Basketry at Morley with Stella Harding

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!

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Hexagonal basket making

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.

Polly Pollock hexagonal weaving

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.

hexagonal weave base

To form the sides of the basket you need to create corners, which require pentagons rather than hexagons.

hexagonal weave corners

Then it’s back to hexagons and business as usual.

hexagonal weave basket

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! 🙂

hexagonal weave baskets

Depending on where you place the corners you can produce different shapes.

hexagonal weave vessel

And of course you can used dyed cane too.

dyed hexagonal weave

Annmarie runs various basketry workshops – check her website for details.

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.

 

Second random weave puzzle ball

After my first attempt at a random weave puzzle ball I was determined to try again incorporating what I’d learnt. This time I went for five layers!

random weave puzzle ball

The inner three layers were woven from hemp that I bought at the textile market in Belgium. The innermost ball is black, so you can’t see it very well. (Lesson for next time – make the inside ball a light colour!)

The fourth layer was made from paper yarn dyed with onion skins.

And the outer layer was paper yarn dyed with indigo.

random weave puzzle ball

With five layers it was even more fiddly to get the inner moulds out, but I got there eventually without destroying the outer layers. I’m not sure I could do any more layers though!

I also had a go at making a random weave cube – this was a harder shape to mould. Because I left open areas it was also harder to photograph, as it’s difficult to distinguish the different surfaces.

open weave cube open weave cube

Basketry puzzle ball

I’ve always been intrigued by puzzle balls. There used to be one on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but I think it’s currently in storage. These days the use of ivory is quite rightly frowned on, but I still have to admire the skill required to carve one ball inside another.

I’ve previously tried making puzzle balls out of net, but it wasn’t really firm enough. So on the random weave basketry course with Polly Pollock, I had the idea to make one out of paper yarn.

I started with the innermost ball, and then put that inside another mould and wove another ball around that.

Then I repeated the process, so I had three balls in total.

Some of the ivory puzzle balls had as many as 20 balls, but as I wasn’t sure how this would work I thought that three would do to start with. 😉

Removing the moulds from the outer layers was reasonably straightforward, but it was tricky getting – and keeping – the holes in the balls lined up to get the mould out of the innermost ball. However, with a bit of persistence and a pair of needle nose pliers I finally managed it.

I was really pleased that the principle worked! However, there were a few problems, which I will work on next time.

  • On the middle layer I used a red Sharpie pen to mark where the holes should be. But the red rubbed off on the paper yarn, as you can see in some of the pictures. So on the outermost layer I just used masking tape to mark the position of the holes. But this wasn’t very exact, and some of the holes were too large and the size was inconsistent. I think I shall use some sticky labels cut to shape next time.
  • The outer balls are too large – I need to make the outer moulds smaller so that the balls nest inside each other more snugly.

Onward and upward!

More on random weaving basketry

Sadly, the short course on random weaving basketry with Polly Pollock that I started four weeks ago at City Lit has come to an end. I loved every minute and think I’ve found a new obsession.

After the first basket made with cane, we moved on to working with paper yarn. Here are some samples made by Polly to inspire us.

First we dyed some of the yarn using Rit liquid dyes, which were new to me but are pretty simple to use – just add to water and vinegar, put in the yarn and leave until you’re happy with the colour, rinse and dry.

As before, we made a mould with rice, clingfilm and sticky tape, and created a base layer with some thicker paper yarn. Then we used the thinner dyed yarn to weave into the base layer, using soumak stitch – essentially looping it round a base strand – going in random directions.

You can build this up in the same or different colours. Here’s my piece in progress.

And here’s the finished piece. I didn’t leave the yarn in the Rit dye long enough to get a really dark blue, so I dyed some in indigo. 🙂

indigo paper vessel

I also started on a more ambitious piece but didn’t manage to finish it. Here’s a sneak preview of the beginning – watch this space for a progress report!

At the end of the class we had a display of all the work created over the four weeks – there were some really lovely pieces in paper, cane and wire, as well as some wrapped glass.

 

Basketry workshop with Mary Crabb

When I was at West Dean in February there was an exhibition of work by some of the college tutors, including some exquisite woven pods by Mary Crabb. So when a textile friend announced that she had contacted Mary about running a workshop, I jumped at the chance!

Peacock Pod by Mary Crabb Image: Mary Crabb
Peacock Pod by Mary Crabb
Image: Mary Crabb, http://www.marycrabb.co.uk/photos/index.html

This friend Barbara, along with dachshund Bertie, hosted the workshop in her beautiful house and garden in Hove. I wasn’t surprised to learn that she regularly opens her garden to the public as part of the National Gardens Scheme – it’s a multi-layered, multi-textured sensory delight, perfect for such a creative workshop.

Mary arrived with boxes of wonderful goodies, particularly paper threads in luscious colours, and books to inspire us all. Along with the mix of fabrics, wool and thread we had brought ourselves, we were certainly spoilt for choice!

basketry1 basketry2

We started by learning how to twine on a paper cup cut into strips. This helped us to maintain the shape without worrying too much about tension. We explored different threads and created coloured patterns, as well as learning how to introduce new threads when the old ones ran out.

We then moved on to an exercise intended to create a flat motif, to get used to working with warp threads in the round. However, we all decided that we wanted to go straight into making vessels, resulting in an array of teeny pods!

basketry vessels

The combination of a glorious pot-luck lunch in the garden and lots of gossip to catch up on meant that most of us managed only to make a start on creating a larger vessel in the afternoon. The exception was Chrissie, who made a wonderful bag with Indian trimmings.

chrissie vessel
Image: Chrissie Messenger

However, with Mary’s very useful handouts, we will hopefully be able to finish what we started. 🙂

Image: Carol Grantham
Image: Carol Grantham

All in all, it was a very inspiring day in gorgeous surroundings. Many thanks to Barbara for hosting, despite the electrical problems!

basketry group

Some of Mary’s work can currently be seen in Back to the Beach, an exhibition at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, which runs until 22 August 2015.

RCA degree show 2012

What I like about the Royal College of Art show is the mixture of other applied disciplines – ceramics and glass, innovation, design and engineering, metalwork and jewellery – which can be just as inspiring. Chelsea has fine arts, most of which I have to say completely passes me by: as I get older I seem to be falling increasingly into the “I know what I like” school of art criticism. 😉

No photos allowed, so mostly I’ve linked to photos from the official RCA site. Not many students have their own working websites either.

I loved Elizabeth Scorgie‘s woven pieces. She incorporates unusual materials such as horse hair and leather with silk – and even collaborated with another student to produce some shoes. There was a piece in black horse hair and silk which reminded me of glossy raven feathers.

Maja Johansson is another weaver who experiments with materials like fur as well as rubber and wool.

To complete a trio of weavers, Sophie Manners also uses unusual materials but creates fascinating textures by pulling the warp (or is it weft?) threads to form loops. Some of her work reminded me of the peaks you see in shibori pieces after removing binding threads.

Nelly Song‘s mixed media pieces included lovely double-layered sheer chiffon with machine and hand embroidery on both sides and between. Unfortunately, there is no photo of this – it’s probably quite tricky to shoot.

Haiku landscapes by Sarah Lindstrom were works inspired by Scandinavian nature, incorporating layering and burning techniques in a soothing, repetitive rhythm.

Kirsten Scott worked with women in south-east Uganda to weave plaited palm leaf braids, with which she created wonderfully intricate headgear.

On the non-textile side, Zemer Peled‘s sculptures from ceramic shards blew me away. Very organic, they were like something Andy Goldsworthy produces from natural materials.

Finally, the innovation, design and engineering section was full of fascinating ideas, from polyfloss and man-made nacre (pearls) that could coat any shape to a robot arm that records a maker’s movements and then mimics them. Could be very useful if I could teach it to roll felt! 🙂

The RCA show runs until 1 July.