Isabella Whitworth

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

BB3: Teaching rewards: wax, dye and shibori


Blog-Bite 3 – and almost up to date

It’s great when a student lets me know if something from my course has helped them in their work or studies. Last week I heard from someone on my West Dean course last March . The ‘Brilliant with Pattern’ course introduces several techniques with an emphasis on scarf making, although the skills are useful for general fabric design as well as learning about dyes, wax and silk. The young student who contacted me had just completed a Foundation Course in Sussex. She has been awarded a distinction. She told me she had made her final major project based on what she learned at West Dean and sent me some images, which I have her permission to publish here. Thanks, PJ, and congratulations on your success.

She wrote, about the silk vest in the images: For my final major project I made from georgette silk , the middle panel is actually a print from a photograph I took, using this direct imagery I printed onto transfer paper, then heat pressed onto cotton with an overlay of white chiffon. Then made into a basic top to focus the attention on the print.

More recently I taught two students (J and R) at home. I normally enjoy this: everything is to hand and I don’t have to load the car, drive 200 miles, unload it, sleep in a strange bed with scary pillows and eat too much breakfast every day. There is but one but – and I know it’s something of a cliché.  When students come to me I have to tidy the studio. By the time cleaning operations are complete I don’t recognise the place. Acres of floor emerge, bin bags are filled with things I didn’t know I didn’t need, I am emotionally drained by the stress and I then can’t find a thing for weeks.

J and R had a professional interest in learning silk and steam-fixed dye technique. They were already ‘creatives’ which made technical input the most important part of their visit. To realise the designs and garments they planned through the use of wax, resist and dye, they need to experiment with equipment, materials, various dye techniques and resists and work on various weights of silk. Because they live abroad, heat and humidity will play a part in how they work, how dyes need to be stored etc. There was a lot to pack in, from dye basics to some studio safety, steaming, where to buy to buy silk and wax, even how best to label and market work. We discussed various technical issues, such as painting long lengths and supporting the fabric. We had  to improvise this to some extent using workbenches: I don’t have a set of shinshi sticks and these days do not paint fabric lengths.

We worked in the garage for the longer length as the studio isn’t big enough. The garage too had required a moderate tidy but the Maintenance Department (also Catering Department for two days) had already taken care of it.

I am hoping J and R keep in touch – I’d love to see how the two days with me translates and how they solve some of the technical difficulties we discussed.

And I now have a squeaky-tidy studio and am scared to go in.

7 thoughts on “BB3: Teaching rewards: wax, dye and shibori

  1. We talked recently about disruption to one’s studio from ‘events’ organised within. In my case by Life drawing classes. From what you say, this would appear to be an inevitable consequence of inviting folk into your work space. If we do, maybe, yes, we have just to accept it as part of the job. Would you agree however that it’s not just the physical disruption you describe so graphically but also the mental disruption in the hours or even days leading up to it?

    You might be interested to know that apart from friends and personal contacts, in the recent Art Trek, over the ten days I was open, I had just 4 visitors. Then on Sunday, as I had literally just got back into the house after a drive from Norfolk via my cousin in Ripley, two more turned up having not realised that my opening days were over – nevertheless off we trotted up to the studio, and i think they enjoyed their visit. Five minutes earlier, they would have missed me entirely. Because I had just abandoned the studio as it was five days before, everything was more or less in its disrupted, Open, state!

    • Hope I am not missing the point here, but basically, yes, I agree. The physical disruption can be a visible manifestation of the anguish within..! Actually, I enjoy the ‘intrusion’ of students at home: it doesn’t happen often and I get to meet some great people. For me, the mental disruption is part of any teaching I do. I can’t mentally ‘leave it alone’ even when it is a course I have taught before, and even if I am driving 200 miles to teach somewhere else.

      Open Studios are entirely something else. They can be devastatingly depressing, and the nonsense of that is that low visitor numbers have absolutely nothing to do with the work you are showing. But to go through the necessary thinking and physical preparation for just 4 visitors (well, 6, I suppose) seems a really poor investment. Your studio and work looked great, but until you get people there, they don’t know that.

      I stopped doing OS some time ago for the same reason and would probably only do joint ones these days. I wonder how other people fared in your area?

  2. I am learning the pain of tidying up for students now that people are coming to me. On balance I think it is a good thing, in spite of the stress. It forces me to put things in their proper places for once and to think about what items I am *really* using at the moment. And then when the students have gone, I get such a kick out of messing it up again! I’m stepping out into new territory, though, in the autumn when I have a small group booked to come weekly for a couple of months. I hope we’ll gradually arrive at a compromise between visitor-tidy and solo-weaver-muddle.

  3. Do you still teach private lessons?! Would love to do that!

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