Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Indian chain stitch embroidery

Chain stitch can be made using a needle, a hook or mechanically using the Cornely machine. Anne Morrell in her book on Indian embroidery suggests that chain stitch was probably introduced to west Gujarat from Baluchistan although there is also a theory that it was imported from China. Although chain stitch is seldom used in contemporary Chinese embroidery it has been found in textiles in ancient tombs. If you are embroidering chain stitch by hand it is quicker to do it using a hook rather than a needle and it results in a more regular line on the reverse of the work. The hook is similar to the ari (the shoemaker’s awl) used to embroider leather for footwear (see my blog of 25 March), although, because it is held differently, the handles of the two types of hook are different.
Embroidery with a hook is generally easier if the fabric is fixed taught in a frame. For needle work the fabric may be held in the hand or in a frame. Anne Morrell notes that when embroidering chain stitch using a needle, the worker generally stitches away from herself and this makes it easier to produce small even stitches. The two pieces shown here are variations on the same pattern produced as a sheet of square pieces approximately 10 cm in size, which are cut up to allow the purchaser to buy as many as they want.

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Mojari - embroidered Rajasthani footwear

In Jodhpur we saw these beautifully embroidered traditional slippers being made. These are for a wedding; those with the open back for the bride and the ones with the closed back for the groom. These ones are expensive and are also embroidered on the soles as well as the uppers (see below). Although there is a distinction between male and female footwear the shoes can be worn on either foot, they aren’t shaped for right or left.
The embroidery is worked in chain stitch with a hooked awl called an ari. The work is similar to tambour work but the stitches are worked through fairly stiff leather which means the ari have a working life of about 12 days and then they have to be sharpened or replaced. The hooks are made of metal and the ones we saw had been constructed from the spokes of an umbrella. An awl is also used to attach the embroidered upper to the leather sole of the shoe.

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Tie dyeing in India

Among the many crafts we saw being made in India tie dyeing was one of my favourite. One of the things I like about it is that you never quite know what the end results will be and the moment when the threads used for the ties are pulled apart and the pattern is revealed is quite magical. At the workshop we went to, the owner showed us how the pattern of dots is transferred on to the fabric and then told us how each dot is pulled up into a spike and thread wound round it to form the resist for the dyeing process.
He showed us how he wound the thread round the spikes of fabric to create the ties, but he was working over a piece of fabric with spikes already tied on it. When I asked him how he made the original spikes he said he just pinches the fabric by hand to make them. I have seen similar techniques in Japan (see my Nov 2019 post) and there they either use a small hook to pull up the fabric or place the fabric over a nail to push up a spike of fabric. The Japanese technique seems more effective and quicker to me but we didn’t actually see the original spikes being made in India so it’s hard to tell.
Once all the ties have been made the fabric is dyed, further ties can then be made, as we were shown, and the piece dyed again to give a subtle colour to the fabric. There were some beautiful pieces in the workshop and the owners obviously experiment to produce interesting colourways and patterns, keeping the tradition alive and up to date.

Thursday, 12 March 2020

Women’s textile cooperatives in India

One of the things I enjoyed most about my recent textile tour to India with the retreatrecreate group was the interaction with local women. We visited formal textile cooperatives as well as women working in their villages and were welcomed so generously everywhere by the women and their curious smiling children. They all gave us small cups of masala chai while we admired their work as they showed us the techniques they use and answered our questions about their work and lives. All the members of our group were craftspeople so we appreciated the work being done and were genuinely interested in the details of the techniques.
At the Sadhna group in Udaipur we learnt how the group trains and encourages women in local crafts such as embroidery, applique and block printing. Over 600 women work on a piece work system and are given the materials they require as well as access to sewing machines. We joined some of them in a workshop where they showed us how to embellish fabric with shisha mirrors, how to work fine applique and how to make small round fabric buttons. I was delighted my teacher praised me for my neat stitching in the applique work as I felt I’d passed the test!
At the Sambhali Trust in Jodhpur we joined the women in their workshop to see their embroidery for cushion covers and fabrics for soft toy making. They were a lively group and were very interested to see photos of our children and grandchildren and to find out about our lives. The Trust is a non-profit charitable organisation which provides free education to women and girls and trains them to earn their own living through stitching. After our time in the workshop we joined some of them for a cookery demonstration and a delicious lunch.
At other times we visited women in their villages sitting in the shade working on their embroidery together in sociable groups. These settings suggest a simple life with no cares but the reality is that these women are supplementing the family income as well as carrying out all the responsibilities women have throughout the world – their life is not easy. They all had stocks of beautifully made crafts for us to buy at what we hoped were reasonable prices and most of us bought pieces at every place we visited. At least the money goes straight to those doing the work and it places a value on women’s work and gives them some status as breadwinners in their villages.
It also allows them to work in their homes while keeping an eye on their children, rather than having to travel to find work or to labour in the fields. Hopefully, the fact that we had travelled specially to see them also raises their status within their community. Despite the differences in our economic circumstances I felt that at the end of the day we empathised with each other as women and stitchers – I hope they felt the same.

Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Filet lace designs

I haven't been blogging for the last few weeks because I've been on an amazing textile trip to India but that does mean I'll be writing about some of my Indian adventures so there will be lots of news to catch up on. In the meanwhile back to some lace! These filet lace designs are taken from a pattern book I have entitled ‘VII Le Filet Ancien au Point de Reprise’. They seem to be aimed at the home needlewoman and book includes adverts for two types of thread they suggest the pieces should be worked in. The fact that this book is number seven in the series suggests that they were popular. I assumed the designs were for an antimacassar and matching arm covers but the index refers to this page as designs for a window ornament and two brise bise so they are evidently meant to be worked on a large scale. The larger curtain would have been designed for a main window and the smaller two for the lower part of a window hung from a thin rod or wire along the scalloped edge. The term brise bise means ‘wind-breaker’ in French. Unfortunately there is no date on the book but brise bise became popular in the early twentieth century so it probably dates from that time.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Amy Atkin project - needle run lace

As you can see I’m getting on well with my Amy Atkin lace project. This is the first panel and I’ve almost completed it. The design is mine, based on motifs taken from Amy Atkin’s designs housed in the Collection of the Nottingham City Museums. I’m using needle run lace on machine made net. This is an old technique originally used in the nineteenth century before the invention of lace machines that could produce patterned lace. At that time all patterning had to be added to plain machine made net manually by young women called ‘lace runners’ using needles for embroidery, small hooks for fine chain stitching, or fine sewing for adding material in an applique technique. I’m using needle running in a more fluid modern way to outline my design and produce some areas of shading. Of course, Amy Atkin’s designs would have been produced on modern Levers lace machines that would have produced the net and pattern at the same time, but needle running is the closest I can get to a traditional lace technique working from my studio

Wednesday, 12 February 2020

Amy Atkin lace designs

I’m making progress on my Amy Atkin lace project. The image shows my sketchbook and preliminary ideas for the finished lace. Amy Atkin attended Nottingham art School in the early 1900s and claimed to be the first female machine lace designer in Nottingham. Some of her designs and other items are held in the Collection of Nottingham City Museums, which is where I saw them. I decided against working her designs directly because they didn’t fit the short narrow format I’m using and also because I am working them in needle run lace on machine net rather than using a lace machine, which is what she designed them for. I’ve designed four panels using motifs from her designs and working in the same way as she did with a large motif at the base of the design and stylised flowers and foliage leading up from that. I’ve just finished the first panel and found the needle run lace worked well. It’s a technique I used on my response to the Battle of Britain lace panel and has relevance to the early machine lace trade, before the invention of the jacquard pattern system, when much decorated lace was made by using a needle and thread to add the pattern to plain net, so it seems relevant to the work of a machine lace designer.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Surreal images and decadent decay at the V&A

I had an enjoyable day at the V&A recently admiring the surreal images of the photographer Tim Walker and the decadent decay of Darren Waterston’s ‘Filthy lucre’. Filthy lucre, part of which is shown in the image above, is a re-imagining of James Whistler’s Peacock Room, expressing the opulent extravagance of the original, which he decorated for the shipping magnate and porcelain collector, Frederick Leyland. However Leyland refused to pay for the work in full because the room was over-decorated, leading to a long dispute between them. In Waterston’s immersive installation gold drips from the painting, shelves break under the weight of fine china and shards of porcelain litter the floor all to the mournful accompaniment of a cello.
Tim Walker is a well known fashion photographer, but that description doesn’t do justice to his amazingly surreal imagination. I loved the images from his fashion shoots for Vogue and other magazines of oversized sets and imaginary worlds. His portraits also grasp the essence of the sitters; I especially liked his witch-like portrait of Margaret Atwood, as she did too, according to a recent interview.
As well as his older work, the exhibition also contained images from his recent encounter with the V&A collection. I particularly liked the images he produced from the conservation store using the storage covers for the historical costumes.

Wednesday, 29 January 2020

Joan of Arc lace panel

Joan of Arc is the subject of this curtain lace panel on display in Calais lace Museum. It depicts important points in her short life - she was burned at the stake when she was about 19 years old. These include images of her seeing visions, and then riding into battle, as well as her death in 1431. It was made by the Nottingham lace company of Dobson and Browne in 1875 and exhibited at the Paris exhibition of 1881. It is a large panel (480 x 153 cm) made on the curtain lace machine and follows the design of other lace curtain panels made at the time with a wide central area, two narrower side panels and a scalloped edge. This panel was the inspiration for the Battle of Britain commemorative lace panel, also made by Dobson and Browne, in the 1940s.

Wednesday, 22 January 2020

‘Valance’ lace curtains

I found these ‘valance’ net curtains in the Lace furnishings catalogue for the 1933-34 season. Unfortunately the catalogue does not include either a manufacturer’s name, although all the curtains are all ‘made in England’, or the name of a shop. There was probably an insert in the original including an order form which would have included those details. However, it gives an interesting glimpse into the styles of lace furnishings fashionable at the time. Six ‘valance’ curtains are advertised in a page at the end of the booklet ranging in width from 18 to 28 inches. The term valance is used with quotation marks round it in the catalogue. The name suggests that they were used at the top of a window dressing as a valance either with full net curtains hanging behind them or as a type of frill across the top of a window with no other nets. They could also have been used across the bottom half of a window like cafĂ© curtains or in pairs across the top and bottom of a window. Three of them have eyelets at the top suggesting they would have been gathered but the designs are also suitable for use as flat curtains. They are all more deeply scalloped than the other curtains in the catalogue suggesting that they were used in a different way so perhaps they were all used as valances at the top of the window. It’s such a shame that the catalogue has no images of the curtains in room settings to give us a better idea of how they were used.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Anne Bronte 200 artists 200 pages

The Anne Bronte p200 exhibition, marking her bicentenary, is now open at Woodend, Scarborough and will run until 8 February. 200 artists were each given a page from her most famous novel The tenant of Wildfell Hall and asked to respond to that page and to Anne’s life in general. Each artwork had to be the same size as the original page and incorporate it. Most artists, including me, chose to work straight on to the page, but that’s where the similarity ends – the responses and the media used are so varied. The accompanying book, which I highly recommend, includes a two page spread for each artist, one side includes a full page illustration of each piece of work and the other a piece of writing by each artist. Some of these are descriptions of what inspired them, others are letters, poems, or quotations and give a fascinating insight into how Anne Bronte’s legacy continues to inspire and have relevance for us today. I blogged in October about ‘Wedded bliss’, my response to the project, and my admiration for Anne Bronte, but I would also like to thank Lindsey Tyson who conceived the idea for the project, organised it and produced this thought-provoking exhibition and publication. If you’d like a copy of the book it’s available from

Wednesday, 8 January 2020

Lace inspired by Italian roof tiles

This Torchon style lace was inspired by old Italian roof tiles which are half cylindrical in shape and lovely ochre, orange and brown colours. I spent several summers drawing and painting interesting rooves and chimneys and this work and four other lace pieces were the result. Some are based on square or diamond shapes, which is how the tiles appear when you see them face on, and others reflect the long cylindrical appearance the tiles show from the side view. I’ve used the same rich brown threads for all of them. They are all mounted on hand made paper and strips of Italian newspaper to suggest rafters underneath them. Some like this one suggest some wear and tear at the edge, reflecting the fact that many of the most interesting and older tiles are found on crumbling buildings.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

January lace challenge

Happy new year! I’ve taken on an Instagram lace challenge for January. It’s been organised by Jane Fullman and involves a different prompt for every day of the month – for details have a look at Jane’s Instagram account jane.fullman_bobbinandwire. Some of the prompts are fairly easy like ‘bobbins’ but others such as ‘spring’ will require a bit of lateral thinking! It starts today with ‘your story’ so if you’re on Instagram why not join in, it’s a great way to promote lace and lacemaking in all its varieties to a new audience. I’m going to try and respond to every prompt as I enjoy the challenge but you can just respond to a few if that’s what suits you. If you do decide to join in remember to use the hashtag #lacechallenge_january2020 so that all the posts end up in the same file. I’m looking forward to an interesting month of lace.