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.

 

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