Ombre indigo-dyed nuno felt

It’s been a busy couple of weeks – I’ve been trying to build up my stock of indigo-dyed scarves for Christmas, and also preparing for the big Makerhood event Making Uncovered, where I was showing people how to dye eggs with onion skins.

While I had the indigo vat out I did some ombre dyeing (dip dyeing) with unbleached cotton muslin, with the vague idea that I might felt with it. A couple of years ago I made a lot of indigo nuno-felted vessels, but this time I wanted to try something different.

So I made a simple flat panel or hanging, incorporating some flat beach pebbles. The bottom layers were made using white merino batting from World of Wool, which has just started stocking wool batts, though their merino is 23 micron compared with Norwegian Wool‘s 21 micron (short fibre merino).  It does make laying out so much quicker!

blue stones 1 blue stones 2 blue stones 4

Even ESP liked this, which is saying something given that a) he’s usually pretty sniffy about my felt and b) he always moans about having to lug home all the pebbles and shells I pick up on beaches when on holiday. Result! 😉

Unfinished business

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I have a bit of a butterfly tendency. One minute it’s felt, next it’s indigo, then it’s on to embroidery or natural dyes.

I’m sure I could achieve more by concentrating in depth on one thing for a particular period – but there are so many exciting ideas to explore! 🙂 And I do revisit themes and ideas, often from a new angle, having learnt something else in my wide-ranging explorations.

Anyway, when I was putting my stuff away after returning from the workshop with Maria Friese, I came across a piece of felt smocking that I’d stitched on commercial prefelt but not felted. (The holes you can see are – ahem! – moth holes.)

felt smocking1

This was from a while ago, when I was pondering the connection between smocking and origami tessellations. It led to some very interesting email exchanges with Jane Araújo, who designs amazingly complex lacy knitting patterns and came up with some very helpful suggestions about how I could pursue this further.

Needless to say, I got distracted by something else, but I was reminded of it when I was talking to Maria about origami and felt. I think I’d left it unfelted because the prefelt was very fine and I was worried that the lovely pattern and texture would just disappear and I would end up with an uneven lumpy bit of felt.

But of course it didn’t – it retained the structure very well after felting.

felt smocking2

And it looks even better with the light coming through – perfect for a lampshade or backlit panel.

felt smocking3

With the felt I also came across a couple of linen table mats I’d stitched, ready for dyeing. And as the weather has been a bit hot for felting I charged up the indigo vat.

This was also the opportunity to try another technique that I read about on the excellent Momiji Studio blog. I’ve never tried tesuji shibori because I couldn’t visualise how to bind the fabric onto a rope, but blogger Jessica gave a great explanation.

I used a rather pedestrian open-weave cotton scarf in a large grid of different colours – and it certainly made a difference.

tesuji shawl1

The discharge effect on the central orange section was interesting.

tesuji shawl2

And the mats came out OK too, though I think the stitching on the second one could have been a bit tighter.

mokune table mat1lace table mat 2

But given how long they’ve been sitting around, I should be grateful that the moths didn’t much through the thread! 😉

Boro exhibition at Somerset House

Literally translated as “rags”, boro are heavily patched bedcovers and clothing made by the rural poor of Japan.

Although cotton was grown in southern Japan from the 16th century onwards, it was only the richer urban dwellers who could afford it. Poorer people wore homespun hemp, nettle and ramie, but cotton was lighter and warmer than these so was highly valued.

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So it was that merchants in the south found it worth their while to transport worn out cotton garments up to the north of Japan, where they were eagerly snapped up and turned into layered cloths and clothing.

As they wore through, fresh patches were added, so the cloths become a kind of family history, passed down through the generations, like patchwork quilts in the West.

boro14

The colour is predominantly blue, from indigo, but there are also patches of brown, grey and black. This is because these were the only colours that commoners were allowed to wear in the Edo period (1603-1868) – lavish kimono and vivid silk were confined to the Japanese aristocracy.

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As Japan developed and became more industrialised in the 20th century, such textiles were looked on with shame, as a symbol of its impoverished past, and many of them were thrown away.

In the West, however, they are regarded as beautiful examples of folk art, and Somerset House has brought together 40 examples in a wonderful exhibition. You can see from the photos here how the personality of the maker shines through each one.

Some incorporate extensive rows of sashiko stitching to help strengthen the fabric.

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Others resemble more “conventional” patchwork as we know it in the West.

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Yet others looked as if they tried to stay as true as possible to the original colours of the garment.

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Some had stitching that was more whimsical, creating its own design.

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The pattern of wear on some of them was fascinating too. I got talking to one of the exhibition assistants who said that a visitor from Hampton Court suggested that this type of wear came from someone kneeling on the fabric. This is mark making of a very special kind.

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As you can also see from some of the photos, the boro are beautifully mounted, mostly on stretchers like works of art, while this garment was hung on an intricately carved bamboo pole.

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This did make me feel a little uncomfortable. The people who made these items were not making works of art – they were making them as necessities, to keep warm. Now they are self-consciously being hung in galleries and sold at £5,000 a pop.

Of course, this is not unique to boro, but I think I would prefer to use them as originally intended. Textiles – especially these textiles – are tactile things, to be touched, stroked, snuggled in, draped, wrapped, caressed. And if it wears through, I’m willing to continue the tradition of patching up as necessary. Now, where did I put that stash of shibori scraps? 😉

Boro continues at Somerset House until 26 April.

Indigo spring

After a break of around two months I finally fired up the indigo vat and did some dyeing yesterday.

The first experiment was to see if I could do something with the sample of smocking. Unlike shibori, where the stitches are pulled tight to create the resist, some of the stitches in this type of smocking are left loose. I knew that just dipping it in the indigo as it was would probably result in just a blue piece of cloth, as the dye would be able to penetrate all areas of the cloth.

lattice smock

So in the end I bound it to a pipe, as in arashi shibori, but left it flat, without compressing it. I knew from previous experiments of dyeing paper overlaid with cloth that the indigo won’t fully penetrate more than one layer of cotton.

This was the result, front (top) and back (bottom).

smock shibori front

smock shibori back

You can vaguely see the crossed lattice pattern in the top photo, but the bottom one looks more random. Back to the drawing board on this one for now.

More successfully, I dyed a linen pouch in a mokune pattern.

indigo shibori pouch

And threw in a few scarves for good measure.

It was so lovely to be able to hang them out in the sunshine to dry. Seems like spring may be on the way at last.

Scarf production line

Christmas is coming, the indigo’s in the vat, the scarves are on the line (when the weather is fine).

Latest batch of upcycled wool, silk and cotton scarves:

indigo shibori scarves indigo shibori scarves indigo shibori scarves

The next batch waiting for another dip in the vat:

shibori scarves in production shibori scarves in production

And the next haul of scarves waiting to be bound, clamped, stitched or wrapped:

assorted scarves

Details of markets, sales and exhibitions to come!