Experimental Textiles with Cas Holmes

Attributed by westral.com.au

I am still buzzing from another creative binge at West Dean – Experimental Textiles, Stitch, Cloth and Memory with Cas Holmes.

I’ve been aware for a while now that textiles can make a more evocative and interesting ground than paper. Jo Dixon’s course in Mixed Media: Print Paint Collage taught me some basic fabric dying techniques and use of gesso on calico – I wanted to carry this forward and explore experimental textiles further. I decided my focus for the weekend was going to be in transferring some of my figurative sketches into textiles and used my sketchbook drawings as a starting point.

The main techniques we tried were wax crayon rubbings of lace trim and doilies, fabric dyes, and transfer dyes. I especially loved making collagraph plates by machine embroidering on laminating plastic. Below you can see my initial sketch (from the Life Drawing with Adele Wagstaff course), the plate, and the print. I printed onto cotton with acrylic paint – this is a really immediate and straightforward process which will be easy to try further at home. The effect reminds me a lot of monoprinting in that you get some lovely lines from where you applied the acrylic to to the plate – I almost don’t want to work over this print to much for fear of losing the initial lines!

In the collagraph below I kept it simple by just using the stitched line, I overlaid two life drawings of the same pose from different angles here which gives an effect of movement – Cas recommended I look at Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (click here).

The collagraph plate below is based on a drawing I did of a Rodin Statue ‘The Muse’ at the V&A; I stitched on a variety of other fabrics to give texture, including hessian and an old seam. I want to do more prints with this now I’m home.

With so many techniques going on it was a constant struggle to keep control of my workspace. I used the board behind my worktable as a visual reference, initially pinning up items I brought with me for inspiration, including: scraps of handmade lace which my friend rescued from the bin, Victorian portrait photographs I collect from vintage fairs, patchwork scraps, tea cards, a handkerchief, and lace table cloths given to me by my great uncle, embroidered with his aunt’s initials. As the weekend progressed I took these down and replaced them with collagraph prints, test pieces and bits and pieces of fabric given to me by other women on the course.

Cas encouraged us to be brave and constantly deconstruct and reconstruct our work – tearing up pieces and mixing with samples from other textiles, pasting them together to create very different effects. I had brought some vintage dress patterns on very thin parchment paper, which worked perfectly for this; here I layered them with a print from some elaborate lace, scraps of hessian, buttons and lace from an old bra of mine (which I had previously used to print onto ceramics – read here). I like the idea of clothing, especially underwear, as an object imbued with the intimacy of being worn so close to the person’s body.

This led me to think about jig saws and quilting, how different shapes in the body could fit together to make a figure – I worked over this collagraph print (based on a drawing I did of a sculpture at the V&A) and added shapes of lace to fit the thighs, stomach and breasts, and pattern paper on top of this, then machine embroidered them down.

Textiles is such an inherently feminine medium, it would seem wrong to go into it without an awareness of feminist writings on the subject. So in preparation for the course I read‘The Subversive Stitch’ by Roziska Parker which explores how historically ‘women’s work’ or needle work was used to oppress women by keeping them quiet and occupied, but also how women used it as a mode of expression – highly recommended! An idea I’d like to explore further is machine embroidering some of my life drawings of male nudes onto fine lace and feminine floral fabrics…

I’ve also been toying with the idea of scale – small samples of fabric can look gorgeous in a sketch book as reference, but I loved some of Cas’s larger hanging installations. Larger hangings which aren’t pinned down in conventional frames move with the breeze, in a way that recalls breath. I also love the idea that the ‘viewer’ of the art could also be invited to touch my work, in the way that women feel the cloth of a garment when clothes shopping – and engage with the work on another level. I would love to break down the barriers set up by galleries of ‘do not touch’.

I learnt so much from Cas as well as the group – check out websites of fellow studentMilliande Demetrou. We naturally shared ideas and materials as we went along. One idea I am especially excited about is dying fabric with rust – see Milliande’s blog. I also want to explore the idea of damaged fabric: burns (from matches and also more deliberate marks from incense sticks), stains (wine / coffee) and wax (different colours) – taking the discarded and making meaning with it. So many ideas – so little time!