Katagami – the Craft of the Japanese Stencil

April 12, 2017

Ise-Katagami is the Japanese craft of making paper stencils for dyeing textiles. The prefix Ise is used so not confuse the name with a city in the Akita prefecture in Northern Japan. I found out the difference whilst attending the opening yesterday of a unique exhibition curated by Dr Alice Humphries for ULITA (University of Leeds International Textile Archive).

This gem for textile enthusiasts and researchers alike, ULITA is found in a converted chapel just outside the main Leeds University campus but attached (usefully) to the University Business School. I say usefully because the Archive was able to use the adjacent facilities for a brief lecture given by Dr Humphries as part of the opening event.

katagami ex 3

My only experience of this approach to pattern design is through reading about ikat resist dyeing in Jack Lenor Larsen’s The Dyer’s Art where stencilling sadly only gets the briefest of mentions. Next stop, and prior to visiting ULITA, was Google Arts & Culture, who provide a stunning on-line introduction, a collaboration between Ritsumeikan University and Kyoto Women’s University. This introduction, focusing on a permanent collection at Textilemuseum St Gallen, puts the ULITA show in some perspective. It shows what’s missing – for example some video footage about the actual craft itself (readily available I discover on YouTube), and a proper display of the tools. But as a small-scale introduction, using the very limited exhibition space available, it will be, I think, most valuable for the inquisitive textile enthusiast and enquiring student alike. Take away the application of stencilling for resist patterns and we have a technique and pattern culture that has much relevance for today’s burgeoning interest in ‘paper-based art’.

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Here and Now @ the National Centre for Craft and Design

December 17, 2016

Tapestry is a curious form of artistic expression. It is constructed textile whose origins lie in a dim and distant past and whose present continues to evolve. Once a valued accompaniment to personal wealth and courtly prestige it adorned both public and private spaces, a backdrop of Arcadian scenes or a visual record of historic events displayed at a scale that was at one with the architectural wall: it covered the grimness and often greyness of stone with colour and shape.

As most of us live our lives on smaller scales and with the incessant movement and colour on the flat screen that has migrated to our walls from the box in the corner, the art of tapestry has moved into the art gallery. This contemporary space that has overtaken our public buildings and our places of worship, as places we visit in meditative quiet and make a slow procession from one marvel of making to another.


A whole exhibition of the art of contemporary tapestry demands an effective and spacious environment, one that can at best provide a mix of daylight and artificial light. Because of the size of individual pieces, rarely less than 100 x 100 cm, to look and take in the full effect there has to be distance: to stand back without distraction of other work. In this respect the curation of Here & Now, an exhibition of contemporary tapestry at the National Centre for Craft & Design was entirely successful. Eight countries, twenty-one artists and twenty-six tapestries was more than enough to occupy several slow hours of careful viewing.

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Thread is a Thought (by Cos Ahmet)

November 24, 2016

My practice cannot be defined by a sole discipline. This statement is not only that of artist Cos Ahmet but comes close to what the recent winner of the Hepworth Prize for Sculpture Helen Marten suggests about her work. It’s a combination of collage, printmaking and textiles, and by what he’s showing at this years Knitting and Stitching Shows it is pretty much all 3-dimensional. He may be a member of the British Tapestry Group and recipient of the Theo Moorman grant, but his work is (to quote another tapestry artist in a different place Jilly Edwards) decidedly not ‘woolly pictures on the wall’.


I spent a good half an hour engaging with his work at the Dublin end of the K&S Show. It was a half hour of sketching his intriguing textile sculptures, half an hour deciphering a collection of work that is like nothing I had encountered before. Making a sketch, however rough, is, for me, the best way to engage with looking.

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Findings – an exhibition by Alice Fox

October 6, 2016

Difficult to know exactly when the seed was sown, the idea mooted, just when the vision came before imagination’s eye. Like many artists beginning the journey towards a major exhibition Alice Fox was not forthcoming even to her friends as to what Findings might entail – ‘a lot of small things covering the walls’ was all she would say. To focus a body of work towards an end, a public presentation, is certainly something every art student experiences in preparing that ‘final show’. But for those carrying the certainty of a future career that final show is surely the first show, and of many to come. A theme is usually required to satisfy the examiners, and to make the tutor’s task a little easier as work progresses from first thoughts to a conclusive statement. Here, we have a theme: Findings.

show-2 The title Findings emerged at least eighteen months ago as a convenient, and now it seems, entirely appropriate label on which to hang a materially diverse body of work. It actually references a book of essays by the poet Kathleen Jamie, who, with the appearance of her book, became a necessary part of a largely male club of  ‘new nature writers’. It did not quite have the academic authority of Robert Macfarlane (Landmarks) or the observational brilliance of Mark Coker (Crow Country), or quirky autobiography of the late Roger Deakin (Wildwood). It had something else –  that spilled a woman’s particular kind of intensity of looking on to the page. Jamie’s Findings is about a life living the day-to-day of wife, husband, children, house and home, and job, all woven between those precious moments taken when time becomes available to notice and be in nature. Her opening essay about watching peregrines near her home is overflowing with that buzz of newly becoming a birder, someone who opens herself to the wonder of a living, miraculous thing – that flies ecstatically, sees almost beyond our imagining, lives chaotically, wholly, in and by nature.

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Natural Processes in Textile Art by Alice Fox

August 8, 2015

The Forward to this book on Natural Processes in Textile Art (and subtitled From Rust Dyeing to Found Objects) claims it is the first to bring these increasingly popular techniques together. Whether that’s the case or not, Alice Fox’s book has the quiet authority that makes it a valuable addition to any artist’s studio library. Sadly, textile art remains a marginal area in the gallery world of visual art (my local ‘world-class gallery’ has not a single textile item in its collection), even though so much of contemporary fashion and interiors depends on the highest quality and imagination of the textile artist.


Where textile art from natural processes usually finds a pigeonhole is in mixed media. I feel Alice Fox’s work is definitely not in this category. It is visual art pure and simple. And in writing this I could say it carries with the kind of purity of intent, making and aspect that begins to place it alongside some of those major league figures who have made the viewing public excited about artistic interaction and intervention with nature itself. At the moment Fox’s work is mostly small-scale, indeed intimate, but there have already been examples of where circumstance and opportunity have enabled her to demonstrate a physically larger vision.


Sand Marks hangings at Stroud International Textiles 2014

I mean no criticism in saying this is a woman’s book, for women who, sadly perhaps, will be its predominant audience and readership. Very early on in the text, in a chapter titled Balancing Act, the reader is reminded that this artist’s work is a continuum of everyday life and artistic practice. The business of managing a household and small children is seen as productive tension necessitating careful planning and the use of small parcels of time. Perhaps this is an unnecessary observation seen as peculiar to women, when in fact it is equally applicable to men who increasingly need and wish to adopt a shared responsibility to sustain family life. The disciplines and strategies Fox sensibly suggests are universally valuable and a necessary adjunct to any creative endeavour – male or female.

Environmental issues, sustainability and ‘thinking slow’ are watchwords within this 128-page, lavishly illustrated text. The author is relentlessly consistent with advice, indeed instruction, on health and safety issues. Infinite slow-paced care and observation, meticulous note-taking and recording, an ever-critical eye are the stuff of the author’s own practice, and, I’m all too sure, of the artists she has invited to contribute exempla and personal statements to her book. These invited contributions from such luminaries as Jilly Edwards and Dorothy Caldwell take this book to an altogether different level from Batsford’s usual fare of the crafty book for the amateur enthusiast. This makes it, at a stroke, a book for artists, and not just of those in the textile community.

Although the book physically centres round a chapter titled Rust Marks, an area of practice which the author has become nationally recognised, it would be quite wrong to think that the book revolves around this seductive medium. The effect of rusting requires a special sensibility and acceptance of the unpredictable. It is close to that ancient Chinese susceptibility to read momentarily an image from a cloudscape. And the author is wise to suggest the key challenge with such unpredictability is not just to constrain it in some way but to seek a personal stance on what the artist might produce. This Alice Fox consistently manages to do, and the beautifully photographed examples of her work stand testament.

It is important to say that the rust aspect is imaginatively integrated into a plethora of other techniques and processes, many of which are delightfully surprising and described with authority. That this should be the case demonstrates the very high order of the author’s thoroughness, enterprise and imagination. Whilst it is a common strength amongst successful emergent artists to focus on that one thing and one thing only, Alice Fox shows how one thing can and does lead to another, can blend with another, can enhance and take the other forward. Twisting and twining, making string and thread, tapestry frame weaving, darning acorns (!) and quilting leaves, are all delightful and intriguing by turn. These aspects are followed variously by a chapter titled Combining Techniques including layering, printing from relief, rubbing, monotypes and embossing. There follows screen-printing, using wax layers and a fascinating section called Textural Beginnings (i.e. preparing your material through creative structuring prior to dyeing or mark making), finally ending with book-making and the wherewithal to make an improvised printing press. For me, the section here in Combined Techniques on Experimental Stitch remained the most illuminating.

The book moves towards its end with a chapter titled Sense of Place. A common term now to denote the personal artistic response to a location. I like the subsection that posed the question What is Landscape? This sensibly suggests such a question should look beyond natural characteristics. Reinforced by a following section A Coastal Perspective there is an account of the author’s residency on Spurn Point, working in a quote from Robert MacFarlane where he suggest collected objects ‘hold my landscapes together, without binding them too lightly.’  To conclude Alice Fox encourages Taking Time, and not for the first time an invitation to embrace the local.

It’s a rich book and one that I hope will be read by artists generally. There’s much to learn here beyond the particularities of applied textile techniques. Thankfully there’s no photography of process itself (most of which is messy stuff on the stove or kitchen table). What we get are beautiful and restrained photographic illustration of natural objects and the author’s work, both samples and finished pieces, surrounded by precise description. This work is of a high order and an appropriate companion to its clear, concise and well-written text.

Natural Processes in Textile Art : from rust dyeing to found objects is published by Batsford.

Weaving with Jute, Raffia and Linen

July 22, 2014

I’m returning to this blog after a long pause. Too much going on in the other areas of my life to weave with any regularity, sadly. I found a little space before and after the Christmas period. During this time I helped my son David make his first rug, a rag rug in the pattern of Susan Johnson’s wonderful hybrid and very beautiful rugs. He did really well and completed the rug in time to make it a Christmas present for his youngest sister.

A Rag Rug after the style of Susan Johnstone

A Rag Rug after the style of Susan Johnson

I love the grey wool  plain-weave background, quite a feature of Susan’s rugs. There’s a real mix of rags, silk threads, some vibrant wool shades of blue and brick-orange, all kinds of things we found in my stash of yarns. The warp was tussah silk. David had never woven before and under my not-always-watchful-eye did the whole business from winding and chaining the warp, to threading the loom. He made everything look so easy. Oh, that I started to weave at his age! I remember vividly how I struggled at the start (could NOT chain a warp) even with a great teacher – Laura Rosenzweig.

David at my Toika Loom

David at my Toika Loom


Notice the convenient place to keep (pro tem) my warping board. Although I have a proper Toika warping frame I’m rather attached to this home-made one. David’s off to study Fine Art at Manchester Metropolitan University in September. I quietly hope he’ll be tempted to weave some more . . .

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The Colour of Summer – Seiko Kinoshita

April 25, 2013

This is the second of two posts I’m making to feature exhibitions by artists at Select 2013 in the beautiful Cotswold town of Stroud. From the home of Stroud International Textiles Select 2013 is the major UK contemporary textile event of the year and this year’s programme is outstanding. In my first post I wrote a short essay on Hillu Liebelt’s Still Moments show when this touring exhibition visited Bankfield Museum in Halifax. My essay on Seiko Kinoshita benefitted from a visit to her Sheffield studio as she started work on her SIT commissioned installation The Colour of Summer.


Seiko Kinoshita working on her installation Colour of Summer

For all Seiko Kinoshita’s diffidence about describing her work and her inspiration, in conversation she is rarely lost for a vivid verbal image. Sometimes it’s like listening to a translation of Kanji characters, those Chinese elements of Japanese containing only content words (nouns) and stems of verbs and adjectives, missing out the usual prepositions and conjunctions. As you hear her speak you fill in the gaps, and that’s fine. This suggests that she has not changed her (Japanese) way of thinking about the essential nature of things seen. Nature predominates: sky, field, tree, flower. There’s also a directness about colour: blue, red, green, yellow. She seems less concerned with qualities of difference than the directness of sensory impact. So when she begins to describe plans for her installation in the foyer of Stroud Museum this directness and simplicity of description provides instant images. Green and Yellow: that rich green of grass in a meadow; the vibrant yellow of a field of rape. That’s it. But wait. What you have to add to this is movement of textile in 3D space. Imagine suspended fragments of woven paper yarn direct-dyed in these two colours, not as in her autumnal One Sunny Day (2010) a blaze of orange and red woven leafs revolving in a perpendicular structure, but resting in curvatured swathes of yellow then green, yellow then green, so when seen from a distance (from the Museum courtyard?) a summer landscape of colour appears. Her initial sketches seem to add something new to her existing body of site-specific work, textile forms that may sway and ripple across and within a rectangular space.

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Still Moments – Hillu Liebelt

April 25, 2013

Still Moments is a touring exhibition by tapestry weaver Hillu Liebelt. I saw this intriguing exhibition when it visited Bankside Museum in Halifax. It is now opening at Select 2013 at SIT’s wonderful textile festival at Stroud in the beautiful Cotswolds.  This is one of two posts I’m making about the artists featured at Select. The second will feature Seiko Kinoshita’s specially commissioned installation and a visit I made to her Sheffield studio in January 2013 just as she was preparing to weave the paper pieces that make The Colour of Summer.


from Winter Sun by Hillu Liebelt

I’m looking at one of twenty 8 x 8cm weavings called Winter Sun. It’s a winter’s day in the third week of December and the series, conveniently placed so that I can look comfortably at it from just a dozen centimetres distant, has been arranged close to large floor to ceiling windows. But alas, there is no winter sun today, just a grey light diffused through a fine mist. Yet all these woven images display an extraordinary textural play of shading and shadow, hardly imaginable as a process of thread between thread.  Whilst some of these suns are believably visible, many might belong to other planets sailing in far-distant solar space. The imagination’s prerogative, these images imparting defused light and colour, have an elegant simplicity that is playfully reflective. You look for a favourite, and do so with that intensity and patience Jeanette Winterson has written of so powerfully, where the still but questing eye senses then reveals detail upon more detail. And when you eventually turn away the memory retains the stillness of these moments spent entering their fantasies of colour and texture.

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Understanding my loom

June 18, 2012

When I finished my second rug last week I decided it was high time I made an effort to understand the workings of my Toika Jeena countermarche loom. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never properly balanced my loom, or rather I must confess I don’t know how to do it! I knew that proper weavers do this before beginning any new project, particularly if they’ve had to change the treadling tie up. When I have changed a tie up it’s been rough and ready guess work to get a decent shed for each of the new treadle lifts. But with the advent of a more serious / dedicated approach to my attempts to weave rugs I felt now was the right moment to ‘understand my loom.

A very small jute warp for balancing my loom

I’ve spent some time this past week reading, thinking, experimenting, making many diagrams with the intention of explaining to myself (convincingly) how the countermarche loom works and how to balance it. Many of the those generous weavers who help each other on the Weavolution website reckon you must first put some sort of warp on the loom before attempting to balance it. So I did. A very small one in jute (see above!) . This is a fibre I particularly want to work with some time soon – makes the hands a little sore though (but I have  the right hand cream . . .). I made a particularly point of not drawing in the warp by allowing more than usual space at the selvedges – correcting the mistake I’d made in the early stages of my second rug. I think this warp should have been at least twice the width, but it’s served its purpose.

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Finishing the Second Rug

June 11, 2012

It’s quite small really, but certainly not perfectly formed. In fact my second rug is a bit of a disappointment. I thought I could do a lot better. I had made some promising samples and practised and practised this pick and pick (or as I discovered today sometimes called Warpway) technique of alternating wefts so that lines or columns are produced running in the direction of the warp. Although I felt I took a bit of a risk in not mirroring the colour sequence (I did mirror the weave pattern), I’m pleased with the effect and am tempted to make this a feature of my preliminary design attempts. The all too evident untidiness at the selvedges has got me thinking hard about the reasons for this – to the extent of wondering if my loom simply isn’t balanced properly – but more of that later.  Here’s the rug as I’d like it viewed – in two halves.

The central pattern appears in both images – so you know. I showed this pattern in a close up in my last blog. Although it looks quite different from the other patterns it’s made from the same pick and pick technique only shifting the sequence of the pattern after every two picks.

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Towards a Second Rug

June 4, 2012

At the beginning of last week I had put a warp of ecru bourette silk on my loom and begun work on a small 96cm x 48cm rug. The intention was to consolidate a number of the weft techniques I’d been practising over a series of samples. I also wanted to develop some of the colour and pattern ideas I’d played with on my last 4 samples. I left last week’s blog at about 12 cm into the rug. I’m now about to hit the half-way mark at 48cm.

Despite what looked like a promising warp and some confident pick and pick weaving at the outset I gradually began to develop problems with the warp pulling in at the edges and the outer ends not retaining the tension they should have.  Even  using the temple I got to a point where I thought I’d have to abandon this project. But I persevered and it may be OK. I know I’ve just got to take even more care with the warp preparation and not allow my concentration to falter! Even before these two problems asserted themselves I discovered this little error.

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Being Careful

May 28, 2012

The pile of samples that sits on top of my printer / photocopier is growing slowing, and gives me a little pleasure in doing so. This week I took my first rag sample off the loom – after the linen warp came apart. The good thing is – I know why. It was a salutary lesson. I know I have to be more careful, more exact. As a result, and before going any further, I spent a little time with my library of valuable books, mostly acquired with my tapestry loom, books I am still discovering from the pile of fifty or more that are still unshelved. Very slowly I’m learning how to read and digest (though not wholly understand) Peter Collingwood’s classic The Techniques of Rug Making – if you want to dip into this it is available from the Arizona Universityy archive as a PDF. This week I made a little progress with a few necessary pages of this book, and came to understand what I have been doing wrong / badly. So, time to be careful I thought. And it’s paying off.

Before I go into the whys and wherefores let me tell you about my new warp. After linen I’m now trying an ecru Pure Bourette Silk – described as Chinese No.817 – 17/8nm from Texere. I have a cone of this in my ‘warp’ drawer (I keep some of my yarn in a rather unusual filing cabinet that used to house trays of cassette and DAT tapes). It was a treat to put on the loom and I’ve threaded a warp of 80 ends (no selvedge extras this time) using the same spaced pattern on a 8 reed as my previous samples with the intention of making a 96cm by 48cm rug. The intention is to put into practice just two, possibly three of the patterns I’ve learnt and worked with in my recent sampling. Colours? A grey and a cream 2-ply wool, and possible a cherry red (but just a touch).

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Towards My First Rag Rug

May 20, 2012

During the last seven days I’ve been continuing to learn and practice the very basics of rug weaving. Those first techniques I tried on the two samples I made a fortnight ago needed to be tried again, if only so I knew exactly what to do without a crib in front of me. I needed to recognise instantly the various patterns I’d practiced so that I stood some chance of designing fluently with them. I decided to concentrate on the pick and pick and the 2 pick / 1 pick techniques and see if the business of ‘weaving the selvedges right’ (and with the right selvedge procedure) would gradually become a little more automatic rather than the frustratingly difficult and annoying process it started out as. Sadly, my slightly expanded linen warp (twice as wide as my first), was not very robust and the selvedge ends started to fray badly after only a little weaving. This is as far as I got with my first sample:

A practice sample for pick & pick and 2 pick / 1 pick

I do love the way the grey and cream colours work together. Not confident about the red though. I’m sure I’ll come back to this design and colour scheme. For me, when selvedge ends break it seems continuing with a repair is a lost cause. So for the next sample, which I’d decided would be my first rag rug, I didn’t replace the selvedge ends, but removed them from both sides and tied up the warp again.

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Rug Making

May 13, 2012

It’s been a little time since I wrote anything about my textile work. I’ve been preoccupied with another blog connected with my work as a composer. I wrapped this up just a month ago and sadly it has to be removed from the blogosphere in a fortnight’s time. So catch it while you can. No matter, I shall now be able to resume writing about my engagement with weaving and the world of woven textiles. I struggle with weaving constantly, but it has come to mean so much to me;  each little success makes the sun shine.

Last June I made a  sample for a proposed rug. My first rug and – hand on heart – the first pattern I’d ever copied from another weaver. The weaver was none other than the great Anni Albers whose exhibition at Ruthin Craft Centre I had so enjoyed in January 2011. We travelled in the snowy weather across the Pennines into Wales to spend a Sunday there.  I had a broken arm. I was transfixed by the show. I drew and drew, looked and looked, wondered and wondered. It affected me deeply, deeply enough to attempt to make an analysis of three seminal weavings and write about my discoveries on my blog. In the beautiful catalogue there was a double page photo of a dormitory curtain Albers had woven in brown and gold. I was intrigued by this pattern, worked it out, made it my own in the two-greens sample I wove last June. Read the rest of this entry »

Paper and Stitch

July 15, 2011


Last year I created a series of woven pieces worked in raffia and paper weft on a paper warp.  I loved the texture of these pieces and now framed (and two sold) they still delight me. The little essay that follows extends my response to the recent work of artist Alice Fox whose graduating collection at Bradford College and New Designers I wrote about last month. Alice has subsequently been selected to exhibit in the graduate showcase at next month’s Festival of Quilts 2011 at the NEC, Birmingham between 11-14 August.

Untitled piece from Impressions of Stitch: paper and stitch 25 cm by 25 cm from a series of 9 by Alice Fox

For the artist the medium of paper remains the most immediate of surfaces. It is usually a ready-made in a range of standard dimensions, textural qualities and weights, though can be ‘made’ from vegetable sources and customized in size. As a surface upon which to construct an image flowing from the hand, its possibilities are bewilderingly various. Paper always responds; it meets the artist’s gesture, touch, pressure, imprint; it is not inert but active; it has a living quality about it.

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Fabric of the Building: the material-led art of Alice Fox

June 23, 2011

The composer Morton Feldman is supposed to have said to his students ‘If you haven’t got an artist for a friend you’re in trouble’. Feldman could call on a number of the great names of American abstract expressionist art as his friends, and it’s possible he was counted too as a friend by some of these illustrious painters. Friendship between creative people can be supportive and enriching, not least as a mutual sounding board, a way of obtaining critical reaction with the safety net of trust and respect usually founded upon shared knowledge of context and method.

Hands, calico and stitch in linen thread - photo by Caroline Evens

Once physical communities of artists came together informally on a day-to-day basis; in the studio, in the street, in the café, in the home. This still happens of course, but we now have an additional and potentially valuable meeting place: the virtual community of the Internet and the artist’s blog. Artists are becoming practiced in sharing the detail of their creative journeys, the nitty-gritty of discovery, experience, failure, influence. We know what books lie beside their beds, where they travelled last weekend, even what they cooked for tea. With the aid of a digital camera and the application of an hour or so at the computer an artist can use the blogging medium as a way of posting a regular report on artistic progress and process. This is often undertaken as a means of making a self-explanation of where work is going to; it can be a valuable form of both self-criticism and self-knowledge. The premise of such revelation, judiciously managed by making reference to techniques or the work of other colleagues, can quickly build an international community of interest. For some artists their blog is solely focused at their work, even to the extent of safeguarding their anonymity, though this is increasingly rare. Others, and these seem to be in the ascendant, demonstrate how their practice (what a loaded word that is) integrates with the minutiae of their daily life. There’s also lot of showing off; who we met, where we’ve been, when the next significant exposure of work will be. That said, there are out there in the bloggesphere occasional examples of sustained engagement with the medium that have the potential of adding a layer of informal interpretation that can enhance and enrich a viewer’s experience of an artist’s work.

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A Letter from Stroud 2011 (Part 1)

May 16, 2011

Dear Alice

I know you enjoyed last year’s letter from Stroud so here’s one for 2011. Last year was my first visit and I only managed a day – to attend the Slow Movement in Textiles conference. I managed a whole weekend this time and it was the richest of two days.

Saturday was Studio Trail day, and after encountering torrential rain on the journey down, the sun was out in Stroud. The regular Farmers Market was doing great business and this small Gloucestershire town with a rich textile heritage was en fête, enlivened by the bright pink and yellow signs for the Stroud International Textile Festival.

Alex Caminada

My first step on the Studio Trail was to the home of Tim Parry-Williams. I introduced you to this artist in previous blogs – he was represented in Warp + Weft. He lives just a 10-minute walk from the town-centre in what appears to be a detached 2 up 2 down with an all important attic space – of which more later. Let me paint the scene as from the moment I entered his house: the idea of taking a photograph seemed intrusive.

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Sampling, Colour and Writing about Weaving

May 2, 2011

Can it really be May? It feels more like early June with a long spell of glorious weather. Everywhere you look spring is riotous in colour and growth and it seems a shame to be inside. But that’s where I am most of the time, sadly. The only compensation has been getting back to weaving after a long spell of forced inactivity (a broken arm). I’ve dedicated a whole warp to sampling with some rug wool yarns with the notion of weaving my first rug. In a day or two I reckon to start doing just that.

End of a 1/3 size sample for a rug using a pattern by Anni Albers

In my April blog I showed my first attempt at Clasped Weft technique. I’ve progressed a little with this, particularly dealing with getting the tension at the selvedge correct as one is effectively creating a turn around the selvedge at both ends simultaneously. I’ve also been playing a little with a sample bag of Nepalese rug and tapestry yarns from my February visit to the Handweavers Studio in London.

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Anna Albers – Pictorial Weaving Part 3

April 3, 2011

This is my final blog featuring three of Anni Albers pictorial weavings. The previous two featured here were in the Ruthin exhibition catalogue, but sadly not in the show itself. The one I’m going to discuss here certainly was, and I spent much time standing in front of it in blank amazement – just how was it done? Having looked in close detail at two other pictorial weavings I have now got more of an idea. I think until I try some of her techniques on my own loom I won’t know for sure, but it’s a step in the right direction.

City by Anni Albers 1949 linen and cotton 218 x 219 cm

City was woven in 1949 and is solely in linen and cotton and set against a simple geometrical ‘frame’ in cotton thread. Everytime I look at this piece I think I understand it, but then my perception of it changes. Just a few minutes before writing this I suddenly realised the bottom sixth of the woven image seems to (could be) be water and reflections. Looking carefully at the warp ends top and bottom there is the evidence of this technique of putting together thick and thin yarn and alternate black and white colours. Having said that (and slept on the problem) I now think this weaving  is in  double weave – examine the top of warp section and then look at the bottom. By 1949 Albers had made the first of her many South American journeys and perhaps had started to investigate the double, triple and quadruple weaves made on traditional Peruvian backstrap looms. Albers talks in some detail about this phenomenon in the final chapter of her book On Designing. But it is the mysterious chemistry of selecting different thicknesses and colours of weft,  choosing what is to be inlaid and where, and how the multiple warps may be used, that is surely the clue to this extraordinary creation. Like the previous two weavings the range of colour is small, but the difference and play of texture is formidable.

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Anni Albers – Pictorial Weaving Part 2

March 2, 2011

Back in mid January I dared to select a pictorial weaving by Anni Albers as one of three pieces featured in the recent Albers show at Ruthin Craft Centre. Two of three pieces chosen were not at the show, but featured in the catalogue. Here is the second in its entirety, though  featured only as one of the excellent catalogue close-up illustrations – Black, White, Gold 1 1950 Pictorial Weaving, cotton, jute, metallic ribbon 63.8 x 48.3 cm.

Anni Albers - Black, White, Gold 1 (1950)

This weaving is quite close in spirit to a piece I already know called Code, a  smaller pictorial hanging that in 2008 I used as the inspiration for one of my Studies in Movement for solo violoncello. I have to say that the experience of seeing Code at Ruthin has forever changed my view of the photograph as an adequate rendition of a textile piece; I hardly recognised it. A  photograph simply can’t reproduce the variety of depth achieved with inlay, neither does it pick up the sparkle and play of light that the use of metallic ribbon brings to the viewer.

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Anni Albers La Luz 1 – Pictorial Weaving

January 18, 2011

I’ve been trying to spend a little time each day stretching my mind to understand more closely the world of Anni Albers. I don’t want to lose the excitement and wonder I felt at the recent exhibition at the Ruthin Craft Centre..

La Luz 1 - Anni Albers (1947)

This morning I’ve been looking at just one piece called La Luz 1 (1947). This is Albers first pictorial weaving made in cotton, hemp and metallic gimp 47 x 82.5 cm (18 1/2 x 32 1/2 in.). It features in Ruthin’s beautiful catalogue but not in the show itself. The piece is currently in the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation, Connecticut, MA.

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All about Stroud

January 16, 2011

Last May I had a particularly busy week down in the West Country. I visited three wonderful gardens, set up a music installation for the opening of  a tapestry exhibition in a unique modernist house, and finally attended an inspirational conference at the UK’s only festival of contemporary textiles. All three of these experiences I’ve written about on this blog, but the most extensive piece was devoted to the Slow Textiles  Conference at Stroud International Textiles (SIT) Festival. It’s actually a long illustrated letter, and you can read here.

At the Slow Movement conference, Stroud May 2010

A little while later I received a charming e-mail from the SIT Festival director asking if she could put a link from SIT’s website to my conference review. Well it wasn’t so much a review but a detailed resume to a colleague who hadn’t been able to make the conference. All the same, following the link to my ‘letter’ going on SIT’s website, this 3000-word piece started getting a serious number of daily hits. This is personally very reassuring, although I should remind readers of why I started this blog: it was to learn rather than report or teach. One way I’ve found to both fix (and question) knowledge and develop understanding is to attempt to explain it by writing or speaking. Assembling knowledge you can explain so often requires careful note-taking and additional research; so it rather goes without saying that the whole process is a good learning experience.

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Sculpture and Weaving

December 10, 2010

Having made great play last month about restarting my
writing on textiles and weaving in particular I’ve had to pass on
last fortnight’s blog. I have broken my arm, and rather badly,
enough to warrant surgery and a plate of metal to pin a fractured
ulna. Yesterday I went to the hospital to have a full cast put on
my arm and a fresh bunch of x-rays.  All seems well and with luck
I’ll be out of this plaster by the New Year.

November Steps - sketch for a small tapestry

Being unable to weave (I was just about to put a new warp on my loom) has
meant me being thrown back on reportage or musings. I still have good intentions to write more fully on my experience of the Warp+Weft shows at the end of October. In one sense this fortnight’s chosen subject – sculpture and weaving– was something very present in the Oriel Myrddin exhibition. So many pieces in that show curated by Laura Thomas were multi-dimensional: the works by Ann Sutton, Laura Thomas herself, Ptolemy Mann and others. What
is it that makes textile artists work in this way? Is it the lure of the sculptural aesthetic that continues to be such a vigorous element in our visual culture? Sculptors such as Anthony Gormley and Anish Kapoor continue to excite the imagination with work that responds both to physical landscape and to man-made space.
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Warp + Weft

November 11, 2010

I’ve just taken a very necessary four-month break from two years of fortnightly writing on the web. Do I try and fill in the gap with a resume of what’s been happening since mid July, or just jump right in and start from now? It seems a pity perhaps to miss out on making my #2 scarf (designed by my youngest daughter Meg, but this one woven by me). Then there is my series of minimalist series of paper and raphia pieces, much delayed because sourcing the right paper proved so difficult. Both projects gave me much pleasure and meant that rarely a day went by without a little weaving taking place on my Toika loom.

Scarf #2 - designed by Meg, woven by Nigel

If I consider where I am now as a designer / weaver then I can say that I have a little more confidence in what I do, the results begin to please me, and the whole business is less of a mystery (and a worry) than previously. Just yesterday I received a card from print-maker Ann Marshall who I met when I had my two days study on colour and structure with felt artist Jeanette Appleton at Farfield Mill. The letter said she thought it must have been 2008!? It was, and I was just a few months into weaving then. I’m still a long way from my 10,000 hours (pace Richard Sennett) but in two and half years I can say, hand on heart, I can weave. Ann’s latest show is at the Jgallery and it’s a set of what she describes as ‘narrative pieces informed by two songs and how the poetry and music inspired dance choreographed for a Hollywood musical’.

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