The Point of the Needle at Hall Place

It hasn’t been a very creative time for me over the past couple of weeks. Too busy with my day job, earning money towards my next felting workshop – five whole days with Maria Friese and Ariane Mariane just outside Paris in a couple of weeks’ time. ESP is going to wander the streets of Paris (and no doubt stuff himself in fine restaurants at lunchtime) while I enjoy some fibre fun with a group of like-minded enthusiasts. I’m really looking forward to it!

So it was a relief to escape for half a day with my sister Women of the Cloth, Carol and Joan, to go back to Hall Place in Bexley for an exhibition by the New Embroidery Group (their website is currently being redesigned).

hall place1

Contradicting its name, the group was actually established more than 40 years ago. Its president for many years was Constance Howard, famous- among other things-  for her green hair, for establishing the embroidery department at Goldsmiths College, and for producing The Country Wife textile mural for the Festival of Britain in 1951.

The Country Wife by Constance Howard
The Country Wife by Constance Howard

The exhibition in the Stables Gallery was small but beautifully hung, with lovely views onto the lavender in the gardens beyond.

I particularly liked the works by Buffy Fieldhouse, who used a mixture of paint, stitch, paper and fabric – and rusty nails! – in her pieces.

Be What You Are I by Buffy Fieldhouse
Be What You Are I by Buffy Fieldhouse
Nailed It by Buffy Fieldhouse
Nailed It by Buffy Fieldhouse

I also liked the rhythms and movement of Liz Holliday’s contours and earthworks against the regular outlines of fields.

Past Present: Maiden Castle by Liz Holliday
Past Present: Maiden Castle by Liz Holliday
Past Present: Cissbury Ring by Liz Holliday
Past Present: Cissbury Ring by Liz Holliday

And the delicacy of Kathie Small’s herringbone stitch on paper was appealing.

Neurons by Kathie Small
Neurons by Kathie Small

Afterwards we strolled around the beautiful gardens and greenhouses, where I couldn’t resist the sculptural symmetry of the gorgeous succulents.

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I also have a bit of a current obsession with pitcher plants: one of the things that fascinates me is the way the stalk curls up from underneath – how does it keep the pitcher stable when it is full of liquid?

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Another spiralling plant that I’ve never seen before.

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And some wonderful woven hanging baskets where the furry roots of the ferns seem to form part of the structure.

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The Point of the Needle runs at Hall Place until Sunday 29 June (yes, I know, I know!). It then moves to the Oxmarket Centre for the Arts in Chichester, where it runs from 8 to 20 July.

Pattern to Print

I had a splendid outing yesterday with my sister Women of the Cloth to Hall Place in Bexley, a Tudor house and gardens just off the A2. There’s a splendid great hall and decorative plasterwork, but the main purpose of our visit was to see Pattern to Print, an exhibition about silk-printing company David Evans.

evans wotc

It’s a small exhibition but definitely worth the trip. David Evans was a silk merchant who set up a silk printing factory in Crayford in 1843, in a former printworks. The factory specialised in block printing at first; this was replaced by screen printing in the 1970s.

The exhibition begins with s 55-minute film, dating from the 1980s if the hairstyles are anything to go by! Fascinating viewing, it covers all the stages of silk production, including growing mulberry plants and spinning the yarn at a silk farm at Lullingstone Castle in Kent (which produced the silk for the Queen’s coronation robes and Princess Diana’s wedding dress, but closed down in 2011).

But what really comes across is the labour-intensiveness of producing the blocks for printing. Every stage done was done by hand, from burning and carving the wooden moulds to cast the pewter blocks, to inking and printing the fabric itself. To carve the blocks, the block makers had to produce their own chisels and files to match the requirements of the design: as the commentary notes, the actual carving of the block was of secondary importance!

Wood marked out for carving the mould to cast the block
Wood marked out for carving the mould to cast the block

From the master block, other blocks were produced for different colours – all had to line up exactly. By the time David Evans closed down in 2001, it had a library of around 70,000 blocks and 11,000 designs. The blocks were sold at Christies, and many of them went to the Cantrol Collection of Textile Printing Blocks, about which I can find very little information.

Blocks used to produce two-colour fabric
Blocks used to produce two-colour fabric

The blocks on show are items of beauty, amazing for their intricacy and precision. Some have been used by designers for Top Shop as inspiration for modern garments – I particularly loved a tortoise design (sorry about the funny reflections on some of the photos, but most exhibits were under glass).

evans block tortoise

There are also covetous pattern and swatch books.

evans swatch book

After block printing, some of the silk was overdyed with madder, a natural red dye, to make the colours more subtle. A rail of Liberty prints shows samples of silk before and after overdyeing.

The three samples on the left show the block-printed silk before dyeing with madder. The fourth, fifth and sixth samples show the same fabric after overdyeing with madder. The unprinted silk on the right has been dyed with madder.
The three samples on the left show the block-printed silk before dyeing with madder. The fourth, fifth and sixth samples show the same fabric after overdyeing with madder. The unprinted silk on the right has been dyed with madder.

The madder was mixed with lime and cow dung to a secret recipe that only David Evans himself knew. The factory even had its own herd of cows to produce the dung!

Fittingly, all the information “panels” are printed on silk.

evans banner

Movingly, the final piece of printed silk is also on display, dated 4 July 2001 at 10.47am.

evans final

Pattern to Print runs until 26 March.