Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles

This exhibition, in the sumptuous surroundings of Two Temple Place, features highlights from the eclectic collections of seven female textile collectors from the 19th century to the present day. It’s a splendid mix of beautiful embroidery and costume, elegant homeware, and art textiles.

Edith Durham (1863-1944)

Edith Durham was an artist who travelled extensively throughout the Balkans, especially Albania, in the period before the First World War. Journeying on horseback with a local guide, she collected many examples of traditional dress, textiles, and jewellery, making detailed notes and sketches on their cultural significance and local customs. After she died her collections were donated to the Bankfield Museum in Halifax.

Serbian glove
Man’s glove from Montenegro
Albanian waistcoat
Albanian waistcoat (jelek) with elaborate braiding

Louisa Pesel (1870-1947)

If you’ve read A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, you’ll instantly recognise the name. Louisa Pesel was a distinguished embroidery artist and historian, teacher and writer. After studying at the Royal College of Art she went on to become director of the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Lace in Athens. When she moved back to Britain, firstly to Bradford and then to Hampshire, she started teaching people to stitch, whether for employment, therapy or pleasure. Her students included shell-shocked soldiers, refugees, and volunteers at Winchester Cathedral – the subject of Chevalier’s novel.

Winchester Cathedral design sample
Winchester Cathedral design sample by Louisa Pesel

Cover by Louisa Pesel

Olive Matthews (1887-1979)

London resident Olive Matthews started collecting as a child, saving her pocket money to buy costumes from Caledonian Road market. Such items were not regarded as particularly collectable at the time, so she prided herself on getting a bargain, not paying more than £5 for anything. At the beginning of the Second World War she moved with her family to Virginia Water in Surrey, and her collection formed a key part of the Chertsey Museum when it was set up in 1965.

Spencer
Silk spencer (1817-1819) from Olive Matthews collection
Blackwork cap
Linen cap with blackwork embroidery (1700-1720)

Enid Marx (1902-1998)

Enid Marx was a leading designer probably best known for her industrial textile designs, such as the seat fabric for London Transport. Before that, she was an apprentice with block printers Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, which led her to explore the process of printing fabric with wood blocks and natural dyes. She was also a great collector, along with historian Margaret Lambert, of folk art and popular ephemera, some of which are included in the exhibition. The Marx-Lambert collection is now at Compton Verney.

Enid Marx designsenid marx folk art collection

Muriel Rose (1897-1986)

Muriel Rose was a leading advocate for 20th-century British craft, determined to put craft on the same footing as painting and sculpture. She set up the Little Gallery near Sloane Square in London in 1928, where she exhibited the work of textile artists such as Enid Marx, Barron and Larcher, and weaver Ethel Mairet, as well as potters such as Bernard Leach. She travelled and collected extensively, both abroad and closer to home – for example, she sold high-quality handmade quilts by Durham miners’ wives alongside work from Japan and Mexico. She went on to become Director of Craft and Industrial Design at the British Council and a founder trustee of the Crafts Study Centre (now in Farnham).

muriel rose quilted tea cosies

Dr Jennifer Harris

Jennifer Harris was responsible for building up Britain’s foremost collection of contemporary textile art at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. From 1982 to 2016 she was the deputy director and curator of textiles, collecting “statement acquisitions” and more speculative pieces made with traditional craft techniques but more conceptual and sculptural in form. Examples of pieces she collected included some stunning indigo work from an exhibition she curated in 2007 and large-scale machine-embroidered “drawings” by Alice Kettle.

Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Shindigo Space by Hiroyuki Shindo
Guardian by Eduardo Portillo and Maria Eugenia Davila
Guardian by Eduardo Portillo and Maria Eugenia Davila
Three Caryatids by Alice Kettle
Three Caryatids by Alice Kettle

Nima Poovaya-Smith

As senior keeper of the International Collections at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford from 1985 to 1998, Nima Poovaya-Smith made the collections more representative of Bradford’s diversity. Reflecting the big Pakistani community, the exhibition includes a lovely stitched kantha piece as well as phulkari embroidery.

Kantha from West Bengal
Kantha from West Bengal (detail)
Phulkari from Punjab
Phulkari from Punjab

Unbound: Visionary Women Collecting Textiles runs at Two Temple Place until 19 April 2020.

Equinox exhibition

After the intense physicality of the willow basketry module at City Lit just before Christmas, it was a relief to have a break and think about something else.

The submission deadline for the next South London Women Artists exhibition was 6 January, so this provided the perfect opportunity. The theme for the exhibition is “Equinox”, and my original idea was to make some random weave eggs containing felt “yolks”, representing spring. However, an email then arrived saying that all works had to be 2D. So it was back to the drawing board.

An equinox occurs twice a year, around 21 March and 21 September. The March equinox is generally regarded as the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere, while the September one is the beginning of autumn. It is so named because the length of the day and night are approximately equal on those dates.

I started thinking about the lengthening days and the warmth of the sun’s rays returning after the dark winter, and had the idea of making a stitched piece representing this. I found a piece of indigo shibori cotton that was roughly half dark, half light, to resemble the Earth, and pinned it to a piece of cream linen.

Then I started stitching.

equinox wip

I decided to use simple kantha (running stitch) to represent the sun’s rays, in differing shades ranging from cream to dark orange.

equinox wip

Kantha stitch also produces a slightly rippled effect, which evokes the oceans.

Kim Winter - And the World Turns detail 1

I left the edges raw, expecting (hoping) they would fray slightly, but in fact they frayed very little.

It was very restful, after wrestling with willow rods, to be able to sit and stitch quietly, even if it took rather a long time! 🙂

Once it was finished, I had the tricky job of mounting it. I didn’t really want to put it behind glass, as I think it deadens it and I didn’t want to lose the texture. So I stitched it to a heavier piece of cotton before stretching it over some stretcher bars and adding backing. This successfully removed the wrinkles without flattening the ripples too much.

And the World Turns by Kim Winter
And the World Turns by Kim Winter

Equinox runs from 3 to 22 March at St Marylebone Parish Church, 17 Marylebone Road, London NW1 5LT. The private view is on 4 March, 6-8pm – everyone welcome.

 

Indigo shibori workshop for felters

Last weekend I ran a workshop on indigo shibori dyeing for the London branch of the International Feltmakers Association, of which I am a member. I’ve attended previous IFA workshops on felting and natural dyeing, and the participants are always enthusiastic and engaged, so I knew I was in good hands!

I wanted participants to experience the difference between synthetic and natural indigo, so we began on Saturday by setting up three vats. The first was what is known as a 123 vat, popularised by natural dye guru Michel Garcia – this was made up of 1 part indigo, 2 parts lime and 3 parts fructose. The other two vats were made of synthetic indigo in different concentrations.

To start with we focused on clamping and binding shibori techniques, and soon everyone was having fun with pegs, marbles and lolly sticks, while the more adventurous grappled with some plastic pipes and string to produce arashi shibori.

In the afternoon we moved on to stitching. Because this is more time consuming, it meant that keen students could take their pieces home to finish stitching in the evening so it was ready to dye the next day.

stitching shibori

There was time at the end of the afternoon to undo the first bound and clamped pieces and the makeshift washing line outside soon began to fill up!

shibori washing line

On Sunday the we continued to experiment with different techniques (sometimes combining more than one) or fabrics, learning how the same technique can look very different on different fabrics.

pole wrapped shibori unpicking shibori

We also found a more photogenic place to hang our work. 😉

indigo shibori indigo shibori indigo shibori indigo shibori indigo shibori

At the end of the day everyone had a good collection of samples to take home and seemed very happy!

ifa shibori samplesIFA shibori workshop

Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations

Last year the Victoria & Albert Museum in London had a display of some stunning naturally dyed silk by Sachio Yoshioka’s dyeing workshop in Kyoto, Japan. Below you can see four short documentary films made to accompany the display.

When Sachio Yoshioka took over his family dyeing workshop in 1988 – the fifth generation to do so – he decided to eschew the use of synthetic dyes and use only natural plant-based materials.

Through extensive historical research he tracked down plants and dyes used as far back as the Heian period (794 – 1185) and has encouraged Japanese farmers to grow previously rare or forgotten plants such as gromwell, whose roots produce a beautiful purple dye.

Now Yoshioka is back, this time with a bigger exhibition at Japan House called Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations.

Kasane are layers of colour combinations found in the garments of aristocrats during the Heian period. The formal kimono worn by women of the court showed layers of different colours at the neckline, cuffs and hems. Changing the colours to reflect, for example, plants in season was seen as a mark of good taste and education.

Kasane were also used with paper: poems and love letters would be enclosed in several sheets of seasonally coloured paper.

The exhibition at Japan House is arranged by season, starting with kasane for spring, such as cherry and willow.

The deep red silk of the cherry kasane is dyed with safflower; placing a translucent white layer of silk above it produces a pale cherry blossom pink. The green  layer representing mountain scenery is produced with indigo overdyed with yellow from amur cork.

The willow kasane has white at the bottom to represent the white underside of willow leaves, while the green comes from light indigo overdyed with yellow from Miscanthus tinctorius.

Summer kasane include wisteria, with beautiful purple coming from gromwell.

The delicate patterned silks also produce lovely shadows on the different layers.

And of course there are indigo kasane.

There are also samples of the plant materials used in dyeing on display.

And some of the tools and equipment used in dyeing.

I was also lucky enough to attend a talk by Sachio Yoshioka and a demonstration by his daughter Sarasa Yoshioka, the sixth generation of the dyeing family.

Sachio Yoshioka believes it is the duty of his workshop to continue producing beautiful bright colours from plants. “Study the old to discover the new” is his motto. He has produced a “dictionary” of 260 colours, all produced by layering plant dyes. The mordants he uses are all traditional too, including camellia ash, smoked plum, alum and iron.

His favourite colour is purple, the colour of nobility – it can take 8-9 days to get a satisfactory shade.

Sarasa Yoshioka demonstrated how they paint paper with dyes (in this case yellow kihada from the amur cork tree on top of indigo to produce green).

Their most famous use of this technique is using red pigment extracted from safflowers to paint paper that is used to make camellia flowers for a Buddhist ceremony at the Todaiji Temple in Nara. You can see this in one of the films above.

Extracting red pigment from safflower is an extraordinarily complex process – I’ve written about this before. And it takes 1.5kg of dried safflower petals to produce enough dye for a single sheet of red A3 paper!

Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations runs at Japan House until 19 May 2019.

2 for 1 entry to Contemporary Textiles Fair 2019

Next weekend I’ll be back at one of my favourite events – the Contemporary Textiles Fair at the Landmark Centre in Teddington.

In a converted church you’ll find a particularly strong line-up, selling everything from conceptual stitched pieces to wonderful homeware and wearable art pieces. There are also some interesting workshops – I would have loved to do the sculptural spoons but sadly will have to mind my stall! There’s a full catalogue here of the exhibitors and events.

Normal admission price is £4, but if you show the following flyer on your phone at the door, you can get 2 for 1 entry!

2 for 1 flyer

One of the other exhibitors at the Contemporary Textiles Fair is Romor Designs, who is also taking part in the Japanese Textile and Craft Festival at Craft Central this weekend. To be honest, the event is smaller than the word “festival” might suggest, but the quality is very high.

Rob Jones of Romor Designs is one of the two main participants, and he has a splendid display of indigo shibori, sashiko and katagami work.

romor designs shibori romor designs shibori

The other main demonstrator is Janine of Freeweaver Saori Studio. Saori weaving was founded in 1968 by Misao Jo, a Japanese weaver, and is more about free expression than perfect regularity.

saori weaving demo

One of Misao’s sons created the saori loom, which comes with a prebuilt warp, so setting up takes around 20 minutes rather than the best part of a day. Even more ingenious (to me), you can remove a work in progress from the loom to let someone else use it, and then replace it afterwards to carry on weaving. Thus the looms are perfect for studios where people can rent a loom for a couple of hours and then come back next week.

Janine had some lovely examples of her work, which often incorporates strips of fabric or ribbon as well as yarn.

saori weaving saori weaving saori weaving

There is also a handful of other exhibits, including the following.

Indigo block printed garments by Harumi Ikegame
Katazome stencil work by Sarah Desmarais
Dorozome (mud dyeing) by Yukihito Kanai
Kakishibui (persimmon dye) by Iris de Voogd
Kintsugi inspired work by Ross Belton

The Japanese Textile and Craft Festival is at Craft Central, 397-411 Westferry Road, London E14 3AE. It’s open today and tomorrow, 12-5pm.

A week of indigo

It was definitely a blue fingernail week last week! It started with a couple of days in Hove with a wonderful group of textile friends who try to get together every couple of months to do a little felting or stitching.

This time, Barbara was rash enough to offer her garden to do some indigo dyeing – though some parts (usually featuring pale limestone!) were definitely out of bounds to people carrying dripping blue fabric. 🙂 The weather was glorious – the last two days of our prolonged heatwave – and the food and drink was plentiful and excellent. Barbara even baked a belated birthday cake for Carol, my partner in Women of the Cloth.

In between the eating, drinking and laughter we even found some time for dyeing, and everyone produced some great work.

When I got back home, it was time to filter my second indigo extraction from my homegrown indigo, which I’d fermented and left to settle while I was away. This produced another 4g of indigo.

Then on Friday I harvested 75g of indigo leaves, blended them with iced water till it was bright green and strained it through silk.

I used this to dye two silk scarves, one plain and one ecoprinted. Interestingly, some of the leaf prints seemed to resist the dye, while others changed colour as they were overdyed.

Also interestingly, the silk I used to strain the vegetation shows a range of colours, from the expected turquoise, through pale green to red from indirubin.

All natural indigo contains indigotin, the blue pigment, and indirubin, a red pigment – the indirubin is usually hidden by the indigotin, but shows up once the indigotin is exhausted.  Fascinating to see it separated out here!

Hand dyed ribbons

A friend of mine, Ruth Eaton, who designs beautiful contemporary embroidery, had an idea a couple of months ago about producing naturally dyed ribbons.

So we looked at what was available online, and I ordered some silk to start doing some samples.

These three were dyed with, left to right, avocado, nettles and dried hibiscus flowers, with an alum mordant.

ribbons natural dyes

With the avocado and hibiscus I strained the dye to remove the vegetation before adding the ribbon, but I left the nettles in with the ribbon, which left interesting mottled marks on the silk.

ribbons nettle dye

During my research I noticed that although there are quite a few people already selling naturally dyed ribbons, there are not many selling indigo shibori ribbons.

Always preferring the path less trod, I tried some marbled indigo and arashi indigo designs. 🙂

marbled indigo ribbon arashi indigo ribbon

These are now available in my Etsy shop. Thanks Ruth!

indigo marbled ribbon

indigo arashi ribbon

 

Plant dyes with Nature’s Rainbow part 2

For an account of the first day of this workshop, see Plant dyes with Nature’s Rainbow part 1.

On day 2 we turned to red, looking at madder. Madder is very invasive, so Susan advised growing it in an enclosed area, like a tractor tyre. It also takes around three years before you can start harvesting the root, where the colour resides, and then after digging it up, washing it, drying it and snapping it into pieces she leaves it for another year in paper bags.

The root contains around over 15 different pigments, ranging from yellow and orange to coral, scarlet and brown. Some of these pigments emerge more quickly than others – for example, yellow and coral come out first, but alizarin, which gives the red colour, is not very soluble and is the last to emerge.

Coral colour coming out of madder root at lower temperature

For this reason, despite traditional instructions that say madder should not be heated above 60°C, Susan and Ashley have found that working the bath quite hard for at least a week, cooling it and reheating it, produces the best reds. You can also add an alkali modifier to shift the colour from orange towards red.

For the workshop we compared two madder recipes, one from Jim  Liles’ The Art and Craft of Natural Dyeing and the other from Ethel Mairet, the author of a seminal book on vegetable dyes written in 1916.

The Liles recipe involves over three days of heating and straining to extract the best red pigments from the madder. The Ethel Mairet recipe by contrast is a very low effort method where the dye is extracted in the dyebath (no preparation required).  They gave very different results.

Ashley and Susan had prepared the Liles method in advance and brought a madder dyebath which combined three days of extract. The Ethel Mairet bath was created by adding dry madder root to the dyebath (contained in an old paid of tights to prevent pieces getting caught in the wool and silk fibre).

In both recipes the wool was added to the dyebath at room temperature and heated to 82°C (simmering temperature) for 1.5 hours (Liles) or 1 hour (Mairet). Liles then instructed us to remove the wool, cool it and rinse it before putting it back in the bath at 70°C for 10-15 minutes. Then it was drained, cooled and gently rinsed. By contrast, after simmering the wool for an hour Mairet recommended boiling for the final five minutes before removing the wool, cooling it and rinsing.

In both dyebaths we resisted the temptation to agitate the fibre lest we felt it. We carefully turned the fibre over once in the Mairet bath.

We also used a dyebath created by vigorous boiling of the madder root left over after 3 days of the Liles madder extraction process. Ashley called this his surprise “4th extract”.

The results were interesting. The Liles recipe, extracted over days 1-3, gave the strongest colour (seen in the two samples on the right), followed by the Liles fourth extraction (sample bottom left). The Mairet recipe resulted in a very patchy sample that was much paler (top left).

Contrasting shades of madder from different baths

Meanwhile, on the other side of the room, overdyeing with indigo some of the yellow samples dyed the previous day continued, and soon there was a splendid range of greens hanging outside.

The buttery mid yellows gave the brightest greens when overdyed; more orangey yellows gave a more olive green.

Ashley also demonstrated how multiple dips in woad helped get a deeper colour. The wool on the left has been dipped in woad five times while the wool on the right has been dipped only once.

Susan showed us a sample card of how acid and alkali modifiers after dyeing can change the colour, depending on the fibre and the mordant.

Unfortunately we didn’t have time to overdye the madder samples with indigo to see if we could get purple shades, but we had quite a lot to take home already! We spent the last hour of the workshop splitting up all the samples so that everyone had a good collection to take home.

Suan and Ashley were very generous, offering us more weld, madder roots and all the leftover dye baths to take home. Many of us also bought seeds to start our own dye gardens!

There was just time to take a final photo of the beautiful rainbow of samples before heading back out into a grey January evening.

Brian photographing the woven rainbow samples

And here is the collection of plant-dyed wool and silk that I ended up with.

plant dyed woolplant dyed silk

Huge thanks to Sally for her organisation and to Susan, Ashley and Brian for such a wonderful colourful weekend!

Useful links

Nature’s Rainbow
International Feltmakers Association