It’s already Wednesday of Hereford Art Week, and I am just packing up ready for another full day at the Blue Ginger gallery. It is a lovely venue, and a great place for friends to meet over coffee and cake. Much as though I enjoyed last year, I am now sharing with 15 other artists, and so there is so much more to see and explore when not actually working. I am in the garden tent, along with fellow spinner and knitter/weaver Chrissie Harris, landscape artist Anna Cumming, and wood worker Ben Homer – and we have lots of space in which to demonstrate and show our work. When the sun shines, we open the sides of the ent, and it is like weaving al fresco – such fun! Elsewhere, there are other textile artists, jewellery makers and batik art, not to mention the wide range of work that Sue Lim collates for her gallery. It has been wonderful to welcome friends and family, and meet so many interesting people from as far afield as Northumberland, Canada and Malaysia.
Inspired by my recent ikat workshop, I decided to have a go myself…. My first thought was to make a moon and stars design to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landings, and so I prepared a design and tied linen skeins to dip into an indigo bath. As I prepared the warp from my dyed yarn, I could see that the planned lining up of the design wasn’t going entirely to plan. However, it still looked interesting, and so I thought I should persevere, and so I continued to weave with my prepared weft yarn. The results were better than I ever thought… Stars had metamorphosed into flying geese! A much more fluid and organic design than I could ever had purposefully designed – and hopefully making a couple of unique lampshades. As I remember from my diploma course… there is no such thing as an error – just an unintended design consequence!
As temperatures soared in London last weekend, I had the privilege of attending a masterclass in double ikat dyeing and weaving held at The Bhavan – the largest centre for Indian performing arts and culture outside India.
Master weaver Kanubhai Salvi comes from a long familial line of master textile craftsmen, and is the proud recipient of the UNESCO Seal of Excellence for his handwoven patan patola cloth, which takes its name from the town of Patan, situated on the banks of the Saraswati river in Gujarat. I had visited Kanubhai’s brother’s workshop and museum in Patan in September 2016, and so was familiar with the intricate dyeing and weaving processes involved in the double ikat technique, but this was an opportunity to really understand how it was done.
In Patan, the Salvi family (whose name literally means ‘handloom weaver’) carry out the whole process, from degumming and spinning the silk yarn, creating the designs, resist-dyeing the yarn, and finally weaving the cloth. Ikat (meaning ‘tied’) weaving is done in many parts of the world, but the patola cloth is unique in being woven on a particular harness loom made from wood and bamboo, set at a slant with the right side being higher than the left. This had been ingeniously re-created in the Bhavan using a couple of clothes stands and pieces of wood and bamboo.
Kanubhai Salvi took us through the process of transferring designs on graph paper onto silk yarn, tieing the relevant sections ready for resist-dyeing. After a first dye bath using red and yellow (turmeric) dyes, we were shown how to undo and re-tie further sections in preparation for a second indigo dip. The hot day meant that our yarn took no time at all to dry off between dye baths, and Kanubhai explained that such processes could not be undertaken during the Indian monsoon due to the heavy rains. Once finally dry, it was exciting to undo all the ties to see the patterns emerge.
Once warp and weft yarns have been dyed in their respective patterns, they can be woven together to create the solid colour motifs traditionally associated with patan patola. Having experienced only a small section of the process, we could all appreciate how it takes a year to make a sari length of cloth – with only a third of that time being spent at the loom!
(from left: Kanubhai Salvi and workshop organiser Rajeswari Sangupta with a loom-ready ikat dyed warp, finished patan patola cloth, patola loom ingeniously created for workshop demonstration, dyed warp threads alongside pattern motifs, and my ikat dyed silk skeins)
It was lovely to share the creative day with others – three of us were weavers, possibly planning to experiment with ikat techniques in our own work. Another was a designer, interested in all Indian art culture, and two sisters had signed up in order to more fully appreciate all that is involved in creating patola cloth as their mother and grandmother had each had a customised patola sari made for special occasions; they now understood what heirloom pieces these indeed were!
Grey skies and drizzle threatened to dampen our spirits at the Three Counties Show last weekend (June 14-16), but the alpaca tent offered a welcome retreat from the rain and mud. Several of us from the Worcestershire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers had volunteered to demonstrate weaving and spinning for the West Shires Alpaca Group, showing the beauty and versatility of alpaca fibre. Groups of schoolchildren enjoyed meeting the alpacas, and were fascinated by the spinning wheels and looms – with several taking the plunge to have a go themselves. The West Shires Alpaca Group had generously supported a craft exhibition of items made from UK sourced alpaca fibre, with 50 or so entries including handspun yarn, crocheted and knitted shawls, gloves, hats and jumpers, handwoven textiles, felted berets and baby boots, and needle felted animals. It was wonderful to see such a wide range of items, with many making use of the lovely natural alpaca colours…..
(from top, woven items Caroline Oakes, Anne Cheston and Jane Stockley; handhandspun yarn Julia Berry, and handknitted/crocheted items Chrissie Harris, Julia Berry and Amy Campbell)
..and I was thrilled to receive some rosettes for my handwoven scarves and cushion!
I have just returned from a wonderful trip to France with weaving friends, spending time exploring the beautiful Lot valley before heading off to Stacey Harvey-Brown’s ‘Loom Room’ for an inspiring group workshop on textural weaves. Stacey is a textile artist renowned for her original work inspired by geology and nature, and her Gascony home is a perfect place to relax and explore new weave ideas.
The workshop focussed on 3 different weave structures – woven shibori, stitched double cloth and overshot – all chosen to exploit the structural potential of using yarns with different properties. Working as a group, we learned lots from each other, as well as benefitting from Stacey’s teaching and wealth of experience, not to mention her extensive weaving library and vast selection of samples to handle and examine. Plenty of new ideas to challenge and stimulate, and encouragement to look at familiar weave structures anew.
We were most grateful to Stacey and husband Graham for generously sharing their home with us for 5 days; great company, food and wine, and plenty of time to weave, unwind and share stories!
(From top: the group having lunch in the garden, some of Stacey’s woven ‘stalactite’ forms, some of our samples, and a coffee break in the sun)
Great news! From April 7th to May 4th, Haddenham Gallery and Arts Centre in Ely, Cambridgeshire, is hosting our ‘Colours of Gujarat’ exhibition. The free event will be opening on Sunday April 7th (12.00 – 17.00), and we are delighted to announce that the renowned world textile expert, John Gillow, will be giving an accompanying talk at 3pm. The event is free, but space is limited, so it is essential to book a place to hear John’s talk. He is an excellent speaker, and has written many highly acclaimed books including Indian Textiles, Arts and Crafts of India, Traditional Indonesiam Textiles, World textiles and African Textiles.
On the opening Sunday, ther will also be a sale of braids and other items recently brought back from Gujarat. All profits go to a Gujarat artisans cooperative.
I have just been making some lampshades for a commission from the Clover Mill Ayurvedic Spa and Retreat, near Malvern. Spectacularly set, nestling in the Malvern Hills, the Mill offers guests an idyllic wellbeing escape, with treatments, yoga classes, workshops and dining all founded on the ancient art and science of Ayurveda. The handwoven linen lampshades are designed for the eco-bedroom accommodation, and reflect the contours of the Malvern Hills. I hope the guests enjoy them!