Cumbria Cushion collection. Hand-woven in Herdwick Wool, 2019
The curator at the Devon Guild has done a wonderful job in displaying my pieces within the gallery space, complimenting the work of the other designer makers around me.
For ‘Get Fresh’ I wanted to show these two contrasting collections to reflect the diversity of my designs. Most of my patterns can be woven large or small in scale and be transferable from a rug design to a light soft furnishing fabric.
Although aesthetically quite different, both are designed through extensive sampling on the loom, then woven by hand, in British Wool from breeds not used widely (due to colour or properties of the wool or because they are designated as rare). I avoid using petrochemical dyes by extracting colour from nature or just using ‘non-white’ wool in browns, shades of grey and black.
The subtle patterning is created using just two alternating tones of grey in both warp and weft; simply put, where a pale weft weaves over a dark warp, a horizontal pale line results and a pale weft weaving under a dark warp results in a vertical pale line.
The cushions bear the names of places in Cumbria; the hardy Herdwick breed of sheep are native to it’s fells. I stayed in Newton Rigg on an Agricultural student exchange on my first visit to the Lake District many years ago.
I started experimenting with extracting colour, primarily yellows and oranges, from Dahlias towards the end of their flowering season. With the first frost this locally sourced fresh raw material ended.
An alternative colour-way using dried natural dyestuffs was developed. An individual dyestuff rarely yielded the precise pinks of the Tibetan monks robes so I used two or more dye-baths to obtain better colour matching.
I experimented with natural dyestuffs that generally give reds/pinks/purples such as Madder Root, Brazilwood and Logwood, ‘modifying’ each dyebath to get what I wanted. By adjusting the acidity/alkalinity of the water, the maximum heat applied to extract the dye and other factors, I turned warm reds into cool reds, blue-purples to red-purples and these red-purples into cerise pink by grating chalk into a Brazilwood dyebath.
Colour was blended across the width of the warp, alternating one of cerise pink with smaller amounts of the other pink/purple tones. Both this warp and the yellow/orange warp was just 2m long; sufficient to weave just two of these unique rugs.
Loving the ceremonial head-wear of the Tibetan monks, I just had to incorporate a little of the Dahlia dyed yellow and orange into this pink/purple design.
JOY is the title of this new work, created specifically for Get Fresh 2019; an exhibition organised by The Devon Guild of Craftsmen showcasing the work of emerging craft practitioners.
Working with the wool from rare breed and commercially farmed British sheep, I have used dyes made from Dahlia’s and other plants and woven these joyful unique pieces by hand.
The colour reference for this work came from images in a book by His Holiness the Dalai Lama; The Art of Living.
Colour was extracted from fresh Dahlia flowers and used to dye hand-spun wool from the White-faced Dartmoor sheep. As well as yellow, orange and red flowers, I experimented with white, purple and almost black petals, most yielding yellows and oranges with a surprising bright green from a cerise pink flower.
With a single flower only dyeing 10g of wool, I designed a warp of 320 threads to accommodate the the vast number of small skeins each in a unique tone of yellow or orange. Two Meditation rugs 20″x 28″ were woven by hand on my vintage wooden 4-shaft counterbalance floor loom, from this warp.
Yoga Meditation Rug. Hand-woven in naturally-dyed rare breed Wool 2019.
As red Dahlias did not yield a red dye, madder root and brazilwood were used to dye the Welsh Cross bred and Dorset wools used in the weft patterning.
The patterning was inspired by patterns in The Art of Living and the 6-bar patterns from the I-Ching Hexograms; 6 solid horizontal bars representing Earth Energy.
Yoga meditation rug, British Wool and natural dyes
In August I was invited to work with the inspiring day patients, volunteers and staff at the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Day Hospice on this multi-discipline creative art project. The pieces created will be exhibited for the first time on Saturday 8th September, at their Autumn Fayre.
I wound warps onto tiny frame looms, into which the participants wove plant dyed wool, fragments of textiles from home and paper strips printed with words from their poetry. The discovery of a ‘treasure trove’ of glittery threads, ribbons and beads proved too tempting, so these were incorporated into several of the little woven pieces.
The journey of the exhibits at this year’s Society of Designer Craftsmen show started in autumn last year when British Wool obtained two cones of yarn, spun by Gardiners Yarns of Huddersfield from British Herdwick in the natural grey tones of their fleece, for me to weave with at Decorex 2017 on their stand with CountryLife magazine.
The ‘demonstration’ warp remained on the loom for several months until I decided to use it up by experimenting further to see what designs I could create from using just the two Herdwick greys. The contrast was a little too subtle so I added Shetland wool in Charcoal, Quarry and Pearl to enhance the difference tones of the two Herdwick wools. The design elements play with the visual trick of appearing to change direction from a horizontal stripe to a vertical stripe.
Tempted to add colour, the reverse side of all the cushions have a subtle addition of a little colour.. turquoise, pheasant, claret, navy..
I decided this cloth would be perfect for my show pieces as it illustrates how my woven designs are frequently driven by the character of the raw materials. The wool ‘tells’ me what it wants to become…
These cushions are not destined for a lounge sofa, but a rural working kitchen and taken outside onto a garden bench or stone step.
For the first time the one-off pieces I have created to exhibit at the show will be available to buy, therefore they are constructed to a high standard with down/feather pads.
On Friday 26th January I will be running a new workshop for Lechlade Craft Barn (GL7 3DL). The day will be spent exploring weaving by using the simple Rigid Heddle and Back-strap loom. You could weave a series of samples working with a range of fibres, colours and textures, or something ‘useful’ like a strap for a bag, a little pocket or embellishment for a cushion. All equipment and a vast range of yarns will be provided.
Using the specified wool yarns, I developed a design suited to a light soft furnishing application. The wool was supplied in very dark brown, creamy white and a ‘marl’ (being the brown and white twisted together). I wanted to use these natural fleece colours in the main but chose to add a little colour by dyeing the white and the marl yarns with cochineal and indigo natural dyes. These were used sparingly in both warp and weft.
The design had a border of a zig-zag pattern, this would be a feature around the edges of a cushion.
In recent months I have been kept busy with requests to teach weave workshops using this simple loom.
The wonderful things about this form of weaving are:
The equipment is very ‘low tech’ and inexpensive if you want to buy your own.
It is very portable so you can weave anywhere, inside or outside, standing or sitting.
I can have absolute beginners weaving within a very short space of time, both children and adults.
You can weave cloth in a ‘conventional’ form or weave an ‘art piece’ incorporating all manner of materials.
I have taught 2 groups of 14, A Level Textiles students at Cirencester College in a morning; a knowledgeable group of 11 from the Gloucestershire Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers and one-to-one with students in my studio.
I now teach on a regular basis at The Bothy at Vanessa Arbuthnott in Cirencester, Prema Arts in Uley and Cotswold AONB Rural Skills in Northleach (where my next day workshop is on Friday 28 April 2017). Check their respective websites for dates, availability and booking. If you send me an email and I will add you to my mailing list and I’ll let you know new course dates.
Just after Christmas, Cotswolds based photographer Chris Boulton visited my weave studio in Calmsden near Cirencester, to capture images of me and my working environment for his ongoing project titled ECHO OF OUR FATHERS. He intends to produce a book and stage an exhibition of the images he has created; portraits of artisans whose practice embraces heritage craft skills. These beautiful atmospheric images are now on his website, please follow this link