Skip to main content
Read page text

Page Text

CONTENTS

INDULGE textiles to buy, collect or simply admire 96 SWATCH Favourite Fabric: No50 Western Shirts by Sarah Jane Downing, illustrated by Georgina McAusland GLOBAL textiles from around the world 21 WIND-SWEPT WOOLLENS Tea and tweed in the Falkland Islands by Linda Cortright 28 ARAN The great traveller by Vawn Corrigan 24 PANEL SHOW The Ros Tapestry by Patricia Cleveland-Peck 42 STONE SOUP WITH RUSTY NAILS The work of Heidi Bjørnsdotter Thorvik by Deborah Beau, photographs by Joanna Maclennan 60 BLANKET FEVER Coast Salish robes of wealth by Liz Hammond-Kaarremaa 70 GRASP THE NETTLE Japanese nettle fibre robes by Thomas Murray and Virginia Soenksen 76 DRESSED TO KILL Japanese Samurai warrior armour by Rhonda Sonnenberg ANECDOTE textiles that touch our lives 10 FABRIC OF WAR The lost history of the global wool trade by Madelyn Shaw and Trish FitzSimons 20 KNIT YOUR BIT Grey wool is our ammunition by Laura Gray 34 GIRL POWER Glasgow School of Art embroidery by Clare Hunter 36 THE RED CROSS The ins and outs of cross stitch by Suzanne Travers 46 A SINGLE THREAD A new novel by Tracy Chevalier 68 YOSHIKO WADA World-renowned textile artist and indigo expert by Laura Gray, portrait by Marie Taillefer ATTIRE critical reporting of fashion trends 26 THE GLOVES ARE OFF Sanquhar knitting by Angharad Thomas, illustrated by Thomas Radclyffe 48 THE HISTORY BOOKS Fashion and Literature by Nicola Donovan 52 KNIT TOGETHER Justin Trudeau, cultural diplomacy and the cowichan sweater by Elizabeth Kalbfleisch 58 LOVE IN A COLD CLIMATE Meghan O’Brien swaps snowboarding for spinning by Laura Gray INDUSTRY from craft to commerce 64 ON THE EDGE Fabric printing at Kinngait Studios, Cape Dorset by Roxane Shaughnessy and Anna Richard 78 RAIN CHECK The secrets of umbrella making by Amelia Thorpe, images by Horst Friedrichs

Below; Private Soldier, Battle of Waterloo, 1815

Below; German Private Soldier, Battle of the Somme, 1916

SELVEDGE 12

ARAN The great traveller

SELVEDGE 28

SELVEDGE 13

p12-13

Far Left; Island children circa. 1950 celebrating their confirmation on Inis Oírr one of the Aran islands

Left; The vintage Aran sweater which travelled from the Museum of Folk and Country Life in County Mayo, Ireland, to New York to feature as an iconic object in the 2016 exhibition Is Fashion Modern? in MOMA, New York

'Donncha l Joe Ó

ichae

Cour tesy of M

Irish Aran, Irish style and Aran all refer to the richly textured knit which has become an enduring classic. It is an iconic emblem of Irishness, as representative of Ireland as tartan is for Scotland. Casting off from Ireland, Aran has travelled the globe and is now truly international. It may have begun as a simple sweater but its structures, whether arranged traditionally or merely referenced in subtle ways, have been subsumed into the vernacular of knit globally. As a muse, it offers itself as a willing partner in the wildest imaginings of genius designers and plays its part in the quietest of ensembles. Seldom off the catwalks of the world, a staple in the luxury stores of Tokyo and New York, and appearing in countless photographs of celebrities; it is Ireland’s most successful emigrant. Like weaving, knitting was brought to a very high standard in Ireland due to government support of it as a cottage industry suited to rural areas. To hand-make the definitive Aran, with flawless tension and superb definition, is a skill which has greatly declined. Once, teams of thousands knitted for the export market; today, about a hundred traditional professional hand knitters produce for designers; for export; and to stock long-established prestigious outlets within the country. While the majority of Arans are machine knitted, the focus is towards the upper end of the market where features such as hand finishing, contemporary design and luxury natural yarns are taken for granted. The Irish knitwear industry is the most vigorous of its textile industries today. Many of the companies produce up to 90% for the export market. Their strength is that they can draw from the heritage: the country has been exporting Aran knits globally for over seventy years. Perhaps one of the reasons it has travelled so far is because it beats every other knit for texture. Beloved for its three-dimensional sculptural character, Aran is monochrome so the undistracted eye can enjoy the strength of its primordial forms. Its surface is full of interest. The honeycomb stitch creates undulating fields, diamond stitches enclose a plainer ground such as moss stitch and intersecting cables of all kinds cross the surface like raised paths for the eyes to travel on. Curvaceous, deliciously sensual forms frame the body. In the form of throws, cushions and blankets, its texture speaks the plain language of ‘home’. Movement is in the DNA of Irish Aran. It was developed within the fishing communities of the Aran islands, three Atlantic-lashed rocky outcrops off the west coast of Ireland (not to be confused with the Arran island in Scotland). Original design inspiration included shared influences which travelled on the waves. The fisherman’s sweater (gansey) with its characteristic cable designs was the point of departure for Irish Aran. The original gansey worn by Aran island men was usually decorated just from the chest upwards and commonly dyed dark blue. White is the traditional colour of physical and spiritual purity in this part of the world and it was customary for island boys to wear báinín geansaí (from bán meaning white) for the Catholic ceremonies of Holy Communion and Confirmation. These garments included far more complex decorative work and were highly individual pieces; wearable art created in undyed wool. By the 1930s, báinín geansaí were being made into adult sizes for the newly developed market on the mainland. Once Aran made that crossing to the mainland, it picked up the pace. The forces that took Irish Aran around the world provide an insight into the profound connection between imagination and textiles. Firstly, the

SELVEDGE 29

p28-29

STONE SOUP WITH RUSTY NAILS The work of Heidi Bjørnsdotter Thorvik

SELVEDGE 42

It’s quite beautiful how certain memories never leave you, how they plant a seed inside you that grows for a lifetime. Heidi Bjørnsdotter Thorvik has never forgotten the repair ship that used to dock in her village on the west coast of Norway when she was a child. The vessel, known as ‘Vølaren’, travelled up and down the fjords, repairing everything it could, and never throwing anything away. If something couldn’t be mended (‘vølt’), it had to be put aside and saved for another purpose. That was the rule on and off-board, at a time and place where nothing went to waste and everything had be re-used or repurposed out of necessity. At home, Bjørnsdotter’s grandmother taught her to see the extraordinary in the ordinary. ‘We lived in the same house and she was always doing something exciting. She transformed junk into furniture, clothes, pictures and sculptures. We used to collect things on our nature walks such as roots, sticks, stones and wasps’ nests’, she says. Her father, a carpenter, instilled in her a deep love of wood, ‘my strongest memory from my childhood is the smell of fresh chopped timber’, and the beauty of nature, traditional handicrafts and rusty nails. ‘Å koke suppe på spiker’ or ‘making soup on a nail’ is the Norwegian equivalent of the Stone Soup fable about making do with what you have. Bjørnsdotter’s creativity is inspired by and inextricably linked to her childhood and close relationship to nature. She lives near the forest surrounding Oslo and spends as much time as possible outdoors in harmony with the cycles and energies of the seasons. Nature is her endless source of peace and strength. Whenever she needs to clear her head she goes for a run in the woods or for a long walk on a wild stretch of beach, inevitably collecting leaves, shells, fallen branches or strands of seaweed along the way. Foraging is second nature to her, like a family tradition, in fact. When you grow up learning to see beauty in simplicity and imperfection, the world becomes rich with creative possibility. A seemingly ordinary ring of silver birch spotted on a trail is transformed into a piece of graphic artwork once hung up on a rusty nail, and an armful of driftwood gathered on a river bank is grouped into a collection of time-worn textures and tones. Nothing is bereft of potential or beyond repair. Found materials, mostly raw and natural – wood, wool, linen, leather, nettle – are the starting point for Bjørnsdotter in her everyday work as a teacher and designer (she created her business Voelte in 2005). Her desire to re-use, recycle and repair, along with her immense respect for the environment, ignited her passion for arts and crafts at a very early age. She could knit a line before she could write a line, and has been mastering traditional skills ever since, pursuing formal studies in carpentry, decorative textiles and ancient spinning techniques, as well as listening and learning from a smattering of remaining craftsmen. ‘I love to visit the workshops of the old, simple and honest handcrafters I know. I have a few back home that I have to see again before it’s too late’. Understandably, cultural heritage is of paramount importance to Bjørnsdotter. She teaches arts and crafts to children aged 11-13 and is eager to share her knowledge of traditional Norwegian techniques to increase their reach and value, hopefully sowing the seeds of a manual revival or nurturing a different, more modern approach to handicrafts amongst the young. It’s no easy task in this hightech, planned obsolescence age where kids are used to being entertained and have lost their basic understanding of materials, tools and process. They have a good, critical eye but often lack patience. ‘It takes time and practice to make good stuff with your hands. I think it’s really important that they learn that’, she says. Whoever coined the term ‘slow’ textile designer, must have had Bjørnsdotter in mind. Truly focused on and involved in every stage of her creation, the process really is as important as the end product. Whether foraging, repairing, knitting, sewing, crocheting, spinning, weaving, dyeing, sculpting or woodworking, the creative journey is exactly that – a journey. Nettleknitting is a case in point. Bjørnsdotter has been experimenting with this slow, timeconsuming process for a while and is still not satisfied with the results. In a similar way to linen, the nettles are dried, stripped and combed before being spun, not her

SELVEDGE 43

p42-43

A SINGLE THREAD

Tracy Chevalier’s new novel

Whenever she walked through the front entrance below the Great West Window and into Winchester Cathedral, the long nave in front of her and the vast space above bounded by a stunning vaulted ceiling, Violet felt the whole weight of the nine-hundred-year-old building hover over her, and wanted to cry. It was the only place built specifically for spiritual sustenance in which she felt she was indeed being spiritually fed. Not necessarily from the services, which apart from Evensong were formulaic and rigid, though the repetition was comforting. It was more the reverence for the place itself, for the knowledge of the many thousands of people who had come there throughout its history, looking for a place in which to be free to consider the big questions about life and death rather than worrying about paying for the winter’s coal or needing a new coat. She loved it for the more concrete things as well: for its coloured windows and elegant arches and carvings, for its old patterned tiles, for the elaborate tombs of bishops and kings and noble families, for the surprising painted bosses that covered the joins between the stone ribs on the distant ceiling, and for all of the energy that had gone into making those things, for the creators throughout history. Like most smaller services, Evensong was held in the choir. The choir boys with their scrubbed, mischievous faces sat in one set of stall benches, the congregants in the other,

with any overflow in the adjacent presbytery seats. Violet suspected Evensong was considered frivolous by regular church goers compared to Sunday morning services, but she preferred the lighter touch of music to the booming organ, and the shorter, simpler sermon to the hectoring morning one. When she sat in the choir stalls, she liked to study the carved oak arches overhead, decorated with leaves and flowers and animals and even a Green Man whose moustache turned into abundant foliage. One Sunday afternoon, Violet slipped late into the presbytery as a visiting dean was giving the sermon. When she went to sit she moved a kneeler that had been placed on the chair, then held it in her lap and studied it. It was a rectangle about nine by twelve inches with a mustard-coloured circle like a medallion in the centre surrounded by a mottled field of blue. The medallion design was of a bouquet of branches with chequer-capped acorns amongst blue-green foliage. Chequered acorns had been embroidered in the four corners as well. The colours were surprisingly bright, the pattern cheerful and un-churchlike. It reminded Violet of the background of mediaeval tapestries with their intricate millefleurs arrangement of leaves and flowers. This design was simpler than that but nonetheless captured an echo from the past. They all did, she thought, placing the kneeler on the floor and glancing at those around her, each with a central circle of flowers or knots on a blue background. There were not yet enough embroidered kneelers for every chair, and the rest had the usual unmemorable hard lozenges of red and black felt. The new embroidered ones lifted the tone of the presbytery, giving it colour and a sense of designed purpose. At the service’s end, Violet picked up the kneeler to look at it again, smiling as she traced with her finger the chequered acorns. It always seemed a contradiction to have to be solemn in the Cathedral amidst the uplifting beauty of the stained glass, the wood carving, the stone sculpture, the glorious architecture, the boys’ crystalline tones, and now the kneelers. A hovering presence made her look up. A woman about her age stood in the aisle next to her, staring at the kneeler Violet held. She was wearing a swagger coat in forest green that swung from her shoulders and had a double row of large black buttons running down the front. Matching it was a dark green felt hat with feathers tucked in the black band. Despite her modish attire,

she did not have the appearance of being modern, but looked rather as if she had stepped aside from the flow of the present. Her hair was not waved; her pale grey eyes seemed to float in her face. ‘Sorry. Would you mind if I –’ She reached out to flip over the kneeler and reveal the dark blue canvas underside. ‘I just like to look at it when I’m here. It’s mine, you see.’ She tapped on the border. Violet squinted: stitched there were the initials and a year: DJ 1932. Violet watched her gazing at her handiwork. ‘How long did it take you to make it?’ she asked, partly out of politeness, but curiosity too. ‘Two months. I had to unpick bits a few times. These kneelers may be used in the Cathedral for centuries, and so they must be made correctly from the start.’ She paused. ‘Ars longa, vita brevis.’ Violet thought back to her Latin at school. ‘Art is long, life short,’ she quoted her old Latin teacher. ‘Yes.’ Violet could not imagine the kneeler being there for hundreds of years. The War had taught her not to assume that anything would last, even something as substantial as a cathedral, much less a mere kneeler. Indeed, just twenty-five years before, a diver, William Walker, had been employed for five years to shore up the foundations of Winchester Cathedral with thousands of sacks of concrete so that the building would not topple in on itself. Nothing could be taken for granted. She wondered if the builders of the Cathedral nine hundred years ago had thought of her, standing under their arches, next to their thick pillars, on top of their mediaeval tiles, lit by their stained glass – a woman in 1932, living and worshipping so differently from how they did. They would not have conjured up Violet Speedwell, that seemed certain. A Single Thread, by Tracy Chevalier, Harper Collins, 2019.

p46-47

SELVEDGE 4

Skip to main content