‘Empress Dowager’ Textile Sculpture

In my last post, I gave a sneak preview of a piece I made for an exhibition at the Bristol Guild GalleryThe exhibition was put together by the South West Textile Group, and was entitled, ‘Suspension.’ 

I was interested in the challenge of creating a three dimensional form, and the end result was ‘Empress Dowager’ – a 3D hanging textile sculpture. I used many of my original textile techniques to create it, but had the added challenge of making sure that the sculpture was interesting from every angle.

'Suspension', textile art sculpture by Wai-Yuk Kennedy

'Suspension.' Detail.

‘Empress Dowager.’ Detail.

The design was originally inspired by Buddhist parasols and by the ceremonial parasols that I saw in The Forbidden City, Beijing, many of which were embroidered with colourful, racing dragons. The parasols are traditionally a symbol of luck, royalty and protection, whilst dragons symbolise royalty and Imperial power.

Buddhist parasol

Buddhist parasol

A ceremonial parasol in the Forbidden City

Although the Bristol exhibition is now closed, the South West Textile Group will be showing the ‘Suspension’ exhibition at The Town Mill Gallery, in Lyme Regis, from the 3rd – 30th October 2013.

You can find more of my large-scale textile work here:
Textile Sculpture: 4D Sphere
Textile Relief: Dragon

'Suspension', textile art sculpture by Wai-Yuk Kennedy

‘Empress Dowager’

Back to business!

Hello everyone!

Sorry for being a stranger – the months seem to have gotten away from me. I’m going to try to get back into good habits and update this blog more often, with help from my daughter, Isla. I’ve got lots to catch up on and share over the next few posts, including an exhibition at the Bristol Guild Gallery, visits to museums and the Eden Project, some textile experiments, and Isla’s graduation from Oxford!

To start off, here’s a sneak preview of the piece I made for the Bristol Guild Gallery exhibition, earlier this summer – stay tuned for more!

'Suspension.' Detail.

‘Suspension.’ Detail.

Threads of Silk and Gold

Last weekend we travelled to Oxford to see a groundbreaking new textiles exhibition at The Ashmolean Museum. “Threads of Silk and Gold – Ornamental Textiles from Meiji Japan”, presents textile pieces using traditional Japanese skills but made primarily for a Western audience. (Sadly, there was no photography allowed in the exhibition but I did sneak a couple of snaps to give a flavour of the show.)

Cover of the beautiful catalogueCover of the beautiful catalogue

Cover of the beautiful catalogue

Japanese art and crafts were hugely popular in the West between the 1870’s and the death of the Meiji Emperor in 1912. Textiles were part of this export trade but have been little studied until now.

Although there are token exhibits of weaving and Yuzen dyeing, this is an exhibition of Japanese embroidery. Ranging from superb exhibition pieces and large artworks to examples of what are frankly “tourist kitsch”, the craftsmanship is uniformly superb and shows a level of hand labour that is now unimaginable.

Detail of Cranes and Wisteria (Ashmolean collection)

Detail of Cranes and Wisteria – Size 201cm x 279cm (Ashmolean collection)

cormorant fishing

This screen of cormorant fishing is the star of the show

Many of the largest pieces (up to nearly 4 metres high) were exhibition works for various World Fairs, or were produced for the richest foreign tourists to take home from their visits.

Detail of the Cormorant Fishing showing the free stitching technique

Detail of the Cormorant Fishing showing the free stitching technique

Detail showing the fire basket. This is painting with stitches

Detail showing the fire basket. This is painting with stitches!

I have long loved Japanese embroidery but always felt that there was a stiffness and very “rules-driven” approach to its execution. With the notable exception of the Cormorant screen, this is still visible here but where the designs are so grand and original the end-result totally escapes any limitation from the fact that every feather on every bird is executed using precisely the same stitch technique. Indeed, the whole exhibition is an object lesson in the possibilities and limitations of craft techniques;  the truly original works exceed the limitations of technique while even the best craft skills cannot rescue the dreadful pot-boilers.

Detail of the peacock shown on the catalogue cover

Detail of the peacock shown on the catalogue cover. (Photo of catalogue illustration)

Outside the exhibition was an education exhibit on Japanese embroidery techniques (where photography was allowed) and on the day we visited there were also embroiderers staging demonstrations.

Many exhibits feature 3D embroidery. This is a modern imitation

Many exhibits feature 3D embroidery. This is a modern imitation

Demonstration piece showing basic stitches

Demonstration piece showing basic stitches

Techniques for couching gold thread

Techniques for couching gold thread

Modern, embroidered handling-piece

Modern, embroidered handling-piece

Silk-weaving is now the only affordable substitute for large fully-embroidered pieces

Silk-weaving is now the only affordable substitute for large fully-embroidered pieces

“Threads of Silk and Gold” runs at the Ashmolean until 27th January 2013. For more information see the Ashmolean website

Kingfisher Embroidery

A lot of my work used to feature hand embroidery. The picture I am featuring here is a fabric collage of a woodland scene, complete with a hand-embroidered kingfisher, that I completed several years ago. I must apologise for the photographs not being as good as they should be.

"Kingfisher" - fabric collage with hand embroidery

“Kingfisher” – fabric collage with hand embroidery

Unfortunately, I used lots of rather coarse mesh to adjust large areas of the background which looks OK in real life but refuses to photograph well. The camera seems to be able to “see through” the mesh without registering the change in tone that eyes do.

I was very pleased with the kingfisher, which was stitched quite boldly

I was very pleased with the kingfisher, which was stitched quite boldly

Detail of the kingfisher's wing

Detail of the kingfisher’s wing

Size of the picture: 450mm X 350mm; size of the kingfisher is approximately 165mm X 170mm

Early Paintings

I thought it might be amusing to show you some paintings I did back when I was a student. These are a series of small oil paintings on canvas (each 285mm X 260mm) that I made around 1980 and are probably the earliest pieces of serious work I still have.Early painting number 1The paintings were not strictly figurative but there was supposed to be a hint of heraldic creatures, or emblems, or maybe ceremonial banners. Early painting number 2I am not sure how I would judge them now, or how I would pick out links to what I do now. My husband Alex says that he sees a connection running through all my work but I find it hard to judge.Early painting number 3I have had these paintings on the walls of my home for over thirty years now and they are old friends that always make me smile and feel inspired.Early painting number 4

Bonsai Hand Embroidery

A few months ago I put up a post showing a hand-embroidered bonsai tree. Here are some photographs of another work I produced in the same series.

Hand- embroidered trident maple bonsai

Maple embroidery with Japanese style mount

Maple embroidery with Japanese style mount

My husband Alex is a bonsai enthusiast and I would love to say that the trees I embroidered were his but they were really hybrids between his real trees and photos of grand Japanese trees (plus a liberal dose of imagination here and there!)

Detail of the embroidered twigs

Detail of the embroidered twigs

Alex made hand-crafted bonsai pots as a business and the pots in all my pictures were modelled on his work.

Detail showing the bonsai pot and embroidered moss

Detail showing the bonsai pot and embroidered moss

Another detail of the embroidery

Another detail of the embroidery

Related post: The first bonsai embroidery

Crackington: Textile Relief

I created this textile relief a few years ago, when I was working on a series of reliefs that were inspired by the cliffs and rocks of Cornwall.

The bigger scale of a wall relief provides a great opportunity to play with colour, as there is a much wider surface area to work with than there is with smaller jewellery pieces.
The relief was made as one single piece of fabric, which was then stitched into shape and embellished.

I’m planning on shifting it onto a more interesting background that will provide more of a sense of connection and interplay, haven’t gotten around to it yet though!

I’m particularly fond of the detail shots I took of this piece, so I’ve included quite a few for you to browse – enjoy!


On the Silk Road: Gobi (Part Three)

The embroidered picture “Gobi” was directly inspired by the amazing photographs my husband took of the Gobi desert, whilst flying from Beijing to Urumqi, in far western China. The harsh deserts of north-western China and Mongolia breed a tough and independent people, which China has always sought to dominate (although at times over the millenia, the boot has occasionally been on the other foot.)

People often ask me about the meanings behind my work, but I’m inclined to believe that the meanings and feelings that a viewer draws from a work should be down to them, thus the form hovering over the desert could have any number of interpretations. Having said that, for me the form perhaps echoes the power of the Chinese Imperial dragon that has always loomed over this region.

I’ve again included a few pics of the making of the piece, enjoy!

If you missed parts one and two, you can find them here:
On the Silk Road (Part One)
On the Silk Road (Part Two): Shadow of the Great Wall



Bonsai tree hand-embroidery

One of my favourite ways to relax is to do hand embroidery, and over the years I’ve embroidered quite a few pieces. These include a series of works based on bonsai trees, since my husband used to train bonsai as well as make exquisite handcrafted bonsai pots.

I was inspired by the challenge of creating a sense of depth and form, and by the beauty of the pots and the trees. I embroider using a single strand of thread at a time, building up the colours and tones. I used to spend a few hours a day on the embroideries, but they would still take me months to finish!

Here is an embroidery of a juniper tree, the trunk of this particular tree had a patch of silvery deadwood that intertwined with the live bark – it was one of my favourites.

I’ll be posting some more photos of other embroideries in the future, hope you enjoy my work!

Juniper Bonsai - hand embroidery

Juniper Bonsai – hand embroidery 22 X 22cm (approx 8.75″ X 8.75″).

On the Silk Road (Part Two): Shadow of the Great Wall

In my first post in this Silk Road series, I showed some of the photos that my husband and daughter took in western China, and I talked a bit about how these had inspired me to create two embroidered pictures.

This post is going to focus on the first of these pictures:
“Shadow of the Great Wall.”

"Shadow of the Great Wall"

“Shadow of the Great Wall”

This piece was inspired by the ruined watch towers of the Great Wall, which stud the landscape like worn-down, broken teeth. These towers are lonely remnants of China’s past glories, and they’re a long way from the snaking stretches of wall to the North of Beijing, which are often covered in a blanket of tourists, bottles and scratched out hearts. These towers are abandoned and, long stripped of their brick facings, their solid cores continue to fight against the passing of time.

Another ruined Watchtower thrusting into the landscape.

Ruined Watchtower on the Great Wall.

Although the piece required plenty of the techniques that I use to make my jewellery pieces, it also required a lot more composition. I wanted the image to be abstract but maintain a sense of form. This time, instead of making a piece that was actually 3D, I aimed to give a 2D picture depth and a strong feeling of texture.
I’ve included a few shots to show you the work in progress, but I’ve realised that I didn’t take any photos of the initial stages – evidently remembered halfway through!

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post, and send me a comment if you’ve got any questions!

Close up

Textile Artwork: On the Silk Road (Part One)

In 2010, my daughter Isla spent six months studying at Peking University and in August my husband went out to visit her. They spent two weeks travelling together along the ancient Silk Road in the far west of China and took some wonderful photographs.

Xinjiang Province is exotic even in China, and the photographs reveal the alien landscape that has fascinated Chinese storytellers for centuries. It is a region that holds many surprises: immense wind-farms stretch across the Gobi desert for miles upon miles; Turpan, the grape-growing capital of China, is a strangely green oasis nestled among terracotta mountains; and the ancient remains of the Great Wall are nothing like the restored sections far to the east, but rather resemble bleached mud-brick hillocks.

These bold forms, carved against a rugged and parched landscape, became the inspiration behind two embroidered pictures – I’ll be writing another post soon to tell you more about the different processes I used to make them. For now, here are some of the images that captured my imagination.

“In The Shadow Of The Great Wall”


Textile Art: Dragon

A little while back I took part in the Cornwall Crafts summer show at Trelowarren. I wanted to create a much bigger textile relief than any I had previously designed, and the result was Dragon. A bigger piece meant a lot of different challenges; there were difficulties that were never an issue for smaller pieces, particularly how to keep such a large surface interesting whilst maintaining a sense of unity of form.

Designing the Template
I began by cutting smaller scale paper templates in order to explore different shapes. The relief was cut from one piece, then shaped and stitched into a three-dimensional form. I cut out a template from fabric of roughly the same stiffness and flexibility to my own fabric to confirm that the design would work.

Making the Fabric
I used the same techniques as on the smaller pieces, but much more attention was needed to make sure that the entire surface flowed together. Different parts of the dragon were shaded in bronzes and golds, and white was used as a highlight. Alex cut brass tubing into lengths, which were added to provide contrast and structure.

Framing the Dragon
I wanted the background to be an integrated part of the design, and so rather than use a plain colour fabric, I used Japanese shibori techniques with indigo dye on silk. The silk panels were mounted over canvas onto wooden frames, and then finally the dragon was hand-stitched onto the silk.

And bigger things….

I also make larger custom pieces using similar techniques, which are then framed for wall-mounting:

Wall art displayed at the Devon Guild Summer Show

“Highcliff”, mounted textile relief, 300mm x 300mm

“Ancestor”, Textile wall relief 380mm X 280mm