Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Part Three - Project 7: Understanding the Textile World

Investigating the diversity of textiles which are craft-based in their production.

Textiles were always craft based in their production and are usually made in small quantities.
Traditionally practitioners of each craft would have belonged to a Guild, this would ensure the pieces that they produced would be of a high standard.

Time has passed and production methods have changed, this means that goods can be made more cheaply, and that they are more widely available.
Shopping for goods has never been easier and in some respects cheaper - fashions change quickly and not just on the cat walk, but in our homes.

However there are still craft practitioners working and thriving in our communities - certainly there are less of them, but there is still a need for the man or woman who can supply the consumer with something that is 'a little bit different', a quality item, one that will last through generations.

The internet has also played a role in their survival, you can find these elusive craftspeople easily, there is no need for an expensive shop to upkeep, just a well maintained web site will reach those customers looking for the perfect item.

I have always had an interest in arts and crafts, a love of the homemade item.
However the word 'craft' can often be synonymous with twee, not really art; a craft fair might be something similar to a school fete - with crocheted toilet roll holders for sale alongside home made jams (not that there is anything wrong with school fetes, crocheted toilet roll holders, or even homemade jam!)

I remember walking into a craft fair in Winchester many years ago, and just being blown away by the exhibits that were on offer.
I wandered around in a daze, talking to the makers and designers, stroking the wonderful objects - I suddenly had a 'need' to own some of these wonderful things.

I had my eye on two things that day (many more really, but I knew I had to narrow it down), a hat and a very large papier mache fish.
I chose the hat, it was warm, it fitted, it was beautiful. I still wear it today, and continue to receive compliments for the wonderful hat, but, I still think about that fish!
That was one of the first Crafts Council affiliated fairs that I went to.
My hat

The Crafts Council have worked hard to change the image of craft, to bring prestige back to the whole industry and the art of making.
Their goal is to make the UK
 "the best place to make, see, collect and learn about contemporary craft"
Their aim is to:
  • "build a strong economy and infrastructure for contemporary craft"
  • "increase and diversify the audience for contemporary craft"
  • "champion high quality contemporary craft practice nationally and internationally"
They aim to change people's perceptions by only showing work of the highest standards.
The Council also promotes craft education and skills progression for the "economic and cultural health of the sector" with the firm belief that craft plays an important role in the UK's social, economic and cultural life.

Michelle Ogundehin Editor in Chief of Elle Decoration states:
"Craft is about the maker, the user, the observer and the future in one. By which I mean it resonates with honesty as the origins of the crafted object are clear and the mark of the hand evident. Craft symbolises utility of purpose and also beauty visualised in simple form. And this is the kind of material future I dream of, one based on universally- appreciated values, a human scale and a desire to be useful. and that's why Craft matters, possibly more so today than ever."

Michelle Ogundehin also campaigned successfully, earlier this year, for copyright protection for the design industry.
The 'Fight the Fakes' campaign increased the copyright from 25 years to "the life of the creator plus 70 years" an interview with Michelle is here. Information on the Fight the Fakes campaign is here.

The copyright issue was fought on the basis that fakes are bound to be cheaper, therefore quality and craftsmanship would suffer, that the designers should be protected from those just wishing to make a quick profit.

Having just watched the BBC series Mastercrafts it is evident why Craft is so important, why we shouldn't let 'old' skills die out, why we have to preserve them.
Industrial techniques are great, but, they are not everything.
To learn the older crafts in the traditional way means there is a deeper level of learning, and understanding, of the product that goes on. A greater satisfaction in the making process.

With reference to the current economic climate, Monty Don, presenter of Mastercrafts says:
"People are looking for surety, they're looking for things they can make and know are good, rather than things they can buy or that other people sold to them. Hence the resurgence of interest in traditional crafts."

Margo Selby
Featured on Mastercrafts, is a weaver, this is some of her work: link to her site is here
A selection of Margo Selby's work: go to http://www.margoselby.com/
She is a weaver of passion and versatility, a keen promoter of her craft.
She took part in the programme thinking that it would highlight both the challenges and the rewards of being a professional craftsperson in the society we live in today.

After graduating there was a huge demand for the fabrics she produced.
She therefore had to build relationships with mills in order to produce her textiles.

Margo spent 18 months as a Founding Fellow at The Ann Sutton Foundation, read about Ann Sutton here, during this time she developed her unique three dimensional fabrics by 'uniting her innovative hand-woven structures with industrial machinery'.

Following this, she set up a studio in London and opened a shop in Bloomsbury, her loom is set up in basement.

Margo designs and develops all her own fabrics.
They will start off as hand woven ideas, but will often be taken to industrial mills to produce limited editions of the fabrics.
By taking the fabric to a mill, the cost of production will be reduced, making the fabric more accessible to the public.
She says:
"We sell handwoven items in the shop, but it is the collaboration between the handcrafted and industrial techniques which has made the business successful, and allowed interesting woven fabrics to be available to a wider market"
Even though the weaving industry has declined in Britain it is crafts people like Margo Selby who have shown us that there is still life in the industry.
That there is still a market for well made, and well designed fabrics.

Melin Tregwynt
Woven in Wales for 100 years - link to their site is here
This is a piece of their classic fabric:
Melin Tregwynt fabric: Mondo in Aubergine colourway
Melin Tregwynt was something I knew I had seen featured in Selvedge magazine.
We were on holiday in Pembrokeshire last year when I saw a sign for the Mill and I forced my family into a trip there.

It is just celebrating its one hundredth birthday having been owned by the same family since 1912, although it has been operating as a mill since the seventeenth century.

Many Welsh mills closed in the 1980's recession.
It was only by developing new markets with up-to-date designs and contemporary yarns that the mill began to thrive again.
They installed faster looms and were able to supply high quality, beautiful designs in wool and lambswool all over the world.

The mill employs over 20 local people.
Their fabrics are not available on the High Street, but can be bought from the Mill Shop or online.
They produce traditional Welsh designs which are 'transformed with beautiful colour and innovative design.' They say they are 'simple in spirit, satisfying in quality and timeless in design.'

The mill had a fantastic tea shop which we visited after watching the weavers in the sheds outside, the mill shop was full of beautifully designed textiles made into beautiful things - one day I will own a blanket from Melin Tregwynt, it is something I spend an awful lot of time thinking about!

It was a truly special occasion to observe these talented crafts practitioners at work.

Carole Waller
Painter: a link to her site is here
This is a close up of a dress made from Carole Waller's painted silk
Painted silk reconstructed dress: link
This is another artist regularly featured in Selvedge magazine.

Carole Waller is an internationally renowned painted textile artist.
She works in a variety of media and often exhibits her painted clothing alongside paintings and installations in galleries.

She grew up with art, her mother taught weaving at Birmingham Art School.
After graduating from Canterbury College of Art with a degree in painting, Carole went on to take an MA in Fine Art Textiles in Michigan.

Early inspiration for Carole were the Italian church frescoes and the cave paintings at Lascaux, France.
Having visited these caves myself, last summer, I was fascinated by the response that she got from them.
"The notion of building an image into a pre-existing surface led me to the work I do now and to seek the same qualities of integration.I love putting colour into a three-dimensional surface. I use textiles because i want to create paintings that collaborate with their environment."
Although she trained as a painter, she says that she didn't really make progress until she started painting with dyes on unprimed cloth.
The garments that she creates are one-off pieces on unprimed fabric such as silk, cotton, wool and linen.

Having received a grant in 2005 from the Arts Council South West she went on to develop a body of work with glass. Her paintings are laminated between layers of glass, either flat or curved. These can then be used as free standing pieces. for both in and outdoor use.

You can see some of the works here. (Please follow this link to see this and her other works on the website)
International Festival of the Garden at Westonbirt Arboretum
Regarding the pieces she created for the Westonbirt Arboretum, she says:
"I like to give the audience the chance to interact freely with the work, both with the life-sizes figures and the clothes, so I produced six three-metre-tall paintings inspired by the trees at Westonbirt."
Carole's next venture is to study painting on glass and enamelling in Germany, Gloucestershire and Scotland. She recently won a QEST (Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust) award which has enabled her to do this.

Japanese Nuno Corporation
This company produces extraordinary fabrics using new technology to reinterpret traditional Japanese techniques.
An example of one of their fabrics:
Fabric by Reiko Sudo. Image from this link
The wonderful Ruthin Craft Centre had a Japanese season this year, this featured the work of Reiko Sudo. The exhibition was called Japanese Style: Sustaining Design and it ran from 1st April until 24th June 2012.
About the exhibition link, photo's of the private view link.

The Nuno Corporation took their name from the Japanese word for fabric, it was started in 1984 by Reiko Sudo and Junichi Arai. They:
"combine the best of past and present; drawing on traditional aesthetics to creative processes to inspire today's fashions, while enlisting modern technologies to make Japans "lost art" more accessible to textile lovers worldwide."
A Nuno fabric will often combine industrial and handmade processes.
One of their fabrics, (link to V & A collections), is called Ripple Reed.
This is a very modern fabric made from woven nylon and silk, but it was produced using a very traditional technique.

This technique is used to weave lightweight summer kimono (yukata) and sashes.
Usually the reeds of the loom are flat, but Nuno has used a loom with rippled reeds to create the unusual weave in the fabric.
"Today only a handful of craftspeople can produce this finely detailed work, and fewer still can craft the rippled reeds for the loom."

Many of the Nuno Corporations fabrics have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world, the Victoria and Albert Museum have several examples in their collection.

Although they are a company that produces modern textiles and accessories, they continue to push the boundaries of the latest technology and manufacturing processes, while still digging deep into the past, using traditional Japanese textile techniques.

Tilleke Schwarz
She is an embroiderer/artist. Or you could say she is an artist/embroiderer.
This is one of her hand embroideries (for this and other images, please see website link)
Mark Making: Tilleke Schwarz
I was very lucky to see an exhibition of Tilleke's work at the Ruthin Craft Centre in 2010, this was on show at the same time as an exhibition called 'Smile'. It was a great day out.

My family came to see the exhibitions under duress, they had decided before we got there, that it wasn't going to be their thing (not my daughter - she'll go anywhere that has arts and crafts).
How wrong they were, apart from Jessica that is.

They loved it all - there was the interaction with works by Robert Race (link here), pleasure at the characters that Lucy Casson creates (link here), they were enjoying themselves.
We reached the gallery with Tilleke's work in it and their interest did not wane (that's two teenage boys plus husband - who is not a teenager).
The write up of the exhibition says that Tilleke:
"Stitches 'maps of modern life' that are reminiscent of graffiti. She includes anything that moves, amazes or intrigues her. Daily life, mass media, traditional samplers and cats are major sources of inspiration."
There was always something else to see in each work, another image, another mark, and always a level of humour within each piece. 

Tilleke uses hand stitching on her pieces, each one can take more than half a year to create but, she says, that she 'never counts the hours'.
She is inspired by folk art, daily news, cats and scraps of textiles.
Using simple embroidery stitches, such as cross stitch and couching, she creates a narrative on linen cloth.

The sampler was traditionally used to teach women to read and write, Tilleke uses hers to challenge the viewer to think about "modern society and the strange way we deal with mass communication".

I managed to buy a copy of her book "Mark Making" at the craft centre, it is a joy to look through and to read. The photography and details of each of the works is very good, this enables you to see parts of the works that you may have missed in a gallery setting, you can browse through a book.

Tilleke Schwarz creator of the modern embroidery sampler.

All the crafts practitioners I have mentioned here are working to conserve their craft, but at the same time many of them are working in a contemporary context.
  • Margo Selby designs and creates her fabrics on a hand loom but passes her designs on to mills in order to produce limited editions of her designs. She weaves the smaller pieces and samples herself.
  • Melin Tregwynt continues to produce traditional Welsh designs, but in up to date fibres and colours. Modernised looms meant that it could fulfill their production commitments and reach a wider market.
  • Carole Waller continues to paint cloth, but she has developed her market into clothes, and glass installations. Both her clothes, paintings and glass pieces can be considered art in their own right
  • Japanese Nuno Corporation produces wonderful, extraordinary fabrics from new technologies, while at the same time using very traditional Japanese techniques.
  • Tilleke Schwarz uses traditional embroidery techniques to produce contemporary 'samplers', inspired by everyday life, especially the way that modern society deals with mass communication.
There are so many wonderful crafts people working today, it would be hard to write about them all.
This was a small selection, but one that I felt covered many aspects, Melin Tregwynt would be considered as having craftsmen working there; Carole Waller and Tilleke Schwarz would be considered as artist-craftsman; Nuno Corporation and Margo Selby would be considered designer/maker/craftsman. The boundaries are finely drawn between them.

What is without question is their common goal: to produce items of quality, items that will last.


International Textile Design by Mary Schoeser
Selvedge Magazine

Crafts Council

Margo selby

Melin Tregwynt

Carole Waller

Nuno Corporation

Tilleke Schwarz
Mark Making by Tilleke Schwarz

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