East Anglian Stitch Textiles
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All posts by Janette Bright

A brief glimpse at The Prize

EAST are really lucky to have as our mentor Anthea Godfrey. Here she is speaking to Hand & Lock’s Communication Manager, Robert McCaffrey about The Prize 2020 on her involvement as a judge for their annual competition and why it is important to get the brief right.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mtbmia9PI50&t=1165s

For more information visit Hand & Lock’s Prize page.

Making sense of scent

This week is Being Human Festival week and tonight I attended an online talk about the sense of smell. We had to have some items on hand for some at home experiments (see above). This event showed what a complex sense smell is – one which is really only appreciated if we lose it. As textile artists we often think about sight, touch, sound (the rustle of silk perhaps?) but how often do we think about the way different fabrics smell? Apparently smell training can not only improve your sense of smell but also general cognition so improving our ability to smell might help us think better.

decorated embroidery on kimono

Kimono continued – techniques and design influence

Kimono deconstructed

Following on from Susan’s blog I thought I would write a little more about some of the different techniques and influences we learned about at the V&A ‘Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk’ exhibition. As seen above, the kimono is fairly simple in structure – strips of cloth joined and unlike western style dress of the time, the focus was on the way the fabric was decorated rather than the body silhouette it enhanced or created.

Kimono for a woman (kosode) 1730-70

This kimono is decorated with a technique known as Yuzen dyeing. A cloth tube with a metal tip is filled with rice paste and applied in ribbons to outline the drawing on the fabric. Then dyes are brushed within the paste boundaries – similar to techniques used in silk painting with gutta. This is a kosode kimono – because of its short sleeves.

Kimono for a woman (furisode) 1800-50

The design for this kimono is made using a kanoko shibori technique. Look closely and you will see rows of tiny circles. These are made by tightly binding the fabric as a means to resist dye when the cloth is immersed in the dye vat. The red colour here comes from the safflower. This furisode kimono has ‘swinging sleeves’.

Hand painted kimono
Kosode Kimono, c.1785

This kimono is hand-painted in ink and colours, and thought to date to around 1785. It was created by the Japanese artist Masumura Goshon (1752-1811). Just as an artist signs a painting, Goshon included his signature and seal on the front of this kimono, indicating that he considered it a work of art.

Kosode kimono
Kosode kimono, 1780-1820

This kosode kimono was made from figured satin silk (rinzu), then hand-painted with ink (kaki-e). A stencil decoration to imitate tie-dyeing was then added (sorihitta) and finally it was embroidered in silk and gold wrapped silk threads. The text embroidered on this piece is a poem from a tenth century anthology.

Kimono for a samarui class woman
Kimono for a young samarui woman, c.1730-60

Again this kimono is created with a range of techniques but it also shows a development in design – quite boldly asymmetric and something that became fashionable in the mid-eighteenth century. Worn by a young woman of the samuri class this gown also shows how the ruling classes were becoming influenced by their social inferiors. According to the hierarchy of the day, the merchant classes were set below not only the elite classes but also the farmers and the craftsmen. As people whose fortune was made through the work of others they were put in the lowest rank. As they became wealthy they gained greater power, also the ability to lead fashion.

Kimono with small all over design
Kimono, 1750-60

By the second half of the eighteenth century, small scale designs became more common. This one was produced using the Yuzen technique (the freehand paste resist dyeing as described above).

Early 19th century kimono

Then as sashes became more elaborate and wider, kimono designs moved to the hem and then the front of the garment – rather than traditionally on the back. This kimono dates from the early nineteenth century.

Japanese street scene showing Parade of Courtesans in 19th century.
Print of Nakano Street in Yoshiwara by Utagawa Hiroshige II (1826-69)

Another big fashion influence were the courtesans – the fabulous gown of one you can seen in Susan’s blog. Here is one section of a print on display in the exhibition which shows a Nakano Street in Yoshiwara. It depicts the towns greatest spectacle, the parade of courtesans who wore the most extravagant attire. The glamorous lifestyle depicted was in sharp contrast to the realities of life in the sex trade.

Sanogawa Ichimatsu – actor and fashion influencer

Actors too were often seen as fashion icons. In 1741 Sanogawa Ichimatsu wore a chequerboard waist sash (obi), which became an instant fashion craze. The design became known as Ichimatsu check. This print shows Ichimatsu coming out of his shop – many actors had their own shops and ranges of goods.

Sarasa Handbook of textile designs.
The Sarasa Handbook (1778) – Indian designs for Japanese textiles

Indian fabrics were another influence – from the 1630s Japanese textile artists made versions of Indian fabrics. The Sarasa Handbook published in 1778, was the first technical guide to such cloth.

Tobacco cases and pipe case; Dutchmen portrayed on an inro and netsuke

Indian fabrics were imported by the Dutch – the first western traders with Japan. Known as the ‘red-haired people’ (komojin), the Japanese thought their fabrics highly prized and even the smallest pieces could be turned into saleable items. The Dutch people themselves were also exoticised and turned into inro and netsuke.

Kimono for western popstars

There was much more to see in this exhibition which ended with more modern developments of kimono – from both the west and the east. However, I was particularly struck by the the global influences and connections which have been a feature of kimono for centuries. As examples of more modern day global connections I have included these three items which are all associated with twentieth and twenty-first century music artists, who have other global connections. On the left is a kimono gown once owned by British artist Freddie Mercury (whose parents were of Indian descent). The red outfit was worn by American artist Madonna (whose parents were of Italian and French Canadian descent). The gown on the far right of the trio (and in the image) was designed by British designer Alexander McQueen in collaboration with Bjork, the Icelandic singer for her ‘Homogenic’ album.

If you are unable to visit the exhibition (which may already be sold out) it is still worth looking at the V&A online curator’s tour – the first part of which can be found HERE.

statue with face mask

Covering up and going back out

Sir Joshua Reynolds outside the Royal Academy London – at least some London residents know how to put on their masks.

Lockdown has been a strange, sometimes worrying experience – and everyone has experienced it differently, EAST members included. But if there were benefits to being stuck indoors (and I realise it did not benefit everyone), being able to be creative was one. Whether it was having the skills to make masks and scrubs, being able to lose ourselves in work for our next exhibition (more of that later), or stitching for mindfulness – it certainly highlighted how important it is to be able to make and create. I was particularly pleased to see a number of posts on social media from individuals discovering or rediscovering the pleasure of stitch.

Now some restrictions are easing and having a day out is a possibility for many. Virtual exhibitions have meant ‘visiting’ places and attending talks and workshops from the comfort of our own homes but even when these are free, nothing beats experiencing things for real. Our museums, galleries and other arts venues need us more than ever if they are to survive so it was nice to get out and about again. For me, meeting a friend, chatting over a coffee and visiting my first ‘actual’ exhibition since March this year was a big deal. Something easily taken for granted. That said, I hope the virtual tours and online talks will continue because physical, financial and other factors prevent many from ever leaving their homes.

London Liverpool Street Station, Central Line – 11am on a Thursday morning (August 2020) and the station is almost deserted.

I was a bit nervous of my first trip to London – until I saw how empty it was. Initially I wasn’t sure how I’d feel wearing a face covering most of the day – both being compulsory on the train and in the gallery – but it is beginning to feel quite normal now. I really don’t like the idea of disposable masks and as someone who can stitch I had no excuse but to make my own. I have been trying out a few different styles to see which one worked best for me – it is amazing how many styles there now are. YouTube is full of new patterns – each one the ‘quickest’, the ‘easiest’, the ‘safest’. Then there are posts showing different types of ear loops, how to avoid ear loops, which type of fabric is best and this week I saw someone showing how they could be decorated. No doubt we will have Christmas fabric and party masks to make in due course.

My Passmore reverse nose pleat masks

I was recommended this design (see above) by fellow EAST member Carol. The fold over above the nose means it fits snug to the face but there is also space to breath. I had no problem with my glasses steaming up and there is no need for wire. There is a gap for a filter. The instructions I used came from Sophie Passmore on YouTube. Or if you don’t sew yourself why not buy one from someone who can and support a charity at the same time. Carol’s daughter sells a range of masks – Beverley@4miles.co.uk. For every mask sold £2 will go to the National Deaf Children’s Society. Obviously there are plenty of other sellers too.

And before I end this post just one more thing – EAST are now preparing for their next exhibition Transformation. We are expecting to open at Braintree District Museum, Essex, UK in the Spring of 2021. Subscribe to this blog and you will be the first to hear when the details are finalised.

Textiles dark secrets

Eighteenth-century toile de Juoy textile from Warner Textile Archive

Back in 2009, EAST produced an exhibition of contemporary work based on textiles, objects and other items from the Warner Textile Archive, based at Braintree in Essex. My interest in history led me to this furnishing fabric that probably dates from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Produced in France this printed cotton would have been a fashionable addition to the home of a very middling-sort of couple. I even speculated that it was the sort of item deemed appropriate as a wedding gift.

A Dark Secret Behind a Thing of Beauty from EAST @ The Warner Textile Archive exhibition in 2009. Now part of the Collection of Braintree District Museum, Essex

Gifts, as we know, often come in boxes and I therefore decided to translate the design on the cloth into a 3D object. This meant that I could incorporate another aspect of the story behind the fabric – an often unacknowledged or hidden history. A Dark Secret Behind a Thing of Beauty was the title of my response. I wanted to make a comment that it is all too easy to look at a piece of fabric and think of it just in terms of its design or its beauty – less so about the tragedy behind its manufacture. It was particularly important to highlight how what seemed quite an innocuous item was very probably the product of slavery.

Detail of inside the box – a reference to Josiah Wedgewood’s image
in support of the abolition of slavery

Inside the box I created a copy of an image used by the abolitionists, along with the words ‘Am I not a man and a brother?’ Designed by Josiah Wedgwood (1730-1795) and turned into cameo brooches in the 1790s, these items would have been worn by the many women supporters as a means to raise awareness of this abhorrent trade. It took several decades to end the transportation of slaves, but even that did not end slave labour – and sadly it still continues today, in many forms. Slavery is often, but not always associated with race, but even when it is not, it is always about inequality and power.

Courtauld weaving

Woven into the Courtauld exhibition

In May 2019, EAST members held a drop-in weaving workshop at Braintree District Museum as part of the Warner Textile Fair. We set up three sets of warps and asked visitors to weave fabric and threads using the colours green, white and purple. These were the colours associated with the Suffragettes and the weavings were a commemoration of three Courtauld women who strongly believed in women’s rights over 100 years ago.

Now the story of these women are part of a much wider exhibition about the family open at Braintree District Museum (until 30 May 2020). The main narrative is the story of a family who escaped persecution as European refugees, came to Britain and eventually developed a major textile industry. The Courtauld’s brought prosperity through employment to Essex and Suffolk, including Braintree, in the nineteenth century. The family were also major art collectors, forming the foundation of the now famous Courtauld Gallery in London and supporters of this exhibition in Braintree.

This is just an introduction to the three women commemorated by the EAST led weaving – to find out more you need to visit the Museum.

Katherine Mina Courtauld (1858-1935) – oil on canvas

Katherine Mina Courtauld (1858-1935), was the eldest daughter of George Coutauld III. She was a farmer, parish councillor and Secretary of the North West Essex branch of the National Union of women’s Suffrage Societies. On the 1911 census she wrote (in red, to ensure her feelings were known) how she strongly resented being denied the privilege of parliamentary franchise despite being a householder and ratepayer. Katherine was also instrumental in the establishment of the Women’s Land Army during WWI.

Catherine Courtauld (1878-1972) was another campaigner for women’s right to vote. She designed posters which were used by the Suffrage Atelier – a collective that created propaganda for the Votes for Woman campaign. Incidentally, she and her husband were also later responsible for the saving and restoring of the Cutty Sark for the nation.

The last of these three remarkable women was Dr Elizabeth Courtauld (1867-1947) who qualified as a doctor as early as 1901. As principal anaesthetist she worked at the largest British voluntary hospital on the Western Front during WWI – the only one run by women (Royaumont Hospital). She spent most of her working life at a hospital in Bagalore, India.

The EAST hanging from the 2019 Warner Textile Fair – produced by visitors to our drop in workshop and now on display at Braintree District Museum
(apologies for the quality of the photo)

Although the EAST hanging is just a very tiny part of this major exhibition it is nice to think that we honoured women who went against the grain, who stood up for their beliefs and enabled us, in this modern age, to follow our own dreams. However there are many more women’s stories – and plenty of stories of Courtauld men too – in the main display.

I would highly recommend Courtaulds: Origins, Innovations, Family (1816-1982) for a fascinating look at one family’s impact on a country and a county or for anyone with an interest in social history or the history of textile innovation. The display looks at the Courtaulds as inventors, explorers and people with creative vision. There is also a rare chance to see some original Gaugin etchings – which have been lent by The Courtauld Gallery. Gaugin is known for his colourful work so it is interesting to see close up, his work in a very different medium.

Entrance to the exhibition and the rest of the Museum is only £4 for adults (with concessions for seniors and children – under 5s free) – open Tuesday to Saturdays but check their website for more details – www.braintreemuseum.co.uk and look out for their walks, talks and other events on social media.

Janette

Inspired by colour

Although not a textile exhibition – certainly one to inspire. Previous EAST member Di Christopher did some beautiful work based on Chihuly some years ago. These are some images of Chihuly’s work from his current exhibition at Kew Gardens.

Chihuly: Reflections on Nature – continues until 27 October 2019.

detail of Le Bal des Artistes

Delightful Dior

detail of Le Bal des Artistes
Detail of dress by John Galiano (b.1960)

I may have left visiting ‘Christian Dior: Designers of Dreams’ at the V&A Museum to the last few weeks, but for me the timing was absolutely perfect. With no E.A.S.T deadlines, and approval from my supervisor that my university research was coming together well, planning a day off with a good friend (and fellow E.A.S.Tie, Susan) was just perfect. This was not an exhibition where I needed to make notes; initially I was not even going to get my camera out. Instead I decided I could just relax and admire the work on display. And event though we had it on good authority (from our group mentor, Anthea) that this was an exhibition well worth seeing, it definitely exceeded my expectations.

The display began with an introduction to Christian Dior himself, and the ‘New Look’ he first became famous for. Surrounding his classic version were ‘updates’ by the five other artistic directors that came after him – Yves Saint-Laurent, Marc Bohan, Gianfranco Ferro, Raf Simons and Maria Grazia Chiuri. All through the display there was a combination of work from these six designers – sharing similar themes but often in very different ways. Yet despite their differences, elements of the original Christian Dior ‘style’ could often still be seen.

Inspired by historical costume
One of my favourite pieces was the ’18th century’ style jacket (right)
– a piece by Raf Simons (b.1968)

One of the first sections we came to was a selection of work inspired by history (see above) – in particular several items inspired by eighteenth-century court dress. I have written a little more about the ‘history’ display of this exhibition in my own personal blog, ‘Artistic Threads‘.

The embroidery on this ‘Indian’ inspired gown was exquisite – but so difficult to photograph.


Though this ‘Egyptian’ theme gown was a little bizarre, I just loved the way the cloth was decorated. Though the original item is decorated with snake skin, I could imagine a similar effect with modern textile techniques.

Other areas focused on themes such as ‘travel’ (see above) and ‘nature’ (or was it ‘floral’?). This second room, as well as some stunning dresses, included a backdrop of the most amazing paper flowers (see below).

Paper flowers – showing the incredible skill/creativity of the V&A display team.

One of the highlights was the diorama.  A display filled with a rainbow of elements – accessories (hats, shoes, jewellery) and related aspects of design – fashion illustration and miniature versions of the gowns – moving seamlessly from one colour palette to another.  

Another room focused on the creation of the garments – almost entirely in white this room was a cabinet of toiles (see below).

Toiles on display

The display ended with the most fantastic ball room.  Not only a room full of the most fantastic gowns and accessories, but again the way everything was displayed  added an extra special dimension.  Using lighting techniques, film, and scent no photograph can do this particular room justice.  I have included just a couple of items from the display below.

From the Ball Room display

This was an exhibition that was well worth waiting for.  As well as there being some absolutely beautiful garments on display, I felt it also gave an real insight into haute couture and the work involved in putting together a collection.  Many of the pieces had the most exquisite decoration – embroidery and beadwork was much in evidence.  It may have Dior’s name on the door, but the creative team work was much in evidence.

However for me, I came away not just with admiration for the House of Dior and their amazing work, but also the people at the V&A Museum – their creative team should also be applauded for putting together a really interesting, beautiful and inspiring display.

Japanese dyeing

Last month I was in the Kensington area of London with about 40 minutes to spare between appointments.  What better place to visit than the Victoria and Albert Museum.  There just happened to be an exhibition of natural dyeing in the Japanese Gallery with displays relating to one man’s search for lost techniques. 

Videos not only showed some of the dyeing processes but also explained about some of the ceremonies that related to the practice – including the making of dyed paper flowers (see below).

Sadly the display has gone now and my images do not do it justice, but it just shows how even a half hour visit can be quite inspiring.

Textiles from another ocean



Oceania, is one of the current exhibitions at the Royal Academy in London (continues until 10 December 2018).  This is a personal reflection of some of the issues and objects I found particularly interesting but especially those linked to textile art.

On entering the gallery you are confronted by an enormous blue cloth – stitched and slashed – made by the artist Kiko Moana of New Zealand.  It seemed to me the perfect illustration for an exhibition that was considering the art and cultures of a region both connected and divided by water.  As a modern work it was also a reminder that this is not about an art and culture from the past – this was an exploration of Oceania throughout its history.

The second art work was a film, Tell Them, by Kathy Jetnil-Kijna.  It begins with a description of a piece of jewellery, leads to a discussion about Marshall Island and its people, and ends with their fears for the future.  It was about the links between cultures.  It was a reminder that actions in one part of the world impacts on others.

The exhibition continues with a vast array of items – canoes, figures, musical instruments, navigational charts each one telling just a little about a vast array of diverse communities.  There were also plenty of textile items.  There were many pieces of bark cloth but also pieces of patchwork.  The relevance of Samoan fine mat was fascinating in that these precious items were also used in ceremonies of reconciliation.

In addition there were several pieces of jewellery.

The curators of this exhibition were not shy about discussing the problems that began when Europeans, James Cook in particular, first encountered many of these cultures.  Equally the curators were keen to highlight that not all of the objects displayed were looted items – many were gifted by their original owners or traded.  Curation and display, it seems, was also a big part of this story.
The impressive mourner’s costume was a reminder that many of the objects on display were not originally intended to be static items but were part of a larger picture that would have included sound, scent, movement, etc.  It  highlights another major theme – that many of the objects are about memory.  The past and the present are combined in such items.
Having visited the British Library‘s exhibition James Cook: The Voyages (which finished at the end of August), it was interesting to see two such different responses to the same starting point – both exhibitions relate to the 250 year anniversary of James Cook’s first voyage of discovery.  Both were very thought provoking and both were reminders of how the actions of the past still resonate in the present.
Janette