Wednesday, 22 July 2015

Japanese 'tapestry'

This post will be a very brief foray into a weaving technique called tsuzure which they use in Japan. It is a kind of tapestry technique, although some items I have that is made in this way seem to have long floating wefts on the reverse, rather than the discontinuous weft sections seen in a western tapestry. That is not to say they do not weave like that as well, my first piece of tsuzure woven fabric was made in this way.

Here's an example of an obi woven in this way

And another in an abstract floral design
So, the pieces I have that are made in tsuzure technique are all obis. An obi is the belt Japanese women tie around their waists over the kimono. The weave makes the obi a quite solid fabric, and as you can see the woven image is typically woven in one end of the obi across the part that will be visible after being folded appropriately. At the further end there are perhaps two smaller facing woven images, across the part that is folded in half.

There are excellent videos on Youtube that shows how obi are mounted and folded in dressing in a traditional Japanese way. I have selected one on how to tie a Nagoya obi, which you can watch here. And here's another showing how to tie a fukuro obi.

The obi is in a very fine silk weave, and the long sections of the obi that do not have a tapestry section are plain woven. The obi shows signs of having been used, as there are folds from where it has been tied and folded across the wearer. The pattern section of the obi can be of many different motifs - traditional, abstract, floral, figurative, in fact any symbol or design that might have inspired the weaver. Youtube also has a very good short film of a weaver demonstrating tsuzure weaving, which shows an elderly man at a horizontal loom, that looks a bit like a cloth weaving loom, and he uses small bobbins containing a very fine silk yarn.

The Japanese weaving industry has suffered a decline in the later twentieth century, and in order to retain some of the skills there is an educational area within the traditional textile manufacturing area Nishijn in Kyoto that can be visited to see how weavers and fabric designers work. I haven't personally visited this place, although I would like to, there is something a bit sad about a once-glorious textile art now being mainly visible as a tourist spectacle. The industry has traditionally been organised around small family weaver makers working on obi and other precious textiles that are supplied to centralised manufacturers (Hareven, 2003). Hareven's book is an anthropological study of the weavers of traditional Japanese textiles rather than a book on the textiles themselves. It is a vehicle for the voices of the small weaver families to give them the space to talk about their work and describe how their lives have been shaped by their trade and skill.

I am always in awe at how wonderfully simple, but always so exactly right, Japanese packaging is. The people who sent me the obi use a postal bag made of brown paper, in which the obi is either rolled or folded into a neatly folded piece of bubble wrap.

And this time there was an additional piece of packaging which consisted of large sheets of white paper, a couple of sheet were folded into a bag which was in turn placed into another folded container. The sections were stuck together with smaller triangular pieces. Here are some pictures which I hope show this construction:

Not sure this shows how the sections were attached, but this is where the pieces join:

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Sketchbook - 3rd part

In the last section of the sketchbook course the challenge is to think about the work of an artist chosen from a list of various artists who work in textiles or in sculpture, including Caroline Broadhead, Eva Hesse and Suzumi Noda. I chose to look at the latter two.

Noda is a director of an art school in Osaka, but is also an artist practitioner with a keen sense of the changing ecology of the world, hence her interest in recycling materials.

There was not a great deal to find on Suzumi Noda, although I thought her work was interesting - using knitting and integrating discarded materials into it, including old bottle tops. She contributed some works to the Lost in Lace exhibition with a work made up of old cardboard jacquard cards and fine wire. She knits garments in an open structure. Although she states she used to use wool in the 1980s, her material now looks like a monofilament or wire. So, her language is about open work and lacy-ness with an awareness of contemporary environmental changes - I am not sure how she works her design process as I can't find any sketchbook images of her work, however you get a sense that she has a very good handle on the craft of textiles, whether knitting or knotting or some other method of assembly (I found an image of a chair she had covered in a very three-dimensional way with tags and a bright yellow monofilament, which she had also used in knitted installations).

Eva Hesse, on the other hand, has been well examined by art historians and crafts theorists. A sculptor who worked in the 1960s using new materials in her work such as latex painted on rope or canvas, and the structure then left to slum or hang, Hesse let gravity pull the work into/out of shape, or let ropes get tangled and knotted over which she then painted these in resin.

Hesse’s work has been described by some as post-minimalist, or Process Art (Adamson, 2007), which considered the process of making, in materials and letting the work do its own work, such as letting the works slump, hang, fold, balance. She also made drawings in the early 1960s, which were simple abstracts, using elemental forms such as the circle and the rectangle to absorb her marks.
Instead of choosing just a single artist I thought I might combine these two - Noda from the knitting perspective, as I have several yarns cut in short bits left over from the tapestry sample in assignment 4 I need to use up, as well as yarns I dug out from my stash, and Hesse because of her attention to process. I am less enamoured by Hesse's final art objects - if her work really was about process then these objects demonstrate that it was not the final thing that was important to her in itself, but a way to show the making of it within the object. There is a suggestion that she had said she was working to create 'nothing' (Sussman, 2006), which is probably suggestive. That nothing might be the liminal space between an art object that traditionally communicates something and the space and activities of the making of it.
In any case, the sketchbook course asks us to consider these artists and materials we may have collected that could be used. I have collected tissue papers from wrapped parcels and shoe boxes, and I also have a small bundle of other paper that could be usefully dyed. So I went on to dunk and dip some of the tissue paper in a solution of water-soaked onion peel, which gave a yellow colour, and applied these papers to the heavier sheets and also dyed a small piece of silk. I also knitted some small samples into which I knitted bits of warp yarn.

I sat for a few evenings just knitting small square samples in linen, wool and cotton, sometimes handspun, sometimes commercial. Amazingly, I found myself knitting pretty monochrome samples, unusual for me, as I usually work with colour. These samples at times incorporated some of the off-cut warp yarns I mentioned earlier. Also unusually, I knitted samples, just made up smallish pieces to see how the material worked. Normally I would plan a knitting project, skip the bit where you are meant to make a swatch or sample and just get on with the final thing. This means many failed trials and re-trials or projects left unfinished.  In this instance, as this sketchbook work is a way to understand how a work book can almost be its own thing, stand as a record of the process, there was no compelling reason for working towards a final object.
Here are some of the pieces of paper onto which I have mounted some of the knitting. The dark brown sheet of paper on the left was saturated in tea, whilst on the right the sheet was jabbed and 'painted' with the tea bag. In the middle is a sheet saturated with the onion skin water, which on this paper went a strange pink, whilst on the white tissue paper the stains was bright yellow:

I also had a white paper bag which I have opened out and started to dismantle. The rolled paper handles where platted together into a sort of 3D cord, and I tied short linen pieces to the final sample to make it hairy:

Also being shown here (above) is a knitted sample made with a wool-silk plied homespun yarn, where I unravelled two stitches in the centre and sewed it onto a tea stained paper. 

I also prepared more paper using paint (mainly gesso with glue and a bit of paint added), sticking yarns and onion-dyed paper to some. Some sheets of paper I had folded with quite hard folds and then opened out, and onto the peaks from the folds I poured a very strong dark tea solution onto the peak and let the tea pour down into the valleys. This left some fainter brown stains and some very dark stains on the paper, I was very pleased with the result and will try a few more.
Here are some more of the papers I worked using gesso, glue, water colour and yarn bits.
You can see some of the knitted samples using the remnants of the warp yarn from a previous assignment, another two samples knitted in hemp - the one on the left a single which I bought from a woman who imports these yarns from women's collectives in India, and the one on the bottom is a plied rough linen yarn which I knitted in a twisted stitch that has created a quite dense and less flexible fabric than a normal straight stitch knit.
Also in the box are some paper craft balls I wrapped in yarn with stitching or sisal knotted over it. I have also put in the braids and plaits so they won't get lost and I am putting in the three green yarn wraps I have made for the final tapestry sample, again to prevent them from being lost. I hope it all gets to the tutor without being too damaged in the post when I submit it.
 You see here the three wraps and two large, two small balls covered in yarn and stitched.

This piece of paper is the one mentioned using tea poured over the folds and letting it pool and left to air dry. The marks are denser and very loose, discontinuous yet create a whole on the paper, I liked this first sample for its simplicity - very unlike other things I have done before.
As I quite like the various papers I have prepared as they are, with or without knitted samples attached, and as the back of the papers deserve equal attention as the front I decided that joining the sheets together would not be helpful. So I made a box, currently without a lid, with a core of card and covered in a recycled postal bag from Japan (see the post on Japanese tapestry). I am satisfied the box works. Somehow the size of the card I had left was exactly the right size, and in folding over the paper it has been possible to make a good fit, it just needed four diagonal cuts in the paper to enable the corners to be folded in neatly. The smaller papers will move around inside the box, but there is also space for the more 3D stringy platted cords I made of left-over materials.

 I also made a lid for the box - this took two goes, as I got the sizing wrong on the first attempt - and in fact I also made a mistake on the second attempt but that is not so visible. Overall I am happy with the box. This is the first time I make one from scratch, I didn't consult any books or web-sites, just had a go ironing the paper flat and then folding it into shape. And it is now a functional box! 
Adamson, Glenn, Thinking through Craft, Berg, 2007
Sussman, Elizabeth, Eva Hesse: Sculpture (Jewish Museum), Yale University Press, 2006

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Recent acquisitions

This may be a bit contradictory of me, but I am a collector of all manner of things, including stashes that other people seem to no longer want. I ask myself quite frequently how comfortably that sits with my fear of consumer society and excess - when I got the charity shop there are all the signs that even the craft world is subject to consumer fantasies of things to be that never really happen - unused craft tools and materials, pottery from long-forgotten evening classes, and even older books on embroidery and table linen left behind by mothers and grandmothers.

Yesterday at my Guild meeting a woman visited who was clearing out some of her stash - she was an embroiderer and was giving away for free(!) bits of white fabric (including good pieces of silk), and selling very cheaply, rayons, fabric pieces and various crafts materials. Needless to say this was a wonderful source of new stuff and I took quite a bit of fabric which I intend to dye, coloured fabric swatches and a few softsculpt pieces which I haven't used before, so thought I might try out.

These fabrics will do well in the Dylon cold water dyes that I recently got (yellows, blues, purples, and grey), although I am wondering whether one should wait until a particular project comes along, but then I enjoy dyeing for the sake of it as well.

Here are the coloured swatches rolled up - some of these bits will come in very useful in the future.

She also had these vintage silk bobbins that look very beautiful. I am planning to hang these up as decoration.

And oh, I also got some kid mohair which I washed and then had to dry for days on the kitchen floor.

Tex 1 - Project 9 and 10: final sample as pre-work

You may already have seen pictures of my small pre-sample for the final sample in
project 9.

I have decided not to pursue the idea of the surface of an opalescent shell, as this would just be a disappointment as the work would be a bit too much about the yarn in the weave and less about representing the shell. I still think I want to use the soumak technique of increasing the weft to make a surface relief. And so, since my recent focus has been on trees, and the final piece is in sight, I will use this sample to work through greens, i.e. look at how the undulating surface might suggest moving leaves, the bulk of bark or just plain green surfaces of light and colour, suggesting the essence of light passing through leaves.
This means I can work more freely, not be worried about whether I can grasp the smoothness of surfaces, but work with the feeling of the three and nature instead. That is such a relief, and much more the way I work in any case.
In preparation I dyed some cottons and linens in a green, which included the warp yarn:
The colours are much stronger than seen here, but you can see that the sisal took the dye very well. It is unlikely though, that I will use the sisal yarn in the tapestry.
I used this picture as my reference:

And here's the work in progress. The bottom section is a flat eave with a mixture of eccentric and plain weave where I started to blend various greens, browns and sandy coloured yarns - both handspun and commercial. The yarns are almost exclusively wool, although later I added linen and a cotton ribbon yarn. Again it is hard to see the green warp, but I quite like the green warp thread. The one thing to notice compositionally in this picture, is how straight the line that indicates the start of the soumak section is. You will see later, that I tried to soften this, as it was a bit too diagonal and not quite 'organic' enough for any suggestion of leaves.

A close-up of the soumak in progress. At this stage I was working with 8-9 strands of sometimes quite thick weft threads.

A detail to show the first transition from the plain weave to the soumak. The first line of soumak was done pretty systematically, carrying the weft over just two warps each time. After that I increased the warp numbers over which the weft was carried up to 4 or 5, and these jumps were more random.

The final sample is a bit bigger than I had originally foreseen, as the middle section of flat weave had not been part of the plan. That is OK though, as it helps bring out the relief in the two parts of soumak weave.
On this picture the sample has not yet been cut off the loom. And the colours are not as strong as in reality, so it looks a bit flat here.
I will list a few things I learned:
  • That it is OK to freely play with blends for the sake of experimenting, but if I was aiming for true colour matching I would have had to test the blends against my picture source more carefully
  • That I should probably have drawn circles for the blue areas which are more like squares standing on end
  • That the soumak swallowed a lot of yarn when it got to the thicker sections - I was on 8-9 strands of weft of different thicknesses, and the weft actually needed some strong bulky yarns to get the density needed
  • This technique was quite fast, I wove the whole sample in a day
  • The top section of flat weave was done in the evening in front of the TV at low light. This was not helpful - I was tired and couldn't see the colours as well as I should for making judgements and choices of wefts, although adding some single strands of contrasting weft was important and has left a livelier effect than had they not been added
The back of the soumak section looks great, and if I could find a way of weaving in the weft ends I would try to work to reveal the back as well:
On the back the areas where the weft has been looped around the warp there is a knotted effect, and the warp stands proud from the soumak surface on the front and gives this visible vertical effect. I like this effect on the reverse very much.

Thinking about the final assignment

Whilst finishing off smaller items in assignment 4, and preparing for the last sample, I am in parallel trying to think through the meaning of my 'art' work. This has been a running thread throughout; I have this nagging feeling that my work should have a purpose, not 'just' have aesthetic qualities without substance.

And since my last piece will be about trees I may try to find a way through the meaning creation on the theme of the tree - religious-spiritual, political or ecological. In that connection I have recently revived some research I did on Hannah Ryggen, a Norwegian tapestry weaver who was explicitly political. She was originally a teacher with painting skills who taught herself tapestry techniques using hand spun  and dyed wools, who worked from the 1930s to the 1960s. Early on she lived in the north of Norway, geographically separate from any avant garde or even major mainstream art cultures, but her works found international recognition when she was shown at the Venice Biennale in 1964. It has been argued that she did get impulses from world affairs through reading a left-wing newspaper of the time, and that may also have led her into fine art cultures current at the time.

What is important about Ryggen is her continuous and sincerely felt political position, which she seemed compelled to express in her woven works. She lived through decades when totalitarianism in Germany and Italy sent the world into devastation, she had a strong sense of political injustice and worked these elements into her tapestries using figurative representation of people, but also abstracted elements to simplify and find the essences in her messages. There have in recent years been exhibitions either focusing on her work or joining her work with more contemporary art, which is encouraging as she is probably a little know artist outside of Norway.

But, tapestry is so often also decorative and distant from issues that affect our world. I think I have mentioned before that some tapestry weavers have drawn out the slow deliberate weaving technique almost as a political statement in itself - seeing the slow development of the work as an inherent value during a time when so much of our life is ephemeral, fleeting and born with a rapid obsolescence that sees us creating huge amounts of waste.

Where does that leave the tapestry artist? Can I justify creating 'pretty' pieces to hang on a wall when the process is so slow and time consuming? Does the labour put into tapestry give it some value that is different from those cheaper and ephemeral textiles that are readily available from supermarkets and departments store, made in some faraway Asian country or near-by late arrivals to the European Union by under-paid labour? And what is that value - is it about quality, about monetary values, or something else?

Or should one seek only to create about and/or for oneself? To look at one's own personal narrative, making it personal? This is something I will dismiss from my work, I am not a believer in autobiographical, introspective work oriented around the self to be put into the world for all to see.

What Hannah Ryggen's work shows is that when important things happen in or to the world that shatter peace and freedom, then it can be talked about, even in an art work that might not be seen as such by the art establishment and so be recognised by the wider public. I think that is what I have not really wanted to think too much about in my work until now - what the real purpose is. Hannah Ryggen was adopted by the establishment during the 1950s and 1960s when she was commissioned to make pieces for the Norwegian Parliament and showed her works at international biennales in Venice and across the US.

There are textile artists and designers who address issues around global inequalities, fair trade and ecological matters. Some make lively and energetic works using natural materials or objects of waste. There are strands of this in the land art movement, and there are works that place art in the natural setting or bring in nature to the art gallery, offering ways to sometimes make statements about the state of the Earth. A well-know example is the world-wide textile statement on the threat to the great coral reefs by Margaret and Christine Wertheim. This project made coral formations in crochet and created assemblages and installations of these, showing them in museums. People from around the world contributed to this work, and it tries to work in statements of women's work (textile crafts) with mathematical structures (crochet hyperbolic planes) and the risks to the earth's biosphere - an ambitious project that was helped hugely by the reach of the internet. As is many of the new crafts activist projects that talk about yarn bombing and other externally directed statements using textiles.


Steen, Albert, Hannah Ryggen: En dikter i veven, Oslo, Kunstindustrimuseet, 1986

Øystein Ustvedt, Marianne Yvenes (eds.), Hannah Ryggen Weaving the World, Cornerhouse Publications, 2015