Widemouth Bay

Today has been wet and miserable in this bit of the world but last week we had some days of brilliant sunshine. Last Wednesday I had a really good day working on my textile jewellery. I finished a new necklace that I was pleased with so Alex and I decided that a trip to the beach to enjoy the sunset was overdue.

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A new textile necklace

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When we arrived the at Widemouth Bay the light was stunning. The reflection of the brilliant blue sky on the the breaking waves made them appear almost fluorescent.

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Widemouth Bay near Bude in North Cornwall

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Near the beach, the air was laden with spray that glowed in the evening light

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A big wave crashing into the headland

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I always enjoy the little details as well as the broad seascape

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Light effects change very rapidly as the sun sinks down

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Another shot of the amazing glow in the spray lit by the setting sun

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The glowing sky reflected in the wet sand

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Just as the sun dipped under the horizon

Antwerp Kimono Show

Last weekend we travelled to Antwerp to see an exhibition of kimono by the late Japanese master Itchiku Kubota. Kubota is one of my favourite artists and the chance to see some of his pieces that I only knew in reproduction made the trip a must.

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The exhibition was small with just eight kimono, six from the “Symphony of Light” series (the “Universe” set) plus two from his “Mount Fuji” series. The works were fabulous, which I knew they would be, but sadly the quality of the display was very poor with untidy hanging and lighting totally unsuitable for this type of work. The main light came from an internal paved courtyard but this caused so much reflection on the glass that you could only really see the piece directly in front of you. Fortunately we were permitted to take photographs, which is normally strictly forbidden in Kubota exhibits.

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Reflections on the glass made viewing very difficult!

The “Universe” set of kimono represents a mythical dragon within Mount Fuji breathing out flames and magma. They form one amazing continous image which was impossible to photograph but I have put together a set of individual photos to show the effect.

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The Universe set from “The Festival of Light”

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The complexity of the shibori work is amazing

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The subtle areas are among the most beautiful

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One of the Mount Fuji kimono

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The hand-stitched shibori textures are breathtaking!

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The other Mount Fuji kimono

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Kubota would spend as much as a year working on each kimono

The exhibition runs until the 19th June at MOMU – The Antwerp Fashion Museum. Antwerp itself is not a city I had ever considered visiting but proved to be a very pleasant and enjoyable destination.

Major Ikat Exhibition

A major exhibition of IKAT textiles has just opened at the Brunei Gallery, in the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. Organized by the World Crafts Council, this marvellous show is well worth a visit by anyone with an interest in traditional textiles.

Ikat is a technique where yarn is dyed with multiple colours prior to weaving so that patterns arise from aligning the yarn colours during the weaving process. Yarn is most commonly dyed using a tie-dye or similar resist technique. Because the production techniques are both painstaking and time consuming, Ikat textiles are among the most expensive of all fabrics. Variations on the Ikat technique can be found all around the world.

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The Brunei Gallery is a beautiful venue and deserves to be much better known. It is only a 3 minute walk from the British Museum. In addition to a program of changing exhibitions, there is a permanent collection and a beautiful Japanese roof garden.Ikat 5The show features examples from some ten countries in the Asia-Pacific region, plus items from Latin-America, the Middle East, West Africa and Europe.

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As well as the textile displays, on specific event days there are live demonstrations, a symposium and film screenings.

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The gallery is open Tuesday to Saturday, 10.30 to 17.00. Closed Sundays, Mondays and Bank holidays. Admission is free.

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For more details, see the Brunei Gallery website

The Arimatsu Shibori Museum

During the Edo era in Japan, the Tokaido road leading from Kyoto and Osaka to the capital Edo was the nation’s main highway. Near the city of Nagoya a village called Arimatsu grew astride the Tokaido and achieved great prosperity through the production of indigo dyed clothing fabrics that were sold to travelers on the highway. These fabrics were decorated using sophisticated Shibori tie-dyeing processes. Shibori techniques already had a long history in Japan but in Arimatsu many processes were developed and refined that allowed the large-scale production of many complex patterns.

A historic textile warehouse on the little street that was once the great Tokaido

A historic textile warehouse on the little street that was once the great Tokaido

Alex and I visited Arimatsu in 2014. The village has long been absorbed within Nagoya’s suburbs and what was once the great Tokaido is now just a sleepy side street lined with many nice old buildings. Several of the buildings are the great warehouses and mansions of the textile merchants who made their fortunes here, alongside old-fashioned restaurants and craft shops selling shibori items. There is also the Arimatsu Shibori Museum, which was the reason for our visit.

Arimatsu Shibori dyed fabrics on sale in a craft shop

Arimatsu Shibori dyed fabrics on sale in a craft shop

The key to Arimatsu’s success lay in systematising and regimenting the production of small and complex repeat patterns. One important technique was the printing of a guide pattern on the fabric using a fugitive ink. This allowed the craftperson to align many hundreds of small individual elements with great accuracy. Various posts and hooks were also developed to help the worker carry out the arduous task of repeating complex patterns.

A craftswoman tyeing Shibori knots using dots printed in fugitive ink as a guide

A craftswoman tieing Shibori knots using dots printed in fugitive ink as a guide

At the Arimatsu Shibori Museum one can watch craftswomen demonstrate some of their techniques, though when they are working at full speed it is almost impossible to see what they are doing. It is only when they slow down a great deal that one can work out how the seemingly magical knotting techniques are achieved. The ladies we watched were very patient and spent a lot of time showing us exactly what they were doing step by step.

Craftswomen demonstrating at the Arimatsu Shibori Museum

Craftswomen demonstrating at the Arimatsu Shibori Museum

This woman is using a hook tied to a post to help control the complex knotting process

This woman is using a hook tied to a post to help control the complex knotting process

A section of knotted fabric. When the entire bolt of cloth is completed it will be sent for dyeing

A section of knotted fabric. When the entire bolt of cloth is completed it will be sent for dyeing

Pieces of knotted fabric. The completed material beneath shows the final pattern

Pieces of knotted fabric. The completed material beneath shows the final pattern

The Museum features a wonderful display of example pieces that show each traditional pattern from untied material through the tied stage, the dyed stage and on to the finished patterned fabric.

Examples of just a few of the many classic Arimatsu Shibori patterns

Examples of just a few of the many classic Arimatsu Shibori patterns

Each sample shows every stage from blank white cloth through to finished pattern

Each sample shows every stage from blank white cloth through to finished pattern

A close up showing the different stages

A close up showing the different stages in producing one design

There is also a display area showing Kimono and other items created from Arimatsu Shibori fabric.

Gallery display showing Kimono with Shibori designs

Gallery display showing Kimono with Shibori designs

A famous Kimono with Hokusai's "Great Wave"

A famous Kimono with Hokusai’s “Great Wave”

A contemporary Shibori wall hanging

A contemporary Shibori wall hanging

The museum features a large shop with a wide range of locally produced textile goods ranging from small “touristy” items up to very fine goods such as Kimono at truly eye-watering prices. Sadly, even with the local craftspeople’s great speed and skill, such labour intensive items now struggle to find a market at a viable price. Much of what looks like Shibori fabric sold in Japan today is in fact printed and we discovered that much of the genuine Shibori made for the more commercial end of the market is now sent from Arimatsu to Korea and China where it can be knotted by much cheaper labour.

Manila Shawl in the V&A

This is a post about a fabulous “Spanish” or “Manila” shawl on display in the Chinese section of the V&A Museum in London.

The beautiful Spanish shawl in the V&A

The beautiful Spanish shawl in the V&A

One of the things that I love best about revisiting my favourite museums is the possibility of noticing and then focussing on an object that one has previously passed by. I know that I have walked past this shawl many times and I have even stopped to look at it, yet it was only on my last visit that the full beauty and quality of this item fully struck home.

The shawl features exquisitely embroidered flowers, insects and birds

The shawl features exquisitely embroidered flowers, insects and birds

The “Manton de Manila” has a long history in Spain. The shawls were made in South China but the name comes from the port of Manila in the Philippines. The Philippines became a Spanish colony in 1565 and was part of New Spain, administered from Mexico. This meant that Asian goods for the Spanish market were shipped on “Manila Galleons” to the west coast of Mexico, then transported overland to the port of Veracruz for shipment to Spain.

Bird detail - Possibly a pheonix?

Bird detail

The early shawls were embroidered with native Chinese motifs but the dragons, pagodas, etc., were soon replaced by colourful flowers and other images more suited to the customers taste. The other big addition the Spanish made was the long swaying fringe which provided the movement that made the shawl such a classic piece of flamenco costume.

The shading on the flower petals is meticulously executed

The shading on the flower petals is meticulously executed

This shawl is striking for the quality of the embroidery. This piece was made purely as a commercial export product, with no pretensions to being art, yet both the workmanship and the design are full of vitality. This design is also notable for the distinctly Chinese elements in the design, such as the “lion dogs”.

Unlike most shawls for the European market, this one features distinctly Chinese motifs

Unlike most shawls for the European market, this one features distinctly Chinese motifs

The shawl dates from the second half of the19th century when the “Spanish shawl” became an important fashion accessory throughout Europe and North America. In Britain they were frequently put to another use, commonly being employed as a decorative cover for grand pianos.

One of many quirky insects

One of many quirky insects

One of many finely detailed butterflies

One of many finely detailed butterflies

For some wonderful photographs of flamenco dancers and their shawls please see Ottoman Dandy’s post.

The Horniman Museum

I have discovered a new favourite museum! Hidden away in Forest Hill, South London is a late-Victorian gem – The Horniman Museum.

The facade of the original Horiniman Museum building

The facade of the original Horiniman Museum building

Founded in 1901 by Victorian tea trader Frederick John Horniman, the museum contains an eclectic mix of displays including natural history, ethnology and musical instruments. The original building was designed in the Arts and Crafts style by Charles Harrison Townsend who also designed an extension opened in 1912. New buildings were again added in the 1990’s, including a grass-roofed Centre for Understanding the Environment.

Townsend's 1912 extension

Townsend’s 1912 extension

The CUE building (Centre for Understanding the Environment)

The CUE building (Centre for Understanding the Environment)

This is a very traditional museum with many of the natural history exhibits being slightly faded examples of the taxidermist’s art, but they are a major part the place’s charm. Other display cases contain particularly good educational explanations.

Scarlet ibis

Scarlet ibis

Slightly faded and scruffy but still very beautiful!

Slightly faded and scruffy but still very beautiful!

Beautiful if slightly dusty insects abound

Beautiful if slightly dusty insects abound

The museum has a vast collection of musical instruments, from ancient to modern, with many beautiful specimens.

A case of musical instruments

A case of musical instruments

One of the Benin brozes in the Africa gallery

One of the Benin bronzes in the Africa gallery

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One of the delights of the Horniman is it’s freedom from the modern “sanitised” display aesthetic. Many of the ethnographic displays are housed in dark old wooden cabinets, often with an eccentric mix of items displayed side by side.

Model of a north-African doorway behind a case of stuffed birds

Model of a north-African doorway behind a case of stuffed birds

One of the fossil displays

Fossil Ichthyosaur fore-limb

A beautiful set of teeth!

A beautiful set of teeth!

Lettuce Coral

Lettuce Coral

One of the many fine moths and butterflys

One of the many fine moths and butterflys

The Ruined City of Jiaohe

I can often find great beauty and inspiration in old, abandoned objects. This blog is about an entire abandoned city, which strikes me as being both very beautiful and rather eerie. The photographs were taken by my husband Alex and daughter Isla during their trip along the silk road in 2010. Alex has provided the information on the city’s history.

Jiaohe ruins

Jiaohe ruins

Our daughter Isla feeling the 38C heat

Our daughter Isla feeling the 38C heat

The city of Jiaohe was built on an islet in a river, with the high cliffs around its plateau forming a natural fortress. No one knows when it was first settled but it first became the capital city for the Turpan region in around 180 BC and remained an important centre on the silk road until it was abandoned after being sacked by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. At its peak the city is thought to have housed around 7,000 people during the Tang dynasty.Jaiohe_1

Buildings were a mix of carved loess soil and mud brick

Buildings were a mix of carved loess soil and mud brick

The city is protected by steep cliffs all around

The city is protected by steep cliffs all around

The Turpan area is a bleak desert that bursts into life where there is water

The Turpan area is a bleak desert that bursts into life where there is water

Jaiohe city walls

Jaiohe city walls

Centuries of weathering carves mud bricks into fantastic shapes

Centuries of weathering carves mud bricks into fantastic shapes

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A buddhist temple can still be recognized

A buddhist temple can still be recognized

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJaiohe_4In the early twentieth century, the archaeologist Aurel Stein complained that local people were carrying away material from the site to make new buildings but today the ruins are protected by the Chinese government. New paths have been laid for tourist access and a lot of conservation work, plus some restoration has taken place.