A Letter from Stroud 2011 (Part 1)

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.

‘Please remove your shoes’ reminded me immediately of Tim’s 15-year association with Japan. He has studied with Junichi Arai, one of the leading weavers in that country, and visits every year to work with a collaborator Ikuku Ida with whom he prepares his yarns and dyes, stocking up for the coming creative year. This is where the all important attic space – reached by an extendible ladder comes in. Last year Tim and Ikuku devised a touring exhibition in the UK called Plain Stripe Check which focused on the outcome of their joint research into historic textile practice. To view some wonderful images by photographer Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert of the textile making in in Ikuku’s home town of Kiryu, Japan click here.

Tim’s weaving space is small and most beautifully arranged. There’s a four- shaft Douglas Andrew loom and a Swiss computerised 16-shaft affair. I’d loved to have been able to draw and label this working space but it seemed so intimate and private that a verbal description is more appropriate. It’s those little details that entranced me – the partitioned box of essential tools to hand, a jumble of small wooden frames called Waku for storing silk yarn so it stays taught, a CD of the Icelandic cellist and composer  Hildur Ingveldardóttir Guðnadóttir playing quietly, the rich collection of books, an open notebook with the kind of elegant script I so admire.

A Japanese Waku - for storing fine silk yarn

When I climb the steep stairs to his first floor studio Tim was sitting at his loom in the kind of Japanese working coat and trousers that look so comfortable and practical. He was busy weaving a linen tea towel for a show he is giving at Ruskin Mills in nearby Nailsworth starting on 20 May.

It was an exquisite piece in 2/2 twill using a palette of just 3 coloured threads prepared for him on one of his Japanese visits – and stored in that loft space. The first thing I noticed was his use of two pairs of lease sticks managing the cross on the warp. Tim clearly noticed my attention and gave me an explanation unbidden. When weaving twill he said this arrangement enables the tension at the four different lifts to be even. It was his own ‘idea’ he claimed and produced the results he was after. He was most generous with little explanations, which he gave with the kind of clarity and patience that is all too rare. His students at Bath Spa are fortunate indeed!

Hanging on one wall was a boro cloth. Boro means ‘aged’, a piece of cloth usually from a working garment that has been patched with replacement materials, often woven. I’d seen these at the Sashiko exhibition in 2009 and loved the idea of a patched texture that was often ragged in places to reveal the original underneath. This kind of traditional piece is now a valuable collectors’ item and has inspired textile artists like  Ismini Samanidou to produce similar effects in her Jacquard work. Her piece in the recent Pairings Show I wrote about last month had used this device to great effect. For those, like me, for whom the wealth of Japanese textiles practice is a yet to be explored area, I recently found a valuable introduction in the form of a report of a lecture on the subject by Jeff Krauss . There are some fine images of ‘boro’ cloth included in this presentation.

It was difficult to tear myself away from the disciplined yet restrained atmosphere of this working space and its activity. I felt for the rest of the weekend I’d been given a rather special gift, and even now as I wrote about it, consider myself most fortunate to have had experienced something of a true craftsman.

A quiet corner of Matthew and Cleo Harris garden - against Matthew

Just a few hundred yards away the textile artist Matthew Harris lives and works. He and his wife Cleo Mussi have created a lovely house and garden complete with two studios, a ‘his and hers’. Cleo is a ceramicist and gardener. Matthew works with textile forms, often in collage, and was for a significant period influenced by the graphic notations employed by composers of contemporary art music. When I first started exploring textile art Matthew’s name was often mentioned as an artist bringing together music and textiles, but he is quick to say he is not a musician and doesn’t read music. This withstanding, he has created a striking installation for the foyer areas of the renovated Colston Hall in Bristol and related how musicians had actually played it! We corresponded a little when I was working on Fifteen Images, but it wasn’t until the recent Taking Time exhibition that I actually saw his work properly. My visit to his studio enabled me to view a collection of pieces of recent work and meet him properly. As for Tim Parry-Williams there was a fascinating stack of CDs in his studio demonstrating how music  plays a part in his creative process. We talked a lot about his ‘connection’ with music, his friendship with renown conductor Martyn Brabbins, and particularly the issues surrounding graphic notation. This is something that appeared in the 1960s as composers sought to liberate their performers from the  tyranny / straight-jacket imposed by Classical notation. I found myself telling Matthew that I felt there was a renewed interest in these graphic forms, particularly as a result of the work of Austrian composer Helmut Lachenmann, whose music concrete instrumentale had broken new ground in what we put in front of musicians as notation.

An example of a graphic score by Helmut Lachenmann

Matthew had arranged a small show on his studio walls of past and recent work. There was one piece in particular that interested me, a cartoon for a textile work called Shard. In muted greys, creams, browns, mauves this piece was also illustrated by a plan on a board almost opposite the cartoon. This showed how the textile pieces would be organised and applied. It was a small but significant glimpse into this artist’s working process. Like Tim Parry-Williams the Japanese experience has been most important, indeed one of his most significant pieces, Lantern Cloth takes inspiration from Japanese forms.

Detail from Matthew Harris work Crumb - after a score by the American composer George Crumb

A fragment of unusual music notation from Nostradamus by George Crumb

The garden surrounding Matt’s studio though was probably at its very best, and to begin to describe it would require a whole blog article  in itself! I know you visited it last summer and I think there are some images on your blog. I saw it after a much-needed early morning shower and it was lovely. Matt’s work is now attracting attention from national exhibitions and collections. His work has been included at the recent Collect 2011 in a body of work promoted by New Brewery Arts the Centre for Contemporary Craft in nearby Cirencester (of which more later).

Studio Seven

Next stop lunch in busy Stroud, a punnet of local strawberries and a cheese sandwich (I’m sounding a little like Nigel Slater). Then straight on to visit the home of Studio Seven Contemporary Textiles. This is a collective of seven textile artists who came together in the late eighties as The Textile Workshop, and then reformed in 2006 under their current name. One of their activities has been to explore textiles in performance. Working with actors, dancers, a sound designer and composer they have already created a number of site-specific pieces that look stunning. One of the seven Liz Lippiatt showed me an album documeting  their performance history. I had never seen anything quite like it: very impressive and beautiful, particularly dressing the famous garden at Hidcote. Their collective studio was one very long room with a print table running the whole length of the space (see above).  The group are based at Seven Valley Arts Space in the very centre of Stroud. Described as an artist-led resource, this seemed an impressive and valuable place for artists in this area of Gloucestershire.

Next stop, the studio of weaver Nick Ozanne. Mentioned in these pages previously, Nick is one of a triumvirate of male textile artists in and around Stroud. He is a designer weaver making bespoke scarves, ties, throws and woven cloth for (mainly) male fashion under the label Leto and Ariadne. He is also a charming and engaging person who generously welcomed visitors to his studio  in a former mill 3 miles outside Stroud. On a simple 4-shaft Ashford floor loom Nick was weaving a full-width piece to be laser cut as a tie. It was a complex sequence of twill patterns in green, dark, blue and white silk. He also showed a recent blanket / throw which was double the width of his loom but ‘not’ executed in double weave – simply two cut lengths sewn together. He demonstrated the very neat way he had achieved this so by sewing together  the ‘loops’ on each selvedge – beautifully effective. Go to his excellent website and see just how he makes a scarf.

A woven design

Finally to Cirencester, and a memorable visit to the New Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester. This is an impressive complex of buildings in the town centre housing eleven studios of makers. I went to see two, weaver Sarah Beadsmore and clothes designer Dorothy Reglar. Before making these visits I had an excellent coffee and cake in the café and snapped this intriguing mechanical piece on the wall having placed 20p in a box to make it run.

A Mechanical Display in the cafe at New Brewery Arts Cirencester

Adjacent to the café was a lovely spacious gallery presenting Fest, a collection of work by artists featured at the Stroud 2011 Festival. This was a really good show and supplemented the main exhibition at Stroud’s Museum in The Park. The highlight for me was definitely weaver-in-willow Lizzie Farey’s Bowl II and the ambitious and very large What I Think of You. I enjoyed seeing Jan Garside’s work for real, but decided I liked the photos of her work better. Strange this, but there it is. Whoever curated this show deserves a medal. It demonstrated how beautifully a mixed show of work can be put together in a meaningful way.

Liz Farey

Sarah Beadsmore I mentioned a couple of months ago in connection with her research visit to Shetland to study computer-based weaving. Sarah weaves on an 8-shaft Glimakra loom and I caught her just before the end of the day when she was warping up a large blanket. We had an intriguing discussion about double weave as opposed to double cloth. I almost followed it, but there’s a note on my office  board to say – investigate this further! I admired Sarah’s no nonsense well-crafted work, very much in a traditional vein and no worse for that, indeed rather reassuring. She is someone from who I know I could learn a lot if only I lived a little nearer.

Woven material by Sarah Beadsmore

The Studio Trail ended with a real surprise and delight in a visit to designer Dorothy Reglar. Enter her studio and there is all these wonderful garments with a distinct East Asian flavour, silks everywhere. This is because for the last ten years or so Dorothy has worked for part of every year with a group of village weavers in Phonsavan in Laos.

Weavers in Phonosavan in Laos

She designs the garments with the silk fabrics these women weave and helps coordinate their sale across the world through organisations like Oxford. I was captivated not only be her story of how all this came about (there’s a film all about this), but by the garments and the designs themselves. Suffice to say Dorothy is a designer of some distinction with a portfolio of work for major fashion houses to be reckoned with. There was one vivid hanging she’d designed with a beautiful central section in ikat.

A woven hanging by weavers from Phonosavan: in silk with ikat

Design by Dorothy Reglar

As you probably have gathered by now there was just so much to take in and describe from doing the Studio Trail that to include a report on Sunday’s Off the Loom symposium is impossible here. So just take this as part 1 and I’ll try to write to you again before the month is out!

In friendship



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