Wandsworth Artists’ Open House 2019

I’m delighted to be taking part in Wandsworth Artists’ Open House for the first time this year with my friend Emma Gibson. The event runs over the first two weekends in October.

Emma makes beautiful handmade contemporary jewellery.

She works mainly in silver, combining traditional and experimental techniques to produce bold pieces, which often retain the texture of the hammers used to forge them.

Emma allows for an element of chance in her work so that even if a design is repeated each piece remains individual.

I will be showing and selling some of my basketry work – another first for me!

I will also have my latest batch of upcycled indigo and ecoprinted accessories and clothing.

When: 5-6 October and 12-13 October, 11am-6pm
Where: 46 Drakefield Road, London SW17 8RP

Hope to see you there!

Dyeing with dried indigo leaves

Because we had such a long hot summer in the UK last year my homegrown Japanese indigo lasted well into the autumn, and I didn’t have time to use all the fresh leaves for dyeing.

I’m always reluctant to waste anything so at the end of the season I cut the remaining stems, tied them into bunches, and hung them in my airing cupboard to dry out. Quite a few of them had flowers on, so I snipped these off and dried them separately in a paper bag to save the seeds.

bundles of indigo leaves

Within a few weeks the leaves had dried out and gone slightly blue (dried bunch on the right).

dried indigo leaves

I stripped all the dried leaves off and stored them, hoping to find a method of making an indigo vat with dried leaves.

I then managed to acquire a copy of John Marshall’s excellent book Singing the Blues, which contains lots of ideas for using fresh indigo leaves, as well as a method of making a vat with dried leaves. Eureka!

John’s method involves heating the leaves with soda ash (alkali) and thiox (thiorea dioxide – reducing agent), but I didn’t really like the idea of heating thiox, which produces harmful vapours above 40ºC. So I decided to try making the vat with lime as the alkali and fructose as the reducing agent. This is how I make organic indigo vats, following Michel Garcia’s 123 recipe (1 part indigo, 2 parts lime, 3 parts fructose).

The problem, of course, is that I had no idea about the quantity of indigo contained in the leaves. It was at the end of the season, and some of the plants had flowered, so the level of indigo was likely to be low. When I extracted indigo from fresh leaves earlier last year, I obtained 4g of solid pigment from 215g of fresh leaves – but I don’t know how pure the indigo was.

dried indigo leaves in pot

Fresh leaves weigh more than dried leaves so I decided to assume 4g of indigo in my dried leaves, which was probably on the optimistic side!

Here’s what I did:

  • I simmered my 104g of dried leaves in 5 litres of water for 20 minutes to remove impurities, strained the leaves and discarded the liquid.

dried indigo leaves in water

  • I simmered the same leaves in another 5 litres of water with 8g of lime and 12g of fructose for 20 minutes. John Marshall says a dark blue film should form on the surface, but I didn’t see this. The liquid was a very dark yellow. I strained it and kept the liquid anyway.

straining dried indigo

  • I then repeated the previous step three times. The second time I got a little blue, but by the third and fourth times there was significantly more blue and even a little indigo “flower”.

  • I combined the second, third and fourth extractions and decided to discard the first extraction, as it didn’t look as if it contained much indigo.
  • I let the extractions cool down and then added a couple of pieces of cotton – one plain, one with shibori bindings. I left them for five minutes, wrung them out and hung them to oxidise.
  • There was barely any colour at all after the first dip, so I repeated this three more times. The final result is shown below. The colour in the photos actually looks a bit darker than in real life.

shibori in dried indigo leaves vat shibori in dried indigo leaves vat

So the technique does work. The pale colour is probably due to low indigo levels in the leaves at the end of the season.

It is quite time consuming, but may be a way of preserving indigo leaves for later use if you don’t have time to use them fresh or don’t have facilities for composting.

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

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.

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

 

Making cards

At the beginning of January I launched a range of new scrap bags to try to clear out some of my stash of indigo shibori and ecoprinted fabrics. I’m pleased to report that they have been very popular – I’ve already had to restock the indigo bags.

However, some scraps were too small to include in the bags (I wanted the minimum size to be 15 x 15cm (6 x 6 inches)). So I thought I would use them to make some cards. I ordered some card blanks with windows and stuck in some of the smaller pieces of fabric.

fabric cards

The card below was made from a cotton/silk upcycled top that I dyed with indigo but didn’t like the result. Most of the garment I tore up to put in the scrap bags but I thought this stitched detail from the neck area worked well in a card.

fabric card stitched detail

However, there was a problem with the iron on some of the ecoprinted fabrics leaching out through the wet glue. You can see this in the top left-hand corner of this card:

ecoprint card

And also below the bottom left-hand corner of the panel on this card:

ecoprint card

The glue I used was slightly diluted PVA, and I pressed the cards between baking parchment while they were drying to avoid them crinkling up.

Does anyone have any thoughts on how to avoid this problem, eg by using a different glue?

Otherwise I might have to stick to just making indigo cards.

indigo card

 

Creative customers

When I first started doing indigo shibori I made quite a lot of fat quarters. However, since I started upcycling scarves and other garments I don’t make so many. I have limited time, and a hand-stitched and hand dyed shibori piece takes quite a lot of time to stitch (and unstitch!). This makes it look expensive compared with all the printed fat quarters out there.

So I was thrilled to receive some photos from Jane, a quilter who had bought some of my fat quarters, showing the end result.

Images: Jane Thompson

Not all the indigo work is mine – she made some of her own fat quarters (very talented!). I think you’ll agree that the overall result is stunning.

It also prompted me to go and dig out some other photos sent by creative customers. A couple of custom orders via Etsy resulted in a shibori blind and a shibori footstool.

Image: Jessica Jackson
Image: Jonathon Taylor

Then at thread 2016 at Farnham Maltings a visitor mused about the possibility of cutting up a linen shibori pillowcase to cover a lampshade she had just bought. I offered instead to make her a custom piece of fabric – this was the result.

Image: Siri Williams

Finally, of course, there was the amazing wedding dress where I provided the ecoprinted fabric and the bride’s mother made the dress.

Photo: The Kitcheners

Isn’t it wonderful seeing what other creative people do with your work!

Faux chenille and more tulle (or net!)

I’m sad that the five-week course on fabric manipulation with Caroline Bartlett at Morley College that I wrote about last time is over.

I  like the way Caroline teaches. She brings lots of inspiring examples, shows you the basic technique, then encourages you to play and experiment and find things out for yourself. She also discusses the work of other artists to show how the techniques have been adapted and expanded. Debby Brown, my first tutor at Morley, has a similar approach, which is one of the reasons I got started on this whole textiles lark. 😉

Faux chenille

In the fourth week we were introduced to faux chenille, where we stitched through several  layers of fabric, cut through some of the layers and then roughed it up a bit to encourage fraying. (There are lots of tutorials online if you google faux chenille.)

faux-chenille-1 faux-chenille-2

Caroline brought along some great samples to get us going. Sadly, my attempts were not half as successful, even after putting them through the washing machine.

faux-chenille-3

I probably need to explore this further using different fabrics and colour combinations. 🙂

Working with net

In the last week we were encouraged to work with a technique we’d particularly enjoyed, scaling it up or developing it further.

I’d originally planned to experiment more with modular origami balls, with the idea of making a “puzzle ball”, with different sized balls nested inside each other. However, when I’d tried this at home, the tulle* wasn’t really stiff enough.

puzzle-ball

*Tulle digression: What I’ve been referring to as tulle isn’t actually tulle. I was sniffily informed when I went to MacCulloch & Wallis that tulle is the soft netting used for bridal veils; the stiffer stuff is dress net. While I was there someone else was told the same thing, so it’s clearly a common misunderstanding. Now you know. 🙂

And thanks to Juliet, one of the other students on Caroline’s course, I found out that there are also different weights of dress net. Juliet brought in samples from Heathcoat Fabrics, which sells dress net in weights of 18, 27 and 50gsm. And 50gsm only comes in black, white and cream. This would have saved me trawling round the shops of Goldhawk Road looking for stiff net in different colours! /digression ends

While I was in MacCulloch & Wallis I bought some even stiffer netting with a larger mesh that is used in millinery. This might work for the outer balls with holes in them, but the solid inner ball loses the delicate translucency of the net.

puzzle-ball-3

So in the class I experimented instead with pieces of arashi shibori dress net, curving them over themselves and joining bits together to create shell and jellyfish-like forms.

jellyfish

As usual, it was fascinating to see the great variety of work from the other students. It included this wonderful faux chenille by Frances Kiernan.

faux-chenille-4

And this superb circular pleated piece from rust and indigo dyed fabrics by Ross Belton.

ross-collar

If all this has inspired you, Caroline is doing another course at Morley College next term focusing on shibori, print and heat setting, so do book if you are interested, as it’s filling up fast. Unfortunately I won’t be able to make this one.

Discount on basketry course at Morley

I won’t be able to make this one either, sadly, but Morley College is offering 20% discount on the Creative Basketry course with Stella Harding. It runs on Tuesday evenings, 6-9pm, starting on 28 February for six weeks.  See here for more info on Stella.

The full price is £155, reduced to £124 with the discount.

To take advantage of this offer, email Ruth.abban@morleycollege.ac.uk and copy in gemma.bergomi@morleycollege.ac.uk. They will notify Enrolment Services of your name and discount. You can then enrol by phone on 020 7450 1889 or in person but NOT online.