Isabella Whitworth

probably more than natural and synthetic dyes, wax, resists, and history


2 Comments

Dr Denim

One of the stranger items I’ve ever made is currently on exhibition nearby in Devon. Dr Denim is a full-sized cloaked ‘figure’ wearing a beaked mask, similar to those used by Plague Doctors of the past. The mask is made from a deconstructed pair of old denim jeans; the cloak uses my exhibition stand background felt over a dressmakers’ form and the ‘remedies’ strung on the unstitched waistband represent thoughts on the current pandemic.

I feel every artwork should speak without words, and I hope it does. But if it intrigues you and you want to know more, please read supplementary information below, or on the exhibition’s own website where you will also find additional images. The exhibition is called 2020 (it’s basically, the annual Members’ Show) and is being held at the Devon Guild of Craftsmen in Bovey Tracey until the end of this month. You can visit in person from Wednesdays to Saturdays. But you can also drop in online, from anywhere in the world.

The show was rigorously selected by a panel of Members and I was extremely happy to receive the ‘thumbs-up’ for Dr Denim. It is a particularly strong exhibition this year and contains fascinating and moving statements that Members have written about working during lockdown.

Exhibition links

2020 Exhibition, main page

Isabella Whitworth entry page

Vote for your favourite piece

Devon Guild of Craftsmen homepage

More information about Dr Denim

(this information is similar to that shown on the Devon Guild of Craftsmen 2020 exhibition website)

While making fabric masks during lockdown I looked into the historic use of masks during epidemics. An extraordinary 16thCentury Plague Mask is held at the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin. The mask had glass coverings to the eye holes and a curved, bird-like beak. It was believed that plague, such as the Black Death, spread through bad smells known as ‘miasma’ and the beak, strapped close to the nose, held aromatic herbs, dried flowers and sometimes a vinegar-soaked sponge. Fragrant smells were thought to fight the pestilential miasma. Plague Doctors were hired by a community during an outbreak of the plague. They wore a beaked mask, long dense robes and a wide brimmed hat. Their key role was not to heal the sick, but to separate infected from well, to write and witness wills, arrange burials and count and record numbers of dead. Some doctors were renowned for their skills and even wrote treatises to assist others. But many took advantage of their proximity to the dead and dying to line their pockets. 

We are now all familiar with manifestations of fear during an epidemic, and the universal desire to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. Then as now, the medical profession offers hope, as does religious faith. Over the sewing machine making Covid masks, I considered remedies and ‘cures’ past and present, what they have in common, and I then made Doctor Denim.

‘Remedies’ are hung around the doctor’s neck in the manner of a Siberian  shaman’s costume. The remedies reflect and blend contemporaneous knowledge of causes and transmission, anecdote, religious faith, folklore, superstition, fake news and conspiracy theories, the role of leaders and the state, racial or religious prejudices leading to ‘persecution as remedy’, duplicitous quackery, and the ever-present spur of money-making. Inequality of social circumstances could affect the likelihood of plague infection and death, as it does with Covid. 

Materials

All materials used are recycled, ‘found’, or from existing studio stock. The only specially-bought items were the rainbow ribbons. The fabric elements are created from a partly deconstructed and entire pair of worn-out indigo-dyed (denim) jeans, a garment which has become iconic in our time. The black ‘robes’ are from my exhibition stand display.

Denim and indigo

Denim, from which jeans are made, is an indigo-dyed cotton twill suitable also for a Covid mask because its densely woven fabric will help to impede virus-carrying droplets from passing through it. Natural indigo-dyed fabric is revered by many for its healing properties; it coats fabric and offers a further layer of protection. 

Visitors may rest assured that in the spirit of true quackery the potions are not precisely as they claim. Unicorn horn remains hard to obtain and is substituted by brown sugar. Urine is Yorkshire Tea, the crushed emeralds and arsenic are Indian Holi powder. The ‘Holy Relic’ is a sheep or goat’s bone from a Cretan beach, theriac contains neither opium nor viper’s flesh, but is made of blue and white twine pills. There were no leeches in the box when I last checked. 

Construction of the piece has consciously reflected the raw quality of unpicked and chopped-up jeans.

Notes on the remedies

Chain

Blame is placed at both ends of the chain. The persecution by expulsion, fire or torture of marginalised minorities such as Jews, the disabled or gypsies, took place during times of plague. They were believed to be the source of the pestilence. Modern 21stcentury conspiracy theories about coronavirus continue to spread through the press and social media (for example, blaming a Chinese laboratory, the Freemasons, Bill Gates, G5 and even Norwegian Salmon).

Holy relic

The bone is mounted in a denim pouch, blinged up by gold ribbon from a chocolate box. The power of a holy relic was historically believed by Christians to effect a miraculous cure, or aid the intercession of a saint on the patient’s behalf. Belief in the power of prayer and intercession is still with us today.

Blue and white threads

The remedies are suspended from blue and white twine cords. I use the twine for tying shibori and once through the vat they are dyed blue with indigo. Some cords are made with reference to the knotted technique of tzitzit, or fringes, for the tallitor Jewish prayer shawl.

Knotted threads

It was believed by Christians that the plague was divine punishment for human sin. Processions of flagellants would whip themselves and each other as penance, in the hope of avoiding the pestilence.

Stellar pills

Pharmaceutical companies compete or co-operate to develop lucrative medications which may alleviate symptoms, cure, or prevent infection.

Disposable ‘gloves’are fronted by a cartoon by The Times cartoonist Peter Brookes. 

Eyam (hung in isolation down the back of the Doctor)

During the Black Death there were no remedies, beyond quarantine, that made much difference to outcome. When the Black Death arrived in the Derbyshire village of Eyam in 1665, the rector and a minister introduced a number of measures, such as outdoor church services and burial of the dead by their own families. They further persuaded villagers voluntarily to quarantine themselves as a community, in an act of great sacrifice and selflessness, with the aim of not spreading the disease beyond the village.

Donald Trump’s ideas on preventative measures are covered in a brief treatise.

Lockdown Pack

With no current cure or vaccine for Covid, a main course of action has been to avoid contracting and spreading the disease by means of quarantine and lockdown.  Connection to locked-down friends and family through the internet has eased isolation for many: online contact has been a kind of remedy.

Flowers, herbs and incense

Bound up, dried fragrant herbs and flowers comprise a selection of scented remedies to ward off miasma.  These include rosemary, mint, lemon balm, sage, lavender and meadowsweet. The Doctor’s beak is stuffed with lavender and rosemary. Incense is carried in a hanging pocket, together with Café Rouge matches. At exact time of writing, Café Rouge has announced that it too is a Covid casualty and is going into administration.

Medical knowledge: The Four Humours

Much medical knowledge during the Black Death was based on ancient theories of Hippocrates and Galen who described four bodily humours. This theory stated that the elements of earth, water, air, and fire are linked to bodily fluids of yellow bile (fire), blood (air), phlegm (water), black bile (earth). Remedies were prescribed to restore a natural balance which had been corrupted by the plague. 

Bloodletting

Deliberate bleeding of a vein, with leeches (expensive, but less painful) or a knife (cheaper, and it hurt) was believed to be an effective method to rid the body of undesirable ‘hot’ blood.

Theriac

Theriac was a popular remedy among the wealthy and included many ingredients such as viper flesh and copious amounts of opium. Ingredients were mixed with honey or treacle and could be thickened and made into pills.

Crushed emeralds, arsenic, mercury (quicksilver)

Crushed precious minerals were made into concoctions to drink. Those who couldn’t afford them drank mercury or arsenic – which probably despatched them even more swiftly than the plague. It was thought that ‘like could be treated with like’, and one poison could cure another.

The feather: the Vicary Method (after inventor and doctor Thomas Vicary)

A live chicken had its back and rear plucked. The chicken’s bare skin was then applied to the swollen area of the body, and strapped on to ‘draw the disease’ from the patient. The chicken died, or the patient died, or both.

Unicorn horn

Drinking a potion comprising ground unicorn horn was thought to be an effective remedy for many sicknesses including the plague, and, not surprisingly, was very rare and expensive. To obtain any horn, the unicorn had first to be lulled into submission by a young female virgin.

Urine

Bathing in urine or smearing oneself in faeces was a cost-free remedy open to the poor. 

The hope pocket

Our hopes for a Covid solution centre on the research to find an effective vaccine and the pocket contains part of a syringe. I’m happy for people to write their hopes on slips of paper and put them in the pocket.

Sources: 

https://www.ancient.eu/article/1540/medieval-cures-for-the-black-death/

https://www.livescience.com/plague-doctors.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_doctor

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virology

https://www.eyam-museum.org.uk/about-us

https://www.dhm.de/blog/2017/07/27/beaky-plague-protection/


4 Comments

Dyeing with Japanese indigo

With the sun shining last week I enjoyed a socially-distanced dye-day with friend and colleague, Jane Deane. We wanted to test and compare three sets of indigo dye plants, grown from seed here in Devon, by making small dye vats and dyeing different fibres.

In the image above you will see A on the left: an elongated leaf, white flowered indigo. B, in the centre, has elongated leaves and pink-flowers. On the right is C: a broadleaf indigo with pink flowers

The seeds were generously supplied to me by Nature’s Rainbow in the spring, and they have published their own blog on the identification and source of these seeds to be read along with this one. You can read it by following the links at the base of the page. Because we only have a small plot to grow dye plants, the three sets of seedlings were of necessity planted out side by side in blocks as shown above, which meant that the growing conditions were the same for each plant. I planted them out in late May, just after a very late set of frosts which would have killed them. Using identical quantities of leaves and the same dye procedures should give a reasonably good comparison for my soil, the English climate and our summer.

For each plant type, I used 125 grams of stripped leaves and did a 1 hour extraction in a litre of rainwater, heating the leaves slowly to just under 60 C. Leaves were crushed with a pole and the mixture allowed to cool overnight. In the morning Jane joined me and we squeezed out the leaves, sieved the sherry-coloured mixtures, adjusted the pH to 9 and oxygenated each by pouring from one container to another. Containers (Kilner jars) were heated to just below 60 C. We used a commercial reduction chemical (thiourea dioxide) because we needed to complete the tests in one day.

We used identical samples of wool, silk and cotton for each ‘vat’. All samples for each individual vat were put in together.

The groups of samples are A, B and C, and relate to the image of the three plant types at the top of the page. These samples show cotton on the left of each group, silk in the centre and woollen yarn on the right.

After one dip (see above) there were several differences in hue and intensity although the accuracy of colour here isn’t perfect. B appears to have dyed less well overall and this shows particularly on wool. The silk of C is more intense than either A or B, and the cotton in A appears the strongest.

We gave all samples 4 dips of ten minutes each.

The samples after 4 dips. Note that silk is on the left in this image, cotton on the right

Please note that I placed the silks on the left and cottons right in the image above, so they aren’t in the same order as the one-dip image. Sorry about that. The colour, again, isn’t as accurate as I’d like but shows the very real difference in wool dyeings. The cottons at A and C were more similar after four dips. The silk at C is beautiful and has a more turquoise cast than the other two.

You’ll have to take my word for it, but in real life the samples of C, the broadleaf, appear more intense and samples of B least intense.

I intend to repeat the dyeings with more leaf material next time and do a longer sequence of dips. I will also weigh fibre samples to make sure they are identical because the wool would have been heavier in this test, and therefore ‘grabbing’ more of the available indigo.

Ashley Walker of Nature’s Rainbow has kindly annotated my top image with his initial interpretations of the Japanese names for the three sets of plants (see below), but please read his very interesting and informative blog post here

Links

Nature’s Rainbow blog

Jane Deane


2 Comments

Lockdown: orchil and masks

A 5mm square of silk mousseline showing typical orchil colour

My last post featured some purple orchil or cudbear dust detached from stained paper. I attempted to convert it back to dye and soaked it in water for several days. I didn’t know if it would dye fibre after 167 years but after several weeks’ cold-dyeing a fragment of silk with the purple liquid, it has taken on a typical orchil fuschia purple – see above. I don’t know what that proves, but it’s wickedly, super-nerdily satisfying.

And now to Covid-19 masks. In the early 1990s I completed a number of publishing commissions to design textile craft projects. I accumulated boxes of fabric scraps in vibrant designs which I have failed to part with because ‘one day they might have a use’. Translated into stash language, that means I couldn’t bear to part with them. But their day has finally come and I have made masks for family and friends during the pandemic. After some online research I settled on the Olson design for adults which has a pocket into which a HEPA filter can be slipped. Research suggested that high thread count natural fabrics made the most effective mask and my 90s fabrics were ideal, being quilting cottons, cotton lawns, or fine weaves. It seems a suitable way to let these fabrics go. I made children’s masks but found the scaled-down Olson unsuitable since I couldn’t approach individual children to adjust the fit and instead used one of the many pleated designs on the internet. To supply designs that children would actually wear I bought a few new fabrics. All the girls wanted pink masks, and being Devon, small boys chose tractors and I’m unapologetic about this apparent stereotyping. I made fabric ties but advised parents to change to elastic if they weren’t efficient. There’s no point wearing them if the masks slip down all the time.

Four masks in the Olson pattern design (see link below). There are three layers of fabric in the centre where the pocket sits and if a HEPA filter is inserted a further layer is added. I fed a copper nose-wire into a channel along the top centre which shapes the mask to fit the face as closely as possible

Although appearing simple, I found mask-making fiddly because of the curves, layers of fabric, nose-wires etc. and the labour rapidly became tedious. I’m full of admiration for the army of makers who have made so many masks and scrubs over the past few months.

Children’s masks with a pleated design. Two layers of fabric overall

Olson Pattern Links

https://www.instructables.com/id/DIY-Cloth-Face-Mask/

Olson Pattern


6 Comments

Purple stains

stain

A very obvious spill of orchil left this 1853 letter stained, with loose deposits of a powdery purple substance on the surface

This is my 38th day in coronavirus lockdown. Like many, I have a diary full of scratched-out teaching, appointments, celebration parties and anticipated trips. I haven’t felt particularly creative for the past few weeks and admire the achievements of those who use their daily exercise to draw and paint and record their experiences visually, or translate their time into the positivity of making work. I feel as though that particular tap ran dry for me a few weeks back. It’s a bit weird but I don’t feel bad about it, it just is. I have found other things to do.

When I’ve not been gardening, or training the new puppy, or learning to make videos,   I’ve been working on family history links with England, USA, Ireland and Ecuador. And with no other distractions or excuses I have finally managed to get my teeth back into the Leeds-related archiving I’ve been undertaking for some years. You can find other blogs about this research in the ‘word cloud’ on the right, under the search titles Wood & Bedford, orchil, and Yorkshire Chemicals.

Over these weeks of lockdown the archived boxes of labelled documents are growing, the unsorted papers are diminishing.  Most nights when I turn out the light and go to wash my hands (in a non-coronavirus way) there is a trace of pink or purple in the dirty, soapy water. I know it’s from orchil. The earlier papers, dating  between 1833 and 1855, came from a time when many of the working spaces of Wood & Bedford adjoined. The Fire Insurance document of 1855 describes these workspaces and some of the equipment. Orchil lichen was ground into powder with stones before manufacturing into dye, after which it was reduced back into powder (cudbear), or sometimes paste. Orchil dust would have hovered permanently, coating surfaces and settling on any uncovered papers. I have sorted papers with heavy purple stains, as if spills took place where they were stored, and there’s even a purple thumbprint on the back of an invoice for glass and earthenware. This gave me a real archival shiver because at that time (1850) there was just one person, James Bedford (1824 – 1903), who would have been working on orchil at the Hunslet address: the move to Kirkstall Road was imminent but had yet to take place. I have developed a very healthy respect for James and I like to think it is his thumbprint on the paper. It feels like a kind of handshake.

orchil2

Back of an 1850 invoice showing a purple thumbprint

I also found an 1853 letter stained with a large spill, which had resulted in several crusty deposits of a loose and powdery purple (see top image). I am neither equipped nor funded to conserve these papers and have stored the heavily stained ones separately so that at some time in the future there is the potential for them to be studied further. But while I was working a tiny deposit loosened off and I rescued it, putting it in a container with a little water. I checked it impatiently, and slowly, over several hours, the powder began to release its colour. It shows a typical fresh purple orchil pink. Amazing to see, and a rewarding moment that joins several other highlights in many years’ work on this archive. I will drop a few silk fibres in once I think all the colour has been released, and see if it will still dye.

IMG_9520

Orchil dye reconstituted from the 167-year-old orchil spill. The colour is typical of orchil

It’s intended that my section of the archive will finally join the main Yorkshire Chemicals collection already in the curation of the West Yorkshire Archive Service facility at Morley, Leeds. Wood & Bedford became the lead company of the Yorkshire Dyeware and Chemical Company in 1900, which was renamed Yorkshire Chemicals from 1974 – 2004 when it went into administration. The work on the Morley archive was completed by Dr Howard Varley who had been an employee of Yorkshire Chemicals until its demise. The complete set of archives will give a rare insight into the lifespan of a dye manufacturing company whose work spanned the transition from natural to synthetic dyes.

 

 

 

 


1 Comment

Exeter Cloth Dispatch Book 1763 – 5

Passavant_edited-1

Detail of the Exeter cloth dispatch book shows several wool samples and their associated bale-mark. Image courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives. For full reference to this document please see link at foot of page

Late last year I was contacted by a friend with a very interesting proposal. She had been invited to write a chapter on dyes and dyeing for a ‘book about a book’ and asked if I would be interested in co-authoring. A very rare, cloth merchant’s dispatch book had been found in the London Metropolitan Archives by Todd Gray, a well-known Exeter-based historian, and as yet – amazingly – no-one had made a study of it.

Todd was editing a book (Exeter Cloth Dispatch Book 1763 – 5) about his find, to be published by the Devon and Cornwall Record Society (DCRS) this autumn. He was assembling specialist authors to write chapters giving a wide context to the dispatch book. These were to include a history of Exeter’s cloth merchants, the archaeology of the cloth industry in Exeter, fulling mills, Exeter’s dyers, lead cloth merchants’ seals, and tillet blocks (look them up, they’re fascinating). And, of course, a chapter on dyes and dyeing.

A dispatch book is neither a ‘sales‘ book to show potential customers, nor a dyer’s book recording dyestuffs and recipes. It records dyed cloth sold, in this case exported, between 1763 and 1765, and relates to the South West. There are bale-marks drawn on many pages. It is a collection of wool cloth samples (all 2,475 of them) and was the one-time property of a wealthy Swiss émigré of Huguenot descent, named Claude Passavant. Passavant had strong connections to the city of Exeter and in the 1750s established a factory producing high quality Gobelin-style carpets there; he was also a cloth merchant. 

The friend who invited me to co-author is Jenny Balfour Paul, a world authority on indigo. In the early 1990s I attended one of her lectures at the Crafts Council in London and her knowledge and enthusiasm for indigo pushed me in the entirely new direction of natural dyes, and we also became friends. So I wasn’t going to say no, was I?

figured_edited-1

Four figured fabrics from the Exeter cloth dispatch book. The bale mark from the page reverse can be seen in mirror image, bottom centre. Image courtesy of the London Metropolitan Archives. For full reference to this document please see link at foot of page

Colours are hard to describe, but in my vocabulary the range covered in the dispatch book includes scarlets, dusty and dark salmon pinks, russets, golden browns, tans, beiges, and all manner of blues. There are soft watery-blue-greens, olive and grassy greens and there are blacks and greys. There are several figured weaves among the samples. We have no dye analysis for these cloths but we could make educated guesses about how they were dyed by studying contemporary sources, and literature. Together with Dominique Cardon and Anita Quye, Jenny has been researching the Crutchley Archive, an important set of pattern, recipe and account books from the eighteenth century Crutchley dyeing business in Southwark. This source, and Jenny’s knowledge of it, was a vital part of our interpreting the likely dyes and chemicals used in the dispatch book. We also researched Standerwick’s Somerset Pattern Book (c 1760) located in the Somerset Heritage Centre, maps and journals held at the Devon Heritage Centre in Exeter and other papers located by Todd Gray in Devon archives.

The book will be published for the Devon and Cornwall Record Society in the autumn of this year. It can be ordered in advance, and for details you will need to access the pdf here Exeterclothdispatchbook and print it out. You will have to order it the old-fashioned way – by mail. Note that if you join the DCRS you can expect the book at a lower price as part of your 2020 membership, representing a considerable saving on the £30 price after publication – but without membership.

 

London Metropolitan Archives 

Cloth book of an Exeter wool merchant, 1763-1765 (London Metropolitan Archives, City of London reference CLC/B/227/MS09803)

Somerset Heritage Centre

Standerwick’s Somerset Pattern Book at Somerset Heritage Centre: SHC, A/ALU/1, ‘John Standerwick of Rydiness [Buckland St Mary] and Hermitage [Broadway], 1717-1777’

Devon Heritage Centre

Devon and Cornwall Record Society homepage

Devon and Cornwall Record Society link to pre-order page for the forthcoming book edited by Todd Gray

Extract from full bibliography used in chapter 

Crutchley Archive: Anita Quye, Dominique Cardon and Jenny Balfour Paul‘The Crutchley Archive: red colours on wool fabrics from master dyers in Southwark, London 1716-1744’ in Textile History (forthcoming 2020)

By Dominique Cardon: Mémoires de teinture: Voyage dans le temps chez un maître des couleurs (Paris, 2013); The Dyer’s Handbook: Memoirs of an 18th Century Master Colourist (Oxford and Philadelphia, 2016); Des couleurs pour les Lumières: Antoine Janot, teinturier occitan 1700-1778 (Paris, 2019);  Le Cahier de Couleurs d’Antoine Janot /Workbook, Antoine Janot’s Colours (Paris, 2020).

William Partridge: A Practical Treatise on the Dying of Woollen Cloth, Cotton and Skein Silk (New York, 1823)

Carolyn Griffiths, ‘Woad to This’ and the Cloth Trade of Frome (Frome, 2017)

 

 


Leave a comment

Inspiration from polèng

My two presentations at last month’s World Textile Day were something of a sensation. During the first talk there was an unfortunate medical emergency requiring an ambulance, and in the second the projector plug dislodged and the screen went blank, just as I started waving my arms in excitement over an image of Imperial Purple. That’ll teach me.

I had been invited to talk about inspiration, and how I started to work with textiles after a graphic design training and several years in industry. I directly attribute my career change to travels in India, Indonesia and Australia in the 1980s where I observed unfamiliar textiles being created, used or worn. For the first time I properly understood how textiles can hold significance and meaning and became absorbed in the ways that dye can be controlled.  I bought many examples of cloths and textiles on my travels which I displayed at the World Textiles Day talk, and amongst them were samples of Balinese polèng cloth. Of all the cloths I came across, polèng is the one that most changed my way of thinking.

poleng1_edited-1

Polèng cloth from Bali, purchased in market

Polèng is not technically complex. It’s formed of equal strips of warp and weft in black and white set up to intersect and create black, white and grey squares. In the West we often see similar, coloured checked cloth used for tablecloths, children’s dresses, casual shirts and curtains. We call it gingham. It has a homely feel to my eyes, and when on my first trip to Bali in the ’80s I noticed it draped around trees, shrines, altars and statues I was puzzled by the meaning and usage of this unmissable cloth.

Next to where I stayed in Ubud was the home of a remarkable Italian dancer called Cristina Formaggia. Cristina was a most extraordinary woman (she died, too young, in 2008) and I include several links about her below. She had lived on the island for some years and through her kindness friendship and humour I learned much about Balinese life, belief, ritual and dance.  Her insights and knowledge were offered from a dual perspective as both Westerner and deeply-embedded student of Balinese tradition. Only when planning the Word Textiles Day talk did I realise how much I owed to her, which included an explanation of polèng. 

If you seek an academic explanation of polèng, please stop here as I can’t give you one. My simplified version is that for everything, there is an opposite. For good, there is evil. For sickness, there is health. For heat there is cold, and so on: no element exists without its opposite and through its opposite each element acquires its meaning and purpose. So it is with the equal black and white squares, and with spiritual awareness comes the grey, the point at which elements blend and stand in balance. The need to maintain these opposite elements in balance seemed to me to be what polèng symbolises, and what every Balinese knows as elemental when they see the cloth.

‘..polèng is an expression of the community of existence: being in its totality, which is made up of black and white, in the world of both the visible and the invisible.’

Brigitta Hauser- Schäublin, quoted from the book linked below

Links

Cristina Formaggia links

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cristina_Wistari_Formaggia

https://www.themagdalenaproject.org/content/cristina-wistari-formaggia-1945-2008

http://repository.essex.ac.uk/23060/

https://www.fortdecafe.org/topeng-cristina-formaggia/

World Textile Days 2020

Book: Chapter seven focuses on polèng cloth:

Balinese Textiles; Brigitta Hauser-Schäublin, Marie-Louise Nabholz-Kartaschoff, Urs Ramseyer, British Museum Press, 1991

 


5 Comments

World Textile Day, Bristol, October 5th

On October 5th I’ll be presenting Deeper than Dyeing at World Textiles Day, Saltford, near Bristol. I’ll outline the influence of World Textiles on my work, and bring a varied selection of textiles (of all kinds) to stop everyone falling asleep.

smalltreasure

Evening jacket from 1920s – 30s, that belonged to a great-aunt

Some examples go way back to my childhood, such as this gold-and-black-woven evening jacket that belonged to a great-aunt. Others reflect a growing interest in textiles and techniques and tools, acquired not at art college (I studied graphic design), but on travels in India, Indonesia and Australia.

batik_edited-2

Batik collected in Jogjakarta when travelling in the 1980s

leheria_edited-1

Turban length collected in Rajasthan. It is printed but appears to mimic  leheria and mothara techniques

tools

A selection of traditional (or local) tools, used to apply wax

When I originally agreed to speak I had to scratch my head a bit. I’ve never actively thought through, or publicly acknowledged, the influence that travels and observations have wrought on past and current work, and my diverse interests. On finally deciding the talk’s direction I needed a title, and kept circling Deeper than Indigo, the title of an extraordinary book by Jenny Balfour-Paul. I asked Jenny if she minded my adapting her title – and she was kind enough not to – which is just as well. Once I arrived at Deeper than Dyeing as a title I couldn’t imagine anything that worked better.

I’ll be speaking at 11 am.

Links

Deeper than Indigo by Jenny Balfour-Paul

World Textile Day, Saltford


3 Comments

New book: dye lakes and recipes

Since I started teaching natural dyes at West Dean College, I have had a problem. How could I save, transport and use litres of expensive dye not fully exhausted on the course? I travel with two large beer-making flagons containing indigo, but transporting additional containers of weld, madder and cochineal isn’t feasible – and I hate waste.

For some years I have been working with my friend and colleague Yuli Sømme, who commissions me to dye different shades of wool felt for her company Bellacouche, in Moretonhampstead (see link below). If I have pieces of mordanted and wetted-out felt ready, I can dunk it into the vats on the final night at the College, and by the next morning much of the used dye is exhausted and the felts dyed. I can rinse out the felts and take them home in empty buckets. The exhausted dye can be discarded.

But if students need the vats on the final day, or I am travelling home the day I finish teaching, I don’t have the option of using Yuli’s felt and the leftover dyes.

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: by Catharine Ellis and Joy Boutrop

A newly-published book by Catharine Ellis and Joy Boutrop has encouraged me to experiment with making lake pigments from the leftover dyes at West Dean. Their suggested process greatly reduces the volume to be transported and involves binding the leftover dye to the alum mordant, thus turning it into a concentrated lake pigment. The pigment is precipitated using alum and soda ash and sinks to the bottom of the vessel, leaving the water on the surface, which can be poured off.

Madderlake2

Making a madder lake. You can see the dye beginning to precipitate and separate from the water

The resulting substance is strained through cloth and when this process is complete, a gooey, paste-y mixture like thick custard remains.

filtering

Straining the madder pigment through a cloth

By reversing the chemical process at home, again using the instructions in the book,  I can dye pieces of wetted-out felted wool – which do not require a mordant.

It is typical of this book, which in its entirety covers a very wide range of natural dye processes, that methods are well-explained, options or alternatives outlined, and reasons given for certain instructions. Recipes are clear and easy to follow and I would have greatly valued the book in my library when I started natural dyeing because of its comprehensive treatment of the subject and a thoroughly researched, straightforward approach. I will write more in future posts because I am still learning so much from the work of these two authors.

Since my West Dean course last month I have made pigments from madder and weld lakes, and tried mixing them with indigo and earth pigments.

pigments

Madder and weld pigments (pink and yellow) and overpaints of earth pigments sienna and ochre (rusts and red-brown) from Roussillon in France. Painted on soya-sized cotton

Links

The Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments and Results

At time of writing, this book isn’t readily available in the UK. Check this link on the Blackwell’s site to see if it is in stock.

Bellacouche

Yuli Sømme’s company in Moretonhampstead, Devon

West Dean College Short Courses

My next natural dye course at West Dean is March 27 – 29th 2020.

 


9 Comments

A treasured textile tool

tool

My textile treasure from The Gambia, the gift of a former student. 

When unpacking after teaching at West Dean this week, I noticed one of my favourite tools hadn’t re-appeared from the boxes.  I began to realise how precious the tool was, and kicked myself for being sufficiently stupid to take it out of the studio and risk losing it. The tool is no bigger than a long paintbrush, it’s clearly home-made and would look insignificant to anyone finding it but not ‘in the know’ about what it was. It could have been binned, or slipped beneath a workbench. It might never re-appear.

The tool, used for applying wax, was given to me nearly ten years ago by an inspiring and enterprising young student who left us with very special memories of her. She was on a scholarship studying batik world-wide and she stayed with us for a few days while I showed her how I worked.  She later travelled to The Gambia, and sent me the tool on her return. It has a simply-shaped, graceful wooden handle around the tip of which is wound a casual-looking thick spiral of copper wire. The spiral forms into a tightly-twisted, spout-shaped ‘nib’.

The copper tool can be dipped into hot wax, and because copper is a good conductor of heat the entire wire quickly reaches equal temperature. The coils of the spiral hold a considerable cargo of hot wax, which flows down into the ‘nib’ allowing a controlled drawing to be made in hot wax. Experience has taught me not to start drawing until drip frequency is slow, or wax flows too fast and floods the fabric. The tool looks as though it shouldn’t work, but in fact it’s remarkably effective and one of my studio favourites.

Some time ago I tried to replicate the tool for students in my classes, using copper wire and a substantial twig, or an old paintbrush, for a handle. I have had surprising success with them and I’ve found, for instance, that a narrower gauge wire can form a finer nib. But none of my versions has the grace and integrity of the original, or carries its history. I instinctively choose the Gambia tool when working, even though my replicas work just as well.

The tool was created by people who own little and must labour extremely hard to produce their batik work: they have no electricity, gather wax from bee-hives, heat wax on a fire and carry all their water by hand. Only when I unpacked my boxes and contemplated the possible loss of my student’s gift did I acknowledge (for the first time) that the tool’s story was as important as its function.

Happily, I found it.

 

Link: This remarkable little book tells the story of Rushyan’s batik journey

Paths of Molten Wax: A Textile Odyssey

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Dyeing Reds in Amsterdam

safflower_edited-1

Safflower petals before washing

I recently took part in a two-day workshop in Amsterdam, dyeing historical reds on silk at the Rijksmuseum’s Department of Conservation and Restoration. The event was organised by the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands. Selection for the workshop was by application, and the organisers chose eight international participants known for the variety and extent of their expertise in natural dyeing, and / or their interests in historical dye recipes.

A range of 26 samples was produced using American cochineal, kermes, annatto, brazilwood, madder, safflower and lac. Participants worked in pairs dyeing different sets of dyes: my partner was Paula Hohti of Aalto University, Helsinki, where she is Assistant Professor of History of Art and Culture. We dyed three recipes in total: one for lac and two for safflower. Demineralised water was used throughout.

Lac Our lac recipe was adapted from Edelstein’s translation of the 1548 edition of The Plictho of Gioanventura Rosetti. We prepared and used an alum mordant on Day 1, in which the silk rested overnight. The stick lac we were to use had been extracted over the previous three days. On Day 2 we sieved the lac solution and heated it, adding 25% (to weight of dry fabric) cream of tartar. It was dyed for an hour.

lac

Lac-dyed silk being lifted from the beaker to check for colour. On the right is the beaker containing yellow safflower dye and silk

Safflower We dyed two versions of safflower: yellow and red. Our recipes were adapted from various sources, including Macquer’s Art de la Teinture en Soie. To obtain yellow, safflower florets were washed once and drained, and then soaked again for 30 minutes. After sieving, the resulting extract was used to dye unmordanted silk.

safflower

First washing-out of the safflower florets for yellow dyeing

To obtain red, safflower florets were pre-washed for two weeks to remove all traces of the yellow extract – this process had been completed in advance of the workshop.  We undertook a further sequence of washings until the yellow stopped running and the water was clear. The water was sieved out. Potash was added to obtain pH 10, and the florets squeezed by hand until they appeared pink and transparent and the liquor looked pinky red. This took about half an hour to achieve.

After sieving into a new beaker, unmordanted silk was added and the pH checked (it was around 7). We then added fermented beer (bierken) little by little, continually monitoring pH, until the pH dropped to a crucial pH 5. This threshold pH has a term ‘virer le bain‘ or ‘turn the bath’. We were required not to allow the pH to drop lower or it would damage the silk. The silk then rested in the dye for 10 minutes after which it was washed in Marseilles soap, and water.

Both safflower baths produced strong colours, with the pink having an especially bright ‘pop’. The colour is very light fugitive.

3dyes

Safflower red (left), lac (centre) safflower yellow (right

Everyone, including the three organisers, gave short presentations on their work and research interests. I showed some samples of my orchil dyeing as well as a few pieces of my studio work in natural dyes. Many participants were involved in education, some of us were artists and dyers, others were textile researchers or art historians. These absorbing presentations illustrated what a privilege it was to attend the workshop.

The results of the workshop were recently published at the Spring Symposium of the Textiel Commissie.

assort

Participants were able to take away a sample of each recipe dyed: a total of 26 samples

Participants took home a complete set of all the silks dyed. The organisers also retained a set, which will be catalogued and stored as historical reproductions on reference sheets, together with supporting information on the recipes and preparations. The sheets will eventually be published online through the Cultural Heritage Agency (RCE) website, for the benefit of other researchers.


Thanks With many thanks to organisers Drs. Ana Serrano, Jenny Boulboullé and Art Proaño Gaibor; to the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands; the Ateliergebouw of the Rijksmuseum; and to all fellow participants at the workshop for their unique and specialist contributions.


Links

Rijksmuseum Conservation and Research

Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands

Textiel Commissie

Paula Hohti has recently been awarded a European Research Council grant for a five year project Re-fashioning the Renaissance: Popular Groups, Fashion and the Material and Cultural Significance of Clothing in Europe 1550 – 1650