Recently, I have been reading about the traditional Japanese skill of Shibori. You’ve probably seen examples around as it has become very popular.
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.
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.
Above 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.
I 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.
After the usual washing and pressing here is the finished result.
There 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’.Of 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.When I was younger I had a small print of this version below.
I copied these exuberant flowers onto a couple of metres of silk which I made into a top.
During 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.
It 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.
I have been lucky enough to be selected for this showcase and two of my scarves have been featured.
I 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?
You 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.
The 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.
There 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 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.
Looking 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.
Furthermore, 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?).
Maybe, 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!
Most of the scarves I sell are bought as gifts. And, whether my customer is buying from me in real life, or online, I carefully fold each scarf within acid free tissue paper and place it in a box. Now there is more to boxes than just simply being a cardboard container.
Originally I chose a pale blue and black box design with a blue and black image on the lid. It was okay, but I always felt the boxes were too deep for a silk scarf.
Last year I changed my supplier and now have plain matt black boxes the appropriate depth.
Initially, I added my pink and black colourful logo to the lid. However, I didn’t think it really worked, so . . .
. . . for my recent outing selling my work at ‘British Crafts at Blackthorpe Barn’ I decided to change the design for the lid to give a more muted appearance.
Mind you, the rest of my display was so full of colour, pattern and ornate props, I doubt anybody noticed the appearance of the boxes!
Autumn is most definitely in the air. We’ve passed the autumnal equinox and the late summer blooms are looking ragged and at the end of the their displays. I have found myself choosing colours from the warmer end of the spectrum, adding more images that feature browns and oranges to my Pinterest board ‘October Living‘. Early autumn is also the time when craft folk start preparing for the Christmas Fairs they will be attending. I have been reviewing my current stock and remembering some of my favourite scarves that have been sold.
Considering how long it takes me to paint a scarf, strangely, once they have been sold I can hardly remember what they looked like. It has been surprising to rediscover them whilst searching through various memory sticks seeking suitable images to use for my Christmas promotional material.
A quick review suggests that black and pink designs have been appreciated by others as well as being a personal favourite and scarves featuring blues and greens are also popular. All my work pictured above has been sold, but this long crepe de chine ticks all the boxes, pink and black and blue and green, and is currently for sale on my shop.
I use photographs a lot for my work. I am always looking for inspiration from the world around me and use my camera to capture these moments. Recently, when reviewing and rearranging my current online shop collections, I recognised subtle influences from my photography. I had been searching through my various memory sticks of stored images to freshen up my product listings. It was clear from comparing dates on the files that after a few sessions of photographing some summer garden flowers, shades of peach started to appear in the pink scarf I was painting at the time. Although I was not directly using the flowers photos as source material their influence was quite obvious with hindsight – up until then peach was not included in my work.
I also opened my Bury St Edmunds memory stick. There were plenty of photographs of the glorious stained glass in the cathedral, both motifs and colours from the glass I have since featured directly in my silk scarf designs. However, after working in the cooler tones of the glass for a few months I can see I gradually moved to a palette of warm, rich colours. This was not the conscious process as before but I think the beautiful rich red windows had left their mark. Looking at the dates on these files I think the autumn weather was also a factor.
It hasn’t only been colourful images that have unconsciously influenced my work. When you are looking for a good shot you examine your surroundings with more attention and details so often overlooked are literally brought into focus. Shapes I hadn’t thought I had noticed at the time have been added to my stock of motifs such as the details on these sculptures.
In the end though sometimes there is no obvious inspiration for the colours of a scarf. With one of my favourites, this blue and green scarf below (long sold), I worked up the design layer on layer adapting my choice of dyes after each layer was steamed. A less controlled more serendipitous process. . . . . . . but I had been recently photographing seascapes!!!
Accurate colour representation, strictly speaking re-presentation, on screen-based devices is, I have now decided, impossible. But before I get bogged down in the philosophical depths of reality and the perception of reality, let’s just say that we don’t all see the same colour in the same way.
Shades of pale blues and pale greens are well-known for instigating disagreements between two people both looking at the same blue or is that green? I selected Colour One and Colour Two below from the pictured scarf and have placed them on different backgrounds – personally I’d call Colour One duck egg blue! Any takers?
And, as any other folk who regularly take photographs will know, the ambient light certainly makes colours appear different. It is also why there are a selection of lens filters (and photoshop equivalents) to adjust for the ambient light.
But one thing I didn’t particularly notice until I was reading about how we see colour is that (and this is blindingly obviously really) the same coloured object will look different against a different background!
This brings me back to presenting my work online using photographs. Silk has a lustre and this lustre varies with the weave. A crepe de chine has a subtle sheen and a flat crepe de chine almost no sheen. Satins and charmeuse silks are so lustrous that they could be called shiny whereas silk twills and taffetas are somewhere in the middle.
In the blurb accompanying my online shop I try to explain that silk looks different in real life not least as the slightest movement makes a lustrous scarf reflect light in an ever changing subtle way. Add this information to the variety of screens people use to shop online and people’s individual perceptions of colour I conclude that accurate re-presentation of my work is not possible.
Applying these observations to the wider world of online shopping in general (and I am sure most people have already realised this) if you are considering buying anything online and a precise shade or colour match is of paramount importance then either ask for a sample, a swatch or an off-cut, or read the returns policy so if it’s not right for you it can be sent back and you will be refunded. One small point unlike big retail brands, ASOS, Hermès and Liberty and so on, most small businesses, crafters and artisans are unable to offer free returns.
It’s just under two weeks’ to Valentine’s Day. Naturally, there’s plenty of red merchandise filling the shops, but I’ve noticed there’s more choice than ever and if red Valentine’s cards, red flowers, red boxes of chocolates, and so on, are perhaps too traditional, you can now find similar in pink.
Currently, I do have several predominantly pink silk scarves listed on my online shop. However, perhaps a combination mixing it up – pink with accents of deep red is less obvious and slightly more memorable??
Mind you choosing a scarf that is not overtly considered the traditional Valentine’s ‘colours’, say, grey (altogether more muted with the merest hint of pink), could be just the ticket!