Devon Guild Summer Show

The Summer Show, the annual exhibition of work by the Devon Guild of Craftsmen membership is on at their Bovey Tracey gallery until 4th September 2016.

This year’s show has no specific theme and features a particularly wide range of exciting work. Wai-Yuk is represented by her “Taunton Kimono”.

Devon Guild Summer Show

Private View

The Summer Show Private View

If you have the chance to be in South Devon over the next month, try to get along to see a very fine selection of the best in contemporary craft.

The Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Riverside Mill, Bovey Tracey, Devon TQ13 9AF
Open seven days a week – 10.00am to 5.30pm.

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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.

Kim1

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.

Ikat 1

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.

Ikat 3

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

Ikat 4

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

Ikat 2

Ikat 6

For more details, see the Brunei Gallery website

Ironwork in Florence

When the family took a short break in Florence a couple of weeks ago we were all struck by the amount of wrought ironwork attached to walls and covering ground floor windows. Much of this ironwork dates back to renaissance times but the tradition of using metal in attractive and interesting ways continues today.

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Wrought iron bars covering the ground floor window of an old building

In medieval and renaissance times Florence was a turbulent place, with civil unrest, invasion and religious upheaval all being regular hazards. Measures to keep unwanted intruders out of your property were essential.

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Over time the window coverings became less utilitarian and more decorative

 

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Wandering the streets of Florence you see many variations of the blacksmith’s art

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Iron 9

A more modern take on the window bars concept

During the renaissance, streets and buildings were lit by burning torches inserted into brackets on walls. Different designs of bracket can be seen throughout the old city.

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Bracket for a torch

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Later these torch brackets also became much more elaborate like this dragon

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An elaborate lantern

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The metalwork tradition continued when new kinds of street lighting were introduced

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Many interesting balconies continue the public metalwork tradition

Kaga Yuzen Dyeing

Yuzen Dyeing is a traditional process for decorating silk which uses a paste resist made from glutinous rice to contain dyes within desired boundaries. It can be thought of as a sophisticated production version of the western “Serti” technique for silk painting. While Yuzen dyeing is carried out in many parts of Japan the most famous traditional area of production was the “Kaga” region, an old province, now part of Ishikawa Prefecture on the North coast of Honshu.

Restrained, traditional Kaga Yuzen Kimono at the Kanazawa Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts

Restrained, traditional Kaga Yuzen Kimono at the Kanazawa Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts

Kaga Yuzen production was centred in Kanazawa and the decorated Kimono silk from this area became famous from the eighteenth century onwards. The distinguishing features were highly naturalistic designs based on plants and animals and a colourful but strictly limited palette.

During our visit to Japan this year, Alex and I travelled to Kanazawa to see what we could learn about Kaga Yuzen dyeing as practised today. Our first port of call was the city’s Museum for Traditional Products and Crafts. This was a very interesting place to visit with some great exhibits by young craftspeople but it only had a few Kimono and very little information.

Kaga Yuzen features fine white lines between the blocks of colour and often has fine shading within the colour areas

Kaga Yuzen features fine white lines between the blocks of colour and often has fine shading within the colour areas (Click to enlarge)

Our next port of call was Kaga Yuzen Traditional Industry Centre, a sort of co-operative education and marketing effort for all the local producers. Sadly this featured the same disappointments we encountered at a few other venues in Japan: no photography permitted and a distinct feeling that they only really cared about you spending time in the gift shop buying the quite pricey and often slightly tacky souvenirs. Still, the displays did feature many Kimono including some with very dramatic and unusual compositions. We were also able to sit and watch a lengthy TV documentary on Kaga Yuzen dyeing. One thing the displays at this Centre made clear was that today’s Kaga Yuzen dyers have now largely abandoned the traditional restricted and restrained colour schemes in favour of much more exuberant, sweet and perhaps even syrupy hues.

The Kaga Yuzen Traditional Industry Centre had lots of Kimono on show but was disappointing

The Kaga Yuzen Traditional Industry Centre had lots of Kimono on show but was disappointing

The next day we went to a privately run Kaga Yuzen studio, the Nagamachi Yuzen Kan. Here we were made very much more welcome with photography positively encouraged and a helpful guide who tried hard to be informative, despite speaking little English. I suspect that this studio makes most of its income through teaching but it had a large gallery full of Kimono on display. The sweet, bright pastel colours were again in evidence but the technique shown was superb.

The Nagamachi Yuzen Kan had a large gallery space and a welcoming atmosphere

The Nagamachi Yuzen Kan had a large gallery space and a welcoming atmosphere

A design drawing.

A design drawing.

The Kaga Yuzen process can be summarised as:-

1. The design drawing is transferred to the silk over a lightbox using fugitive ink that will wash out.

2. The design is outlined in very fine lines using a bag of rice paste and a fine nozzle similar to that used in cake decoration

An artist's work table. Note the heater set into the surface to dry the dyes

An artist’s work table. Note the heater set into the surface to dry the dyes

3. The individual areas of colour are painted in. Artists use an electric heater to quickly dry the dyes so that they do not run and work on the different sections of Kimono fabric simultaneously.

Artists work on several pieces at once

Artists work on several pieces at once. Bent bamboo strips with pins in each end are used to stretch the silk

4. The fabric is given a short steaming to fix the painting before all the design areas are coated with rice paste resist.

5. The fabric is stretched and the background is rapidly coloured in using a large brush.

The black background was painted after the design was fixed and covered with resist

The black background was painted after the design was fixed and covered with resist

6. The fabric is given a final steaming to fix all the colours

7. The silk is washed to remove all the rice paste and excess dye. Formerly this was done in the local rivers but now this only happens during festivals and special events to entertain tourists.

8. After drying and ironing the finished fabric is made up into a Kimono.

A finished Kimono

A finished Kimono

Wai-Yuk Kennedy - Kaga Yuzen artist!

Wai-Yuk Kennedy – Kaga Yuzen artist!

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

New textile jewellery set

I’ve just finished a new set of jewellery, which includes a blue-green brooch and matching earrings. The wing motif was brought to mind by a photo of Isla on the ferry to Orkney, where she looks as though she could be an angel tumbling to earth. The light, luminous colours also draw from the wonderful Orkney light.
I’m now planning to add to the set with a neckpiece, let me know what you think!

New brooch and earrings inspired by wings and Orkney

New brooch and earrings inspired by wings and Orkney

Orkney Ferry Angel

Isla-the-angel tumbling to earth aboard the Orkney ferry