Wax resist and steam-fixed dyed scarf. Silk crêpe de Chine. Isabella Whitworth, 2016
I’ve just unpacked after teaching three one-day courses in Oxfordshire. This completes my teaching programme for the year. I teach regularly at only two venues: Ardington, south of Oxford, and West Dean, just north of Chichester.
Ardington School of Crafts is non-residential. My courses there are always one-day, although sometimes linked so that students studying, say, natural dyes can take a further course focusing on indigo. They are suitable for complete beginners. Ardington’s 2017 programme will shortly go ‘live’, and the six dates are on my teaching page here. There will be a variety of courses, all of them repeating popular subjects.
West Dean College is residential, although some students make their own accommodation arrangements. Courses stretch across a few days, have up to now taught resist techniques using synthetic dyes on silk, and have been for beginners and intermediate students.
Many students have attended several of my courses and have progressed very well. After discussions with the Short Course Organiser at West Dean, we have added a new course which will take place from July 20th – 23rd 2017*. Its title will be Handpainted Silk Scarves: Developing Design, Building Technique. This course is designed for those who have relevant experience gained with me or other tutors, but would like to study or practise techniques and ideas not viable on beginner / intermediate courses. Some of the focus will be on design and planning. The idea is to offer more experienced students a course of their own.
However, all students, of whatever experience or ability, continue to be welcome on my beginner / intermediate courses. Although I may be instructing beginners too, more experienced students know they can progress at their own pace within the structure of the course and I can assist them in new directions.
My apologies if you read this some weeks ago because I had entered the Advanced Course date in error. The April dates 24th – 27th are for the Beginners’ Course. The more Advanced / experienced course will be in July, as above.
Inside a vat made from Japanese indigo (Persicaria tinctoria)
West Dean Summer School takes place over three weeks with a separate set of courses each week. I will be teaching a six-day Summer School course from August 5th – 12th 2017 titled Creative Dyeing for Scarves and Fabric. This course will be suitable for beginners, intermediate students and anyone who has studied with me before. My idea for Summer School is to broaden understanding of resist techniques, such as shibori and wax resist, by exploring some relationships between traditional and contemporary dyeing. The course will feature a natural indigo vat which can be used as well as (but not together with!) synthetic dyes. Indigo has a unique and beautiful affinity with resist techniques, and many contemporary resist processes are based on its traditional use. There will also be opportunities to discuss and develop designs for wax resist work. More details will appear on the West Dean website.
Teachers and technicians can apply for a 50% discount on a Summer School. Contact West Dean on 01243 818300 to register your interest, with the name of your school, college or university, and a 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice of Summer School course.
Booking for 2017 is now open via West Dean (link below).
If you signed up to my blog solely on the basis of posts on natural dyes and history, I offer apologies. This is about neither. As well as researching the history of natural dyes (in particular, orchil), I still produce work as a textile artist. Some of this uses natural dyes, but I also work with synthetic dyes on silk for resist techniques such as wax and shibori.
The Devon Guild of Craftsmen is holding an exhibition called Life Illustrated from 2nd October – 15th November 2015. Sketchbooks are the theme of Life Illustrated, showing them both as source material and as part of the creative process. A number of Devon Guild members are contributing new work, plus their precious books.
My training as an illustrator in the late 1960s was drawing-based, and I have used sketchbooks as source material for over 50 years. For Life Illustrated I decided to revisit an ‘old’ design and see how it adapted to current techniques and materials. Back then I was using a simple gutta outliner to draw the design and control the dye. Now I prefer to use wax. The design was based on drawings I made of fritillary butterfly wings. Here are sketchbook studies from 17 years ago:
Drawing from image of butterfly: pencil and watercolour
Starting to work out a design in my sketchook. Second from top shows sections cut by a sinuous line. Shapes are either positive or negative either side
The design formula divided the scarf into about nine sections. A sinuous line bisected all sections, running down on the scarf’s vertical. You can see this drawn out in the sketchbook images above although the scarf is imagined from the side. Shapes either side of the sinuous line are either ‘positive’ (dark on a light ground) or ‘negative’ (light out of a dark ground). This polarity swapped from side to side and line to line. It was logical to look at, but entirely silly to explain. Below, you’ll find a sketch showing the basic structure.
Although I sometimes archive samples, I don’t have any of Fritillary. They were large, on very good quality silk and they sold well. So I was probably too money-grabbing to keep one, which I now regret. All I have left are sketches and a rather poor image rescued from my old website.
The only image I can find of the ‘Fritillary’ design. From 1997
The top pencil scribble shows the skeleton of the design
For the exhibition Life Illustrated I made new sketches to remind myself of what had inspired me. Then I stretched a scarf, dyed the background and outlined the design with wax – in much the same way as I remembered doing with gutta. I found I was able to reproduce the old design pretty well, although the quality of the outlining wax marks is looser than with gutta. That’s not a problem with this design. So I went ahead and made two or three scarves.
One of the reasons I became tired of gutta is that it is an outlining process. All design elements are drawn carefully with the gutta pen, and dye is filled in up to the gutta line. It’s a tight technique – even a bit tedious at times because one is often reproducing a pre-planned scheme. The reason I love wax is that spontaneous brush marks can create the shapes in a design (by instantly blocking out further application of dye). Of course, one can use wax tools such as tjantings or kystkas to draw outlines, just like gutta. But I find larger waxed marks more expressive and the design evolves in a more fluid way. So my next step was to try to adapt the old design to this preferred use of waxed marks instead of outlines.
I soon realised that ‘block-out’ marks needed more space around them than the simpler outlined shapes I used years ago. Large brush marks are often textured, oddly shaped and ‘whiskery’ at the edges. In the same nine-section format, my next waxed scarf looked crammed and overcrowded. I reduced the number of horizontal divisions to five and it works better, but that’s as far as I’ve got. I’m not done with it yet.
Large waxed marks create shapes by blocking further applications of dye
The dark purple and crimson shapes are created by surrounding wax marks holding in the dye
Positive and negative: To make the ‘negative’ marks (lighter on a dark ground) I make a large waxed shape with a brush that blocks out the background. Then the background is dyed around that mark. To make ‘positive’ marks (darker on a light ground) I create an island of unwaxed silk surrounded by a sea of freely waxed marks.
Teaching: On Sunday I’m off to Warwickshire to teach at the Summer School of the Association of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. I’ll be running two courses back-to-back introducing wax resist on silk.
I will be teaching three times at West Dean next year (March, May and July) but if you want a place, please book early. The March course already has a waiting list.
I’m also running a one-day introduction to wax resist on silk at Ardington School of Crafts next month (September). Please contact these venues for information (links below) and see my courses page.
There can’t be many households in agricultural areas which don’t have some baler twine in their house. It’s used by farmers principally for the binding of hay or straw bales. Wikipedia states: Baling twine or baler twine is a small diameter sisal or synthetic twine used to bind a quantity of fibrous material (notably hay or straw) into a more compact and easily stacked form. Tensile strengths of single-ply baling twine range from 95 psi (0.66 MPa) to 325 psi (2.24 MPa).
Synthetic baler twine: dropped by roadside ready-wound into a length to be used for an as yet unknown task
Down here you can find useful discarded lengths of it in the hedgerows, on the moors and in the fields. I’ve seen the multitude of uses to which it is put: holding a fence together; as a temporary gate-hinge; keeping a car-boot lid closed; as an improvised dog-lead; in birds’ nests and more crucially, holding up a farmer’s trousers. People collect it where it drops, saving it for a multitude of future unknown tasks. There is a kind of simple human optimism in this.
Here in Devon, local farmers have been completing the harvest, which includes baling and the generous distribution of baler twine to keep errant boot-lids down and trousers up. Recently they have been cutting moor grassland to use for animal bedding. The grass is cut and allowed to dry before being baled into cylinders for storage and I recently noticed a group of these, bound up in what looked like black and white stripes of baler twine. Only they weren’t, and it wasn’t.
I had a look up close to discover the ‘twine’ was actually a wide plastic mesh. It contracts widthwise when wound onto the bales under tension. I was intrigued by its structure and complexity, wondered who sat and designed it, where it is made, and whether its structure was solely suited to this one baling process. I started to research it online – and found it’s called bale netwrap and is sold by suppliers of agricultural bindings, such as good old baler twine. Not so useful in the trouser department, I suspect, and might be hazardous for birds that become caught up in it.
Close-up of binding
The cylindrical bale
Bales on the moor
The mesh itself
I have been moderately unfit for purpose myself recently, hence my lack of posts. Now I’m better and I have just completed teaching my final course of the year at West Dean, only to return with a heavy cold. Unfortunately I can think of no way in which baler twine will alleviate the symptoms.
My March 27th – 30th 2015 course Rhythm and Pattern is nearly full so if you want a place, contact West Dean as soon as possible. I will be teaching a further course from 17th – 19th July 2015.
No posting recently because I’ve had a month of intensive teaching followed by intensive feet-putting-up. I ran three courses at Ardington in Oxfordshire and then four days in Nether Stowey at the studio of Janet Phillips.
Several vats on the go
Cochineal and indigo
Cochineal and indigo
At Ardington School of Crafts I taught my synthetic dyes shibori day, plus two one-day (repeated) courses on natural dyes. The natural dye course is a taster to a fascinating subject with some practical work at the dyepots, but also intended as an eye-opener to textiles seen at a stately home, museum etc. It’s even relevant to looking at paintings: I often wonder what dyestuffs were used on garments represented (with pigments) in a historic portrait. We had to move fast, with all fibre and fabric pre-mordanted, and an indigo vat ready to go. Most students dyed a scarf using simple immersion methods. We used madder, weld, cochineal and two indigo vats (one weak, one strong).
At Nether Stowey, I taught a three-day-dye course to several of Janet’s graduates from her Masterclass. On day one they learned some shibori folds using steam-fixed dyes; day two gave them a taster of wax resist, and day three was a full day with indigo. At the same time as I taught dyes, Janet was teaching ‘shibori on the loom’ to students from the London Guild. In this technique, removable weft threads are incorporated into the weaving. They are later used to draw up the cloth tight. According to how the shibori threads are woven, patterns emerge after the piece is dyed, then opened up.
Students used coloured and plain warps, on different pieces. Some of this shibori work was put into my indigo vat on day four; others used Janet’s fibre-reactive dyes which were applied by placing woven pieces into a short length of gutter (brilliant idea) and painting by hand. I am used to folding, tying and clamping for indigo work and although I have seen loom shibori before, I haven’t watched the whole process from start to finish. A combination of enthusiastic and knowledgeable students, Janet’s teaching and the imaginative arrangements made by Janet and Nigel made for a very enjoyable week. Did I mention glorious weather?
Loom shibori gathered up for dyeing
Undyed loom shibori being opened
Indigo-dyed loom shibori
Fibre-reactive dyes applied to loom shibori
Indigo-dyed loom shibori
Many thanks to students at Ardington and Nether Stowey for permission to use images of their work.
Teaching in 2015
Dates of next years’ courses are accumulating. I will be tutoring two courses at the Association of Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Summer School in August 2015 at Moreton Morrell. Details of the entire event can be seen here and there are details on this page.
I am teaching a new one-day introductory course in wax-resist at Ardington School of Crafts in 2015 as well as days on shibori scarves, indigo dyeing. The Vibrant World of Natural Dyes proved very popular this year and I will be teaching it again in 2015: I have one course at West Dean scheduled for March. If you want to sign in, do so soon because my October course has been full since April.
Brilliant with Pattern is the title of a course I teach at West Dean College, and I’m off again tomorrow. The course always runs under this title, but I never tutor it the same way. It’s partly because I’d get bored teaching an identical course and so I take different ideas along, but also because the creativity of individual students infuses the group, making each outcome entirely different.
Preparation for these intense weekends is extensive, in terms of assembling boxes and general ‘stuff’, but also in the thinking about how I will approach them. This week I completed two days’ teaching at Ardington School of Crafts (see some images on Facebook here) and finished up with a visit to a friend in Oxford. She took me to see the recently completed courtyard of the Mathematical Institute.
There I saw the work of someone truly ‘brilliant with pattern’. Professor Sir Roger Penrose, mathematician and physicist, works at the Mathematical Institute and his brilliance shines on fields beyond my understanding. But his work on non-periodic tiling (yes, I had to look it up too: try here for some assistance) is exhibited in the form of a pavement outside the entrance to the Mathematical Institute. It’s pattern: constructed, mathematical, non repeating, and compellingly beautiful. The steel, mirrored sections work especially well, reflecting sky, birds, or passers by.
Penrose tiling, Mathematical Institute, Oxford
Entrance to Mathematical Institute, Oxford
View of the Natural History Museum, Oxford
Resist-dyed egg, Pitt Rivers Museum. Galicia (Poland /Ukraine)
On the same day I was able to spend a short time in the Pitt Rivers Museum, perhaps my favourite museum in the world. The newly-cleaned and restored glass roof of the Natural History Museum lit a path to the Pitt Rivers, which has no external public entrance. I know I will always discover something new in the Pitt Rivers: going there is like Christmas. This time it was a collection of resist-dyed eggs, the kind I wrote about in my previous post. The Pitt Rivers collection of these eggs was made at the turn of the 20th century in Galicia – not Spanish Galicia, but the one that is now part of Poland and Ukraine.
The shibori course I ran at Ardington School of Crafts at the beginning of last month will be repeated on Thursday May 1st and Friday 11th July 2014. There will also be an introductory ‘taster’ day on natural dyes on 10th July 2014 plus a day on shibori using indigo on May 2nd. Look out for the courses in Ardington’s forthcoming programme.
Fusion at West Dean
On June 22nd and 23rd I took part in a new outdoor event at West Dean called Fusion. On the first day I was demonstrating and selling my work, and on the second I led three 90-minute workshops designed to introduce students to working with wax and dyes. The evening before Fusion, I arrived at West Dean to set up and the weather was fine and sunny. It was only a day off midsummer night and I took a walk up onto the hills above West Dean to look down on the tented site. The moon was up and great fields of oxeye daisies caught the evening light. It was like walking on paths through moonlight. Marvellous stuff, but no time to go all romantic because we live in England and it was the last fine weather we saw until Sunday afternoon.
Midsummer moonlight on daisies
Tents for Fusion in evening light
Workshop in progress
Painting the flower
Simple wax tools made from cork, wire and nails
Waxed and dyed silk square
Students’ work from flower workshop
Hot waxpots, dyes and fourteen students confined in a tent taking off for Chichester, anyone? Not a mix I would normally recommend. But with a few precautions all seemed to go ok. I was pleased with what students achieved. The sessions were carefully pre-planned and timed, with a basic traced design already on the silk so no-one had to panic because they were expected to draw anything. With the assistance of heavy-drinking Devon friends, I had made a set of simple tools using wine corks and wire which could be dipped into wax to make textures and lines. I offered students small, cheap, bristle brushes which wouldn’t drip wax onto the silk. For sessions two and three we pre-stretched the silk to save time, but students could choose colours and some tools and textures. Without friend and helper Fiona it wouldn’t have worked half so well, and here is a huge and grateful cheer for her.
HOORAY FOR FIONA!!
Sewing a Boat
In my last post I mentioned a family visit. My brother, who is well known for his epic perambulations in rather a small boat (see here) has been visiting from Australia. In mid June we made a trip down to Falmouth, where several of his voyages have ended and begun and went to the National Maritime Museum. We saw the replica of the Bronze Age boat Morgawr which was built by a team of volunteers led by master boat-builder Brian Curnby. Paul Harry has made a brilliant time-lapse film of the building: see here.
Section of the boat showing sections sewn with yew withies
One of the things that fascinated me about the oak boat was that it was sewn together using yew withies. These appear to have been twisted into a kind of rope and pulled up very tight, probably assisted by shrinkage. From the Bronze Age onwards, English longbows were made using one stave of yew (Taxus baccata). The wood is very springy, and the sapwood and heartwood together combine to resist tension and compression. I don’t know all the techie stuff, but I ‘did’ Shakespeare’s Henry V for O Level. I remember being not in the least interested in his tedious French wife, but far more intrigued by the English longbows used at Agincourt. There is more here about the history and the wood relating to bow making. Wikipedia has a page on yew trees with images of ancient examples from Northern Europe.
Possibly, the same qualities that made yew effective for longbows also worked well for sewing boats together, but I don’t know how the structure of the withies would differ from larger staves of yew used in bowmaking. The most ancient trees in the British Isles are yew, with the oldest surviving wooden artifact from these shores being a spearhead an astonishing 400,000 years old – see link below.
Last week I tutored a day-course in shibori techniques at Ardington School of Crafts. Ardington is a village on the edge of the Berkshire Downs. The venue is housed in a Victorian school, and its large windows ensure good light at all times. It has been imaginatively and calmly adapted for its current incarnation as a craft school and overlooks a traditional English landscape of farmland and trees. This week, with fine weather and leaves at the multiple-greens stage, everything looked at its best.
Students were introduced to the basic principles of shibori and how patterns will build in the fabric through what is a mathematical logic of repeating folds and layers. We worked principally with the equilateral triangular fold which creates hexagon-based patterns through its geometry of six equilateral triangles. I prepared a set of triangular card units showing how this repeat principle works. The positioning (and shape) of the clamped and identical wooden blocks either side of the folded fabric is represented by the white areas in my patterns. The clamping inhibits the flow of dye through the fabric. The wood blocks can be any shape – there is a pattern created by the green-painted triangular blocks below – and placed in any practical position. Block position will dictate the basics of the pattern. You can see from the image (below right) that the blocks do not necessarily prevent dye from entering the fabric beneath the clamped area. They just affect the character of the final pattern which is based on dye dilutions, deliberate drying of work, overdyeing etc.
Individual equilateral unit with the real block and fabric
How the patterns build up
Triangular fold; clamp removed
Four ways of producing pattern from a triangular fold
Students ironed vertical folds in a scarf length and converted the strip to a stack of triangular folds. They checked the wood blocks and protected them with new clingfilm. This enables a clean start each time the blocks are used: wood absorbs dye readily and will mark work that follows. I advise beginners to work with three colours only, plus dilutant, to avoid shades of mud. Some students admitted they had been sceptical that their seemingly random application of dye would create something so ordered and I think all were pleased with their results.
Below, you can see me opening up the steamer. This has to be done with considerable care, hence the somewhat stressed expression. You can see the roll of paper and scarves, which has been protected with foil at top and bottom to prevent drips entering the folds and spoiling the work. Note that the top piece of foil was dislodged as I lifted the chamber from the boiler.
Many thanks to the students for allowing me to post these pictures and to Faith at Ardington for taking the photos.
Opening the steamer
A particularly dramatic scarf which left areas undyed
Unrolling the paper and scarves
Students greet their steamed scarves
Other news: On Thursday 13th June, Jane Deane and I will be working on our dye research at Leewood for the final open-to-the-public time. We haven’t finished our research, but from Thursday on you can’t come to watch us. To check on details, see here.
With shearing time in Devon arriving, local flocks are looking cooler and in the summer-ish sun my nest of mason bees(Osmia) is hyperactive. The bees don’t make honeycombs (that’s another hexagon-based subject) but are laying eggs in the tubes and sealing them in various shades of Devon clay. We are lucky to have culm meadow locally which is filling with textured grasses in some summer sun. But tomorrow it is going to rain.