August 2017: The last hurrah, Job’s Tears and in the studio.

September 12, 2017

This post is late. But a trip away and limited internet access are the culprit.

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It’s the end of an era. My exhibition, Pattern: A Universal Phenomenon has had its last showing. It has been on tour for the past four years and Childers Arts Space was its last venue. The staff at Childers did a great job hanging it and were very welcoming. I have enjoyed the contact I have had with them. I was driving past the gallery on the week before it came down and called in. My timing was perfect. There was a group of Year 7 students from a local school. They were there on an excursion to look at pattern. I gave an unscheduled artist talk.

Afterwards the group was on the veranda of the gallery where there was some lovely iron lacework.

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While I waited for the day to demount the exhibition, I got to spend a couple of days at Burrum Heads. I just happened to be there when some trees were bring trimmed and look what I found: lichen!

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As well as being on the trees, there was some adorning an old fishing table.

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I have come home with quite a collection ready for some natural dyeing – maybe this month. I wonder how successful the dye extraction (if any) will be. However I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to collect it.

From an earlier trip: Job’s Tears.

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I had this Akha (an ethnic group in Laos) necklace out the other day. I have been meaning to pass on some information on these beads which are really seeds, since I came back from Laos at the start of the year. I have come across textiles that use these seeds ever since I started travelling in S E Asia. A display in The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre in Luang Prabang detailed great information. This museum is highly recommended.

Pronunciation of “Job” in Job’s Tears: It’s probably easiest to describe as “Job” in the biblical person and not “Job” as in work.

In the museum, there were some great didactic panels which I’ll share detailing aspects of these beads as well as some great textiles.

I didn’t realise that there were four types of beads. I did however recognise that I was seeing different beads in different places. Check out the beads and the different shapes.

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This map shows the distribution of the ethnic groups using Job’s Tears in S E Asia. Note the comment that “their disappearance is a indicator of our changing relationship with nature”. Beads are used extensively though often they are mass produced.

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Naga shawl. Sagain Division, Myanmar/ Yangon, Myanmar.

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Karen skirt borders. Mae Hongsorn Province, Thailand/ Bago Division, Myanmar.

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Akha Jacket. Shan State, Myanmar/ Louang Namtha Province, Laos.

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Katu shawl for sale in the Museum shop.

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Earlier on in August, I had three weavers in the studio for a “Special” class. This allows for open choice and in this case the three students all chose to do something different. Now before I show you what they did, I would like to point out that one had never woven before and this was her first ever experience. Another weaver had done a token amount and had barely wound a warp. While the third was experienced.

Here’s Sharon weaving a fabric length for a blouse.

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Sharon is the experienced weaver. The fabric is finished. It has a cotton warp with a silk noil weft: a very beautiful fabric.

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But wait- a decision is pending. There are some supplementary warp threads in there for woven shibori. Will she or won’t she overdye? Sharon will be back this month and we’ll find out then.

Jan has just started weaving and is in the process of winding her first warp at home. She came to learn technique and at the same time experiment with some woven shibori. She had seen an example at the Redlands Spinners and Weavers Open day. Along the way she discovered the enjoyment of play.

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Here the treadles had been tied up for an 8 shaft twill. What happens if you go that direction and then that one and what happens if you don’t always keep in sequence? It’s fun! And she got to earn about selvedges and how to throw a shuttle and the process of weaving efficiently and with good technique.

And she also got to weave shibori. Here she is pulling up the resist threads. Later she got to experience the magic of an indigo bath. Unfortunately I don’t have images of this.

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But I do have some of a collection of things I put in the indigo too. The pattern on the scarf is not really a shibori pattern. The fabric is solid indigo and the pattern sunlight through some lattice work in the early morning. Now that could be inspiration for later.

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Rochelle has never woven before and wanted to weave an image inspired by a design on a piece of pottery. Why not? She got to prepare a warp and thread over a 1,000 warp threads. Not bad for a first attempt AND loved doing it. She did celebrate finishing though.

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This is what she’s weaving. The technique is Theo Morman and allows for great control of imagery.

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Later on final detail of pattern will be achieved by embroidery. So for a beginner weaver she’s learn how to set up a loom, throw a shuttle and get great selvedges and how to use a cartoon to achieve imagery. She’ll be back next week to finish off.

Some dates:

The weekend workshop at GO Create will now be on Friday and Saturday, 13-14 October.

Coming up in the studio:

18-22nd September         Doubleweave and Friends

16-20th October               Two extremes: Choose between weft faced rugs and warp faced textiles including rep or textiles inspired by SE Asia. (2 places for rep/warp faced textiles only)

13-17th November          Woven shibori (2 places left)

4-8th December               Special

Lastly: a very special event. When I was at Burrum Heads I got to experience the sun setting down the river and immediately after the moon rising out to sea. It was a remarkable experience!

 

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July 2017: Ballarat and the USA

August 4, 2017

This has been a very busy month teaching away from the studio firstly in Ballarat and then for MAFA in the USA.

At the Ballarat Fibre Arts Australia event, the title of the workshop was Play +1. Each of the students chose a different topic to explore – in other words, play. They could choose an aspect of double weave or mixed warps or a technique of their own choice. There was as a result total diversity. After exploring their topic for 3 ½ days they added an extra component in an extra shaft to achieve a more complex cloth.

But before we started the workshop, there was the matter of a decoration for the top table. I took the opportunity to produce this in the “meet the tutor” afternoon slot. This was a fun activity: a bit of stitching and needle weaving into gutter guard. Everyone got to do whatever they wanted and using whatever yarn they wanted. It was also a great opportunity to meet new and catch up with past students in a very relaxed manner.

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Elizabeth started with an unfinished scarf as her project. It was colour and weave on a 4 shaft twill. After finishing her scarf she explored colour and structure variations, including removing and replacing a few warp colours before adding in an extra shaft for a supplementary warp.

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Jeanette explored combining lace and summer and winter. This provided the opportunity to explore both structures and some creative approaches to a block of warp threads that didn’t weave. Her extra shaft was used to fix a threading mistake.

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Trudi explored double weave with Summer and Winter as one layer. There were lots of variables here.

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Jillian explored double weave and rotational blocks. (Colonial overshot) and then introduced an extra warp thread on her extra shaft- one that she moved around changing it from one position in the reed across the weft and to a second position.

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Di came with a sample of double weave that we then interpreted into a 12 shaft draft. The draft combines blocks of twill and plain weave.

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Michael arrived mid workshop and luckily there was a loom set up. It was destined to be rag mug rugs. However, this was used to explore variations of plain weave and then by adding in an extra shaft, it was possible to achieve a 3 end twill.

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At the end of the week, the class puts on a display of their work. This is what was achieved. Unfortunately I had to leave early but I was delighted and privileged to spend this time with them. I must also acknowledge the great team that organises the event: Noni, Glenys and the Golden Team. Check out Fibre Arts Australia for details of the next Ballarat event and others run by this organisation. http://www.fibrearts.jigsy.com/ event.

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Later in the month saw me at Millersville in the USA for the MAFA conference. The class was East Meets West where various back strap structures and techniques are interpreted for a western shaft loom. It was a great class of 11 students and everyone accomplished much in 2 ½ days. Here’s an overview of what was woven with each student choosing their favourite section.

 

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Apart from the workshop, there was such a lot to do: catching up with friends and the market place and various structured activities including a fashion parade. Those who were involved in the organisation put on a great conference.

After the conference I had the opportunity to visit with my friend Judith Krone in Atlanta. On one day we got to see these two exhibitions at Lyndon House Art Centre in Athens.

The first one was Time Warp….and Weft, an exhibition by 6 artists.

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This is the artist statement followed by an overview of the gallery and work by Geri Forkner that could be walked through.

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The second exhibition was Fold Unfold.

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About 50 weavers/ university faculties created coverlets. Each of these were folded and placed in a pile. They will be opened at an “unfolding” event. It would have been great to have seen at least one of them unfolded and displayed. Accompanying the exhibition is a movie of each individual work unfolded with a detailed view. This of course can’t replace seeing the actual work.

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The other very important activity at Judith’s was our dyeing day. Judith and I have established a tradition of weaving a joint project over a two year period. The first year we each wind our warps of 2 scarves each warp, dye and swap. The second year we weave two scarves with the grand unveiling of the project occurring where we exchange scarves. Each of us ends up with two scarves (one of each other’s dyeing and the other of each other’s weaving). You may have seen previous results of our collaboration. Anyway this is the start of our 5th project (10 years). This time we dyed the two warps together and have swapped. What colour? Well you will just have to wait and see when all will be revealed next year.

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Coming up- a 2 day workshop at Go Create (www.gocreatenewengland.com) on the 9-10 September and workshops in the studio.

21-25th August                 Special (2 places left)

18-22nd September         Doubleweave and Friends (2 places left)

16-20th October               Two extremes: Choose between weft faced rugs and warp faced textiles                                                    including rep or textiles inspired by SE Asia. (2 places for rep/warp faced                                         textiles only)

13-17th November          Woven shibori (2 places left)

4-8th December               Special


June 2017

July 17, 2017

This has been the month for exhibitions. I know this blog is very late but much has been happening as you’ll see in next month’s blog. In the meantime….

I have delivered my touring exhibition, Pattern – A Universal Phenomenon to Childers Art Space. It will be opened on the 11th July and will run till 3rd September. This will be the last opportunity to view this exhibition. Its tour of 4 years is finally coming to an end. CHARTS is an interesting space with a glass wall commemorating the fire in the Backpacker’s several years ago where many lost their lives. That in itself is an interesting memorial to see. I will look forward to seeing how it sits in the space at the opening. Check out CHARTS at http://www.bundabergregionalgalleries.com.au

Also on right now is Stitched Up, an exhibition on at The Lock Up in Newcastle. It’s a group show which includes 24 National and international fibre artists as well as some local input. I was honoured to be asked to participate.

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A section of the gallery space with my work on the left.

It has been a fascinating project and, for this blog, I thought that I would share my thought processes on producing this work.

The exhibition is a collaboration with The Lock Up (www.thelockup.org.au) and Timeless Textiles (www.timelesstextiles.com.au). It marks the 150th anniversary of the Industrial School in Newcastle being established. (1867-1871)

In the four years the institution operated, 193 girls from two and a half to 18 years of age were admitted. They were taken from their families, if they had families, and incarcerated as a consequence of the Act for the Relief of Destitute Children, which targeted youngsters who had committed crimes, were destitute, neglected, delinquent, uncontrollable or living in the care of thieves and prostitutes. The Industrial School sought to educate them in literacy while also teaching them sewing and needlework, skills that would increase their chances of employment as domestic servants.(Timeless Textiles)

The conditions in the school were needless to say pretty severe and very much a reflection of that sort of institution of that era. The school became notorious because of the conditions and rioting.

As artists we were provided with the background information of the school and the case studies of some of the inmates. This research was done by Jane Ison. (nis.wikidot.com)

We were asked to select a girl and respond to the information to celebrate her life.

When I was reading through the girls’ histories I was struck by many similarities. Fate or Destiny celebrate the lives of Margaret Poole and Rachel Willis. The following is the information that I worked with based on the research by Jane Ison. Both are very much a reflection of life at the time of the Gold Rush and for a certain demographic of society. I found their backgrounds fascinating. Maybe you will too.

Rachel Willis

Father- Thomas aka William Willis (b 1810). Mother – Eliza aka Elizabeth, alias Mary Kennedy (b 1828). They married in 1844 and had 10 children: 5 boys and 5 girls. Rachel aka Margaret was the youngest, born 1860.

Thomas either died or had abandoned the family sometime prior to 1868. Her mother resorted to keeping a brothel. It is thought many of the siblings were fostered out.

Rachel came before the bench on 24 February 1868 after being taken from a brothel and was released back into the care of her mother as “the bench was not satisfied that the evidence as to the character of the mother” justified removing her. On 2nd July Rachel again came before the bench. By this time her mother and eldest sister were in jail for “keeping a disorderly house”. She was being cared for by a person named Dunn who had reported that they were unable to keep her but as she was taken from the house, the bench was unable to act. Two days later she was found entirely destitute on the streets. She was aged 8.

She was a resident of Newcastle between 1868 and 1871 when she was apprenticed to an older married sister. In 1878, aged 18, she married Mackie Wilson (1854-1942). They had two daughters and two sons with 1 son dying in infancy. She died in 1893 aged 33. Cause of death is unknown.

Margaret Louisa Poole /Pool

Father, Robert Poole (1812- 1872) and Mother, Mary Leonard (b. 1815) were married, probably bigamously, in 1852 in England. Robert had been married once before with 3 children. He abandoned his first family. Mary was a convict and had been married twice before and was widowed both times. She returned to England with her second husband after being pardoned leaving 2 of 3 surviving children behind and fostered.

Robert and Mary arrived in Melbourne as unassisted migrants in 1852. Three girls were born in Australia. Margaret was the middle child, born in 1855.

Her mother died in 1860. She was aged 5. The sisters were separated one apprenticed and one fostered to a step sister. Margaret was living with an associate of her father. Betsy Harvey is listed as a step mother.

Margaret was 12 when she came before the court in rags on 31st August 1867. She was” much neglected and half starved”. Her parents were described as “very dissipated characters” and Margaret was charged under the Act with living with two common prostitutes.

She was a resident of Newcastle between 1867 and 1870 when she was apprenticed to magistrate at Scone. In 1872, the family’s circumstances changed and she was re apprenticed.

On 26 January 1875, aged 20, Margaret married William Ison (1852-1936). They had 10 children with 7 surviving infancy- 5 of 6 sons and 2 of 4 daughters. Margaret died on 2 January 1887 in childbirth aged 32.

So how was I going to take this information and use it?

I decided that whatever I did, it needed to tell their story. The cloth that I would weave was to be a story cloth with words embedded into the actual story. It needed to be able to be read. The cloth also needed to represent age as this story did happen 150 years or so ago. It needed to include stitch as that was the skill they were taught; let alone the title of the exhibition. Ideally it should also reflect on all the girls who passed though that institution.

We were also sent a swatch of fabrics similar to what research had showed that they might use. Of course I wasn’t about to use a commercial fabric when I could make my own. But I did have some natural cotton that would weave fabric similar to calico. I had a starting point. I needed a second yarn that would not dye as I wanted to have some definition to imagery post dyeing.

I knew the finished dimensions as we were given those and that there would be two pieces. So I knew the size of each piece. I knew the yarn and therefore the number of warp and weft threads that I would be using. That’s simple maths. So then I knew that the “words” that I would use needed to fit into this. I needed something of around 210 letters and spaces that would use about 2200 weft rows. So I need to achieve a somewhat shorter version of their lives that would be used to create a weave draft.

In addition I wanted to weave in “stitching”. Some of this would be left in while some would also be used for woven shibori. This could then reference the fact that what happened in their lives created their life “pattern” in much the same way as aged lines on a face and body.

The following shows the fabric being woven. The story can be read on the diagonal in either direction. Note also the heavy cotton supplementary weft that will be used for woven shibori and that will create the dye pattern. (It’s easier to read the words on the fabric underneath.)

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The fabric was then dyed. I have used natural dyes of various forms and my choice was influenced by “age”. The resulting shades of brown are similar to the notion of grubby aged cloth: the cloth from the streets before they went to the home as well as stained cloth found from times past.

The stitching threads were removed from the “figures” and some left in to define their edge. It also makes the fabric look more “aged”.

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Close up of fabric showing dye pattern, stitching and woven words.

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Artist Statement: Fate or Destiny

These shadowy humanoid silhouettes represent two girls who were inmates.

Was it predetermined by fate and their backgrounds that these girls would end up in The School. How much of what the choices they made with their lives resulted in what they became?

When I read the inmates’ stories I was struck by how many had similar stories. I have chosen two girls and have woven story cloths. Their stories are impregnated into the actual cloth. It can be read. The process of uncovering their stories equates with your search to read them.

Here’s the synopsis of their lives which can be read diagonally in the cloths.

Rachel Willis. Father- Thomas. Mother- Eliza. Father left or died. Mother jailed as prostitute. Rachel age 8 homeless. The school. Apprenticed 12. Married 4 children. Died 33.

Margaret Poole. Father – Robert. Mother – Mary. Middle child of 3. Mother dies. At 12 charged- Living with prostitutes- associates of father. The school. Apprenticed at 15. Married-10 children. Died 32.

The full research into their lives provides a more in-depth insight into their life stories.

These aged cloth represents life of a different era with different social pressures. Both of these girls were charged because of their contact with prostitutes. It was only by being charged that they then escaped their living conditions and were sent to the school.

Stitch is a skill that they were taught. In much the same way that these stitches have created pattern and texture on these cloths, did these skills have any effect on the direction their lives took? One hopes that The School, in spite of its history, gave the girls a chance of a better life.

The following show some additional close up images.

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It has come to my attention that I have made the Top 100 Weaving Blogs. To check out who is in the 100 go to: http://blog.feedspot.com/weaving blogs/. I am delighted to be listed.


May 2017 #2 In the studio

June 10, 2017

The past few blogs have been exclusively about my textile trip to Laos/Cambodia earlier this year. Just because I haven’t been talking about what has been happening in the studio, doesn’t mean that nothing has been happening. The following are some of the highlights over the past few months.

Back in the February blog # 2, I wrote about Joan who was visiting Australia from Hawaii and extended a holiday to explore waving on a draw loom. She managed to get totally fascinated by the process and has since acquired her own loom. Now that is a great result!

I’m mentioning that because it also gave me the perfect opportunity to explore an idea.

Beside the draw loom (on right), I set up a countermarche loom so that it was a cross between a draw loom having long eyed short heddles at the front and a Laos loom with vertical storage at the back. Having the two looms side by side was an interesting juxtaposition. I did like the potential of weaving similar cloth on both looms. Over a period of time, I had noticed many similarities between the functioning of the Laotian (or any S.E.Asian loom) and the draw loom. This was my opportunity to explore what a hybrid loom could do.

Damask is being woven on the hybrid loom. I have 6 shafts set up for a 6end damask on the front and the stored pattern operating as the pattern shafts at the back.

As in conventional Laotian weaving, the pattern is picked up and stored. In this case however the block patterns are being stored. The stored pattern is then used in much the same way as a pattern shaft on the draw loom – raised for the 6 rows of a 6 shaft satin.

And just because I could do it, I also wove a supplementary weft pattern on the same warp. All the patterns that I have used are from “Lao Motif”.

I will return to this as there’s much potential and it’s such a fun challenge to do. However a group was arriving in the studio.

Every two years a group of like-minded weaving mates get together with the challenge of playing and exploring any technique or structure or in reality anything relating to weaving. There’s discussion and a whole lot of fun to go with it! It’s a highlight of a diary and something to look forward to. It’s been going on quite some time and we’ve had several. Sometimes everyone can come, other times there are fewer. This time it was my turn to play host. (Normally I have to go to USA or Canada). Three weavers came to Australia: Kathy, Jette and Bev. By chance they all decided that they needed to play with my Laos equipment. So there was one traditional Laos style loom and two countermarche looms with Laos vertical storage units.

Weaving mates from three countries: USA, Canada and Australia.

We all wove. Here are three “Lao” looms in action.

There was much group problem solving…..

….and fun. Part of the experience was the duet. They’re chalking up how many places (Towns, States and Countries) they can play together in.

Detail of some of the weaving

I got to play i.e. get around to doing, something that I’d been wanting to do for some time. Keeping in the theme of bands of pattern, I explored structures on my 24 shaft computer assist loom.

And at the end of their stay, I have even more potential for play as now I have three looms with warps for me to weave on. I can go back to my damask/supplementary weft (the original hybrid loom).

I also have the original Laos loom. I decided it could do with an adventure with a saw. As I am not using it any more with a warp in a bag at the front of a loom, I don’t need all that length.  I am using a western style back warp beam to store the warp. I have found that it is much easier to achieve even tension. All I need is a length to allow movement between the vertical storage and the front plain weave/ground shafts.

So saw in hand, it is now shorter and taking up much less floor space in the studio.

But I also have a loom with a ground of overshot. That was a careful bit of planning as now it’s so conveniently set up in time for a 5 day workshop: Beyond the Basics.

Ronda and Jan came to explore profile drafting and converting it into basic weave structures: 4 and 8 shaft forms of Overshot, Crackle, M’s and O’s and a combination of Summer and Winter and a simple lace. It was a very productive week and as well as going home with a whole lot of samples, they’d woven on several different styles of looms including the 16 shaft computer assist and had a portfolio of drafts.Here are some of their samples.

And I still had a bit of warp left on the Overshot/Laos loom. I have plans! I can weave a border with both a finer supplementary weft design in the style of Laos patterning and a larger overshot one.

Here it is with the pattern being developed. It is being woven upside down with these long floats to be on the back.

In addition to weavers working in the studio, I have had a bit of life on the road. My touring exhibition Pattern; A Universal Phenomenon had an outing to Moranbah. The exhibition looked fabulous and was extremely well received.

We even had journal making workshops with hand woven fabric covers in Dysart, Clermont and Moranbah. (Unfortunately I don’t have images from Moranbah)

But then Cyclone Debbie came and Central Queensland was flooded. Demounting couldn’t happen. The town was cut off. Eventually the roads got reopened and life returned to ‘normal’ for that community. I am pleased to report that while the town was flooded, no one was hurt. The upside was that the exhibition had an extended life of an extra month. Pattern has one last showing to complete the touring program. It will be in the Childers Art Space from 15 July to 3 September.

Coming up is another exhibition: Stitched up. I was delighted to be invited to be part of this exhibition. I will report on that process of producing that work and the background behind my concept for the work on the next blog. In the meantime here’s a link to the exhibition.

http://www.thelockup.org.au/whats-on/stitched-up


May 2017: Textiles of Siem Reap, Cambodia

June 9, 2017

This is the final post on my textile tour to Laos and Cambodia in January/February 2017.

Siem Reap is the place to stay when you go to see Angkor Wat. Angkor Wat is both a significant tourist destination, an engineering marvel from the Khmer Empire and an extremely significant Buddhist temple complex.

For those who go to Angkor Wat (and there are busloads!) keep your eye out for pattern.

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However the reason I was there was of course to check out some textiles. I had heard of some places where textiles could be found and that there was lotus fibre produced in the area. I also discovered others while I was there. For those places off the known tourist trail, I would recommend that you take with you the address and the phone number of your destination to give to a tuk tuk driver. Our driver was very obliging and willing to find out where these places were, often with a group discussion with a group of drivers. However we did also end up in interesting places.

A new and little known gem of a museum is the MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum. I was fortunate to meet with Prof (Mrs) Charu Smita Gupta who is the director of this museum and has been involved in its development since the beginning. This is an extremely well set out museum with 4 exhibition spaces. The museum represents textiles from countries on the two major river systems: the Mekong: Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Vietnam and Myanmar as well as India on the Ganges. Exhibited are historical pieces as well as contemporary ones. www.mgcattmuseum.com

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Prof Charu Smita Gupta with Libby, Truda and I in the entrance at MGC. Photography is not allowed in the galleries.

Artisans of Angkor is on the tourist map. It is also a destination for school groups and that was very pleasing to see. On site in Siem Reap are some working studios as well as the gallery. The work in the gallery is exquisite and well presented. The working studios included carving on wood and stone, metal working including silver plating, lacquer work, jewellery, gold leaf and painting. There was a very sad static display of a loom to represent weaving. The threads were broken and the loom looked as if it couldn’t even work- not a very good advertisement for weaving or for weaving as representative of this place.

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Students watching stone carvers at work.

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The loom at Artisans of Anchor- not a very attractive example of weaving.

However if one has time I would recommend a visit to their offsite complex where the process from spinning through to weaving is very well represented. It certainly wasn’t clear at the facility in Siem Reap that this would be the case. There is very beautiful work produced here.

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Silk being reeled from the cocoons.

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Ikat being tied.

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An example of weft ikat being woven.

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The space housing many looms. It was extremely noisy.

The Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles (IKTT) has a retail space and an area under the shop where the women gather and produce the woven textile. In the main, they are using natural dyes and producing traditional textiles. www.iktt.org

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A section of the gallery

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Documentation of the natural dyes that are used.

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Fabrics being woven with natural dyed yarn.

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Complex weft ikats were also being tied and woven.

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Here the ikat is being rebound after the first dye bath.

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An example of ikat after several dyebaths.

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Ikat on the loom.

I had heard about Lotus textiles before I had come to Cambodia and had spoken to Carol Cassidy about the yarn so some serious research came into play. There are many lotus farms. We even stopped and walked on boardwalks through the lotus.

We did eventually find the Lotus Farm by Samatoa, the organisation the spins and weaves textiles from the fibre. www.lotusfarm.org

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All stages of the process is well documented.

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We saw how the fibre is actually produced. After harvesting the lotus stems are cleaned.

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The fibre is extracted by breaking the stem and pulling out the fibre. Several fibres are then twisted together to make the yarn. Many hands are required to extract a small amount of yarn.

As each length is twisted it is collected in a basket. This yarn is then taken and skeined.

There were looms here but we didn’t see any weaving being done.

Closer to Siem Reap was the headquarters of Samatoa.

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Here it was obvious that negotiations were undertaken for commissions in lotus cloth. We saw some examples of it being used in combinations with other yarns and test samples of woven fabrics.

The lotus yarn is extremely expensive so combining it with other yarns makes sense. I must admit that the yarn itself is not necessarily inspiring (it has no lustre) however it is extremely valuable because of the limited quantities produced. It is marketed as a sacred fibre. Originally it was used to weave Buddhist monks’ robes. Samatoa also produces handwoven silk cloth.

The following are some additional observations that I found interesting.

I found the contrast between the speed used in weaving plain weave cloth and the slower approach to weaving ikats of interest. This was extremely evident at Artisans of Angkor.

What is also of interest is the variation of the treadles to what we would normally use.It appeared that these treadles were standard in this area. You can see them in the movie. Here’s another examples at Samatoa and IKTT.

Note the use of two hanging devices either side of the loom that hold the shafts up while they are needed for weaving. Complex twills can be woven using this system. It require two shafts that are treadled in combination with extra pattern shafts. The two treadled shafts are behind the ones that will be picked up. The operation of this system can also be seen in the movie.

This is the final instalment of the textile tour to Laos and Cambodia. Meanwhile in the studio much has been happening. The next blog will attempt to catch up on that.

 

 


April 2017: Laos Part 3

April 30, 2017

This month wraps up some final information on my January trip to Laos: natural dyeing and mat mi (weft ikat)

In Laha Nam Village near Savannaket we participated in a natural dyeing workshop. Here are some details from the workshop where we dyed with indigo and koa.

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Indigo is grown along the river with the best harvesting time is June/July. We were told about the process of harvesting, obtaining the indigo paste and how to make the indigo dyebath.

The process to obtain indigo paste: Pick leaves and stems- not the whole plant as it will reshoot. Soak 24 hrs in enough water to just cover leaves. Filter. Add lime powder (from hardware). Stir vigorously creating a froth for at least 1 hour. After aeration, allow sediment to settle, drain water and collect paste.

The following ingredients are required to make an indigo dyebath: indigo paste, rice whisky, ash water and “sour leaf” (similar to tamarin). “Sour leaf” makes the blue brighter.

There were a number of pots containing the indigo bath. Some were already there while others arrived in a wheelbarrow.

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It is always interesting to see how different dyers handle the process of using indigo. Usually great care is taken not to incorporate air into the bath. However, here the indigo bath was stirred vigorously incorporating the flower.

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We were provided with a hand spun, hand woven cotton scarf. I cut mine into 3 so that I would have a sample of each dye bath. We put the scarf into the indigo bath working it through vigorously; lifting it up and putting it back in the bath. Again this is very different.

Lucy works the indigo through her scarf.

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We removed our scarves. Normally they would be wrapped in plastic for 24 hrs. We were shown how to “snap” the fabric to allow it to oxidize. It wasn’t just removed and allowed to drip dry. This hardworking of the fabric gives a very even result. They were then rinsed four times. A few of the scarves from the indigo bath.

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Our next dye bath was to achieve two shades of brown. It’s a two-step process with the darker brown requiring an extra stage.

My thanks goes to Libby Hepburn for supplying the above images.

The best wood is from an old “Koa” tree. The young trees don’t give a dark enough colour. Take only a small section from a tree so that it isn’t ringbarked. Chop into pieces/chips. A darker shade requires a hot dye bath while soft shades can be obtained by a cold one.

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The wood chips were wrapped in a cloth and boiled in water. The bark bundles were then removed.

A small quantity of alum was added and stirred to dissolve before adding the fabric. It was surprising what a short time it was left in the dyebath.

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It was then rinsed multiple times.

To make a darker colour, a large handful of lime to a bucket of water was added and stirred. The fabric was added and the dissolved lime worked into fabric till a dark enough colour was obtained and then rinsed. Scarves hanging on the line show the different colours that were achieved.

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Here’s my “scarf”. These hand towels are going to be very useful and because they will be regularly used, I’ll be able to check on colourfastness.

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There were several villages waving mat mi in the Pakse/Savannaket regions. The following covers the process.

The yarn is wound around a frame so that it will be the correct width when it woven. Because a temple is used in weaving this can be an exact measurement. It also means that as the frame is a standard size, so too will be the weaving width.

We saw this motorised frame winder. I did not see anyone doing this by hand so whether everyone has access to this technology is unknown. The number of sections wound equates to the number of pattern rows in the weft ikat pattern. A pattern that is made up of ten pattern rows (often mirror repeated) will require 10 sections on this frame. The winding was very precise so that a full rotation was made before moving onto the next section.

The bundles are then tied. This skill is amazing as there is usually no reference to pattern.

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The “skeins” are removed from the frame.

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And dyed. The ties are then removed. Sometimes multiple dye baths are used.

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The “skeins” are put onto a swift wound onto bobbins. The bobbins are threaded onto a string to keep them in order.

The weft being used in weaving. More on this was written in the previous post.

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March 2017

April 5, 2017

In January and early February I went on a textile trip to Laos. This is the continuing report on that trip from last month. For this report, I continue to discuss the textiles that we came across based on the areas that we visited. Last month I began with Phonsavan.

Textiles in the Luang Prabang area.

Luang Prabang, the northern capital of Laos is a hub for textiles. Local and more distant ethnic groups sell their wares here in markets, villages and galleries/shops. In addition both traditional cloth both new and old as well as more contemporary designs can be found.

 

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The Hmong are known for their wonderful batik textiles in combination with applique and embroidery. We braved a local village where we saw women and young girls stitching. These are very high powered saleswomen.

Ock Pop Tok. They have both a gallery and a “Living Crafts Centre”. Both display contemporary textiles. The Living Craft Centre also has information on textile production including silk production and natural dyes. There are also weavers and batik dyers producing product for the gallery. The following images show yarn and batik drying, and some contemporary weaving.

In addition there are facilities for people to attend a workshop. I took advantage of weaving a supplementary weft recipe. I did not need to pick up the pattern nor thread the loom. Yes, all I had to do was decide what colour weft threads I wanted to use and weave for a couple of hours

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Weavers use the long box loom with a vertical storage unit. String loops are used to store the patterns. The stored pattern is transferred to behind the shafts and put back on a sword to select the pattern for the supplementary weft designs. Many string loops can be used to store very complicated patterns. My pattern only used 40 loops. Several hundred loops can be used in a complicated pattern.

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One doesn’t need language to communicate with weaving. That’s my completed weaving hot off the loom.

And a closer look.

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In addition to the pattern being used as a single supplementary weft it may also be used as a discontinuous supplementary weft for brocade.

On my last trip to Laos and Thailand in 2015 I fully documented how these looms worked.

There are several places that sell textiles. There are local markets of course but here are some shops/galleries/organisations that impressed me.

Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum have some great displays of various aspects of textile production and a shop selling textiles.

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Gallery Asiama is run by Linda Mackintosh and exhibits traditional cloth. As well as having many beautiful old textiles, there were a couple of “funery wraps”. These wraps are quite different to anything else I had seen from a weaving structure perspective either on this trip or the previous one. I was told that the technique is no longer being done and were produced in NE Laos and NW Vietnam.

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The technique is either two tie woven as “bricks” or three tie to achieve several colour areas. I saw both examples. The designs were large in scale. These were also found in another gallery exhibiting antique silverware and textiles where they were referred to as “banners”.

Ma Teˊ Sai is run by an Australian who supports weaving in the villages and sells in her gallery. While the techniques are traditional her designs and applications are for the western taste.

Caruso Lao is a gallery selling contemporary Lao textiles, wood carving and turning and silver smithing.

Textiles in Pakse and Boloven Plateau

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In a village just outside of Pakse we saw mat mi or weft ikat being woven. They used a box loom with only 2 shafts for plain weave fabric. The vertical storage is not used here.

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An ethnic village has been set up outside of Pakse that is aimed at the tourists wishing for an overview of traditional crafts from the Atapu region. Each area was represented by a house with representatives from that area often demonstrating or selling their crafts.

There were various warp faced textiles for sale which were woven on back strap looms. Some of these included that woven by the Katu. I loved the warp faced stripe combinations.

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A Katu village. The weavers here use beads on the weft. The yarn may be naturally dyed cotton however I also saw some commercially dyed in brighter colours. Sometimes synthetic yarn is also used.

The process for weaving with beads on the weft.

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As well as many older women, I was delighted to see this young girl weaving with beads. While her design is simpler, the basic technique can be seen. The back strap loom is set up with as a combination of warp stripes to create an overall pattern and to enhance the pattern of the beads. There is only one weft thread. This has many beads threaded on it. The shuttle is to the left.

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When the beads are required they are counted off and woven in the approximate position. The weft is beaten.

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Then the beads are placed in the correct position according to the pattern before being beaten into place.

Here’s a movie of the full process.

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The Dream Home supports women who were victims of human trafficking.

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Pakse Souveni had some exquisite mat mi.

Textiles along the Mekong River south of Pakse.

We saw no weaving being done. In fact there was very little weaving being worn. Life here revolves around farming and fishing. Of note we did see some fishing nets and baskets being made; all useful for this lifestyle.

Textiles in Savannaket area

Laha Nam Village produces mat mi in natural dyes. We participated in a dyeing workshop here.

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The ethnic minority group of the Phu Tai originally came from northern Vietnam. They brought indigo and cotton weaving to the area many generations ago. Around 1975 weaving and dyeing stopped because of competition from Thailand. In 1989 -90 when Laos reopened after the war, a government company was set up to encourage people to work again. The company is no longer working with the villagers and instead they have been encouraged to form cooperatives to weave and sell their produce.

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Cotton is raised on the banks of the Mekong and processed in the village.

There are several cooperatives in this village and over 200 weavers. The one we visited has 22 weavers. Details of the dyeing workshop will follow in another blog.

Here’s some examples weaving that was produced.

We visited another mat mi village in this area. They were producing yardage of a standard size: 75 x 160cm. This was using commercially spun cotton/rayon on a synthetic warp. It was also typified by two weft rows of mat mi alternating with 2 rows of solid colour. The designs were quite contemporary. We bought in what appeared to be the communal shop where the weavers bought the yarn and then brought back finished product for sale probably to an established buyer.

Textiles in Vientiane Area

Carol Cassidy is a western entrepreneur working with the Laotian weavers to created contemporary designs based on tradition. I have visited Carol whenever I have been in Vientiane. As well as being the driving force behind the gallery and studio, she is also engaged as a consultant in Cambodia and Myanmar. She is very much aware of what is happening in textiles in Vientiane, nationally and in SE Asia. She employs several weavers on the gallery site.

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Nikone has a gallery and usually an attached workshop. Unfortunately the weaving workshop was closed due to flooding. She has also developed a range of textiles for sale in Europe and Japan. It is exciting to see that her daughter is becoming involved in the business and catering towards the Lao wedding market. This fabric woven with an ondule or fan reed was one of the treasures I found in the gallery.

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Phaeng Mai- gallery and weaving studio. There are some delightful contemporary woven fabrics in the gallery. It was great to return to Phaeng Mai where I had studied last year.

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Magic Lao Carpets is the first and only carpet making business in Laos. The carpets are hand knotted and are stunning. As well as seeing the finished product, we were able to see all the stages that go into weaving them.

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Each carpet is worked on by a team of young girls. They work from printed graphs.

The silk is hand knotted around the warp. Note the line to check the pattern. Then they are beaten in.

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The pile is trimmed with shears regularly.

There are several other galleries. Mulberries, which I had visited in Phonsavan, also has a gallery in Vientiane.

Some interesting bits and pieces and overall impressions.

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This is how convenient a loom can be to set up. A weaver arrives with the warp all threaded through the heddles. All that needs to be done to weave is to put it on the loom, attach treadles and suspend shafts.

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Often the very long warps (up to 90 m) for the supplementary weft weaving is loosely coiled in a bag and suspended from the back of the loom. In this case the warp has been wound on a board. This will result in even tension across the full width of this loom. Note that this warp board is tied onto the loom and not permanently fixed.

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Bamboo stretchers are usually used. They are placed under the weaving, out of the way. You can tell on this weaving how frequently it has been moved. They are very useful when weaving weft ikat to keep the ikat consistently aligned.

Textile production form a part of daily life. Looms are found under the houses. Here chickens roost on the loom with the most complicated mat mi.

Many communities that are close to the Thai border have been impacted by the death of the Thai king. This is a year of morning. This has affected the sale of textiles for use in ceremonies including weddings. The village of Laha Nam has had a major downturn in indigo mat mi production. It has also resulted in an upturn in entertainment offered on the Laos side of the border with weekend tourism increasing.

It is sometimes difficult to identify which ethnic group is producing which cloth. At one gallery we were told that it comes from “the north”. This may be because a middle man/woman is involved in buying the cloth or that they are directing villages into producing cloth of a particular style because it is popular and readily saleable.

The issue of copyright is seen as a major one by many galleries. The best galleries aim at staying one step ahead of the competition. There are no laws that protect copyright.

How prevalent is handwoven fabric in today’s society? In general daily life women are the only ones who wear traditional dress in the form of the sinh or skirt. Along one road, I surveyed how many women were wearing the sinh as opposed to western dress. In this instance it was about even. It does however depend on where one is. Remote villages are more likely to retain traditional cloth and certain ethnic groups seem to value it more than others. Areas where there are government or public jobs often require women to wear the sinh as a uniform. School uniforms require the sinh to be worn though it is a commercially woven version.

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I thought this market we stopped at along the road between Savannaket and Vientiane provided an insight. On one side of the aisle was a shop selling western clothes while directly opposite was one selling the sinh.

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The one area that still has high regard for traditional textiles and dress is the wedding industry. This will be the only time that men wear traditional dress. The cloth here exhibits a high standard of exclusiveness and workmanship.

We heard that the generation of Laos and International women who had dedicated their lives to promoting weaving either traditional or contemporary were approaching retirement with a lack of young blood coming through. This must impact on the future of weaving and textile production in Laos.

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I saw these two panels in the Traditional Arts and Ethnology Museum. They reflect the diverse attitudes in ethnic minority groups as to the value of traditional textiles.

The government will play a vital role in the future of textiles. It was very evident that Laos is undergoing great development with financial partnerships with China, Thailand and Vietnam. This is creating new jobs which pay so much more than textile rates. The rate of growth was extremely evident in Vientiane with high rise buildings appearing and in the proliferation of petrol stations along major roads.

The issue of the survival of traditional crafts in contemporary society is not new. As Laos moves into this new era of economic growth and the impact of the popularity of western dress increases, I hope that the knowledge and skills of those working with textiles will continue to be appreciated and for them to have a place for their work.

 

Coming: I will document the stages of mat mi, the indigo dyeing workshop we participated in and eventually a report on the textile experience in Cambodia.