Category Archives: Research Point

Part 4 – Research Point – Textile Artists

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We are asked to consider how the work of the textile artist differs from that of the designer, the designer-maker or the craftsperson and if there is any crossover in terms of approach or the way in which each uses ideas or textile processes.

A textile artist may be working in their chosen medium for a variety of reasons and with different backgrounds of art education and experience.  They may have developed their particular way of working having a begun their career in fashion, fine art or having trained and worked as a textile craftsperson.  I do think that there are many points of crossover with describing someone as a “textile artist” rather than a craftsperson or designer-maker and unfortunately actively giving a label to this type of creativity is sometimes an unnecessary barrier to the wider appreciation of a body of work.  Also, many classically trained fine artists, such as Tracey Emin who describes herself as a “visual artist” use textile as part of a variety of media to convey their thoughts, desires and messages.  (Tracey Emin on her exhibition She Lay Down Deep Beneath the Sea at Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate in 2012.)  Emin famously crafted a tent, exhibited in 1995, appliqued with the names of all the people she had ever slept with, lovers, family and friends.  This piece belonging to art collector Charles Saatchi was famously destroyed in the Momart London warehouse fire of 2004.  The artist could equally have produced a work such as this in paint, paper, or stone but she chose to convey her feelings about this very personal, intimate part of her life in fabric, the material that we use to clothe ourselves, to make our homes more comfortable, to sleep under and wrap our newborn babies in.

In her article, Textile Art or Textile Craft? published on Bodkinz, a website dedicated to a community of fibre and textile artists in New Zealand, Shirley Dixon provides a detailed investigation on the definition of textile art and textile craft.  She proposes that a work must possess certain properties in order to be textile art, including positive aesthetic properties, a subject, originality and creativity, and communicate complex meanings: ideas, emotions or points of view.  She expands on these properties to show how there is also a contextual element; just because a quilt is displayed on the wall of a gallery does not necessarily mean it is a work of art.  Similarly, textile crafts can be shown to have properties that differ from textile art so, although requiring a particular skill to execute, this skill has a basis in tradition, as opposed to the originality and often subversive or critical quality of textile art.  Textile crafts can be practical or useful and can be an antidote to mass-production, as well as exhibiting originality and creativity but textile arts carry a message, communicating the human condition to the wider audience.

There is also the element of value put on textile art or craft, with a basis in how crafts have been regarded through history.  I was lucky to visit on the last day of the recent exhibition at the Royal Albert Memorial Museum in Exeter, Petal Power, featuring graphic work by women designers of the Silver Studio of Design.  This was a prominent London studio that produced dress and furnishing fabric, wallpaper and homeware designs for Liberty, Sanderson, Selfridges and others at all levels of the market.  The exhibition highlighted how women designers were treated differently to their male counterparts, working from home rather than at the studio itself and paid less than the male designers.  Of course, this was the convention at this time.  Winifred Mold, although employed by the studio from 1912 to 1935 only visited the premises and commented “I never saw the room where the men worked”.

The Sixty Two Group, established over 50 years ago, was formed to give textile artists, particularly embroiderers, a voice in a predominantly male-dominated and traditionally fine art world.  Alice Kettle, an honorary member of the Sixty Two Group is a textile artist who uses machine-stitched threads on a backing fabric to draw as others might use a pencil on paper or paint on canvas to produce figurative images.  Alice studied fine art and then textiles as a postgraduate student at Goldsmith’s College.  Some of her pieces are very big, such as the colourful banners and sail produced for the Margate Hosts the Boat project in 2012.  These flags incorporated artwork from local schools and community projects and were flown on Margate Harbour Arm to help celebrate the arrival of the Margate Sail, again a collaborative project between Alice and residents and school children of Margate, produced as a gift for the vessel the Collective Spirit.  This was a boat made using modern yacht building techniques but formed out of wooden artifacts donated by local people, each with a story to tell.

In this video of the 2010-11 exhibition The Narrative Line from the National Craft Gallery of Ireland Alice Kettle explains how her exposure to the craft of sewing as she grew up was a large part of her choosing stitch as her medium of working.  It is interesting how she also comments on how her work crosses between art and craft and that she is comfortable in the world of craft.  Kettle also talks about how she researches and develops ideas, sometimes from books she has read or a story but that quite often, through sketching, sampling and the responses to that, the process itself is a journey to an unexpected outcome.  Kettle likens her work to illustrative story-telling using thread.  In one particular large wallhung “tapestry” of this exhibition Kettle has used ephemera, including items from around her studio, and stitched these on to the fabric of the piece that depicts Alice Kyteler (another Alice Kettle) so that the finished work is very highly textured in certain areas.  The artist also uses the empathy that she feels with her namesake to fuel the story-telling.  It must be hard not to become deeply involved in a subject when you have done a lot of research but even more so when there are strong links, as in the name and the possibility of a family link.

Sue Hotchkis describes herself as “an artist with a passion for texture, surface and space” and she uses photography to help her with inspiration.  She uses multiple textile techniques and layering to depict her environment in colourful abstract cloth artworks, which can range in size from large mural-style wall hung canvases like blue check shirt to her entries in the Button Project at Macclesfield Silk Museum  She seeks to show that there is beauty in ageing and decay that is occuring constantly and hand dyed or painted fabric is overprinted and then embellished with machine or hand embroidery.  As the artwork itself will change over time the artist often enhances this characteristic by distressing with a heat gun or soldering iron and is not concerned that the piece be preserved but will use whatever techniques necessary and take as long as necessary to achieve the required result.  Once is a really detailed piece (40 x 108 cm) that when you look closely, incorporates an incredible amount of intricate hand stitchery and you see layers as the top surface is cut away to look like rusted through metal.  The colours are bright and the artist has used layers of many threads of different colours to build the overall effect.

The concept of textile art as an art form in it’s own right is an idea I have discussed with some of my creative friends and I usually come back to the conclusion, for myself, that there are so many ways for an artist to express himself that I find it hard to justify designating a work by medium.  I prefer to appreciate that artists will strive to put forward their ideas, emotions, messages in any way that feels appropriate to them at the time, whether that be in music, sculpture, tapestry weaving or dance.

My feeling is that the fine art establishment is going to need to be more flexible in how it promotes and critiques textile art if they want to enjoy the continued support of collectors who will always vote with their feet and if the fashion of the moment in art buying circles is for textile pieces then that is where the money will flow.  Also there is a blurring of distinction between media in education these days, with students producing amazing work in many different forms while they are finding their artistic voice at college and university.  This will help to make textile art as acceptable a form of art as oil painting and water colours but it will be a slow process.

Bibliography:

Tracey Emin – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pHj7mp6JLKA

Alice Kettle – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PZ3gH-DasNA and http://www.alicekettle.com/

Shirley Dixon – http://www.bodkinz.co.nz/textile-art-or-textile-craft

Sue Hotchkis – http://www.textileartist.org/sue-hotchkis-interview-free-motion-machine-embroidery-and-print/ and http://www.suehotchkis.com/

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Bath Spa University School of Art and Design degree show

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My two arty girls and I met my Mum yesterday at the Sion Hill campus of Bath Spa University to take a look around their degree show exhibitions.  Both Mum and I are former alumni of the University in it’s former incarnation as Bath College of Higher Education and it was interesting to see how things have changed since I was last there for a visit more than 20 years ago.

There was a huge amount of work to look at, mainly fine art and mixed media at this site, but we also ventured across town to the other venue in Oldfield Park.  Dartmouth Avenue Studios is sited in a council depot so I can see why they don’t feature it at all on the University website but, again, there was plenty of space full of interesting work and a lot more textile pieces seemed to be here.  I didn’t see any fashion or clothing items, apart from one or two costume pieces that were interspersed with other work.  We were all intrigued by the monochrome Bob Marley inspired WC interior …

I didn’t take a lot of photographs, as I learned from an unfortunate incident at Winchester Art College in my younger student days, that some students can get quite uncomfortable with this.

Highlights included some extremely well executed woven pieces from Emily Moore, exquisite layered cutwork from Helen Muir, stage costume from Kym Gribble and humorous contemporary iconography from Polly Hughes.

I did sneak a few shots of Amy Rapley’s painted wall hangings because there was some interesting layered work which was relevant to my theme project:

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I could see paint, cut and applied papers, pencil drawings, cut outs, gold leaf and much more.   An incredible amount of detail.

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I was sorry not to have seen any of the fashion students’ work and we also missed the MA exhibition but I will definitely be keeping an eye out for the next show as the majority of work was, in my opinion, of a very high standard.

This blog has images showing work from the 2013 textiles graduates but we did not see many of these on our visit.  I am wondering if they had a separate location or perhaps we missed the dates.

Stroud International Textiles and Site Festival May 2013

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Recently a fellow OCA Textiles student and I visited Stroud to take a look at some of the exhibitions and open studios during Stroud International Textiles Spring Select.

I left my camera-phone in the car.   Major fail.  Typical.

However, that did not prevent us from having a great time looking at some wonderful textile and art work.

First stop was Stroud College where the SIT weaving symposium was in full swing in one of the lecture rooms.  We had a look at the books for sale in the foyer and I have now put Hand Stitch, Perspectives by Alice Kettle and Jane McKeating on my Amazon wishlist.  Also on display here was a small collection of very well executed recent work by fashion and textiles students at the college.

We then went along to the Museum in the Park where we found:

  • tapestries by Hillu Liebelt – my favorite was Chasing the Summer (2011), a bold, blue and red, large, horizontal panel in silk, rayon, cotton and bamboo fibre.
  • a hand dyed and woven paper piece specially commissioned for the site by Japanese artist Seiko Kinoshita English Summer Fields Soundscape: Sound of weaving.
  • Mother Love by Ingrid Hesling and Jenni Dutton – two artists’ interpretations of the relationships between mother and daughter using traditional techniques in an unusual way.  Jenni Dutton was observing her mother over the time she was suffering with dementia and produced The Dementia Darnings, a series of large portraits of her mother, some reproduced from family photographs and all made using tapestry wool and other yarns through fine net fabric.  Close up you can see how the artist has blended the yarns to produce the required colours, very similar to the work of Cayce Zavaglia who uses stitch in a painterly way.  Ingrid Hesling’s work A Stitch in Time incorporates embroidery on vintage linens that the artist found after the death of her mother.  She explores her complicated and sometimes difficult relationship with her mother in a series of embroideries that also incorporate photographic images.

Brunel Broderers exhibition Suited was at the Lansdown Hall and Gallery.  Hobbs tailors abandoned their shop some years ago and then recently offered access to the Broderers who used the fabrics, haberdashery and notions to inspire their work for this show.  Tailoring techniques and luxury woollen and silk fabrics are used in novel ways.  Of particular interest to me were the artist’s sketchbooks which are available for visitors to view.

We went on to look around the Studio Seven textile workshop at Stroud Valleys Artspace open studios where we found work by Francesca Chalk, Sarah Jenner, Anne Rogers, Kathryn Clarke, Corinne Hockley, Jenny Bicat and Liz Lippiatt.  I especially enjoyed Corinne Hockley’s theatrical costume pieces and the gorgeously coloured devore prints by Liz Lippiatt.  Also at SVA we saw Zoe Heath‘s beautiful, intricate books and small scale artworks made from found objects.

Later we found ourselves at The Weaving Shed where Sally Hampson, artist and weaver occupies a disused shop in Stroud High Street, a residency assisted by SVA, and engages with visitors in the process of weaving.  Looms are available ready set up for introduction to weaving workshops where students learn to experiment with techniques, yarns and fabrics.

On the way home we stopped off at Frogmarsh Mill in South Woodchester where more artists work was on display as part of the open studios event.  Cleo Mussi‘s colourful and quirky mosaics feature old ceramics and found objects to make wall plaques.  We also saw Fiona Hesketh’s delicate jewellery, Annie Hewitt’s glowing cobalt decorated earthenware tableware and Jacqueline Kroft’s fair trade hand knitted clothing.  Finally we chatted with Jennifer Whiskerd, artist and printmaker who has also been an OCA tutor, and enjoyed looking at her woodcut prints based on the antics of the local wildlife.

Part 3 Research Point – Crafts

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We are asked to consider why craft-produced textiles maintain a place in our society.

Top of the list when undertaking a Google search on the definition of “craft” gives the definition “An activity involving skill in making things by hand.”  Man has been making things with his hands from the moment he found he could fashion a sharp edge on a piece of flint.  To make something by hand entails knowlege and skills learned from practice of the craft and training from watching and being instructed by another skilled practitioner.  It takes effort which sometimes means physical strength or endurance in the case of blacksmiths or glass blowers and it often takes considerable time to produce a piece by hand so patience is also a useful virtue.  The best materials for the job are also necessary so that the product is going to endure.

Craftspeople often learn their craft from family members who are able to spend time with youngsters who exhibit an enjoyment of using their hands.  My Grandmother let me use her hand crank Singer sewing machine to make soft toys and dresses for my dolls and her good friend got me started on knitting and crochet, all when I was still of primary school age and was spending relaxing weekends with my grandparents away from the normal routine.  Many of the people I have asked about their craft experiences are convinced of the importance of sharing knowledge and skills with others.  It is a vital part of living in a community.  Craftspeople inevitably appreciate other craftspeople’s work and that in turn leads to the transfer of ideas and inspires new work.

In some cultures making the product by hand is vital part of sharing traditions and ideas and communicating a common history.  The Navaho Americans of the South West United States use patterns woven into baskets made of Sumac, Bear Grass and Willow Wood to represent feelings, note the weather and recount legends that have changed little over thousands of years.  Traditionally the craft was passed down through the female line and although there was more emphasis on the more lucrative production of Navaho rugs during the 1960s the craft persists through the efforts of people like Mary Holiday Black and her family.

Mass production of items we use every day has lead to a separation of the consumer from an appreciation of how it is made.  We will wrap ourselves in a fleecy blanket made from recycled plastic milk bottles and imagine we are helping to preserve the environment but how much more cosy, cared for and virtuous would we feel surrounded by a quilt made from old dresses and shirts worn by our family members and stitched by Mum, Granny and Sister to celebrate the birth of the new baby. There is huge added-value in the knowledge of how things are made and that when an item is made by hand it is truly unique.  When a piece tells a story that the consumer can identify with there is a connection made with the artist and a common experience.  How much more enjoyable than unwrapping a highly-packaged, machine made product that can never evoke the same feelings of appreciation.

Collectors of craft pieces don’t just take them home and leave them behind glass to be coldly admired.  Yvonna Demczynska runs Flow, a contemporary craft gallery in Notting Hill in London.  She says “For me, crafts are part of the domestic environment as well as being art pieces on show in galleries.”  (Family Ties – Crafts September/October 2008)  She uses a table commissioned from Toby Roskilly, a Cornish furniture maker, in her sitting room, on the mantelpiece are oil lamps by Helen Carnac and cast glass by Koihiro Yamamoto of Japan and the feeling is of a home that is lived in, not another gallery for the entertainment of prospective clients.

Until mass production using modern textiles and technologies everyone’s clothes and household textiles were made by hand.  Women who were my ancestors living in the rugged mountains of Epirus in the north-west and the Agean islands in the south-east of Greece, in the not too distant past, would have sewn and embroidered a dowry’s worth of household linens as maidens and continued to produce their own blankets and rugs using wool and hair from the sheep and goats they kept on the mountainsides.  The wealthy would not usually make their own clothing and linens but they would employ others to make these for them and perhaps embellish them with their own embroidery.

Industrial production of textiles made by machine means the consumer is not involved with the item in the same way as may happen when either you make something yourself or commission an item to be made for you.  Jo Lucksted, a ceramic artist based in Shepton Mallet, Somerset says that part of the enjoyment for her customers and herself is the personal interaction between them.  Again it is about sharing ideas, experiences and for the consumer to be part of the process by sharing with the maker is unique and beyond value.

Involvement in producing hand made items also brings people together within their communities.  There are innumerable groups, of mainly women – but that is another topic for discussion altogether – who meet up to enjoy spending time making with their friends and families.  Stitch and chat sessions, sewing bees, yarn-bombing, Women’s Institute meetings, knitting blankets for charities and now it is common for brides to invite their hens to a craft party instead of a night out clubbing.  It is possible to learn a new craft now at the many workshop establishments that have been set up recently.  My local quilting shop in Chilcompton, Somerset – Midsomer Quilting has a year round programme of courses to learn new textile skills where experience and ideas are shared.  The Makery and Wool in Bath both offer drop in sessions where you can meet up with friends and sort out technical problems with your projects and the social aspects is sometimes even more important than the craft.  There is definitely a resurgence of interest in making in the UK.

The Crafts Council Craft Matters initiative was set up in 2009 to encourage and promote craft as a vital part of cultural, social and economic life in the UK.  Artist Grayson Perry is one of their craft champions and his recent series of television programmes on Channel 4, In the Best Possible Taste – Grayson Perry was an exploration of British taste inspired by Hogarth’s A Rakes Progress and culminating in a series of tapestries, The Vanity of Small Differences exhibited at the Victoria and Albert Museum.  Perry uses the concept of taste within a particular social class or “tribe” and the personal emotional investment in the type of items people choose to surround themselves with to expolore the politics of consumerism and popular design.

Also, just recently, a new series of programmes have begun on BBC.  Paul Martin’s Handmade Revolution is a competition-style concept whereby groups of craftspeople, are chosen to be interviewed and at the end of the programme one is chosen to get their work into the Victoria & Albert Museum shop.  It is really great that crafts are being featured in the media, but I am not sure as to the motivation behind the concept which is more akin to a craft version of the X-Factor than to promoting the best of UK craft.  I enjoyed much more Monty Don’s series Mastercrafts which gave participants a real opportunity to experience and ultimately pursue an apprenticeship in a valuable craft.

Different cultures regard craft in different ways.  My mother made an interesting comment recently, on completing a quilt she had made for her friend’s first grandchild, she said that her friend Urania was the only person in Greece she could think of that would appreciate something hand made.  To me, this is a pretty damning observation of Greece’s current attitude to an aspect of their heritage and potential for the future.  But it underlines my own research into the production of traditional Greek textiles that, so far, has shown me that there is very little still produced by hand.  Women are still producing the crocheted lace and embroideries which are on offer in tourist shopping districts like Monastiraki in Athens but the designs are dated and not appealing to the modern craft consumer.  Isn’t what a country makes part of it’s identity?

One Greek craftsman based in Monastiraki itself is famous for his traditional sandals but he is almost more notorious for being a lone craftsperson in a sea of industrially produced tourist geegaws.

Stavros Melissinos – the Poet Sandal Maker of Athens – learned his craft from his father and has passed his skills on to his son Pandelis, also a writer and a painter.  During my research I have found many instances of craftspeople having more than one talent – is this a characteristic of creativity?

There is also the feel good factor in making.  As Virginia Crawford of Virginia Creeper puts it,

For the creator, there is perhaps a sense of providing for loved ones, along with a deep artistic satisfaction, a nesting instinct, a nurturing instinct, a sense of community. There’s nothing like the feeling that comes with making something yourself. Deep satisfaction, self-nurturing, fulfilling. There is a level of artistic expression that comes with producing textiles by hand (manually) that fully automated, industrialized machine processes cannot attain, nor are they designed to, for the very good reason that their sole purpose is to manufacture for the mass market rather than for the individual.”

Many consumers feel it is vital to seek out the hand made because it corresponds with their ideals of ethical, green, local or even actively anti-consumerist shopping.

And pianist Jacquelyn Bevan homes in on another aspect when she says:

“being creative is good for the soul/mental health”

which is a huge factor for many people involved in crafts.  Virginia told me about the Saori weaving program founded 40 years ago in Japan by Misao Jo and now practised in nearly 1000 sheltered workshops, rehabilitation centres and schools across the world.  Misao Jo explains the philosophy behind the program,

All flowers are beautiful, even though each individual flower is different in form and color.  Because of this difference, “all are good”.  Because everything has the same life, life cannot be measured by a yardstick.  It is this individuality that makes everything meaningful and the uniqueness of each thread that creates the tapestry of life.”

With Saori, the craft of weaving is used to enable anyone, regardless of ability, to explore his or her creativity and by this activity, to enrich their lives and contribute to their community.  Saori encourages spontaneous creativity through showing people how to weave in a way that means irregularities are all adding to the “human-ness” of the piece.  Specially developed looms and prepared warps can be used to aid the process and the emphasis is on self-expression, helping people towards independence.

At a talk at the 2008 London Literature Festival Grayson Perry was one of three artists were invited to join Richard Sennett to talk about his book The Craftsman and discuss craft’s role in contemporary society.  Perry comments on the joys of imperfection:

“In my studio, literally cast into a beam, it says: ‘Creativity is mistakes.’  It’s a recognition of humanity; you spot problems, you know if something goes wrong, but in a good way. ‘Next time I’ll capitalise on that,’ you think, except then it’s not a mistake but deliberate.  Potters talk about the ‘gifts of the fire’.”  (Amateurism, Art and Absorption – Crafts September/October 2008)

The production crafts will only continue if the skills and knowledge are passed down.  70 years ago many children left school at 14 to be apprenticed to master craftsmen and women as carpenters, milliners, shoemakers, stonemasons and so on.  Until recently apprenticeships had all but disappeared and are now being offered again, with the Government’s publicity highlighting the “earn while you learn” aspect.  Unfortunately there seem to be few opportunities being offered in traditional craft-based industries, such as construction or manufacture as most are in business administration, the leisure industry and communications.

The Heritage Crafts Association, presided over by HRH the Prince of Wales, endeavours to promote traditional heritage crafts such as embroidery, spinning, weaving and dyeing so that the skills will be passed on.  Funds are raised for grant awards and training in marketing to help craftspeople look to the future as well as preserving knowledge from the past.

According to this article on The British Museum blog, we are apprently greatly appreciating the value of the hand made in the UK, such that the contemporary craft market is worth £1 billion.  But in my experience and that of the people I have spoken to, craftspeople are rarely making for great monetary gain.  They work in their chosen craft because they are drawn to it, are fulfilled by it and chose to do it because it is something they enjoy and would not want to live any other way.  Many craftspeople also teach to supplement their income and disseminate their knowledge.  Craft is often a lifestyle choice.  Virginia again:

I choose to work from home doing something I enjoy and am good at. While personally fulfilling, my craft work fits around my delicate health and will continue to bring in an income even when I have a family to raise. This supports my parenting ideals and will inevitably lead to my children learning craft skills from me in the same way that I learnt from my mother. Incidentally, my mother stayed at home until I was about 15 and supplemented the family income with cottage industry, either by selling her own amazing embroidery, crochet, macrame and basketweaving pieces or by taking in crochet piecework from other businesses. As kids we often helped her in her endeavours, and we learnt a lot about craft, self-employment and good parenting.”

Finally, on a note that I heartily empathise with, Virginia expresses her personal observation how the world goes around:

Society is made up of several different strata. Craftspeople dwell in the one that keeps society honest, grounded and self-sufficient.”


Bibliography

Contributions gratefully received from:

Jo Lucksted -ceramicist

Jacquelyn Fry – pianist

Virginia Crawford – costumier and doll maker

Katharine Tassis – retired textiles teacher

Part 3 Research Point – Style and design of textiles

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In the 21st century with the technology for instant communication across the globe and a seemingly unquenchable appetite for the aquisition of consumable items there is an infinite choice of fabrics with which to decorate ourselves and our homes.  This is fuelled by the fashion industry and the media with the constant flow of new “must-have” designs at the latest cat-walk shows and home exhibitions.

We are also able to experience the fashions of the past and those of other cultures with access to personal collections acquired by museums and heritage organisations and the ease of air travel.  These, in turn, provide inspiration for new designs and the cycle of consumption continues.

These days there is almost too much choice when looking for fabric in the sample books at an upholstery supplier.  You can go down the traditional route with your safe Sanderson floral:

Abingdon by Sanderson

or stripe:

Netherfield Stripe by Sanderson

You can look back at designers from the past who still influence interior design fashion today, like William Morris:

Acanthus tapestry

or you can look forward to see how technology inspires designers like these modern fabrics, Braille, Blink and Molecular by the Danish company Unika Vaev:

Some of my favourite fabrics are inspired by world cultures and vintage designs, like these from Alexander Henry:

Roping – images of American rodeo horsemanship

Shinto – oriental graphics and a subdued palette

Skullduggery – Mexican ‘Day of the Dead’ imagery

and others are produced to comply with environmental briefs, like these sustainable fabrics from Instyle of Australia:

Recycled Polyester

Polyeurethane fabrics that have a less environmental impact than conventional vinyl fabrics

There appear to be as many different fashions in interior fabric design as there are designers and obviously consumers are going to be drawn to a variety of designs, depending on their personal style, aspirations and pocket.  Where you live is also going to be a factor but it is my impression that high street interior style in fabrics at the moment is still quite traditional with floral or geometric designs but with bolder colours, scale of pattern and more of a sense of fun.

I would say one of the most influential arbiters of high street interior design is Ikea.  A quick flick through House Beautiful, Real Homes, Living Etc and similar magazines indicates that many people enjoy living in light, airy rooms with light-coloured, modern furniture incorporating colourful fabrics such as this room set furnished in Orla Kiely’s designs:

Scandinavian style has been on trend now for some time but I think it will endure because of the clean and fresh look it gives.  Some of my favourites are:

The Seablanket by Vík Prjónsdóttir made from Icelandic sheep’s wool

Mello by Spira inspired by the ric rac braid used to decorate traditional scandinavian costume

Unikko by Marimekko – originally designed by Maija Isola in 1964

There is a definite swing towards natural fibres with cotton, linen and wool available and affordable, like this 100% wool blanket from Ikea decorated in polyester thread embroidery:

Birgit throw, Ikea

Millwood Yellow linen rich upholstery fabric by Laura Ashley

Verapaz Mantaro Berry – a large scale multicoloured check design on a woven linen and cotton voile from Designers Guild

I have to say I am much more drawn to the more traditional fabrics made from natural fibres.  I also like the bold colours and fun patterns of Scandinavian style and when window shopping during my lunch break I would often linger at Shannon in Walcot Street in Bath where I would covet the PVC Marimekko table cloth fabric, stroke the Klippan Moose throws and chuckle at the Moomin products, remembering my own childhood enjoyment of the stories and then of reading them to my own children.

Bibliography

http://www.william-morris.co.uk/

http://www.sanderson-uk.com/

http://www.unikavaev.com/

http://www.interiordesign.net/

http://www.instyle.com.au/#/home

http://www.ahfabrics.com/collections/category/8-fashionforhome

http://www.housetohome.co.uk/

http://www.vikprjonsdottir.com/

http://www.husandhem.co.uk/

http://www.shannon-uk.com/

http://www.designersguild.com/

http://www.lauraashley.com/

http://www.ikea.com/gb/en/

Project 3 – Research Point

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For this exercise I chose this cross stitch tapestry that I stitched in my later teens – over 30 years ago.

“Mrs Chicken” features a jolly hen design surrounded by flowers.  I made it up into a cushion cover and it used to sit on the sofa in our living room, initially whilst I was still at home with the parents and then later in my own home.  When we moved house 2 years ago it was packed in a box with a lot of my fabric and yarns that I have only recently been able to sort out.  It needs a really good wash so I am waiting for a sunny day to hand wash it and hang outside to dry.

Every year from the ages of 7 to 17 (apart from 1974 when Turkey invaded Cyprus in response to the Greek military backed coup) I and my mother spent 3 weeks of the long summer holiday from school staying with my Greek grandparents in a one-bedroom flat in Athens.  My father would usually join us for one of these weeks but no longer as he was working hard running his own shop and couldn’t spare the time away.  I, and my parents are only children and so these holidays were a bit boring for a child who couldn’t speak the language of the family she only saw for a handful of days a year and there were not many children of my own age to play with.  A lot of my time was spent reading.  My mother (who also did not speak Greek in those days) and I would fill one of our suitcases with library books to keep us entertained while the olds were watching either one of the two televisions stations of an evening.  I especially found the afternoon siesta tedious because I wasn’t used to sleeping in the middle of the day.

Amalia Megapanou’s tapestry design pattern books published in the 1980s.

To help combat the boredom my mother found some wonderful books when we visited the Benaki folk museum in the city centre.  I still have these books which are printed on glossy paper and full of colourful illustrations of cross stitch designs developed from traditional textiles in the Museum’s collection.  The designs from these hand stitched or woven household linens and clothing have been translated into detailed cross stitch charts for tapestry and Mrs Chicken was my favourite.  This design comes from Designs From Greek Embroideries Vol I by Amalia Megapanou [Benaki Museum 1981].  The book has a colour plate showing each of the finished tapestries but not the original inspiration for the designs, which is a pity.

I loved going into the haberdashery shop to buy the canvas and choose the correct colours to match the chart in the back of the book.  I couldn’t wait to start stitching.  I cannot remember how long it took me to complete.  Perhaps it was longer than it should have been because I might have run out of one of the colours and had to wait until we next visited Athens to match the correct shade or I might just have put it to one side as I had become bored of stitching the background, I’m not sure.  I do remember how soothing it was stitching the crosses one after the other.  I am one of those people who can get lost in a repetitve activity and my mind wanders off to who knows where, very relaxing.

Traditionally, until the lure of well-paid jobs in factories and tourism drew them away from home, Greek women would produce household textiles for their trousseau and this would form part of the dowry on marriage.  Women from wealthy families would spend a lot of their time sewing, embroidering and making lace and this was considered an appropriate activity for a maiden from the upper classes, as it was in this country 100 and more years ago.  Women from the labouring classes would also spend a lot of their spare time spinning, weaving, sewing and embroidering household textiles but they would be fitting this in with their chores looking after the family, the housework and farming.  My grandmother grew up in a rural community on the island of Ikaria, one of 8 children.  Initially she worked as an attendant in one of Ikaria’s thermal spa therapy centres. In the 1930s she left her island home to work in the capital, married and my father was born during the German occupation of Greece in WWII.  She would have bought factory made household textiles and clothing for her trousseau.  I remember the overwhelming odor of moth balls when she used to open her linen cupboard and let me play dressing up in a beautiful acetate rayon embroidered kimono dressing gown she must have had from this time.

My grandmother Lemonia holding my baby father and wearing the kimono (1943).

The tapestry comprises cross stitches (all in the same direction, I remember being very particular about getting that right and diligently unpicking if I made any mistakes) in tapestry wool on canvas.  Using the sewing machine I backed it with a cotton sateen furnishing fabric in a green to co-ordinate with the design and inserted a zip to get at the cushion pad.  The colours are, on the whole, muted blue-grey, mauves and greens on a cream background, with a vibrant pop of red and pink here and there.  I recognise now, after my recent work on this last colour project that this piece includes a lot of the colours in my chosen theme – so it is definitely those colours I am continually drawn back to.

The hen design is naive but detailed and I was always fascinated by the strange, many-legged figure in the top left corner.  I don’t think the book mentions it but I have a recollection that it is supposed to represent a mandrake, the strange mythical plant later popularised in the Harry Potter stories.  The book states the design was developed from a bridal cushion cover from the Ioannina region of Greece.  I did stitch a couple of other designs from this and the other books in the series but this was always my favourite.  Now that I keep hens myself I can appreciate some of the detailed observation that has gone in to this design.  I particularly like the little spur on the back of the hens foot and the way the simple zig-zagged lines under the hen’s tail captures the softer downy-feathered area here.

Looking back and remembering how my grandparents doted on their only grandchild I know that they wanted to spoil me when I visited and that my mother would have been given a wad of thousand Drachma notes to treat me to something I would like.  So buying the wool and canvas for this project was a very special and expensive treat but it was also something that I had a part in creating and it has endured.  This makes it even more precious.

Me dressing up on my first visit to Greece, aged 7 (1971).

I know that I was reproducing someone else’s design so this piece is not particularly creative but just looking at it takes me on a journey back to the heat and dust, the crashing boredom punctuated by the occasional seaside visit with some distant cousins and the memories of my loving and indulgent grandparents that sadly I never learned to communicate with properly.  I would have loved to talk with them about their lives growing up in rural Greece in the mountains and on the islands.  My father has told me a lot of their stories but it is not the same as chatting to someone in person.  Being able to ask them about details that they would take for granted but that I would find fascinating coming from another culture would have been so precious.

Bittersweet memories.

Henry Moore

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I am finding it difficult to get on with my OCA studies for lots of reasons but in the meantime I have been doing lots of research on the web and looking at art books to try to get my head around my apparent drawing block.

Browsing this book on drawing that my mother had lent my daughter for her exam studies, I came across mention of bracelet shading.  This is a method of using parallel lines to show the contours of the drawn form.  I then got side-tracked into looking up Henry Moore’s drawings because he was mentioned as using this technique.  I knew he was well known for his sculpture work but I had not come across any of his other art work before and I was drawn to these images of sleepers in the Underground from WWII.  Apparently he was commissioned as a war artist during this time.

I have to say I do not know anything about Henry Moore and his inspiration but when I look at these images of people using the London Underground tunnels as a shelter from the air raids I find I am reminded of contemporary concentration camps and even current scenes of refugee camps and shelters in war torn and disaster areas of the world.  The figures often seem to have a skeletal quality, as if I am looking at a lifeless form, even though I am sure the images are supposed to represent the living.   Perhaps that is something to do with Moore’s study of the anatomy of the body for his sculpture work.  I also get a sense of despair and resignation from the way the people lie with hunched shoulders, anguished faces and with their backs facing us.

Moore would make brief sketches in situ and work them up later at home.  This is how he described what he found at the time:  “poor looking women and children waiting to be let in to take shelter for the night – and the dirty old bits of blankets and clothes and pillows stretched out on the Tube platforms – it’s about the most pathetic, sordid and disheartening sight I hope to see.”  (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/art/3655235/How-Henry-Moore-dug-for-victory.html)

I must now find out more about Moore’s background and inspiration, intriguing.