Our speaker this month was Val Toombes. She enjoyed drawing and needlework classes as a teenager and made her own clothes at the age of 12.
In the early days whilst working aboard, Val’s husband bought her a knitting machine and she went on to design patterns. In 1992 she did a machine embroidery course at Farnham College where she became a Bernina fan. She then graduated on to the City & Guilds course at Godalming.
Val’s main interest is silk and she uses it to make paper, scarves, dresses, jackets as well as 3D vessels. She explained that she learnt to dye 10 different colourways for use in her work and loves strong vibrant colours.
Val brought along a selection of her work on display mannequins and passed smaller items around the room for members to look at.
Val enjoys exhibiting her work enters competitions regularly all over the world. She talked about a recent exciting occasion when her work was chosen to be shown in the World of Wearable Art in Wellington, New Zealand. Val also mentioned exhibiting at Ramster Hall near Chiddingfold in Surrey.
A group of members will attend a workshop given by Val so watch out for the posting.
Report and photos by Ros
This month the branch enjoyed our annual Ploughman’s lunch, a lovely choice of cheeses and ham together with bowls of fresh fruit salad.
After lunch, member Vernice Church, continued her talk entitled “Textiles, the Taj Mahal and Tuk Tuks”. She picked up her journey showing us pictures of Udaipur, the amazing Jain Temple at Ranakpur, a step well and then Patan where they saw the double Ikat weavers. They visited the Calico Museum at Ahmedabad but unfortunately no photos were allowed so the images she showed us were taken from their website.
During Vernice's trip through Gujarat the group were given textile demonstrations, took part in workshops and had many opportunities for retail therapy. They were shown examples of Rabari work, saw Rogan painting by one of the only families who can still demonstrate this craft, attended a Kalamkari workshop and a block printing workshop.
Vernice brought along some of her purchases for members to see and we thank her for sharing her exciting experience with us.
Thank you for sharing some of your slides, Vernice.
Report and photos by Ros
Very few of our speakers have had such a prestigious CV as Karen Nicol. Karen’s mother was a keen flower arranger and she was brought up with flowers everywhere. Flowers, animals and birds can be seen in the majority of Karen’s work.
Karen gained a 1st class BA at the Manchester College of Art and then went on to the Royal College of Art where she studied textiles. For many years she taught at the Royal College of Art and has been visiting speaker and artist in residence all over the world.
Karen kindly bought a wonderful selection of her work for us to look at.
Karen then went on to show us images of her work. A large number of them included animals, birds or flowers and ranged from dresses to bedding, table linen and even large animal rugs. She mentioned working for designers like Alexander McQueen, Jasper Conran, Givenchy, Betty Jackson and John Rocha. In time Karen decided to expand her horizons and exhibit and accept commissions under her own name. She started with an exhibition in London and one in Italy with the theme of lace skirts but has subsequently exhibited all over the world. In 2015 Karen was awarded the Royal Designer for Industry.
To our amusement Karen told us that her favourite machine was a 47 year old Singer. She sources a lot of her materials from car boot sales and jumble sales and is always experimenting with unusual materials.
This was a truly inspirational talk which opened up a world I knew little about.
Apologies to Karen for the quality of some of these images which were taken from her presentation. I now know how to adjust the brightness on the projector!
Photos and report by Ros
David Birks from Trowbridge Museum started the new year off with his talk entitled “1000 years of Warp and Weft”. He is the Learning and Outreach Officer for the museum which is closed for redevelopment until August 2020.
David started his talk by asking why the area of West Wiltshire (Trowbridge, Westbury and Bradford on Avon) was so important to the wool trade. We had downland for the sheep, rivers to wash the wool and later to power the machinery, and a good supply of Fullers Earth clay which was important in the finishing of cloth. Initially it was a local trade whereby white woollen cloth was woven and dyed and also raw wool was exported to Europe.
We were shown a basic loom with the warp threads weighed down with blocks which was superseded by the horizontal loom in the 12thC - this had a 7 year apprenticeship to learn the skill. By the mid 15thC it became a regional trade with a wool mark of quality issued by an Aulnager and clothiers responsible for the complete process from raw wool to cloth. Merino wool was introduced from Spain and this was mixed with English wool to produce checks, stripes and patterns. In the 17thC cloth workers from the continent brought new techniques and equipment
By the mid 18thC Georgian money-saving inventions were introduced - the Spinning Jenny, Slubbing Billy, Carding machines and Scribbling Horse. This was a period of industrial unrest as workers worried about losing their jobs due to these new inventions. At the beginning of the 19thC clothiers became very wealthy and the Kennet & Avon Canal was constructed to enable coal to be brought economically from Somerset. In 1860 the wool industry was at its peak. During wartime military cloth was produced for all sides involved but the industry lost out eventually to Scotland, Yorkshire and the continent ending locally in 1982. One of the last orders was for Mary Quant in the 1970s.
David concluded his talk by reading us the fines which were administered to the workers in the factories. They were a high proportion of the workers wages and appeared most unjust by our modern day standards.
Early each December we all enjoy a “bring and share” buffet lunch to start the festivities of Christmas.
This is always a memorable event with a wonderful spread of delicious goodies. After the meal we have a surprise speaker and this year Lynda Warren entertained us with her talk entitled, “He’s Behind You”!
From the title you can probably guess that Lynda Warren talked about pantomime. Lynda’s background is in the theatre where she worked at the Wyvern Theatre in Swindon first in the publicity and then in the costume department. She still works full time giving educational talks about the theatre, film and television.
She explained that pantomime first started in ancient Greece then came to Italy and France arriving in the UK in the 16th century. Lynda talked about Grimaldi, the Harlequin and the commedia dell’arte.
Over the years the characters have remained the same with the principal girl dressing as a prince and men dressing as dames. Modern pantomime has become very popular with television actors and pop stars taking the leading roles in traditional fairy tale stories – Dick Whittington, Jack & the Beanstalk, Aladdin, to name but a few.. A performance of singing, dancing, slapstick and jokes has entertained all ages of a family for years. There is always a background of good versus evil with the good fairy arriving on the stage from the right and the villain from the left. Audience participation has always been encouraged and the finale is usually a glamorous wedding or something similar.
Report and photos by Ros
Several years later he returned with a wife, Wendy, who made dolls and puppets and she asked Lydie to make clothes for them. One thing lead to another and Lydie ended up dressing puppets and dolls for various projects including Prince Charles, Princess Ann and Mark Phillips for Spitting Image and a large chicken for a Paxo advert. She also made dolls for Jim Henson based on his film Dark Crystal.
Lydie moved away so this initial career came to an end. She then went on to follow a Diploma in Stitched Textiles at Windsor and teach embroidery. She is currently a member of the South West Textile Group exhibiting all over the country.
Lydie was a very generous speaker as she showed us many examples of her work and explained in detail their construction. The "When I grow old I will wear purple" puppet and the "7 deadly sins" dolls were my favourites.
Report and photos by Ros
After the formal AGM our October speaker was Branch Member, Vernice Church. Last year Vernice was invited to go on a 19 day textile tour of India.
She started her talk by showing us a map of India and explained her journey starting in Delhi, moving on into Utter Pradesh, then Rajasthan and ending in Gujarat. Images of tuk tuks, motorbikes transporting families, unusual doors, windows, buildings, ladies in colourful saris and animals gave us an insight into a country with a completely different culture to our own. Many of the photos showed amazing textures, shapes and colours which could be used as inspiration for textile projects.
Vernice then showed us the various styles and techniques of the tribes in the different states she visited - Bandhani, Banjara, Shisha, Rabari, Sujani, Phulkari and Applique. They all used vibrant colours but each was very different.
The group tour started in Delhi, where they were shown the main sights, then moved south to Agra and one of the highlights of Vernice’s tour was an early morning visit to the Taj Mahal. They then continued to Jaipur, the pink city, where they had an elephant ride up to the Amber Fort, visited the Anokhi Hand Block Printing Museum, watched a cookery demonstration and attended a block printing workshop. There was a lot of retail therapy and Vernice showed us wonderful throws, books and souvenirs of her holiday. En route to Jodpur they visited the Chippa Community in the town of Bagru to see their Dying and Block Printing processes. Vernice concluded this first part of her talk by telling us about her visit to Jodpur, the blue city, where she visited the Mehrangarth Fort.
We now look forward to the second instalment of Vernice's trip when she visits Udaipur and then moves into Gujarat, the home of textiles in India.
Report and photos by Ros
Our September speaker was Jennifer Hughes and her talk was entitled “Culture at their fingertips – the Hill Tribe People of Thailand”. Jennifer trained as a Geography teacher, has an interest in needlework and lived for a number of years in Thailand. She has a wonderful selection of colourful garments and hats which she has collected over the years.
Jennifer explained that the Thai government recognises 6 different groups of Hill Tribe people and they all have their own distinctive individual style. They weave their own materials, usually hemp or dyed indigo cotton, on a backstrap loom attached to a tree or somewhere in the house and garments are then made up using the narrow cloth. At a very young age they are introduced to the various techniques and by the age of 7 or 8 children are expected to weave their own cloth. The garments and head dresses are decorated with stitching, seeds of wild grasses, dyed chicken feathers, and in the old days silver, but this has now been replaced by a lighter metal.
We were shown garments from the Akha tribe, the Mien, who are superb embroiderers, the Lisu, the Lahu and the Hmong.
Report and photos by Ros
The speaker for our July meeting was Dr Susan Kay-Williams who is the Chief Executive of the Royal School of Needlework based at Hampton Court Palace. Her talk was entitled Imperial Purple to Denim Blue – the colourful history of textiles.
Dr Kay-William started her talk by showing us an image of 1669 which showed the various stages of the dyeing process – the vat, a brick vessel where hanks of wool on a pole could be submerged and a plunge pool, all very similar to what we use in hand dyeing today. She said that mordants which assist in the fixing process of dyeing had been found in fragments of textiles found in the Indus valley dating back thousands of years.
She then went on to show us an image of a Coptic warrior from the 5/6th century in Egypt and explained the three things that stopped the progress of knowledge were war, plague and water. By the 19thC people would take mordants and dyes to different countries and the different components of the water would determine the results of the dyeing sometimes changing the colour completely.
Dr Kay-Williams then went on to talk about individual colours starting with purple and explained that it was originally found from the gland in the mollusc from within a shell. There are two purples, red and blue purple and Alexander the Great took bolts of cloth as spoils of war. In Rome it was only the Emperor and a few senators who were allowed to wear purple and we were shown a mosaic image of his wife Theodora Ravenna in a purple cloak.
The next colour to discuss was red with copper and allum being the mordants and the root of madder, the dye. It was made commercially in the Netherlands and we were shown an image of the various stages of colour from the intense colour of the first bath to the exhausted pale shade showing the dye had been used up. Henry VIII’s favourite colour was red which is shown in many portraits. Venice was famous for making red from the insect Kermise which was found in the month of June on trees in Southern Spain, Armenia and Poland. It was the most expensive dye colour for the most expensive fabric and the Pope decreed that cardinals should not use purple but red. It was not until 50 years later they discovered cochineal beetle. Per grain of dye cochineal was much better.
The portrait of the Young Flemish man in 1540 shows all garments in red and a shirt of blackwork, Henry VIII in a fine red suit heavily encrusted with jewels and the portrait of Cosimo de Medici by Jacopo Pontormo in 1520 Florence.
The next colour on Dr Kay Williams’ list was blue which she explained was the most popular colour in the world. Up to 8thC Mary had been shown in dar colours but it was then decreed that God should be celebrated in colour and in 11th C the Wilton Diptych shows lapis lazuli. In Europe the dye for blue was wode but in India it was indigo. Jenny Balfour Paul has written an in depth history of Indigo.
The European dye for yellow was weld whereas further afield saffron, gathered from the stigma of the saffron crocus, was used. Dr Kay-Williams explained that the Chinese had found a very powerful yellow colour which did not fade and therefore ancient examples of textiles have kept their vibrant colours. Scholars have tried to find out what they used without success.
The colour green could be seen in the famous Arnolfini portrait by Jan Van Eyck 1434 and this was thought to pay homage to the master dyers of Bruges because it showed deep browns and a deep green for the dress.
The poor man’s black usually came from black sheep where as rich black was achieved by overdyeing as can be seen in Rembrandt’s painting.
The final colour which Dr Kay-Williams talked about was white and she said this was difficult to achieve because the material had to be bleached and re-bleached. The image she showed was of Queen Elizabeth I in a white gown.
To conclude her talk and bringing us up to date Dr Kay-Williams talked briefly about the “new blue” of the military uniforms and the most popular fabric nowadays, denim.
Her final image was of the portrait of Madame Moitessier by Ingres. She has become the living advert for the silk industry of Lyons to be seen in the National Gallery.
Report by Ros
The images in this report were found on the internet, National Gallery, the Royal Collection Trust, Wikipedia etc as I was requested not to take photos during the talk due to copyright
Christine Chester’s talk this month was entitled “Afterwards”. Born and brought up in Eastbourne her father was an "in shore" fisherman and so beaches and the sea played a great part in her life. Her grandmother and mother both taught her various crafts but it was not until she was 25 and wanted to give up smoking that she turned to these skills to give herself something to focus on. Christine did her City & Guilds and following the horrific storm in 1987, she created “the Old Sea Wall”.
Christine entered several Hever Castle Quilt Challenges and showed us images of Strips, Stripes & Structures .and an Elizabethan theme.
A lot of Christine’s work has been influenced by family events and in 2004, after her step son’s car accident she created “Faint Hope” which showed the harsh words of the consultants together with the words of hope sent in cards from friends and family.
Christine felt she was become a butterfly with her work flitting from one thing to another so while at Committed to Cloth she decided to concentrate for one year on one technique. About this time her father had a stroke, his memory deteriorated and he could not read. This event in Christine’s life has given the foundation for various pieces of work – Fragile Fragments and Layers of Memory which won a prize at the Festival of Quilts. She used a selection of photographs which her mother had taken of her father as a fisherman and used various techniques to distort them to show the fading, gaps and deterioration in his memory.
Realising how precious life is, Christine decided to give up her job, set up her own studio and start a Masters degree at the University of Brighton. The final piece was based on empty pockets showing the emptiness of the brain. Pockets were cast with plaster and she pointed out the fluff and crumbs which has accumulated at the bottom of the pocket had been transferred to the cast.
In 2014 Christine was diagnosed with breast cancer and she decided to create a series of panels in red which she entitled One Woman's Journey to document the six radiotherapy treatments. She explained that the amount of work in each panel was determined by how she felt at that point – panel 4 had no stitch at all.
Christine is a founder member of UnFold which is a group of artists who had a successful stand at the Knitting and Stitching Show.
Report and photos by Ros
Information in this blog is provided by branch members who have attended the meeting, workshop or event.
Marlborough & District Branch is a member of the Embroiderers' Guild, the UK's leading crafts association
* The Embroiderers' Guild website -https://embroiderersguild.com/
* The Guild Facebook page - https://www.facebook.com/embroiderersguild/
* The Guild Pinterest pages - https://uk.pinterest.com/theembroiderers/
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