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.

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Layering some Summer Colour

Now I am a fan of the colour green. In one way or another it has been a colour I have used in painting different rooms since my first house back in 1996. Of course, there are greens and greens. I remember the first time I used green it was a bright apple green and in a south-facing room it definitely had a hint of lime about it. At the same time I was painting the walls the plumber was installing the central heating and he could barely conceal his revulsion!

Back on the frame adding new gutta lines and shapes.

It appears that lime green is not a popular colour in our northern light and as we have so few days of summer sun when it looks really good, I reappraised the one lime green scarf on my shop and decided to give it the layer treatment.

Painting another layer filling the new shapes with pink, orange and pale turquoise.

Now, regular perusers of my blog will know that amongst the tools in my ‘creative process’ box layering is a technique I use to change my work and give it more depth.

I did like the flat pattern of the original, but I can see that the very nature of the flatness made the lime green less appealing especially in the photographs.

Over-painted, steamed again to fix the work and newly photographed and now uploaded to my online shop. I think it is definitely a more interesting piece.

A Larger Version – Lisette Red

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.

This painting sequence doesn’t give any indication of size – is this a 50 x 50 or 90 x 90 cm?

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.

Revisiting a less than successful design

Every now and then I find an idea I have been keen to develop for a scarf goes awry in the painting. This was the case when four years ago I attempted a ‘bluebells’ scarf.

The finished scarf was a delicate pale pink dotted with stems of bluebells. The pink was subtle in real life. It was a soft, easy colour to wear close to your face especially for those of us over fifty. However, this scarf when photographed, well, it looked totally washed out and almost dreary. And, now when reviewing the design, I see the overall appearance was too messy and busy, and failed to be dynamic. Time for change.

Initially I adjusted my creative process making some large and bold additions to the scarf. I overpainted with broad flowing brush marks of coloured resist in order to balance the small bluebell motifs.

I then added some mid-sized periwinkle like flowers in a bluey green and created depth to the whole piece by painting small areas of the background in black.

The scarf has been steamed again to fix the dyes and the finished, more interesting piece has now been added to my shop – click pic to see.

Another colourway

I never paint the same scarf twice. The combination of my loose, freehand gutta work and then the random way the dyes flow into each other make it an impossibility. However, I do roughly repeat a design in different colours. I usually paint four or five different colourways of the same design to produce a mini collection.

My recent visit to see the Hawstead Panels at Christchurch Mansion, Ipswich, inspired me to create a design for a neckerchief. The first one in this series based on the pines and wildflowers painted by Lady Hawstead, was a combination of blues and mouse brown.

Having established this basic design and feeling comfortable with the patterned components, I then moved on to a new colour combination.

Sequence of photos showing the process of adding more colour.

This neckerchief design is a mixture of techniques with thick, coloured gutta for the pine tree tops, single colours painted into delineated spaces and some resist layering.

Small area of simple layering.

I like resist layering, but you have to wait for the gutta to dry. This can be speeded up by using a hairdryer. Resist layering is where you add the clear gutta resist to a pale area in a pattern let it dry, then added a slightly darker dye, then add more clear gutta patterning let it dry and finally another layer of even darker dye. You are left with a more painterly effect and even a hint of brush marks or should I say daubs.

When all the dyes have been added and all the gutta has dried, the neckerchief is rolled in protective paper and steamed for two hours.

One neckerchief three different outfits

The finished neckerchief is photographed and added to my shop.

Lady Drury’s Melancholy Pines

Of all the 61 painted panels that originally covered the wall of Lady Drury’s closet at Hawstead House, only one panel was painted without an emblem or a motto. This ’empty’ panel, consisting of a hilly background and two Scots pines, offers a melancholy scene.

The Reverend Sir John Cullum did not discuss this particular panel at all in his eighteenth-century account. Perhaps he simply considered it an unfinished section. However, the twenty-first century scholar, H L Meakin, suggests the ‘blank’ panel may have been deliberately left empty to encourage spontaneous meditation.

It is also possible to read the two, stark, thin pine trees as visual metaphors for Lady Drury and her husband. They’re standing mature, living apart from each other within a dark and hilly landscape. After all they had existed in a world of challenges and grief following the loss of their young daughters.

Bottom panels painted with herbs and flowers.

More generally, in her summary of Lady Drury’s closet, Meakin offers ideas from Seneca and Montaigne as well as current research considering the lives of early modern women. She suggests there was not a simple division between the public and private spheres, and proposes this tiny, private room offered a space to both think about as well as retreat from the wider world.

Despite the gloomy appearance of the ‘pines’ panel, I find the silhouetted trees make a compelling composition.

Scarlet pimpernel and wild pansy

And, I also admire the painted herb and flower decorative panels displayed at the bottom of the panel collection.

Deadly nightshade and dandelion

These panels show bugle, corn marigold, speedwell, dandelion, deadly nightshade, honeysuckle, scarlet pimpernel, wild pansy and a wild strawberry plant.

Wild strawberry
Bird’s eye speedwell, corn marigold, bugle
Honeysuckle

Overall, the panelled room is both intriguing and inspirational. So inspirational I decided to paint a series of neckerchiefs using the two pines, the scarlet pimpernel and the corn marigold. Here’s the first of the series showing how the scarlet pimpernel rapidly morphed into a larger, less delicate flower to balance the composition.

Painting finished and now ready for steaming.

Another in the Edlyn series

I can’t always put my finger on why I choose certain colours for a scarf, but after painting three muted scarves in the Edlyn series, I felt the need for something a touch more brash.

After drawing out the basic Edlyn design it was time to start selecting the colours.

The colours were definitely not from a medieval palette, but they were still too pale and pastel and needed a bit more zing somewhere.

Yes, I liked the fuchsia pink and the chartreuse green and the whole design was better pulled together by adding plenty of the chartreuse to the diagonal swag.

And, mmm, yes, adding more of the chartreuse worked, but to finish off the scarf unquestionably required just a little more fuchsia.

On the frame and finished, next step will be to steam it.

An Experiment with the Microwave

Beautiful-indigo-shibori-kimonosRecently, I have been reading about the traditional Japanese skill of Shibori. You’ve probably seen examples around as it has become very popular.

Shibori-text-Yoshiko-Iwamoto-Wada
‘Shibori’ by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wade, 1993. A useful book about Japanese resist dyeing. And, next to it, a double page from my 1982 book about tie dyeing showing basic pleating and knotting techniques.

Shibori is a dyeing method that involves folding and binding plain, undyed cloth and then submerging the knotted cloth in a dye bath (traditionally indigo) to produce a patterned textile. It is a kind of tie dyeing and has been practiced in Asia and Africa for centuries. The process has been fine-tuned into a classic textile skill in Japan. Indeed the word Shibori comes from the verb root ‘shiboru’ which means to wring, squeeze or press.

Classic-examples
Double page spread of kimonos made from textiles dyed with indigo using various shibori folds and knotting techniques. From ‘Shibori’ by Yoshiko Iwamoto Wade, 1993.

I thought I’d have a go using a plain white, long, crepe de chine scarf. As it was a long scarf I first folded it four times to create a small square which I then pleated and bound into a sausage. I didn’t use a dye bath, but soaked parts of the sausage with two colours, magenta and a chestnut brown. The dyes were then fixed by a short burst in the microwave instead of the usual two hours in my big steamer.

Microwave-shibori-silkAbove is the result after the first microwave fix. I thought there was too much undyed white. It appears I didn’t soak the silk sausage with enough dye. There are some interesting patches of blending, but the whole scarf looks too much like basic tie dye. However, I did think it would make a good background for some overpainting with pale colours. Once I had finished painting the scarf I removed it from the frame, loosely folded it up and microwaved it again.

Ready-for-last-microwaveI found microwaving silk not for the faint-hearted as despite always including a small dish of water, the silk gets very hot indeed and there is a real risk of scorching and even catching on fire! It was a relief to plunge the hot silk into the cold water for a quick rinse.

Last-rinse

After the usual washing and pressing here is the finished result.

Autumn-banner-2-2018 copy

Sunflowers

sunflowers1There is something perennially charming about a jug of fading sunflowers. You can see why Vincent Van Gogh was so taken with them. Famously, he painted sunflowers many times including the seven ‘Sunflowers’ canvasses which were ‘nothing but sunflowers’.Sunflowers-detailOf the original seven sunflower paintings, five are now in museums around the world, one was destroyed in a fire during World War Two and one, amazingly, is still in a private collection. These paintings have been frequently reproduced and used to decorate all kinds of merchandise. I recently spotted these Vans on the Internet.Van-Gogh-Sunflowers-VansWhen I was younger I had a small print of this version below.

Van-Gogh-1888-Tyson-Philadelphia
‘Sunflowers’, Vincent Van Gogh. Arles 1888/1889. Oil on canvas. 92 × 72.5 cm Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, United States.

I copied these exuberant flowers onto a couple of metres of silk which I made into a top.

Nile-1992During the intervening 25 years, I, as well as the top have faded a wee bit, but here’s me earlier this year during the heatwave caught on camera mixing up some dyes wearing my old sunflower silk. It may have been very hot in Ipswich this summer, but nowhere the 45 degrees we had experienced in Egypt.

Me-working

It’s Officially Spring

Thistil-gold-ShowcaseIt was the Vernal Equinox on Tuesday and despite all the wintery and bitterly cold wind (a short visit from Mini-beast last week, the cousin of the Beast from the East) it is officially spring and just a little bit warmer today. And, furthermore, with impeccable timing the UK Handmade Spring Showcase went live on Tuesday too.

UKHandmade-Spring-Showcase

I have been lucky enough to be selected for this showcase and two of my scarves have been featured.

Tudor-Bows-Blue-bannerI think the two photos chosen are bright and colourful –  hopefully capturing that optimism associated with spring. Who doesn’t need some bright cheeriness after the winter?

Tudor-bows-blue-tied-11-InstaTudor Bows Blue – hand painted, long silk twill scarf.

Purple, violet, mauve

Purple-curtainsYou may or may not have noticed, depending on how much you use Google, that earlier this week Google marked an interesting textiles red-letter day, or should that be purple-letter day.

google-celebrates-perkinThe folks at Google uploaded the above rather charming Google Doodle to celebrate the birthday of William Henry Perkin who was born on 12 March 1838. Perkin was the man who discovered the first synthetic dye, aniline purple.

Purple-clothThere is an interesting short article describing his pioneering work deriving a purple dye from coal tar on the Selvedge Magazine Blog.

The discovery of aniline dyes and, in particular, a purple dye, provided the opportunity for the mass production of purple coloured cloth. Up until the 19th century there was a long-held convention of royalty exclusively wearing purple garments. A tradition that originated with the royal and aristocratic families of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Imperial family of the Roman Empire. In Renaissance England Elizabeth 1, a shrewd monarch with a fine instinct for understanding the value of visual propaganda, added to the many Sumptuary Laws governing how folk were permitted to dress, and proclaimed that only close members of the Royal family were allowed to wear purple.

Purple-silk-cushion-scarfPurple textiles had been incredibly expensive as they were coloured with Tyrian dye collected from sea snails with approximately 10,000 molluscs needed to produce about one gram of the dye.

Purple-face-silk-scarfLooking through my recent work I have hardly used any true purple (as seen in the third photograph above) and it is a dye that works well on silk producing an extremely rich  colour.

Three-lilacFurthermore, I only have three scarves in my shop at the moment that have lilac(ish) backgrounds. Of course, I might be very tempted now to use a lot more purple as I have just read that the Colour of the Year for 2018 is Ultra Violet (perhaps why Google chose to celebrate Perkin?).

Purple-shapes-silk-scarfMaybe, I am at the turning point of a personal ‘colour cycle’ as some of my older pieces feature purple accents and one of my favourite chiffons from about 20 years ago shows a saint dressed in deep purple and burgundy. Perhaps it’s farewell to pastels and pinks for a while, mind you I am not holding my breath on that one!

Purple-clothed-saint