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Welcome to Musings – The Loom Room Blog

8 November, 2015

Textile Society Conference – Textiles and Architecture

It’s been a while since I posted, but life has been busy.  More on that in a blog later this month.  However…..

The Textile Society 33rd Annual Conference was held at the newly extended Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester this weekend.  The topic was Textiles and Architecture and the speakers included Prof Alice Kettle, Dr Lynn Hulse, Jane Scott, Dr Lindsey Waterton-Taylor, Sally Freshwater and Prof Lesley Millar MBE.  It was a full day of inspiration, diverse approaches, technical and innovative explorations.  We were also able to take advantage of a current exhibition at the Gallery called Art_Textiles which has its own publication available from the Gallery.

Prof Alice Kettle started the day’s presentations with quotations from Gaston Bachelard’s Poetics of Space and references to Anni Albers – both guaranteed to grab my attention and get the thinking juices going!!  Taken from The Pliable Plane from 1959, and posing the juxtaposition of architecture (grounded/fixed/permanent) and textiles being not only the antithesis but also complimentary and inter-related, Alice went on to give her definitions of certain terms – walls, curtain walls, etc and to engage us with different approaches in architectural and textiles, including some of my favourite practitioners such as Ann Hamilton, Christo, and Janet Echelman as well as her own work in public buildings and site-specific commissions.

Dr Lynn Hulse presented a very different research project on the embroidered furnishings of the Lethbridge Sisters (1899-1922).  This was a fascinating glimpse into the lives and practice of Lady Julia Carew and Lady Jane Cory who produced some amazing and large-scale embroidered panels and countless interior furnishings for the homes in which they lived. These were much more than home furnishings and were rightly regarded as fine art by the society of the day.  Lynn will be publishing a book on the sisters in early 2016.

Jane Scott, a lecturer in textiles in the University of Leeds, is working with humidity and textile properties to create knitted fabrics that have a physical reaction to their environment, moving in animation when exposed to high humidity and moisture and gradually returning to primary states when the humidity or moisture level drops and the fabrics dry out.  It was totally engaging to watch video of the actions of the fabric.  We are so used to external forces working on fabric, such as drapery, movement of the body, wind, but there was something eerily mesmerising to watch the contortions of the fabric under puffs of water spray, reminding me powerfully of the compelling yet repulsive attraction of watching the squirming of a slug after being sprinkled with salt.  We are used to seeing electronics working within textiles (e-textiles) now, but Jane also incorporated wood veneer within her textiles and used knit together with the wood veneer as a responsive architecture to create dimensional pieces which move according to the climate in which they find themselves.

Dr Lindsey Waterton-Taylor is a weaver after my own heart!  Dealing with multi-layered woven fabric, Lindsey gave detailed cross-section diagrams to a multi-discliplinary audience to express the intricacies of weaving 6-layered fabrics for specific technical requirements in an engineering environment using inelastic yarns and fibres.  As a weaver who uses multiple layers and tubes within tubes myself, this was wonderful brain food!  Our respective end-uses are poles apart but the mental and technical challenges are fairly similar.  Lindsey incorporates the performance characteristics from the woven technical textiles within multilayer multilevel 3D forms into modular forms – think of it as textile ‘vertebra’.  Her work is exciting and has medical as well as engineering applications.  This is weaving as architecture in ways in addition to buildings!

Sally Freshwater is well known for her architectural and site-specific artworks involving the suggestions of sails and other flexible fabrics in sculptural installations.  Looking at translucency and opacity, and looking at various artists who have created large-scale site-specific artwork her talk was more a ‘thinking out loud’ musing of ideas that inspire and promote thinking through her practice.

The final presentation by Prof Lesley Millar was a typically meaty presentation of text, textiles, interior spaces, literary references, and philosophical thinking discussing ‘how the use of textile structures in architecture influence our perception and interpretation, and ultimately our memory, of things experienced’ (taken from the conference abstract).  As ever, it was so jam-packed full of content that I wished for a transcript that I could study with time to absorb all the connections she made.  Using images sourced from exhibitions Lesley has curated in the past, all of which have had a huge impact on how we, in the UK, view and understand textiles as art, including from Textural Space, and Lost in Lace, and also the recent exhibition in Salts Mill, Cloth and Memory, we were taken on a narrative of threads which joined, defined, revealed and concealed interpretations and left us with plenty to think about.

In addition to all this mental stimulation, we were also able to take time over lunch to visit the Art_Textile exhibition.  One of the highlights for me was my first real experience of an Abakan, a large tapestry piece by Magdalena Abakanowicz.  Interestingly, I was also drawn to the shadows created underneath the piece by the positioning of the lighting on both sides of the work.  I was also really pulled in by Anne Wilson‘s delicate stitching of holes on old damask table linens.  They had an ephemeral appeal to me, the tiny stitches of colour like finely ground powder grains, piled on top of each other to give a feeling of brightly coloured growths of decay, ‘blossoming’ on the old fabrics.

At the end of the day, I was left sitting on a crowded train with my brain in overdrive and a contented smile on my face!  Stimulation for mind and soul.  Many congratulations to Sonja Andrew, Dr Brenda King and all those involved in co-ordinating and organising such a stimulating day!

Next year’s conference will be on Saturday 5th November 2016 at the Wellcome Trust, London and is entitled Textile Futures: Technology Materials and Preservation.  It will examine recent advances in textile design, materials and technology, particularly emerging ideas and appraoches that may change the way we design, make, use and preserve textiles in the future.  I urge you to register your interest early : conferences@textilesociety.org.uk

18 November, 2012


This week, I had the opportunity to attend a seminar day, Lace: Heritage and Contemporary Textile Practice, at Nottingham Trent University based around lace and organised by Amanda Briggs-Goode. Nottingham has a long association with lace, being one of the most important centres for the lace industry in the past, and there are still beautiful buildings and archives of lace in the area.

The symposium was part of a festival of Lace in Nottingham running from September to February called Lace: Here: Now and speakers ranged from technical lace embroidery for the engineering sector to contemporary makers and artists. One of the speakers was Prof Lesley Millar, who I have written about before in respect of the amazing exhibitions she has curated, both for lace and for textiles in general over the past fifteen to twenty years. Despite suffering from a debilitating lurgy, Prof Millar gave an insightful and inspirational talk as the concluding presenter.

Of greatest interest to me was Prof Julian Ellis, OBE from Ellis Developments, a company which work with machine embroidery to create textile engineering for companies such as British Aerospace, and Ford. He also brought some medical embroideries covering topics as replacement ligaments, stents and artificial veins.

During the lunch break, delegates were able to visit the lace archive held at the NTU, as well as Journeys in Lace, Part Two, a current exhibition of Nottingham Trent University lecturers and students around lace which incorporated perspex cases of archive lace which cast beautiful shadows on the base of the gallery walls. The academic and technical staff involved were from several departments – Textile Design, Fashion Design and Decorative Arts and the approaches were varied. I was impressed with both the work and the presentation, with shadows being a strong element of a number of pieces. I particularly enjoyed Tessa Acti’s Lace Bird, comprising 3 suspended bodices from embroidery thread on nylon mesh fabric using digital embroidery; Ottis Sturmey’s Twisthands’ Dissolution, which felt a little close to home with its red lace effect cloth spilling to the floor from a hole in a 1st world war soldier’s helmet; and Chloe Blount’s A story of Nottingham Lace – a hand-drawn written piece in the form of lace. The latter was provided with a magnifying glass so that the work could be seen in detail. From the students’ work, I particularly enjoyed Claire Bradshaw (Decorative Arts, 2nd year) digitally printed, laser etched, polyester piece with faces punctured by holes which read as confusion from the printed side, but read as a lace piece in the shadow.

After the day’s proceedings, we attended the opening of Lace Works, a temporary exhibition at Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery, where work around the theme of lace was presented by Teresa Whitfield (hand-drawn lace in pen and ink), Timorous Beasties, Lucy Brown, Cal Lane, Joy Buttress, and Nicola Donovan.  Teresa Whitfield’s work is exquisitely drawn pen and ink recreations of archival lace, both hand made and industrial.  Timorous Beasties have been working with Scottish lace manufacturers Morton Young and Borland to produce a series of net curtains as you’ve never imagined them before!  The long length hung dominated the stairwell of the Museum with a blurred but evocative shadow on the wall.  Lucy Brown uses second hand, found and vintage clothing in her tapestry-style weavings called Offerings.  Cal Lane’s work is lace in heavy metal form, using welding equipment to create lace-like effects in spades, and industrial metalwork.  Joy Buttress is engaged with intricate detailing and crusted forms inside garments like nightwear, underwear, petticoats, with the work suspended high above the floor, lit by bare bulbs from within, making the viewer feel as if they are voyeuristically invading a secret world as they peer upwards into the secret recesses of such private garments.  Nicola Donovan’s work was the one that appealed to me the most as she has created mould growths from tiny lace elements, showing them sprouting from corners of the room, spreading slowly, invisibly, across the edge of a mantelpiece.  Easy to overlook, but intricate in their detailing, these exquisite ‘fungi’ told a story of decadent decay.

Unfortunately, not expecting photographs to be allowed, I didn’t have my camera, and there is no catalogue to accompany Lace Works, so I urge you to take a trip to Nottingham before December 14th if you want to take in both the Bonnington Gallery where Journeys in Lace, Part Two is being shown, and the Musuem show.  Lace Works continues until February 2013 if you can make it in the New Year.


5 February, 2012

Lost in Lace Conference

An eagerly awaited conference, allied to the Lost in Lace exhibition, this was not a disappointment.  A wide cross-section of people attended the conference, hosted by Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery with partners, the Crafts Council to hear quality speakers.

The key-note speaker was Gijs Bakker, designer and co-founder of Droog Design, the famous Dutch design company who have done so much to change our perception of craft in design.  His presentation, based round lace, as were all the presentations, was informative but above all humourous, dry and beautifully ironic.  Taken from the notes that were given to all delegates, Gijs’ talk was entitled, Without Concept, No Craft.  ‘Form-giving’ is the Dutch word for design. He talked about craft being a tool for communicating conceptual interests, and that without concept, craft is merely a mastered sill, for skill’s sake.  His talk was stimulating, amusing and thought-provoking, drawing on his technique of jewellery making (which he loves and hates in equal measure, I think), but encompassing many of Droog’s innovative ideas and methods.  He mentioned “for me, designing is a way of thinking, a way of observing – intuitively understanding by continually questioning the subject and avoiding preconceptions.”

He was followed by CJ Lim, the founder of Studio 8 Architects, a practice in urban planning, architecture and landscape.  His presentation was a new experience for me, with his designs focussing on “multi-disciplinary innovative interpretations of cultural, social and environmental sustainability programmes.”  He uses, among other things, paper, carbon and glue to build prototype models in 2 1/2 dimensions of his futuristic, fantastical and eco-sustainable environments.  I am definitely going to buy his book “Short Stories: London in two-and-a-half dimensions”.  For me, this talk was of particular interest as I am investigating further the world of fractals and fractal geometry, although CJ freely admits that there is no science behind his use of the term 2 1/2 dimensions.  His is purely an artistic terminology where the work is not confined to the flat plane of 2 dimensions but is not a 3D model either.

The panel discussion with the two speakers was ably MCed by Grant Gibson, who many people know for his editorship of Crafts magazine, and also for his writing in various high profile publications both in the UK and beyond,and he oversaw the running of the day.

During the lunch break, and amidst the networking that was going on, delegates had the opportunity to be taken round the Lost in Lace exhibition by Prof Lesley Millar, the curator.  This was a chance to hear the rationale behind many of the works (although this can also be found in the catalogue) but was enhanced by Prof Millar’s passion and enthusiasm for the works.  It is the second time I have visited the exhibition and I was just as entranced the second time.

After lunch, Michael Brennand-Wood gave the story behind his piece in the exhibition, as well as showing us his close connection to lace throughout his long career.  I first came into contact with his work back in the 1980s and was intrigued by it then, something which has continued to this day.  His talk was called Pretty Deadly which reflected the use of military motifs integrated within lace-like and Islamic patterning.

Then came Kathleen Rogers, who explained the development of her piece in the exhibition which is a video installation of black Chantilly lace seen through a scanning electron microscope.  It is accompanied by the sound of silk worms chomping their way through mulberry leaves heard through headphones, and leaves you wondering if you are listening to a tropical storm in a rain forest or the silk worms.

Finally, the team of Kira O’Reilly (artist) and Janet Smith (biochemist) talked about their joint work on working with living cellular materials in the laboratory.  In the past, Kira has created artwork based on creating a living lace from skin cells, and together with Janet Smith , they have been working to culture cells onto spider silk.  This talk was very interesting, especially in relation to the ethical issues raised, and how the development of the work they are doing ‘sits within larger lace, craft and textile practices.’  This is indeed thought-provoking.

A very stimulating day, which left delegates with plenty to think about!  Also it was a very successful day in terms of attendance, even with problems on the mainline from London!  Hopefully the Crafts Council will be encouraged to put on more events like this outside of London….

3 February, 2012

Lost in Translation

One of the things about a university education which pushes you out of your comfort zone is how it opens your mind and your understanding.

At the Lost in Lace conference (feature post to follow) today (3rd Feb 2011) at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, I met up again with Professor Lesley Millar, the curator, who was also previously a speaker at a conference in Wales in 2010.  Prof Millar is a dynamic lady who is passionate about promoting contemporary textiles in the UK, and has spent the past 16 years tirelessly and effectively pursuing her goal through curating some wonderful exhibitions which have broadened countless people’s perception, introducing people to textiles in a new way.  She is truly an inspirational figure who I respect and admire immensely, and I was dismayed and embarassed when she expressed strong feelings today about a blog I posted after the Welsh Warp + Weft conference.

When I got home, I revisited the relevant blog post (Warp + Weft Symposium, 14th September 2010).  The passage of 1 1/2 years can change levels of understanding, and through studying for an MA, I have had to become familiar with a more reflective, more academic way of thinking, and a new vocabulary to boot!  So I am now more conversant with Prof Millar’s world and, I am sure, if I heard the same presentation today, I would understand it in a very different way.  I also have no doubt that in another two years’ time, after two more years of rigorous thinking, reflection, research and practise, I will appreciate it in a deeper way.

I’m sorry that Prof Millar was upset by my blog.  If it was my comment about her presentation style that was at issue, then I can only say that that was my observation on the day and it is only my opinion.  I am sure there are people who would completely disagree with me.

However, if it was my comment that at times her talk completely lost me, at that stage in my life I didn’t have the necessary knowledge, understanding and experience to understand her presentation at the level she was presenting it, which more academic people would have understood ((and probably did).

On a related theme, one of the major lessons learnt, for me, during this first year of study on a multi-disciplinary course where I am one of two textile practitioners amongst ceramicists, fine artists and sculptors, is how different audiences require different approaches.  The level of tacit textiles knowledge, tactile knowledge and subconscious awareness of textiles in a textile-savvy audience is truly amazing.  I took this knowledge to be universal – in fact, I hadn’t even thought about it until I realised half way through my first presentation to my fellow students and professors that my audience wasn’t on the same page.  Right there and then, I had to rethink the whole of my practice from a different perspective!  However, I have also learnt that my university presentations would not have the same relevance outside of a university setting.

This issue from my perspective, and as a speaker myself, does stress and re-inforce to me the importance of knowing my audience and presenting for that audience, without either ‘dumbing down’ or being too rarified. I have two more years on the MA to try to get that right!

A precarious balance!!

14 September, 2010

Warp + Weft Symposium

This past weekend, I have been in deepest Camarthenshire at the National Wool Museum with around 45 other weavers and curators.  Laura Thomas organised a symposium specifically on weave – a rarity in the UK – and surrounded it with exhibitions, two specifically of weave.  I hope to cover those in future posts, permission permitting, but for today, I’d like to share with you the meat of the symposium.

Hosted by Dr Jessica Hemmings who is well known to many through her contributions to Selvedge, FiberArts and other publications, the day featured different aspects of weave, exploring how woven structure informs far more than the textiles that surround us.  including Prof Lesley Millar with her wide experience of curating weave and contact with Japanese sensibility, architect Wayne Foster, who works with Laura, Andy Ross from the Ann Sutton Foundation, Shetland, with his unusual take of weaving and music, and Ruth Greany, a weaver who is now a textile trend researcher with WGSN, a trend forecasting company. 

Prof Lesley Millar talked about constructed narratives and narrative constructs (the weaver’s tale).  Prof Millar is a curator and educator and at times her talk lost me a little.  She read direct from her paper, so her presentation was a little stilted and not nearly as relaxed and informal as Dr Hemming’s introductory presentation. However, as ever from Prof Millar, it was interesting.  One of the points she made was about time being an important element which is woven invisibly but indelibly in the cloth.  Jessica Hemmings picked up that the time something takes to make is actually important in the making of the fabric, and shouldn’t be verboten to be talked about. I’ve found that most people’s first question is “how long did it take you to make …..?” 

Wayne Foster gave a talk about the links between architecture and textiles as explored by him and Laura. He sees distinct overlaps between architecture and textiles both in discipline and concepts and showed us many different projects that his practice have worked on which relate directly and indirectly to textiles, through patchwork quilts, double cloth, block weaves (think Bauhaus), designs that relate to the lay out of buildings, to the management of spaces.  He also illustrated these points with other architects’ work.