Innovative weaving: Anni Albers and Ann Richards

Regular followers of this blog will know that my primary textile interests are to do with form and texture. So I haven’t paid much attention to weaving (although my recent explorations in basketry rely on weaving techniques). Two recent events have punctured this insularity.

The Tate Modern exhibition on Anni Albers opened about 10 days ago. After its exhibition on Sonia Delaunay in 2015 this seems to be continuing the art world’s discovery that textiles can be art too.

Ironically, Albers faced a similar prejudice when she attended the Bauhaus art school in Weimar, Germany, in 1922. Despite its pretensions to equality, women students were often shepherded into the weaving classes rather than painting or sculpture.

But Albers made the most of the hand she was dealt. Weaving, with its warp and weft, admirably fitted in with the modernist grid concept, but by using unusual materials, such as cellophane and metallic threads, her pieces created painterly effects such as the impression of shifting light as well as retaining their texture.

La Luz 1 by Anni Albers
La Luz 1

In 1933 the Nazis forced the Bauhaus school to close, and Albers moved to the US with her husband Josef. As well as teaching, she started making “pictorial weavings” – artworks to be hung on a wall rather than used as fabric. I found these to be some of her most interesting pieces, experimenting with twisted warp threads, double warp layers, and gathering yarn to create bobbles.

Variations on a Theme by Anni Albers
Variations on a Theme

Dotted by Anni Albers
Dotted

As well as art textiles, Albers also worked on architectural commissions, including room dividers and window covers for furniture designer Florence Knoll in 1951. These included very open weave lattices in linen that filtered light while also allowing air to circulate.

Albers’ most ambitious pictorial weaving was a memorial to the 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, commissioned by the Jewish Museum in New York. Although she was from a Jewish family, Albers had been baptised as a Protestant and didn’t regard herself as really Jewish. But her piece, Six Prayers, beautifully interprets the Torah scrolls and Hebrew script.

Six Prayers by Anni Albers
Six Prayers

Albers was a master of technique, creating multilayered, highly textured pieces. But she also saw thread as a material she could use to “draw”.

She also turned to more conventional drawing, painting, embossing and printing techniques in a series of entangled knots, one of which was interpreted in this rug.

anni albers rug

Albers didn’t keep many sketchbooks, but she did produce lots of samples, which are absolutely fascinating.

anni albers sample

Albers is probably best known for her seminal 1965 book On Weaving. The exhibition includes some of the source material she gathered for the book, including woven pieces from around the world.

Anni Albers continues at Tate Modern until 27 January 2019.

On a slightly smaller scale, the other event that made me reassess weaving was the Praktis 2018 exhibition in the lovely Bury Court Farm in Hampshire. Two friends, Barbara Kennington and Lucy Goffin (aka Material Being) were  exhibiting some of their exquisite embroidered waistcoats, stitched pictures and paintings.

material being waistcoats
Image: Material Being

Also taking part was weaver Ann Richards, who uses high twist yarns to create pleating that happens spontaneously when the fabric is soaked in water. Ann did a demonstration while I was there, putting a small woven piece in a glass of water, whereupon it pleated by itself, apparently by magic!

The pleats instantly reminded me of arashi shibori, and I couldn’t resist buying a bracelet.

ann richards bracelet

Along with two other textile artists, Alison Ellen and Deirdre Wood, Ann is taking part in the exhibition Soft Engineering: Textiles Taking Shape, which will be moving to Whitchurch Silk Mill in Hampshire next year.

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Catching up

So sorry for the radio silence – the past few weeks have been filled with doing rather than writing! Here’s a round up. (Warning – lots of pics!)

Kent workshops

I had a wonderful time at the two workshops I ran in Kent on felting and ecoprinting. Two very enthusiastic groups of ladies made some beautiful work. Hopefully we will be able to arrange some more workshops in the future.

Exhibitions

I went to a surprisingly interesting exhibition about teeth at the Wellcome Collection (closes on Sunday).

Artistic window display featuring dentures and dental implements:

More (and more!) dental implements:

And a cute Italian poster for toothpaste:

I also went to the Chelsea College MA Textiles exhibition (finishes today). I loved these beautiful ethereal garments made from discarded fishing nets by Jialu Ma:

Hongyangzi Sun’s knitted magnetic building blocks were lots of fun:

I also liked Anum Rasul’s architectural textile constructions, combining hard and soft elements:

And Miles Visman constructed a fascinating colour exercise showing how embroidered panels change under different lighting:

Inspired by nature

I spent a lovely weekend in Deal in the gorgeous cottage of a friend, going for walks on the beach and in the countryside and sitting in the garden.

Dead hollyhock:

I thought this was a giant dandelion but I’m told it’s meadow salsify:

Spot the crab (or ex-crab):

Work in progress

I’ve been experimenting with coloured backgrounds in ecoprinting:

And I’ve also been trying some weaving with palm fronds. In my back garden is some kind of palm. I don’t know what it is or how it got there – I didn’t plant it! The lower part has lots of dead fronds so as I was tidying it up a bit I thought I would try a bit of weaving with them. They are surprisingly easy to work with and I like the frayed ends where they were removed from the trunk.

 

Jeannie Avent set up and private view

Phew! It’s been a tiring couple of days setting up the Women of the Cloth show in the Jeannie Avent Gallery in East Dulwich. Last year we had four artists; this year we have seven (though two don’t take up much space).

avent2014avent 2014-2 avent 2014-3

Most of the setting up was done yesterday, but two of the artists brought their work in today. I was minding the gallery today and then we had the private view in the evening, so it’s been a long day!

Here are some pics of the work on show and the private view. We were very excited when Sarah Campbell tweeted that she’d like to come – and she bought one of Carol’s felt bags!

The exhibition continues until 15 April – open every day 10am-5pm. Details of workshops here.

Chelsea MA Textile Design show 2013

Given its rich textile history, it’s no surprise that India was a common source of inspiration for this year’s MA students of textile design at the Chelsea College of  Art and Design Postgraduate Show.

The work of Kathryn Lewis particularly appealed, as her collaboration with Jabbar Khatri, an artisan based in Gujarat, used bandhani binding to shape garments, resulting in textures not dissimilar to nuno felting. Not very practical, perhaps, as the knots are left in, but a nice example of bandhani being used for form rather than pattern.

Kathryn Lewis

Kinza Foudil Mattoo displayed some contemporary adaptations of traditional ajrak block printed fabrics, based on a trefoil motif, using digital printing.

ajrak1

Upcycling/using waste or found materials was another common theme. My favourite pieces here were by Kaixi Lin. Inspired by Japanese boro – heavily patched and repaired indigo cloth – she collected discarded clothing from her family, and unravelled and reused the yarns to weave new fabrics.

KAIXI LIN

Lucinda Chang combines textiles and ceramics. Inspired by coral after a visit to the London Aquarium, she knitted, crocheted or stitched waste textiles into underwater forms before dipping them into casting slip.

lucinda chang

Zahra Jaan went to the other extreme, producing disposable fashion that you wear two or three times and then throw away. Made from airlaid paper  (described as “fluff pulp bonded with air”), these boldly patterned garments and their packaging are completely biodegradable.

zahra jaan

Maria Afanador Leon‘s impossibly delicate crocheted pieces were stimulated by her concern for the fragility of culture and nature and the environmental issues related to consumption.

maria afanador leon

Judging by the names, there was a big Chinese contingent on the course – around a third of the students by my reckoning. Yijin Sun focused on her Chinese heritage with a selection of monochrome garments with interesting pleats and prints that looked as if they had been created in a heat press.

Yijin Sun

Yuning Wang’s innovative weaving with a metal weft resulted in garments that wearers can shape themselves.

Yuning Wang

Finally, Lin Zhu‘s charming needlefelted creations gave a certain oriental twist to a technique that I don’t normally associate with China.

Lin Zhu

The Chelsea Postgraduate Summer Shows run until 12 September.

Chelsea degree show 2013

It’s time for the summer degree shows again, but I’ve been so busy I only made it to Chelsea this year. Still, it was well worth it – here are my personal favourites from the 60 or so students who were exhibiting.

I loved Rhona Dalling‘s small 3D sculptures that explored stretching materials to produce forms inspired by the textures and structures of fruit, vegetables and flowers.

rhona dalling

Emi Fujisawa experimented with weaving using natural dyed silk and copper wire that she then patinated – so the piece will change with colour over time. Great website too, showing how her ideas developed.

emi fujisawa

lyonard

Still on constructed textiles. I loved the origami pleating in Lyonard‘s knitted garments, made from mulberry silk,, linen and mercerised cotton (right).

And Kamilah Rebecca Ahmed pioneered an innovative thread “wrapping” technique, to produce fabrics that resembled airy weavings, although the threads don’t actually interlock. She admits that it’s not terribly practical for everyday garments, but the effect is beautiful. Sorry – no photos, as she doesn’t have a website or blog.

And Katherine Ingram‘s “mutant” forms, inspired by David Attenborough’s latest TV series, incorporated shibori-like textures and prints along with 3D textures from found objects. Again – no pictures and no website.

Lots of digital printing as usual – but fewer homages to Pater Pilotto/Mary Katrantzou, I’m pleased to say. Stephanie Ann Woolven created delicate flower print bridal dresses, some of which were based on India Flint’s hapa zome technique of beating flowers on fabric to release their colour. No website or photos I’m afraid.

Finally, some honourable mentions to Sophie Louise Hurley-Walker for her contemporary batik, Caroline Cox for her trendy wet weather gear, and Ann-Marie Milward for her prints  of geometric cymatic patterns (patterns formed by particles such as sand in response to sound waves). See the video below for an example of this working in action – fascinating!

The Chelsea College of Art & Design Undergraduate Summer Show runs until 22 June.

Women of the Cloth in East Dulwich

Phew! I’m just recovering from the two wonderful weeks of exhibiting as part of Women of the Cloth at the Jeannie Avent Gallery in East Dulwich.

It was a hectic two weeks, partly because I was offered some editorial work during that period that I couldn’t turn down. Plus the first Saturday of the exhibition coincided with Making Uncovered, where I was demonstrating wet felting – so I spent a lot of time trying to ensure I had adequate stock and supplies for both events, packing and repacking my large wheelie suitcase and generally feeling a bit stressed out.

Making Uncovered was a great event, with lots of people coming to watch demonstrations by 16 different artisans, ask questions and have a go themselves. Many said that they had thought felt making wouldn’t be very exciting, but turned out to be entranced by the colours and textures. I guess they were thinking about the squares of acrylic felt you get in craft shops – so it was good to help them learn about the real thing.

And it was lovely that so many friends and customers dropped in to say hello as well, especially as I have been rather neglectful of them in such a busy period. 🙂

making uncovered

So after that it was a relief to escape to the gallery, to sit with other Women of the Cloth, to weave, stitch and felt in an atmosphere of quiet creativity. It was particularly interesting to watch Joan Kendall weaving magical colours and textures, and see Carol Grantham’s workshop participants revel in their delight at producing their first piece of felt.

avent kristina weaving

I sold a fair amount and met some interesting people at the same time, including a visitor who came back to show us some gorgeous rag rugs she had made. She may be getting an invitation to take part in our next exhibition/sale!

avent rag rug front
Gorgeous rag rug…
avent rag rug back
…where the back is as interesting as the front!

So huge thanks to Carol, Joan and Larna for making this past fortnight such a welcoming shared experience. I hope we get the chance to work together again in the future.

Double ikat weaving

While in Gujarat we visited Patan, famous for its patola, or double ikat, where the design is dyed into the threads before weaving.The process of making this cloth is incredibly labour intensive and time consuming – it takes three to four months just to dye the warp and weft threads for a single sari!

patola final

The Salvi family showed us round their showroom and workshop and explained the process. They get their silk thread from China, wind it into hanks and degum it to remove the sericin. Then they twist the threads and set up the warp and weft threads.

Now comes the hard part. Using a similar technique to bandhani, they tie portions of the silk threads with cotton thread before dyeing. The cotton acts as a resist and prevents the dye from reaching the silk threads. They repeat this for four or five colours, untying and retying the resist threads each time. And they do this on both the warp and weft threads (hence the “double” ikat).

The pictures below show some of the tied threads that have been dyed once, below a diagram of the final pattern, and the final dyed warp threads set up on the loom.

patola pattern threadspatola dyed warp

As you can see, the dyeing process requires a very detailed knowledge of the pattern and extremely precise calculation of the thickness and tension of the threads, not to mention how the colours of warp and weft will combine. No wonder it takes so long!

The actual weaving is relatively straightforward by comparison. It’s done by two people on a hand-operated loom, with careful matching of the warp and weft threads to ensure that the pattern is maintained. The weavers comb four needles over the fabric afterwards to help align the pattern and ensure an even tension.

patola on loom

The Salvis use mostly natural vegetable dyes, such as madder, persimmon, indigo, onion skins and turmeric. They have a waiting list of three years for a natural-dyed sari, costing between $3,000 and $10,000, depending on the design. They make four or five a year.

They say that originally there were around 700 families in the area producing double ikat – now it’s only two or three.

The Patan Museum had a small section on patola, and said that there were originally different styles for four different markets:

  • Jain and Hindu: all-over patterns of flowers, parrots, dancing figures and elephants
  • Muslim Voras: geometric floral patterns for weddings
  • Maharashtrian Brahmins: plain, dark-coloured body with borders of women and birds, called nari kunj
  • export markets: mainly Bali.

RCA degree show 2012

What I like about the Royal College of Art show is the mixture of other applied disciplines – ceramics and glass, innovation, design and engineering, metalwork and jewellery – which can be just as inspiring. Chelsea has fine arts, most of which I have to say completely passes me by: as I get older I seem to be falling increasingly into the “I know what I like” school of art criticism. 😉

No photos allowed, so mostly I’ve linked to photos from the official RCA site. Not many students have their own working websites either.

I loved Elizabeth Scorgie‘s woven pieces. She incorporates unusual materials such as horse hair and leather with silk – and even collaborated with another student to produce some shoes. There was a piece in black horse hair and silk which reminded me of glossy raven feathers.

Maja Johansson is another weaver who experiments with materials like fur as well as rubber and wool.

To complete a trio of weavers, Sophie Manners also uses unusual materials but creates fascinating textures by pulling the warp (or is it weft?) threads to form loops. Some of her work reminded me of the peaks you see in shibori pieces after removing binding threads.

Nelly Song‘s mixed media pieces included lovely double-layered sheer chiffon with machine and hand embroidery on both sides and between. Unfortunately, there is no photo of this – it’s probably quite tricky to shoot.

Haiku landscapes by Sarah Lindstrom were works inspired by Scandinavian nature, incorporating layering and burning techniques in a soothing, repetitive rhythm.

Kirsten Scott worked with women in south-east Uganda to weave plaited palm leaf braids, with which she created wonderfully intricate headgear.

On the non-textile side, Zemer Peled‘s sculptures from ceramic shards blew me away. Very organic, they were like something Andy Goldsworthy produces from natural materials.

Finally, the innovation, design and engineering section was full of fascinating ideas, from polyfloss and man-made nacre (pearls) that could coat any shape to a robot arm that records a maker’s movements and then mimics them. Could be very useful if I could teach it to roll felt! 🙂

The RCA show runs until 1 July.