Tag Archives: Textile

Book Review: EMBROIDERING within BOUNDARIES – Afghan Women Creating a Future

Authors: Rangina Hamidi & Mary Littrell
Photographer: Paula Lerner
Publisher: THRUMS Books

010.jpgFormat & layout:

254 x 254 mm (10″ x 10″)
Softcover
172 pages
ISBN 9780998452302
Full-colour images with text on a white background

008Photos, Illustrations & Diagrams:

High-quality full-colour images on every spread depicting Afghan women and children in their cultural and domestic surroundings. Several detail images of embroidery work on garments and household items.

The images are loaded with emotions, bringing to life the environment these women live in. The dust, poverty, confinement and desperation is palpable. But so is the love, care, intimacy and strong bonds between the women and children. The reader is transported to Kandahar just by paging through the images in this book. The relationship between photographer and subject is obvious. Paula was trusted with access to lives, living conditions and relationships that are not usually visible to the outside world, and she trod with sensitivity and compassion. On first glance, I found the photos of obvious poverty and confinement sad but on closer look, I saw joy, pride, and a spirit of determination and resilience in the lives of the women of Kandahar. Paula’s images open a window into a world very few people ever get to see.

011Introduction:

Rangina Hamidi immigrated to the US from Soviet-occupied Afghanistan as a child with her parents. After 9/11 and its aftermath, she decided to return to Kandahar in the south-west of Afghanistan, to help rebuild her former hometown where thousands of women, widowed by years of conflict, struggled to support themselves and their families. She decided to start an entrepreneurial enterprise, using the traditional embroidery of Kandahar, to help the women work within their cultural boundaries, earning a living and finding a degree of self-determination. Thus Kandahar Treasure was born.

Mary Littrel devotes her life to researching textile artisan enterprises and how they can achieve sustainability in the global market. She spent years working in the field across the globe.  She is Professor and Department Head Emerita of Design and Merchandising at Colorado State University and serves on the Textile Society of America Board of Directors.

Paula Lerner, who sadly passed away in 2012, was an award-winning photojournalist. She made five photography trips to Afghanistan and won an Emmy award for her work on Behind the Veil, a multi-media feature about the lives of women in Afghanistan. Together with her friend Rangina Hamidi. She endeavoured to showcase Afghan women’s profound struggle, strength and beauty.

007Content:

The book is divided into eight chapters chronicling the story of the women of Kandahar Treasure. The first three chapters create context, describing the living conditions and societal constraints these women live under – the harsh realities of living in a country where women, in general, have little status, and widows have even less. It goes on to highlight the importance of khamak-embroidered textiles in the lives of the Pashtun people.

The next three chapters tell the story of Kandahar Treasure and the women who are empowered by this enterprise. It tells of Rangina’s s journey into establishing the business and the evolution and growth of Kandahar Treasure as a women’s organisation within a conservative Muslim culture. It also gives context and introduces the techniques of khamak stitching and the revival of this living textile tradition.

012The last two chapters of the book provide an assessment of the challenges, successes and the future of Kandahar Treasure, putting it into a broader perspective and looking at its long-term sustainability.

Throughout the book and between the chapters there are narratives of real people, the women of Kandahar Treasure. They tell their own stories, describing how their lives have been influenced by war, and how working on a textile revival has given them the power to take control of their lives and those of their children.

009Conclusion – My experience and opinion of the book:

I had the opportunity to visit Afghanistan back in 2006. I spent some time in Kabul and travelled up to Mazar I Sharif. I was looking forward to receiving this book as I thought I had a basic understanding of the situation in Afghanistan, the living conditions and the challenges women and children face. But I was not prepared for the emotions this book stirred in me.

Opening the book for the first time, I almost felt a sense of dread looking at the images of women fully covered by burqas and the children in poverty-stricken surroundings. I looked at the embroidery on the burqas and felt an unease, an inability to admire the fine, highly skilled stitching on this oppressing garment. But as I turned the pages I saw that none of these women and children were alone. They were all in family and friend groups. The sisterhood and friendship bonds were obvious. Then I saw that those women who had their faces exposed, and the children, were all laughing, smiling, looking loved and cared for, and I became intrigued to learn more about the source of their strength and courage.

004Reading the book opened a new world to me. From the first pages of acknowledgements and introduction of the authors and photographer, right through to the last sentence I was mesmerised by the inner strength and resourcefulness of the women portrayed in this book. Rangina Hamidi is a force of nature. Her philosophy of working within the confines of Pashtun traditions, respecting the order of society, gaining and keeping the trust of the men, elders and other authority figures, ensures not only the safety of the women she works with but ironically enables them to have more freedom and decision-making power in their own lives and those of their families.

“Embroidery is the one sphere of women’s lives that men do not control. It’s precision, delicacy, and beauty stand in stark contrast to the imperatives of a typical Afghan woman’s life.”

Embroidering within boundaries coverThe authors emphasise that Kandahar Treasure is not a charity, an aid organisation, or an NGO. This is a business enterprise. It is based on solid economic principles. Teaching the women to look after themselves financially, to contribute to their households, and to empower themselves by delivering high-quality work, is as important as keeping the Khamak embroidery tradition alive and flourishing.

This book is a manifestation of Rangina Hamidi’s original vision – A Kandahar Treasure. It shines a light on the region, the tradition, the living conditions, the problems and the victories of the women of Kandahar. It also shines an equally bright light on a unique embroidery tradition and the fine skills of women otherwise hidden from the world.

Paula’s images set the scene and create the atmosphere of the book, but Rangina and Mary’s prose gives context, depth, and character to both the embroiderers and the embroideries of Kandahar.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to lovers of fine embroidery and textiles, those interested in learning about other cultures and ways of life, and those inspired by stories of endurance, courage, triumph, and hard work.

This is a look-book as well as a read-book. The images are wonderfully evocative but it is only half the story. Sit down and learn from the women of Kandahar. They have much to teach us all.

Buy your copy here.

Telling Stories

The St Peter’s Cathedral, a magnificent building standing watch over Adelaide’s CBD, is home to many a treasure. Its grand interior with stained-glass windows, carved woodwork, mosaic floors, and historical banners is the perfect backdrop for the Telling Stories Exhibition.

016

Julie Haddrick at St Peter’s Cathedral

This is a three-artist exhibition showcasing paintings by Maz Gill-Harper from Tasmania, clay sculptures by Mark Pearce from South Australia, and textile artwork by Adelaide based quilt artist extraordinaire, Julie Haddrick.

The theme Telling Stories encompasses the work of these three artists perfectly.

017

Maz Gill-Harper’s paintings depicting the parables as they appear in the Gospels are visual representations of the stories told by Jesus to his followers. It contains texts, images and symbols, turning each artwork into a spiritual journey rather than just a painting.

Telling stories as teaching.

019

Mark Pearce’s sculptures depicting the apostles, grab the viewer’s heart and attention drawing you into the emotional life of each man. They radiate the spiritual path and soulful journey of each of these biblical characters.

Telling stories as a spiritual journey.

020

But it is Julie Haddrick’s work which shouts with joy. Her vast wall-hangings are filled with colour and life. Using hand-dyed, painted, printed and stencilled fabric, she creates visual feasts depicting God’s creation in all its glory. From the vast work encompassing all of the creation right down to detailed images of treasured feathers.

025

Julie uses symbols and metaphors to tell her stories. Her work is filled with detail – some of them meticulously sketched with layered fabric like the wedge-tail eagle, others only suggested in the quilted lines on the backgrounds and in the borders.

024

Julie’s work is influenced by the Japanese philosophy of Wabi Sabi which embraces transience, imperfection and the impermanent. She subscribes to the sentiment of ageing gracefully and appreciating beauty in decline. Her treasures include feathers, shells and broken shards of china.

Telling stories as worship.

023

This exhibition forms part of The Adelaide Fringe and will be on display until March 5, 2017. The cathedral is open every day, with artist talks daily at 11 am, 1 pm, and 3 pm.

*All images were taken at St Peter’s Cathedral and depicts small details from Julie Haddrick’s work. Published with the artist’s permission.

 

 

Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre

Alice Springs Art Centre edited1The first time I saw the work of Dulcie Sharp and the other artists of the Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre was at the Tarnanthi Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art in Adelaide in October last year. Their soft sculptures and hand embroidery jumped out at me. I immediately felt a connection. It is as if every figure had a soul.

I spoke to some of the artists at the Adelaide event but did not have the opportunity for an in-depth conversation. While working on an article about the artists for Inspirations Magazine (Issue 91- available in July 2016) I communicated with Sophie Wallace, art coordinator at the centre via email and phone, but I longed to see how and where the artists work and to experience the place that inspires them so much. When our family holiday plans to Central Australia came together, I made sure a visit to the Yarrenyty Arltere Art Centre was on the itinerary.

blanket taken out of dyeMy visit on a perfect autumn day in April could not have happened at a better time! I arrived at the centre on the outskirts of Alice Springs just as a blanket was pulled out of the dye vat. Wool blankets obtained from second-hand shops or donations form the basis for all the soft sculptures. Opening up a newly dyed blanket bundle has everyone in suspense. The rusted metal pieces and the natural plant dyes used in the process ensure that the final product is always an eagerly awaited surprise. This one had subtle green and charcoal patterns which would eventually find their way into another unique artwork.

Concept sketchesI was fortunate to see the whole artistic process in action. From the newly dyed blankets all the way to the finished sculpture. The artists come up with concepts for their work, usually inspired by their everyday life in the town camps, or their vivid imaginations. Pattern

 

These concepts are sketched out and developed before being translated into pattern pieces. The figures are cut from the blankets, machine stitched and stuffed before it is meticulously filled in with hand embroidery. The story behind each piece dictates the pattern and the colours used for the embellishments.

Rosabella, Dulcie, Trudie, CandyAll the work is done at the art centre where the artists come together around a big table piled with yarn and thread in every conceivable colour, texture and thickness. Works in progress and new ideas scribbled on sketchpads find a space on there too. On the day of my visit, I met Rosabella Ryder, Dulcie Sharpe, and Trudy Inkamala. Candy the art centre’s mascot dog kept watch under the table, making sure everyone was happy and safe.

artists handsThe soft sculptures coming from the hands of these artists, working quietly in this far-flung and remote part of the world, are in high demand in galleries from New York to Singapore. But here around the table, that does not matter. What matters are the stories that are coming to life, stitch by colourful stitch.

Seeing where these sculptures are conceived, I now understand where their soul comes from. It comes from the hearts and lives of these women who tell their stories with their hands. Needle and thread translate the soul of the Larapinta Town Camp in Alice Springs into artworks worthy of the best art collections in the world.

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 mums 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.

004

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 the 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.

011

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 edits 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 realise 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!

Wanderings with Fibre Art Network

WANDERING – To move about without a definite destination or purpose. To go by an indirect route or at no set pace. Amble. Meander.

Wandering also sounds just like Wondering, which according to the dictionary, means fascinated, curious and enthusiastic.

FAN Wanderings Chris Beardsley Fleurieu Meander

Fleurieu Meander – Chris Beardsley

And that is a perfect description of the art and artists represented here – 55 works by 35 members of FAN (Fibre Artist Network).

Although ‘fibre art’ is often perceived as a very narrow niche, with many limitations, the array of work produced by fibre artists is limited only by their imagination. With techniques ranging from hand and machine embroidery, felting, lace, and quilting,  to printing, stamping, dyeing, painting, and beads, as well as knitting and crochet, mixed media, feathers, and basketry, a common theme can be interpreted in countless ways.

In this case, the limitations were the theme ‘wanderings’, the size of the artwork (max 24ʺ or 61cm wide) and a time frame of around 18 months in which to plan, design and produce the work.

FAN Wanderings Alvena Hall Arboreus in Brachina

Arboreus in Brachina – Alvena Hall

Bev Bills (OAM), RSASA director and founding member of FAN, opened the exhibition with a short glimpse into the history books. The initiative came from Alvena Hall, who invited a group of fellow fibre artists to an informal meeting back in June 1994. The aim was to meet informally, without agenda, to promote local and interstate fibre art. FAN was born at that meeting and grew from strength to strength, with many significant South Australian textile personalities as past and present members.

Meetings were held at different venues and supported by galleries, guilds, and academic institutions. FAN meetings are currently held four times a year in February, May, August and November at Marden Senior College, under the leadership of Suzanne Gummow.

FAN Wanderings Margaret Carberry Citrus Vessel

Citrus Vessel – Margaret Carberry

In the current exhibition, as the theme and the background suggest – the work on display covers a very wide spectrum of techniques and materials, and even include a few three-dimensional works. Wendy Redden’s WAVES and Margaret Carberry’s CITRUS VESSEL stood out for me.

FAN Wanderings Madelaine Hedges Op Shop Mandala

Op Shop Mandala – Madelaine Hedges

A few of the works are by current Marden College textile students and I was excited by their eagerness for experimenting and playing with materials and techniques. Their wanderings are fresh and full of enthusiasm. I particularly liked the techniques used by Tanya Davies in WILD WEEDS: DANDELION and Chris Beardsley’s use of natural dyes in FLEURIEU MEANDER.

FAN Wanderings Wendy Redden Waves

Waves – Wendy Redden

Then there are the works by established artists like Madeleine Hedges, Alvena Hall, Joy Harvey and Cathy Boniciolli among others, which delights with their years of experience combined with their confidence in exploring new unknown territory.

But I guess that is what wanderings is all about – to be sure footed even when the destination is unknown.

Wanderings is on at Gallery M in Marion until 6 March 2016.
To learn more about FAN contact Suzanne Gummow.

 

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.

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.