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Sunday, 20 May 2018

Textile Wall Hangings Inspired by Nature: RSPB Geltsdale

Getting set up for the workshop
Poster for the Workshop

Last year I ran two textile workshops (Bird Portraits) at RSPB Geltsdale, following on from my 'As the Crow Flies' exhibition. I really enjoyed the sessions, it's a lovely environment and I had a great group of participants on both workshops. I was asked to run another session this year to run alongside my 'Wingspan' exhibition. I didn't want to run the same workshop again so we decided on my Mini Textile Banners workshop, but with a new title as they thought 'banners' might put people off!

Ready for everyone to arrive

Getting stuck in

Playing with layers

This time my exhibition was still up when I ran the workshop (last time the workshops took place after the exhibition) which I really liked as I was able to refer to my work throughout the session and I thought it helped 'set the scene' a bit more. It's really good working in the gallery space as you have the work all around you to refer to and, hopefully, to inspire people.

Finished piece from last years workshop

Experimenting with layout

Experimenting with layout

Once again I had a really good group of participants, including quite a few who'd been on the previous workshops or attended some of my other workshops. It's always a good confidence boost when people come back! One of the participants from the last workshop brought her finished piece, it was a beautiful piece of work and I was so pleased she'd been inspired to carry on and finish it after the workshop. It was a very relaxed session and what I was really pleased with was that people really made it their own, everybody's banner was different and I was impressed and inspired by how willing everyone was to get stuck in, try things and experiment.

Adding stitch

Adding stitch

Adding stitch

When I'm running a workshop I'm not interested in everyone doing exactly the same thing and going home with a carbon copy of something I've done, I want to inspire people to be creative in their own way. I aim to encourage people to try something different and to have confidence in their own ideas. I love being able to show someone how to master a particular skill or technique but what I really love is when they then take that skill and do their own thing with it.

Pieces growing and developing

Pieces growing and developing

Pieces growing and developing

During the workshop I showed people how I create my textile banners, using naturally dyed fabrics, natural objects, stitch and other embellishments. I demonstrated different techniques and stitches but my focus was on encouraging people to create something unique to them, exploring their interests and ideas. It was great seeing everyone get stuck into the materials and start selecting bits and pieces and I loved seeing how the work changed and evolved over the course of the day. My pieces change and evolve as I'm working on them so I was keen for people to enjoy the process rather than worrying about doing things in a particular, set way.

At the end of the session 
At the end of the session 

At the end of the session 

I usually find that when I'm running a workshop I learn new things too and I find that some of my most exciting and enjoyable workshops are the ones where there is plenty of collaboration between myself and my participants. Sometimes it's discovering an artist to research, sometimes it's learning a different way to work a stitch and sometimes it's firing ideas around and finding something that really gets the creative juices flowing. Running workshops also gives me a good chance and a good reason to experiment, it can be easy to get stuck in a rut when working all alone but sharing my practice with other people opens up more opportunities for experimentation and new ideas.

At the end of the session 

At the end of the session 

At the end of the session 

During this workshop I had a chance to try out something I've been meaning to do for ages; incorporating limpet rings (limpet shells that have had their tops worn away, leaving a ring) into my work. Whilst we were away on Westray last year I collected lots of limpet rings and started experimenting but hadn't done anything with it since then. Seeing everyone working away with all the materials I'd brought got me all inspired to have a go and I'm really pleased with the results. I was so pleased that the next day I carried on working with the shells and made a small piece of work about tide and memory, which has been selected for Cumbria's Museum of Military Life Remembrance 100 exhibition, but more about that in another post.

At the end of the session 

At the end of the session 

At the end of the session 

Detail

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Rust Dyeing

Dyeing with rusty pins and scissors

Following on from my last post about natural dyeing I thought I'd write a post about rust dyeing. Dyeing with rusty things is so easy and I've been playing around with some of the pattern making possibilities. It's not technically natural dyeing but it is dyeing with things that I have already (and which are otherwise not very useful on account of being rusty.)

Pins and woollen fabric

Dyeing with pins
Preparing samples: Fabric and pins

Adding water
One of the things I've been experimenting with is the pattern making possibilities of rusty dressmaking pins. By folding, pleating, twisting and then pinning fabric in place before getting it wet and then leaving it for a couple of weeks I've been able to create some really interesting results.


Pattern making with pins

Pattern making with pins

Pattern making with rusty pins
One of the other interesting possibilities of rust dyeing is the print making element; I find it fascinating being able to transfer the image of a rusty object onto fabric using nothing but water and time. I love these rusty ghost prints, they hold traces of the object and are like memories; not quite like the object and subject to change.

Preparing a sample: scissors and fabric

Rusty scissor and pin print on organza

Cochineal and rusty metal on wool

I'm currently working on some larger pieces of work, one of which is to do with memory and remembrance.  Using objects belonging to a particular person I have rust dyed pieces of wool and organza and am using these pieces to create a piece celebrating this persons life. It's currently a work in progress but I'm excited about it an am looking forward to sharing it soon.

Dyeing a large piece outside







Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Natural Dyeing and thoughts on permanence...

Silk bundle with leaves and rusty nails being unwrapped

It's been a while since I last posted, I've had lots on as usual and haven't had much time for writing. I've not had a lot of time to experiment either recently which is quite frustrating as I have a head full of ideas. However, I have been doing a little bit of playing around with natural dyeing.

Making a dye bundle

Making a dye bundle

Natural dyeing has become an increasingly important part of my practice over the past 18 months or so and the more I do the more intrigued I become. There are many reasons I enjoy it; it's a slow process forcing you to take time and consider what you're doing, the resulting colours have a lustre and subtlety lacking in fabric dyed with synthetic dyes and I enjoy going out and collecting materials to dye with, I really appreciate the connection with the natural world. As we become increasingly aware of the damage our actions and the materials we produce cause to our planet I find I want more and more to work with natural resources in a sustainable way. 

Steaming bundles

Steamed bundle 'resting'

Heuchera and iron on silk

One of the other things I really like about natural dyeing is the unpredictability both of the results you are likely to achieve and also the unpredictability of how the colours will change. Whilst some colours are fast and the use of mordants can improve fastness there are so many other factors that can influence the results and their longevity. As a species we have permanently scarred our environment, everywhere there is the trace of our actions. I'm finding that I want my work to have the opposite effect, to fade gently back in to the landscape.

Cochineal on silk and cotton

Cochineal on wool, cotton and linen

This is, of course, somewhat problematic as making my work impermanent effectively makes it un-collectable and difficult to sell as when people buy art they want to buy something that will last (not unreasonably.) Textiles have always been difficult to conserve, being sensitive to light, temperature and moisture much more than other materials so curators of textiles and textile art are rightly concerned with how a fabric has been treated before it comes in to their care and how that will effect its future. As always there is a balance to be found, I want to be able to sell my work and I do want it to last, just not forever and when it does crumble and disintegrate (hopefully many many years from now, long after I've crumbled and disintegrated) I want it to leave no harmful traces. 

Cochineal on silk

Cochineal and iron on wool, linen, silk and cotton

The work I am making at the moment uses mostly naturally dyed fabrics. Over time these will fade and change slightly but I think this is part of their beauty, they will not lose their colour it will simply alter. I hope that this can be appreciated along with the recognition that the creation of the work had very little environmental impact. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Owl Moon

Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Sometimes I have an idea for a piece of work and I get started and make it right away. More often though it takes a long time (years sometimes) for an idea to become a reality. On our first night in Islay on holiday three years ago we were lucky enough to get very close to a Tawny Owl. It swooped down and landed on a fence post right in front of us as we gingerly drove down a track to what we hoped was our accommodation for the week. It wasn't terribly impressed with us stopping to admire it but the experience stayed with me and since that moment I've been wanting to make a piece about that owl.

Tawny Owl, Islay 2015

Layering up fabrics

Layering up fabrics

As much as I love owls, I've resisted making any pieces with owls for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I only really make work about birds I've seen and been able to observe properly as I want my work to capture a bit of their spirit and to do that I have to get to know them. It's hard to observe owls in the wild as they mostly come out at night and they're very stealthy! Secondly, owls are very popular (I own many owl embellished items myself) and I didn't want to fall into the trap of making a 'cute' owl.

Building up the owl, using my drawing as a template and photograph as reference

Rust dyed silk for owl wings

Starting to add machine embroidery

For our exhibition 'Wingspan' at RSPB Geltsdale Visitor Centre, Mr. Stitches has written a poem about an owl hunting, called Owl Moon. This poem captures the wildness and skill of the owl and inspired me to finally get around to making my owl piece. As I mentioned, the idea for the piece had been in my head for some time so Nick's poem was just what I needed to kick start the process.

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

I'd found some interesting metallic fabric on a trip to Bombay Stores in Bradford and I knew that's what I wanted to use for the moon. I also knew that I didn't want it to be too shiny so I experimented with layering up pieces of silk organza that I'd dyed with logwood, giving a beautiful deep purple colour. I also used some indigo dyed organza and used some indigo dyed linen as a base as I felt the piece needed a more solid ground than the organza. For the owl I used pieces of organza that I'd dyed with rusty pins as it had just the right texture and patterning for an owls wing.

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Like a lot of my work this piece was built up in layers. As always, I started by drawing and sketching my ideas before I started to play around with layering up fabrics. Sometimes the pieces of fabric come together really quickly and other times I spend a long time arranging and re-arranging until I'm happy. I used running stitch and star stitch to secure the background layers and chose to leave a lot of raw edges as I think this emphasises the wildness of the subject.

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

I then moved on to making the owl. Again working in layers I built up pieces of rust dyed organza, using my drawings as a template to cut out specific areas such as the wing feathers. I then worked several layers of machine embroidery in various shades of thread to build up the pattern and texture of the feathers.

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

I'm really pleased with how this piece has worked out, I think that it is starting to marry together different parts of my practice;  the work I've been doing on my feather banners, my bird portraits and drawings and my increasing interest in and experiments with natural dyeing. For me this piece feels like the start of something, as well as the resolution of an idea that I've had in my mind for a long time.