Friday, 4 February 2022

Siddi/Kawandi Quilting

I began a textile adventure at the start of this winter that I have contemplated for many a year - hand quilting.  For all the amazing fabrics I've been fortunate to have access to, it was ultimately a humble selection of Indian garment remnants that finally stirred me to put a hand needle into quilting action.  Sourced on a joyous late summer's day at the vibrant Sussex Prairie Gardens Bazaar Indian Market, I lovingly fingered my textile treasures for some weeks and pondered how I could work with them.  As autumn gave way to low light winter days, little could I imagine how my treasures would brighten my days and I continue to look at my modest hand quilt achievement in wonder.

Whenever I have thought of quilting, there has always been a strong urge to stay true to the roots of this much loved heritage craft.  Derived from the Latin word culcita meaning to bolster or cushion, the first known example of quilting was a garment depicted on an ivory carving from the ancient Egyptian First Dynasty.  Quilting became part of the needlework tradition from the 15th century for both clothing and housefhold use.  Originally quilted items were 'wholecloth' and 'patchwork' quilting started in the late 18th century and was in many respects, the first example of 'upcycling'.  It is this repurposing of fabric that would otherwise be relegated to waste that has always appealed to me and these were my modest Indian textile remnants that started my journey. 

It also felt important to work with my fabrics in an authentic way and after a little research I came upon the Siddi women of Western India.  Early African imigrants, one of the traditions they have retained in their culture is the creation of colourful quilts called 'Kawandi'.  Made from patches of well worn clothing and often backed onto old saris, their striking and creative quilts adorn any Siddi village and are routinely used.  Others before me have been equally drawn by their tradition and have initiated exhibitions and their own quilting journeys.  This short write up by Henry John Drewel gives a little insight into the cultural setting.

As the UK autumn days shortened, I dilegently researched how this hand quilting technique was worked.  How I envied those who had been able to travel to Siddi villages and sit in person to see the technique in action.  And so one one early winter's day, I laid a piece of hand blocked printed Indian cotton on a pair of my studio tables followed by a piece of beautiful wool wadding.  After folding the edge of the backing fabric around the wadding, I started to cut, position and hand stitch my first line of blocks of varying widths - the constitant height gave me a chance to get use to constructing and hand quilting at the same time.

I had learnt from studying many Siddi quilt photographs, that there were a number of traditions in adding particular shapes and one of these was an 'L' shape in quilt corners.  Concerned at the beginning about running out of fabrics, my colour choices for these were conservative and I wished later that I had acquired extra remmants earlier than I did.  I hand stitched throughout in a perle 12 cotton thread in a light beige colour - this is much finer than the white cotton thread traditionally used.  I kept my hand stitching to a size that I could comfortably work without hooping or putting in a frame, neither of which was an option.  

I also have to admit that unlike Siddi women who sit on the ground to work, I sat at a table.  While I'm still reasonably adept at sitting on a floor, I had a strong desire to keep my work as flat as possible to help me stitching straight lines - old habits die hard!  I also admit to using pins to hold blocks in place as I worked.  I did try to avoid using an iron to press under seams as much as possible and used a wallpaper edge roller most of the time which was great for cottons and silks, but pretty useless for manmade textiles.  Siddi quilters use none of these things, which is something I still marvel at.

My colour palette is best described as autumnal and I wanted to keep a vibrant feel.  Where I had worked with larger blocks that I wanted to break up, I placed small square pieces that the Siddi quilters call 'Tikeli'.  I also became increasingly confident in adding flashes of 'bright' in colours that I had disguarded in my intial fabric selections.  As I started each line of blocks, I did so without a plan and chose colours and sizes one or two blocks ahead at a time intuitively.  Sometimes a whole line of blocks happened comfortably in an hour and sometimes this line took a whole afternoon!

Beyond the first row of blocks, I avoided keeping blocks in straight lines as much as possible.  I became increasing aware, however, that each folded under horizontal block edge did need to be stitched. The stitch lines are worked in rounds and turning corners generally took the most thinking.  I learnt too that some types of remnants were much easier to work with than others and that I could be kindly to myself by folding under edges on the more stable fabrics and placing the less stable ones beneath.  While the wool wadding ultimately made the quilt beautifully soft and tactile, it had a life unlike any cotton wadding I had ever worked with!  Slowly my fingers adjusted and I became increasingly drawn to work on the quilt and felt excited by the prospect of the next stitching session.

By the time preparations for Christmas came knocking, placing and stitching a round of blocks had became decidely quicker.  I felt happy with my colour choices and much to my surprise, there was only one point in the whole quilt where I removed a block - after attempting to introduce a new fabric that somehow jarred with me.  While the whole process to that point had been relaxing and medative in a way I had rarely experienced with stitching before, I felt a sense of aprehension as I got closer to the quilt centre.  I started to measure where my stitch lines would end up, which was helpful in that it gave me confidence that my 1" spaced stitch lines would work.   It did, however, make me feel increasingly concerned about what I would do at the centre point and I found myself mulling this over way too often!

On a bleak Saturday after New Year, kindly students Marie and Alison came to look at my progress and listen to my ramblings about how my centre could be worked.  While I did make a plan as a result of their helpful comments, the reality was when I started stitching again I did something completely different!  And here is the ultimate joy of Siddi quilting - it happens and is enjoyed one block at a time.  How fitting it was that I should happen upton this technique in a further pandemic year when living in the day was way easier than any form of planning ahead.  And so in the first week in January 2022, my centre was completed and I left the final stitch to be taken quietly on a mellow day.

I am so grateful to all those who suported me in my hand quilting journey.  Of particular note, are my friends Chris and Marius, who took interest in my ideas and aspirations from the very beginning.  As much as I loved my hand quilting experience beyond words, I would have made it a whole lot easier had I done what I now recommend to others who would like to learn this technique - make a sampler!  With Indian fabric remnants now in abundance, I spent a delightful Saturday quietly hand stitching this example for students.  How pleasurable and satisfying it was to stitch on a smaller scale and to try out a new colour scheme.  Plus I also included the traditional Siddi 'Phulas' at the corners - folded pieces of fabric that must be added for a quilt not to be considered naked!  Having realised that I really liked them, I went back and added these onto my main quilt.

One of the biggest suprises of my hand quilting adventure is the number of people that it has interested.  A modest creation by modern quilting standards, there is clearly something about slow stitching with fabric remnants that resonates with others as it has with me.  The many hours I sat in this seat in my studio will always remain with me and I am delighted to be inspiring others to work this technique in my studio workshops

I am also thrilled to be running a Siddi sampler workshop at Glastonbury Abbey House this summer in their beautiful drawing room overlooking the fabulous Abbey grounds.  A peaceful venue used for many years as a meditative retreat feels a perfect place to spend a day hand quilting.  What adventures my humble Indian textile remnants have led to, and I have a strong sense that there are many more yet to come.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

Hunkering Down for Winter

Hunkering down to the season of short light days in a Northern Hemisphere winter rarely comes easily to me.  Whilst a strangely mild winter so far on the Somerset Levels, it has been as tempting as ever to hanker after lighter seasons.  Thankfully I am learning that with quiet acceptance, resistance gives way to enjoying whatever wonders the season has to offer - sunsets that wash the Somerset Levels sky with breathtaking colours being one case in point.

A sweeping moor with scrawly showers just after a December dawn was equally dramatic and the pot of gold landscape at the end of the rainbow gave me glorious goosebumps.  How fortunate I have such panoramic landscapes so close to home how I wish that my photographs could do them more justice.

What I love most about winter light, is that it has a quality and softness that portrays familiar landscapes in new ways.  My blue sky Boxing Day walk this year on Minehead Beach was dream like and the sun setting away from the skyline created stunning shadows and reflections that I was convinced I had never seen before.

A fair weather walker by my own admission, hunkering down very often keeps me inside.  With more time on my hands than any winter before, I have done my utmost to embrace slow creative working and to breathe life into seeds of ideas sown in more frenetic times.  After long aspiring to hand quilt, it was a modest selection of Indian remnant fabrics purchased in the summer months that finally spurred me into action.  The technique of 'Siddi' quilting then somehow found me and as one used rarely in England, I squirreled away nuggets of information until I had sufficient knowledge to make a start.  It felt important to me to only use offcuts of fabrics, as this is of course the roots of all quilting.  Also to work without a design plan; a factor which makes this quilting style particularly enjoyable for me.  I have already found much pleasure in starting to share this technique with others and I look forward to more of this in my Spring Farm studio in the weeks ahead.

Working with beautiful wool continues as ever and a return for me this winter to spinning my own yarn.  Whilst my skills are still very basic, I have been enjoying helping my cousin to learn to spin and this has given me some impetus to improve my own skills!  Spinning small packs of blended fibres purchased long ago, slowly and surely my consistancy is improving.  Plying my singles bobbins against a solid colour has produced some most pleasing effects and I already have ideas of how I and others can use my arty creations in a fun way.

Creative experimentation has brought me immense pleasure again this winter and an escape from the highs and lows of the wider world.  My December daliances ended in creating my first candle since school days and I felt very satisfied with my eco creation in coconut, rapeseed and beeswax.  After embellishing with a simple holder made with my fused silk paper, I saved to light on the last evening of 2021 and my senses were treated to the stimulating aromas of lemon, anise, fir needle and cinnamon - another vital ingredient for my winter hunkering down.  Long may we all continue to find ways to get through the darker days of our lives and I wish that 2022 brings brightness, beauty and creativity in abundance for us all.

Sunday, 28 November 2021

Silk Fusion & Paper Making

Festive decoration making very often leads me to explore new textile possibilities.  This years inspiration came from a most enjoyable autumn visit to Whitchurch Silk Mill, where the delights of silk 'fusion' were brought back onto my radar.   Also called silk 'paper' making, while this lustrious and tactile medium is very much made in the fashion of paper, the feel is by far more of a textile.  A process that I had previously only briefly dabbled with, making in earnest this month has been a very creative and fun experience, with the added bonus of mega colour fixes! 

Tussah and Mulberry silk tops are both suitable for silk fusion and are available from specialist sellers in an array of colours.  I spent some very enjoyable hours online shopping for a vibrant selection that I knew would be equally joyful in my fingers.  Mulberry fibres are generally considered the better quality of the two and as the fibres that are finer and longer than Tussah they generally make a thinner fusion.  Tussah tends to produce a more sturdy product and is therefore more suitable for projects that require some robustness.

The creation process starts with laying a piece of plastic on a working table and a piece of netting on top of this - I used floor underlay as my base which had the added advantage of a little padding.  Then the silk fibres are layed down onto the net so that they overlap.  Fibres can be laid in a structured fashion as in felting with an even layer in one direction and then at right angles to the first layer.  I found that this made for a paper that was certainly sturdy, however, a bit too flat for my liking.  Aiming for something a bit more vibrant, I found putting down a single layer that overlapped at all sorts of angles worked really well - as long as I ensured that there were no sparsely laid patches. 

The next step is most important and not to be scrimped on - wetting out the silk.  It is vital that this is done thoroughly to enable the fabric medium to penatrate through all the fibres and thus hold it together.  A dot of washing up liquid in the water helped with this.  Another layer of net was added on top before wetting out to hold the silk fibres in place.

The silk sandwich then needs to be turned over and the wetting process repeated on the other side.  I made a point of tucking in stray fibres at this point to get the maximum amount of serviable fabric for the first project I had in mind.  The edges can be left wispy, however, for a more organic piece.

Then to add the textile medium, of which there are various options depending on what the fused silk is to be used for - there's also the option of watering the medium down.   Again, it's important to make sure the medium penetrates all the layers for the best finish.  By the time I got to this stage I usually had a complete white-out which thankfully disappeared as it dried.

The drying proved to be the part that took the most experimentation - November rarely has good outside drying days in the UK!  Hairdryers spoiled spoiled the finish and drying on plastic was a complete no no.  I found that what gave the best result was draining excess liquid on a on old picture frame with a piece of net stapled across.  I then laid the damp silk on netting and then on an old towel on a warm surface until it was completely dry.

It's best to wait until the fused silk is completely dry, at which point the net easily peels away from the back - I did spoil a few pieces with my impatience!  The fusion at this point can look quite textured - depending on how flat it was dried.  

There is also a final step of sealing the textile medium with a warm iron.  While this is not vital for all decorative projects, it gives a smooth finish with a sheen that was perfect for my first projects.

And so after many hours of damp hands and dripping fibres, I started creating with my treasured pile of silk fusions.  I backed pieces with silk organza and free machine stitched with metalic thread before cutting into strips - these hard won creations may well be found handing in my studio way beyond the festive season.  Plus I reckon that despite the winter drying challenges, I will be silk fusing aplenty over the months ahead and I will be offering this this as a subject specific workshop at my Spring Farm studio in January.

Monday, 13 September 2021

Natural Textile Stitch Projects

It has been just fabulous to invite students back to my studio this summer and spend happy hours stitching and creating.  And after many months of creating online stitch projects, how I have relished getting back to making projects for face to face workshops.  Continuing with my passion for creating with natural textiles, I have treated my fingers to working with heaps of wool, silk and cork this summer and here is a selection of my workshop project creations.

My first project sat on my UFO table for many weeks and completion day in early summer was a very happy one.  This 'bannock' bag project was suggested by student Meg last summer - its name is derived from bread that Scottish fur traders cooked on a round griddle stone.  A wool felt plaid seemed a very appropriate fabric choice and a number of my students have since made with a other beautiful wool plaids.

Then came a project requested by student Kathy, which immediately called to be made in beautiful sari silk fabric that I purchased from the Silk Route a few years ago.  I opted to create a generous size purse to make easier for students working a metal bag frame the first time - once the technique is mastered the purse can easily be worked on a smaller scale.

Next up came this silk and cork 'nature bowl', created to induge my love of free machine stitch 'doodling' and to make a project that others can develop free machine stitching in a relaxed way.  Free machine stitching small pentagons easily allowss for an extra few and a choice for the final constructon.  Stablising with Decovil and adding a cork exterior makes it a stable construction and very tactile to work with.

This mosaic mirror project was an extension of a technique that I taught in my online lockdown sessions.  All that rquired is strips of torn fabric, cord or yarn, a sewing machine that does zigzag and with a little time and careful cutting, stunning fabric emerges.  While I used as tiles for a mirror on this occasion, mosaic fabric created by this technique can be applied to all kinds of projects.

Having got through 3 lockdowns without making a single bag project, I felt quite entitled to indulge myself with bags in abundance this summer!  Inspired by student Jane when she showed me a bag she had received as a gift - the tactile combination of cork and wool was simply too difficult to resist.  A piece of stunning Howgill cloth by Ali Sharman further added to the pleasure of creating.  Many of my projects require minimal materials and it's a great chance to indulge beautiful textiles.

As was also the case with this lampshade project made in silk voil - perfect for giving a glow to darker days this autumn.  With a little free stitching and simple bead embelishment, this project made around a pair of lampshade rings is also good value and eco.  Better still, it is easily completed in a day.

I have long wanted to own a train case - so named when ladies in the mid 20th century used for holding their toiletries to freshen up on train journeys.  I thought some beautiful wool fabric by Somerset's long standing weaver Fox Flannel was very fitting for this design and with a practical wipeable lining, it has been a very popular workshop make this summer.

It's great to still creat simple stitch projects and this neck pillow in stunning woven Welsh wool, is easily made in half a day.  Combining practical and beautiful means that we always have stunning things around us and even better, we can easily make for others so they can have too.

Last but by no means least is a Japanese Knot bag which resulted from lace knitting this summer and wanting to take out and about with me. I created mine in stunning recycled Kimono wool fabric - it is a delight to work with and I love that it was once worn in another culture and era.  Such a simple, yet clever design where the size can be scaled up or down to suit, I know that it will be a very popular make over the coming months.

And so as we enjoy the last of the summer sunshine, I give thanks for my happy weeks of stitching.  How blessed I am to have my peaceful studio to share with others and I am now looking forward to continuing workshops this autumn.  Please do read further about what I offer at Spring Farm, Moorlinch and get in touch should you like to come and see first hand. 

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Quick Stitch - Yorkshire Buttons

One of my joys last winter was taking part in excellent online learning events by the UK Braid Society.  My first event by published lacemaker Gillian Dye, was on a technique that surprisingly grabbed my attention - Yorkshire Button making.  Less known than passementerie buttons such as the Dorset button, the Yorkshire button has a pleasing rounded organic shape which I recall seeing many a time on historical garments.  As my fingers started to learn the technique on a wintery afternoon, little did I realise how much pleasure weaving would give me and others.

The 21st century mindset is for buttons that are generally flat, and sadly all to often mass produced in plastic.  How often in my stitch work I have come to the end of a project only to struggle with finding a pleasing button.  While there are now many other options for making closures, buttons provide a charming decorative edge which is hard to beat and this is actually where their origins lie.  Cultures around the world developed their own traditions for button making, which in the first instance were purely for those who could afford to decorate garments.  Often soft stuffed like these French antique crocheted buttons, many designs resulted in an uneven shape that is perhaps less appealing to the modern eye.  The Heritage Crafts website gives an excellent account of this history of the creation of these passementerie buttons in England.

The beauty of this Yorkshire button is that unlike many passementerie buttons, the technique is reasonably simple and easy to learn.  All that is required is a simple cardboard template, a smooth yarn or thread and a tapestry needle.  A template of around 4cm is an excellent starting point and should be marked with accurate clock face points that are evenly snipped into by around 3mm.

For this working example I chose a remnant of variagated sock yarn and started with a length approximately one and a half lengths of my arm.  I found it is best to avoid very long working lengths which ususally resulted in thread tangles.  Leaving a tail of at least 20cm, the button is started by bringing up through the central point on the card

Then starts weaving the framework around the card, beginning by pulling the thread into the snip at the 1 oclock position and around the back of the card and up into the 2 o'clock position.

The working thread is then taken diagonally over the template and down into the 7 o'clock snip, round the back and up in the 8 o'clock snip.

And so this pattern of weaving continues, ove to the 2 o'clock position and round the snip and up through the 3 o'clock snip.

The framework 'warp' is continued in this way, going diagonally across the top of the card and down and round the back of the card by one snip and up to the right.  This is of course perfect for right handed workers and the direction can easily be reversed for those who are dominant with their left hand.

When the working thread comes round again to the 12 oclock position, it may look as though something has gone wrong as the 6 o'clock position is empty - this is however as it needs to be.

The warp weaving then continues around the template a second time, finishing with working thread coming up through the 6 o'clock snip.

At this point the back of the template should look like this.  It is important that the wraps around the back are reasonably tight and even, as this will ensure more even weaving and gathering at the end.

Then the needle comes into play.  A tapestry needle is a good option and the slightly rounded point will avoid splitting the yarn - choose a size that is comfortable to work in your hand and has an eye which is easy to thread with your working yarn.  The first weave is behind the 2 threads that sit in the 12 o'clock snip - this will be the one and only time that you weave behind the threads in a single snip.

The next weave is back under the 12 o'clock threads and also under the 11 o'clock threads.  For those who are left handed you can work in the opposite direction and move to the right.

The weaving continues in this way going back under the warp threads immediately to the left of the working thread and ALSO under the next pair of warp threads to the immediete left.

The weaving progresses quickly with a sock weight yarn and it is easy to see and correct any misweavings.

The weaving is continued and when you run out of thread, simply start a new yarn and weave in the tail of the old yard again a spoke for a couple of rounds.  The weaving should then continue right to the edge of the card until it is impossible to fit any more weaving with the working thread.

The weaving can now be removed from the template by turning over and pulling off the securing loops around the snips with the point of your needle.

Then take the working thread and pass the needle through each of the 12 loops in turn and once again through the first loop.

The working thread now becomes a drawstring and after pulling a little the emerging shape is stuffed - I used a firm wool for mine.

I found it best to leave the tail from the start of the button pulled out of the gathered button and I used this to tie the working thread tighly against.

And one finished woolly button - I really liked the soft fuzziness and the way the variaged sock yarn colours fell.

The thread possibilites for making Yorkshire buttons are many, with the general rule that the working yarn should be smooth.  I also enjoying using variagated perle thread in different weights and my students that I shared this technique with did too - particularly for Yorkshire button earrings!  We also experimented with weaving to a size that would cover an old and uninteresting button, which satisfied the modern desire for flat buttons.

One of my students Meg, so enjoyed the weaving and covering old buttons that she continued until she had sufficient buttons to create this marvellous picture - just perfect for a technique that gave so many of us joy and that we loved doing.  A craft that is so portable and is sure to attract attention,  I would be delighted hear from anyone who is equally taken to create.