As with all creative processes, repeating it rarely results in a second identical copy and as often as not a practitioner makes minor adjustments each time they make a new piece for a series.
Obviously, in my Ranworth collection I have used different panels from the rood screen as inspiration for different colour combinations, but as I’ve worked on each scarf I have also slightly changed the pattern details too.
Details from St Bartholomew and St James
Hilda Ruby silk twill scarf
These scarves have ended up similar, but different. I have endeavoured to capture the relationship between my inspiration and the finished work, but it is tricky to accurately reproduce the qualities of the colours in a photo for a computer/mobile screen. (For your info at the moment these scarves are at the Smiths Row at Christmas Exhibition).
When the unnamed medieval artisans rendered their very beautiful images onto the Ranworth rood screen the colours would have been fresh and vibrant. Perhaps those artisans would be shocked at our 21st-century sensibility that so favours these now scarred and faded images not for their religious content, but their visual charm and serendipitous survival.
The beauty of working with liquid dyes directly on cloth is that the colours flow. It is possible to apply dye with a paint brush, sponge or even balls of dye-soaked cotton wool. Colours flow into each other in a similar manner as watercolour does on a dampened page, but often more definition is required to make an interesting piece that has both depth and movement in the design. Controlling the flow of dye can be achieved by making the surface of the silk temporarily ‘resistant’ by applying a wash of anti-diffusant over an area or by containing the dye flow within an area by drawing resist lines. I like to draw out and contain the flow using water based gutta (the resist agent) which I colour with dye.
Once I have settled on the rough design for a silk scarf I make a few templates of the main shapes so that I can place them across the stretched silk and map out the piece. I ‘draw’ out with coloured gutta (image 1 above) or paint larger shapes with a brush dipped in the coloured gutta (circles on image 2 above).
Once the gutta has dried it’s time to begin painting the silk and as you can see the colour pulls the work together.
Then, two or three days later depending on the size and complexity of the design all the colour has been applied and the scarf is ready to be rolled in paper and steamed for a couple of hours. Once the dyes are fixed it is time to wash out the gutta, dry and press. Now, on to the next colour combination in this collection.