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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