Get some colour in your life

The International Symposium and Exhibition on Natural Dyes, or ISEND 2011 has recently been held in France. I was mosey-ing past India Flint’s blog this morning and folowed her link to the ISEND site where I found a whole lot of short videos about the event.

I haven’t looked at all the videos and they come in a range of languages, so not all may be comprehensible unless your schoolgirl French is a bit better than mine. However I would strongly suggest that you read India’s post about the conference first as she makes some very valid points about people being far less aware than they should be about wild harvesting of plants and animals used for dyeing. Given some of the comments I heard in the videos I watched she is absolutely spot-on. Worth a read and a look.


This is a dyebath I made earlier this year with Eucalyptus cinerea leaves (Argyle Apple), collected from branches blown down from trees in a nearby park after a storm.

Inspiration and response

A woodblock printing workshop with Mr Tatsuya Ito at Megalo print studio + gallery in March encouraged me to re-look at one of the most famous woodblock series printed in Japan, the One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. The Brooklyn Museum has a full set of the prints accessible on their website. What is even better is that you can zoom in and look at the details of each print. I became intrigued with the fireworks depicted in the top right hand corner of this print.


Utagawa Hiroshige (Ando) (Japanese, 1797-1858). Fireworks at Ryogoku (Ryogoku Hanabi), No. 98 from One Hundred Famous Views of Edo, 8th month of 1858. Woodblock print, Sheet: 14 1/4 x 9 1/4 in. (36.2 x 23.5 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Gift of Anna Ferris, 30.1478.98

My first response was a pencil version


and today I made a stitched version


A stitch in the dark

One of my favourite recent stitch in the dark pieces uses a stitch called Romanian Couching. I saw a piece worked in this stitch in a very inspirational book called Drawn to Stitch by Gwen Hedley. Hedley is looking at the link between drawing and stitching and how the one can be translated into the other.What I like about her process is exactly the ‘rough’ and irregular nature of the pieces she produces and the way she achieves this.

I have already used Romanian couching for a recent piece of work. Here is a detail of the stitching …which while varied and rhythmical is perhaps not what I would call really irregular.


Now here is the ‘stitch in dark’ version… quite a different beast altogether.


I really like how the stitches move and while they have, for the most part, the same structure, I think they are far more ‘lively’ than my other piece.

Now the trick remains to get this type of life into a full blown piece and not simply a sample on a shirt pocket.

Irregular Exercises

Earlier this year I took a class with Ruth Hadlow, an artist now working across many media, but someone whose practice is based in textiles. One of the themes we discussed in that class was strengthening our ‘artistic muscles’ by regular practice. It was acknowledged that textile practice can be extremely time consuming, often due to the labour intensive nature of the work. In exploring some other options Ruth showed us some examples of artists who have worked in what can be described as ‘diaristic’ terms. Some of the points I got from this discussion are as follows:

  • Rather than overburdening one or two pieces of art with all your ideas make lots of work.
  • An adjunct to creative practices that are detailed and time consuming – make a work in a day – a ‘light weight’ practice.
  • A diaristic practice doesn’t have to be your main work but it keeps the creative line going through the rest of what you do.

I decided that one practice that I could instigate was blind stitching – or what I’ve called ‘a stitch in the dark’. In my previous post I explained the origin of this concept. Here is how I do it:

Take a piece of cloth. Thread a needle and sew without looking at the cloth. You can stitch in the dark, close your eyes, look away. Do not look at the work until the thread has run out.

I’ve been using cuffs, collars and pockets from clothing I’ve dismantled for other work and random embroidery or other threads. While I have lots of these pieces around I’ve realised that I’m not always in a position to have my stitching to hand. For those situations I’ve developed an alternative:

Take a piece of paper and pen, pencil whatever. Make marks on the paper. You can make your marks in the dark, close your eyes, look away. Do not look at the work until you have ‘finished’. Or perhaps I should say once you look at the work do not start working on it again.

From time to time on this blog you will see examples from this series. Here’s one I did earlier.


A stitch in the dark

In my work I am currently exploring the concept of irregularity, or at least loosening up my work. I remembered an exercise that I undertook in a workshop at Textile Fibre Forum in 2004. The work in the previous post was a recent example of that process.


This is the work that was jointly made by the class and presented by the class to our tutor.

Blind Stitching

This project was inspired by an 80 year old blind quilter. Although she
was blind she still led her Quilt Group, taught others to quilt and quilted
herself. ‘The physical act of stitching was encoded in her being after a
lifetime of quilting. The social interaction of women quilting together
was an integral part of her life.

In this project each participant was blindfolded and sewed eight lines of
stitches in response to eight different words: Gesture, Shape, Interval,
Texture, Mass, Organic, Intuition and Dialogue. These were sewn as if
they were lines of writing on a page and as stitching progressed the
personal marks of each individual emerged. When viewed as a whole the
marks read as a map of minds and hands finding their way.

Tutor: Dorothy Caldwell

Students: Leonie Andrews, Maz Beeston, Mary Crehan, June Fiford, Helen Grey,
Suzanne Gummow, Marita Hanigan, Alison Horridge, Jan Irvine-Nealie, Susan Jardin,
Adrienne Johns, Camille Lord, Kylie Rose McLean, Susan O’Connor, Sandy Soul, Carolyn Sullivan,
Belinda Von Mengersen, Fiona Wright