Fascinating talks, tantalising textiles and a ‘buzzing’ showcase


Fine Batik indigo panel from the Gejia minority, Guizhou SW China

The Antique Textiles Fair was a great success last Sunday the 4th March, both for me, the other award winners and more importantly the society. I’m sure it was successful for all the stall traders too. As usual there was a great array of textiles for sale: vintage costumes, accessories and trimmings, ethnic textiles from around the world shoes, luggage and jewellery. There was hordes of visitors all day, which is a good sign for the future award winners, as the fair funds the bursaries.

I took part in ‘Question Time’ hosted by Lynn Broster, the Bursaries Secretary during which I was presented with my award. It was an opportunity to ask questions to previous and present winners and I talked a little about my research to an interested and responsive audience. It was great to meet the other winners – the textile designers, chat about each others’ work and exchange contact details for future sharing of ideas and opportunities.

I didn’t get as much chance to rummage through the wares as I’d have liked, partly because of the session discussed above, and also  because I was eager to hear the talks given throughout the day by textiles artists and researchers who I greatly admire. You can’t have everything! (I did however manage to pick up a beautiful panel of extremely fine batik resist indigo work from South West China, shown above. I found this on the stall of ‘Textile Traders’ who have a shop in Bishop’s castle, north Shropshire. I now have even more of an urge to travel to China and well all over Asia really…)

First of all, the legendary Professor Anne Morrell – a good friend and mentor for me during my own research – gave us a fascinating insight into her current work using fabric and stitch and what has inspired these creations. The pieces she is producing for her upcoming exhibition Light and Line demonstrate Anne’s high level of technical embroidery skills primarily inspired by Indian embroidery techniques. The main technique she has picked up from India is working from the back of the cloth and away from the body, a technique used in the Phulkaris of Punjab and the Suf embroidery of Gujarat. She has used this technique to play with different tensions creating contrasting textures and surfaces on the front side of the cloth. These surfaces evoke the surface of water, the sky and the shore line as the tide comes in, all aspects that capture Anne’s imagination. Their appearances are completely different viewing up close to viewing far away. From far away, the medium could be anything – ceramic or paper, but up close they are most certainly cloth and, being able to view the stitches up close allows you to truly appreciate the skills gone into create the wonderful textures and marks.

The Light and Line exhibition showing the work of Anne and Polly Binns will be held first at the Barnsley Civic gallery from November 2012 – January 2013, then the Turnpike Gallery in Leigh from 2nd February to 16th March 2013, then the Nottingham Castle Museum and Gallery from the 4 May to 7 July 2013 (dates to be confirmed).

Indian Embroidery Techniques at The Calico Museum of Textiles, Anne Morrell

Anne Morrell has also been consultant at the Calico Museum of Textiles since the mid 90s after she retired from her position as  professor of embroidery at Manchester Metropolitan University. She has also written a wide range of book on embroidery techniques. Her most recent is due out imminently Indian Embroideries II. It is an updated version of the one by John Irwin and Margaret Hall and will be the latest addition to a long list of publications by the prestigious Calico Museum and Sarabhai Foundation.

The next talk was by another legend and hero of mine – John Gillow. His books were what first introduced me to Indian Textiles, and what began my fascination with them. John collects and writes about textiles from around the world, particularly Asia, Africa and the Pacific.

Indian Textiles, John Gillow and Nicholas Barnard

His talk was mesmerising. He charismatically held up numerous cloths made using age old techniques from far flung places, told a story about each, then passed them around so that each member of the audience could hold and feel – as you so often want to do but can’t always with these sorts of textiles that are usually locked behind glass in museums. The pieces included cloth made from tree bark and hand painted using ochre from Papua New Guinea, resist-dyed indigo cloths from Mali, woven checked cloth from Ghana, ikat from Uzbekistan, batik from Indonesia, block-printed cloth from India and Turkey and much much more. John has kept a stall at the Antique Textiles Fair every year of the 20 that it has been going in Manchester.

John Gillow and Brenda King holding up a Suzani from Central Asia

The third talk was by the chair of the Textile Society, Dr Brenda King. She talked us through her research on the Leek Embroidery Society. This was set up by Elizabeth Wardle in 1879. Elizabeth was wife of Thomas Wardle, who ran his own printing and dyeing works and is well-known for his contribution to knowledge on dyes, and working alongside William Morris during the Arts and Crafts Movement. Brenda has carried out extensive research on the couple, and this has informed several books and exhibitions including The Manchester Indian at the Whitworth Art Gallery in 2009. The embroidery work of the Leek Embroidery Society was produced using Wardle’s dyed yarns, particularly tussar silk, a luxurious fibre discovered by Wardle in India. Their work was detailed, luxurious embroideries displayed predominantly for ecclesiastical use, containing rich symbols of the Christianity.

Dye, print, stitch. Textiles by Thomas and Elizabeth Wardle, Brenda M King

The work of both Thomas and Elizabeth Wardle has been compiled and analysed in this book by Brenda King, written in 2009, the centenary anniversary of Wardle’s death.


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