Sunday, 25 May 2014

Tex 1 Ass 2 Project 3 stage 6 Research Point


For this exercise I thought long and hard about what to select. I collect domestic embroidery (mainly from the 1950s and ‘60s because that is what is available and affordable), but have also dabbled in collecting vintage dresses, and have a few Miao textiles. There seems to be a leaning in this section to think about evocative textiles, something that might give rise to certain feelings or thoughts, memories or personal experiences. Among the many, many pieces of domestic embroidery in my collection, I in the end chose a couple of embroidered runners from Denmark that were interesting for a number of reasons. They use stitch and colour in interesting ways, reflecting their respective times, but their design being, to different extents, unusual in comparison with the majority of work from their era. So, rather than reacting emotionally to them, I am studying them as part of a historical tradition, but maybe reflecting something a little unique.

I can’t exactly remember when I got them. I am a hoarder and collector and will go to any charity shop I come across, when sometimes a fantastic thing will call out to be included in the collection – I would have bought them on a trip to Denmark, somewhere in a charity shop in the middle of Jutland. Collecting is a strange phenomenon, a way of filling some sort of void it feels like sometimes. At other times it seems to open up possibilities, you find things you ‘might need’ for some future project, but maybe it is also some sort of displacement activity for the real thing – that thing that should be thought about and made, rather than thought about and bought for and never quite made.

The runners
The first runner is   long and    wide. It is embroidered cotton thread on a linen base fabric, that would once have been a bright yellowy-green, but it has faded a bit now. It is likely to be from the 1950s I am guessing.

The embroidery is a hand embroidered simple geometric repeat. A running line of square motifs embroidered in grey satin stitch, with a white border is cut through at each intersection by alternating pink square ‘flowers’ and green ‘ears of corn’ held in place by open funnels. There are just a few different stitches used: single chain, satin.... The hem of the runner is sewn down with a button hole stitch in grey. The base fabric is fine linen which allows for counted embroidery. Together with the geometry of the design the whole is balanced, borders are not too wide, nor is any coloured part of the design too strong against other colours. From the less faded back that shows up the colours as they might have been it suggests itself to have been a striking thing. It is also a prime example of the rigorous precision stitching that rendered the back almost as finely sewn as the front.
It is likely to have been made by a woman, to decorate a room, most likely to be laid on a coffee or dining table. In Denmark when you had guests during the middle decades of the 20th century you would lay out the best linen, usually large white table cloths, so I am guessing that the runner would have been laid out when the table was not used for entertaining, but been visible in everyday life. There are no wax stains on it (sometimes you find that on this type of linen, dripped onto the linen if people had candle sticks and had not kept an eye on the melting wax).
The second runner would have had similar uses and would also have been made by a woman; in this case though, probably made 20 or 30 years later. Again the base fabric is linen, this time a clear white and the embroidery is counted. The motif is a repeat of a candle-like design. The candle is blue and above it sits a yellow flame with an orange centre; the proportions are a bit odd in this design, the 'candle' section is very short compared to the very large flame.

What is interesting about this design is the flame element. In my many travels to Danish charity shops and museums, in my mother’s collection of domestic embroidery from my grandmother’s time, and from visits to friends when I was growing up, I have never seen the inventive use of embroidery in this way – a lozenge shape made up mainly of open button hole stitch. I may be mistaken, but far the most of conventional Danish domestic embroidery was made in counted stitch, cross stitch, hardanger, or if going back to the earlier part of the 20th century, whitework satin stitch and various means of using pulled threads and open lacy stitch. Some moralising embroideries on domestic femininity and child and house rearing were also made, which were cartoon-like illustrations using a line stitch. Almost exclusively these embroideries were made by hand, using ready-made designs either sold commercially or printed in women’s or family coloured weeklies. It is likely that this candle design might be from a popular magazine, or was designed by someone at home, in its modest way its seems quite experimental compared to a traditional counted work.
What do I like about them?
When considering the history of design the idea of ‘liking’ something is just the beginning. The idea of being drawn to something because it inspires, it evokes, it triggers questions, carries you beyond a preference for something. I could have chosen something else, I have a fantastic Danish arts and crafts embroidered tablecloth for example which I could have written about at length, indeed design historians in Denmark have written books about these exceptional things. But the fundamental reason why I collect domestic embroidery is I suppose, because, although the motifs are repeatedly about flowers (in the UK many a tray cloth is covered in sprays of lazy daisies), or hardanger geometry, or the ubiquitous cross stitch, the work is so easily forgotten and overlooked, and for me that does evoke something subjective. It is about women’s domestic role as keepers of a domestic idyll, making the home a place of beauty and calm. When I think about all this work done, so much energy spent throughout human history and now transformed by mass production and mass consumerism to other means of expression, I feel each individual effort from history just fades into a single pinprick.

The archaeology of the domestic is almost palpable in charity shops at times. On the other hand it also becomes absorbed into consumerism under the banner of ‘vintage’. I feel ambivalent about this – this label that subsumes the recent history into another fashion statement, however that is another discussion.
That woman who worked to make something ‘nice’ and ‘pretty’ for the home may have gone, but her work is still here. And now, indeed in the last 40 years or so, in the world of domestic making, the table cloths and doilies have been superseded by creative embroidery and this thing called ‘craft’ and the hand-made, that still plays a role in women’s lives. But a displacement seems to have happened that comes out of fashions in domestic interiors and cultural patterns of entertaining, but also linked strongly to the change in women’s roles, as workers outside the home as well as in it. There is less time and taste now for runners and table cloths, the interest has turned to tapestry kits of designer-led designs for cushions, paper crafts and creative self-expression.

All those doilies and cloths embroidered in and for the home, in the 20th century especially after the world wars, tell us something about the way the culture of the home functioned, or did not function. Sometimes I find pristine and perfect embroidered table cloths, elaborate projects that would have taken a long time to make, that were barely, if ever used. I get quite excited for a while when I see perfect colours and a print design still intact beneath the work. But it is also a bit sad that something was missed, the cloth and all that work were barely seen and admired, and that woman’s work went into a bottom drawer or box. What does it mean, what happened for this cloth never to be shown to friends and family?
Of course that was not the fate of my runner chosen here. I think it was shown off and was on display for quite a while. It was probably dropped into the charity shop as an elderly person down-sized or died, their relatives having different tastes and making different life choices. In my keep the runners now lie together with table and tray cloths, pyjama pockets and tea cosies waiting for something to happen. I used several items in a small exhibition a few years ago and now for a rare moment it also joins the visual life of the Internet.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Tex 1 Project 2 stage 4 - A diversion into dyeing

Stage 4 Exercise 2 asks us to collect various threads and fabrics together on a mood and/or theme, and create colour-based bags of textile. I chose some picture postcards of works by Emil Nolde (a watercolour of lilies from his garden), and landscapes by van Gogh, Cezanne, Galle-Kallela  and Ribemont-Desaigne. Most of the colours for these are greens, greys, blues, blue-greens and in the case of Cezanne the dry Provençale earths are pale and sandy, whilst Nolde’s flowers burst with organgey tinted dark reds. This is because I am thinking about trees and natural themes for the independent project and I might as well think about this early on.
I have a fair few green and blue fabrics and threads, but thought that maybe as the day was sunny and there may be other projects to come where I can use other colours, I would do some dyeing.

Using Dylon cold water dyes in purple, yellow and a pinky red I decided to dye smaller pieces of fabrics in synthetics, silk, cotton, as well as some perlé knitting cotton, which I am planning to use for embroidery. To get a wide range of tones I started dyeing the purple. I discovered once that by adding some of the fabric after say, 10-15 minutes, a lot of the dye will have been taken from the water and any later fabric additions will be paler. This is helpful if you want a wider span of tones of a certain colour. I never weigh the fabric, I am not looking for repeatable colours and prefer to experiment. Also over-dyeing is interesting and can bring pleasant surprises.
 So, I started with the purple and the yellow. Some of the fabric was commercially pre-dyed, orange and red, and some finer fabrics a pale flesh colour. Purple on top of orange made a grizzly grimy green-brown. I am sure it will come in useful, but it does not really do it for me, it may be good later combined with yellow and other browns. Yellow on purple similarly has turned an odd greeney brown. I should have taken that out of the bath early on as the initial grey-green was quite good, but leaving it in the dye bath has meant the yellow turned it a bit too brown.
When dyeing the dark wine colour I added some yellow and purple swatches from the earlier dye baths. I also added some blue silks, and made some paler pinks later. The blue silks look great – they turned a vivid purple, and the yellows with wine have turned variations of softer wines and dark pinks. I think in hindsight I should have dyed some more yellow, as I thought that with the remaining dyes I have (two dark red/wine and a pink) that I would do some tie-dye, maybe even some shibori, so that the effect fabrics can be used for future projects. Yellow would have looked great with the red on top. 

At the end I added a synthetic doily with some embroidery on it form the 1960s-70s. Sometimes these were made with a viscose mix and I had hoped that perhaps that would have picked up the purple. It didn't really take the remainder dye, probably due to the mix of synthetics and the late addition to the dye bath.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Tex 1 Project 3 Colour

This project seeks to train us in colour theory and the application of this through exercises. The first preparatory work includes creating a colour wheel, and thinking about complementary colours (colours opposite each other in the wheel), how various mixes might work. I have photographed the work as it looks in my workbook, but as with many colour photographs the images may have distorted the colours to a point once they are shown on the internet.
I had a go at drawing up a colour wheel using water soluble pencil:

This was an interesting exercise, as I tried to mix the primaries, red, blue and yellow using the pencils, by adding more or less pigment to the paper before mixing the colours using water. In most cases it worked reasonably well, although I think the blue-violet is not quite strong enough and I guess I did not put enough red onto the blue (maybe because the blue was quite dark it was difficult to see how much red to add on top).
I also used black in varying densities to see if I could create a sort of grey scale using the white paper as the lightening element, this was also done with green blue and violet.
I then went on to mix a few pencil colours to see what would happen:

Here I mixed some complementaries, such as violet and yellow, making a brown, the red and green and blue and orange also made browns, however I think I must have put in too much green, because when I mixed the primaries and added green I got a dark greeny brown. A light brown and blue made a very dark brown, which, had the brown been darker, or maybe the blue, would have been almost black which would have been great. I have seen this done in acrylic and that near-black was a beautiful thing.

Stage 2 Colour perception

Next came an exercise which in art seems to evoke Josef Alber's colour theory exercises.

Firstly laying a small square in one colour on top of a number of larger squares to see what the optical effect will be.

First I used a small blue square. It is not possible from this picture to get a sense of the frisson, or slight tension that arises from the clear blue on a yellowy-green (top right). Some of the more harmonious squares, such as the pale green or the pink can be sensed here, these colours would potentially in a mix contain a bit of blue perhaps, and so there is something more comfortable about that matching. It is interesting that although the pink and blue seem reasonably calm together the stronger red does not seem to balance with the blue very well.

I used a red square for the second test of this exercise. The red is quite dense and powerful and really only seems balanced with the pink and the pale orangey-peach. There is something energetic, and maybe a bit uneasy, about the red and yellow - being warm, maybe - and as the red paper was not fully red, but might have an orangey note to it, the yellow would sit more comfortably with that note in some way.

The second test was to see what happens when grey is placed on top of various colours - to see how the grey changes with the background change. I found it harder to see the afterimage on the grey square, and wonder whether the background colour choices are a bit weak, or maybe it is not the right grey? Anyway, I think we do experience this in everyday life as well, looking at traffic lights for example.

Stage 3 Recording colours

Exercise 1 - gouache mixes

This page may look at bit messy, but I was more interested in looking at the colours, tones, tints and shades being created than whether areas were of the same size or shape. I mentioned before that I like gouache. It is a soft, wet, pliable sort of paint that is easily diluted and mixed. I have used a designer gouache set from Windsor & Newton here, which in addition to the primaries includes black, white and a green. So on this page I mixed various colours with white and black to look at the lightening and darkening effects of these. I also mixed some colours to make orange for example.

I did a second page, not just to practice colour mixing, but to look at how brush jabs and strokes make marks, and to use undiluted as well as watery solutions of the paint. There are mixes of red-yellow-black, green-black, blue-red-white and various permutations of these.

When I had finished this test I used what was left on the pallet/mixing plate

This was quite useful, as I found a green that I might use for a later exercise, and I created pinks I would not normally aspire to create. Again there are tests of black added.

Exercise 2 - colour mixing to fit a textile square


For this exercise I used a square of woven silk from an old tie. This means that the weave determined the pattern and the number of colours used. There are two colours on the red-orange side of the colour wheel and a number of blues-grey tints from a pale blue and grey to a bright blue. Starting with the orange, I got this pretty quickly, but when I tried to mix blue and red to get the deep wine this was more difficult. This needed a tiny drop of orange and much more red than I first thought. The blue-greys were also interesting to mix, as this was more about a tonal scale, albeit I had to use both white and black to get the right nuance. What was the most difficult was the bright blue. This was not a pure primary as the one in the blue primary tube; it was a tiny bit darker, with something else too. I struggled to mix this one to match, but hope it is not too far off.

Again I enjoyed playing with the left-overs, and mixed and overlaid various colours. I quite like this type of design, it is reminiscent of weaving, and you get a bit of a feeling for how colours work together, or not, across the page, rather than localised, lying next to each other. With the various mixes, they got increasingly brown as I used the decreasing volumes of colour left over.

I was thinking about something that Albers said about music (Albers, 2006 (1961)). About colour and music - he said that we hear music when several notes ring out together and bring in the in-between sounds (or non-sounds) as well. He aligned this bringing together of colours to create dissonances or harmonies with music and poetry. I was thinking about this; where in art I get this sense of colour as a poetical notion? Although most artists/painters probably use colour in this way, even when only using whites or blacks - or the pastels of the Impressionists, I think that painters such as Emil Nolde, or some of the Blaue Reiter expressionists, August Macke and Franz Marc, used colour in a boldly energetic and singing sort of way. They used very strong colours that blasted at you, shouting 'here we are.... look what we can do in these shapes and in this paint'. Other artists such as Paul Klee used colour with more subtlety maybe, but also in a poetic way.

In any case the language we use about colour: on tones, notes, harmony, dissonance - those types of words, we also use about music. This suggests that the way we speak, and maybe think, about colour might evoke feelings and touch our senses beyond the physical properties of colour frequencies and light emissions of colour pigments. It can also lead to descriptions of colour that end up sounding a bit strange to us when someone tries to describe their personal perception of a colour. For example when Johannes Itten uses white as a way to describe the yellow hue..... I would not have thought of that, and I think he was trying to say something about the poetic effect of the colour yellow on himself.

Anyway, I am wandering off the point maybe. These exercises are a technical-analytical way of looking at colour that tests some of these things, that artists use when they work with colour in their paints.

Exercise 3

Using an image as a base for colour mixing
I  had a go with this exercise using a photograph of graffiti from the Southbank in London. I took a corner in which there were around 9 colours, and tried to mix these. Luckily the graffiti colours were pretty clear and straigthforward, so not too had to mix. There were yellow-green, pink, pale blue, a silver, black and white. There was a tine area of black that had been mixed, which was brown-black, and that took a bit of mixing.

A second exercise using a fraction of a painting by Elizabeth Blackadder was a lot more challenging to analyse colours from. And when I went on to choose object to paint from in exercise 4, now there I chose less wisely and found mixing a lot more difficult.

Colour mixing using gouache
Colour blending oil pastels
Exercise 4
Colour mixing from objects
I chose: a Vietnamese pale yellow pot, a lavender jam jar, a shell, a bright blue enamel brooch and a Japanese style bowl in greens and browns - all placed on a dark petrol silk scarf.
I made one big mistake here: I did not primarily analyse the colours in the image without heeding the composition, and ended up forcing the objects into some sort of loose 'still life', which was a distraction. This made the whole thing quite trying - I worked too hard at making the tea-bowl round when the greens and browns were equally varied and complex, and needed more attention. The blue of the brooch enamel was ok - a mix of primary blur with a little red to make the blue shine more strongly; the orange of the shell is OK as well, but should have been made more pale in the yellow pot. Interestingly, the petrol scarf was very dark. The photograph could not show what I was seeing, the richness of the blue-greens and shadows, although what I mixed might have needed to be a bit darker.
So, not fully happy with this one - there were a lot of reflections and variations of colour in the glaze of the bowl that needed much mixing, adding to, and I think even a more analytic approach would have been difficult. It was a lot more direct to make the lavender jar for example, which was mainly blue, a little red and white in differing amounts to get tints and shades.
For all these colour exercises I did not want to waste what was left over, so I used up all on separate pages. 
What was left on the pallet?

Firstly after the graffiti test: Here I used the leftovers on coloured paper. I dragged the brush, jabbed it, printed with tissue and an old cork. The green sample with red brush prints is quite effective, as the complementary colours work well together and the rhythm of the lines with the red 'prints' give it a bit of dynamism.



Then some leftovers from the Blackadder colour analysis - zigzags, prints using the brush, dragging a paint-dipped piece of string across the page:
Here I tried a different way of making marks with the brush - I created 'tails' of brush marks in different colours that swing and curl across the harder lines.
Stage 4 Colour moods and themes
Exercise 1 
Active - Passive
Active: a repeated and jabbed set of marks running along lines. This was to show the activity of painting and thinking about each mark.
Passive: quickly pulled out blues, a quiet colour in pale blue. However I am not sure 'passive' means fully inactive or dead, so I added some gold ink, a complimentary to give it a hint of life through the dullness.
Bright - Dull

Bright: using the white of the paper, yellows, oranges and gold to make the marks shine

Dull: Blue, purple and a light grey with a vague wash across - the colours were dull, dulled further with the grey. Unfortunately this section was on the same pages as the 'bright' marks and unconsciously I pushed it to the far right of the paper, the bright almost pushing the dull bit away. It would have been better to have just had the bright section alone on a page.
Joyous - Mournful/Solemn
It occurred to me that 'joyous' seems to have a kind of religious note to it. That was not my intention, and so all the reds, yellows and lively stamps made using a cork ended up in a sort of neutral grid. Perhaps not as joyous as could be - the 'bright' section is more joyous really.
Mournful/solemn is a column of blues and greens and black. I am not convinced that deep sadness is fully black always (although for some that may be the case), it can also pick up small rhythms of something else, hence the colour.
Careful: a measured construction, slowly built up, considered highlights of corners and flecks of colour accents.
Sloppy: triangles loosely painted, no system, no striving for completeness or perfection. I quite like this bit - better than the rectangle-pattern.
What was left on the pallet? - very little, some green and reds

Stage 4 exercise 2 calls for me to gather together materials based on topics and themes. I mention some of this work in my dyeing section here. 
Stage 5
Coloured stitches
This exercise evoked a similar piece of work as an earlier exercise. This time, rather than dividing the foundation fabric into defined sections I just placed a stitch sample in a corner and built the whole sample from there. I used a number of stitches, as lines, overlapping and as individual stitches - chain, fly, running stitches, French knots and couching. Everything went swimmingly until I got to the couching part, when I was constrained by the hoop. I was making a rounded shape that did not fit with any other absurdly shaped thing on the sample. But what luck when I transformed it into a jelly fish, suddenly the other shapes became fantastical sea creatures. I know we were not meant to make anything representational, but in the end the final sample looks quite good as a piece as well as a sampler.
I used blue and yellow as the primary colours, with diversions into orange and purple. This was useful to broaden the range and create visual interest, and created interesting tensions between the colours. I used different materials, from dyed nettle yarn, cottons and linens, to rayon. I used the stitches to overlap, sit alone against the black background fabric, or sit very close together as in the couching. My comments on the effect of this can be found on the colour work overall here.
Stage 6
Combining textures and colour effects
Here we were asked to either use French knots as a pointillist type of colouring device, or use the machine and soluble fabric. I used the latter, as I quite like the sewing machine, would not need to use a hoop, and can be free and loose, as well as reflective as I go along.
I mixed colours a lot - had different colours in the thread holder and the bobbin, changed these regularly, and then went on to overlap them, cluster them and work out whether direction in the stitching would have any separate effects. For the first sample I thought I might use blue and red as suggested in the book - using primaries. However I used paler and darker hues of each and once the threads overlapped, the effects of neighbouring colours changes the way some of the sections were perceived.
In the area where red was used with an equally strong blue hints of purple are suggested.

The exercise also asked for a way of looking at pastels. This is not a range I usually would work with, but I quite enjoyed it, because I used suggestions from a previous colour test piece as a source. I made a sample in pastels looking at the 'spring' sketch and an 'autumn' sample similarly in watersoluble pencil.
Here the leaf pattern was used. I used commercially dyed pale blue wool tops and a bit of Koolaid dyed texel staple as  well as a small piece of green organza that was sewn in and joined up by the stitching. I thought this was quite a successful sample. It showed up the yellow well once the base had been made up of pale greens, blues and pinks, and close up the tonal level of all these hues show themselves to work together harmoniously.

For the autumn themed sample I used mainly browns, greens and blues, with a little red to add contrast. I was trying to work out how the direction of the stitching would work if it overlapped sufficiently, and I think that with sufficient layers of stitch the whole managed to hang together.
For this exercise I wanted to experiment with stitch direction and work fast and intuitively. I enjoy using watersoluble fabric and with the machine you can create structures in the textile that, although potentially lacy and quite textile based, can be used to suggest the wash of a watercolour sketch.