Wool House at Somerset House

I found out about this Campaign for Wool show via Selvedge Magazine, and had never visited Somerset House before. They will be hosting tthe ‘Pick Me Up’ festival of graphic arts which looks good, but I fear I will not be in London when it is on. Wool House is a showcase of British wool fabric and design, with one half of the exhibition dedicated to the cloth, tailoring and tapestry, and the other half a series of installations by interior designers. I was particularly excited to see Anna Kyyro Quinn’s work first hand having studied photographs of her work for my final project for ‘A Creative Approach’.

An innovative fabric called Lumatwill (TM) by Dashing Tweeds was exciting and surprising in equal measure, as I would not have thought of tweed for cycle wear before. The fabric is woven with 99% wool and 1% reflective 3M yarn, making the final product appear very traditional whilst having a practical application. The urban landscape provides inspiration for a number of the bold and colourful designs.  Also on display was a merino denim by Woolmark, which was wonderfully soft, but I wondered how hard wearing it would be. Wool was put to another innovative use by Solidwool, who have developed a hard composite material from bioresin and wool fleece, moulded for use in furniture and homeware such as plantars. Their philosophy is to create an innovate product from sustainable local resources.

Large scale commissions were on show from Claudy Jongstra and Cristian Zuzunaga. It is rare to have installations as immersive as those put on by the interior designers. You really felt like you were walking into their worlds. I also learned jus how good a densely packed deep wool carpet can feel under your feet.


African Textiles at British Museum

This British Museum exhibition was mainly made up of kangas from Eastern Africa, and other printed cotton textile costumes from the rest of Africa. I found the kangas of particular interest as it was an excellent example of textiles serving a sociopolitical function as well as a practical one. Kangas originated in the late 19th century, and were originally made up of six hand block-printed handkerchiefs. The modern version is a large rectangular factory printed piece, sold in pairs and worn by women in public or singularly by men in the home. Common features are a patterned border and slogan or proverb that forms the prominent force in the design. Topics ranged from national pride or celebrity, political allegiance or ideals. Colours are bright and designs bold, usually with a link between motifs in the design and the features slogan. I admired the bravado and confidence in wearing your beliefs and allegiences in such a way, and I was struck by the contast with other cultures where clothing is used to cover women and are seen by some as stifling or controlling a woman’s right to express themselves.

Kangas are printed in Europe, and a shortage of textiles in post-war Europe led to a re-emergence of hand printing in the 1960’s. Examples of woodblocks were on display, some with metal or fibre inserts creating very fine relief designs. There was also a sample book of 21st century South African textiles, discharge printed by passing indigo or dyed cotton through etched copper rollers, printing a weak bleach to discharge print the design.  There was a section on traders and global connections, where I learnt that tartan cloth is considered a traditional dress of a number of peoples across Africa, having been  introduced by Scottish missionaries, soldiers and traders in the 18th century. Other influences on African texxtiles have their origins in Switzerland and Germany.

There were a few woven Basotho blankets on display from the Sotho people of Lesotho and South Africa. These are large blankets worn by men and women to mark rites of passage. A maize design signifies fertility, and is worn by men once initiated into adult manhood. Early examples had production faults appearing as lines across the blanket, but these have been incorporated into the modern version of the design. The designs are highly stylised in 2 colours, with the stripes in either all white or all red depending on the ceremonial meaning.

I treated myself at the BM by buying a fabulous world textiles sourcebook, which makes a comprehensive reference guide together with 5000 years in textiles, also by the BM press. (see previous post for complete references)

World Eco Fibre and Textile (WEFT) at Brunei Gallery, SOAS

I visited this exhibition of world textiles last week and wished it had been on whilst I was working on fabric manipulation and weaving last year! It was a showcase of work by new artists the world over, with focus on techniques such as shibori, batik, and weaving including ikat techniques.

The first part of the exhibition included examples and demonstration of ikat weaving on a traditional backstrap loom, used by the Iban weaving community of Malaysia. The design was first created by resist dyeing the warp using plastic twine to block out areas. Many of these fabrics have ceremonial uses and common motifs were diamonds and hooks. These bore some similarities with the Phu-kit textiles from Thailand, ceremonial cloth also ikat woven on a backstrap loom, but supplementary threads are used to create a rich pattern that can be mistaken for embroidery. In this exhibition traditional-style Malaysian pieces were displayed along with strikingly modern looking pieces such as one from Uzbekistan by textile artist Rasulion Mirzaahmedov, woven with silk velvet in a bold black and white spotted design.

My favourite piece in the exhibition was a large scale embroidery by Chinese textile artist Zuo Yingzi, which came from a series titled ‘Branches and Vines’. One disappointment from this exhibition was a lack of a programme or postcards of the pieces, and prohibition of photography. I would have loved a picture of this piece to refer to, and cannot find an image of this particular version online. Her other pieces are characteristic of the ‘house style’ where she works, using minute delicate silk stitches to build up photo realistic images. The direction of the stitches with the sheen of the silk builds an incredible illusion of three-dimensionality. This larger style piece was far bolder with large stitches and two colour schemes that interlaced as branches. Hard candy pinks and blues with pastel cyan were juxtaposed with autumn red and yellows moving to a deep forest green.

Downstairs I was captivated by the detailed Chinese embroidery, both the more experimental pieces by Yiang Xuefang depicting reeds reflecting in water, and the more traditional double sided embroideries showing immense skill. Xuefang’s largest piece on the lightest silk fabric was left floating rather than stretched, which helped to convey the rippling water in the image.

Pieces I took particular inspiration from were large natural fibre weavings from the Phillipines, incorporating loops and netted areas; woven horse hair jewellery in umbrella and lantern shapes by Chantal Bernsau of Chile; indigo dyed hemp by the Hmong Hill Tribe of Thailand which was appliqued over with red ribbon and folded shapes, and other areas cross-stitched in red to highlight elements of the dyed design; Malay pieces using slices of varnished betel nut as shibori inclusions; kantha pieces from Bangledesh; shibori dyed silk scarves where small peaks were tied and arranged in circles to distort the fabric construction as well as dyeing it; and traditional Malaysian plaited Sarawak ‘Tikar Begerang’ mats used during marriage ceremonies.

I have made lots of notes and liked the focus on functionality and social meanings in the work as well as the technical side.

Additional References:

Jennifer Harris (ed.) ‘5000 years of textiles’ The British Museum Press, 2010

‘World Textiles: A Sourcebook’ The British Museum Press, 2012



Using masks in monoprints



I chose the cat scratching post as a shape for this exercise as it has a striking figure and made a pleasing composition. I thought the clean lines would suit the bold two colour masking. In practice, I found the thin areas really tricky to print successfully. The registration was good, but the image not as clean as I had imagined it would be. I was much happier with the ghost prints as the edges were really well defined, and the slight mis-registration created the illusion of shadow. I think this would work well with using found objects and leaves as masks, and have seen this technique used with gelatin prints.



For my next set of prints I used some sketches of blue tits as a basis for the design. Although the printing around the fanned wings was set to be even more difficult than the prints above, I thought that a softer, more feathery result might be acheived.



I think this worked rather well, and the registration was good. I had several attempts in improving my technique. I have found that rubbing from the mask towards the inked sections worked best to prevent ‘bleeding’ of the ink at the edges of the mask. I used the handle of a brush to define the edges. You can see some faint marks radiating from the wings where I have rubbed between the feathers. The blue ink was slightly unevenly rolled, but the contrast in textures was interesting. I am not sure if this would have worked better with more contrast between the colours used.


The ghost printsworked nicely as the slight shift between the images added again to the featheriness.




I had a quick go at back drawing with my remaining ink. I have learnt to use a thinner layer of ink next time, and pay extra care not to put any pressure on the back of the paper apart from the drawn marks.




Overall, I actually preferred the back of this piece, which isn’t exactly how I planned it. I had lightly painted around the mask on the reverse of the print to guide my drawing. I had used a rejected print from the last run, hence the yellow.


Painterly Monoprints

I have been writing notes in a notebook as I work, and am tending to sit down after a week or so and formalise things into this blog. Last week I had another attempt at the painterly monprint. First I had several attempts at the eryngium still life. I experimented with layering marks and negative versus positive space seeing what worked, and what wasn’t so successful. I am struggling with the lack of line, and seem to be finding it difficult to convey tone and shadow in my work. I have persisted with acrylic paint as I like the energy created through working quickly. I made a final attempt at the painting to bring together all the elements that I felt were successful and am generally pleased with the result.



I have a couple of beautiful Betta fighting fish in my studio, and thought that a painterly print would work well to capture the organza like shimmer as they turn to reveal their range of colours. I haven’t filled the negative space as they are in a white backed tank, and I felt it was more striking without. I was particularly pleased with the variation in thickness of the paint in their tails as well as the sweeping brush strokes conveying the movement as they face-off in battle.


Worried that I had focussed too much on quite expressive pieces and not the stillness with attention to shadows that was implied in the course book, I tried a more traditional arrangement with fruit. I can’t say that I am particularly happy with the piece as I struggled with the negative space between the elements. The apples appear to be floating and again, I struggled with the lack of line to define edges sharply.



I have decided to start working with water based printing ink, as I can make use of my existing paints, and I only have a small studio space. This could be a problem for slow drying media at the moment where I expect to be having lots of false starts, producing a lot of prints in the process. The ease of use and easier clean-up is an obvious positive too. I have large tubes of Daler Rowney System 3 acrylic paint in process primaries, turquoise, black and white, and textile medium for monoprinting and screenprinting. I have also got some block printing media for use on future projects.

For my first experiments in mark making, I have used sponge versus rubber rollers, an old toothbrush, coarse versus sable brushes, a silicone colour shaper, cocktail sticks, a tiling plaster tool, woodblocks and clingfilm. I have taken ghost prints both using a second dry piece of paper, and paper that has been slightly dampened rather than soaked. This picks up more ink and gives a pleasingly soft image rather than scant high contrast lines. Because I only tended to print when I was happy with the effect, I seem to have spent a lot of time trying different things whilst only printing a few of them.

In these examples, I took inspiration from a photo I took in Birmingham of the buildings reflected in water. I rolled the ink out thinly with a sponge roller, giving a lightly mottled effect, and brushed a second and third colour on top with a coarse brush. For some I scumbled a line across the piece with a silicone colour shaper which gave a pleasing line of high contrast between clean plate and heavily inked marks. Areas where the ink was slightly thick spread as expected, and gave an interesting texture on lifting from the plate.

Ink rolled with sponge, brushstrokes with toothbrush and sable brush, sponge brush spots

Ink rolled with sponge, brushstrokes with toothbrush and sable brush, sponge brush spots

ink rolled with sponge, moved with silicone colour shaper, thick blobs of ink

ink rolled with sponge, moved with silicone colour shaper, thick blobs of ink


mix of colours brushed onto plate and drawn into with silicone tip. Inital print on dry paper

mix of colours brushed onto plate and drawn into with silicone tip. Inital print on dry paper



Same as previous, ghost print on lightly dampened paper picks up more ink and softer look than dry ghost prints

Same as previous, ghost print on lightly dampened paper picks up more ink and softer look than dry ghost prints

Moving on from this, I tried layering prints first in red, then bronze powder in ‘orange gold’ mixed with textile medium, and finally a scant black layer in a small area only. The style I had in mind was a hybrid of the above studies, graffiti tags and an overall affect similar to Chinese prints, particularly the name stamps. The bronze powder gave a very subtle shimmer as I used a relatively small amount. I tried mixing the powder with colour and medium as an interference but it was lost in the ink. I know that acrylic interference colours are available. I signed this as a gift to Mum for Mothering Sunday and had made it to fit with her décor.


In preparation for drawing from life, I tried some small studies with black ink. I have some dried sea holly on my desk, and tried to paint them comparing applying a dab of paint and drawing it out with a cocktail stick versus rolling a thin layer and drawing into it with either a cocktail stick or silicone colour shaper. For fine lines like this, the former technique seemed to work best as the marks were lost in the rolled ink. Lines need to be quite broad to allow for spreading of thicker into thinner areas on application of the paper.


My first attempt at a larger painterly print was a disaster. I painted as I would usually do, mixing my palette first, then painting. I thought I was working quite quickly but I forgot to use printing flow medium with the paint as I was mixing them, didn’t use enough water, and the paint dried on the palette as well as the printing plate as I was working. I dabbed some water on the drier bits before printing to try to help this. The image didn’t print in most areas as it was too dry, and in other places the paper stuck to the plate and tore on lifting. I will try again using more (any!) flow medium, but I think I may have learned why oil is the preferred medium for this. I think I will need to experiment with oils with linseed and solvent to see the difference for myself.


An Introduction to Printmaking

I have been really excited about the prospect of starting this module, and the OCA handbooks on the websites have allowed me to look at essential reading lists and upcoming projects before enrolling. I have now enrolled, and got started on the first assignment on monoprinting. I am arranging my studies in much the same way as before. I have a notebook where I am jotting down notes from reading and observations as I go when experimenting. This will then form the basis of these blog posts as well as a quick reference guide for me when I am working. My sketches are on loose leaves that I tie into sketch books in a broadly thematic fashion.

So far I have read three books, ‘The Instant Printmaker’ by M Petterson and C Gale (Collins & Brown 2003),  ‘Printmaking Handbook: Printmaking for Beginners’ by J Stobart (A&C Black 2005), and ‘Printmaking Handbook: Monoprinting’ by J Newell and D Whittington (A&C Black 2010). The printmaking handbooks are concise and practical guides that have given me lots of ideas to explore. My only problem is that I want to leap ahead of myself before doing the basics. I am also learning about myself as an artist. I am all about the texture and although I admire the aesthetic of bold prints, I relish any opportunity to get textural marks into my work.

I have been slightly indulgent and bought a little etching press. This has been on my mind since a chat with Pat Hodson (OCA textiles tutor) at a show last year. She made me aware of a small table top Italian etching press that I have managed to buy for under £200. I have had some ideas for this project involving drawing onto a (non-glass) plate with Neocolor II pastels, and printing onto soaked papers with the press. I have also had a printmaking plate made by a local glazier 24×30” 6mm glass. My palette is the glass from an old clip frame with masking tape around the edge to cover the sharp edges.

In terms of other reading, there are a number of artists referred to in the course handbook introduction, and it would seem sensible to spend some time researching each of these as a starting point.