Prism at Hoxton

Prism at Hoxton Arches, the next exhibition, takes place in early June 2016. Here’s the poster for it:blocks_image_1_1

If you’re in London at the time or can make the trip, please do try to get along to it. I submitted three pieces for consideration (Cochineal Dream #1, #2 and #3) and they have been accepted, I’m very happy to say. This is not quite my first time exhibiting (there was the piece I did for Brenda Gael Smith’s touring exhibition, Living Colour) but it will be the first time I’ve had any work on show in the UK. I’ll write a bit more next time about how I’m going about preparing for the exhibition.


Never apologise, never explain

Yes, it’s been a while. But I’m not apologising for that. I’ve got a life, like everybody else, and it does get in the way. I’ve found the best way for me, personally, to approach blogging is to treat it as an on-going diary which will be a bit sporadic when I’m otherwise occupied. There’s really no point in creating a burden for myself in the form of self-imposed pressure to write a blog post twice a week. So I’m not going to. I’m not apologising but if I write about what I’ve been up to, it is inevitably, a kind of explanation. Mostly, during the month of March it’s been work, sheer hard graft with several trips away and some long hours put in on keeping the wolf from the door. But I have been doing quite a lot of stitching in the interstices (I love that word) and I’ll show some of it on the blog over the next week or two. In the meantime, here’s a picture of one of my thread boxes. Thread box white and creamI think I’ve written in the past how useful I find the cheap wooden drawers from IKEA. I keep commercial stranded cotton in small plastic boxes, and my own dyed threads are in the dyed thread drawer. Everything else goes into these sets of wooden drawers, sorted and classified by colour. They are small enough to be manageable, but large enough to contain what I’ve got. When I want threads of a particular colour I can spill the contents of a drawer onto the desk and rummage about to select things. And tidying up them up afterwards doesn’t take very long. It satisfies my orderly accountant’s mind to have things filed away and tidy.

This is, obviously, the white and cream thread box. It’s somewhat depleted at the moment because I’ve been using neutrals a lot. Those of you who follow this blog may have read my posts in late January and February about whitework. I loved doing so much work around the theme of white but I must say that since then I’ve been enjoying getting back to colour. More on that soon.


Inventing ghostwork

This week I’ve been inventing ghostwork. At least, I think I’ve been inventing it – apologies to anyone who got there first.

So, what is it? Regular readers will know that I’ve been obsessing over whitework recently, and have been playing around making whitework samples. I decided to turn the thing on its head and to start with a coloured fabric, then reduce it back to plain white as much as possible. I took a piece of African batik (purchased as part of a range of fabrics from the excellent African Fabric Shop) and cut a small piece. I then tried to remove most of the colour from it using DeColourant spray. This had very little effect, so then I tried DeColourant* paste. This still wasn’t working particularly well, even after prolonged steam ironing, so I put some household bleach into a plastic tray and immersed the piece of batik for well over 24 hours. After this time the dark areas of fabric were still dark, but the bright green had faded to either white or a pale pink. I then free-machine embroidered all over it using off-white Madeira rayon thread. The effect is to produce a ghostly image of the batik, much dispelled by the bleach and the white embroidery. The photograph shows, on the left hand side, a piece of the original batik, and in most of the picture on the right hand side, the bleached out ghostwork version. I’m really rather taken with it.Bleached out batik - whitework

I also tried bleaching another piece of African batik cotton which I’d covered with coloured embroidery. I immersed this in pure bleach for about three days and I have to tell you that the DMC embroidery cotton holds its colour really well even in the face of this attack on it. Some of the colours turned a bit paler, but that’s it. Very impressive performance. The background fabric was definitely fading after three days in the bleach, though. So, not wholly successful if the whole point was to remove colour. Well, I then rinsed it out and decided to put it through a washing machine cycle with a lot of towels. Then I was going to photograph it and show it on this blogpost as an illustration of how well DMC cottons hold their colour. However, I proceeded to unload the washing machine and then to hang the towels up, but there was no sign of the little experimental piece of cotton. Where oh where has it gone? I examined the washing machine drum, but the piece of cotton seems to have just disappeared. This is truly weird. Although, it could be akin to the sock conundrum which you’re probably familiar with. When you pair the clean socks, there’s almost always one left over. Where is its mate? Gone to join the other spare socks in some forgotten corner of the universe, perhaps.

* DeColourant spray and paste: I’ve not had outstanding results with these products. I think if you’re expecting them to remove colour completely you’re probably in for a disappointment. However, I have not used them a great deal, and others may have had more success. Has anybody tried them? Have you got any helpful comments/tips/suggestions about their use? There’s a similar Jacquard product that I’ve not tried. These pastes/sprays are pretty expensive, offputtingly so for the casual experimenter. Household bleach, on the other hand, is cheap.

Update on the cochineal project

Cochineal Dream 2I thought it was time for an update on the cochineal project. I exerted myself a bit last week, and finished the second in my ‘Cochineal Dream’ series. I even pulled myself together sufficiently to line it and finish it properly, and here it is (with the first piece underneath it):

As intended, it’s darker than the first piece, but the theme is still definitely cochineal. Here are a couple of close-ups:Cochineal Dream 2 close upCochineal Dream 2 close up

I’m currently pondering whether to make a third or not. I’m happy to continue in this vein, and I do think a group of three similar things is more satisfying and altogether better than a group of two… but perhaps I should be heading off in another direction. I’ve got lots of ideas, but insufficient time…. we’ll see.


Cochineal Dream 2

I said a few posts ago that I was going to continue with the same theme as previously, to develop and work on another cochineal-based piece. Working title: Cochineal Dream 2. Just to show that I’m getting on with things, and not spending my time just crocheting woolly animals, here’s a photo of Cochineal Dream 2 in its early stages.Cochineal Dream 2

I suppose the first thing to say about this is that it’s got less cochineal in it than the first piece. As you see, I’ve not used any cochineal threads yet. However, you can gather something about my intention from the Barbie pink piece of cotton scrim in the bottom left hand corner. There will be more pink and red in this – just not yet. I intend to make this darker in theme, with more distinct areas of darkness and light. As ever, I’m enjoying the process of putting this together and working on it very much. I’ll report back on progress. Part of my plan is that it should be very similar in shape and dimension to the first piece which was more or less square. I think I’ve mentioned previously on this blog that I’m endlessly fascinated with the square. The exploration of the Klee-style blocks embodies squares, and it seems appropriate to create whole pieces in my favourite shape. I’d like to do more on grids and squares, and maybe I will. Keep watching….

Dyeing with walnuts

Last Christmas I saved all the shells from the seasonal walnuts with a view to trying them out for dyeing. However, I’d forgotten about them until I came across the box of shells the other day. So I thought it was high time to have a go. I boiled up the batch of walnut shells for an hour, then left overnight to steep. The following day I strained off the water, boiled it up again and added various pieces of material and threads. I left it all to steep for 24 hours, then rinsed everything and hung it up to dry. Here are the results:Results of dyeing with walnuts

The vegetable-based materials are always less likely to take up natural dye colour well, and this is no exception to that general rule. The silk takes up the colour best, but the wool is also good. I’ve wound the two-ply lambswool onto the black card in the centre; this has been very successful. Right at the bottom is the sock lace (a mixture of merino and silk) which is a beautiful yarn and which has dyed beautifully. I like these muted browns very much. I’m struck by the thought that perhaps I’m, at last, coming round to brown. The school I went to between ages 11 and 18 had a brown school uniform. Everything was brown: blazer, skirt, socks, hockey socks, even knickers. Even if you’d started your school career liking brown, it was pretty unlikely that you’d still like it by the time you got to stop wearing it. I’ve never been able to countenance wearing it since. Even brown shoes. So much for early conditioning.

Perhaps I’d have got deeper colours if I’d boiled the shells for longer. Or left the materials in the dye for longer. I just don’t know. Does anyone reading this have any experience of using walnut shells for dyeing? Please let me know if you have. Christmas will soon be on us again, with another opportunity to save some shells.

Cochineal Dream 1

I noted a couple of posts ago that I’d finished the stitching on my cochineal piece. However, this wasn’t quite an end to it as I needed to finish it off properly. I did this by padding the back with a layer of felt and then backing the piece with a medium-weight cotton (the medium-weight cotton is actually John Lewis curtain lining material which I find to be rather a useful resource for all sorts of things as well as for lining curtains). And here’s the finished article:Cochineal dream 1

You’ll see from the title of this post that I’ve actually named the piece. I thought ‘Cochineal Dream’ seemed right, and I added the ‘1’ because I felt motivated to create at least one more piece to make a mini-series. I keep having ideas about other things I can do with this particular approach to stitching, so I reckon I might as well continue with it for a bit longer. If I do make progress on this I will write more blogposts about it. I’ve read textile artists on the subject of working in a series; Lisa Call even has a course on it, and it seems to be generally regarded as a good thing to do. It seems to me it does make sense to be able to present, and to refer to, a coherent body of work, so I’m by no means averse to moving in this direction. But, at the same time, I have lots of other, different, ideas that I’d like to explore if only I had time. They can put that on my tombstone: ‘….. if only she’d had time….’.

I’ve been doing some more dyeing recently, and have been very absorbed in it. We’re having a few days of a kind of Indian summer at the moment, and this is a good time to be hanging cloths and threads out to dye. When I get it all organised, ironed and the threads untangled and wound I’ll no doubt write something more about it.


Finished cochineal piece

I’ve finished the cochineal piece that I’ve been working on for many weeks at a snail’s pace. Here’s the finished article just out of the hoop:Cochineal Klee-inspired piece

You’ll see that I put quite a lot of white and grey into it. Just because I felt like it. When I started this piece I wanted to get some pink and red contrasts (cool contrasted with warm reds and pinks) but didn’t have much clear idea other than that where I was going with it. I collected together various threads that I thought might work together and then just picked them out to use as I felt like it. This is fine in a sample piece. However, I think the next stage with this is to experiment with composition a bit more, so that the principal shapes and lines in the piece are more planned. I may also experiment with using line more, rather than working the colour in blocks. First, though, I’ll get this sample finished off, by backing it with something suitable and neatening the edges. I’ll post a photo of the finished piece once I’ve done this.

I’ve ordered a copy of Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art by Claire Wellesley-Smith. This was published a couple of weeks ago, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it. Some readers may remember that I went on a course on natural dyeing with Claire a couple of years ago, and came away deeply impressed and very keen to try out natural dyeing techniques. If you haven’t come across it, Claire has a beautiful blog. She doesn’t update it as frequently as she once did (I can relate to that) but it’s well worth a look. And if you get the opportunity to go on one of her courses, drop everything and go.

I’ll probably get round to writing a review of Claire’s book at some point, so look out for that.

Back to dyeing

I thought it was time I got back to dyeing, as I haven’t done any for a while. This is partly because of other priorities, but also because a little dyed fabric goes a long way when you’re handstitching. You really don’t need that much of it. I’ve had occasional notions of perhaps trying to sell any surplus, maybe via Etsy, but I haven’t yet done anything about it. I’m probably too busy with work and household things to start even a small-scale commercial enterprise. And besides, I don’t have a clear idea of whether there’d be any demand for it.

A prompt to get started again was reading about dyeing with avocado stones. A few weeks ago I bought a copy of ‘Quilting with a Modern Slant’ by Rachel May, in which there is a brief instructional section on dyeing using avocado stones. We don’t eat a lot of avocados, so it took me a while to save up half a dozen stones. I followed the instructions, added the cloth…. and, well, it was disappointing. Maybe I didn’t boil them for long enough. Maybe they’re the wrong variety of avocados. Whatever the reason, the fabric emerged very little changed from the way it went in to the dyebath. Avocado is supposed to produce great pinks and purples. Not for me.

So, I turned to my rather substantial collection of onion skins. I had a large bag of plain brown onion skins, and a much smaller supply of red onion skins. What, I wondered to myself, would happen if I used both? (I didn’t have enough of the red ones to use them by themselves). Well, this is what happened – a rather lovely selection of pale browns: Onion skin dyeing

Not quite what I was expecting, but then that’s the lovely thing about dyeing with vegetable dyes; you just never quite know what you’re going to get. These colours are much more muted than the yellows I got a while back with dyeing with the plain brown skins only: Dyeing with onion skins - results

Both are lovely. Both add to my stock of colours and both are reproducible to at least some extent.

What I need to do more of, now, is logwood dyeing as I’ve practically exhausted my range of greys. I’ll report back if and when I get round to it.

Colour juxtaposition

One of the most interesting aspects of colour is the odd effects that arise from colour juxtaposition. Josef Albers put it as follows in the introduction to his classic work ‘Interaction of Colour’:

In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is — as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.

In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually. To this end, the beginning is not a study of color systems.

First, it should be learned that one and the same color evokes innumerable readings. Instead of mechanically applying or merely implying laws and rules of color harmony, distinct color effects are produced-through recognition of the interaction of color-by making, for instance, two very different colors look alike, or nearly alike.

I’ve noticed this relativity a lot since I started to use so many different greys. It sometimes seems that it’s impossible to appreciate what grey really is, unless through placing it in a colour context. I was particularly struck by this when working on my cochineal piece, where I couldn’t quite believe the colour that I was getting. Here’s a detail of my piece: Cochineal detail in hoop

To the right of the slightly curved cochineal section and below the white, there are four lines of a greenish grey colour. I was really interested to see the greenish element emerging because I had no idea it was there in the thread. Here’s a photograph of the thread:Logwood cotton thread

This looked, and still looks, to me like a pale, very neutral grey, oriented towards blue if anything. But when you put it in context up against all the pinks, its essential greenness emerges. The extent to which you will be able to see this (if at all) depends upon the monitor you’re viewing it on. I’m seeing this on a monitor that seems to leach the greenness out of the grey. I have two monitors in front of me, and when I move the images across to the other one, I can see the green much more clearly. When I look at the actual piece and the thread, the difference is very striking to me.

This is just another, very small, example of the weird wonderfulness of colour. I have been looking at colour for some years now, and I sometimes feel that I’ve barely started exploring it.