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Soya Milk and Pigment to colour cloth.

Recently we were treated to a taster workshop on using soya milk and natural pigments to colour cloth. Colleen had attended a full workshop during the summer with textile artist, Claire Benn in the UK and was willing to share her knowledge with us. The sharing of skills and techniques within our group is an important part of being a collective. It takes the mystery out of something that can seem daunting and allows further exploration within a structured course if the process appeals to one. Dying of cloth can involve many chemicals and solvents that are not good for the environment so it was great to sample a method that is more environmentally friendly.

Using soya milk as a binder for the pigment is a cheap and ecological alternative to using acrylic binders. Soya bean is rich in protein which has adhesive like qualities and, when made into a milk, it bonds with the fibres of the cloth. To make the milk you soak the soya beans overnight and then blend into a milk.

This method is suitable for use on natural fibres, both cellulose (linen, cotton, viscose/rayon) and protein fibres such as silk and wool. The fabric must be scoured before use to remove the size or dressing used in the manufacturing process.

As you can see from the images we were really just playing with the process and the pigments. I don’t have any final images to show as the cloth has to be left to cure for four weeks before it can be ironed and used.

I have just outlined the basics of the process here but there is a lot more detail you will need if you are to try it yourself. Fiber Arts Take Two are releasing an online workshop in March 2023 called ‘Out of This Earth’ with Claire Benn, if anyone is interested in learning more. You can sign up to get notified of their courses and they have wonderful interviews with textile artists around the world and are a great source of information on textile art. www.fibreartstaketwo.com. Claire Benn is a textile artist, author and teacher who is passionate about landscape and the environment and you can see her work or sign up to her blog on her website. https://www.clairebenn.com.

Kinship in Nature

We are over the moon to have been accepted to show our work at Sculpture in Context, the longest running and most prestigious sculpture exhibition in Ireland. The exhibition is currently running in the National Botanic Gardens until 7th October. There are 169 pieces spread throughout the gardens, the indoor gallery and the greenhouses.

Our piece is called ‘Kinship’. The idea for the work came from our belief that the sustaining nature of our creative bond as a group of artists is a mirror of a tree’s root system. It provides anchorage and sustenance to flourish in a world beset with profound challenges. In many cultures, a red string or thread represents the labyrinth of connections tying together those whose lives intertwine. We worked collaboratively on ‘Kinship’, using the symbol of the red thread as a visual connection from us to the natural world, from our sculpture to the earth.

We carefully chose the location for ‘Kinship’, at the fallen Morus Nigra, as we think it reflects the resilience of nature and of humankind. The fallen tree remains firmly rooted. It survives and flourishes and shows beauty in adversity. There is another connection to this location. The Morus Nigra and the Morus Australis growing beside it, are mulberry trees, the leaves of which are food for silkworms. As textile artists, I could say we knew this in advance and that it contributed to our choice of location, but we didn’t until we arrived to install the work last week and ended up covered in fallen mulberries!

The gardens are open Monday – Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. Saturday and Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm, admission free. Our sincere thanks to the committee of Sculpture in Context for their commitment to this exhibition which is held each year since 1985.


What marketing strategy?

It has been nearly a year since we last posted an update! That is definitely not a good marketing strategy for our group but, hey, we are artists not entrepreneurs! We get stuck into the work of thinking, researching, making and learning and forget to broadcast our achievements, be they large or small. There are many noteworthy progressions made by individual members over the past year which we will share over the next while, but two developments in particular are worth shouting about now.

Since we last emailed we made a short film, of which we are very proud. Its not a Hollywood blockbuster but a quiet exploration of the diversity of our artist collective. We employed the services of Ror Conaty, a very talented and patient filmmaker who gave us all that we wished for and so much more. Ror moulded our sketchy ideas to his vision of what could be, and he worked hard to achieve that vision. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience and learned so much in the process about staging, lighting and sound. The process made us focus on how best to visually represent our diverse processes as mixed media artists and challenged us to write a voiceover that accurately reflected the essence of our work and of our group.

We are using the film to promote element15 and to submit with proposals we write for exhibitions. In fact, on the film’s very first outing for this purpose, our proposal was accepted. We will be exhibiting at a very well known event happening shortly. In preparation we have spent the last two months working collaboratively on one piece of work, details of which we will be able to share with you very soon. Here is a teaser of the work in progress:

Early days : Catherine, Fidelma and Trish hard at work

It has been wonderful to work together again in person on one project, even if it means on our hands and knees a lot of the time.

If you would like to see our beautiful film, please click on this link https://vimeo.com/696046187 Many of us are camera shy so you may see more hands visible than faces!

If you would like to know more about Ror Conaty’s work, please visit his website to see his most recent exhibition of photographs, ‘Looking Glass’, which was shown on billboards around Cork city last month. https://www.rorc.ie/looking-glass

More from us next week as we pull the strands of our exhibit together… Very exciting!

element15 facing the elements!

Our exhibition, ‘A Year’s Turning’, has opened and will run for the next three weeks. This is an open air exhibition across two gardens – the well known Hunting Brook Garden of Jimi Blake and June Blake’s contemporary garden just around the corner on the N81 to Blessington.

We are either very brave or very stupid putting on a textile and mixed media exhibition outdoors! The weather has not exactly been in our favour but we have made the pieces to withstand the elements so hopefully all will be well. Many of the artworks have been fitted into or over steel frames which we commissioned from Barry Murphy, Anvil Ironworks, Saggart. The ‘frames’ have been produced to easily sit into any garden and will last forever. The reaction so far has been very positive and we are very grateful to those who have visited and to those who purchased on the first day.

Here are some images to whet your appetite.

Works by Fidelma Barton, Marie Dunne and Hannaleena Ahonen

The exhibition is open at the same time as the gardens:

11am – 4 pm, Wednesday – Saturday in Hunting Brook Garden, Lamb Hill, Blessington W91YK33

11am – 5 pm, Wednesday – Sunday in June Blake’s Garden, Tinode, Blessington W91 EC90

There is a charge into each garden via an honesty box ( €8 and €6 respectively ), so bring some cash. Both gardeners are happy for you to bring a picnic and linger. Lots of plants for sale and well as the artworks…..

We are very grateful to Kildare County Council Arts Service for grant support to mount this exhibition.

Works in progress

There is always some work in progress when you are an artist – sometimes three or four pieces on the go at one time. Do you work on them for a while, put them aside, take them out again, look at them for a while, change something, add something, subtract something, redo it, cut it up and reassemble in a different way? That seems to be the path in textile and mixed media in this group. Eventually, we reach a place of contentment with a piece: “Yes, that will do nicely” – it is now ready to be seen by others!

A snippet of Marie Dunne’s work in progress with free machine embroidery still in the sewing machine