), based on the same principles but slightly different technique – here are the two samples together.

felt dahlia samples

This was a very useful workshop. I learned a lot about stabilising felt, combining needlefelt and fibre, and different layouts of fibre to produce different effects.

Dagmar is a patient tutor who encourages students work out answers for themselves by close observation of what happens throughout the felting process.

dagmar teaching
Dagmar (right) advising students in class

Thanks to Cathy and Sue and other members of the IFA for organising the workshop.

Felt workshops and Artrooms 2017

Well, I’ve just about recovered from the hectic weekend. We had a few problems with the borrowed gazebo at the Abbeville Fete on Saturday – it didn’t have any of the connectors for the poles so we couldn’t put it up.

After some humming and hah-ing (the weather forecast was looking good), Kes got her other half to bring a slightly broken gazebo from home. And thank goodness she did, because halfway through the afternoon a massive hailstorm broke, lasting for around 10 minutes. We got a little damp, but nothing compared with the drenching we would have received without any shelter!

As a result of all the running around, I didn’t get many photos, but here are a few shots of happy felt flower makers at the Brixton Windmill Festival on Sunday.

Felt flowers and phone covers

Carol and I will be running more felt workshops as part of the Streatham Festival on 9 July. In the morning you can make felt flowers, in the afternoon a felt phone case. With the Tate exhibition on Georgia O’Keeffe about to open, large colourful flowers are going to be very fashionable! 🙂

flowers-phone-case

Both sessions are aimed at beginners, and we provide all materials. To book one or both sessions, just email womenofthecloth2012@gmail.com.

Felt seashells

I’m also running a workshop on making felt seashells on 23 July at Carol’s studio in Streatham. This is aimed at people who have some experience at felting with resists, not complete beginners.

felt seashells

In the morning you will produce two shells using resists provided by me to practise the technique. In the afternoon you can experiment with your own resists to see what you can come up with! Space is limited so please book on Eventbrite.

Artrooms 2017

Artrooms is an art fair held in a hotel, where selected artists are given a room each to display their work how they wish (within certain limitations, which include not trashing the room!).

Iteration 1

I’ve submitted a proposal to turn the bathroom into a grotto covered in felt shells – and need your support to help it happen. Don’t worry – I’m not asking for money! 😉

All you have to do is go to my profile page here, click on the stars (preferably 5!) and click “Submit rating”. You don’t have to register, give your email or anything else – simples! Thank you for your support – much appreciated.