Saturday, 29 September 2012

SILK QUEST

Silk is without doubt my favourite fabric at the moment. I love the glorious colours and the varied textures. For me, silk has a richness, depth and lustre that no other fabric can match. I find I use it in one way or another in almost everything I do.

Sari silk strips and spun sari silk yarn
I have hanks and hanks of the recycled sari silks sqirrelled away. The photo left shows only a very small selection. I find them hard to resist, especially when they can be bought relatively cheaply. I have them in both a ribbon form which can be ironed flat and stitched over and also as spun yarns of various textures.

The range of colours is limitless. Many hanks come in random colours but various suppliers are now selling them with a specified colour range so I can be more selective. Actually, sometimes the random mixes have an advantage; I find myself trying out colour combinations I wouldn't usually use just because the fabric is there beside me and is so easily available.

Hanks of spun sari silk yarn 
The spun yarns are great for couching, weaving and, I'm sure, for 'mad' knitting. I've not tried the last technique yet but have seen other people's dramatic results.....

The ribbons are lovely to use in landscapes and make excellent cushions and bags. However, even these ribbons have limitations. There is often only a small quantity of each colour to work with and they are only available in a strip about 2 inches wide. I find my work can become very linear using them, even when I join the strips to give a bigger piece of fabric.

As a result, I am also gradually building up a stash of larger pieces of silk - though these are expensive and I find myself treating them very carefully which affects the way I work. I have to tell myself to be less precious with them otherwise things can become very static and inhibited.

At the moment, I'm biting the bullet and searching out silk by the metre in particular colours for a new project. I've found many of the suppliers with the best range of colours only sell to the trade or cost over £20 a metre - can anyone help with cheaper sources?

Silk samples from The Silk Route
The other day, I received a selection of samples from The Silk Route (www.thesilkroute.co.uk) which looks a bit more promising. Next, I'm going to see Patricia Wood at Mulberry Silks  - she lives only ten miles from my house (www.mulberrysilks-patriciawood.com). Having seen her glorious threads in the past, I have high hopes that she will have the colours I'm looking for and maybe this time I might be prepared to pay out.

If you haven't tried recycled sari silk in any of its forms yet, the best suppliers with the widest range of colours and textures seem to be on ebay (http://www.ebay.co.uk/sch/i.html?) and at Rainbow Silks (http://www.rainbowsilks.co.uk/ProductDetails.cfm?Code=SR_nkw=recycled+sari+ribbon) both in the UK and http://www.recycledsilk.com/patterns.html in the USA ....

...... unless you've found better sources you'd like to share .....


Monday, 24 September 2012

Kelmscott Manor


William Morris
by Frederick Hollyer
Recently, with the Malmesbury group of the Embroiderers' Guild, I visited Kelmscott Manor, near Lechlade in Gloucestershire, summer home of William Morris and his family. It's a glorious place with a lovely sense of calm and is full of beautiful artefacts. Everywhere there are the designs, embroideries, and textiles of William Morris, of his wife Jane, and his daughter, May. There are also fascinating glimpses of the life of the family at Kelmscott and of the influence of other members of the Arts and Crafts Movement and Pre-Raphaelites who visited regularly.

Kelmscott Manor, Gloucestershire
The house is situated on the banks of a tributary of the upper Thames. Nearby is the Thames itself, along a quiet track. We spent the morning wandering around the gardens and walking to the river and the afternoon on a guided tour around the house.


As with so many visits I make these days, I spotted much potential inspiration for textile work, both in the house and the grounds. There was a beautiful old Cotswold stone barn and some other interesting farm buildings. I took photographs of the barn, the stone walls and of the trough structure pictured right. (I would be delighted if anyone could tell me what it was used for.)
Cotswold stone trough

I am sure these photographs will find their way into a textile piece in some form or another and have been playing with my images in Adobe Photoshop. I have enhanced the colours and lighting and added the posterise filter. Perhaps I will print one of these images onto fabric and then hand stitch, abstracting as I go - a favourite way of working for me. Great Western Embroiderers, with whom I exhibit regularly, are taking the Cotswolds and its history as the current focus for work and this idea would fit very well with that theme.

Stone wall
adapted in Adobe Photoshop

Cotswold stone trough
adapted in Adobe Photoshop











The Drawing Room at Kelmscott Manor
(from the Kelmscott website - see below)
After lunch, our group was shown around the house and we had a wonderful opportunity to look closely at the fabrics and textile designs of William Morris and his family. The house is surprisingly light and full of lovely examples of William Morris's designs. How tempting it was to touch the textiles - but I resisted - just.

I especially liked a woven tapestry hanging just inside the drawing room. It was fascinating to see the initial black pen design and its coloured version alongside the finished piece. I'm afraid I haven't been able to include a photo of this work as no photographs were allowed - but I have included an image from the Kelmscott website to give a taste of the house.
 ....
I can only suggest a visit to Kelmscott Manor - further details can be found at www.kelmscottmanor.co.uk/ and the Society of Antiquiries at http://www.sal.org.uk. William Morris once said, "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" so the house is a feast for anyone interested in textiles and design - or of course in the Arts and Crafts Movement. 

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Sketch Books

I love working in sketch books - exploring ideas, trying out techniques, working around a subject. In fact, I sometimes think that the work I produce in my sketch books is more exciting and vivid than my finished pieces. Maybe this is because I feel less pressured to 'get it right', or perhaps I'm a sketch-booker rather than a single piece stitcher, or possibly I should be working in paper not fabric .... not, I'm sure, that it matters; it's all such a pleasure.
Quilted stitched journal cover
All my books have cartridge pages and come from Seawhite of Brighton. They are good quality but quite reasonably priced and cope well with the range of things I want to include - pencil drawings, painted pages, small textile pieces and the cutting and sticking of paper and card or photographs.

I generally have a range of sketch books on the go at any one time which serve different purposes. Some I use to draw or paint what I see around me - in my garden, in the local area, or when I'm out and about or on holiday. These books are usually quite small. Others are more like journals or records of a stitch project as it progresses. They are large and heavy and usually bulging with stuck-in pieces of one kind or another and sometimes covered with a stitched textile.

Tree Trunk outlines, Glen Tanar, Aberdeenshire
Pencil drawing
Trees in Glen Quoich, Aberdeenshire
Pencil and watercolour
At the moment, my small books for observational work are 20 cm square and I am enjoying their shape which is new to me. I find it allows me to be more flexible with layout. By working across a full page spread, I can use a rectangle if I want to, yet the relatively small size fits well into a bag and is not too bulky to carry around.


Currently, my observational drawings are done in bound hard-backed books. For experiments involving paint and mixed media, I have a spiro bound book. I  like to keep the two separate as painting pages inevitably means that paint spills through from one page to another and I like to keep my drawings clean.

An arrangement of stones
in a Geology piece
Pencil drawing










In them, I draw whatever takes my fancy. Sometimes my choice of subject is linked to the theme of the moment; other times I am just intrigued by a view, a collection of trees or a building and want to record what I see. Occasionally, when I am somewhere and have no other paper to hand, I try out ideas for a textile piece for inclusion in my journal.

All in all, these little books have a good feel in the hand and I reach for them with anticipation and pleasure.

The journals are large in size (about 45 x 30 cm) and I usually begin a fresh one at the start of each new focus as this seems to help me to concentrate my thoughts. I try out ideas, techniques, colour schemes, or explore more widely around my general theme.

A journal page - Cricklade North Meadow
Watercolour to work out colour scheme for of weaving

The work I put in the journals comes from a range of sources and I frequently use mixed media. I generally work towards abstraction, perhaps taking photographs or drawings, manipulating them in Adobe Photoshop and then cutting them up to work out a design.

Journal page completed following a weekend course with Sandra Meech
Photos taken in Scotland manipulated in Photoshop,
cut up and remounted to exploit their graphic qualities










On other occasions, I work freely round a subject, using paper as an analogy for fabric (cheaper and quicker and easier to manipulate). I paint and tear or cut the papers and produce several different versions of a general theme. At the start, I often have absolutely no idea where I will end up - and that is the fun of the whole thing.

All these books give me a freedom to develop my skills, explore and experiment. I think they are where the growth of ideas happens for me. Above all else, I gain enormous pleasure and satisfaction from them. For me, they are as important as the final piece of work that results - and often much more personal..

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

WORK IN PROGRESS

Dee Valley looking towards Mar Lodge
I have been working on a commission recently. It's always gratifying when someone wants to buy work or asks for a commissioned piece. But while the former is pure pleasure, the latter brings with it particular restrictions and challenges to be overcome. There are two pairs of eyes and two sets of critical feelings to satisfy - may be coming from very different artistic perspectives....

There is the choice of subject, colour, style, and of overall design, all of which need to be agreed satisfactorily at the start if the person receiving the work is to be happy. That of course is the most important thing but I also need to have a sense of satisfaction and to feel that the finished piece is fully resolved and is something I am happy to put my name to.

The request was for a landscape in portrait format (always tricky) and with particular colours (reds and creams) to fit in with a room colour scheme. The dimensions were stipulated and the frame and mount to be used were supplied. The constraints were therefore many and I needed to think very hard about how to produce something unique and lively.

I decided on a piece to suggest the Scottish Highlands as both I and the recipient love Scotland and visit regularly. We particularly love the Dee valley to the west of Aberdeen so I searched through my photographs to find one to inspire me.

Dee Valley looking towards Glen Quoich
Although I couldn't find anything suitable in portrait format, I found two pictures of a favourite view towards Glen Quoich and the Cairngorm Mountains to the west of Braemar that I thought would help me put the composition together.

To help with proportion and colour selection, I cropped the best image in Adobe Photoshop, enhanced the brightness and contrast, played with the colour, and added the posterise option. I love Photoshop as a way of clarifying and limiting colour choices and particularly like the posterise option as it comes closest to the result I want to achieve in fabric.

I then found the room scheme samples I had been given and set to work choosing fabrics and threads in the right colours. This was really difficult. I wanted to use silk in a machine embroidered strip-appliqué technique that I often employ for landscapes and which I had used before in a piece much liked by the recipient. Until I began this piece, I hadn't appreciated just how many shades of red silk there were and how important it was to choose the right ones to give a cohesive whole. I wanted near clashes to give vibrancy as in the posterised photo - but not colours that would argue so violently with one another that this dominated the piece and I needed some colour contrast ... and a drop of complementary green.

Trying out the silk strips
To choose what I wanted, I dug around in my large stash of silk sari ribbons and yarns and bigger pieces of silk and riffled through my threads. I especially love the sari ribbons with their rough, fraying edges and wonderful range of colours and use them a great deal. There is a great freedom in choosing them as they can be bought so cheaply and easily over the internet from companies like Rainbow Silks and Ethnic Crafts.

Lightly quilted surface

Working on the hills
I decided that I would quilt the piece lightly and used some of the 100% cotton batting I'd bought from Dream Cotton at The Festival of Quilts recently. It's lovely stuff and produces a very subtle effect. 

I spent a great afternoon piecing and stitching - I always enjoy this part of the process.

The results can be seen below and the recipient was very happy - pleasure for us both so a happy outcome!


Dee Valley Above Braemar