Workshops Galore!

Before getting on to the pressing business of setting dates for my own Spring workshops (see below) I thought some of you might be interested in the feltmaking and embroidery workshops I have attended myself in the past few months.  I’ve had a great time extending existing skills, learning new ones and, of course, getting together with lots of textile enthusiasts from around the world.

Last Autumn I travelled up to Big Cat Textiles in Newburgh, Scotland to take two feltmaking courses with Inge Bauer who set up Wollknoll, a centre for feltmaking in Germany.  During a 5-day period we did LOADS of feltmaking, starting with ultra fine nuno-felt (felting onto fabric) to make neckwear with beautiful draping qualities.  We used hand-dyed silk ponge fabric along with 19-micron merino wool tops, some of which were also hand-dyed by Inge using her own scientifically developed slow heatup/cooldown dyeing techniques.  Using such gorgeous materials is always a treat in itself.

These are some sample pieces made using different layouts to test shrinkage factors.  Everyone creates a different shrinkage factor according to how much fleece they use, how much they work into it, how hot their hands are, etc., so it’s important to find out what your own factor is before embarking on a larger piece of work which needs to be a certain size.  I went on to felt a number of lovely pieces of neck and wristwear using the measuring techniques learnt at the start of the week, and I have since gone on to develop the techniques further and complete a number of commissions from people who’ve seen me wear my own, and I am itching to find the time to make some new waistcoats to perfect my shrinkage knowhow.  We also made felt bags with multiple interior and exterior pockets which involved lots of layers and resists to stop each section felting to another.  Very complicated and time-consuming!

On to California – my eldest daughter moved to San Francisco last September and I went to visit her in Jan/Feb this year.  Not only did we have a great time exploring the city, driving down the the coast along Big Sur, meandering through central coast wine country and perusing the arty shops in Paso Robles, we also attended a couple of stitching workshops with my friend Meryl, a San Francisco resident whom I met on an Indian textile trip across Rajasthan and Gujarat in 2012.  Firstly, we joined a Hungarian Folk Embroidery workshop led by Sarah of Threadwritten Textiles.  Always fun to learn a new stitch – this technique is largely Open Chain stitch worked very closely together to form solid shapes.  Very similar to the use of the same stitch in Indian embroidery, where it is used in a more ‘open’ way to form ladder-like lines rather than shapes such as these.  It takes time and patience but the result can form beautiful shapes as you’ll see from some of the designs here.  My completed piece is used as an example on Sarah’s blog, so I must have done something right!

Next we took part in a workshop at A Verb for keeping Warm in Berkeley – a wonderful yarn & workshop emporium – based on Alabama Chanin’s reverse applique technique using stretch jersey fabric.  Although applique & reverse applique are not new to me, it was a chance to practise the technique on a different type of fabric which doesn’t fray, so edges don’t have to be turned under which is a huge timesaver!  First we cut out a stencil using a soldering iron on mylar film, then sponged fabric paint onto one layer of the fabric, stitched it onto the second layer, then cut away pieces of the pattern to expose the bottom layer of fabric.  Some really nice effects can be achieved, plus beads and extra stitching added for decorative effect.  Chanin makes whole garments using the technique, which are comfy and snug to wear. What a nice day spent with my daughter and friend in lovely surroundings using tactile materials.

Lastly, my fellow Woman of the Cloth Kim Winter and I took part in a Couture Nuno Felting course led by Liz Clay in the beautiful setting of West Dean College.    Liz experiments with creating new surfaces using British wools and largely natural materials.  She has produced felt fabrics for well-known fashion houses and has her own collections, as well as developing work for exhibitions.  Kim and I are used to making felt structures without seams, but Liz leans towards making sheets of pre-felted material, cutting out particular shapes to encourage interesting drape and shapes, then completing the felting process when the pieces are assembled.

We learnt a lot in a few days and everyone produced some interesting results.  You can see here Kim working on sizing for her neckpiece inspired by Bracket Fungus, with a toadstool clasp.  We can always count on Kim to come up with something to set our imaginations whirring!  Certainly my little brain has been humming with ideas for using all these new techniques for different projects, but also feeling ready to get back to my own workshop schedule and enjoy the thrill of gathering a bunch of women (mostly!) around the table to enjoy a few hours of making together.  See new dates being added to the sidebar list, but do feel free to contact me via the booking & contact page if there is something I have missed out that you’d like to learn.

A contented group chatting and working together

Hannah Hoch Exhibition plus a lot of cutting & sticking at home

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Last week I enjoyed a ‘mothers & daughters’ visit to see Hannah Hoch’s work at the Whitechapel Gallery in East London.  We two mothers are part of a group who meet up to get creative at each others’ homes, roughly monthly, and our two daughters are both in the midst of art courses of one sort or another, so we thought we would all go to an exhibition together.  Within our group this month we embarked on a paper collage day where we attempted to make a dent in the piles of magazines we all collect throughout the year, so it was fortuitous to have an exhibition ofcollage to go and see.

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Hannah Höch (1889-1978) was a German Dada artist. She is best known for her work of the Weimar period, when she was one of the originators of photomontage. This collection of 100 of her montages and watercolours is the first to be shown in Britan.  Her work often appears both whimsical and disconcerting with its dismembered heads & bodies repasted in unexpected formations onto unlikely backgrounds, such as in ‘Heads of State’ where she displays ‘portly German politicians in the swimsuits floundering against a backdrop of fine embroidery’.

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Her work contained strong political messages seen to be against Naziism which necessitated her retreat to a secluded cottage where she lived out the war quietly cutting & pasting, producing images inspired by musings on such things as androgyny, bisexuality & melancholy.  Her sense of colour & composition were the most striking thing for me, filling my head with new thoughts on representing feelings and issues close to my heart through paper, cloth and colour.  Here’s a glimpse of what I produced myself at our group cutting & pasting day!  Not too bad I thought, and must have been influenced by the proximity to Valentine’s Day …

carol's collage

Cloth & Memory

Cloth and fibre hold all sorts of memories for me, having a Scottish mother who knitted and stitched all my clothes during childhood, including a matching summer dress for my precious doll, Mary, every time she made one for me.  Favourite quilts from various stages of life will never be ousted when clutter-clearing as they act as visual triggers of past events, and I have kept particularly treasured articles of my childrens’ clothing which will always remind me of significant moments in their childhoods.  I was, of course, drawn to the title of this exhibition immediately and made sure I got to visit soon after it opened at Saltsmill in Yorkshire.

It is set in the disused Spinning Room up in the roof of the immense building, which is unrestored and still has the original flaking wall finishes and rusting steel fittings.  The room is longer than a football pitch and originally contained 16,380 cap spindles for spinning yarn.  Raw alpaca fleece, imported by Titus Salt from Peru, arrived at the top of the building and was processed down through each floor to emerge as finished cloth at the bottom.  The space is incredibly atmospheric and holds the feeling that the the workers have just left, but are still there in spirit.

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23 textile artists from the UK, Germany, Norway and Japan have installed works in the eerie space, capturing the memories of the former toil which took place there for so many years.  Jeanette Appleton, one of my former tutors at West Dean, uses the ‘silencing’ context of felt as a metaphor for the absorption of sound and memory.  She has made feltworks based on the mill’s ledgers and sample books and placed them in the wall recesesses which originally held bobbins.

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Caren Garfen’s installation uses vintage wooden reels , each with its own ‘memory plaque’ to commemorate women who worked in the mill and lived in the neighbouring workers’ cottages built by Titus Salt to house his workforce.  Caren has attached hand-embroidered names and addresses on tape drawn from the 1891 census, along with familiar cloth-related sayings such as ‘Tied to her Apron Strings’.  Seeing this installation makes a walk around the surrounding streets all the more poignant.

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Yoriko Yoneyama has suspended from the ceiling a web of fine cotton threads onto which are pressed thousands of individual grains of rice  representing the elements which are essential to our survival and cultural heritage :  food & clothing – rice & fibre.  Kari Steihaug’s unravelling knitted jumper represents a dialogue between the body and the room, stretching from floor to ceiling.  Reminded me of all the jumpers I have knitted for loved-ones over the years, as well as the ones which are waiting to be finished in my work room!

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Koji Takaki has made a diptych which brings together memory of past textile works in Japan and Manchester with the beauty of the passage of time (wabi sabi) and a materialisation of cloth and memory.  This work particularly highlighted the beauty of the setting, with the play of light on its different elements throwing haunting shadows across the space.

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I loved Masae Bamba’s large-scale ‘sea’ of cloth dyed with indigo and printed with the first attempts at writing made by her daughter as a means of capturing the moment before it becomes memory for both mother and daughter.  This work was influenced by the recent tsunami in which so many mothers, daughters and others became just memories.  Incredibly moving piece of work.

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I can’t do justice to all 23 artists’ work here, although I could just go on and on with my memories of Cloth and Memory

Such a moving and inspiring exhbition – You’ll just have to go and visit yourselves – it’s on until early November and a MUST see for textile lovers everywhere.