The Blackberry Invader or Humble Bramble?

Along the narrow path, brambles had completely networked, crisscrossing in every direction, successfully blocking any entry through the path. The path barely identifiable. The first task was to open up this network and negotiate a compromise. Entering into a conversation, the boundaries between myself and their persistent invasion, became a much more civilised affair. Tackled with a pair of secateurs, (not a noisy, smelly, petrol strimmer, as indiscriminately tried and miserably failed in the past)and a resolution to not try to eradicate but to utilise the resource. What could I create from it?

Years previously I had made a successful yarn from the inner core of nettles by a process of drying, crushing stripping and so on. Alice Fox, whilst documenting her plot 105, has successfully been making cordage from bramble so this will be a possible experiment but first was to explore whether it yielded a dye successfully.

Natural bramble dye, from the leaves, stems and flowers no berries…yet, gave a lovely surprise…. Responding to different mordants and pH. Black ’berries’ as such offer a fugitive dye they are not lightfast, a stain more than offering a pigment. However, make interesting dyes and inks when you create a dialogue with the environment and something I am experimenting with in alternative processes for journalling this research. Tests will need to be done to assume whether this dyebath is lightfast but it is looking promising to use the resource within the colour scheme and definitely for this second module: sampling and testing. Trying not to repeat subjects, like Natural dyeing that can be readily obtained now through this World wide Web/digital library, I have wondered which way my practice is to go with regards to teaching. How to make a blackberry dyebath seems so easily learnt compared to when I started out over 15 years ago. The thoughtful musings of other journal writers such as Sarah Swett pondered the same it seems and came to a compromise that worked for them.

In order to make the switch from wide fashion cloth to narrow braids that can be interwoven and left outside to continue the narrative with the environment, the thickness of my yarns do need to be considered.

This year the aim of The Textile Farm, me, is to be self sufficient with the resources I use in my ’making’. With the exception of the art paper, a khadi rag paper, that has happened. Although I have made paper before,I think I succumbed to time limitations. Incidentally bramble and nettles and lots of resources I do use lend themselves so well to paper making.

Natural Dialogues.

Entering an unfamiliar place and striking up a conversation is always a challenge, but what if it’s a place you feel you know and a conversation you would love to have. I have suddenly gone shy!

My conversation with the top of the land has always been how can I maintain the narrow pathway, keeping it open for personal use, honouring my fond historical memories of the owner of the farm, who I purchased the land from, driving their animals from the farm, situated by this piece of land, to the fields at the other end. Mother Nature quickly assumes the rights of this pathway should I not keep up this conversation.

Harvesting, rather than removing, pushing back the boundary of the overgrown path. Gently and lightly re establishing the footsteps. The copious amounts of vegetative material collected, with resources, tested, sampled and analysed.

A week later and only halfway along this top boundary, I began to realise a process of creative dialogue has been established.

A dialogue with nature: along the lines of DNA.

23rd Feb 2021

As I have said before I wasn’t ‘quite’ prepared for the depth of soul searching that this course has led me to undertake, although I shouldn’t have been to surprised, as I did anticipate the search for my own ‘identity’ as an artist. However, when presented with the task of 50 images/50 words, I thought I had it covered. I thought I knew what truly ‘floated my boat’,  ignited that spark. The investigations into specifics revealed some fascinating revelations and some images became no longer appealing as they were filled by those specifics.

Quite early on, I found one extremely and  valuable conclusion I had come to was that the slave to fashion I had become was not really ‘IT’ for me. I realised that it was not the fashion itself at all. I had already begun to find the production of metres of cloth, unappealing and monotonous, in fact uninspired to do it. I LOVE the design process, the interaction with the materials and the dialogue I undertake with nature. Incidentally, I found that the fashion element is the love of traditional craft processes, the relationship and interactions it forms with others, historically , in the present and by contemporary translations. I love the infinite detail of the historical costumes and garments, obsessed with pins, tuck, buttons, embroidery and want to try and emulate this into my weave constructions, another reason for using narrow braids rather than vast widths and double cloth where I can explore tucks, pockets and trims.

A person wearing a dress

Description automatically generated with medium confidence A person wearing a dress

Description automatically generated with medium confidenceAuodai Spring Collection 2016.

The passion is that dialogue. In my BA I wanted and did continue that dialogue with nature to the finished product. Returning the cloth to the landscape for it to interact …a short film was made and shown to accompany my graduation.

I love the experiments within my work that show evidence of this dialogue, back and forth. Rust reacting with acids, natural dyes, the spinning and weaving processes where the natural fibres are manipulated using scientific processes like over spinning. For me I LOVE the science. As is expected from the course, I  began to ask myself the question why.

This took me back to an image I remembered I had of myself as a toddler, taken by my grandfather, I believe , where I am obviously delighted and truly engaged with soil (It is now on my board!). Trowel in hand there are a series of images taken, I am oblivious to the photographer. The soil has always been my passion, its welfare, understanding it and believing it to be the soul and essence of everything it produces and indeed provides. The sustainable element, which I thought drove me, hand in hand with this but so much more. Having re trained and worked as a landscape gardener, that should have been obvious, it wasn’t. Although I did make associations with other members of my family as to where my love of the gardening came from.

Within my artwork, I am always drawn to the organic, mark making , often using the chemical reactions of plants to provoke ‘drawn’ responses and final outcomes within the woven cloth. I love the molecular structures of the cells, the patterns they provide to stimulate design outcomes. The dissection of a rose hip within my BA very early on in my studies provided inspiring digital outcomes.

Research helped with this revelation or more a consolidation and clarification of it. The series of videos we were given, I have finally got around to watching the Yunko Mori one in full, half way through and hooked. I am fascinated with her love of microscopic images and share her passion, I can see so much potential for design just like her albeit in a different discipline. I need a microscope….and to watch the other half of the beautiful film.

Research further and the Land art Collective, provided the words ‘soil chromatology’ and ‘anthotype’ within workshops on how to further capture the essence of plants., being already familiar with cyanotype prints. This reminded me of those rust studies, within the Alice Fox workshop and how I had used and reused the artwork in so many ways, creating a real buzz. I want more of this buzz.

My weekend foray into ink making, all started with a frozen gift I remembered from a friend of lots of elderberries. I knew them to be fugitive as a dye so didn’t hold much hope, most berries do tend to be but I didn’t want to waste them. What a shame…. Or is it. I exploited this, another thing I love to do. I shifted the pH to see what colours I could obtain. What design potential for artwork, colours for spun yarns and woven cloth on its own. The plan is to do some ink drawings and apply those modifiers to the page, a chemical reaction that will change the colour balance in an unpredictable organic way. Creating authentic, unique outcomes to work with further.

There we have it, the absolute thing that does indeed float my boat…. Spark my fire, the science of it all. The chemistry, biology and the physics of it all. There is so much to explore and I can’t wait to get in to the depths of it, realising I have only just scratched the  surface of something I knew I loved but just didn’t realise how much it fundamentally underpinned my work, until I looked into those images in more depth. I also hadn’t explored the potential. The artists I am drawn to are the ones, like debbie Lyddon who uses the natural reactions to create her artwork, the salt pots, amongst many others.

Debbie Lyddon 2021

Its’ all in the DNA. 

Looking back at the board I glimpse, coincidence or is it. Quite a few of the images including an image of Jennie Parry’s work reveal that strand of molecular looking DNA! 

Materials matter.

Taken from a previous post written during my BA….Sep 3 2017 02:55PM

Considering the materials to use becomes vital when considering longevity of the cloth vs sustainability. The project, indeed a BA Textiles degree is always about cloth, yarns and construction of durable, fit for purpose cloth. Creating sustainable cloth, develops further considerations; to produce contemporary cloth that has a circular life.

Looking to the landscape for inspiration, answers some of these considerations. The identity of place is quite often bound up in the flora, fauna and foe of the landscape, adapted to survive in the identity of its landscape. 

Wool; in my opinion, one of both Wales and Scotlands undervalued commodities is an obvious choice. The ‘how’ to make it contemporary and exploit its qualities come from the processes. For me, spinning is a meditation.; feeling that fibre slip threw my fingers in rhythmic salute to the landscape it comes from. Creating texture by applying different combing, carding or plying techniques. Colouring with flora, fauna and foe to create a truly sustainable product to work with; unique to my style, interpretation and needs. I find this is one of way I can truly bring authenticity into my work.

Using fibres made from vegetable matter whilst traditional in the form of fibres such as flax (linen), cotton and nettle are now a growing market for contemporary design. With fibres such as bamboo, tencel and hemp finding their way way into more prominent design and use.

For a previous Haute couture module last semester I indulged my desire to work with metals, using a very fine 0.002mm wire woven together with natural dyed threads of the above. I would like to explore this further, especially within the art context both to standalone and accompany designs. 

The blending of fibres together to spin is also something I enjoy and wish to epxlore further, creating unique textures . Juxtaposing the qualities to reflect the contrast found within a landscape; as well as those both seen from afar and up close. Different effects are created, reflecting the diversity of its identity; the layers of depth, transparency and clarity.

To colour; natural dyes, pigments and inks created by myself, through the alchemy of the natural world is my choice. Taken from the land to be put back into it once the cloth wears, with an understanding of the power of the chemistry involved. For nature, is powerful, chemical and can be dangerous if not respected like the power of the elements.

The Handspun Tale

uantity in a milli fraction of time. My own time and motion studies proved beyond a doubt that I could never earn the hours that the skeins take me to produce (and I am a relatively fast spinner!) Thoughts turned to my motivation. I realised the complexity of it…]

Sitting by the log burner, busily spinning and trying to negotiate the pricing of the yarn I am producing, I realise this is not just about the financial gain. I could never realistically compete with the mechanisation of the spinning industry.

IMG_5881Just consider the processes that the fibres go through  from field to yarn. The shearing, scouring, drying, combing, carding before the spinning even takes place. Then the process of multiple ‘single’ threads being created to then be plied. Then there is the dyeing process. It quickly becomes apparent, that The Industrial revolution quite literally revolutionised yarn production. Why would anybody wish to sit for hours on end spinning one 25 gram skein when machines can produce an enormous quantity in a milli fraction of time. My own time and motion studies proved beyond a doubt that I could never earn the hours that the skeins take me to produce (and I am a relatively fast spinner!) Thoughts turned to my motivation. I realised the complexity of it and of why I wish to create slow cloth.

From the smallest of seeds……

ideas germinate ….

CUexhibitonfinalsmallWell, what can I say, it has been a rollercoaster ride. I find myself at the end of my studies (for now?) Degree is drawing to a close with the final collection of handwoven, naturally dyed samples made, submitted and exhibited. I know, it is not wool! This is the very strange thing about a degree that I have found. It certainly takes on a life of its own. I found myself examining the properties of natural fibres, asking questions; ultimately shifting my own perspectives. I arrived at what if linen challenged our perspectives…..what if it could stretch.

StripeEndEditsmall
Finished cloth.

Woven on a 90cm AVL dobby loom in white high twist linen, initially, this piece, pictured above, had a unique character of its own, resembling lacy white curtains of a tuscan villa! The magic of energetically spinning a thread past a balance is in the interaction with water. Having been woven much more open, the fibres are allowed to move and do what comes naturally, wriggling, retracting seemingly shrinking to create a crepe, stretchy fabric. That 90 cms woven cloth becoming two thirds of its original size and stretchy. It is so exciting to create innovative cloth from changing the parameters of what we have come to expect.

 

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Still on the loom.

I loved each process watching it transform before my eyes. Using a particular element of Shibori; the art of stitch resist, challenged the perception of embroidery and embellished stitch. Knowing the stitches were to be removed, allowed me to reflect on the lack of permanence to fashion items, here was a very old traditional craft resilient guiding my hand. Fashion trends come and go, and often work on a loop system, Craft skills handed down generation to generation are invaluable in providing a way to express ourselves to reflect the current thoughts whilst preserving our heritage. The challenge is to keep these crafts alive by continually creating contemporary craft deeply grounded in them. Giving cloth, in this case a sense of history, heritage ….a narrative to be cherished and ultimately a value not to be discarded lightly or irresponsibly.

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All stitched and gathered waiting to go in the Indigo vat

Treading a natural path.

The final collection makes its own natural path.

I was warned of the unpredictable nature that work for your final graduate collection can take. It assumes a life of its own, consuming your ideas; running in abstract paths. How might you ask do I get from  wool so carefully collected, scoured and prepared to a final collection working only with linen! The theme, marks of identity within the landscape, evolved to explore the properties of an unforgiving material, in extraordinary ways.

The desire to create garments that were sustainable, offering an alternative to fast fashion, led me to challenge perspectives in more ways than just visual interpretations of the marks that were in the landscape, into surface pattern or structural weaving. Thinking of materials – What if linen could stretch? Would that start to make you re evaluate its properties. its function in your wardrobe? What if you could grow, compost then regrow your clothes?

Being a horticulturalist, it is inevitable the growing process would feature heavily in my textile career. With that in mind, to define my core aesthetics, as a designer, has become part of the process too. Natural dyeing, intrinsic to the process, developed questions; how can I push this element to become an example of contemporary sustainable fashion, where celebrating the ‘bespoke’ one off shades, the fading and reinventing of the shades over time truly characterised a ‘living’ textile. Where natural dyeing became so much more than a hobby craft, but part of our wardrobes. There is a stigma attached to working with natural dyes that potentially could undermine the professional status of a garment. What does natural dyed cloth conjure up for you?

‘Shifting Perspectives’, the new title for the collection explores these questions. Challenging identity from all angles; professional, personal, materials, methods, processes, fashion and by theme. I am hoping visitors to the exhibition will each take away a unique perspective of the work, that challenges the way they think about an element individual to them.

Creating an experiment for the summer !

With my final year of a BA Textiles degree fast approaching, what is it I want to say?

I find myself even further down the road in this exciting, totally consuming  journey. With that comes the thousand apologies I could possibly make as to the lack of entries here, however, it is not without interest, my absence that is. Read on if you will, I now find myself on a BA Textiles degree for Knit ,Weave and Mixed Media; with the second year drawing to a close. Absolutely …How did that happen?

Surrounded by equally passionate people. The wealth of stimulus is sometimes deafening ! Sometimes you just have to stand back…. where in the world am I going. What on earth am I trying to say. Sometimes you can have just have too much stimulus….perhaps.

With my finals approaching next year, I have a few of these type of questions to answer. Now as many of you know I am a natural dyer first and foremost. Natural colour is my trademark. I live, eat, breathe, teach and grow it! However, I love spinning but do not nearly spend enough time doing it. The BA specialism for me, is creating cloth through weave and natural mixed media; Combine these with my essential ‘being’ that of a gardener, both personally and professionally, Well of course, I want to combine them all together sustainably for my offering.

Tall order or ‘natural’ progression, excuse the pun !

I have requested via social media (locally) a variety of sheep fleeces from different breeds; to prepare and spin and dye them over the summer, ready to use within my finals next year. I was overwhelmed by the choice and condition of the fleeces offered; many donated.

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A sharing of ones coat

The majority of ‘donators’ were smallholders or small scale farmers and young farmers with small flocks of their own. They all seem to have a limited number of each breed, where the animals were treated often as pets or part of the family. It was pure heaven to meet them at their ‘farms’ ; always arriving with my trusty companion, Indigo and often with a daughter or son in tow; curious and country lovers too.

The project is beginning already to be so much more than I anticipated. I want to give provenance to the cloth I will create next year; from field to finished samples. To pay tribute to the love and care the animals receive (and give) by honouring each process the fleece receives from me. IMG_5285

The fleeces have started to trickle in, although I am expecting to be over whelmed soon as the sheep are shorn, after this period of intense rain. I have tried to keep records to provide the detailed provence I want. Each fleece being logged, scoured and dried and a special hessian sack made to keep the precious fibre until the next process begins. The sack having its own printed and hand sewn label attached. You can just feel the chaos within this order develop can’t you when inundated with fleeces soon!

IMG_5280.JPGAs you can gather, this is not about speed. This is about creating cloth of heritage. Slow, living textiles. That leave their mark as naturally, as sustainably as possible; With regards to the environment with which we ALL come from. It is not aimed at the  ‘throwaway society’ in the sense of owning excessive ‘material’ objects but the cherishing of a few, lovingly, well made items with a history; a story to tell, who then, when they reach the end of their lives, are biodegradable; returned to recycle and begin again. Hopefully producing a beautiful ‘story’ for our fast paced times.

Lichens: A Cautionary Tale

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Do they look dead to you ? No seriously they could be mistaken could they not for having been blown off from somewhere higher perhaps further afield and given sanctuary in the branches of these trees.

Please protect the lichens

Lichen has been associated with the highlands of Scotland for those walkers and observers of nature will inform us ‘they’ – these seeming dead bundles do indeed purify the air! They are here to in abundance in the Welsh Valleys too; So valuable they are deemed to be that they are not to be plucked off the trees which they are actually attached to, living from. Are they right? I have upheld this idea this notion and accepted as a fact and felt incredibly guilty when faced recently with a deluge of blustery produce after an incredibly windy night. It was just laid there. Surely that must be ok. It surely must be dead now. My conscience be clear for I am a great environmentalist in my own way and would never wish to harm or interfere with natures life to the detriment and to be truthful I don’t think many would intentionally, except for profit but that is a different soapbox for me to write about!

So here it is. A dilemma Do I know for fact that I am ok to take and use in a very natural way, to use for dyeing fleece, that lichen which has fallen to the ground. I took it. I reasoned that it was lying on a road to be muddied and run over. Even if it did survive thereafter being blown off (still attached to the branch) as I had somewhere read it to be able to, Could it survive that trauma to, well no. However, it has lead me to ponder the truth of the lichen life!  Continue reading “Lichens: A Cautionary Tale”

A treasured bounty

Take home this ‘fluff’ however, small and tenderly yet once more bathe but this time add some magic of vegetable skins, flowers, seeds or pods; of bark or leaves and warm to colour it’s veins. Let nature colour your creativity and join me on this magical mystical tour!

simple to spin
simple to spin

Have you ever walked past a field where there are the tufts of fleece entwined baron on the fence. Almost cleansed by the rain and involuntarily ‘hanging’ out to dry! Much later, 38 kgs later and more to come I am hooked, obsessed by this ‘fluff’ It offers so much; transformation into the promise; Of fibre to clothe,keep us warm, to adorn and give way to so much creativity.

plant dyed wools
plant dyed wools

I have alway had this need to take a raw item and follow the processes to create. Wool or fibres in general are the ultimate travelling companion for this journey. However, my tentative walk began from a different lane. From the garden path. It was at these humble beginnings my connection was made. Colour. Natural colour. Colour that is not uniform and although nature can provide bold brash colours she is more renowned for her subtlety, of muted shades and very much a tonal creator.

Throughout the seasons she quietly sometimes loudly rocks our world with an orchestra of colour. Just when you feel you know her; she surprises. For me to be able to learn, tap into mother natures own larder, to explore her lessons in creativity it is a treasure trove. So to walk past that innocent ‘fluff’ I can no longer do without thinking of what it can become. Like Cinderella’s pumpkin to be transformed into magnificence by magic. Natural magic.

Take home this ‘fluff’ however, small and tenderly yet once more bathe but this time add some magic of vegetable skins, flowers, seeds or pods; of bark or leaves and warm to colour it’s veins. Let nature colour your creativity and join me on this magical mystical tour!

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