Adding a dark background

Along time ago when I was a student my textiles tutor once commented to me that she could always recognise my work by my use of black. At the time she had been looking at drawings for a floral fabric where I had used only the tiniest hint of black behind lime green stems.

Adding a dark mottled red to a red and pink neckerchief.

I also remember my mother (an amateur oil painter) making a comment that she never used black, but only ever Payne’s grey.

Adding purple to a square flat crepe scarf.

Over the years I have begun to include more and more colours in their darker shades instead of the black to add depth to my designs. Every now and then I think I am going to stick with a pastel background, but somehow I find I want the design to be a little more punchy . . .

Adding Prussian blue as the final layer.

And then a pot of a dark Prussian blue or an imperial purple or even a rich brown is unscrewed and the dark dye banishes the pastel.

Adding dark brown and dark grey to a large crepe de chine scarf.

However, as I write this there’s work on the frame where I have designed from the outset to use pure black. I know it might seem strange, but to get the best black it has to be painted onto the natural silk before any other dye has been added. You’d think that black would just cover any previously painted area, but some of the initial coloured dye binds to the silk and even though the black is strong, it never quite looks as sharp.

Currently using black again.

Finding myself working again with black it seems, as with so much in life, even one’s creativity can turn full circle as part of a cycle. Apparently for me it turns out I am on a roughly seven year circuit! Of course, it’s never a true repeat, but a revisiting with the benefit of experience.

An example of a black background from the outset. One of the first five scarves I created when I launched my online shop back in 2013.

Blue – Bright and Cheery

Perhaps because it’s been an unusually cool spring I have found myself painting brightly coloured highlights against very, very blue backgrounds.

Fuchsia pink and burnt orange were the starting combination.
I nearly always sign my work early on as it is awkward to almost impossible to add at the end.
And this is the first of the strong, bright blue being added.

I am not sure whether you would call this blue, cobalt blue, royal blue or ultramarine, but it’s certainly a bright and uplifting colour.

Nearly finished, adding a circle of a dark navy with corners of black.
The painting is finished and this 90 x 90 cm scarf is now ready for two hours in the steamer.
Finished and uploaded to Agnes Ashe online.

Well, whether the blue is royal blue or cobalt blue or even ultramarine, I still think, as usual, Mother Nature does it best.

Brunnera macrophylla aka Siberian Bugloss part of a partial shade, roadside planting in Ipswich’s town centre.

Painting Mask Silk Again

Slowly, but surely we are heading out of the third lockdown. Easter may have come and gone and it may still be chilly, but at least we have spring sunshine to accompany the odd foray into the wider world. And, if you’ve already been out and about and visiting the shops or enjoying a little outdoor hospitality, physical distancing, wearing a mask and gelling those hands still applies.

With this in mind and following a comment from a repeat customer, I’ve painted and made some more masks.

And, unsurprisingly, I have felt like using some bright colours to go with these more optimistic times.

As I think I have mentioned before, I don’t always start with a plan when painting and this selection has most certainly arrived courtesy of the springtime, colour muse.

Painted mask silk: One mostly orange and one mostly green.

Having painted all ten blanks and steamed the lot, it was then time to switch from the frame to the sewing machine, make the masks and then pop them on the shop.

A tricky colour to photograph

Sometimes for some strange reason, and unwittingly, I just make my life that little bit more awkward and this is one such occasion. I absolutely know that the one colour I find virtually impossible to accurately photograph is pale turquoise. Naturally, therefore that is the very shade that has ended up being THE conspicuous colour for my latest 90 x 90 cm silk scarf.

I simply cannot explain how this happened, as you can see below it all began innocently enough with simple, primary highlights of red, green, yellow and blue and then a few dark smudges of deep purple.

However, after painting in the black and grey border I pondered, considered and then decided the small corner details could be in a turquoise/sea green colour and then suddenly I find I am industriously splashing it all over the centre panel.

I expect you have heard authors say that often their characters take on their own life and lead a story off in a completely new and unexpected direction, and I, behind my hand, have thought right, okay, sure. But, after my experience with this scarf, I believe them. I am totally converted to the idea that a creative process can somehow evolve pretty much under its own steam.

So, there you have it a pale turquoise (or is that sea green?) silk scarf with a few highlights of other colours!

Returning to Scarf Painting

After several months of working at a smaller scale painting patterns for silk masks, I have recently returned to painting scarves.

This change in scale is more tricky than it appears. I experienced and learnt that when I first started painting the smaller pieces for masks. With a move back to larger work I didn’t want to misjudge the gear shift whilst painting a full 90 x 90 cm square, so I have returned by first painting neckerchiefs.

Pinning out the 55 x 55 cm squares and loosely laying down the first outlines became a poignant experience as I reflected on the intervening seven months since I last worked on any scarves. I then reached for the darkest, dark blue I have and painted in the background.

2020 really has turned out to be a ghastly, ghastly year.

And, finally now, the 31st December, we can say goodbye and good riddance to it.

Working up the Saz

Last week I posted about an inspirational visit to my local museum in Ipswich where I discovered the ‘saz’ motif of Persian ceramics.

Ceramic tiles decorated with the saz motif. ‘Saz’ is a rush or reed. This is an example decorating 16th-century Iznik Pottery

As I am always on the lookout for any interesting shapes, designs, motifs that I can adapt and use in my work, this turned out to be a particularly rewarding visit.

The ‘Saz’ motif is a design derived from the natural world. It is a stylised reed and as such I liked the idea of working it up with a stylised fish or two.

The Saz motif with fish.

Once I have finished painting a block of mask designs, usually about 10 at a time, it is time for the fixing process. That’s two hours in the steamer wrapped in paper.

The Saz motif used in a more simple design.

When the steaming time is up, the silk is washed and cut up into mask-sized rectangles. Then it’s all change in my studio. The dyes and frame are put aside and the sewing machine takes centre stage as I sew up the next batch of masks.

Changing Times

From this Saturday, 4th July 2020, in the UK it’s all change or not! As I write this I have the radio on in the background and I keep hearing ‘chaos’, ‘mess’ and ‘confusion’ from various commentators. There are members of the general public calling-in with questions about all the measures needed to ensure safety for ‘Independence Day’ as the tabloids are dubbing it. No doubt Cummings and Johnson are quietly satisfied this cynically selected date is being trumpeted in this predictable manner. Hospitality and travel will be joining retail instigating up to the minute protocols for the new normal. This will include new hygiene routines and maintaining people are physically distancing. Good luck everybody.

Looking at the retail sector specifically and the recent economic data reported in the press the lockdown has had an immense effect on the this sector. The high street had already been struggling in recent years and now as the lockdown lifts more and more shops are finding they are longer viable. Perhaps many shoppers are now less willing to brave the high street stores for non essentials as at the same time more consumers are now accustomed to buying online. However, once you are shopping online you soon find there is an almost overwhelming choice.

My listing amongst other UK makers and manufacturers on the Make It British Directory

Personally, when I am shopping online I like to minimise the ‘product miles’ due to environmental concerns and for that reason prefer to order from the UK. The ‘Make It British’ people have made it easier with their vetted platform listing UK makers and manufacturers. Last month, with my business hat on, I decided to apply to the directory as a maker as well as already being a shopper.

And last weekend, I was delighted when they featured my silk masks in their ‘Top 21 British-Made Face Coverings’ promotion.

My painted silk face covering is the bottom left picture, but I am sure you knew that!

Adding a little purple

Last month was a busy time preparing and attending the Christmas Craft Fair at Blackthorpe Barn. I always do a run through setting up my display at home, and, as you would expect when getting ready for the show, I prepare my stock. This is a task I have hopefully started by mid-October. During the process I am able to appraise each piece and, as is always the way when I haven’t seen my scarves for a while, I decide one or two could be improved. The first one up for the layering treatment last month was Agatha Cherry.

Agatha Cherry – not a favourite of mine and one for the layer treatment.

Apart from the fact that this scarf, with all the red, has been difficult to photograph accurately, I didn’t think there was enough contrast and depth within the design.

Lines of resist were added first before painting in the new colours.

Adding another layer allowed me to introduce some of the darker colours I like. I took inspiration from this photograph showing the muted tones of my dried dahlias.

As soon as the resist lines had dried I began to paint with a mid-tone old gold and then to darken other areas I added a deep, rich purple.

With the second layer completed and the scarf steamed the final result definitely has more depth and interest and it has made the rich lustrous quality of the twill weave more obvious. A definite improvement I think.

Painting a Neckerchief: Freckeda Opal

It was another week and another neckerchief inspired by the Iceni horse. I have really fallen for this charming motif found struck into the Freckenham staters that make up part of the Wickham Market Hoard.

After first drawing out the basic design I had painted in the Iceni horses, but hadn’t decided on the colour combination for the overall interpretation. It was the middle of August and I had a mini glut of sweet peas some of which had been stuffed into a vase. The morning sunlight was catching the petals beautifully and I thought, yes, possibly these colours will do arranged in front of the stained glass panel. With some slight adjustments to the vase position I had a palette with which to paint the scarf.

However, when most of the colours were added I felt the overall effect was too pale and the piece had more than a hint of a gelato selection about it or even a bag of liquorice allsorts. My first thought was to fill in the background with black, but perhaps that would be too harsh. In the end I chose a darkish grey to add a more subtle contrast.

All finished, steamed and then photographed. That sounds so straightforward and simple, but I have to say that this is one of the those scarves that has been really difficult to photograph. How we see colour is a complex process, but it is most definitely affected by the quality of the ambient light, whether that’s light at dawn or dusk, or full summer sunlight, or electric light, or even candlelight! You can tell that despite sitting at my computer adjusting these photos, as I held the actual scarf in front of me, the colours in each photo look slightly different. I suppose any image is an approximation of a reality. We easily accept a painting as a visual interpretation, but often forget that a photograph is a visual rendering too, added to which the camera always lies to a greater or lesser extent!

PS – If you are in Suffolk . . . . .

Photoshoot down by the river.

It is August and thoughts naturally turn to . . . Christmas . . . !

Sorry, but I am afraid it’s not just the big brands that are preparing for Christmas in August, but we folk selling handmade items are also busy working towards the ‘gift’ season.

Gathering up the edges of the neckerchief Freckeda Blue

This week there has been excellent early morning sunshine and the river has been like a misted mirror reflecting gorgeous, natural light. In other words it has been ideal for a photoshoot.

And, having ten scarves ready for photographing, including a couple of ‘Christmassy’ ones, it was off to the banks of the River Orwell.

It is approximately a 300 metre walk down hill through deciduous woodland from the car park to the banks of the river. Then a short walk along the shore for a set up just downriver from the Orwell Bridge.

The Orwell Bridge – we could see, but not hear the traffic on the busy A14.
Momentarily distracted by a couple of dogs splashing into the river chasing sticks.

It is a popular place for dog walkers and people wishing to picnic at the water’s edge or even swim in the river. It is also an interesting place for photographing my work as the light is similar to that reflecting off the sea, but the area is more sheltered than the coast with less wind to blow the scarves about.

The dogs were very wet, very friendly and very well behaved.

We had a couple of hours taking pictures before the sunlight became too bright and also, at this time of year, too hot.

Taking a break and watching more dogs in the river.

By the time we had finished I had taken over 500 shots of varying quality. The sun was high in the sky, the mist had burnt off and it was time to pack up. Fortunately, the traipse back up the hill was not as arduous in the heat as it might have been, but was surprisingly pleasant thanks to the cool, airy shade of the woodland.

A Silver Lining

My online shop has been up and running for over six years now and about three times a year I place an order for plain silk blanks. I use three different suppliers depending on what type of silk I require. All three companies offer plain scarves with hand rolled hems ready for dyeing. The two European suppliers, one in Belgium and the other in Spain, list my favourite silk twill including the classical 90 x 90 cm squares. The third company I use is based in the United States and they sell excellent quality flat crepe pieces.

Earlier this year I ordered 12 neckerchief sized squares and for only the second time in my years of painting silk I noticed one of the scarves had a fault in the weave.

Now you’ve probably guessed I do own one or two scarves that I have painted myself – actually most of mine are over 30 years old and date from the time when I was a fashion/textile student. Amongst my own collection the only red I have is a full 90 x 90 that was originally a peachy pink. It had been a gift to my mother and was returned to me on her death. She was of the generation that often wore their scarves pinned with a brooch and when I came to overpaint the peach with red (peach is not a colour for me) I noticed several of the pin pricks had become small holes. It was good to experiment extravagantly and boldly with red dyes, but I still didn’t have a wearable red scarf.

As you can now see, a faulty blank has given me the opportunity to get the red dye out again and go for it big time. The design is looser and has more swirls than my usual style with plenty of red and a dash of very bright fuchsia. Naturally, this neckerchief with a fault isn’t for sale (mmm, fortunately, it seems it’s fine for me though!).

But, as you may have already gathered, I do like this combination. And indeed, so much so I have painted another similar version on pristine silk. It, too, is the neckerchief size. A size I think works well when you feel like some bright colour, but not too much. An accent.

And, here’s the finished piece now available on my shop.