Two-day natural dyeing workshops at Aranya Natural, Munnar

aranya natural

 

The first two days of “The sustainability of natural dyes” conference took place at Eastend hotel in Munnar, followed by two days of natural dyeing workshops (at an extra cost) at Aranya Natural’s HQ. Due to limited numbers, all the spaces for the workshops filled up quickly, but many conference attendees requested to stand by and watch, which subsequently overfilled the workshops on the first day.

It was hard to blame those who wanted to watch the workshops as it was a rare opportunity to learn from three leading natural dyeing experts and a group of Japanese indigo farmers and dyers. Since the process of natural dyeing involves the understanding of chemistry, many of the experts would focus more on the chemistry rather than the aesthetics. To me, this is quite valuable, as I believe it is crucial to understand the science behind it all in order to achieve the desired results.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

 

The first workshop that I attended was conducted by Michel Garcia, a world-renowned botanist, chemist, dyer, and naturalist. He is the founder of Couleur Garance (1998) in Lauris, France, and established Le Jardin Conservatoire de Plantes Tinctoriales (Botanical Garden of Dye Plants) in 2000. I have long wanted to attend a workshop by Michel, but he doesn’t seem to conduct many regular workshops, and I can only watch his videos online. In person, he is very funny, passionate and creative, you can really feel his passion for plants and natural dyeing.

In natural dyeing, a mordant is often needed to fix the dyes onto the textiles, and the most common mordant used is alum/potassium aluminium sulfate. At the workshop, Michel demonstrated how to use old tea leaves as a natural mordant, which was very interesting. However, the workshop was extremely packed, which made it difficult for us to hear and follow him properly. It was a shame that this issue was only addressed on the next day.

 

aranya natural  michel garcia

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Screen printing workshop using natural dyes with Michel Garcia

 

The afternoon workshop was conducted by Jagada Rajappa, who is an independent textile entrepreneur/consultant on natural dyes. She demonstrated dyeing silk yarn with kapila (mellotus Phllipinces) and lac (coccous Lacca), which resulted in vibrant red and yellow. The results revealed that naturally dyed colours are not dull and muted as many would expect.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

aranya natural

Jagada Rajappas workshop and ceremony

 

The next day, the workshops were restricted to those who had originally enrolled, which made more sense. The first workshop was conducted by Linda LaBelle, who is a weaver and natural dyer specialising in indigo. She also runs the website The Yarn Tree that sells fair-trade indigo and other natural dyed items. After yesterday’s observational workshops, I was longing to get my hands dirty. Finally, we got to do some doodling with natural indigo on some cotton fabric that has been pre-dyed in myrobalan. It was a fun session and we got to taste some indigo tea grown by Linda.

 

aranya natural

aranya natural  aranya natural

aranya natural

Indigo Doodles workshop with Linda LaBelle

 

The last session was the one I had been looking forward to since I signed up months ago. Buaisou was established in Tokushima by a collective of indigo farmers in 2015, and it is partly responsible for the revival of natural indigo worldwide in recent years. Not only it has over 44K followers on Instagram, it also collaborates frequently with other fashion and textiles companies to promote Japanese indigo and the colour ‘Japan Blue’. Buaisou is renowned for its indigo leaf farming – from cultivating the raw indigo, fermenting the indigo leaves (Sukumo), dyeing, and designing, all the way to production. Since the fermentation process takes around 10 days, Kyoko (the manager) had to arrive 2 weeks earlier to set up the vat.

 

buaisou

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

Since I have previously tried katagami (making paper stencils for dyeing textiles) and katazome (the Japanese method of dyeing fabrics using a resist paste applied through a stencil) with Bryan Whitehead in Japan (see my earlier post), I was quite familiar with the process. This time, I didn’t need to design and cut my own stencils as there were many beautiful and complex precut designs to choose from. We were all given a cotton bandana to work on, and after applying the paste through the stencils, we all took turns to dip the fabric into the indigo vat with some guidance.

I would say this was a taster workshop, and would love to learn more from them when I next visit Tokushima (which was supposed to happen this year but it got cancelled because of COVID-19).

 

buaisou workshop  buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

buaisou workshop

 

After the workshop, it was time to say goodbye to everyone. Over the four days, I made many new friends from around the world who share the same passion as me, and got the opportunity to chat to many experts in the field, hence the conference has exceeded all my expectations. The fact that it managed to take place just before COVID-19 became a pandemic was extremely lucky.

After exchanging contacts with many attendees, a few of us decided to walk back to town and have dinner together. It was a pleasant walk downhill and we had a fun girls’ night out – something that I haven’t done for a long time.

In the past few years, the pursue of natural dyeing has opened doors for me and enabled me to make new friends from around the world. This was completely unexpected, and it made me realise that I am on the right path.

 

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

srishti welfare centre

munnar

munnar

aranya natural

munnar

munnar

 

 

African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection at Brunei Gallery

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Often it is easy to miss many excellent exhibitions in a big city like London, especially after Timeout got rid of its exhibitions listing when it became a free magazine. Meanwhile, the few art listing apps don’t seem to be comprehensive either. This is when Instagram can be useful sometimes… it was a post that caught my attention and brought me to The African Textiles – Karun Thakar Collection exhibition at SOAS’s Brunei Gallery. Thanks to this post, I managed to see the remarkable exhibition before it ended. I felt that the show was not given the publicity it deserved, and many people who are interested in the subject probably would have missed it like I almost did.

The Karun Thakar Collection is one of the world’s largest private collections of African textiles, and this exhibition showcased 150 exhibits and textiles from west and north Africa including Morocco, Tunisia, Ivory Coast, Mali, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon. Karun Thakar is a passionate collector of textiles, and it would be hard not to be impressed by the outstandling and vast collection.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collectionimg_4997-min

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

In recent years, I have devoted more of my time to the world of textiles. One of the reasons why textiles fascinate me so much is the important roles they play in every culture throughout history. Every handmade textile tells a story, which reveals the fascinating tradition of where it comes from. Often I am surprised by the similarities between textiles made from different parts of the world. The language of textiles is universal and it can break through all cultural barriers.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Before the exhibition, I knew very little about African textiles, so I was quite blown away by the vibrant colour combinations, primitive patterns, and the variety of weaving and dyeing techniques. Aside from large hangings, there were also rugs, costumes, jewellery, and even a wonderful selection of woven hats.

There were some distinctive stripweave ‘kente’ or ‘nwentoma‘ cloths made by the Ashanti and Ewe tribes from Ghana at the exhibition. The cloths have interwoven checkered patterns made of silk and cotton fabrics, and each colour has a symbolic meaning.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

I particularly loved the Indigo room, which was full of indigo-dyed textiles. Indigo is an ancient dye, and the oldest known indigo-dyed textile was discovered in 2009 at Huaca Prieta, Peru dating to 6,000 years ago. Yet the practice of indigo-dyeing also has a long history in India, Japan, China, S.E.Asia, Iran, Africa and Europe. In Egypt, blue stripes found in the borders of Egyptian linen mummy cloths were dated around 2400 BC.

Inside the room, there were many indigo pieces from West India (partcicularly from Mali, Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon), where the tradition of indigo dyeing has been practised for centuries. It was really interesting to see works created by the resist-dyed technique; although they are not as refined and sophisticated as the ones in Japan, the primitive aesthetics make them unique, and immensely different from the bold and colourful ones in the other rooms.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can buy the book ‘African Textiles’ published by Prestel, 2015. My wish, though, is that one day Mr Karun Thakar’s collection would get a permanent space somewhere so that the public can admire and learn more about the beautiful textiles from this continent.

 

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection  African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

African Textiles - Karun Thakar Collection

 

Festival of Natural Fibres & Saori weaving at Craft Central

craft central  craft central

 

Even though I live in London, I don’t often venture away from my neighbourhood or the centre, and I had no idea where the Isle of Dogs is until I looked it up on google. I have not been to the Craft Central‘s new venue since they moved across town more than two years ago. Their new space is a Grade II listed Victorian (1860) forge with many historic features located Isle of Dogs not far from Canary Wharf. The spacious industrial building was converted by Emrys Architects to provide artist studios and exhibition hall for crafts people and other creative professionals.

I missed the Festival of Natural fibre in Sept, but I attended part 2 of the festival in November. Organised by Khadi London, Freeweaver SAORI Studio, ONE and Craft Central, the festival aimed to showcase the best ethical and sustainable products, and discussed current trends and challenges in the revolution in the global textiles industry. Personally, I I believe that when the public learn more about the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, many are likely to change their shopping habits (though it takes times), and this festival highlights the beauty and sustainability of textiles and fashion made from natural fibres.

 

craft central  craft central

craft central  craft central

 

There were textiles workshops throughout the day, but unfortunately they were all fully booked when I tried to book. It shows the popularity of these craft workshops nowadays!

 

craft central  craft central

craft central

craft central

craft central

 

There was a demonstration of Indian Charkha wheel spinning, a craft that is often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and regarded as the symbol of the Provisional Government of Free India. The handwoven cloth spun by the wheel is called Khadi, which is usually made of cotton or other natural fiber cloth originating from India and Bangladesh. Also, the yarn used is dyed naturally, so it is much more sustainable than synthetic dyes.

 

craft central  craft central

house of tamarind  house of tamarind

Bottom: House of tamarind

 

At the event, there were some items that are woven with natural fibres in the Japanese Saori weaving style, which I found quite fascinating. Established by Misao Jo (1913-2018) at the age of 57, Saori is free style hand weaving with no rules or restrictions. There is a sense of freedom and liberation, and it enables the weaver to express his/her creativity through the weaving.

Although I couldn’t sign up for the workshop on the day of the festival, I did sign up for a workshop with textiles artist Erna Janine from Freeweaver Saori studio a few weeks after the event ended. Erna helped us to set up the loom and asked us to pick from a wide range of coloured threads from her studio.

 

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori

 

For next few hours, we were just weaving away and being as creative as possible. Since there were no rules, I decided to go a bit ‘wild’ and make a more 3-D piece with the wool I found. I absolutely loved the experience, and I wished that the workshop was longer. I used to think that weaving is a boring and repetitive task, but this workshop completely changed my mind, and I am hoping to learn more about this craft in the future.

 

craft central

freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

 

LDF19: Biodesign Here Now at Open Cell

open cell

OPEN CELL

OPENCELL

 

After my recent visit to the biotech hub Open Cell at the Shepherds Bush Market, I was keen to learn more about biodesign and its future. Luckily, I didn’t have to wait long because at the London Design Festival this year, Open Cell organised an event called Biodesign Here Now at its premise over one weekend.

The event showcased over 30 emerging international designers and startups with innovative ideas that are breaking boundaries between biology, design, and technology. Although I missed the fashion show on the opening night, I did manage to visit the exhibition and listen to some designers talk about their projects.

 

bio design now

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil – an architecture collective of PhD researchers from Newcastle University specialising in living technologies for the future. Our mission is to challenge conventional methods of construction by proposing an ecocentric alternative. We believe that the buildings of the future should be living, breathing and inclusive of nature.

 

Paula Nerlich

Paula Nerlich – her current research explores vegan biodegradable bioplastics and foams from industrial and household food waste with diverse possible applications within interiors and product design.

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic

Nina Jotanovic (in collaboration with Bartlett School of Architecture) – ‘Biogenic Luminosity’  is a research project that questions ‘flat’ appearance and unsustainability of synthetic materials in comparison to those of biogenic and geologic origin.

 

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad

Mohammad Jawad – Manufactured by Nature: Growing Generatively Designed Products

 

Post Carbon Lab

Post Carbon LabPost Carbon Lab

Post Carbon Lab – a design research studio launched their service pilots of two pioneering microbiological processes for sustainable and regenerative fashion applications: Bacterial Pigment Dyeing and Photosynthesis Coating on fabrics and garments.

 

Studio Aurelie Fontan  Studio Aurelie Fontan

Aurelie Fontan is a sustainable fashion designer, with a focus on bio-design and circular economy (including zero-waste production methods in texture making and cutting). Her collection includes a bio-designed dress from bacteria, recycled materials and four fully recycled leather outfits, none of them being sewn together but rather linked through innovative re-usable elements that allow complete disassembly and recycling.

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

BIO DESIGN  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture  Piero D'Angelo's Wetwear Couture

Piero D’Angelo’s Wetwear Couture uses Physarum Polycephalum/slime mould to create fascinating fashion pieces

 

OPEN CELL

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd KAIKU Living Color

Nicole Stjernswärd – KAIKU Living Color is a sustainable alternative to colours made from petroleum. KAIKU uses plant waste to create natural powder pigments. Many plants & fruits we eat every day, such as avocados, onions, and oranges, have valuable colors within their skins and peels. Normally these are left to rot in landfills, but KAIKU transforms this waste into a high value resource.

 

img_2253  img_2251

img_2252

Nikoletta Karastathi & Zafer Tandogdu’s ‘Awareness of the Microbial World’ explores antimicrobial resistance and the human-microbe relationship as key concepts for creating bio-textile.

 

Carolyn Raff

Carolyn Raff uses Agar Agar, an algae based gelatin substitute for many different experiments as a new kind of bioplastic. The complete biodegradable material can be created in many different shades, looks and structures. It is dyed with natural dye, mainly with algae based colours, such as astaxanthin and phycocyanin.

 

Mira Nameth Biophilica

Mira Nameth Biophilica  Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia - 'Made by moths'

Top & bottom left: Mira Nameth – ‘Biophilica’ is the result of a year long material development, working with plant-based resources. Biophilica materials are truly local, biodegradable, and recyclable.
Bottom right: Chiara Tommencioni Pisapia – ‘Made by moths’ is a project that investigates the potential of clothes moths and their digestive enzymes as collaborators in selecting and breaking down keratin-based textile-waste.

 

Silvio Tinello - 'Grown Objects'
Silvio Tinello – ‘Grown Objects’ is a collection where all the producrs have been bio-fabricated. This means, grown and harvested using biological processes. Grown in two predominant materials: A fungi bio agglomerate and bacterial cellulose, both grown in yerba mate: part of the “argentine cultural DNA’.

Lindsay Hanson, Margot Vaaerpass and Zaki Musa Resistance Runner  Wearable Lab on Body

Left: Lah Studio – ‘The Resistance Runner’ is a bio-formulated shoe that utilizes cloned bacteriocins and micrococcus in a nutrient broth cocktail; essentially harnessing the bacteria’s own defense system as a protective layer. 

Right: MIT Media Lab’s Fluid Interfaces group creates ‘Wearable Lab on Body’ wearable systems and interfaces for cognitive enhancement.

Valentina Dipietro Mychrome

Valentina Dipietro – ‘Mychrome’ is a project that explores the possibility of mycelium and its surface applications. Mycelium is the vegetative part of mushrooms and it has been used to bind agricultural waste and create new sustainable materials which are naturally fire retardant, insulating and sound-absorbing. Dipietro likes to focus on designing with waste as well as using it as a pigment to dye and finish her materials.

Midushi Kochhar A waste project

Midushi Kochhar – ‘A waste project’ is made from by-products of poultry industry, namely, eggshells and feathers. The aim is to create alternatives for plastic disposables and encourage sustainable living. All the objects are 100% biodegradable and once their purpose is over, they can literally be crushed and thrown away in the compost.

 

Pat Pataranutaporn wearable lab on body

Pat Pataranutaporn from MIT gave a talk on the future of ‘Wearable Lab on Body’

 

Denimaize

Denimaize

Denimaize gave a talk on denim made from corn husk

 

The last talk of the day was by Denimaize, a studio from the University of Pennsylvania, which includes bio-designers, artists and engineers. They use wasted and diseased corn husks and process them to extract their cellulose fibers. The corn fibers are spun with flax and woven in a twill pattern. The fabric is then coloured with microbial dye and relaxed with cellulase enzymes. Denimaize is a response to the dominance of the corn crop in the U.S. and the waste it generates, as well as the pollution in the denim industry. Denimaize is proposing a biological (albeit corny) alternative to the old way of denim processing.

The weekend event was interesting and inspiring, and it is very encouraging to see so many designers, startups and innovators coming up with sustainable solutions to address the issues our planet is facing right now. Sustainability is not a trend, it has to be here to stay for the sake of our future.

 

 

London design festival: Kings Cross design district

coaldropsyard

coaldropsyard  coaldropsyard

Coal Drops Yard

 

This year, the ever-changing Kings Cross was chosen as the design district for the first time at the London design festival. Aside from the annual design trade show, DesignJunction, there were many exhibitions and activities taking place during the festival.

I received a trade preview invitation to visit Designjunction, so I set off earlier to see what was happening in the area. The initial installations I encountered were two giant wooden sculptures that resembled robots. Designed by Steuart Padwick, the “Talk to me” installations were designed to ‘converse’ with passerby, as part of Designjunction in support of the charity Time to Change to encourage Londoners to talk about mental health.

 

img_1841-min  img_1842-min

‘Talk to me’ installations

 

img_1844-min  img_1845-min

Camille Walala’s installations

 

Probably the most ‘bizarre’ installation at the design festival was “Disco Carbonara”, by London-based Italian furniture designer Martino Gamper. Inpspired by the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and a Potemkin village, the designer used film sets and scaffolding to create a temporary structure. There was disco music playing inside and a bouncer standing outside stamping visitor’s hands, yet there was nothing inside… it was just a façade.

The fake disco structure was made from a patchwork of cladding created from waste offcuts from an Italian company called Alpi. The conceptual installation aimed to make visitors think about urban design, and the sustainability of temporary structures created for short-term events like the London design festival.

 

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

Disco Carbonara by Martino Gamper

 

Tottex and Kiosk N1C 

Textile waste banner installations by Tottex and Kiosk N1C

 

img_1906

img_1905  img_1907

STORE Store making meringue

 

Granby Workshop launched a new range of ceramic tableware made from 100% waste materials. The range has grown out of extensive research by the Liverpool-based ceramics studio gathering, testing and analysing materials from a wide range of post-consumer and industrial waste streams including glass, metal and ceramic recycling, steel production, quarry spoils and water filtration. Collectively, these sources generate hundreds of thousands of tonnes of waste per year which otherwise goes to landfill. The range is now available for purchase on Kickstarter.

 

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop  Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

Granby Workshop

 

tom dixon  tom dixon

tom dixon  tom dixon

TouchySmellyFeelyTastyNoisy at Tom Dixon

 

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg Studio

PRINT - Bill Amberg

PRINT – Bill Amberg Studio‘s new ccollection of digitally-printed leather hides are made with collaborators including Marcel Wanders, Calico Wallpaper, Solange Azagury-Partridge, Lisa Miller, Alexandra Champalimaud and artist Matthew Day Jackson.

 

Out of all the exhibits and events that I saw on the day, ‘Designing in the turbulent times‘ initiated by Maison/0 – the sustainable innovation programme created at Central Saint Martins in partnership with the luxury group LVMH – was by far the most interesting and thought-provoking. The exhibition showcased graduate projects from Central Saint Martins offering compelling propositions for more sustainable and equitable futures. “How can we break away from our current systems and adapt a more sustainable way of living?” is the question that we should all be thinking about, and here, these young designers are trying to address this issue in their work.

 

designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Maria Cuji

Bottom: Maria Cuji’s worked with artisans from Ecuador tp produce woven textile made from factory offcuts and leftover yarn.

 

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

'Weighting feathers' by Jing Jiang

‘Weighting feathers’ by Jing Jiang uses waste feathers from the farming industry to create a jewellery design range

 

Olivia Page

Olivia Page

Olivia Pages exploration on bio-waste materials and has created a “Recipe Book of North Portugal, Abundant Biological Wastes for Construction Materials”

 

designing in turbulent timesi  designing in turbulent times

designing in turbulent times

Grayshan Audren‘s ‘Seamless: Woven workwear for the automated future’ addresses the waste issue in the fashion industry; Top right: ‘Wool: Re Crafted’ by Nathalie Spencer is a vegan alternative to wool by utilising the discarded waste leaves of pineapples from markets and juice bars around London and processing the fibres into a wearable material. 

 

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley  Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley

Tansy Hamley’s ‘An Indian traffic jam” display of blockprinted and indigo-dyed textiles at Central St Martins reminded me of my textiles trip in Indian earlier in the year.

 

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse by LSA & Friends

designjunction: The Greenhouse showcased LSA’s new CANOPY collection, a partnership with the Eden Project alongside a range of products and concepts from brands such as Vitra, String Furniture, Artcoustic, with plants decorated by The Botanical Boys.

 

The organiser of designjunction changed this year, and the locations of the show were scattered around different parts of Kings Cross. I skipped the Canopy pop-up shops because there were too many activities happening at once! At the main Cubitt House Pavilion, there were less emerging designers and fewer exhibitors than before, which was quite disappointing. I visited my friends from Di Classe, had some drinks and decided to call it a night.

 

diclasse  di classe

img_1931

isokon  isokon

Designjunction at Cubitt House Pavilion

 

The last stop of the night was Designjunction’s Rado Star Prize in the King’s Cross Light Tunnel where they showcased design pieces by the next generation of young British designers. The theme, ‘Re:Imagine’, explored different ways design can improve life: by evolving existing product forms through materials, function, technology, end-use or even, re-use. Surprisingly, this section of the show was more interesting than the main pavilion, so I believe the organiser need to make some changes to improve the show next year.

 

img_1948

img_1947

img_1951

Top: Judges’ winner 2019 – Huw Evans’s Concertina collection

 

The art of paper: folding, pleating and manipulation

paper art

 

Unlike children today, when I think of my childhood, paper played a crucial role in my early days. Aside from drawing on paper, I collected paper bookmarks, writing paper, and stickers; I dressed up paper dolls with my classmates after school; I did origami and paper cutouts; I learned calligraphy and practised on translucent paper; I made birthday cards for my parents… It would be fair to say that paper dominated my childhood.

But like most people these day, I am spending more time in front of the computer, and I sorely miss the days of touching and playing with paper. It is not easy to find a course that focuses on paper art (and I don’t mean origami or pop up books), yet I came across a Paper art course at the The Camden college and I quickly signed up for it. I loved it.

 

paper art  paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

 

Years ago, I bought paper artist Peter Jackson‘s book ‘Folding techniques for designers’, and I have tried (and failed) to create some paper structures from the book. I have also applied some of the techniques onto textiles with some interesting results. Hence it was encouraging to know that our tutor/designer/artist Thomas Prendeville also used this book as a reference for the class.

 

paper art  textiles art

Manipulating textiles using folded paper moulds is fun too

 

One of the most basic techniques is learning to score, which means creating a crease in the paper so that it can be folded easily. Thomas suggested using a ‘dead’ pen and a metal ruler to score lines on the paper. Another important point to remember is the rule of mountain (high) and valley (low), which applies to everything we fold. Folding straight lines are not difficult, but patience is required if you are folding larger pieces. And it becomes more challenging when you fold curves, so the weight of the paper has to be considered.

 

paper art  paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

 

Paper folding feels like meditation to me. It is a meditative practice and you cannot rush it. Yet when you see the results, you would appreciate all the time and effort that has been put into it. Also, the possibilities are endless, and you can certainly apply the skills onto other materials like textiles and metal.

Architects like Thomas Heatherwick often applies paper folding techniques in his architectural work, e.g. the vents for a substation cooling system at Paternoster Square in London (2009) was derived from a piece of A4 paper. And for decades, Japanese fashion designer Issey Miyake has applied the pleating techniques in his collections. He invented the ‘garment pleating technique’ back in the 80s and launched the Pleats Please collection in 1994, which is consisted of light, stretchable and wrinkle-proof garments for all shapes and sizes. In recent years, Miyake and his Reality Lab. team also launched IN-EI, an innovative lighting line produced by Italian lighting company Artemide.

 

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art  paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art  paper art

 

It always amaze me to see a flat piece of paper being transformed into a sculptural piece. I also love the shadow and light created by the ‘mountains and valleys’, which look beautiful when being photographed up close.

 

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art

 

After scoring and folding for a few hours a week (plus homework time), we all improved and became quicker by the end of the course. Meanwhile, Thomas was keen to get us to make larger duplicates so that we could create hanging sculptures by connecting mutiple pieces together. Before I knew it, my place was filled with paper sculptures!

I thoroughly enjoyed the course and would love to carry on folding or apply the techniques elsewhere. Now all I need is paper, time, and a large studio.

Watch this space.

 

paper art

paper art

paper art

paper art  paper art

 

Other interesting paper artists:

Richard Sweeney – an English paper artist who creates large sculptural paper installations. He has also published books on the subject.

Fung + Bedford studio – I became acquainted with Angela Fung at a Christmas design fair. Angela is a paper artist and jewellery designer who makes origami-inspired jewellery and large scale architectural paper sculptures for many U.K. art institutions.

Foldability – a London based design studio run by Kyla McCallum, a set designer and paper artist who has been working with origami for over 10 years. She also sells paper art and lighting on her website.

Aditi Anuj – a textile designer from Mumbai not only produces large-scale paper sculptural installations, but she also conducts workshop and collaborates with other artists.

 

 

London Craft Week 19: Contemporary Japanese craft

BUAISOU indigo hands

Indigo Hands installation at Coal Drops Yard

 

At the London Craft week this year, many Japanese craftsmen and artisans were invited to take part and showcase their exquisite craftsmanship. Although Japanese craft is highly regarded worldwide, the future of many traditional Japanese crafts is still uncertain due to the lack of younger people entering these fields. In the past, traditional craftsmanship is passed down from generation to generation within artisan families. However, due to dwindling demand, urbanisation, change of lifestyle and taste in Japan, few young people would want to dedicate their lives learning and perfecting an ‘old-fashioned’ craft. In order to preserve these crafts, artisans have to constantly evolve, collaborate, and innovate.

In recent years, the revival of natural and indigo dyeing proves that there is no such thing as an ‘old fashioned’ craft. After computer and mobile technology took over our lives for the past two decades, many people are now finding comfort and joy in making tactile craft again. 

 

BUAISOU indigo hands  BUAISOU indigo hands

 

Eastablished in 2015, BUAISOU is a young team of Japanese indigo farmers and artisans responsible for the revival of sukumo – dried and fermented indigo leaves – in Tokushima, the hometown of Ai Zome (natural indigo dye). Tokushima was the top producer of Ai Zome garments in Japan in the 19th century with around 4,000 aishi (sukumo farmers), but due to the introduction of synthetic indigo and other various factors, now only six are left.

At LCW, Coal Drops Yard commissioned BUAISOU to produce a series of handmade and hand dyed flags, and the team conducted several onsite dyeing workshops in KIOSK N1C. Unfortunately, I missed the workshops, but I do hope to visit their studio in Tokushima in the future.

At Heal’s, the Japanese Craft Market showcased ceramics, Mino washi, blades, and wood craft produced by thirteen exhibitors from the Gifu prefecture. I visited Mino and Takayama in the Gifu prefecture last year, so seeing the crafts brough back memories for me.

 

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Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

There are several towns in the Gifu prefecture that are famous for ceramics, including Mino, Toki, and Tajimi. In Tajima, there is Ceramics Park Mino, a ceramic museum and park that showcases Japanese ceramics. The town also holds an annual ceramic festival during the second weekend of April which attracts thousands of visitors to this area. The region has a lot of small and large scale producers making tiles and ceramic wares including household items, crockery, sculptures etc. as well as huge furnaces and other equipments for industrial purposes.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market   Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

The ancient town of Mino is famous for Washi (Japanese paper), which is used for shoji doors, umbrella, fans, lanterns and stationery. The high quality and durable handmade paper uses pristine water from the Nagara river and is considered as natioanl treasure in Japan. You can learn more from my previous entry on Mino here.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

As soon as I arrived at Hida Takayama in the Gifu Prefecture, a glass showcase of wood crafted furniture at the railway station caught my eye. The wood-abundant Hida has maintained a woodworking tradition for over 1,300 years. This region is famous for its skilled woodworkers and beautiful handcrafted furniture, and its minimalist aesthetic is similar to Scandinavian design.

I think the exhibition was a good introduction to those who are unfamiliar with Japan’s regional craft and design. I hope the Toyama prefecture will be next on the list.

 

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

Heals Japanese craft market Gifu  Heals Japanese craft market Gifu

 

At the Spanish luxury fashion house Loewe in Mayfair, California-based mother and daughter team Shizu Designs demonstrated traditional Japanese basketry weaving techniques that transform rocks into art. Rattan or cane is used to wrap and tie the rocks with ornamental knots used in Japanese ikebana basketry. Shizu Okino and Karen Okino also contributed to the LOEWE Baskets accessories collection which features their signature style.

It was mesmerising to watch the two artisans working side by side. Basketry is another traditional craft that is being revived today, and I believe these collaborations are likely to make people appreciate traditional craftsmanship and see it in a different light.

 

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design

shizu design  loewe

shizu design

 

To be continued…

 

‘Living Colours: Kasane’ – an exhibition on Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop

Living Colours: Kasane

 

When I returned from Asia, I managed to book myself onto the curator’s tour of the “Living Colours: Kasane – the Language of Japanese Colour Combinations” exhibition at Japan House. The exhibition explores the natural dyed textile work of the Yoshioka Dyeing Workshop in Kyoto. Due to my interest in natural dyeing, it prompted me to pay a visit to Yoshioka‘s small shop Somenotsukasa Yoshioka in Kyoto last year (see photos at the bottom), hence I was particularly keen to see this exhibition.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

 

The exhibition focused on the ancient art of kasane, the creation of Japanese colour combinations based on the changing seasons in Japan, using natural dye techniques. Master Sachio Yoshioka is the 5th-generation dyer of the 200-year old family-run company, while his daughter Sarasa also co-runs the workshop.

Kasane is the layering of colours seen in formal kimonos worn by the aristocratic women of the courts during the Heian period in Japan (794-1185 CE). The hand and plant-dyed silk kimonos were made up of three, five, or up to eight layers, with each layer reflecting the colours of the natural world around them, such as cherry blossom, or an important occasion or the wearer’s rank.

Japan’s oldest record of natural dyeing was also compiled during this period in early 10th century in books called Engishiki, which describe royal rituals, customs, and clothing, including dye ingredients used for particular colors.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

With the help of pre-19th century historical documents and textile samples, Yoshioka was able to recreate the palette of the Japanese court and revived this an anicent craft from the brink of extinction.

When I did the indigo textiles dyeing workshop in Japan last year, I learned that the traditional kimono industry is rapidly declining, and craftsmen working in the industry are struggling to preserve their important heritage and craftsmanship. Hence, what Yoshioka doing is not only reviving an ancient craft, but an industry that is in crisis.

 

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Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

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Aside from textiles, Kasane was also used in paper. Members of the Heian court often wrote and exchanged poems between lovers on dyed fans or several sheets of seasonally coloured paper.

The most famous Japanese literature from the Heian period is “The Tale of Genji”, which is often referred to as the world’s first novel. Written by a noble women from the 11th century, the novel depicts the lives of courtiers during the time. Inspired by the novel, special dyed washi revealed how the layering concept applied to paper as well.

 

img_4843  Living Colours: Kasane

 

For over 40 years, Yoshioka has been taking part in the the thousand-year-old Shuni-e Buddhist ceremony held every March at the famous Todai-ji temple in Nara. Washi paper flowers dyed in red with benibana (safflower) and yellow with kuchinashi (gardenia) are offered to the Kannon (the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara) for harvest and protection for the nation. A five-coloured cord made of dyed silk yarn was also recreated at the consecration ceremony of the Great Buddha at the temple in 2002.

 

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img_4846

  

Based on traditional dyeing methods, Yoshioka uses 30 kinds of dyeing materials, including indigo (ai), benibana petals, murasaki-gusa (purple gromwell) roots, akane (madder) roots, acorn nuts, and leaves and stalks of kariyasu (rice grass). Meanwhile, silk, hemp, and cotton are commonly used in their work.

 

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

The Japanese are a nation particularly sensitive to the changing seasons, and their appreciation for this is reflected in their culture, habits, arts and craft.

Simon, the curator of the exhibition told us that Yoshioka wanted to show that Japanese aesthetics are not just about wabi sabi (the beauty of the transience and imperfection), and the art of kasane demonstrates an aesthetic that is vastly different.

 

Living Colours: Kasane  img_4848

img_4849

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

 

It is encouraging to see that natural dyeing is becoming more popular in recent years, and this exhibition showcased the vivid and sensual colour palette that can be created from plants. It is time for us to reflect on the sustainability of synthetic dyes and its damaging impact on the environment.

 

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane   Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

Living Colours: Kasane

 

If you missed the exhibition, you can watch this beautiful video “In Search of Forgotten Colours” on the Somenotsukasa Yoshioka dye workshop made by the V & A, which was accompanied by a small exhibition at the museum.

 

 

yoshioka workshop

yoshioka workshop

The “In Search of Forgotten Colours” display at the V & A museum

 

Higashiyama-ku

Somenotsukasa Yoshioka

Somenotsukasa Yoshioka’s shop is located at 206-1 Nishinocho, Higashiyama Ward, Kyoto

 

 

The Mills (Part 2): Art, design & retail

the mill tseun wan

 

One of The Mill’s main attractions is CHAT (Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile) – a space dedicated to the past, current, and future of Hong Kong and Asia’s textile industry.

Welcome to the Spinning Factory! is the inaugural exhibition designed by Turner Prize winning U.K. architect collective Assemble and UK/HK design firm HATO. Set within the former cotton spinning mills of Nan Fung Textiles in Tsuen Wan, the exhibition tells the story of the cotton industry and the role it played in shaping Hong Kong’s past, present and future. The interactive exhibition features old machinery, vintage cotton products and archival documents and objects. Visitors can also experience the manual cotton-spinning process using traditional spinning instruments, and design and create cotton labels at the workshop stations.

 

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

The mill

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

‘Welcome to the Spinning Factory!’ exhibition at the The D. H. Chen Foundation Gallery

 

An interesting piece of artwork caught my eye outside of the gallery and it was a long piece of knitted textile on a table titied Fabric of CHAT. It was the work by Hong Kong-based artist/designer Movana Chen. Movana is known for her KNITerature, which combines stories by knitting books from people she encounters during her travels. When she first visited the construction site of The Mills, she discovered stacks of old discarded documents, so she shredded and knitted them into a new art form that contains the history and memories of the factory.

 

Fabric of Chat

  Fabric of ChatFabric of Chat

Fabric of CHAT by Movana Chen

 

CHAT’s inaugural exhibition, Unfolding : Fabric of Our Life, curated by Takahashi Mizuki showcases the works and performances by 17 contemporary Asian artists and collectives who use textile as a testimony to articulate forgotten histories and repressed lives through textile production. The thought-provoking exhibition reveals the region’s colonial capitalist exploitation through the use of fabrics and garments. One work that I found quite powerful is called ‘Day Off Mo?by Filipino artist Alma Quinto, who invited Hong Kong’s Filipino domestic workers to speak out about their experiences through a video and their DIY craft book.

 

Dayanita Singh's 'Time measures', 2016

Dayanita Singh's 'Time measures', 2016

Dayanita Singh’s ‘Time measures’, 2016

 

Norberto Roldan's 'Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods', 1999 - 2018

Norberto Roldan's 'Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods', 1999 - 2018

Norberto Roldan’s ‘Incantations in the land of virgins, monsters, sorcerers and angry gods’, 1999 – 2018

 

Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr

Jakkai Siributr’s Fast fashion, 2015/19

 

Reza Afisina, Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention, 2018–19

Reza Afisina’s ‘Under Construction as Long as You’re Not Paying Attention’, 2018–19

 

Alma Quinto's 'Day Off Mo?', 2018–19

Alma Quinto, Day Off Mo?, 2018–19

Alma Quinto’s ‘Day Off Mo?’, 2018–19

 

the mill tseun wan  the mill tseun wan

 

I was also intrigued by Vietnamese artist Vo Tran Chau‘s ‘Leaf picking in the ancient forest’, 2018-2019. The name of the artwork is inspired by the title of a monk’s manuscript. Buddha, taking a few leaves in his hand, said to the monks: “All that I have seen and encountered are numerous, just like leaves among the grove, yet my teachings which I have revealed to you are but little, just like this handful of leaves in my palm…”.

The artist collected abandoned clothing from second-hand clothing stores to create her abstract mosaic chamber. Each quilted mosaic references historical photographs of Vietnamese textile factories and reflects the distinct cultural and political climates of North, Central and South Vietnam at different periods of time. The quilts reflect only blurred images as if a metaphor for the fate of the textile factories. Inside the chamber, one sees another side/story in these historical images.

 

Vo Tran Chau's Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

Vo Tran Chau's Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

Vo Tran Chau’s Leaf picking in the ancient forest, 2018-2019

 

One encouraging aspect of The Mills is that the retail outlets here differ vastly from other shopping malls in Hong Kong. Instead of international chained companies, the shops here are mostly independent and with a strong focus on sustainability.

I was glad to see that Book B (which we have worked with previously) has found a new home here. The space is inviting and it also has a nice cafe inside. I think this is one of the best independent book shops in Hong Kong, and I hope it will continue to thrive.

 

KoKo Coffee Roasters

KoKo Coffee Roasters

KoKo Coffee Roasters

 

book b the mill tseun wan

book b the mill tseun wan

book b the mill tseun wan

Book B

 

Another surprise was to see a garment upcycling shop called Alt:, which is a partnership between HKRITA (The Hong Kong Research Institute of Textiles and Apparel) and Novetex (a leading textile firm), together with funding from HKSAR government, H&M foundation and The Mills.

A garment-to-Garment (G2G) Recycle System is placed in the shop for the public to learn how old clothes can be upcycled and made into a new ready-made garment in 4 hours, with the aid of the innovation of upcycling technology. The on-site mill can upcycle up to 3 tons of textile waste per day, which hopfully will help to tackle the city’s fashion waste issue.

 

Alt:

Alt:

Alt:

Alt: – the upcycling garment shop that can turn your unwanted clothing into something new

 

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

 the mill tseun wan

the mill

 

Overall, I enjoyed my visit to The Mills; I think it offer an alternative retail experience (which is much needed in Hong Kong), and the new textile centre is an exciting cultural space that showcases Hong Kong’s textile heritage while looking forward to the future.

 

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Hong Kong heritage: The Mills (Part 1)

tseun wan

tseun wan

Interesting 1950s-60s architecture

 

If you take the MTR in Hong Kong, you are most likely to encounter the name ‘Tsuen Wan’ because one of the main lines is the Tseun Wan line (red) and its station is at the end of the line in the New Territories. Around 100 years ago, this area used to be a village by the bay where pirates would pass through frequently. Then in the 1940s, many Shanghai industrialists from Mainland China moved to Hong Kong and then established textile factories (Hong Kong used to be renowned for its textile and denim industry) to manufacture textiles and garments for export. The area started to change when the Hong Kong Government developed it into a new town, building new housing estates to accommodate the growing population. Sadly, the textile industry started to decline around the 1980s, and the 33 mills gradually shut down; although some factory buildings still remain, the city’s textiles history has long been forgotten.

 

tseun wan

tseun wan

Traditional shops in Tseun Wan

 

One of the prominent factories here was Nan Fung Cotton Mills, established in 1954 by Chen Din Hwa (from Ningbo in China), who was known as the ‘king of cotton yarn’. Six mills were built between the 50s-60s, but Mill 1, 2 and 3 were knocked down in the 80s, and only Mill 4, 5 and 6 survived. In 2008, the mills ceased operation and a revitalisation project was annouced in 2014 to convert the factories into a destination for innovation, culture and learning. The project was initiated by Chen’s granddaughter, Vanessa Cheung, the managing director of Nan Fung, who wanted to preserve the site and its heritage. Four years later, The Mills was born.

I have witness numerous failures with the Government-backed conservations/restorations projects in Hong Kong, so I try not to have high hopes these days. However, since the HK$700 million-plus project was privately funded by the Nan Fung Group (now a major property developer and shipping company), I was slightly more optimistic before my visit. And unlike other heritage sites in Hong Kong, the attraction of this project is not its architecture, but its history and heritage that was tied to Hong Kong’s textiles industry.

I have never been to Tseun Wan before, but I found the walk from the MTR station to the venue utterly fascinating. I had to walk through a neighbourhood full of 1950s architecture including housing estates, schools and tradtional specialist shops selling dried seafood, hardware, stationery and groceries etc. It was really interesting to see elderly and children hanging out in the area; the neighbourhood seemed laidback and authentic.

 

the mills

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan  the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

 

I have read very mixed reviews about the venue before my visit, and they are mostly based on one’s expectations… it would be unfair to summarise or judge this place until you see it for yourself. I was actually quite pleasantly surprised by it, and I think it has exceeded my expectations (but like I said, I had very low expectations beforehand).

The 2,400sqm (260,000sqf) L-shaped site is huge, and it is not easy to nagivate around if you are here for the first time/enter from the side entrance. The company’s in-house architects, Boris Lo and Gary Ng, worked with Billy Tam, the partner at Thomas Chow Architects Ltd (also responisble for transforming PMQ in SoHo) on this project, and they have managed to keep much of the industrial look and architectural details in a respectable manner.

 

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan  the mill tseun wan

4th row: The old gate (with rows of golden cup motifs) of the factory has been preserved and now sits behind the reception area.

 

There are three pillars at The Mills: Centre for Heritage, Arts and Textile (CHAT), The Mills Fabrica (a techstyle incubator) and The Mills Shopfloor (an experiential retail space). CHAT is an exhibition and studio space that focuses on contemporary art, design, science, heritage, community and craftsmanship. There are also regular artist talks and workshops that are related to textiles, craft and design.

 

the mill tseun wan  the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

 

It is difficult to find a spacious, bright and airy venue in Hong Kong, so I particularly liked the spaciousness and relaxing ambience at The Mills. At the Fabrica Atrium, the original columns have been removed and parts of the roof replaced by skylights to create a long and naturally lit space, which I think works very well.

One feature that stands out at the site is the creation of The Park on the rooftop, a formerly vacant concrete space that has been transformed into an urban public space for the neighbourhood. The 4m x 23m wavy weaving wall mural, inspired by Hong Kong’s textile history, was created by Hong Kong artist, Lam Tung Pang and design consultancy Collective. When you look up, you can also see the restored signage of the former factory that says: Nan Fung Textile Co., Ltd.

 

the mill tseun wan  the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

the mill tseun wan

 

To be continued…

 

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