Makers Tales at the Guy Goodfellow Showroom

This week sees the official launch of the ‘Makers Tales’ series of artisan showcases in the Guy Goodfellow Collection Showroom in Chelsea, London.

Sarah Burns, who works under the name ‘Dora Fabrics‘ is a devotee of natural dyestuffs and has spent the last few years searching for native plants in the fields and hedgerows around her Sussex studio on the South Downs, and experimenting to develop an array of sumptuous colours that you would never imagine coming from plants such as the humble Ash tree or bramble.

Sarah escaped her life in the city working as an economist to follow her creative dreams, and re-trained as a printed textile designer, moving out of London to the idyllic countryside of Sussex. 

The designs in the Dora Fabrics collection are reminiscent of 1950’s woodcut prints; simple, graphic designs that originate from Sarah’s observations of her local surroundings. The graphic qualities of the prints are belied by the gentle colour palette created from the naturally dyed base cloths that Sarah creates.

For the ‘Makers Tales’ show Sarah has dyed sumptuous lengths of crunchy silk with dyes from the weld plant, which gives a glowing warm yellow, walnut and Ash bark which has given a rich pewter grey-green. Colours change depending on the mordant (or fix) that is used and on the fabric base, so Sarah’s dye recipe books are like a bible of invaluable observations.


When talking with Sarah, the joy of what she does is infectious and luckily for us she offers courses in dyeing where we can all experience the excitement of the unknown, foraging for plants, chopping, boiling and testing to our heart’s content in the fresh air of the Sussex countryside. Coming away with ranges of colour swatches and a new found respect for nature’s incredible bounty.

Of course, if you don’t fancy the process of dyeing then Sarah can be commissioned to create lengths of hand dyed linen or silk to suit your colour scheme, but be aware that the nature of the method means that you may need to wait until a particular plant comes into season, as in the world of Dora Fabrics Mother Nature dictates the seasons and their colours!

Sarah can be contacted via: http://www.dorafabrics.com

The show runs until the 14th June 2017

‘English Work’ at the V&A.

The current ‘Opus Anglicanum’ exhibition of Medieval ecclesiastical embroidery at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum took me way back to my student days when I was lucky enough to be of the generation when it was still possible to study Embroidery A’level. My lovely embroidery teacher allowed us to take off on flights of fancy with creative embroidery whilst instilling a respect for the timeless techniques of the past. It is hard nowadays to imagine a state school sixth form running an A’level course with only three students, but at the time we never even questioned it! Alongside our study of artistic and contemporary stitch techniques the history of embroidery was an integral part of the course and I was thoroughly absorbed for a while in the world of ecclesiastical embroidery and it’s techniques. The no photography protocol of the V&A meant me taking out my note book and sketching some of my favourite  fragments, and even this was time consuming, leaving me to speculate on the unnumerable hours that were spent actually stitching these pieces!

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The language of this exhibition was not unfamiliar to me as a past student of ecclesiastical embroidery, although I did hear several people wondering “What is a ‘chasuble for?” or “Which is the ‘split stitch’ and which is ‘couching’? ” ( A chasuble is the highly decorated tabard that a priest wears over his normal robes whilst celebrating Mass) Split stitch and Couching are shown  here:embroidery-stitches

In the 13th Century, English embroiderers were at the pinnacle of embroidery workmanship. Church and high society aspired to commission their garments from the English embroiderers in London.   bologna-cope

Large embroideries like the  Butler Bowden and Syon Copes were made by highly trained professionals, both men and women. They were employed in workshops which were funded by merchants and noble patrons. The merchants took the profits, not the embroiderers who received only modest payments for their work. Most workshops were in London where the necessary capital was available and which was the principal port through which the imported materials arrived. The phrase ‘opus anglicanum’ was first coined to  describe the highly-prized and luxurious embroideries made in England of silk and gold and silver thread, full of elaborate biblical imagery.’English Work’ or Opus Anglicanum remained the most sought after work until well into the 15th century.

I was looking forward to the rare opportunity to see ‘up close and personal’ the incredible detail in the embroidered vestements worn in the Medieval Church. I found it sad to think that the hours of work that were put into the embroideries were lost on the congregation, as they would not have had time or opportunity to ‘read’ the pictorial stories depicted on the garments, nor would they have been able to see the minutiae of the stitches that created these incredible works of art. There are exquisite examples of intricate stitching and beautiful fragments of embroidery in this exhibition, but I did feel that it was a missed opportunity on the part of the V&A. In comparison with the recent exhibitions of the past year , this one fits the norm of a dry, old fashioned, ‘museum’ exhibition. I had the impression of wandering amongst embroidery and theological aficionados, who, albeit enthusiastic, certainly did nothing to enliven the atmosphere.

The staging of this exhibition is in a dry, traditional style, some of the beautiful work is presented so far back in the glass cabinets, that it is impossible to make out the details. There are fantastic stories depicted in many of the Church garments, none of which were adequately told in the labelling. The minute stitches really needed to be magnified, but there was no way of doing so. A short film demonstrated the technique of one style of stitching, but was small and nestled between two glass cases, so difficult to see if there were more than two or three people looking. All in all I left, even after my second visit, feeling frustrated at the lack of interactive or engaging display.

However, if you have any interest at all in the world of textiles or history, then this may be the only opportunity  for a long while to see such a comprehensive collection of some of the worlds greatest embroidered treasures, so essential viewing !