Why I do, what I do: Thread 2016 Farnham Maltings
New collection now up online here!
I awoke with a start, my eyes blinked wide open and for a second I had absolutely no idea where I was.
That was my first morning back in the UK having just completed the Macau, Hong Kong, Beijing and London trip in 20 hours. Today I’m a little bit more with it, just in time for the whole reason why I’m here.
I’m in the Great Hall at “Thread” a festival of textiles, Farnham Maltings on Saturday the 24th September 9am-6pm, advance online ticket £5.50 or £7.50 ticket on the door.
It would be so lovely if I could see some of you there! I can’t wait to chat to people and just talk and talk about my work.
But you probably want to know just what I have been up to and what new creations I have to show.
After our summer artist residency in Beijing I returned to Macau and made up a new indigo dye vat and started sewing things up and dip dyeing new products all ready for Farnham. This meant sewing everyday.
I created a new collection, and this is what I was thinking when I started afresh…
Why do I create textiles, what do I want to achieve and what is particularly important to me about the making process?
I create textiles because during the process I feel like I’m meant to be doing it, it feels like coming home and getting on with something that is entirely natural. It is how I think, do, interpret the world, it’s just a natural extension of my daily life.
The most important part of the making process, especially since I’m so overwhelmingly process based, is the use of the right materials. This constitutes a careful consideration of precisely the right fibres, weave structure and dye.
What are the right materials? The ones that feel good to the touch, the ones that you can feel are tangibly appropriate, the ones that have their own set of characteristics that I take the time to become familiar with.
I’m using lightweight, filmy cotton gauze, smooth lustrous Chinese silk satin, resilient and subtly rustic linen and springy, tough and textured handwoven Chinese ramie.
I took the time to search out these materials and working with them was an absolute joy and I know when people use the objects I crafted out of them I they will be able to feel that too.
Coming up with a particular aesthetic that was related to my “local” in China was an important part because being uprooted from southern England to southeastern China means that it can be easy to have moments of culture shock, homesickness and discombobulating confusion. Finding Chinese materials and using Chinese natural dyes gives me a link with my new home through my physical work everyday.
I am especially in love with the Chinese ramie handwoven lengths. This is a plant fibre that is similar to linen but is a natively cultivated plant, which grows in the central province of Hunan. The farmers get the opportunity to cultivate this plant, prepare the fibres to a semi rustic state and then weave it by hand. The resulting woven lengths are then sold as plain table runners to use in the traditional Chinese tea ceremony. The woven fabric is often the natural colour of the unbleached ramie, and has flecks of varying fineness of plant fibre, which results in a lively textured surface. My very favourite aspect though is the springy and bouncy strength of a handwoven fabric that has it’s own structure. I’ve made this into purses and tote bags that have their own distinct way of draping and their own strength. You just have to see the tote bags move!
Everything I’ve made by designing the best form of construction to last a lifetime of use. I’ve got French seams which lend the double strength of two seams, handmade linen bias binding to firmly secure functional edges, repeat layers of tiny stitches for areas that have to withstand a lot and bar tacks to reinforce those points that could tear. It took me more than double the time for usual construction but I wanted to know that my products can keep being used again and again and again.
As for the colour palette, I wanted to show off the natural textures and characteristics of the materials so there are often neutral whites and creams from the natural colour of the fabrics. To complement these shades I chose the subtlest pale greys, warm toned golden yellows from a natural onion skin dye vat and natural indigo blue dye cultivated and processed in Guizhou Province in southeastern China. They grow the native indigo plant and then send out the mud pie version to dissolve into your own indigo dye vat at home. Using the subtle colours of China felt like the right thing to do.
You can look at everything in depth on my Etsy store if you aren’t able to come to Farnham.
I’m also up at Farnham Maltings again on Saturday and Sunday the 15th/16th October for the “Festival of Crafts” 10am-5pm, £3 entry.
If you would like a gentle afternoon perusing lots of handmade goodies, I’ll see you there!