Where the Wild Thyme Blows: A celebration of Midsummer

I was delighted to be asked to part of the wonderful Blue Ginger Gallery’s 2021 midsummer exhibition. Two years ago I spent a very happy week there as part of Hereford Art Week, an event which sadly could not happen in 2020. The owner of the gallery, Sue Lim, is retiring after 35 years at Home End Farm, where she has tirelessly supported the artists of Worcestershire and Herefordshire with her gallery. Blue Ginger has been so very much more than a gallery – it has hosted suppers, musical evenings, talks, book launches, charity auctions… to mention only some of Sue’s initiatives; and it has been a place where artists meet, share ideas, and forge friendships.

Summer 2021 seems a good time to look forward into a more positive future, and a celebration of lengthening, lighter days after a long dark winter. Sue has invited a range of artists to reflect on ancient midsummer festivals and their magical life affirming mysteries, the abundance of nature, and the magic of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. The gallery is no longer open to the public in person, but the exhibition will be on-line and feature artists working in glass, mixed media, printing, jewellery, ceramics, textiles, paintings, wood and metal.

I have woven a collection of scarves, shawls and lampshades in colours and designs inspired by the summer landscape, luscious fruits, cornfields, streams and moonlight.

The exhibition will be launched on the Blue Ginger website, at 5pm on Midsummer’s Eve, 23rd June 2021, and will finish on 31st July. Take a look, and support this last venture of the gallery.

Rainbow blankets for lockdown babies!

Three new babies in the family over lockdown, and no better way of spending time at the loom than weaving a collection of rainbow blankets.

Rainbows to celebrate the wonderful work of our NHS colleagues during the Covid pandemic, and a sign of hope as we begin to emerge from lockdown and are once again able to meet with friends and family.

Woven in cotton and backed with a soft fleece fabric, they are easy to throw in a washing machine, and so I hope each recipient will enjoy using them as cot and buggy blankets, and later as play mats. Welcome to a more hopeful world!

Caught by the caning bug

Since learning how to re-cane a chair, I have been keen to practice my new skills. To this end I have been scouring eBay and local bric-a-brac and antique shops for chairs to repair, and have been rewarded in finding several worth the trouble to restore.

I am in danger of getting over-run with caned chairs in every room of the house! I shall have to stop looking for new chairs and concentrate on the commissions from family and friends that have already started to come in. I am so pleased to have found such an absorbing creative activity to enjoy as we enter our further lockdown.

A new skill in lockdown

Taking the opportunity to declutter my home during lockdown, I was faced with an old rocking chair that I had inherited long ago from my Auntie Susie. Made of ebonised mahogany, it originally had a caned seat and back – but the seat had long ago been replaced by a sheet of wood, and the cane back was badly damaged.

I had to decide whether to discard it, or get it re-caned. Caning was once a widespread occupation, but professional caners are not now so readily available; it is a time-consuming task, and so, quite understandably, expensive. To get my chair professionally caned would cost much more than my chair was really worth. However being a weaver, I have always been drawn to basketry and caning – after all, it is just weaving with different materials. The optimal solution was to learn how to do it myself – but all the teaching workshops I found were currently closed due to lockdown restrictions.

As I researched local antique restorers and caning professionals, I came across Tim Adams of Lazarus Restoration in nearby Malvern. He had been ready to re-cane my chair, but was also prepared to teach me, using my chair as a learning project. Over the course off several days, he showed me the principles of chair caning, and generously let me borrow his books and tools, and obtained the appropriate sized cane for my chair. Each day, I learnt a step in the process, and then went home to finish that part before moving on to the next. We started with chair preparation, and wetting the cane coils ready for working. Then began the 6-part caning process with the ‘first settings’, the initial vertical stretchings across the seat, each cane been held securely in place by golf tees. The settings are followed by the ‘weavings’ which cross the seat horizontally.

A second set of settings and weavings follows, creating an interlacement of canes.

The last two stages of the classic caning pattern are formed by the ‘crossings’ which run diagonally over and under the settings and weavings. I was intrigued by the way the crossings were described geographically, with the first crossing being ‘Yeovil to York’ (bottom left to top right), and the second ‘London to Liverpool’ (bottom right to top left). It was wonderful to see the finished pattern emerging.

Finally, cane ends were secured and alternate holes plugged in readiness for the ‘beading’. Caned chairs were originally simply plugged, but from the 1850s beading was introduced as an attractive way of concealing the plugged holes in more ‘refined’ furniture. It is created by couching a slightly wider beading cane around the edge of the work.

With the seat complete, I took my chair home to tackle the back on my own. This had to be done slightly differently as the back was slightly curved, and both settings had to be in place before creating the weavings in order to maintain the shape.

I was thrilled with my restored chair, and it now has pride of place in my bedroom. It is wonderful to bring a much loved piece of furniture back to life. I hope my Auntie Susie would be pleased.

Building blocks

Once again our Handweavers Diploma group has set a new challenge, with a view to an exhibition sometime next year. Rather than produce finished items, we are each going to create swatch books based on specific weaving structures, design sources, or any other inspiration. The choice is ours, and the resulting diversity of work should be very interesting. We have always found we learn most through exploration and sharing ideas, and so the challenge seems the perfect occupation during lockdown.

I have chosen to focus on block designs, and to explore the different weave structures which can be used to create blocks. My design inspiration is the German Bauhaus weaving artist Anni Albers, and lockdown has given me the opportunity to read about her life, and to re-visit many of the designs I had the pleasure of seeing at the Anni Albers retrospective exhibition at Tate Modern in 2018. I felt a special connection to her work, as she herself felt inspired by ancient textiles from around the world, most especially those from Peru, which she regarded particularly highly.

I was particularly drawn to her plain weave wall hangings, where she combines abstract modernism with the simplest of weave structures – although the simultaneous weaving of multiple layers is conceptually far from simple! I have chosen to limit myself to 6 shafts to create a design based on her 1926 study Black White Yellow. I am most grateful for the illuminating analysis of the tapestry by American weaver Jane Eisenstein, and also for the discussions I have had with fellow weavers Janice McGonigle and Melanie Venes. The simple combination of just 3 colours in a double weave structure creates intriguing design possibilities – and it has been so liberating to explore and play without the pressure of producing a finished item!

Clockwise from top left: Anni Albers – Black White Yellow 1926; my exploratory swatches

Another design inspiration was a wonderful exhibition of African textiles which I visited last autumn at the Brunei Gallery, within SOAS, University of London. This was an opportunity to see some of the exquisite Karun Thakar Collection, arguably the best and largest collection of African textiles anywhere in the world. Many of these textiles are woven in narrow strips which are then joined to create larger pices of cloth. I was particularly drawn to the cloth woven by the Ewe people of Ghana or south-west Togo, with its deceptively simple block designs, often in a limited colour palette. Taking a particular cloth as a design source, I developed a ‘summer and winter’ weave pattern which I then wove in linen, recycled ‘jeans’ cotton and silk. ‘Summer and winter’ weave structure is so-called because when classically woven with a light warp and dark weft, the front and back of the resulting cloth carry the same design, but dark on one side, light on the other.

From left: images of cloth from the SOAS exhibition of African textiles, middle: front and back of summer and winter design, right: exploring pssibilities of design, including a polychromatic variant

Weaving in lockdown

What strange times we are living through! Now in our fourth week of lockdown, and we are all missing the social contacts and freedom to travel that we took for granted not so very long ago. We are concerned about the lonely and vulnerable, and communities have come together to support one another, and appreciate the work of healthcare and social care workers across the world. The weather since lockdown has been extraordinarily good, and gardens are benefitting from unaccustomed attention – and it is wonderful to see wildlfe and nature flourishing in a quieter less-polluted environment. We are all catching up on long-awaited jobs, reading and correspondence – and of course, there should be more time for creative arts and crafts. My hands are currently suffering from a surfeit of gardening, but the last few days of rain (very much appreciated) have enabled me to turn attention again to my weaving. I have just finished two twill scarves – one developing from the other. The first was a Uruguayan inspired design, using handspun, kettle-dyed merino wool, bought when travelling through Colonia, Uruguay in October 2018. The simple twill design is reminiscent of textiles seen on my travels.


The second project used wonderfully soft alpaca yarn, handspun by my friend Julia at Applecross Farm in Worcestershire. It is hard to do justice to such beautiful yarn, but developing from a similar threading to the Uruguayan scarf, I applied an advancing twill structure. The result is an intriguing melange of the natural alpaca colours.

Design, Weave, Wear

I have just returned from a wonderful weekend spent with friends from my 2015-17 Handweavers Diploma Group. Since completing our diploma, we have continued to meet and share weaving experiences, and set new challenges for ourselves. This year, we had embarked on a ‘Weaving to Wear’ challenge, where each of us set out to weave fabric which we then made into clothing. Just as before, we approached the challenge in different ways, using a great variety of methods and materials – the end result can be seen in our current exhibition hosted at the Handweavers Studio in London.

invitation-Design weave wear

We are most grateful to Lesley Willcock, an experienced weaver and dressmaker, who mentored us through the process, and to Dawn Willey and the staff at Handweavers Studio for supporting the exhibition.

(from top left: woolen jacket and accessories – Jane Stockley; wool/silk top – Sandra Gruescu: indigo top – Jill Riley; safari linen/cotton top – Alison Stattersfield; linen/silk jacket – Lucy Robinson; woven bracelets – Sarah Fitzalan Howard; longline tweed jacket – Janice McGonigle; wool/silk jacket – Lesley Willcock)

We all learnt a lot from the challenge, and from each other – we are no longer daunted at the prospect of cutting our precious handwoven fabric, and we have shown that it can be made into a great variety of garments to wear. Looking forward to our next challenge now!


Hereford Art Week at Blue Ginger

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.

A serendipitous double ikat design

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!

India comes to London

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!