Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Antique Christmas lace bobbins

I’ve been trying to find some antique Christmas lace bobbins for the festive season but have had no success. Many current bobbin makers produce bobbins celebrating Christmas but I have found no old ones and neither T L Huetson nor the Springetts mention them in their histories of lace bobbins. Both sources describe some religious bobbins and Huetson does record a bobbin inscribed ‘Easter’ which he thinks was given as a gift. Many are inscribed with Mary and Joseph but these could also be commemorating friends and family of the lacemaker as they were popular Christian names. I do have one inscribed Jesus though (see the pic above). For most lacemakers religion would have been an important part of their lives, shaping the calendar of the year with celebrations such as Easter and Christmas, but also their own personal lives with christenings, marriages and burials. Many would have followed nonconformist Christian doctrines which emphasise a personal relationship with God, hence the bobbins in the image with the messages ‘Thou O God seest mee’ and ‘Jesus for me died’. Other popular inscriptions were ‘God is love’, ‘Love one another’ and ‘I love Jesus yes I do I do’. I was surprised not to find any mention of Christmas bobbins especially as the Victorians keenly celebrated Christmas and many nonconformists wrote the carols we now sing at Christmas. Perhaps the gift of a bobbin at Christmas was considered unsuitable because it was a working tool and Christmas was considered a day of rest, like a Sunday. Or perhaps there was no spare money to buy bobbins at Christmas time. The nineteenth-century bobbin makers certainly don’t seem to have them in their general stock so there was clearly no demand for them.

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

Japanese lace fan

Just to show that my interest in Japan and things Japanese goes back a long way I thought I’d blog about this Japanese lace fan I made for City and Guilds many years ago. I remember researching Japanese patterns for kimono fabric and finding one depicting weeping willows, on which I based this design, and another of fan shapes which inspired the idea of producing a single fan as a hanging. The leaves and stems are all lace plaits and leaves, with four plait crossings where they intersect. I also added small gold beads at intervals to catch the light and add some highlights. The golden full moon was also inspired by another kimono fabric. The sumptuous black, red and gold colours epitomised Japanese style to me and were picked out from the clothing of some Japanese dolls in my collection. As part of the C&G exam I remember producing design boards to accompany the lace with all these samples on them, as well as showing the various stages of the design process, stitch samples and images of the lace being made. It was a lot of work but a good exercise in recording every step and formalising the process of designing. I learnt a lot from it - it’s a great shame that C&G in lacemaking no longer exists.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Printing and dyeing in Japan

It’s always interesting seeing other people’s tools and working processes. We were lucky in Japan to see several master craftsmen at work and also to see their workshops and some of the behind-the-scenes work of other people in their ateliers. Most wouldn’t allow photography in the studio but we were able to see some of the tools in museums. The image above is of a stencil and cutters in the Hosoo Gallery Museum. These stencils are widely used in Japan and we were lucky enough to see them being used in the Edo Komon stencil printing process in Tokyo. As well as stencil printing we also saw resist fabric painting in Kanazawa, which was a similar process to silk painting with fine gradations of tone producing beautiful effects. 

As well as printing and painting we also saw a variety of types of dyeing. The image shows a woman demonstrating the technique of arashi shibori in the tie dye museum at Arimatsu. There are two ways of doing this technique. She is using a fine hook to catch the material which she then softened in water to form a long tower which she twisted thread around. Her companion was doing basically the same process but didn’t use a hook just laid the fabric over an upright pin to push the farbic into a tower so she could wrap thread round it. Once the fabric has been dyed the threads are removed and a pattern of dots is revealed where the threads held the material. We then took part in a shibori workshop, luckily using a much easier technique. We folded a length of material into a triangular shape and then depending on which part of the triangle we dipped in the dye baths formed various star like patterns on our cloth. I think we’d still be there twisting threads if we’d used the arashi technique!

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Textile study tour to Japan

I’ve just returned from a fascinating study tour exploring Japanese textiles as well as having a taste of ancient and modern Japanese culture. We travelled to Tokyo, Kyoto, Arimatsu, and Kanazawa as well as the world heritage site of Miyamachokita and visited the workshops of experts in stencil printing, various types of shibori dyeing, ikat weaving, indigo dyeing, and yuzen fabric painting. Many of these experts have been designated national living treasures and they were all the third or fourth generation of their family to continue their particular traditional technique. Their expertise and attention to detail was astounding. 

As well as visiting the ateliers of those master craftsmen, we also visited modern galleries and shops which exhibited and sold contemporary textiles. In Tokyo we visited Reiko Sudo’s stylish Nuno shop. Reiko showed us some beautiful textiles and many of us bought scarves and socks. In Kyoto we were met by Keiko Kawashima who had organised some fascinating opportunities for us including a visit to her own gallery GalleryGallery to see an exhibition of the work of Yasuko Fujino and hear an impromptu talk by Chiyoko Tanaka about her work. It was fascinating to hear how both of them approach their weaving practice. 

We also visited an exhibition of student textile work and a stunning display of different textiles in the Hosoo Gallery (image above). It was interesting to see how many of the traditional textile producers are developing new markets for their work as the use of textiles for kimonos is declining. The decline in the use of kimono was evident in the shops selling secondhand kimonos, jackets and obis, but all provided wonderful buying opportunities for those of us interested in textiles. One place where we did see families wearing kimonos was at a the Hiejinja shrine in Tokyo where there was a celebration of children aged 7, 5 and 3 years of age, all dressed traditionally and having their photos taken. That was just one of the lovely shrines and temples we visited during our trip. 

We also managed to fit in some interesting museum visits including those dedicated to indigo, shibori, weaving and gold leaf. Visiting the Miho Museum proved to be an experience as its position in the countryside among trees and streams and the fact it is situated on a split site, which involves entering it through a tunnel and walkway, made it seem like a pilgrimage. Once there the exhibits were beautifully displayed in the tranquil contemporary setting and there was an interesting exhibition of Bizen ceramics. In contrast, our final day was spent at the Teamlab digital exhibition in Tokyo (image above) which was an immersive light and sound experience – magical in its own way, which highlighted the combination of ancient and modern that is today’s Japan.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Anne Bronte – Wedded bliss

I’ve finished my contribution ‘Wedded bliss’ for the Anne Bronte p200 exhibition celebrating the life and work of Anne Bronte on her 200th anniversary. All the contributors were given a page from her novel The tenant of Wildfell Hall and asked to make an artwork using the page and the same size as it. 200 pages from the novel have been allocated and the resulting artworks will be exhibited in Scarborough in January and February 2020. In my piece, the little veil with the fringe of pins references the sharp reality of marriage for Helen and many other 19th century women. From a distance the fringe sparkles with promise but closer inspection reveals its sharp edges. The harsh reality for Helen is that she has no influence over her dissolute husband and no legal right to remove her son from his malign influence. As a married woman she has no money or property of her own either, women had to wait until 1883 for the right to retain their own money on marriage. Anne Bronte was a supporter of women’s education and rights and this novel shows the harm that could result from the prevailing situation of inequality. In the novel, Helen bravely runs away from her husband with her son and, pretending to be a widow, maintains them both through her painting. She returns to her husband on her own terms solely to nurse him through his final illness. 

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The net curtain in the uncanny home

I’ve been busy writing recently and am pleased to say that Textile: the journal of cloth and culture has published another one of my papers. This one is entitled ‘The domestic veil: the net curtain in the uncanny home’ and is based on part of my PhD research. Basically it suggests that the net curtain embodies Freud’s description of the uncanny as the point of slippage between the homely and the unhomely because it lies on the borders of the home. The net curtain can be seen as a delicate furnishing as well as a barrier to the outside world and is thus used to reconsider women's equivocal experience of home as sanctuary and prison, based on tropes from Victorian gothic novels, but with contemporary parallels. Many Victorian gothic novels critiqued the idea of women being conflated with their homes and this research builds on that idea. The research is practice-based so the textile works are as important as the text and the paper includes some lovely images of them. Pins and needles pierce the curtain to mark the passing of time, referencing a cell-bound prisoner. Dust, memories and conversations are trapped within its sieve-like net. Experiences of claustrophobia, confinement and coercion are therefore revealed through the domestic veil of the net curtain. 
It was an interesting exercise trying to isolate a part of my research and rewrite it in a shorter form. However now I’ve done it I can see that there are other parts of the research that could be written up as papers so there could be more to work on. That won’t be for a while though as I’m currently writing a paper about some net curtains I’ve been researching in Nottingham. If you’re interested in reading ‘The domestic veil’ there are 50 free copies available via the following link

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Diana and Neptune filet lace panel

A few months ago I bought a filet lace panel of Diana and Neptune on ebay. It’s about 40 cm wide and about 150 cm long and nicely worked in ecru. I was very excited on my recent research trip to Nottingham to find a very similar piece in volume VI of a pattern book by Christian Stoll of Plauen which probably entered the lace archive at Nottingham as a source of inspiration for the students in the art school.
There are a few differences between my piece and the image in the book but they are obviously the same basic design. For example mine is labelled Diane rather than Diana, which is the more usual form given on the pattern. Mine is also missing a fish and a spear that appear in the book version, which you can see below.
The edges of both are different too. The design in the book is edged with a lozenge shaped pattern and the whole piece is inserted into fabric to make a curtain. Mine has a scalloped edge along the sides and bottom and has an integrated floral pattern along the top suggesting that it was a valance or designed to be sewn to the bottom of a curtain, there is no indication to suggest it has been sewn to anything though. I’ve been looking for links between these pattern books and lace curtain designs but to find a link to a piece I own was very exciting.