Do we think painterly florals are ‘Wearable Art’?

wearable art
Catalogue cover advertising ‘painterly florals’

Last week a mid-market catalogue arrived in the post with this cover page. Now the expression ‘Wearable Art’ is extremely flexible and let’s be honest a bit naff. Not for one minute am I saying that some art isn’t so beautiful you want more of it, for yourself, to remind you of seeing it. Most major art galleries and museums now have ‘the shop’ where you can buy all kinds of items emblazoned with reproductions of traditional, formal art. I have to admit to being so enamoured of Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ that I made myself a sunflowers silk top, but I never thought I was wearing his art. Art inspired, yes, but not art.

And, that is what I think about the rest of my wearable work, often art inspired, but perhaps not actually art. In the past, I have created art by painting silk where content has been an expression of a concept and knowing that the piece will be mounted and viewed flat on a wall has both broadened and constrained my approach. And, now we return, as so often, to the divide between art and craft where the flexible boundaries are bent by original intent.

thistle and dahlia design

As this year’s spring/summer fashion hits the stores, apparently one of the major trends in both fashion and interiors is ‘painterly florals’. I suppose this will be clothes made from floral textiles where the printed fabric designs were originally painted flowers with visible brushstrokes. I’m guessing it doesn’t mean cloth directly painted with flowers! Shame – as that would be such a boon to us silk painters who often actually paint flowers, sometimes called art, sometimes wearable, but always one-off images.

flowers and birds design
Work in progress – painterly flowers, birds and urns.
Will be wearable

Remember Hand Washing?

Washing silk by handPG
In the UK, Mother’s Day usually falls on a Sunday in March. This year I notice it is quite late, March 30th, as Easter is late too. When I was a child my sister and I were expected to help out with the chores on Mother’s Day. As we got older we’d either bake a cake or a nice pudding for my mother – she had a very sweet tooth. We didn’t have a dishwasher, so my sister and I were used to washing and drying up. If, we had baked we were expected to leave the kitchen as clean as we’d found it particularly on Mother’s Day.

My mother was not into kitchen gadgetry, like dishwashers, but she did have a large front-loading washing machine. Despite this I still remember her meticulously washing any special, delicate clothing by hand. I remember explaining the ‘wool’ cycle on the machine, but she told me that she found hand washing beautiful garments quite therapeutic and not a chore. It is not how we think today, but I did notice when cold rinsing by hand a batch of scarves that the colours of the submerged silk were worth capturing in a photo.

silk scarves
Hand Washing
Cold rinsing silk scarves.

Image Translations

seed heads fennelSoaking up images, internalising and then creating something slightly different. Sometimes it’s form, sometimes it’s colour, but mostly it’s a combination. Currently working on a piece that feels like the end of winter – let’s hope!


An end of winter feeling.
An end of winter feeling.

The Model Question

Here is a little question – is there a professional view that always prevails? Big production, fashion magazine shoots seem to take their beautiful, thin, young models and shoot them looking at best irritated, but more often angry or depressed. Are other options a possibility?

Full-face looking at the lens? And cheerful. Posed and angled? Perhaps a bit old fashioned.

And the facial expression . . . ? Blank?

Well, may I ask for your opinions? I have been bogged down with so many photos I can no longer see the wood for the trees. This handful gives a rough overview of the choices I have.

And, here are some gorgeous professional fashion photographs from the masters, Nick Knight, Tim Walker, Rankin, and David Bailey if only …

Selected for Valentine Showcase

pink silk scarf hand painted
There is a paradox at the heart of selling your work online, it feels personal and local and yet it is actually global. I am not sure whether this aspect of exhibiting and trading has prompted the setting up of ‘supporting/sharing’ platforms such as ukhandmade and the like, or just added fuel to the fire. But here in the UK as in many different countries there is now quite a movement to promote a region’s handmade, locally created products. This year (2014) ukhandmade have decided to produce a Valentine Show Case and I am delighted to broadcast that one of my scarves has been selected for their promotion (that’s the bottom one here).

pink and black painted silk scarf

square silk scarf in pink and black

An Artisan’s Perennial Issue – Quality Raw Materials

painted silk twill scarf 18 mmYesterday I was reading a post and accompanying comments from Juliet Macleod’s blog, the Cloud Pottery discussing the choices of different clays for pottery. One of the contributors mentioned ‘extra white stoneware’, and said, “it’s definitely not as white as it used to be”. How timely, I thought to myself, as I have just been notified that my supplier of square, silk twill blanks are no longer stocking my preferred 90 x 90 cm size. And, the option to go direct to the Chinese supplier in Shanghai is not viable as a minimum order of 1000 pieces is required. More change, things are definitely not like they used to be.

Silk is similar to any raw material as it comes in different grades, weights and weaves and that is before you start to consider colour. I am not sure how often people read the textile labels when buying clothes and accessories, but if you do, you will see percentage fibre contents and for a silk item it normally just says 100% silk. Of course you can find specialist woven textiles where silk is woven with wool or cotton, or there are more complex, multiple fibre mixes that add some silk threads to the weave to add lustre to the finished textile.

But, most usually silk as clothing is sold as pure silk, 100% silk. Pure silk is the epitome of luxury textiles with a long and fascinating history including the establishment of one of the greatest trade routes the world has ever known – the Silk Road. And, with my Art Historian’s hat on, over the centuries silk has been the medium for the transmission of many Chinese and Eastern designs and motifs from the East to Europe and the West.

Silk is available in many different weaves and patterns from the simplest tabby/plain weave to complex figured fabrics such as damask. It is sold in mommes (mm), pronounced mummies. This is a measure of density as opposed to purely weight. That is kilograms per metre square. Originally it was equal to the weight in pounds of a bolt of silk that was 45 inches wide by 100 yards long regardless of the weave. Nowadays, silk is sold between 3 mm for a light gauze right the way through to 40 mm for a heavy, raw silk cloth that looks like a coarse linen.

As a silk painter for most of my designs I like to use a silk that is woven to give a clean surface and I particularly like to work on twills or crepe de chines that are between 10 mm to 14 mm giving the finished scarves a good weight that falls well. Also, as a matter of personal choice although I think satins and charmeuse look beautiful for evening wear, I prefer the gentler lustre of twill or crepe de chine for normal everyday scarves. Despite my last declaration, I do have to admit to owning a couple of showy silk chiffon scarves that I’ve been known to wear in the daytime to the accompanying remark, “Oo, we see Agnes is glammed up today – what’s the occasion?” Actually, there was no special occasion, but sometimes you just need to brighten yourself up a bit – and why not?

painted red silk chiffon 8 mm scarf
Painted silk chiffon scarf.

Diva Pink

pink silk scarfBrilliant, vivid colours are not to everybody’s taste, but some people live technicolor, dynamic lives and appear to have larger than life personalities. For those opera stars fuchsia pink and scarlet seemed the natural choice.

A little bit of scorching colour doesn’t do the rest of us any harm during a grey, miserable January – so I give you pics of Peacock Wave Pink (no longer with me as this silk scarf was left at the Stage Door).

silk scarf pink and red

A Blue and Green Affair

Peacock by Peter Kraayvanger
Photo by Peter Kraayvanger
The enduring appeal of the peacock display of colours recently caught my attention and prompted me to venture into a so-called forbidden combination. I think I first heard my Nanna declare ‘Blue and green should never be seen’, when I was a child.

art nouveau peacocks Royal Arcade, Norwich

How ridiculous, obviously nobody told the peacocks. And, when you think about it blue and green has been a popular and classic combination for centuries!

Dragonflies also come along in blue and green combinations providing even more inspiration if you find that splendid peacock not enough.

Fallen Fruit Silks

Jane Hall Designs
It is strange how in our 24 hours a day wired and connected world we can not truly escape nature’s deep, slow rhythms. This November I’ve been working on some scarves in a range of colours I thought I’d chosen as I’d seen this pleasing combination from the Canadian Interior Designer Jane Hall of Jane Hall Designs.

As I have mentioned before, when I’m painting I often listen to an audiobook and for a couple of weeks I’ve been listening to ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. She has a superb historical imagination and a descriptive writing style that evokes a sense of place without being overdone. As I was busy preparing my autumn colours I heard this phrase from Wolf Hall

“wearing their fallen fruit silks of mulberry, gold and plum”

Pear - Doyenne du Comice
Fallen and picked fruit from my fan pear – Doyenne du Comice

Prunus persica Peregrine
The Last Peach (Sept) – Prunus persica Peregrine

Reflecting on the natural colours of fallen fruit retrieved from the fading garden and looking at the colours I’d mixed up, I realised how unconsciously I’d absorbed and then responded to the changing scene. I’ve had a few peaches, figs, apples, pears and plums filling the kitchen fruit bowl from this year’s domestic harvest. It’s been the best year so far for the fan pear, though I have lost all the cobnuts to the squirrels, again. But what a bonus – the muted colours of fallen fruit.

Inspiration from Paul Klee

Paul Klee - Blue Coat
Paul Klee, 1940, 7
Oil and pigmented wax on paper.
Albertina, Wien Promised gift of the Carl Djerassi Art Trust II
© VBK Wien 2009
In the hands of a master the most simple images can come to life and spring out of the past with uplifting vitality. I know it is, as usual, down to personal taste, but I think this oil and coloured wax picture by Paul Klee has its own intense energy that grabs your attention. Anyway, I have attempted to plug in and channel some of the energy for my own work by using his restricted colour palette for a painted silk scarf.

Although the colours are quite similar and I’ve used them in roughly the same percentage, it is nevertheless definitely very different.


Then I thought I’d use the basic overall design, but with different colours.

Reinterpretation of a Delicate Wedgwood Ceramic

Every now and then I’m asked to create a silk piece guided by the colours and decorative qualities of a non-textile form. Sometimes a commission is quite personal, a customer may wish to have a special scarf to remind them of a person or a pet or an event. Or sometimes, and this is more difficult, a sentiment.
silk scarf detail
People often turn to nature and, in particular, flowers for inspiration for silk painting, but I suggest shape, colour and the decorative details from other human made artefacts can also elicit visually creative solutions. In order to get a firm idea of what a person is looking for I suggest they select pictures that fit their mood. Often beautiful glass and ceramics are a rich source of inspiration and can be reinterpreted and reworked to produce the type of scarf that they are looking for.

I hope you can see that this beautiful Wedgwood Fairyland lustreware candlestick with its intricate design and translucent glazes was the ceramic inspiration for the ‘Guinevere’ silk scarf. Previously, I wrote a little post with info/history about Wedgwood Fairyland lustreware. https://agnesashe.wordpress.com/2013/09/01/wedgwood-fairyland-lustreware-beautiful-charming/

Silk Scarf Guinevere -  Wedgwood Fairyland lustreware inspired silk scarf.
Silk Scarf Guinevere – Wedgwood Fairyland lustreware inspired piece.