Isabella Whitworth

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


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Some bits I like: shibori and wax

Extreme Ironing takes place at the start of making folded and clamped shibori and if I’m not in the mood, it can be tedious and exhausting. The next bit is great as it’s working with dyes, but the best is the Christmas Stocking moment of opening up each dyed scarf. That comes after the ironing, but before the steaming.

With wax it’s the other way round. You do the evil stuff after the creative work with wax and dyes is complete. There’s a lengthy sequence of de-waxing, steaming, cleaning and washing out residual wax, etc before the scarves are ready.

despatch

Labels, lists, tissue paper and scarves for despatch this morning

But however they are made, all scarves need a sewn-in label, a personal label / swing tag and a price tag with a stock number. My personal tags were designed for me by Chameleon Studio, a local Devon company. We chose recycled card and vegetable-based inks for the two types of label. I have one for natural-dyed and another for synthetic-dyed work; they look different but the design is related. On the left, you can see the two types of label. The buff label with plummy-coloured ink is the one I use for natural-dyed work. The full-colour image on an individual label is actually a sticker which I attach one by one. It was a brilliant idea of the designer’s to reduce costs on printing because sheets of sticky labels are much cheaper than full-colour printing on card. Once everything is labelled and listed for despatch to a shop or gallery there is always a list to fill out and a package to make up, followed by a trek down the hill to the local post office. Post-dog usually helps with this part of the process.

The latest batch of work has gone down to the Devon Guild of Craftsmen whose Christmas Show ‘Make 2013’ begins at the end of this week. It’s open daily from 10 am – 5.30 pm.

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Head-switching

I’m crunching a lot of words these days. As a voluntary editor for the Journal of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers I normally spend at least part of my day reading and commenting on articles, corresponding with authors, checking facts and figures, proofreading or generally nitpicking. I happen to care about commas, colons and how to spell practise. (If it’s a verb, use an ‘s’. That’s if you’re British).

Writing up part of the co-authored DHA paper from La Rochelle (see previous post) is also a priority and it’s a lengthy task which may stretch to several thousand words.

My main computer is in the studio and it’s here that Journal, editorial and some research work happens. The studio is also where I keep dyes, brushes, wax pots, frames and silks. Theoretically it’s the place I make things too – but studio work has suffered heavily over the past months from the quantity of research and editorial commitments.  I consider everything I do absorbing, but there is only one of me.  And there’s the question of changing heads.

From art college training I realised, and perhaps learned, the intense concentration needed to draw or paint. If I have to interrupt work on a drawing or experimental textile, creative thought-trains chuff-chuff deep into irretrievable tunnels by the time I get back, and I lose the metaphorical plot, as has this sentence. Essentially, I find it intensely frustrating to be interrupted when I’m working on something new.

With an established design, it isn’t so difficult as it’s only half new. Sometimes I can change heads from the particular analytical demands of editing, and work on a  textile. I know what I’m aiming at, and although each textile is unique it’s like being guided by written music. Instructions have been established; technique and interpretation are what matter.

This week I’ve been constantly switching heads. I’ve been editing articles on shipwreck dye cargoes, medieval woad vats, or working on the history of a Leeds dye manufacturer: then I migrate two metres to wax pot, silk, frames, dyes and an established design theme. In three paces I unscrew Nitpick Ed-Head and replace it with Agent Zig-Zag. Zig-Zag, because that’s the design I’m working on this week.

I can’t always do this head-switching lark. I can’t always manage to ban the activity I’m not doing from my thoughts, and then nothing works at all. But this week it’s going OK.


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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.


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In the second post…

It’s time to open the blogdoor and let the first visitors into the studio. Actually, I haven’t been in the studio much today because the red pen is out, which means it’s proofreading time for Journal issue number 245. On Saturday there is a Journal committee meeting in London – always a long and packed day with a trip from rural Devon to buzzing central London and back again. But it’s mentally stimulating, it’s fun and I enjoy seeing friends from far-flung places and eating too many biscuits. We always fight the clock but our chairman wields her claymore and we normally finish the agenda on time.

In the studio I have wax-resist / steam-fixed dye work on the frame in a new series called Between Worlds. I am working on a silk crêpe de Chine and the finished scarf will be 134 cm x 20 cm, or 8″ x 54″ in English. The image on the right above is a scarf that was selected for the National Exhibition of the Guilds of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers last July; on the left, the detail shows a new scarf in early stages of making. I have been using different-shaped wax brushes to create the marks. The design is worked freehand except for a light pencil mark, just visible, which I need to follow in order to define the shapes of the dark pools (or are they shadows?)  beneath the trees.


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Starting afresh

I first designed and managed my own website over ten years ago.  I set it up with certain aims in view at a time when silk painting was often poorly regarded. There was an abundance of salt-flinging at wet dyes on cheap silk, poorly-drawn scarves using clumsy water-based resists that bled dye, and derivative design. The medium developed a bad name and it wasn’t always wise to introduce yourself to a gallery as a silk painter. At that time I hoped to illustrate some of the medium’s potential on my website.

Since then, my working priorities have developed, as have teaching venues and the technology to write and publish online. These days I still work with wax-resist on silk but I also produce natural-dyed silk and wool scarves and grow some of my own dyestuff. With colleagues and friends I have been researching methods of using natural dyes with wax resist, which has proved a very complex problem.

 

For four years I have been researching historical dyes in a more academic form, which can involve intense and concentrated writing; I also assist with the editing of  the Journal of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers. The old site is no longer relevant to my wider aims. The final straw for my website camel was that the Dreamweaver program I used is no longer compatible with my computer system. It’s now incredibly tedious to update and I find all sorts of excuses not to get around to it.

During a seven week trip to Australia in autumn 2012, we set up and maintained a blog (from some very unlikely upload locations) and I realised that the format of a blog plus a few static pages would probably work well for a new site.

I’ve launched this new site in the last hours of 2012 – in the spirit of optimism we are expected to adopt at this time of year – before the Talisker properly takes hold.