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 was 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 develops 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 at a busy intersection in downtown Singapore. The narrow sidewalk, 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 were 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, create a sense of order and calmness. This combination of overwhelming creativity and calm order, I soon realise, is what makes Deborah a successful artist and businesswoman.

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 are 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 sidewalk 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.

The Marriage Bed

This is the story of my entry into Dare to Differ 2015.

THE MARRIAGE BED
My kombers en jou matras en …*
(My blanket and your mattress and …)
*Part lyrics from an old Afrikaans folk song
When we got married, most of our furniture were hand-me-downs from our respective childhood homes. Our bed, however, was brand new. The first piece of furniture we bought as a couple – a symbol of two lives becoming one and a place where we could dream and plan a future together.
The bed served us well for 15 years and even came with us when we moved to different countries. It was our refuge where we escaped the world, where we felt saved and loved, and the cradle where our family was conceived and cared for.
When it was time to replace the bed, I saved the frame and started working on the blanket, using yarn from my stash collected over the years from different parts of the world. They all represent a time and a place where we shared our lives. The blanket and the mattress are made separately and then stitched together in such a way that it cannot be separated again without destroying the whole thing.
THE MARRIAGE BED represents our marriage. Two separate entities becoming one. Each one with different characteristics and different values, which when put together cannot be taken apart again. The one provides strength and support, the other provides warmth and safety. Together they create a home and a family.
The lyrics come from our childhood, they don’t define us, but they anchor us. They make us belong.
As with any marriage, this one is not perfect. Dropped stitches, tension variations, messy colour changes, wires poking through in odd places, and loose ends – mostly hidden out of sight but still there. Looking closely you will see many flaws, but standing back, you will see a harmony of colour, the words will become clear and make sense, the structure will be strong and organised, and the threads will hold it all together.
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knitted strips

knitted strips

This project started way back in 2011. At that stage, we were living in Dubai and had just bought a new bed. I had a vague idea of what I wanted to make, or rather what I wanted to say, but had no fixed plan of how to go about it. I knew it had to involve the mattress frame and a knitted blanket. The snippet of lyrics served as the inspiration.

The plan I came up with eventually meant I had to knit the blanket in strips, weave it through the mattress springs and then stitch it together through the wire afterwards. It was the only way to get the knitting inside the steel springs. It took a bit of trial and error to get the right dimensions for the blocks and strips, which I then used to draw up a pattern and eventually a graph for each letter.

The Marriage Bed patternThe blocks are 16 stitches wide by 80 rows long. Five blocks in a strip, times 24 strips. I started out with the blank strips at the side, using different stitch patterns, but I soon realised that it won’t work once I start the intarsia knitting for the letters, so I kept most blocks in plain stitch.

I used the yarn that I had, adding as I needed or ran out of colours. The plan was not to plan. My only guide was that the whole letter, which spans three blocks, had to be in the same colour and to not have two similar colours next to each other. I used different thicknesses of yarn but the same needles throughout, which means the tension differs, but I think that is quite appropriate for a marriage!

AssemblingI knitted over time with periods in between when I didn’t do anything. My dear husband patiently allowed me to have the mattress frame packed and shipped with the rest of our household when we moved to Australia in 2012. I have no idea what the packers thought when they had to wrap it up in bubble wrap and load it into the container to ship across the Indian Ocean…

The knitting was coming along well but was still separate from the mattress when earlier this year I decided to force a deadline on myself, just to get it done. My mind wouldn’t allow me to start anything else before this one was out of my system, so I decided to submit it for the Dare to Differ exhibition. Now I had something to work for, and even if it wasn’t chosen it would still be finished.

Behind the scenes

Behind the scenes

Putting the knitting and the wire frame together took less time than I thought. It was a bit tricky at times to get my hand in between the wires and I had several scratches on my hands and wrists by the time I was done.

My husband made the stand which I think came out really good and goes well with the rest of the work. I like the big bold wooden bases and the fact that the steel supports are almost invisible.

So there we are – a marriage bed with a story.

What will I do next?

Dare to Differ 2015

From the point where you enter the gallery, it is clear that this is not your average quilt show. If you were expecting log cabins and pin-wheels you are in the wrong place.

According to Suzanne Gummow, one of the judges and organisers of the exhibition, for the purpose of this show, the definition of a quilt is that it must be predominantly fibre, be composed of at least two distinct layers, and be stitched together throughout.

That sounds simple enough until you look around and see in how many diverse ways this has been interpreted.

D2D 2015 Samantha Pope CBD

CBD Pojagi

Samantha Pope’s CBD Pojagi is the star of the show. On first glance, it is obviously a map of Adelaide CBD, with familiar landmarks like Victoria Square and the green belt easily identifiable. True to the purpose of a map, it is the first thing you look at when entering as if trying to find your way around. But also true to the purpose of a map, its sheer fabric lets you see what is beyond – opening the way towards the rest of the exhibition. The fusion of what is familiar (Adelaide) with what is foreign (pojagi) embodies not only the spirit of our city but also the spirit of the exhibition – the familiarity of quilts with the unfamiliarity of the Dare to Differ interpretations.

D2D 2015 Wendy Thiel Art in the Negative Space

Art in the Negative Space

Following the layout of the room, the first work you will come across is fellow judge and organiser, Julie Haddrick’s Garden path. Her use of Japanese fabric is the start of a subtle theme which recurs three more times.

Wendy Thiel’s Art in the Negative Space is one of the larger works and one of the few which reminds of a traditional quilt. Her use of white as negative space emphasising the art of the printed Japanese fabric, as well as her choice of quilt design inside the white areas, are very effective.

D2D 2015 Betty Morse My Chiku Chiku

My Chiku Chiku

Staying with the Japanese theme, Betty Morse’s My Chiku Chiku creates quite the opposite effect. Filled to the borders with printed fabric, it dares the eyes to become overwhelmed, but the order and stillness of the sashiko stitching are calming on the eyes and restores order. Her work is inspired by renowned sashiko artist Akiko Ike.

Julie Abbott’s Circles gives yet another interpretation of Japanese design. She uses the simple form of circles in well-ordered rows and let the fabric design take centre stage.

Moving away from the Japanese theme, a few others stood out for special mention:

D2D 2015 Madelaine Hedges Homage to Thoth

Homage to Thoth

Madeleine HedgesHomage to Thoth is excellent both in design, choice of materials and execution. Thoth, the Egyptian god of wisdom is usually depicted as an ibis-headed creature which Madeleine interpreted by using Ibis feathers collected along the Torrens River, combined with ibis printed sheer fabric. Two things in this work stand out to me: The subtlety with which Madeleine manages to combine her Egyptian roots with her Adelaide life via the iconic Ibis, and the judges’ decision to place the work in the exact spot where the draft from the AC continuously stirs the ibis feathers ever so slightly. It adds an extra dimension to the work and brings it to life.

Was that intentional?

D2D 2015 Valerie Robinson Prehistory  Women

Prehistory – Women

Two works that touched me with the understated way in which the artists used limited colours and well thought out stitching, conveying a deeper story, are Alison Muir’s Carbon Sink 2, and Valerie Robinson’s Prehistory – Women. When you look at it, take your time and really study the way every stitch is intentional and every slight colour change has a deeper meaning. Both are exceptional works.

D2D 2015 Margaret Knapp The gallery experience

The Gallery Experience

Margaret Knapp’s The Gallery Experience is a true experience and needs to be studied in detail. She celebrated the graduating exhibition for students of 2012 Cert IV Visual and Arts Course at Marden. Her work is built up with three layers consisting of a traditional quilted foundation layer and two layers of appliqued clear organza. The space between the layers adds to the feeling of the depth of the gallery and the movement of the visitors. The ‘art in the gallery becoming art in the gallery’ concept is intriguing and well executed. She deservedly received the Encouragement Award sponsored by Sue’s Sewing World.

D2D 2015 Joy Harvey Doorway

Doorway

Joy Harvey’s Doorway is a striking piece of highly detailed contemporary reverse applique – a technique Joy has perfected and made her own. Based upon one of the countless doorways of the Alhambra in Spain, Joy reworked the design to ‘bring it home’ and make it her own. By incorporating elements of local architecture and heritage, like inserting the inscription ‘Ut Prosint Omnibus Conjuncti’ (United for the common good) from the Adelaide coat of arms, Joy succeeded in creating something truly local, yet ultimately exotic, like only she can.

There are 44 works in the exhibition. Each one is deserving and worth exploring. The well thought out way in which Suzanne and Julie curated the exhibition, placing each work in a way that fully expresses its artistic merits, is exceptional and worth mentioning.

Don’t miss Dare to Differ 2015. Go and see it. But take your time – the more you look the more you see. The quilts on show are definitely different, and truly daring.

*Featured image: Circles by Julie Abbott

Dijanne Cevaal – Sentinelles

Sentinelles is a concept inspired by Dijanne’s spiritual connection to the land. The colours of the hand-dyed fabric reflect the colours of the Australian landscape while the hominid form gives homage to her European heritage. The haloed female form appears across religions and cultures to depict a sense of reverence, holiness and spirituality. Dijanne chose the word Sentinelles, which means to watch over, as opposed to Guardians, which also implies taking care. Sentinelles only observes. It is for us to act. To take care of the environment, the land, the earth.

What started out as a solo artwork has grown into a collaboration. Dijanne made several hand-printed Sentinelles and made them available to her students both in Europe and Australia to embellish. Each person brought their own personality and style to their piece.

The collection has travelled extensively in France and Australia and will soon go back to Europe for a new round of exhibitions. We were fortunate enough to experience this collection at the Craft and Quilt Fair this past weekend.

With Dijanne’s permission, I took a few close-up photos to focus on the magnificent use of colour and personal interpretation represented in this exhibition.

Go forth and be inspired.

Sentinelle 1 Sentinelle 2 Sentinelle 3 Sentinelle 4 Sentinelle 5 Sentinelle 6 Sentinelle 7 Sentinelle 8 Sentinelle 9 Sentinelle 10 Sentinelle 11 Sentinelle 12 Sentinelle 13 Sentinelle 14 Sentinelle 15 Sentinelle 16 Sentinelle 18 Sentinelle 19 Sentinelle 20 Sentinelle 21 Sentinelle 22 Sentinelle 24Read more about Dijanne’s work, her future projects and her new book here.

 

PRUDENCE MAPSTONE: TOTEMS

027Prudence Mapstone needs no introduction. She is the queen of freeform knitting, crochet, and yarn manipulation. Her colourful, vibrant and fun work always draws a crowd – and admiring sighs and smiles. Her totem exhibition at this year’s Fair is no exception. The totems, displayed in a small alcove next to her yarn stand, cannot be missed – just follow the crowd.

021Totems represent a kinship group – a clan, family or tribe – where some totems celebrate cultural or religious beliefs while others are merely decorative and an artistic expression of a shared experience. Prudence’s totems fall into this latter group. She celebrates yarn. It is as simple as that.

022The colours, textures and thickness of the different yarns dictate how she applies them. “It is an organic process. “I start by choosing a colour palette and it just grows from there.” Prudence makes a swirl, or a scrumble as she calls it, adds new colours, change the stitch patterns and builds on it until she, well… stops. When she has a few of these, she lays them out on a flat surface, plays around with it, then she fills the gaps with more knitting or crochet stitches. And so the totem grows until the scrumble clan is complete.

029Sometimes there are recurring themes, like the mitred knitting, or the bullion flowers, or the felted balls, but other times many different styles and stitch patterns sit comfortably next to each other like different personalities in one big happy family.

Prudence is as delightful as her work, she smiles, talks and shares. It is obvious that she loves people, yarn, and yarn-loving people in equal measures.

To see her work and find out about her classes, books and patterns visit her website at http://www.knotjustknitting.com

Margaret Lee – Silk Legacy

Margaret at work

Margaret at work

Margaret Lee is a familiar name in embroidery circles both here in Adelaide and further afield. Her magnificent exhibition Silk Legacy – A showcase of Chinese Embroidery Tradition is on in the Artspace Gallery at the Adelaide Festival Centre, as part of the OzAsia Festival, until 12 October 2014.

As an artist, teacher and curator Margaret specialises in the ancient art form of Su silk embroidery, which dates back from the Shang Dynasty (1700 – 1027BC). It is known for its detailed, intricate and highly realistic style, and perfectly suitable for contemporary applications.

silk-CranesThe exhibition includes Margaret’s own work, some glorious historical pieces on loan from various Guilds and private collections, as well as works by Margaret’s students, both local and international.

“In China embroidery has always been viewed as an art form as opposed to craft and has left us with a legacy that is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. Such a long and rich tradition deserves to be maintained and further developed into the future.” Margaret’s passion lies in preserving the tradition and she is committed to passing this knowledge and skills on. In doing so she developed a program to teach Chinese embroidery to western embroiderers and is currently mentoring students from Australia, New Zealand, France, United Kingdom, USA and the Netherlands. SILK LEGACY is an opportunity to showcase their achievements. “These art embroideries created by western embroiderers in the traditional way shows that art has no boundaries and we are one through our shared passion for creating beautiful art embroideries.”

A close-up of a still life by Margaret Lee. Look at the exquisite stitch quality on the glass ware

A close-up of a still life by Margaret Lee. Look at the exquisite stitch quality on the glassware

Looking at all the extraordinary works in the exhibition, it is difficult to believe that some of these works were created by people who did not grow up in this tradition. The collection of student’s works sits proudly next to the ancient artefacts and Margaret’s own extensive body of work.

The explaining text next to each artwork gives a thorough background of where each piece fits into the hierarchy of silk embroidery skills. Apart from the absolute visual feast, the show gives a thorough education in the understanding of silk embroidery and where it fits into the social structure of both Chinese history and modern needle art appreciation.

I took some photos with Margaret’s permission, but it is very difficult to convey the depth of skill, the exquisite use of colour and fine stitch management in each piece. It is best viewed close up and in person.

This is a must see exhibition. Don’t miss it.