I’m just back from a five-day trip to Paris, where there were a few exhibitions I wanted to see. Foremost of these was the Art of Bamboo in Japan (Fendre l’Air) at the Quai Branly Museum.
I’ve written previously about the history of bamboo basketry in Japan and some of the main makers. What this exhibition does exceptionally well is trace the development of bamboo art from a functional but still beautiful craft to contemporary sculptural forms.
Rokansai, widely considered to be the most important bamboo artist of the 20th century, developed the concept of three types of basket:
Shin: Formal pieces that are symmetrical and very neatly plaited
Gyo: Semi-formal pieces, either symmetrical with irregular weaving or asymmetrical with regular weaving, or a combination of both
So: Informal pieces, often free form, that my integrate a handle made of a rhizome.
As a material, bamboo is supple, light, astonishingly flexible yet mechanically resistant, and impermeable – as these pieces show.
I’ve experimented with Canadian, or North American, smocking before, here and here. But last week I attended a couple of workshops with Eileen Wedderburn in the fashion department at Morley College.
All the other students were fairly experienced dressmakers and wanted to apply the smocking technique to clothes. By contrast, I was more interested in using smocking to create sculptural effects.
We started with traditional English smocking, where the fabric is marked with dots before gathering it into pleats using the dots as guides. The pleats are then held in place by embroidering on top before removing the gathering threads.
Some stitches allow more elasticity to the pleats than others. Here’s a sample showing several different stitches.
From top to bottom, the stitches are:
surface honeycomb stitch (with some beading).
Some of these stitches look quite similar but are subtly different.
The two rows of honeycomb stitch didn’t work too well on the sample because the pleats were quite tight, and I think it’s seen to best effect when there are more rows.
So I tried an experiment with radial smocking, where I started with a piece of fabric shaped like a ring doughnut, with the smocking dots in concentric circles.
Because the distance between the pleats is greater closer to the edge, the honeycomb effect is more obvious. The elasticity of the stitch also allows the structure to be manipulated – I actually like the tubular structure on the reverse side!
I also made a piece where the distance between the smocking circles was greater at the edge. This led to a flatter structure that was not so conical.
On the second workshop we did some North American smocking, where, rather than gathering, the stitch pattern (not necessarily in rows) is used to manipulate the fabric when it is pulled up.
The stitching is worked on a grid, so to save time by not having to mark out lots of grids, we used gingham fabric. 🙂
First we tried a lattice pattern.
Again, I was very taken with the reverse side, which was like puffy diamonds and curled up nicely into a ball:
Then we stitched a flower pattern. This was interesting because, depending on where you started stitching, you ended up with black and white flowers (like me) or grey flowers, owing to the gingham pattern.
And the reverse pattern:
I think this could be very effective stitched on thin prefelt and then felted.
Finally, I had a go at grid or Italian smocking. This differs in that, rather than creating a small stitch at every dot (or grid intersection), the stitches connect the dots (like running stitch).
The sample below was again stitched on a grid patterned fabric. I stitched two repeats vertically but only one horizontally, so the pattern is not very easy to see – it’s supposed to be chevrons. I should have started with a wider piece of fabric and stitched more horizontal repeats!
I’m one of those people who can’t just sit and watch TV without doing something with my hands. In the summer this is usually stitching shibori patterns on scarves to be pulled up tight before being dipped in the indigo vat. But on long dark evenings, wool and needles seem to be more appropriate. And it’s so relaxing not having to make any creative decisions – just following a pattern.
Normally I would regard myself as a knitter rather than a crocheter, but I couldn’t resist this crocheted blanket pattern by Janie Crow, called Persian Tile. I bought the kit with yarn and pattern at the Knitting and Stitching Show in October, and it’s kept me going through all those long dark evenings. 🙂
I wouldn’t regard myself as an advanced crocheter. To start with, I had to revise the difference between double, half treble and treble crochet, and I had to refer to Youtube to find out about double treble crochet, which I’d never heard of.
The total blanket consists of 16 octagons, 9 more conventional granny squares, 12 half triangles for the edges and 4 quarter triangles for the corners. For the octagons I found it easier to crochet them all at the same time, ie do all the centres, then all the round 3s, round 4s etc, as it created a rhythm and once I’d got it I didn’t need to keep referring to the pattern. But it also meant that it took ages before I actually finished a single octagon!
The worst part was weaving in all the ends. The colour changed on every round, and some motifs, like the red and orange fans, were crocheted individually, so it seemed to take as long to sew in all the ends as to crochet the octagon! The triangles were also fiddly, because they were quite small.
It’s difficult to photograph the whole blanket, even though it’s not very large (about 110cm square). But it’s the perfect size for snuggling on the sofa on chilly January evenings in a draughty Victorian house. 😉
I’ve been meaning to visit Japan House since it opened earlier this year but have only just got round to it, just in time to catch the Takeo paper show Subtle. And it was definitely worth it.
The installation on the ground floor by the exhibition curator Hara Kenya sets the tone. Shishiodoshi (so wonderfully omnomatopoeic!) was inspired by the traditional Japanese bird scarer, where water transfers from one bamboo tube to another, causing the empty tube to hit a rock, making a noise. Here, a glass tube hits a metal plate, releasing water that breaks into droplets as it hits a series of paper protrusions – rather like a pachinko game.
Downstairs, several creations by Japanese artists embody the painstaking national and individual commitment to craftsmanship.
Misawa Haruka’s paper flowers look like pencil shavings – and indeed are made in the same way. Printing paper with a colour gradation, gluing it and wrapping it to form a pencil-like form, and then sharpening it like a pencil, produces these exquisite flowers made of multi-layered paper.
“Spring” by Ishigami Junya is an extraordinary piece made by cutting out the shapes of leaf shoots on 10,000 strips of paper and then gluing them together to create what looks like a sheet of tiny paper cress.
“Control” by Nakamura Ryuji explores what happens if the looseness and flexibility of paper is tightly controlled – does it appear to be another material? Gluing together a series of paper rings at certain points produces something that feels more like delicate chain mail rather than a floppy newspaper.
The materiality of paper is also explored in several small collections. Creating a fold in a piece of paper is irreversible, changing the paper forever, but it also creates an interior, “wrapping the object and offering it as a gift”.
Translucent paper allows you to see through to the other side, engendering a feeling of doubt, encircling objects like a layer of fog.
There are also some fantastic commercial paper lace doilies (as we used to call them), and some laser-cut designs by Hara Kenya inspired by microscopic plankton.
There are also some wonderful paper samples in the shop, as well as lots of other gorgeous items, so leave time for that!
Subtle runs at Japan House, London, until 24 December 2018.
For the past few weeks I’ve been back at Morley College on Tuesday evenings, attending a creative basketry course with Stella Harding. The focus of this course, though I didn’t know it when I signed up, was random weaving, so I’ve been able to build on the classes I did with Polly Pollock earlier this year.
Stella brought along lots of inspiring samples.
We started by making open and closed forms in cane without using moulds, which was new to me. We also had a go at dyeing cane.
Now we’ve been let loose on experimenting for ourselves, with different materials and forms – here are some of the pieces I’ve made.
This is a more complex form in cane. Apparently this style is known as a hen basket – I can just imagine a chicken sitting in there. 🙂
This was a random weave piece I made using dead fronds from some kind of palm in my back garden. I have no idea where it came from and have always thought it rather unattractive – but it’s great for basketry material!
And this is a piece that combines felt and paper yarn, inspired by a physalis (cape gooseberry).
Some of these samples are helping me work up ideas for a couple of exhibitions coming up next year – watch this space!
I spent yesterday near the Ashdown Forest in Sussex doing a hexagonal weave workshop with the lovely Polly Pollock. We were working in the cosy studio of another basket maker, Annemarie O’Sullivan, as the squally showers drenched the garden and fields outside.
Using flat cane, Polly started by showing us how to make the base of the basket. Weaving in three directions (triaxial weaving) looks a little tricky but if you remember some basic rules it should be OK.
To form the sides of the basket you need to create corners, which require pentagons rather than hexagons.
Then it’s back to hexagons and business as usual.
The trickiest part is finishing off. I made my first acquaintance with an Archimedes drill (if you pierce cane it tends to split) and after a bit of nerve wracking precision cutting it was complete!
Here are all our baskets lined up, finished with different coloured chair cane – guess which one is mine! 🙂
Depending on where you place the corners you can produce different shapes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Albers didn’t keep many sketchbooks, but she did produce lots of samples, which are absolutely fascinating.
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.
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.