I recently finished making a textile neckpiece for this year’s Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Summer Exhibition. You can find out more about it in this post.
If any of you are interested in the technique side of my work, then please take a look at a new article on my website on Creating a Textile Brooch, with a good set of work-in-progress photographs.
My daughter spent last summer working in China. Of course, I could not resist the chance to go out and visit her there before she came home. Alongside seeing many wonderful historic sites, I had the chance to fulfil a long-time dream in visiting the Suzhou Silk Embroidery Research Institute.
Sadly, I had the misfortune to have my camera stolen right at the end of my trip so I lost all the wonderful pictures I had taken, but by chance, I also snapped a few pictures with my iPod while at the Embroidery Institute. Though these are not much good as photographs, they at least give some idea of what I saw on my visit.
Situated in a classic Chinese garden, the Institute was founded in the 1950’s as a
centre of excellence for Chinese embroidery. The skills maintained and taught
there include traditional approaches but also the innovations brought to
Chinese embroidery by 20th century pioneers such as Shen Shou (1874–1921) and Yang Shouyu (1896-1982).
Shen Shou was a famous embroiderer and educator who transformed her subject by bringing in aspects learned from painting (including western painting),
Japanese embroidery and photography. When she was sent on a study tour to Japan organised by the government, she became the first Chinese woman ever to
undertake such a role. The influence of Shen Shou is still strong today and can be seen in the way the embroiderers treat light. This is very impressionistic and clearly relates to photography in a way that takes it far from traditional approaches.
Today, all tourists with an interest in embroidery are given a warm welcome at the
Institute but its products are only available to the very rich. In the early
twentieth century Shen Shou produced renowned embroideries for the Dowager
Empress of China and for European royalty. One hundred years later the Suzhou
Institute still supplies clients of a similar profile (a commission for the Dutch
royal family was in progress when I visited.)
As well as the actual embroidery, all the silks are dyed on the premises to the precise shades required.
The quality of the work is astounding and the embroideries of traditional subjects, particularly those drawn from nature are awe-inspiring. At the same time I am left with a feeling that so much concentrated talent could achieve more. A little too much of the subject matter is very safe and often blatantly sentimental and I find it troubling that immensely talented young women should be spending many hours copying photographs of rich people’s pets. Even so, I will always treasure my visit and the chance to see such exquisite craftsmanship.
I am still sad about my lost photographs though!
Here are some photographs of three new brooches I have been working on. Each one uses slightly different approaches to adding surface detail and embellishment. I hope that you find them interesting.
I was searching for a fresh way to create a focal point on the above brooch. My first attempts were not satisfying me so I tried some raised work in metallic thread. I will want to live with it for a little while before I decide how I feel about the effect but it is a little bit different.
I love the way that velvet contrasts with other fabric surfaces. I have acquired a large range of coloured velvet materials and I am using them more and more on my jewellery pieces.
Just recently I have begun using appliqué in a slightly more “aggressive” manner. Normally, I rely on the shapes of the textile pieces themselves to generate movement in my work. With strongly contrasting appliqué I can generate other lines of movement that interact with the overall fabric shape.
Those of you who are familiar with my work will have figured out that my process for making textile art pieces is quite meticulous and painstaking. This suits me fine and I love what I do but still I enjoy a change of pace now and again. This often involves dressmaking (I have made a few Indian style shirts since my trip to Rajasthan in February.) Recently I decided to make some bags for a change. I had material lying around that I could not find another use for and it seemed like a quick, fun project.
The material was heavyweight curtain/cushion fabric with nice hand embroidery on it. Add to this some bits of velvet and wool for straps and trimming plus some cotton/polyester lining material (both also lying around in my ridiculously large material stocks) and I was all set to go bag making.
The end result was three nice new bags, each with slight variations in size, proportion and strap design. A good use of materials I had at hand and a nice change from fiddly embroidery.
To finish the new bags off I had some wooden buttons made based on my brooch designs.
I have made lots of bags over the years. Here is one I made for my daughter several years ago.
On my Indian trip in February, we visited a village near Jodhpur where all the women in one extended family were producing very fine hand-embroidered fabrics. The pieces made were mostly large and very intricate, many taking weeks to complete. Learning a little about how these women produced such neat and painstaking work was very interesting.
Most embroidery was done on cotton cloth, ranging from moderately heavyweight fabric to the finest semi-transparent muslins. Silk is also used to a lesser extent. Stitching was mainly done using gold, silver and white threads. Most of the fabric used was white in colour but some work is also done on bright materials. On many pieces they also stitched sequins into the design, while some other work featured intricate beadwork. Most of the embroidered fabrics are sold for use as bedcovers, though some tourists want them as curtains or wall hangings.
The big secret to their process was that the fabric is first printed with very faint guidelines which the women then embroider over. The printing is done from woodblocks made by one of the men from the same family. The women did a lot of the work with the cloth stretched between two bars on a horizontal frame and worked on one small section at a time. They gradually rolled the cloth from one bar to the other so that they could reach all parts of it.
Another product the women were making was hand-embroidered uppers for traditional Indian slippers. Slippers of this type are widely seen but the embroidery work produced by these very talented ladies was particularly fine.
Below is a slipper of the type being embroidered (this one was embroidered by someone else.)
Related posts (Crafts of India): Rug Weaving; Block Printing; Fabric Dyeing; Papermaking.
While in Rajasthan early this year we went to visit the weaver’s village of Salawas, where the craftsmen make traditional Durries (woven rugs). There we saw the master rugmaker Roopraj Prajapati at the Roopraj Durry Udhyog Cooperative.
The Durry (or Durrie) is woven in such a way as to make it fully reversible. They are commonly woven in cotton but the craftsmen also use silk, wool, goat hair and camel hair. The weavers work on a flat loom and only use a blade and a pick as tools. A wide range of traditional designs are produced, most patterns deriving from the Marwar culture to which the villagers belong.