Herefordshire Art week opens!

What a great start to the week! Despite the sometimes threatening weather yesterday, we had over 80 visitors to our Art at the Lodge h.Art venue. It was such a pleasure to meet so many interesting people, some from as far afield as Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire, including an intrepid band of cyclists from Derbyshire who have made h.Art an annual event over the past 3 years. Being a newcomer to h.Art, I really appreciate receiving feedback on my work, especially as so many visitors are creative themselves. After all the hard work, I had thought it might be hard parting with some of my pieces, but instead I am so pleased that my favourites are going to such appreciative homes.

Just about to set off for our second day.. the sun is shining, and hopefully it will stay fine!

Using locally sourced yarns

It is always special to weave yarns from local spinners and dyers – even more special when you meet the animals from which the fleeces came. A recent visit to Apple Cross Farm in Worcestershire gave the opportunity to get up close to Julia Berry’s beautiful alpacas. Julia and her husband, Adam, started in 2014 with 4 pregnant females, and have since gradually built up their fine alpaca herd of coloured animals, providing the highest quality fleece. Julia is also an expert spinner, and produces beautifully fine yarn from her own fleeces. She sells her yarn, and also hand crocheted scarves and shawls in various natural colours. When you buy handspun yarn from Julia, you are told from which alpaca the fleece came from – my beautiful white yarn came from a handsome male called Cortez.

IMG_20180714_110428Julia with her beautiful coloured alpacas

I was really pleased with the results of weaving with this fine alpaca yarn, which produced a wonderfully soft, light scarf. Here Cortez’s white yarn is used with Danish Isager fine alpaca yarn sourced from the Oxford Yarn store.

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In July, I attended the Hanbury Agricultural Show – a showcase for local farmers and breeders of all sorts of farm animals. The Worcestershire Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers were given a place in the craft tent, and we were thrilled to meet so many people interested in spinning and weaving. We spent the whole day demonstrating, and enabling anyone keen to have a go themselves on our wheels and looms. Also in the craft tent, we met Alex from Spinney Winnie’s, a family run enterprise producing unique hand-spun, hand-dyed yarns, made in their workshop in the local Jinney Ring Craft Centre.

IMG_20180805_103637Scarves woven with handspun and dyed yarn from Spinney Winnie’s

I have long been an admirer of Juliet Brown’s lovely hand dyed yarns, and have used them in many weaving projects over the past few years. She has a wonderful eye for colour, and dyes a wide range of wools and silks of different weights. She produces yarn under the label Artists Palette Yarns, and sells from her Etsy shop and local suppliers. She is also an excellent teacher, and has run two workshops for our Worcestershire Guild.

IMG_20180324_140429Lampshade fabric woven using Juliet’s lace weight merino/silk hand painted yarn

Finally, travelling back home from London via Burford in Gloucestershire, I came across the Burford Needlecraft shop, selling a wide range of yarns, knitting and tapestry products. I was looking for some undyed yarn on which to try out my garden plant dyes – and bought a skein of Cotswold Lion Heritage yarn. It proved to be an excellent yarn to dye, and I am now looking forward to using it in my next project!

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Dyeing from my garden

The main inspiration for my weaving is the landscape in which I live, and so it seemed a natural progression to experiment with plant dyes from my own garden. I had been inspired last autumn by a visit to Jane Meredith’s lovely cottage and garden on the banks of the River Wye in neighbouring Herefordshire. Jane grows a wide range of dye plants, and runs summer weekend courses where participants forage for plants in the garden, set up dye baths and dye prepared fleeces, which can then be used for felting and weaving. Being too late for her 2017 courses, I promised myself a weekend the following year, and in the meantime set about creating a dyer’s garden in place of my old vegetable patch.

Jane generously had started me off with a weld (Dyer’s rocket – Reseda luteola) plant from her garden, and once spring arrived, I started sowing seeds for Dyers chamomile, Dyer’s greenweed, woad, Dyer’s coreopsis, yellow cosmos, madder, French marigold and more weld. I also realised I could use plants already growing in the garden – pear and walnut trees, hollyhocks and dahlia. Jenny Dean’s book ‘Wild Color’ gave clear instructions on how to use each plant, and Teresinha Robert’s website, ‘wild colours’ also provided invaluable information, as well as a source of seeds and mordanting materials.

(from top left: dahlias, coreopsis, weld and French marigolds in the dyer’s garden, Cosmos sulphureus infusing, and the end result!)

The following weekend, I attended one of Jane Meredith’s Plant Dyeing Workshops at Byford near Hereford. It was the only wet weekend after weeks of hot sunny weather, but our spirits were not dampened. Jane is an excellent tutor, describing the processes of dyeing, preparing and pre-mordanting materials to be dyed, and also the important health and safety considerations. After picking plant materials, an abundance of pre-prepared Cotswold fleece was available to us as we prepared 12 or so dye baths, and we could see the different effects of various pre-mordants. We also watched Jane prepare a woad bath, and then put materials ourselves into a pre-prepared indigo vat. The change from yellow to green as materials came out and were exposed to the air seemed nothing short of miraculous. An absolutely absorbing, inspirational day, with a delicious lunch as well!

(Dyers chamomile in the basket, and dyed fleeces laid out to dry)

A new lampshade!

My new lampshade, woven in linen and cotton, is inspired by the colours of autumn. I have incorporated some ideas and techniques explored at a workshop with master weaver Barbara Walker held recently at the Handweavers Studio in London. Barbara is a highly respected textile artist based in Oregon USA, particularly renowned for her development of unique supplementary warp patterning effects. Her inspirational workshop has given me so many ideas…. if only there were more hours in the day!

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This particular design is adapted from a turned draft of a design originally conceived by Dr William Bateman, an American chemistry professor turned weaver who took traditional weaving patterns in completely new directions.

One Year On

How quickly a year passes, and I, along with my fellow Handweavers Diploma 2015-17 graduates am busy preparing for our One Year On exhibition to be held at the Handweavers Studio and Gallery, Seven Sisters Road, London. Public viewing starts on Monday 18th June, and continues through to Friday 27th July. It will be so good to be all together again, sharing our experiences of where weaving has taken us over the past year.

One Year On invite

Remembering Lake Megunticook

Last October I spent a very happy week admiring the autumn colours of coastal Maine. I will always remember the wonderfully named Lake Megunticook – a lone canoeist paddling in the early morning mist, and later the spectacular reflections of the autumn foliage in the lake water. I was naturally drawn to the Swans Island store in Camden which sold beautiful locally woven blankets and scarves, inspired by the people and landscape of Maine. I bought a skein of their hand-dyed indigo ikat ‘firefly’ merino wool, so called as once worked, the dye resist marks create patterns of scattered white stitches, reminiscent of fireflies against the night sky.

The wool handled beautifully on the loom, and I made a scarf in simple plain weave to most clearly show the beauty of the naturally dyed ikat yarn. I was so pleased with the result that when my American friend from Maine returned a few months later, I asked her to bring some extra supplies! I have now made two more scarves, adding a supplementary weft of hand dyed merino in autumn colours to bring back memories of the reflections in Lake Megunticook. Rather than fireflies, I like to think of the ikat marks being the sunlight catching the lake water.

Kutch revisited

I have just returned from an inspiring exhibition and workshop, held at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan cultural centre in West Kensington. It was wonderful to see the exquisite work of two master craftsmen, Abdulrauf Khatri (a tenth generation Ajrakh hand-block printer) and Vankar Murji Hamir, a renowned weaver from the village of Bhujodi in Kutch. I had visited the Khatri family workshop when I had travelled to Kutch in 2016, and so it brought back many memories seeing so many beautiful pieces on display. Even the warmth and sunshine of India had come to London!

The Bhuj earthquake in 2001 completely destroyed Dhamadkha, the home village of the Khatri family, forcing them to relocate to Ajrakhpur, a new village and workshop named after the craft. Working primarily with local natural dyes, intricate hand block designs are printed on both sides of the cloth, creating highly prized cotton, wool and silk materials.

It was a pleasure to meet Vankar Murji Hamir, who was also descended from a long line of master craftsmen. With the help of a local NGO, and further education at an artisan design school, he has developed skills to develop his own individual designs within the Kutch tradition, enabling him to appeal to a contemporary audience and hold his own in an increasingly competitive market. Along with two other students, I was privileged to attend a masterclass with Murji Hamirbhai, learning how to create the stripes and geometric motifs so typical of Kutch weaving. Each traditional motif has symbolic meaning, often reflecting the practical and spiritual day-to-day life of the community. We were patiently shown how each was made, before being encouraged to have a go ourselves. I have returned home, full of ideas to incorporate into my own work whilst treasuring the craftsmanship of the people of Kutch. Many thanks to Murji Hamirbhai, and to organisers Rajeswari Sengupta and Josephine Nirmala, for a wonderful day.