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.
Last week I posted about an inspirational visit to my local museum in Ipswich where I discovered the ‘saz’ motif of Persian ceramics.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
We had a couple of hours taking pictures before the sunlight became too bright and also, at this time of year, too hot.
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.
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.
It’s one of those elements to be taken into consideration when shopping on the Internet – size. It is so easy to simply assume you have a rough idea of the size of anything you are looking at, but checking the measurements is essential.
I recently painted a set of neckerchiefs, my Hudeca series, inspired by Lady Drury’s Hawstead Panels. The design worked for the neckerchief sized squares (50 x 50 cm) and so I thought I’d paint a larger, 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine scarf. You might guess from the above picture that they were the same size. It’s only in a photograph containing other points of reference that you see one scarf is almost double the size of the other.
Even in this video it is difficult to judge the overall size of the scarf with just my hand and a couple of paintbrushes flitting about.
Usually at some point during the designing and painting of my work, a scarf acquires a name. This is important as it helps me keep my work in some kind of order especially if I paint roughly the same design in several different colour combinations and use different silk of different sizes.
At first glance my naming process may seem random, but it is usually linked in some way or other to the original source of inspiration. This time I wanted an Anglo-Saxon girl’s name beginning with ‘H’ for Hawstead and chose Hudeca. The 90 x 90 cm crepe de chine (a really gorgeous, 14mm weight piece of silk by the way) painted with my ‘Hawstead’ design became Lisette and not a Hudeca. I arrived at ‘Lisette’ from Elizabeth for the bigger scarf as Lady Drury was the mother to two daughters, neither of whom reached adulthood, and one was called Elizabeth.
My painted scarf, Venus Falls Blue, has undergone the layering treatment. And, again the finished scarf is most definitely an improvement in my opinion.
I have kept and uploaded before and after pictures. These show how adding even pale dyes in large overlapping sections across the whole work can significantly change the look. In this case I used pale pink and pale blue.
Obviously, the second layer has knocked the original yellows back considerably.
Even though it is spring at the moment and there are yellow daffodils, yellow tulips, yellow forsythia, yellow mahonia, yellow primroses and even some yellow dandelions already out, I am not actually feeling it for ‘yellow’.
As you can see below, the yellow is slowly disappearing.
And, finally after steaming again, it’s finished and in the shop.
Some time ago I painted my ‘La Donna’ series of silk scarves. Two of the five colour combinations I created didn’t really chime with the contemporary trends, however they both sold quickly. Then the green version was purchased as a gift and it was duly shipped to Singapore. It had been my favourite of the series. It is one of those oddities, for me anyway, when I take over 300 photos during a shoot how often the single best photograph turns out to be my current favourite piece.
Returning to this series as a whole the lilac and pink versions have not been successful colour combinations. I am surprised as generally any of my scarves with a fair amount of pink have sold well not least as the softer pinks are a complementary colour for wearing near the face. Mind you looking at the photographs of the lilac scarf I can see it looks more dull and dreary than restrained and muted. Although I do have to mention that lilac, in a similar way to red, isn’t accurately captured in a photograph and as with most of my work the scarves do look better in real life. Anyway, it was time to jazz up both the pink and the lilac and I think make the patterning more complex.
Firstly, I tackled the lilac one. I repainted the lilac area adding a deeper mauve that together with the new fuchsia highlights has resulted in an overall brighter, more zingy appearance. Also, I think building more complexity into the black and white areas has balanced the overall feel of the scarf.
As usual with photographing colour the resultant image always varies with the light, but happily this daylight shot (below) is a fair representation.
Next I turned to the pink scarf, but felt this one already had enough pinky pinkiness about it and it didn’t need the background changing. It just needed an overall pulling together of the different design components.
This has been achieved by adding more patterning to the black and white areas and at the same time integrating the blue patterned band using a zigzag magenta border.
I had always been pleased with the design of this series and I did like the original pink interpretation, nevertheless I am much happier with this intensified more vibrant version.
You may or may not recall that last year I was inspired to work with some Tudor motifs following my visit to the splendid exhibition ‘Wolsey’s Angels‘ held at Christchurch Mansion in Ipswich. I was particularly taken with an oak fire surround with beautifully carved details that included a repeating pheasant motif which I stole and reworked for a scarf design.
Sometimes when I finish a scarf and steam it I am very pleased with the result, but this is not always so. As I’ve mentioned in the past the steaming process intensifies the colour, but it is not entirely predictable. When the scarf is finally washed and pressed I can properly appraise the results. And, I have to say I was very disappointed with this pink one.
The pale background did not deepen as much I thought it was going to during the steaming and consequently the balance between the heavy lines of the motif and the pale background was way off. Fortunately, having a very pale background has allowed plenty of scope to successfully develop a second, richer layer.
I added more darker lines to the central area and generally softened the whole design by adding pale greys and a mouse brown over the pale pink.
After steaming, washing and pressing the scarf was ready for another assessment. A little surprisingly it as turned out much better than I thought, but, rather annoyingly the tonal range has also turned out to be awkward to photograph satisfactorily. You can’t win them all.