Woolfest 2008

Although I’ve already posted today, I wanted to write about the Woolfest before I go away or the memory will have faded. It’s a wonderful show – a combination of all the elements of fibre arts – from the animals who provide the wool to the rainbows of fleece and yarn on sale, from tools and books and dyes to so much exciting felt, knitting, crochet and weaving that you hardly know where to look next. It’s small enough to wander round twice or three times in a day, discovering new things each time – and big enough to provide a very satisfying variety of experiences. I met up with my Mum and my friend Julie and we had a lovely day.

I’ve just picked out a few things to share that were highlights for me…

Helen Melvin of Fiery Felts had curtained her stand with beautiful lengths of cloth, dyed by mordanting and then rolling up with bits of earth and flowers and leaves. This view is of the back – some of these were nuno-felted on the other side.

cloth by Helen Melvin

The Hebridean sheep (these are from Heathland Hebridean in Kent). I bought some of their lovely dark fleece to try dyeing it for felting.


These graceful alpacas from WhyNot Alpacas of Sedbergh – I love their just-shorn textures and the range of colours.


These amazing clothes, modelled by young women from Estonia, Slovakia and Cumbria, in a youth project called "From Sheep to Dress" – clothes made by hand, from Estonian Native Sheep wool, by girls from Saaremaa Island. There’s a bit about this (and some of the other exhibitions) at knitonthenet, and I found an image gallery on the web as well.

From Sheep to Dress

Finally, the gorgeous display of dyed hemp yarns from the House of Hemp.

dyed hemp yarns

I tried to be restrained but I did add a few lovely things to my stash as well as the Hebridean fleece: some beautiful undyed alpaca rovings in four different shades, a tiny skein of purple hemp yarn, some space-dyed knitting ribbon in rusts and pinks and bronzey greys, Liz Clay’s book on Nuno Felt, and a small felt-rolling mat from Jenny Pepper’s stand.

Provisional dates for next year’s Woolfest are 26th-27th June 2009 – it’s in my diary already 🙂

And now I really must go and think about what to pack!

Mechanical Drawing – the Schiffli Project

That’s the title of an exhibition I’ve just been to see at Farfield Mill. The last working Schiffli embroidery machine in the UK is at Manchester School of Art, and for this exhibition fifteen artists worked with the machine, creating pieces that are both hand drawn and machine embroidered.

While I’d heard of the Schiffli machine, I had only a vague idea of the process – it’s actually a pantograph principle where the artist draws the line large using a hand-held device, moving across their design and clicking wherever they want the needle to enter the fabric; and the machine, which has 86 needles, reproduces the line in miniature many times across the fabric.

Each small movement of the artist’s hand is there in the stitched line, so it has a very human quality, a feeling of directness and immediacy. As each needle can hold a different coloured thread, or variations on one colour, or every thread can be the same, or some needles can be left unthreaded, there is potential for exploitation of tone, colour and pattern on a grand scale.

I was very impressed both by the impact and scale of the work, and by the quality of the exhibition. The textiles were well displayed with plenty of light and space; there were samples available to touch; and in the background there was the constant rhythmic sound of the machine at work (the sound was an element of one of the works – Kate Egan’s installation ‘Stack’), which added another sensory layer to the experience. It was a really engaging celebration of a fascinating machine that’s clearly cherished and enjoyed by those who work with it.

It’s difficult to pick out just a few pieces for a special mention… I loved the colour and movement of Rowena Ardern’s ‘Endangered’, which used the repeats created by the machine very effectively; I enjoyed Jill Boyes’ careful exploration of effects made possible by the Schiffli; I was moved by Jane McKeating’s poignant and humorous rag books, drawing on her sketchbooks from a period after she suddenly became single; and I would have loved to go home with Stephen Dixon and Alison Welsh’s ‘Armchair Politico’, which was both beautiful and thought-provoking.

The catalogue is excellent, with several essays, plenty of images and detailed text, and a DVD about the technical processes (which was also on show at the exhibition).

exhibition catalogue

Mechanical Drawing is at Farfield till 29 June and is also travelling to the Macclesfield Silk Museum and the Knitting and Stitching Show. Really worth seeing if you can; if not, all the pieces are represented online, along with excerpts from the catalogue, and a short video, at

exhibition report: Jo Budd – Beyond Surface

Yesterday I went to Farfield Mill to see the Jo Budd exhibition that’s showing there as part of the Women’s International Arts Festival. It was well displayed in a light airy room, walking in was like walking into a song of colour, a first impression of acid greens, rust, greys and shining yellows, sky shade blues, ochres and earth tones. Very visually stimulating. The work is an exploration of the colours and layers of landscape, seen through painted surfaces and layers and depths of translucent colour.

From the artist’s statement:

“A new studio in a new location, looking over river marshes, and a new dyeing technique using rust and water, have given me a fresh set of colours and marks to play with.”

“Focusing on surface but refocusing on the layers, in land, water and sky – these are the qualities which fascinate me.”

The work shown dates from 1998 – 2007, some glazed pieces and some hangings. Jo Budd collages and quilts dyed and painted fabrics, on a large scale. Lines of stitches create shadows and depths. Fabrics are sheers, cottons, silks, juxtaposed and layered to create wonderful plays of colour, light and atmosphere.

Corrugated Iron (1998) is a large piece maybe 8 foot by 6 foot. It’s pieced and layered appliqué, with the painted marks very evident, both paint and stitch expressing the lines of corrugation. There’s an image of this striking piece with an essay and some other examples of her work, on Celia Eddy’s QuiltStory web site.

Rust Series (2007). This is another large piece about 6ft square, one of a series of pieces using rust-dyeing. The effects create a dramatic texture. Lines of long yet fine stitching that define some areas. The colours are cool browns and greens, blues and greys, exploring shape and movement. Colours change subtly where the fabrics overlap.

Fields of Green (1999) – I think this was the piece I was most drawn to. Strong horizontal bands of greens, stitched and dyed, lustre of silk and flatness of cotton. A smaller piece,about 3ft by 4ft, but it drew the eye from the moment I entered the room with the intensity of the colours and the stitched textures.

All the work gives me a strong sense of celebration of the incredible beauty of landscape, and the expanses of land and sky that characterise a flat country. Driving home, I was seeing the colours of my own Cumbrian landscape, different though it is, in a new way. I found the exhibition very inspiring. I love the effects of paint and dye on fabric and the depths that build up. I love the intense and subtle colours Jo Budd creates. I especially like the intrinsic connection between the rusty marks and the subject material of her work.

I hope I’ll get to see this work again at the Festival of Quilts.