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 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.
My early experiments with nuno felt included lace, which wasn’t very successful. Now I know why.
On Wednesday I started a piece of nuno using net as the fabric base. My tutor explained that, although the net has a very open weave, there are no fabric fibres for the wool to cling to, unlike with cotton or silk. So you have to apply the merino on both sides to allow the wool fibres to matt together through the net – this is what holds them on. When I tried to felt the lace, I laid the wool out on only one side – no wonder it didn’t work very well.
So I laid out the wool on both sides of a piece of burgundy net and rubbed and rolled it until it held together (pictures below).
In a couple of weeks, after half term, I’m going to tie it up, wrap it around a pole and steam it, to produce a pleated effect. My tutor calls this ‘cooked shibori’, applying it to felt rather than dye. Should be an interesting result.
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.
I’ve been thinking about buying some hand carders for blending wool and merino tops for more subtle colours. I have only a small amount of wool so far, as I’m still experimenting, but most carders I’ve seen seem to be around £30-40.
My tutor at Morley College mentioned that dog-grooming brushes could be a cheap alternative for beginners. So yesterday I bought a couple of ‘soft pin slickers for fine/medium coats’ from Pets at Home for £4.99 each. The size of the brush area is around 10 x 7cm, so it’s about half the area of a normal carder – but with the small quantities I’m carding at the moment, it’s not going to make that much difference. And the rolags they produce are fine.