Increasingly I’m sourcing more of my scarves from charity shops, vintage markets and car boot sales.
I love the thrill of the hunt, and there’s a real sense of achievement in taking a slightly tired cast-off, cleaning it, and transforming it back into a desirable item by stitching, clamping or wrapping it in the indigo vat. And it feels more sustainable than ordering cheap silk scarves from China.
So here’s a sneak preview of my latest transformations. First, a couple of raw silk scarves.
This was a multicoloured silk scarf that was a little gaudy for my taste, so I thought I would try to tone it down with some arashi shibori. I think the jury is still out on whether I succeeded. 😉
And with winter fast approaching, I’m starting to work on thicker scarves. This one is a mix of wool and silk.
And this is a knitted cashmere scarf with ori-nui shibori.
Ironically, we seem to be having another hot spell, but I’m sure that will soon change!
I’m heading north tomorrow to Edinburgh, via various bits of Yorkshire and Tyneside, for a felting workshop with Andrea Noeske-Porada at Hat in the Cat. Very excited at the thought of being able to produce origami felt pieces like this!
I’ve managed to squeeze in a bit of indigo dyeing this week, producing two scarves/stoles. This gold silk dupion is a heavier weight than I normally use, but it took the indigo very well, the colour shading from deep blue on one edge to paler hues of blue-green on the other.
This lighter magenta silk wrap also took the colour well. It’s difficult to see the pattern clearly in the photo because of the transparency of the silk, but it resembles very funky tiger stripes!
I’ll be putting these up in my Etsy shop when I get back from Scotland. Talking of which, there’s a 10% sale on until 14 August to celebrate the end of Mentoring Month. Many of the makers who took part in the mentoring exercise are participating in the sale, so there’s a lovely range of items – go and have a look! The discount code is MMSALE – happy shopping!
I’ve steered clear of online shops in the past because frankly I was a bit overwhelmed at having to find suitable packaging, calculate postage and not least take decent photos (hah!). Or maybe I’m just lazy. 🙂
Besides, I like meeting people at fairs and markets and talking to them about my work, seeing what they pick up and what questions they ask – all good market research!
However, the opportunity came up to work with a partner for a month, helping each other critique existing shops or set up a new one, with weekly meet-ups to share experiences and problems. So I thought I’d take the plunge and – ta da! – here is my Etsy shop.
It’s looking very blue at the moment, as the only packaging I have is for scarves and fat quarters, but I’ll be adding some more colourful felt at some stage. 🙂
I also need to work on the photos – I’m finding it particularly difficult to photograph the larger scarves, and I need some “lifestyle” shots of the scarves actually being worn rather than just laid out (if I can find a willing model).
Working with a partner under the mentoring scheme has been great, and knowing that you have to report progress each week is a real motivation – if I’d been left to my own devices it would inevitably have gone to the bottom of my “to do” list.
And I’ve learned an awful lot about photography, tagging, writing descriptions and shop policies, branding… in fact, I’ve learned that if anything I underestimated how much work it would be!
With more than 1 million new members joining Etsy every month, heaven only knows how anyone will find me or my work (which explains the importance of tagging and SEO).
I’m not going to stop doing real-world markets – my scarves sold well at the Summer Tumblr at the Garden Museum, and I like meeting other makers as well as buyers.
But if you have any tips or advice on selling through Etsy, do let me know!
I’ve been continuing my experiments with overdyeing other colours with indigo, mostly on scarves I’ve picked up at markets and charity shops.
Here’s a selection.
This was a heavier woven brown/bronze silk scarf, so I stitched most of it to produce a woodgrain (mokune) effect. Even after washing and rinsing, the ridges produced by the stitching were still evident, so I just pressed the ends but left the central part unironed to keep the texture.
Another brown silk scarf in lighter pongee silk (looks better and more subtle in real life than in the photo!).
Very sheer raw silk pink scarf, clamped and dyed – very difficult to photograph!
And here are some more conventional blue and white pieces.
Much of my work is bought by fellow makers, perhaps because they understand the time and effort that goes into creating it.
With this in mind, I thought I would try selling shibori fat quarters at the Women in the Cloth exhibition in East Dulwich. Previously, I’ve made pouches, pencil rolls and purses from shibori-dyed cotton, but if I’m honest, I much prefer making the fabric to making the final item. Plus the tension on my (very ancient) sewing machine is up the creek at the moment, so I haven’t been able to sew anything anyway.
I was a bit wary, because you can buy fat quarters online extremely cheaply – though of course these are all commercially printed, rather than each one being created by hand. But I still wondered whether people would be willing to pay more for a unique piece that they wouldn’t see anywhere else.
So I made a selection of 10 stitched, clamped, wrapped and bound fat quarters to see how they would go – and sold eight of them! The stitched ones in particular went very quickly – and of course they take longer to make. So rather than charge a flat rate I think I may have to price each one individually, or sell them in bundles containing a mixture of techniques.
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 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).
Metal thread was also used to embroider dots onto a piece of silk georgette indigo 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.