From the smallest of seeds……

CUexhibitonfinalsmallWell, what can I say, it has been a rollercoaster ride. I find myself at the end of my studies (for now?) Degree is drawing to a close with the final collection of handwoven, naturally dyed samples made, submitted and exhibited. I know, it is not wool! This is the very strange thing about a degree that I have found. It certainly takes on a life of its own. I found myself examining the properties of natural fibres, asking questions; ultimately shifting my own perspectives. I arrived at what if linen challenged our perspectives…..what if it could stretch.

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Finished cloth.

Woven on a 90cm AVL dobby loom in white high twist linen, initially, this piece, pictured above, had a unique character of its own, resembling lacy white curtains of a tuscan villa! The magic of energetically spinning a thread past a balance is in the interaction with water. Having been woven much more open, the fibres are allowed to move and do what comes naturally, wriggling, retracting seemingly shrinking to create a crepe, stretchy fabric. That 90 cms woven cloth becoming two thirds of its original size and stretchy. It is so exciting to create innovative cloth from changing the parameters of what we have come to expect.

 

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Still on the loom.

I loved each process watching it transform before my eyes. Using a particular element of Shibori; the art of stitch resist, challenged the perception of embroidery and embellished stitch. Knowing the stitches were to be removed, allowed me to reflect on the lack of permanence to fashion items, here was a very old traditional craft resilient guiding my hand. Fashion trends come and go, and often work on a loop system, Craft skills handed down generation to generation are invaluable in providing a way to express ourselves to reflect the current thoughts whilst preserving our heritage. The challenge is to keep these crafts alive by continually creating contemporary craft deeply grounded in them. Giving cloth, in this case a sense of history, heritage ….a narrative to be cherished and ultimately a value not to be discarded lightly or irresponsibly.

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All stitched and gathered waiting to go in the Indigo vat

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Treading a natural path.

I was warned of the unpredictable nature that work for your final graduate collection can take. It assumes a life of its own, consuming your ideas; running in abstract paths. How might you ask do I get from  wool so carefully collected, scoured and prepared to a final collection working only with linen! The theme, marks of identity within the landscape, evolved to explore the properties of an unforgiving material, in extraordinary ways.

The desire to create garments that were sustainable, offering an alternative to fast fashion, led me to challenge perspectives in more ways than just visual interpretations of the marks that were in the landscape, into surface pattern or structural weaving. Thinking of materials – What if linen could stretch? Would that start to make you re evaluate its properties. its function in your wardrobe? What if you could grow, compost then regrow your clothes?

Being a horticulturalist, it is inevitable the growing process would feature heavily in my textile career. With that in mind, to define my core aesthetics, as a designer, has become part of the process too. Natural dyeing, intrinsic to the process, developed questions; how can I push this element to become an example of contemporary sustainable fashion, where celebrating the ‘bespoke’ one off shades, the fading and reinventing of the shades over time truly characterised a ‘living’ textile. Where natural dyeing became so much more than a hobby craft, but part of our wardrobes. There is a stigma attached to working with natural dyes that potentially could undermine the professional status of a garment. What does natural dyed cloth conjure up for you?

‘Shifting Perspectives’, the new title for the collection explores these questions. Challenging identity from all angles; professional, personal, materials, methods, processes, fashion and by theme. I am hoping visitors to the exhibition will each take away a unique perspective of the work, that challenges the way they think about an element individual to them.

Creating an experiment for the summer !

I find myself even further down the road in this exciting, totally consuming  journey. With that comes the thousand apologies I could possibly make as to the lack of entries here, however, it is not without interest, my absence that is. Read on if you will, I now find myself on a BA Textiles degree for Knit ,Weave and Mixed Media; with the second year drawing to a close. Absolutely …How did that happen?

Surrounded by equally passionate people. The wealth of stimulus is sometimes deafening ! Sometimes you just have to stand back…. where in the world am I going. What on earth am I trying to say. Sometimes you can have just have too much stimulus….perhaps.

With my finals approaching next year, I have a few of these type of questions to answer. Now as many of you know I am a natural dyer first and foremost. Natural colour is my trademark. I live, eat, breathe, teach and grow it! However, I love spinning but do not nearly spend enough time doing it. The BA specialism for me, is creating cloth through weave and natural mixed media; Combine these with my essential ‘being’ that of a gardener, both personally and professionally, Well of course, I want to combine them all together sustainably for my offering.

Tall order or ‘natural’ progression, excuse the pun !

I have requested via social media (locally) a variety of sheep fleeces from different breeds; to prepare and spin and dye them over the summer, ready to use within my finals next year. I was overwhelmed by the choice and condition of the fleeces offered; many donated.

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A sharing of ones coat

The majority of ‘donators’ were smallholders or small scale farmers and young farmers with small flocks of their own. They all seem to have a limited number of each breed, where the animals were treated often as pets or part of the family. It was pure heaven to meet them at their ‘farms’ ; always arriving with my trusty companion, Indigo and often with a daughter or son in tow; curious and country lovers too.

The project is beginning already to be so much more than I anticipated. I want to give provenance to the cloth I will create next year; from field to finished samples. To pay tribute to the love and care the animals receive (and give) by honouring each process the fleece receives from me. IMG_5285

The fleeces have started to trickle in, although I am expecting to be over whelmed soon as the sheep are shorn, after this period of intense rain. I have tried to keep records to provide the detailed provence I want. Each fleece being logged, scoured and dried and a special hessian sack made to keep the precious fibre until the next process begins. The sack having its own printed and hand sewn label attached. You can just feel the chaos within this order develop can’t you when inundated with fleeces soon!

IMG_5280.JPGAs you can gather, this is not about speed. This is about creating cloth of heritage. Slow, living textiles. That leave their mark as naturally, as sustainably as possible; With regards to the environment with which we ALL come from. It is not aimed at the  ‘throwaway society’ in the sense of owning excessive ‘material’ objects but the cherishing of a few, lovingly, well made items with a history; a story to tell, who then, when they reach the end of their lives, are biodegradable; returned to recycle and begin again. Hopefully producing a beautiful ‘story’ for our fast paced times.

From the beginning….

Life never quite goes according to plan for me. Well for a start I was born in the city of London, whilst my heart seemed intrinsically attached to the countryside! I mean countryside , to a point where off grid and wild and windy Scotland crofts came into virtual grasp! Well, I didn’t make it that far. As i say, life has other plans. However, I do and have for 12 years lived in a remote ish dwelling, by my standards at least. Off grid no but it’s own water supply with plenty of stories to tell for a later post, hilarious now but at the time disastrous. It has its own sewage too. so no quite dry compost loos as of yet! Being on the end of a telephone and electricity lines bring their own challenges to a modern growing family but hey we survived, just about. Idyllic and blooming hard work.

Four children have grown with me into and for some of them out of the love with this magical forest dwelling. 2001 being 7, 4, 18 months on arriving and adding to the brood in 2003 made four. We are unfortunately coming to the end of our magical existence here and go forward with real experience of the unbelievable good fortune, experience and delight of being here and also the challenges faced of pursuing the ‘good life’. We have grown, harvested, kept various menageries of animals, facing all the ups and downs that mostly could not even be imagined as part of this existence. many, many times it felt a privilege and a few times perhaps more than i wished it to be; an enormous burden.

The city lives in me. My roots i cannot ignore. I adore the culture, the arts the diversity of it all. I lived amongst bohemian lifestyles, ghetto existences almost, high rise blocks and trade unions strikes, standpipes and sugar mountains. I collected driftwood by the boatrace bonanza of Putney Bridge and scraped diligently for clay pipes and roman remains of yesteryears in sites of new estates. I learnt to drive in the chaotic merry go rounds and rides of the Hogarth Roundabout and Chiswick Flyover. I leisurely flooded my moped in the parks of Richmond during a torrential summer storm because I was past caring how wet I could become. I was soaked through to the innermost garments of secrecy!

The natural elements have always played their part with and in my life. City or countryside I gravitated to nature.

So as I begin another chapter. Potting Shed Direct the Gardening business I began in 2008 has  now become my creative space. To dabble, ponder with nature creatively. Ever inquisitive and wondering. What if….. x

Lichens: A Cautionary Tale

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Do they look dead to you ? No seriously they could be mistaken could they not for having been blown off from somewhere higher perhaps further afield and given sanctuary in the branches of these trees.

Please protect the lichens

Lichen has been associated with the highlands of Scotland for those walkers and observers of nature will inform us ‘they’ – these seeming dead bundles do indeed purify the air! They are here to in abundance in the Welsh Valleys too; So valuable they are deemed to be that they are not to be plucked off the trees which they are actually attached to, living from. Are they right? I have upheld this idea this notion and accepted as a fact and felt incredibly guilty when faced recently with a deluge of blustery produce after an incredibly windy night. It was just laid there. Surely that must be ok. It surely must be dead now. My conscience be clear for I am a great environmentalist in my own way and would never wish to harm or interfere with natures life to the detriment and to be truthful I don’t think many would intentionally, except for profit but that is a different soapbox for me to write about!

So here it is. A dilemma Do I know for fact that I am ok to take and use in a very natural way, to use for dyeing fleece, that lichen which has fallen to the ground. I took it. I reasoned that it was lying on a road to be muddied and run over. Even if it did survive thereafter being blown off (still attached to the branch) as I had somewhere read it to be able to, Could it survive that trauma to, well no. However, it has lead me to ponder the truth of the lichen life!  Continue reading

A treasured bounty

simple to spin

simple to spin

Have you ever walked past a field where there are the tufts of fleece entwined baron on the fence. Almost cleansed by the rain and involuntarily ‘hanging’ out to dry! Much later, 38 kgs later and more to come I am hooked, obsessed by this ‘fluff’ It offers so much; transformation into the promise; Of fibre to clothe,keep us warm, to adorn and give way to so much creativity.

plant dyed wools

plant dyed wools

I have alway had this need to take a raw item and follow the processes to create. Wool or fibres in general are the ultimate travelling companion for this journey. However, my tentative walk began from a different lane. From the garden path. It was at these humble beginnings my connection was made. Colour. Natural colour. Colour that is not uniform and although nature can provide bold brash colours she is more renowned for her subtlety, of muted shades and very much a tonal creator.

Throughout the seasons she quietly sometimes loudly rocks our world with an orchestra of colour. Just when you feel you know her; she surprises. For me to be able to learn, tap into mother natures own larder, to explore her lessons in creativity it is a treasure trove. So to walk past that innocent ‘fluff’ I can no longer do without thinking of what it can become. Like Cinderella’s pumpkin to be transformed into magnificence by magic. Natural magic.

Take home this ‘fluff’ however, small and tenderly yet once more bathe but this time add some magic of vegetable skins, flowers, seeds or pods; of bark or leaves and warm to colour it’s veins. Let nature colour your creativity and join me on this magical mystical tour!