Category Archives: International artists

Kaffe Fassett – no doubt about colour

When in doubt add twenty more colours.

Kaffe 1

Kaffe Fassett fabric used in one of his quilt designs

I heard this quote from Kaffe Fassett many years ago, long before I really knew who he was or how extraordinarily creative he is. I was a young Afrikaans girl in suburban Pretoria, South Africa. All I knew was that he’s a man from ‘overseas’ who knitted multi-coloured garments. There were so many things about him which were completely foreign to me.

Firstly, I didn’t know men can knit. Secondly, I didn’t know that knitting was considered art and that one can make a living from it. I also didn’t know it was ‘allowed’ to mix all these colours together. I came from a time and place where blue and green didn’t go together, beige was always a safe option, and only moms and grannies knitted.

I had no idea that many years later I would live ‘overseas’, have a career which revolves around creative needlework, and actually have the opportunity to meet the man himself.

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Filled with energy and enthusiasm during his talk

Kaffe Fassett and his business partner Brandon Marbly visited Australia earlier this year, doing a series of talks and workshops around the country. I had the opportunity to meet him in Adelaide on the last weekend of a hectic almost two month tour.

What struck me most about him was not his amazing talent or sense of colour, although that is something to behold. It’s his amazing energy. Kaffe is in his early 80’s yet talk, move and act like someone at least 20 years younger. He is bursting with enthusiasm about his work, about colour, about meeting other creatives, and about teaching.

Kaffe 2

When in doubt add twenty more colours

He is extremely prolific, turning out designs for fabric ranges, quilts, as well as knitting patterns and books at a pace which makes me tired just thinking about it. As someone who takes time to process information and contemplates ideas before putting it into action (read: procrastinate), I am in awe of this skill!

In his talk he tells about his travels to different parts of the world. Australia, South East Asia, Africa and India, features alongside South America and Europe. He finds inspiration in everything from street markets to faded wall paint. But it is not just the far away and exotic which speaks to him – he finds as much inspiration from his neighbour’s garden as from a faraway location. As long as there is colour, Kaffe can turn it into something extraordinary.

Kaffe designs knitwear for Rowan, fabric for Westminster Fibres, and needlepoint tapestries for Ehrman. He also publishes an array of books on quilting, knitting and colour inspiration. I found his autobiography Dreaming in Colour, especially interesting and inspiring.

Kaffe 3

Image from Kaffe’s slide show

One of the questions put to him during his talk was how he gets time for everything. For Kaffe the answer is simple: No television, no mobile phone and no computer. Brandon, who is his business manager, handles all those things, freeing up Kaffe’s time and mind to create. He loves listening to music while he designs and to BBC Radio 4 while he stitches.

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Brandon working on a design wall

During the workshop Kaffe and Brandon shared another secret: Work with music. Choose something with a beat and turn it up loud. Move to the rhythm! Kaffe believes in doing first and editing later. When designing a new quilt, he works on a flannel covered design wall where he can put up all his fabric pieces, adding as many colours and patterns as he wants. Then he stands back and edit by removing and rearranging. His mantra is – Don’t be afraid. Add more colour and pattern.

Listening to Kaffe and watching him work and talk about colour is extremely inspirational. He oozes energy and enthusiasm for life. Beige does not feature anywhere in his work or life, blue and green can go together, and with many other colours too.

I now realize that that quote I heard so many years ago does not just apply to needlework. It applies to life.

Have you attended any of his workshops or made any of his designs? Please share!

Lao-Tai Textiles by Patricia Cheesman

LAO-TAI TEXTILES:
The Textiles of Xam Nuea and Muang Phuan by Patricia Cheesman
Published by Studio Naenna Co Ltd, Chiang Mai, Thailand.
ISBN: 974-272-915-8

AUTHOR:
Lao-Tai Textile book coverPatricia Cheesman has spent the past 30 years conducting in-depth research on Lao and Thai textiles. She is the author of several books and articles on the subject and has contributed to many international exhibitions.

Born in Singapore and educated in the UK, Patricia lives in Chiang Mai, Thailand where she teaches at the Chiang Mai University in the Thai Art Department. She works with the Weavers for the Environment Group and owns the Studio Naenna Textile Gallery where she conducts workshops in natural dyes and design.

FORMAT AND LAYOUT:

The book measures 210mm x 285mm, is bound in soft cover and has 297 pages.

Lao-Tai Textile book mapPHOTOS, ILLUSTRATIONS AND DIAGRAMS:
This book contains everything I expect from a good textile book:

  • Maps to put the information into geographical context
  • Lao-Tai Textile book pages 3Loads of photographs. A few in black-and-white but mainly colour photographs which include detail shots of the textiles and designs, photos of the local people wearing, making and caring for the textiles, as well as lovely story pictures – photos of the community in which these textiles are made, loved and used.
  • Diagrams and sketches showing the construction of some of the garments as well as some of the weaving equipment.

All in all, this book is comprehensively illustrated and contains valuable visual documentation of the Lao-Tai textiles.

CONTENT:
“My deepest thanks go to all the weavers, villagers and shamans who have patiently answered my enquiries, received me in their homes and guided me in my search for information.”

This opening sentence sets the tone of the whole book. Patricia shares her vast knowledge of the textiles, the history, and the people of this remote part of the world, with a tangible measure of respect, gratitude and humility. It is obvious that she not only loves her subject, but that she has an affinity for the whole culture and lifestyle surrounding it.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 2The book starts with the author’s acknowledgements and background notes on how her research was conducted, how she set the parameters for the book, and how the fact that she grew up in Asia and is fluent in the Lao language informed her research. Maps showing the current and historical ‘lay of the land’ further aids the reader to understand the subject matter.

The first three chapters of the book looks at the geographical and historical setting of the Lao-Tai culture as well as how these factors influenced the different classifications of textiles in the region.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 1Chapter 4 gives background information about the Lao-Tai culture. The different gender roles, religious ceremonies, wedding and burial ceremonies, as well as the role of local food and architecture can be seen to influence the different textile designs.

Chapter 5 to 7 give detail insights into the different garments worn by both men and women of the different clans. These chapters are beautifully illustrated with photos and diagrams.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 8Both the Shamanic and Buddhist religions had a great influence in the design and use of textiles and Chapter 8 goes into great detail describing and illustrating each piece of textile used during religious ceremonies.

Household textiles holds a special appeal for me and Chapter 9’s descriptions of the pillows, blankets, curtains and other household items used by the Lao-Tai people, must be my favourite part of the book.

Lao-Tai Textile book pages 10Chapter 10 is all about technique, showing detailed photos of the dyeing and weaving processes used by the artisans. It also shows how both silk and cotton are cultivated and prepared for dyeing and weaving. I love how the background colour of these pages add to the lush feel of the natural dyes.

Lao Tai Textile book pages 12Chapter 11 describes the different symbols, designs and motifs depicted in the textiles. Again beautifully illustrated with detail photographs.

The book concludes with three Appendixes explaining the intricacies of the Lao-Tai languages. Essential information in understanding the names and descriptions of the different textiles.

CONCLUSION:
Lao-Tai Textile book pages 9This is a beautiful book with loads of photos. It shows the textiles from a technical point of view as well as a cultural point of view. It puts the textile in the context of its origin. The place, the people and the history. But that is not all. This is not just a look-book – it is a read-book. It is beautiful and you can keep it on your coffee table, but when you go to bed, take it with you and actually read it. It is rich in information and beautifully written. It is obvious that Patricia loves her subject matter. Both the textiles and the community form which it comes.

If you love textiles, books, travel, culture and beautiful pictures – this is your kind of book.

Order your copy today.
Read more about my visit to Studio Naenna

 

 

Studio Naenna

It was a day of many firsts for me. It was late November 2015 and I’ve just arrived in Chiang Mai, Northern Thailand via Singapore. I came here to visit my brother and to experience some of this area’s famous textile culture.

Studio Naenna Winding Cotton ThreadWe arrived at Studio Naenna shortly after breakfast – just in time to see the studio coming alive. We were greeted at the gate by Lamorna Cheesman, studio manager, designer, and daughter of Patricia Cheesman, author, academic, artist, and the driving force behind Studio Naenna.

Studio Naenna Natural Dyes

 

 

 

 

The studio is located in a traditional Thai house on a big property at the end of a narrow winding road. On the front porch a lady was sitting on the floor mat, winding cotton thread onto skeins ready for dying. Next to her a display of threads and dyes showed the origin of each colour – leaves, bark or seeds – next to the coloured fibres.

Studio Naenna Natural Dyes EbonyIt was the first time I saw what Ebony seeds looked like, and I learned that if you want to know which colour to expect from a plant you have to look at it in a dried state.

Studio Naenna Jungle Indigo

Jungle Indigo

 

 

 

 

 

Lamorna took us to the back of the house where their indigo plantation grows. Another first for me. At Studio Naenna they cultivate two types of indigo:  The local broadleaf, jungle variety as well as the field or Indian variety.

Studio Naenna Field Indigo

Field Indigo

Lamorna explained how they make the indigo paste and then took us to the other side of the house where the indigo vats are located. We were just in time to see a dying session in progress. (A first again!)

Studio Naenna Indigo Dying

 

 

 

The resident indigo expert were dipping several skeins in the vat. Some were dipped several times for a darker colour, some stayed light and some were layered to produce an ombre effect.

Studio Naenna Indigo vat

 

The main indigo vat at the studio has been alive for 20 years and are treated with great respect. I felt very honoured to see it in action.

Studio Naenna Ikat in processStudio Naenna’s main focus is, of course, traditional Thai weaving and supporting local weavers, to not only keep the tradition alive, but also to earn a living wage from their trade.

Once inside the cool of the house, Lamorna introduced us to ikat dying and weaving. Ikat is an extremely intricate method where the warp threads are coloured and patterned using a resist dying method, before the master weavers turn it into finely woven textiles. More firsts for me!

STudio Naenna Ikat dyingThese weavers work at their homes in the surrounding local villages. They are all part of the Weavers For the Environment Group, founded by Patricia Cheesman. The aim of the group is to improve the lives of the women and look after the environment, while protecting and documenting the women’s indigenous knowledge of plants, weaving, traditional costumes and textiles. Studio Naenna help develop designs suitable for export while maintaining the knowledge of traditional design.

I loved every minute of our visit to Studio Naenna. Lamorna was an excellent and most gracious tour guide. My only regret was that my visit did not coincide with one of the studio’s regular indigo workshops. I will just have to go back for that someday…

For more information:
Studio Naenna website
Video of Patricia Cheesman talking about her work
My review of Patricia Cheesman’s book on Lao-Tai Textiles

Have you visited Studio Naenna before? Please share your experience in the comments. I would love to hear your story.

Deborah McKellar Talking Textiles in Singapore

The taxi dropped me off on a busy intersection in down town Singapore. The narrow side walk, stacked with car and motorcycle tyres, fronted a row of workshops where men huddled over dismantled wheels and greasy axles. My inquiries about the textile studio indicated on the map was answered with blank stares. Just when I thought I had the wrong address I found the narrow staircase tugged in between the tyre shops, with a sign saying Talking Textiles: 4th floor.

Talking Textiles Stairway to heavenWinding my way up the steep stairs, I’m encouraged by phrases painted onto the steps saying things like ‘Stairway to Heaven’; ‘Art lovers, design enthusiasts and shopaholics – Welcome’. As I was about to run out of breath near the top, this one, ‘Feeling unfit? Join the Pilates class.’

Once I reached the top landing a wooden door opened up into a light filled, airy studio where I’m welcomed by designer and artist, Deborah McKellar, and her assistant Adeline. With a refreshing cup of green tea in hand, Deborah leads me on a guided tour of the open plan studio, office and retail area. The glass wall making up one side of the space opens up onto a wide roof terrace where a cat lounge lazily on the sofa overlooking the Singapore cityscape. The vantage point and the view is a far cry from the tyre shops below.

Talking Textiles displayDeborah, born and raised in South Africa, completed a BA in fine arts at LASALLE-SIA College of the Arts in Singapore, followed by a Master of design, majoring in Textiles, at the College of Fine arts at the UNSW in Sydney. She now divides her time between her textile design studio, lecturing in Fashion Textiles at her Alma mater, and practising her fine art.

Her workspace is full. Rolls of textiles, huge colourful canvasses, and piles of hand printed cushions overwhelm the senses and create a feast for the eyes. Yet, the huge printing table, the neat desk and the well organised supply shelves, creates a sense of order and calmness. This combination of overwhelming creativity and calm order, I soon realize, is what makes Deborah a successful artist and business woman.

Talking Textiles scissorsHer work is distinctly Singaporean. Deborah’s habit of photographing typical Asian architecture, the tropical landscape, and other local design features, forms the basis of her work. She uses these images to create various screen prints which are then used in different combinations and colours to create cushion covers, tea towels and other décor items, marketed under the trade name Talking Textiles. Her series Raffles, inspired by the architecture and features of the famous Singaporean hotel, can be viewed, and bought at her retail space in the hotel.

Talking textiles screen printing

photo courtesy of Talking Textiles

The huge canvases covering the studio walls, are layered with screen printed images and textile strips, overlaid with freehand machine embroidery, creating works of fine art. “My first solo exhibition was back in 2012 and I aim to do one solo exhibition every year,” Deborah explains. “I enjoy the freedom of making fine art, but it does take many hours to create a big enough body of work for an exhibition.”

As if a busy textile design business, her role as part-time lecturer at LASALLE-SIA, and a successful fine arts career is not enough, Deborah believes in giving back and paying forward. The Talking Textiles studio takes on apprentices and students, to teach, coach and prepare for careers in the textile art world.

Talking Textiles Deborah McKellarBefore I left the studio, I asked if I could take a few photos. While I busied myself trying to capture the riotous colour and rich textures of the textiles, Deborah rummaged through a stack of tea towels to find one of each design, so I could pick one as a gift. I asked if I could photograph her in front of one of her canvases to which she readily agreed. As she took up position in front of the canvas, she took the clip which held her hair up in a bun out to let it fall over her shoulders. In one quick movement Deborah changed from a designer-business woman into an artist, and the switch between calm order and overwhelming creativity which I noticed on my arrival happened right before my eyes.

As I exited the narrow staircase back onto the busy side walk filled with tyres and noise, all I could see was rich colour, tropical designs, and the distinctive Singaporean style. The narrow staircase did in fact lead to heaven. Textile heaven, that is.

NAMIBIA

Nexus Namibia Maria Caley

Maria Caley, Untitled, Silk screen on bird plum bark cotton and embellish with metal Himba beads

presented by the NEXUS MULITICULTURAL ART CENTRE GALLERY
17 October – 1 November 2013

They’ve had me at Textiles and Africa. The first one I come across quite regularly in South Australia but the second one is a rare find.

The exhibition is the brainchild of Melanie Harteveld Becker, the Namibian Cultural Liaison, and curator Victor J Krawczyk. Together they conceptualized the idea of exposing the art community in Adelaide to the world of African art while simultaneously exposing Namibian artists to the wider, international art world. With the help and support of Nexus and the National Arts Council of Namibia, their idea became a reality.

Nexus Namibia Maria Caley silk chiffon

Maria Caley, Ukerete, Silk chiffon dyed with bird plum bark

They brought together an exciting collection of contemporary art and craft, consisting of textiles, baskets, jewellery, linocuts, graphic illustrations, prints and … bottle tops.  Eight different artists and art collectives, represent an ethnic and culturally diverse Namibian society.

Nexus Namibia AttilaGiersch

Attila Giersch, jewellery from Tameka Collection

I spoke to Maria Caley, a textile artist and fashion designer who accompanied the exhibition to Australia. By using plant and earth dyes occurring naturally in Kavango, Northern Namibia, and decorating with traditional Kavango patterns, she uses her textile art to explore her cultural heritage. She believes it is important to document her ethnic inheritance in a contemporary manner and so make it accessible to a future, modern generation.

Nexus Namibia Maria Caley Silkscreen

Maria Caley, Untitled, cotton dyed with red orche with hand painted patterns and embellished with San people ostrich egg beads

Other textile artists represented are Chakirra Classen who’s experimenting with iron oxide dye on raw silk and cotton, and Filllipus Sheehama who uses recycled bottle tops to create alternative textiles.

Nexus Namibia Chakirra Classen

Chakirra Classen, Untitled, Raw silk dyed with iron oxides

There are few other art forms which capture the unique features of a landscape as successfully as basket weaving. Local plant material dictates the shape, texture and colour of a basket, naturally occurring dyes and the patterns and motives unique to a local ethnic group, all add up to capture the essence of a place in one object.

Nexus Namibia Kavango Basket

Imelda Ngonde, OMBA Collective, Kavango food serving basket

Looking at the baskets in the exhibition, masterfully displayed in a suspended collection, it is obvious that they represent three different Namibian landscapes and ethnic groups (Ovambo, Khwe and Kavango.) The fact that objects so representative of the earth are displayed in a suspended, almost floating way, casting wonderfully moving shadows on the walls, spoke to me about how this exhibition opens up new horizons to the mostly isolated artists of Namibia.

Collection of baskets

Installation of Ovambo, Khwe and Kavango baskets

This exhibition is a ground breaking event, paving the way for future collaborations between the artists of Namibia and Australia. I salute Melanie, Victor and Nexus for the important work they do. Namibia is still on until Friday 1 November. Do yourself a favour and don’t miss this. The artworks are on sale and well worth the investment.

Nexus Namibia San Ostrich Shell jewellery

San people jewellery, Hui-a khoe Foundation, ostrich egg shells