African Fabrics in Paris

While in Paris a couple of weeks ago I was determined to source out the Veritable Dutch Wax Process African prints I had seen over at Christine’s house, and of course many other places. Christine told me she had gotten hers at the African Barbes area in Paris, so off I went, first day there, to find some. I found a particularly wonderful shop at the point of the convergence of two streets, Sonna African Textiles. A large operation, it has locations in Paris, London, Antwerp, Accra, and Washington. You probably know this kind of fabric – more notable versions that Americans are aware are show dollar bills or President Obama. The prints are splashy, imaginative, and bold.

I was totally thrilled by what I found. It was really hard to choose from the array: the fabric comes in 6 meter lengths, labeled as Genuine Dutch wax, and price varies by quality. You could get pieces for €20 (about $30) up to €80 ($120). The less expensive lengths might have poor print registration, fewer threads per inch, less trendy designs. I noticed in one shop they sold by the kilo – the more expensive fabrics are actually heavier. I was actually restricted by weight myself, hating heavy luggage, so I only bought 3 pieces to bring home.

Around the corner I found a shop with the block wax prints but also a highly polished cotton brocade fabric called “Bazin”. It begins as a fine cotton damask woven in (I believe) Belgium, imported into various African countries where it is dyed (sometimes flat color, sometimes tie dyed) and sold for formal wear. I saw a man dressed in an elegant long tunic and pants in a pale mauve Bazin and wished I could have photographed him. Having hit my weight limit, I didn’t purchase any of that but observed it was sold either in 6 meter lengths, or by the kilo for other cut lengths.

I could not find much information beyond what my eyes told me, when looking later online, but was confirmed in my thinking that the high polish was due to a pounding process (although I wonder if some of it is calendared these days.

More Crochet by Sophie Digard

As one might notice from the article immediately previous to this one, I am a big fan of Sophie Digard’s amazing work in crochet. I have a small collection of her scarves that I add to as I can afford to; having found my first one at the Robin Richman shop in Chicago many years ago.  Here are some of the photos I have taken or collected over the years, without further commentary.  I hope you find them as rich as I do!  For more images and the opportunity to indulge in buying one, you can go to my favorite place for textiles,

Interlaced Color in Textiles

wool scarves by Wallace # Sewell


In the world of constructed textiles, solid color is only truly possible when all of the yarns constructing a cloth are of the identical hue.  Even then, color is still modulated by surface texture, light and shadow.  The genius of constructing textiles with multiple threads of varied colors, plied or woven together, is endlessly subtle and rewarding to close inspection.  Plying color shatters hues like a kaleidoscope, bringing one or another color to the surface unexpectedly, creating secondary patterns in its random wake.

Like pointillism, color theory applies:  the eye will optically mix red and white to get pink; red & green to get brown.
This twisted color is satisfying as a layered experience: the softened haze of the textile surface from a distance gradually focuses into a world of intricate subtlety.  The surprise discovery that a soft earth tone is made up of complements is a rich reward.
wool and cashmere tippet by Wallace  #  Sewell


Warp crosses weft, weft crosses warp.  Warps of varied colors cross wefts of varied colors.  A tiny pixelated color grid emerges, bold like a tartan or a subtle ombre blend. Occasional blocks of one pure hue emerge when a color crosses itself; when one set of threads is so dense it hides the crossing set, the colors can appear totally solid.  When the threads are twisted together in the fringes, the color shatters like a prism.  When threads weave together at right angles, each intersection might be thought of as the equivalent of a pixel.
Combinations of dark and light, saturated and neutral, break up surfaces.  Plying colors of similar values give a more cohesive effect.
(top) Wallace + Sewell wool and cashmere shawl. Photo courtesy Wallace + Sewell; (bottom) wool and cashmere tippet by Wallace  +  Sewell,  wool and silk scarf, Margo Selby; from  Santa Fe Weaving Gallery


Knit consists of a single thread, looping its way through the air, back & forth in straight lines, until a fabric is constructed.  Linear in quality, the lines of color can be broken up by using threads of several hues, plied together.  Color can be swapped out in the midst for a change.  Solid colors appear more saturated against a ground of plied colors.  The pop of saturated intarsia color against a ground of finely twisted threads gives a satisfying lesson in color addition, subtraction, and multiplication.

(Top & Bottom), knit scarves by Catherine Andre Paris, from Santa Fe Weaving Gallery)

Crochet is made by pulling loops through loops until a construction holds.  The progress can go linear, back and forth, until fabric is constructed, but it can also go round and round, and be added onto at whim in a non-linear fashion.  Threads can be twisted together prior to construction, or changed out during construction.  One can start with a palette of limited colors and by randomly recombining achieve a great diversity and subtlety of hues.  

When color is not subjected to the geometry of linear structure, it can develop and mass more freely.  Rings of varied hues can be crisp or soft depending on the combining and recombining of a relatively limited palette. 

crochet scarves by Sophie Digard, Paris.

Handweaver’s Guild of America: Small Expressions show

First Place. Tori Kleinert.
Turners Station, Kentucky.
Ceremonial Semblance: It’s in the Cloth © 2012.
Tapestry. Linen, cotton.

I had the pleasure of jurying Small Expressions 2013, sponsored by Handweavers’ Guild of America, at the Fine Line Art Center in St Charles, IL and attended the opening last Saturday. I chose 5 terrific prize winning pieces.   

My juror’s statement:  

It has been an honor, a pleasure, and a great confirmation of hope to have juried this year’s Small Expressions Exhibit for the Handweavers’ Guild of America.  I always find it humbling to be put in a position of making judgment calls.  One must be particularly wary of objectivity: it is so easy to be carried away by one’s personal biases, one’s taste.  No doubt things will be read into my choices, noting that I am a handweaver of 40 years myself!
It was a joy to see the great variety of media presented within such a small format.  The old maxim is true: it was extremely difficult to whittle the selection down to the maximum number of pieces that the show can handle.  It meant tough choices.  This show is, in essense, about miniature work.  The crafting demanded at such a reduced scale must be immaculate: larger work is more forgiving.  The scale of threads is more crucial, the fineness of edges more exacting.  Simply reducing one’s usual work to a smaller size is not always satisfactory.  I am always conscious of the danger of how one places a very small piece of fabric on a very large wall:  it may well look like a scrap.  But when well executed and presented, the smallness provides a treasure that is a reward in itself.
Framing is also essential.  It is terribly easy to overpower a delicate structure with a conventional frame.  Therefore I find it necessary to include the framing or mounting within the realm of criticism. 
I respond to excellence of craft combined with a stretch of imagination.  A perfectly executed basket, simple and proud, can be as imaginative as an elaborately woven tapestry:  it all depends upon an exact, if sometimes serendipitous, confluence of material, form, craft, color, a rightness of material, scale and structure to define an idea but leave it open to thought and imagination.
I was delighted with how often I found material completing a sentence that line or form had begun; how the magic of detail could flesh out an evocative yet sweeping form.  These are the great assets of fibrous materials, and it is gratifying to find them alive and well!
I also was sometimes heartbroken to eliminate a beautiful piece which was overpowered by an ill-chosen frame, or an immaculately and elaborately structure held up by a thoughtless armature.  Once in a while a work of staggering craftsmanship was eliminated due to a subject which was not entirely original.  Although I respected all of these pieces, the search was for the best of the lot.
I am quite excitedly looking forward to viewing all of this masterful work in its 3-D reality:  frequently a photograph is puzzling because of the arbitrariness of a reflection or a shadow.  I am hugely looking forward to a couple of works which are somewhat mysterious in the photographs yet promise something surprising in terms of materials or colors or structure.  I will be truly sorry to miss some of the wonderful pieces which did not quite make it here due to any number of the reasons explained above. One of the best things, for me, about work in textile media is simply the necessity of accessing it physically: no digital substitute can suffice.  Isn’t that satisfying?”
Second Place. Noriko Tomita. Tokyo, Japan.
Twistingle © 2013.
Embroidery, original technique.
Third Place.
Vladimira Fillion Wackenreuther.
Surrey, British Columbia, Canada.
Baby Snake © 2012.
Honorable Mention Award. Saberah Malik.
Warwick, Rhode Island.
Backyard Yield© 2013.
Self-developed technique from oboshi shibori, marbling, machine and hand sewing.
HGA Award Award. Geraldine Woodhouse.
Katy, Texas.
Big Bend Post Office© 2011.
Sixteen-shaft summer and winter figural pattern
woven in tapestry.

Fine Line Creative Arts Center • 6N158 Crane Road • St. Charles, IL • 60175 • 630-584-9443 Exhibition hours:
Monday through Saturdays 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays.

another swarm story

Today actually was a red-letter day!  A call from the post office first thing in the morning alerted me that the 2 packages of bees that Ben had ordered from Kelley Bees had arrived.  Ben has taken over the hives but — as often happens — he is out of town right now so he had arranged for me to collect the bees and get them into the hives.
So yes.  For those of us born in the suburbs or the city, you may not know that your live bees — or live chicks — arrive at post office and you are summoned to come and rescue them from their travel crates.

When I got out to the hives, turned out the bees in one of the older hives were busy swarming (re-locating to another home, which I have written about before).  So the new bees and I had to cool our heels for a while as I was not inclined to get in the middle of that, though it is a mesmerizing sound and sight.  Look closely and you will see the bees in the air all around the hive.

When they were clear of the hives, and safely parked in the tree above (where they await directions from their scout as to where they are relocating), I got busy and opened the little crates to pour the bees into their new homes.
The box at the top is the traveling box; below is the hive body with its removable frames where the comb is built.  You knock the frame against the hive, and the bees fall out with a whump.  Some stay in the travel box through repeated whumpings.  They will eventually migrate into the new hive by the end of the day — they will find their way by smelling their queen’s pheromones. 
The queen rides in her own little carriage, a small wooden box sealed with a sugar cube.  She will nibble her way out of the box, by which time her court will have settled in and can welcome her home.  The bright aluminum strip you see, middle right, is holding her small box in the midst of the frames.  The queen always begins in the center of the hive, and her court huddle around her in a protective buzzing ball.

After I finished, I gently slid the lids back into place, and put the travel boxes, with their lingering tenants, on the top of their respective hives so they could find their way home before nightfall.


I once wove a tapestry, inspired by the names of small Wisconsin towns, called “Black Earth, Spring Green“.  Now I write about the color of the small town where I live, as it is indeed Spring Green time right now and there is nothing so thrilling for me as driving through the country on a sunny day in the late afternoon and watching the color shift.

High contrast in late afternoon sunlight shatters a single color into brilliance and shadow.  Shades of green sharply divide between sunbright green-yellow and its cool deep forest green shadow.  In the American Midwest, the sweet viridian green fields of blue-green winter wheat are beginning to sprout the ears of wheat, turning pale celery toward golden at the tips.  Each day now the palette will shift, as it does, also, every hour in the sunlight.   At this time of day, everything assumes a bright golden cast, with the deepest of shadows etching all the details in high contrast.

Wild mustard takes over the fallow fields but as disking begins, it will fall and and the color of the field will turn abruptly to purplish grey.   Other fields are shifting out of their bracken-red-brown winter coats into indeterminate but imminent green.   

And some fields, already tilled and seeded, are momentarily a grey-mauve soil which will shortly begin to erupt in tiny yellow sprouts, growing day by day until the dull earth color is engulfed.



color in the sun

In the midst of a generally chilly and grey spring, the sun came out for  a few dazzling days this week, and I went around exploring bits of Winston Salem, NC neighborhoods.  In contrast, I was also viewing a highly charged, color saturated exhibition at SECCA (more on that shortly), and could not resist comparing the colors I marveled at in the museum with the funky resale shops nearby.  Here is Cookie’s Shabby Tiques, on Reynolda Street near SECCA.  Saturated mustard and verdigris, with slashes of primary colors against an intensely blue sky.

And to follow the palette, a lush painting by Tomory Dodge, showing at SECCA.
Tomory Dodge, Delta, 2006, oil on canvas

meditating, or not

Well, I am still not weaving — nor am I writing very much, despite best intentions and earnest promises to myself.  But as I fuss and bother and stay far away from the studio, meditation is creeping back into my life, and that, as we all know, is the path to mindfulness.

I have never been one to sit and chant a mantra, though I have sat and followed my breathing (thanks very much to yoga training) and I know full well the value of this: the clearing out of the pipes, the increased ability to concentrate, the intensification of focus and clarity which will result.

I have always, since I first understood what meditation meant and how it worked in our lives, thought that my weaving was my meditation.  At Cranbrook, where I studied in the 80’s, Hamada’s writings about the centering power of craft were much in discussion and a formative and empowering defense of hand weaving in the face of conceptualism.

But I had a significant conversation with a dear friend, who lives and breathes a meditative life, earlier in the week.  I told her how much I felt unbalanced because I was disconnected from my artmaking, in particular the meditative weaving process.  I asked her if weaving was, as I had frequently claimed, a true form of meditation, and to my chagrin, she replied that it certainly has great meditative qualities, but the attention required from time to time for the motion of the hands or the decisions one makes along the way remove it from the total detachment that is the goal.  Aaaaahhh.

No, I have not yet dug out my zafu and begun pure meditation in earnest.  But as I was weeding my gravel garden this morning (how Zen!), my mind roamed elegantly around and formed such beautiful, clear associations about art, life, gardening, spring.  What to do?  Interrupt it, run in and write it all down?  Or keep going and savor the experience, knowing that it will slip from my memory by day’s end (now)?  I chose the latter, valuing the experience over the recording of it.  Kathleen assures me that when I start meditation in earnest I can, in effect, have both: the beautiful experience and the reclaimed memory to write about it later if I choose.

January Harvest

In this squirrelly, unpredictable new kind of winter, we get some 50 degree days in southern Indiana.  Last weekend on a warm day my friend Steve announced he was planting spinach and chard.  For my part, I have been overwhelmed in talking the talk – lots of talk — but not necessarily finding the time to walk the walk.  I had not even taken down last summer’s tomato vines, though I had planted some Chinese cabbage last fall which survived the big post-christmas snow storm.

I am a real advocate of growing your own food, buying local food, growing year round — but often, I lack the time and the back strength to really carry on in my own garden. Excuses!  So when it was warm for a while this weekend I went out and pulled out all of the dead tomato plants, weeded the old (still living ) weeds, and turned over the soil.  In doing so I found some little surprises: a few tiny potatoes, a very few small beets, odds and ends of arugula plants, green onions, a teensy daikon radish, a small carrot.  Nothing better than buried treasure!  It made a sweet little supper.

What I want to do is actually grow food year round.  It is more than possible here in southern Indiana.  I have seen that it is possible in Maine (see Elliot Coleman’s Winter Harvest Handbook), and an old classmate of mine is attempting the same (in unheated greenhouses) in Homer Alaska.  These things inspire me: as ideas, as visuals, as a new way to approach my life.

The Half-Life of Words

The internet sometimes spooks me.  Your words can literally come back to haunt you!  I subscribe to Google Alerts to find out what people say about me (call me vain or paranoid, it is useful!), and today and alert about an article mentioning me came up, so I went to it and found the abstract ot a talk I gave to the Textile Society of America in New York in 1998, when, if I remember rightly, I was asked to speak about making textile things.  I should note that I was practically schooled to understand that weaving was plenty old fashioned (or call me paranoid!).  Here is the abstract.  As for the talk, it was probably ad-libbed, used slides, and if I stored it on the computer at all that was a few crashes ago.

Making It the “Old-Fashioned Way”

“It is tempting to consider the process I am about to describe as the result of a point of view which is subjective and maybe even romantic. Although the adjective “old fashioned” as used in the title carries a certain amount of ironic wit, in fact my method of weaving is ancient and timeless. I chose it because it is the only way I can adequately convey the majority of my ideas about the textile world. I also work this way because I love the process itself I have tailored my ideas, and risked hobbling them, in order to continue to indulge in a way of working that suits me eminently.
I weave objects which I call tapestries, although technically they are compound twill fabrics with images composed of discontinuous inlaid wefts. The structure is a three harness twill; the ground is warp-faced and the inlaid areas are weft-faced. I selected the structure after studying the three-harness twill tapestry of Kashmiri shawls. The structure confers the ability to express acutely refined detail while yielding the drape necessary for a shawl’s function. I adapted the weave to an inlay structure in order to economize on the time spent in weaving. In fact, I weave quite rapidly as a result, often more than 12″ a day. I am also able to exploit both warp and weft as design elements. The sett of my warp is relatively fine, 30 epi, which gives the work good detail and yet is a large enough scale to be able to see easily the interaction of colors between individual threads.”

And here is a detail of something I was weaving around that time.

detail, “Pear Tree”, 1996 hand woven textile