Long the love of monks scratching away in the scriptorium, the aquilegia, known to medievalists and monks alike as the columbine, has decorated scores of illuminated manuscripts.
The various shapes and colours of aquilegias offer plenty of combinations to get the creative juices flowing. Their form can be rendered into simple, quite graphic representations. They are shapes I often return to.
Change in the season, change in the light and often a change in mood and we respond with seeking out a slightly different palette. I have just made up a selection of yellow tints to use as backgrounds. I’ve noticed a lot of pastel coloured jackets and shoes whilst browsing through the style pages recently and as you can see I’ve been influenced.
I’ve decided to combine the pale pinks and blues with a yellow background. In a spare moment I had a quick review of my other finished work and noticed more pink from the last 12 months than I’d remembered!
Like many people who work from home I tend to have the radio on all day long. And, if not the radio then I have an audiobook plugged into my ears. So, it is quite possible for a camera-toting daughter (home for the holidays) to sneak up on me and catch me off guard.
Recently, I’ve been working on smaller pieces, but I decided I must just knuckle down and finish this large scarf. It is inspired by the colours of St Peter’s robes as depicted on the Ranworth rood screen. You can see my photograph of the bottom of the robes (with feet!) propped up in the above picture and a bit more detail at Motif combinations.
With the turning of the seasons there is a change in the light levels. The animals and the plants respond, but I think human beings, even living within a 24-hour artificially lit world, sense the change.
The scarf I started in the first week of March (see Image Translations) has ended up with the final colours pale pink, light blues and a bright grass green being added as the spring sunlight has started to pour through the window. Sap green, lime green and pale yellow with a few white highlights are the colours of my spring garden and they are just the dye colours I’m mixing up. I know I’m a human being, but I also feel I am still very much on nature’s continuum.
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.
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.
Here, in East Anglia, we’ve had a ‘green’ winter – that is no significant periods of below freezing temperatures and no snow. Early March and both my clematis armandii climbers are blooming almost a month earlier than last year.
Drawing out scarf Mildred blue.
Buds of clematis armandii Snowdrift.
I am currently working on a 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf. I’m combining a floral shape taken from the clematis and motifs that appear on the ornate robe of St Peter as depicted on the 15th-century Ranworth rood screen. At first glance you might assume that the motifs painted on this 15th-century panel were inspired by the surrounding flora and fauna of East Anglia. However, it is more likely they were copied from a pattern book that had been brought over from Northern Europe. It is even possible that these patterns were lifted from silk cloth woven in the northern cities of Italy such as Catanzaro and Lucca. And, some of these woven motifs were designs that had originated in China, migrating along the ‘Silk Road’ embedded in the rich silk cloth traded from the East to the West.
I read that the clematis armandii is native to China, but I don’t think this small flower shown on the St Peter’s robe is an ‘armandii’ motif, however I liked the idea of combining shapes from the 15th-century screen with a flower from my spring garden.
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.
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).
Yesterday 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?
Brilliant, 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).
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.
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.