One of the pre-symposium workshops I did last November at 10iss was a folding workshop with Ana Lisa Hedstrom. I signed up mainly because she was covering katano shibori, but I came away with many more ideas and inspiration.
Katano shibori, named after Motohiko Katano, is a process of stitching through several layers of fabric and not pulling the thread up afterwards. Instead, the lines of stitching channel the dye, producing softer marks that look as if they are airbrushed. There is a more detailed explanation of the technique in Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Yoshiko Wada, along with some stunning examples. The World Shibori Network sells some sets of Katano postcards. Ana Lisa brought some lovely samples with her.
I had a go at katano shibori a few months ago but it didn’t go very well and I wasn’t very happy with the result. Partly this was because I tried to pull all the threads up. I also found it very difficult to stitch through so many layers of fabric.
Here’s the piece I tried by myself, on cotton dyed with indigo:
And here’s the piece I did in the workshop, on silk noil dyed with cochineal and then overdyed with indigo:
All the dyes used in the workshop were natural – we ground our own cochineal, and the indigo vat was made using limestone and local fruit, so smelled lovely!
One of the other techniques we explored was machine stitch shibori. This was a bit challenging because we had only one sewing machine among 16 participants, but with patience and a rota we all managed a go. As with katano shibori, you stitch through several layers of fabric at the same time.
Ana Lisa had brought plenty of samples that inspired us, especially where more than one colour was used.
This was my first attempt, dyed with cochineal. The stitch lines are not very obvious in real life, and are barely visible in the photo.
This was a better attempt on a wool and silk scarf, dyed with cochineal and then indigo. Red cabbage anyone? 🙂
We also used the sewing machine to stitch pleats in different directions before dyeing – this is the result of mine after dyeing in indigo and unpicking.
Just as an experiment I tried stitching through similar folds by hand. The result on some fine habotai silk was very subtle – with more folds or a thicker fabric the marks might have been more obvious.
And this was one of the main points of the workshop – know your fabric! Ana Lisa was very keen to emphasise the importance of learning how different fabrics behave and knowing which one to use for which technique.
We also did some traditional itajime, or clamping, shibori, but this was limited compared with the specialist itajime shibori workshop with Elsa Chartin going on next door. ESP, who also attended the symposium (having never done any shibori or dyeing before!) gamely attended this and produced some very impressive samples using vat dyes. He even dyed a T-shirt (which he hasn’t worn yet!). 😉
This post will feature the exhibitions in and around CASA – be warned that there are lots of photos!
CASA is a former cotton mill that was converted into a stunning arts centre by local artist Francisco Toledo in 2000. Its hilltop location gives amazing views, and it has two exhibition halls and smaller rooms for running workshops.
There are also some interesting sculptural plants!
Indigo Earth: Shibori Kimono, Past and Present
This exhibition, curated by Yoshiko Nakamura and Consortium Arimatsu Narumi, featured a selection of historical and modern Japanese indigo-dyed kimono from Arimatsu and Narumi in Japan.
Optica and Haptica
This exhibition showcased 12 pieces of clothing designed by Mexican designer Carla Fernandez, highlighting connections between the Mexican and Japanese traditions of ikat (known as jaspe in Mexican and kasuri in Japan).
The contemporary garments were wonderful, combining Japanese silhouettes and designs with traditional Mexican rebozo patterns.
Contemporary Art of Shibori and Ikat
The main exhibition hall at CASA was given over to a wide range of contemporary shibori artworks and wearables, curated by Yoshiko Wada and Trine Ellitsgaard.
And here I must apologise profusely to artists whose work I photographed but whose names I failed to record. I did photograph the name labels but because of the low lighting many of them came out blurred and unreadable. I have credited artists whose names are legible or whom I remembered, but if your work is featured without a credit, do let me know and I will remedy it as soon as possible!
A short walk downhill from CASA is the papermaking cooperative Arte Papel Vista Hermosa, also founded by Francisco Toledo. Its members use bark, plants, flowers, cotton, hemp, silk, linen and pieces of shiny mica in their products. As well as seeing the artisans at work, visitors can have a go at making paper themselves.
For this exhibition they worked with artist Kiff Slemmons to produce some stunningly intricate paper jewellery. And yes – I did end up buying a piece! 🙂
There’s a wonderful exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe’s work at Tate Modern at the moment. She is best known for her flower paintings, which are indeed wonderful – you can almost feel the blossoms unfurling before your eyes, the strong lines offset by gorgeously subtle colour gradations.
(Interestingly, O’Keeffe always denied the interpretation that her flowers were representations of the female body. This idea came from her husband, photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz, who tellingly wrote: “Woman feels the World differently than Man feels it….The Woman receives the World through her Womb. That is her deepest feeling. Mind comes second.” OK, this was written in 1919, but some might say that attitudes towards women artists (or indeed women in general) haven’t changed much since then. 🙂 )
But I digress. One of the new discoveries for me in this exhibition was her charcoal work. Two early pieces, Special No 9 (1915) and No 15 Special (1916-17) seemed to glow on the wall, while her Eagle Claw and Bean Necklace from 1934 just blew me away with its precision.
There are lots of other great works, but in the last room Sky Above the Clouds III (1963) made me think of ombre indigo, which inspired me to try making a nuno felt piece.
I started by making a small sample using ombre indigo dyed cotton scrim topped with natural merino. After making this I wondered how it would look in reverse, so I made another sample with the scrim on top.
I then did a small straw poll on Twitter and Instagram, asking people which version they preferred. As so often happens, opinion was divided! There was probably a small majority in favour of scrim on top – but then one person said that they liked them both and couldn’t I join them together?
So after a bit of re-engineering, here is the final work in progress.
On a larger scale in a portrait format I didn’t think the elliptical shapes would work, so I went for a repeating grid of circles instead, despite misgivings about being able to make them regular enough.
I also added some white tussah silk to the plain white circles for a bit of extra texture, which you can just about see in the detail shot below.
Back in April I planted some seeds of Japanese indigo, or Persicaria tinctoria.
They germinated pretty quickly – within a few days.
In mid-May we had a warm spell, so I planted them out. They like to be kept well watered, but as we had such a wet spring, luckily I didn’t need to do much watering!
I will leave a couple of plants to flower so that I can gather seeds for next year, but apparently once they start to flower the leaves won’t give any colour. So I’ve been torn between picking them and wondering whether I have enough to dye with! 🙂
This week I couldn’t take the suspense any more and decided to cut back some of the larger plants (apparently they will form new shoots, so this won’t harm them). This gave me around 100g of leaves.
First I used half the leaves to produce aqualeaf blue, a method which they credit to Jenny Balfour-Paul and Lucy Goffin. This involves soaking the leaves in iced water before blending them and straining out the vegetable matter. Then you add your silk or wool for 3-5 minutes. No alkali, no reducing agent – just neat indigo!
This method gave a beautiful delicate shade of turquoise on silk. If I’d had more leaves I could have blitzed some more and done another dip, but I rather like this colour.
On wool it was less successful, giving only a faint tinge of blueish green.
I then added the leftover liquid and the blitzed leaves to a pot containing the rest of the whole leaves and cold water. In hindsight, adding the blitzed leaves was a mistake, because all the little bits of leaves got caught up in the wool later (as you will see!). Live and learn. 🙂
After heating it slowly for a couple of hours to 60°C I strained out the leaves, added some washing soda and whisked it. When the froth was all green, I reheated it and added some reducing agent. Once the dye was reduced I added some silk and wool.
The silk was very pale again, more blue than turquoise, despite four dips. Obviously I need to pick more indigo leaves next time!
But the wool turned a strange shade of green. This is the shade I often see when I first remove items from an indigo vat, but it turns blue on exposure to the air. In this case the colour didn’t change – it just stayed green. The spots are the bits of ground up leaf from the aqualeaf indigo which have got caught up in it. 🙂
Hopefully there is enough growing season left for me to get another, bigger harvest to try again before the end of the year!
Last week I joined the Textile Society visit to Kew Gardens to see the Economic Botany Collection and also some of Jenny Balfour-Paul’s collection of indigo textiles housed at Kew. The group was an interesting mix of historians, conservators, practitioners and enthusiasts.
Dr Mark Nesbitt, Curator and Research Leader of the Economic Botany Collection, explained that when the collection was set up in 1847, “economic” meant “useful”. As well as encouraging people to engage with plants and their purposes, the collection acted as a hub between countries of the empire and consumers in Britain, able to advise on which plants grew best under different conditions. It collected not only raw materials (plants) but also the end products – baskets, clothing and the like.
In the 1980s the collection was moved to a new purpose-built building and became a research collection no longer open to the public. It lends over 100 items a year to museums around the world, and museum conservation students work on important pieces as part of their studies.
The collection is organised by plant type – for example, monocotyledons like grasses and palms are stored together. This is because plants in the same families tend to produce similar types of fibre, allowing comparisons to be made.
We started by looking at a few examples of plants and fibres produced from them, including New Zealand flax, ramie, stinging nettles and mulberry. The fashion in Victorian times was to show the “illustrative process”, with examples of the plant at every stage, from the original plant stems to the extracted fibres and final fabric, and Kew has a good collection of these.
Mark explained that historical attempts at commercialisation had affected the range of plants used. Processing plants by hand to extract fibre is very labour intensive, but expensive machines imported from London to New Zealand or the Caribbean, where the plants prospered, often broke down. Where industrialisation of the process succeeded, that plant was favoured at the expense of others. Maori weavers originally used around 20 plants, but New Zealand flax is the only one that survived. However, today there is renewed interest in historic materials and methods, so a collection like this at Kew can help in the repatriation of that knowledge.
Closer to home, there have been several attempts to commercially produce nettle fibre, especially during the two world wars. Recently De Montfort University in Leicester has had another go at industrialising the process and produced some furnishing fabrics. We were all very impressed with these – until Mark told us that they were actually 75% wool!
We then moved on to some of the finished products. A stunning Maori cloak dating from 1856 is the only such garment in any museum collection worldwide. It is made from mountain daisy, also known as the “leather plant” because of the suede-like texture of its leaves. The main cloak was woven from rolled up leaves (a tricky operation), and then the surface was covered with long strips of leaves, which helped the rain to run off.
From around the same period (1853) a loin cloth, or tanga, from the north-west Amazon was made from mulberry bark cloth. The inner bark, or phloem, is separated out and pounded to make cloth (paper makers also use it to make pulp). The cloth was made by Uaupe Indians, who crimped it between their teeth and decorated with red dye.
Also made from bark cloth but in a very different fashion was a jacket from the Nicobar Islands. Made from the inner bark of a wild fig tree, this double breasted reefer jacket edged with Manchester cotton is a prime example of a fusion garment – Victorian fashion made from local materials. It was donated to Kew in 1858 by anthropologist Edward Man, and inkstains and traces of wear suggest that it was his personal garment.
Two more fascinating items rounded off the tour. A cotton Peruvian shroud, dating from around 1400, was shaped like a large bag. Apparently the body was tied into a foetal position before being wrapped in the shroud.
And finally we saw a bonnet made from Jamaican lace bark (Lagetta lagetto), which used to be widespread in the Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries but is now quite rare due to overharvesting. The bark was soaked to separate the inner phloem layer, which was pulled apart into layers of white netting.
Jenny Balfour Paul’s indigo collection
We then moved on to see a selection of indigo garments donated by Jenny Balfour-Paul to the Kew collection. Jenny herself gave an introduction to the collection, explaining how she became enraptured by indigo when she was working in Yemen in 1983. Encouraged by fabric dyer and printer Susan Bosence to apply for a grant to research indigo dyeing in the country, she was then commissioned by the British Museum to write a comparative book on indigo worldwide, and never looked back.
Her donations are eclectic, ranging from the shiny indigo embroidered Yemeni dress that started her fascination to a wooden mallet used to beat the fabric to get the shine and a collection of home-made bamboo and copper batik tools from south-west China.
Highlights of the international collection include samples of labour-intensive Indian ajrakh printing, a lovely piece of Nigerian adire painted with a chicken feather and cassava paste, and beautifully textured Mali cotton patterned with stitch resist. There was also mud cloth from Mali, where the cloth was painted with tannic acid before applying mud. The mud reacts with the tannin, leaving a pattern when it is washed off.
Moving east, Jenny showed us a piece of batik that she rescued from use as a duster(!) as well as Indonesian ikat. China was represented by a jacket from Guizhou that combined indigo batik with weaving, as well as a, extraordinary lustrous jacket that was dyed with indigo and then coated with persimmon juice, egg white and ox blood to make it waterproof.
To round off, there were a couple of contemporary pieces – a gorgeous piece of ombre dyed hemp by Japanese master Hiroyuki Shindo and a more exuberant piece from Bhutan that was produced with all natural dyes (except for the pink), including turmeric, symplocos, indigo and two types of madder.
All in all, a fascinating visit, after which we were free to visit the main gardens, including the Hive.