Diana Harrison at Crafts Study Centre in Farnham

I first came across Diana Harrison’s work at Cloth and Memory {2} at Salts Mill in Bradford three years ago. Her contribution to the exhibition was a series of handkerchiefs dyed black and then discharged and laid out like flagstones on the floor in subtle quiet shades of charcoal, cream and peachy pinks.

diana harrison handkerchiefs

The handkerchiefs have returned as part of a solo exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham, part of the University for the Creative Arts, where Diana teaches. Diana Harrison: working in cloth includes samples of her work from the 1980s up to the present.

The Textile Society organised a tour of the exhibition with Diana herself last week, and as it was the day before I was exhibiting at Thread at Farnham Maltings I went along.

Diana started off with an embroidery degree at Goldsmiths with Constance Hawker before going on to the Royal College of Art to study printed fabrics. Here she developed her technique of masking out areas of fabric before spraying them with dye – one of her dresses featured in Vogue.

She continued this at Studio 401 ½, where she made lots of upholstery fabric. After experimenting with flicking and splattering dyes she moved on to dyeing fabric black and then discharging it and stitching, which brought her fame in the quilting world – her work has been bought by museums in Japan and the US, among others.

Diana Harrison box

One of her best-known pieces was Box, made for the Victoria & Albert Museum exhibition on quilts in 2010. This exhibition includes only the “lid”, but you can see the whole piece and hear about the context in the video below.

Some of her most recent pieces, Pillowcases, use a similar technique, stitching fabric together before dyeing, discharging and then unstitching and sometimes overprinting with pigment.

Diana Harrison pillowcases

Diana’s fascination with the way things are constructed is evident from the selection of found objects on display. A self-confessed hoarder, she is forever picking up roadside rubbish or coastal debris, including bits of old tyre, tape, coffee containers and envelopes, finding points of comparison between squashed frogs and Japanese clothing.

Diana Harrison found objects Diana Harrison found objects

One of my favourite pieces was a series of six strip-like panels made for the Lost in Lace exhibition in Birmingham in 2011. Each panel represents a decade of her memories – delicate networks of thread, cloth fragments and dog hair suspended on grids of black pins.

Diana Harrison lost in lace Diana Harrison lost in laceDiana Harrison lost in lace

Other recent work includes similar panels with ghostly images of dancers behind, made for an exhibition in Poland, and balls of dates, where all the dates she has worked at Farnham are printed on a piece of fabric and then moulded into a ball.

Diana Harrison A4Diana Harrison date ball

After the talk we were also lucky enough to see a slide show of her pieces in context, as well as some of her sketch books and a sample collection that we could handle. Diana also kindly showed us her collection of commemorative hankies and Japanese boro collection.

Diana Harrison sample Diana Harrison sample Diana Harrison sampleDiana Harrison hanky collectionDiana Harrison boro collection

Diana Harrison: working in cloth runs at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham until 8 October.


Lucille Junkere at the William Morris Gallery

Last night I trekked out to Walthamstow at the other end of the Victoria line, where the William Morris Gallery has been hosting Lucille Junkere as artist in residence for the past few months. I’d been meaning to visit for a while, so when I noticed that she was doing some indigo dyeing demonstrations at an after-hours event, the opportunity was too good to miss.

lucille junkere

Lucille explained that during her residency she has been following William Morris’s recipe for a cold-water indigo vat, using Indigofera tinctoria, lime and iron (ferrous sulphate). I’d heard of a zinc and lime vat before, but not iron. Apparently it’s not so good for protein fibres, unlike a fructose vat (which needs heat). The vat works better in warmer weather – certainly it had a good flower on it last night.


Rather than focus on one large piece of work, she has experimented with different fabrics, yarns and techniques, including bamboo, nettle and cotton, as well as printing on paper.

Lucille learnt about William Morris and his use of indigo at school, but it wasn’t until she went to Africa that she was really inspired by the dye. Resist dyeing with indigo over there is known as adire, and in northern Nigeria the dyers tend to be men, whereas in the south they are women.

She had some samples of indigo-dyed fabric on display, including some narrow strips from the early 20th century and a lovely Hausa geometric design from the 1950s.

Hausa indigo

Lucille also uses reduced indigo for printing, mixed with binder.

printing with indigo

Her sample book produced during the residency is in a rather dark corner of the Discovery Lounge in the museum (hence no photos!) but she also had some resist dyed samples in the demonstration room.


Her residency ends on 14 June, so sorry for the late notice, but you can read her account of the work she’s done on her blog Under the Breadfruit Tree.


Out of office

I’m going away for a couple of weeks, to Hungary and Ukraine.

The trip is not my idea, but ESP’s – centred on food and wine in Tokaji in north-east Hungary.  But I’m hoping that away from the pig slaughter I might be able to track down some local textile traditions.

From this...
From this…
...to this
…to this

In fact, indigo dyeing is a traditional technique in Hungary, using printing blocks or machines to apply the resist to the cloth before dyeing. I saw some Hungarian artisans demonstrating this on the South Bank a couple of years ago, and there’s a good description of the process on this blog.

hungarian indigo

Sadly, I haven’t been able to track down any museums or workshops in north-east Hungary, but there is a textile museum in Budapest that I hope to visit.

And embroidery is very popular in Ukraine.

Immediately I get back, it’s Lambeth Open weekend on 5-6 October, when I’ll be exhibiting with Women of the Cloth in Streatham – hope to see some of you there!

Double ikat weaving

While in Gujarat we visited Patan, famous for its patola, or double ikat, where the design is dyed into the threads before weaving.The process of making this cloth is incredibly labour intensive and time consuming – it takes three to four months just to dye the warp and weft threads for a single sari!

patola final

The Salvi family showed us round their showroom and workshop and explained the process. They get their silk thread from China, wind it into hanks and degum it to remove the sericin. Then they twist the threads and set up the warp and weft threads.

Now comes the hard part. Using a similar technique to bandhani, they tie portions of the silk threads with cotton thread before dyeing. The cotton acts as a resist and prevents the dye from reaching the silk threads. They repeat this for four or five colours, untying and retying the resist threads each time. And they do this on both the warp and weft threads (hence the “double” ikat).

The pictures below show some of the tied threads that have been dyed once, below a diagram of the final pattern, and the final dyed warp threads set up on the loom.

patola pattern threadspatola dyed warp

As you can see, the dyeing process requires a very detailed knowledge of the pattern and extremely precise calculation of the thickness and tension of the threads, not to mention how the colours of warp and weft will combine. No wonder it takes so long!

The actual weaving is relatively straightforward by comparison. It’s done by two people on a hand-operated loom, with careful matching of the warp and weft threads to ensure that the pattern is maintained. The weavers comb four needles over the fabric afterwards to help align the pattern and ensure an even tension.

patola on loom

The Salvis use mostly natural vegetable dyes, such as madder, persimmon, indigo, onion skins and turmeric. They have a waiting list of three years for a natural-dyed sari, costing between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the design. They make four or five a year.

They say that originally there were around 700 families in the area producing double ikat – now it’s only two or three.

The Patan Museum had a small section on patola, and said that there were originally different styles for four different markets:

  • Jain and Hindu: all-over patterns of flowers, parrots, dancing figures and elephants
  • Muslim Voras: geometric floral patterns for weddings
  • Maharashtrian Brahmins: plain, dark-coloured body with borders of women and birds, called nari kunj
  • export markets: mainly Bali.

World Eco-Fibre and Textile Art

The thing about living in London is that I’m constantly finding out about places and events I’ve never heard of. Although I was a student at UCL, just around the corner from the School of Oriental and African Studies, I’d never been to the Brunei Gallery – until yesterday.

The reason for going was an exhibition called World Eco-Fibre and Textile [WEFT – geddit?] Art, organised by Society Atelier Sarawak of Malaysia. The aim of the exhibition is to show how traditional techniques, including ikat, shibori, weaving, dyeing and printing are being used and developed by contemporary textile artists around the world.

The upper level starts with explanations of techniques. There are particularly good descriptions and samples of Indian embroidery by Asif Shaikh of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Most are mounted on a karchob – a wooden, horizontal, floor-mounted frame that is large enough to let several people work on a piece at the same time. Stunning pieces included aari (chain stitch done using an awl rather than a needle) in single-ply silk and kamdhani (embroidery using badla, or metal thread).

Aari embroidery with single ply silk
Aari embroidery with single ply silk
Kamdhani embroidery with metal thread
Kamdhani embroidery with metal thread

Metal thread was also used to embroider dots onto a piece of silk georgette indigo bandhani.

SOAS bandhani

And there were some traditional nomadic QashQai felt jackets from the Semiron region of Iran, made from the wool of local sheep and goats. This was felt used for function rather than form – they were really thick and heavy, with the arms totally enclosed so that they resembled penguin flippers!

SOAS felt jacket

Downstairs is a wonderful selection of contemporary items – I’m just picking out a few of my favourites here.

Edric Ong, who curated the exhibition,  is the President of Society Atelier Sarawak, and much of his work is featured, including some beautiful handspun, handwoven silk shawls dyed with ketapang leaves and mangrove tree bark using itajime clamping techniques. He also showed some hand-stamped indigo leaves on silk and cotton, a shibori bound scarf, and even jewellery made from plaited pandanus leaves.

shibori ong-hangings

There was also some wonderful contemporary shibori work, both stitched and tied, by Aranya Natural, a community development project in Kerala, India (sorry, no photos, as the pieces were in a case and difficult to shoot in low light). They specialise in natural dyes, and achieved some fantastic colours.

The focus on natural yarns and dyes meant there was a lot of indigo, from Hiroyuki Shindo’s Indigo Mountain series and Japanese recycled boro ranru jackets to Chinese Hmong/Miao indigo batik on handwoven hemp.

japanese-indigo SOAS hmong indigo

There was even some contemporary kantha work, including a piece of featuring lots of circles that reminds me of my turtle project, and a Bengali piece that included couching as well as running stitch.


As you might have noticed, I’ve just focused here on the work that reflects my (current) obsessions of felt, shibori, indigo and embroidery, but there are lots of other lovely pieces, from exquisite horsehair jewellery and handwoven recycled leather to pineapple fibre shawls and batik sarongs. Well worth a visit.

World Eco-Fibre and Textile Art runs at the Brunei Gallery until 23 March.

More on bandhani and dyeing

In response to Jennifer’s comment on my last post, I thought I’d post a bit more about bandhani and dyeing, as otherwise my reply would be rather long!

Sadly, for some reason, I didn’t get any photos of the wedding saris at Kachchhi Print, in Dhamadka – and they don’t have a website. However, it’s easy to find pictures of bandhani wedding saris online – I’ve posted a couple below, just to give you an idea. Many of them incorporate embroidery and brocade, as you can see.

wedding sari2 wedding sari1

As for the dyes used, I didn’t ask – but I suspect that most of them are chemical dyes. Certainly this article suggests that chemical dyes are in widespread use.

Indian artisans are known for their natural dyeing skills – the wonderful Calico Museum of Textiles in Ahmedebad publishes a book, Natural Dyeing Processes of India, that contains real samples of dyed cloth.

Travels in Textiles gives a wonderfully detailed account of the process of ajrakh block printing by Ismail Mohammed Khatri in Kutch, whom I didn’t manage to visit. The dyeing processes involve indigo, madder, rhubarb root, henna, pomegranate skins and turmeric, among other things! But I guess chemical dyes are so much quicker these days.

The only dyeing I witnessed when I was in Gujarat was in Bhujedi, where a man was dyeing skeins of wool in a large metal pot of chemical dye over a fire. He soaked three skeins of wool in water and then rested them on two metal poles balanced across the rim of the pot. He then dipped each skein in turn into the dye, running his hands along its length to ensure the dye was properly absorbed.


His hands must have been made of asbestos, as he didn’t wear gloves! He said that it took about 30 minutes to dye each skein in this way  – the surrounding courtyard was strung with washing lines of red, yellow and blue skeins hung up to dry.

The colour wasn’t entirely even, which led to a pleasing variation in colour of the final pieces that were woven from it next door. I did, however, spy two indigo vats sunk into a corner of the courtyard, which suggests they also used natural fermented indigo.

Woo hoo - an indigo vat!
Woo hoo – an indigo vat!

Also a postscript on bandhani: Having noted that I saw very little stitch resist, there was a wonderful shop, Kamala, run by the Crafts Council of India, in Delhi. This provided a showcase of innovation and fine workmanship, including some lovely woollen scarves and cotton stoles featuring stitch-resist bandhani. kamala bandhani

Finally, here’s a video on bandhani, made by House of MG, the hotel we stayed in in Ahmedebad. It’s great watching the artisan using his feet when capping the fabric with plastic to prevent the dye from reaching it, and also shows how they pull it to get all the bindings on the finished piece to pop off.