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Collect 2018 – in search of textile crafts

The Crafts Council’s Collect 2018 launched at the Saatchi Gallery on the Kings Road yesterday with a superb selection of galleries and makers from around the world. With over 400 artists exhibiting the whole of the Saatchi Gallery is filled with work spanning the spectrum of the modern craft practice. Boundary pushing ceramics and glass pieces sit alongside contemporary jewellery and bookbinding. I did notice a distinct rarity of textile pieces overall, which was a little disappointing, so am concentrating my efforts in a celebration of the few pieces that are featured.
There were some exemplary pieces of constructed textiles to be seen in the Collect Open section of the show, notably work by Korean textile artist Jiu Jang who has created site-specific pieces for an installation symbolizing the divine power of Numen, which rules the “eternal cycle from birth to death in all natural elements on earth”

Jang uses natural fibres to create monumental “garments” layering, stitching and felting fibres and dying with the seeds of the ebony tree to give a rich gamut of charcoal greys and earthy browns. The tactility of these pieces is reminiscent of ancient artefacts and the scale of the work is an impressive testament to the craft and patience of the artist.

In contrast to Jiu Jang’s wholly organic fibres, RCA graduate Hannah Robson has created a series of richly coloured woven structures using metal threads woven with yarns to create self-supporting textile structures and large hangings with 3D surface elements. Hannah incorporates copper wires in the warp of the weave and cleverly constructs forms that spring into 3 dimensional forms once they are removed from the loom.

The tradition of the woven tapestry has been used by Jilly Edwards as a story-telling medium, she has created a series of thirteen tapestry segments, each representing a four week time span. Colours are inspired by skies, and landscapes around her Bristol studio and map changing weather patterns. Presented on a long table top, this tapestry is a subtle and sensitive example of constructed textile skills.

As a lover of stitch I was intrigued by the work of Emily Gibbs. Layers of coloured silk organza are hand stitched in the seemingly simple running stitch as drawings or “portraits” of fellow makers exploring the idea of portraits, looking at depicting the person through their workspace and tools. This series of embroideries is a celebration of the often underrated skills of makers encompassing crafts such as glassblowing, pottery metalwork and shoemaking.


Amongst the 40 galleries exhibiting at Collect 2018 I only found a brave three that featured any textile based work, notably 50 Goldborne has travelled far to find their textile based offering. The gallery exhibits the Ubuhle Collective from South Africa, which is reviving the tradition of beaded textiles as art. Millions of meticulously hand sewn beads form sumptuous images and patterns reminiscent of tropical flora.


Afke Golsteijn’s hand embroidered bird sculpture is shown in the Gallerie Marzee exhibit, with hand stitched silk as the flowing tail of this piece.

And the Katie Jones gallery is showing a selection of indigo-dyed pieces by renowned Japanese textile artist Shihoko Fukomoto.


I may of course have missed some pieces, but as I have an eagle-eye for textile art, it is a real disappointment that I had to search so hard amongst over 400 artists in these prestigious international gallery offerings for contemporary textile craft pieces, when we know that the world of textiles has such a rich craft heritage. Hopefully 2019 will be a better year!

‘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 !

 The source of art is in the life of a people.

Walter Crane Marquetry floor. South London Gallery.

I do love to pop in to my local galleries on a completely random basis, (often to grab a coffee in addition to cultural input, it must be admitted!) The South London Gallery is a haven of the Camberwell/Peckham culture scene, and in addition to having a great cafe next door, shows pioneering contemporary British and international artists as part of its mission to “bring art to the people of south London”.

The current exhibition of  Slovakian artist Roman Ondak in the main gallery has uncovered the original Walter Crane marquetry panel inset into the gallery floor, and he uses the quote in the panel as his exhibition title; “The source of art is in the life of a people”. The exhibition lasts for one hundred days and a significant element of the work is an oak tree trunk sawn into one hundred disks, the disks have each been marked around one of its rings to represent a key historical event that happened in that year of the tree’s life. each day a new slice is mounted on the gallery wall and tracks the passage of time, demarcated by Ondak’s selection of significant events. it is fascinating to ‘read’ this timeline as it evolves through the show period, and realise that each of us has a different perspective of what we consider to be ‘significant’ historical events.

Roman Ondak has invited local young people to get involved in the creation of his work ‘Awesome Rules of Language’ where he has taken illustrations from a 1960’s textbook and recreated them on the walls of the gallery. The illustrations have been drawn over by the adolescent collaborators and these doodles and comments have given  a quirky contemporary twist as a commentary on social and educational norms.

Still in the theme of education, Ondak has salvaged four large school blackboards from his native Slovenia, entitled ‘Four Moon Phases’ a bowl of a ladle is inserted into each of the boards,  symbolising the four phases of the moon, referring again to the passage of time and the transition between past and present that informs our existence.

I will certainly be popping back periodically to check what has happenned next in Ondak’s ‘tree of history’.

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