Travels in Textiles


Sunday, 19 February 2012

Please visit my new website:

I'm sorry that this blog is so out of date, but I have been developing a fresh new blog at Please visit for more travel stories, discussions on contemporary craft, art and textiles, exhibition and book reviews, how to guides and reflections on  my research findings...enjoy!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Exhibition review: Made for Manchester

 I finally made it to see Made for Manchester: Craft Objects of Exchange at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre as part of the Asia Triennial festival before it ended on the 12th of November. All artists exhibiting from Ahmedabad and England had produced their work while on cultural exchange. Lokesh Ghai's work continues from the work he produced for the similarly themed A Sense of Place exhibition at the V&A Museum of Childhood, which I have previously blogged about, in which he tells the cautionary tale of Charlotte's untimely death from the cold. His displayed collected tin boxes reveal cautionary tales for travellers visiting Ahmedabad.

 Lokesh asked me to write one and so I wrote:

'You may get lost wondering around the labyrinths of the old town, but this is the best way to experience it.'

Another cautionary statement that I could relate closely with was: 

'Whatever you expect will be wrong. Go without expectations'

 Jane Blease, a maker in residence at The Craft and Design Centre had taken her signature technique of embroidering lampshades and on a trip to Ahmbedabad worked alongside a metal worker to produce these contemporary lamp shades.

I love the effect that the arrangement of these bangles, such a distinctly Indian adornment, combined with lights and hangers creates by designers Sahil and Sarthak

Friday, 25 November 2011

The struggles of a post-graduate researcher

I have been feeling the pinch and bearing the brunt of the University cuts (in money, staff and more) over last few weeks as I start to pay off my Career Development Loan. This is even though I've not even finished the MA and am yet to await my oral exam which should have taken place this month. After the examiners have only just been appointed I'm not holding out for it taking place before Christmas.

In my last post I mentioned that I would be presenting at the Textiles Research in Practice (TRIP) symposium at Loughborough University which I did successfully, even though this too, while less significant than the loan, left me with more than just a little hole burnt in my cash pocket. I was required to pay for the conference and for my train ticket, as well as book off a day at work to present at this conference. While a little begrudged, I understood that this is how young researchers and academics are required to get themselves known and meet like-minded people in their field and this often comes at a financial cost. It was a not only something I saw as being interesting and inspiring hearing some very inspiring people speak, but good for me to present my own work, share my findings, ideas and interests with others in hope that potential working relationships may be formed, or even just people to keep in touch with should we find common ground in the future.

Unfortunately for me, because a train had derailed on the line between Manchester and Sheffield (where I had to change trains for Loughborough) I had to get a replacement bus to Sheffield which took almost 3 times as long as the train journey should have taken. So of course I missed about two connections and was waiting over half an hour for my connection in Sheffield. This meant what should have been a two and half hour journey from my house to Loughborough University actually ended up a five and a half hour journey! So you can imagine after already feeling a little begrudged at the financial expense, the fact that I had bore the stress of a long and tiring journey (as well as only a few hours sleep following a various technical faults with printers and computers the night before) only for half the day (a quarter of the whole conference - which my finances would not allow me to attend) left me feeling rather frustrated. Luckily I didn't miss my own presentation. However, by the time it was actually my turn to present, the whole schedule had gone over time, so we were under pressure to finish our presentations quickly so as not to take over the following presenter's slot. Further, many people had left by this time, as they had places to be, trains to catch, as it was almost five pm.

There was a drinks reception at the end, but my train was at 7pm, and I did not want to go through the same stress as the morning. I arrived late at the station getting lost through a midst of roadworks on the way while kindly being driven by a fellow MMU presenter. An unusual turn of luck for the day and the train was a couple of minutes late. I just made it and got to Sheffield just in time for the connection. By 10pm when I arrived home I was exhausted. I regretted not staying longer to chat with people at the conference. But there was no way my body and mind would have let me, especially knowing I had to be up for a 12 hour shift at work the following day.

I hold no reservations against the TRIP organisers and thought the schedule of speakers and interesting discussions this stimulated was organised well. I understand the Key-note speakers need to be paid, and that the University research group are a not-for-profit organisation. Like other conferences I have attended though, they try and pack as much as possible in. While this is good for giving as many people the opportunity to present as possible, it does cause the difficulties I mentioned above. It is not only this conference I have attended in which the student and less well-known speakers are left until later in the day, a time particularly at this conference when many need to leave.

I hasten to add that the schedule for the conference was only distributed two weeks prior to the conference date, leaving not much time to book the travel and a day off work as I had not previously known on which day I would be presenting.

While I have no experience organising conferences which I'm sure is a mammoth task, some advice I have gathered from my experience that I can offer to students, researchers or anyone that may be presenting at a conference for the first time is as follows:

* Add up all the costs that will be incurred to you by presenting at a conference, and apply for funding. I was lucky to receive a small grant from the Pasold Research Fund, who support research in Textiles history but this was before my paper for TRIP had been accepted. I did not plan time to make another funding bid, as the final conference was not long after my final thesis submission, so all my efforts were spent on that (and working full time of course). Thus, its worth planning sufficient time for funding applications, and researching funding bodies.

* If you've had to travel to a conference, the funding will help with this, and if the conference runs over two or three days, its worth trying to attend all of it. This will enable time to meet fellow presenters and other attendees in your own time as well as in the formal discussions of the conference.

* If you are travelling to another city, or even another country, plan your transport as early in advance as possible and always keep an eye on any changes to public transport or if you're driving, the traffic levels, diversions etc.

* When planning your talk, make sure you keep timing yourself and practice lots. It is much more professional if you complete the talk in the time allotted. This is a good skill to have, allows for questions from the audience and ensures you are not running onto the following presenter's time.

* Take business cards or hand outs of a shortened version of your talk so that people can remember you following the conference, and successful contacts are made.

I hope that this post has not come across too much as an arduous moan, but has provided a bit of advice for students developing experience and finding outlets for their knowledge and experience that doesn't impact too much on finances when these are scarce. Hopefully we can look forward to a time when students will once again be valued for their skills and contribution to knowledge and not just for the huge amounts of money they are giving to the universities.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

A change in scene and season...

This blog post is written with a sigh of relief yet with a strange sense of loss and disorientation after having just handed in my MA thesis.

I am awaiting a viva for which I'm partly apprehensive about and partly looking forward to, being that I have admiration for both my examiners, one as a textile historian and the other as a textile practitioner. I hope to post the thesis soon on this blog.

Meanwhile, I will be presenting aspects of the research at the TRIP (Textiles Research in Practice) symposium at Loughborough University in November. My paper will focus on how the ancient craft of block printing using hand skills and natural dyes is continuing today, having survived the onslaught of technology and cheaper mass-production methods, and chemical dyes. A particular focus will also be on the transmission of skills and knowledge and the recent development of design education and how this is allowing craftspeople to be their own designer, marketer and producer, developing new innovations within a rich cultural living tradition. 

Handicraft in India has been associated with struggle and marginalisation during the last century. But with a resurging interest in quality products made with care and cultural meaning in a country with a burgeoning economy and middle class to support its creative industries, Indian handicrafts and artisans have a bright future.

On another note, I didn't manage to make it to much of the Didsbury Arts Festival being immersed in the stress and madness of submitting my thesis. However, I did manage to fit in time to install an installation of kid's art work in the window of Pixie and helping to set up the Festival gallery. See pictures on Flikr

Now that I have a little more time on my hands, I have finally be able to get out and see stuff. I finished the thesis just in time for the opening of the Asia Triennial Festival in Manchester. I have continuously raved about Shisha's work and despite them bearing the brunt of the government's cuts, they still continue to do their outstanding work, of which ATM is a prime example.

Pakistani artist Rashid Rana's exhibition at The Cornerhouse is contemporary, intense and intriguing and embeds layers of meaning. Rana's work alternates between two and three dimensions and uses thousands of tiny photographs to create huge photomontages, some two dimensional and some three dimensional architectural structures, impressive from afar but urging the viewer to look closer into its depths where there are hidden meanings and unexpected scenes.

For example, one piece coloured with reds and greys resembling a pixelated version of a classic Persian rug from afar, when viewed closely exposes a multitude of gruesome images of animals being slaughtered. 

I am yet to visit many more of the exhibitions and events the ATM has on offer...

Meanwhile, I just caught the Rogue Artist Studios opening weekend on Saturday, regretting being so late as to only catch 45 minutes of a great selection of work. 

I was particularly inspired by the work of Liz West because of her use of colour and light combined:

The above image is a collection of everyday objects in a box surrounded by mirrors and a green light. Best seen in real life for its striking and sense inducing effects.

The below images are of  Michelle Pouncey's work. Working across a range of disciplines,  and seemingly multi-talented as her website shows, for the open studios event she displayed simple, texturally interesting pieces layering print pattern and shape.

Finally, an image of the last of the warmth and sun of the Indian summer creating beautiful views of light shining on the colours Autumn.

Here sits a proud Karam having made it to the top of the hill. (as did I of course, being the photographer!)

Friday, 19 August 2011

The Algarve: Sun, sea and a rich culture

My head buried in my thesis, I haven't been able to bare any extra writing, hence such as long gap since my last blog entry. However, I know that I should have been blogging to stop and reflect. I've had a bit of a break due to it all gettting a bit too much working a full time unfulflilling job, while trying to produce a quality piece of academic research the rest of the time (I am not continuing onto a PhD until I can find funding!)

Returning from a week in the Algarve, Portugal has left me feeling refreshed though, and after my employer offering me 6 weeks unpaid leave after I was about to hand in my resignation, I am free to focus fully on the thesis, knowing that I won't be homeless on the streets by the time its finished (especially since I have also just purchased a brand new laptop making my work and life a whole lot easier)

Camping near the quaint fishing town of Olhao, a stone's throw away from Faro, yet quiet and away from the tourist crowds was a perfect place to chill out in the sea air and searing sun (slightly too hot but much more preferable than the clouds and rain of England).

The market was bustling and thriving and full of fruit and veg stalls as well as a huge variety of fish in the old market hall. We ate tasty (but very fatty) and cheap churros while watching people and boats.

We spent lazy days on the long stretches of beach on the islands Armona and Culatra, just short boat rides away from Olhao.

A perfect opportunity to capture shots of fishing boats, aesthetic curiosities that I can't get enough photographs and drawings of. I love the random wellie stuck on a pole, I wonder where the other is...

Although I love continuously being outdoors while camping and the simpleness of it, we decided to treat ourselves to a hotel inland from the town of Tavira for the last couple of nights. It was situated further East of Olhao along the cost and nestled in the hills. Run by a very friendly and welcoming Argentinian couple, it was idylic in its setting, with a swimming pool, terrace restaurant and chic, comfortable, barn-like bedrooms. We even managed a game of tennis still sweating heavily in the soaring heat at 7pm.

Tavira, like Olaho is a historic town that once had strong trading links with North Africa and carries a strong Moorish influence. This could be seen in the richly tiled house fronts that seem to have been perfectly restored against the wearing window frames and doors that the floods of the winter cause.

One of my favourite attractions of Tavira was the Camera Obscura, built in a water tower in the old town centre. We were led in a group up to the top of the tower and into a chamber containing a huge white parabolic dish. The multi-lingual guide narrated very eloquently while projecting 360 degree images of real-time Tavira captured using a large mirror. The guide pointed out particular places and buildings of interest while telling stories of the town and zooming in and out according to the subject.

The Palacio de Galleria contained the municipal museum, a cool, quiet haven in the town where they showed an insightful exhibition of a photography family capturing the Algarve and its inhabitants through the centuries, as well as a painting exhibition by Spanish artist Luis Gordillo.

I also discovered a hidden gem and my new faavourite shop: Casa das Portas containing an eclectic collection of local hand-made products, art works and photography as well as collected objects from around the world. I admired the stitched quilts the owner had bought in Bangladesh and this sparked a conversation about our common love of fabrics from the subcontinent.

The friendly, relaxed atmosphere, the delicious meals of fresh fish and vegetables from the local market, the culture, architecture, and nature all made for a perfect break, and the Algarve has definitley sucked me in and captured my heart.

Friday, 27 May 2011

London calling

Have just returned from an inspiring trip to London. It was just what I needed, as a break away from the desk and the dizzying computer screen. A highlight of the trip was an exhibition at the V&A museum of childhood, and an exhibition it was holding curated by A Fine Line and The Harley Gallery.

'A sense of place' was a collection of works by several artists taking part in an exchange between the UK, India and Bangladesh. Their work reflected upon and was inspired by the new place in which they found themselves situated, a place very different from where they usually work. The artists were textile designer Lokesh Ghai (teacher at Kala Raksha Vidhyalaya in Kutch, India), rickshaw painter Tapan Das, paper artist Thurle Wright, metal artist Steven Follen and fine artist Tarun Ghosh

 This is Lokesh Ghai's work inspired by textiles at the V&A museum and the 19th century ballad Fair Charlotte. The ballad is a tragic, cautionary tale of a vein young women who sets out one cold, winter new year's eve with her lover to a ball. Despite the warnings and advice of her mother Charlotte discards blankets to wrap herself in for the journey in a sleigh, and travels only in a silk dress, bonnet and gloves, not daring to be seen in riding in 'blankets muffled up'. Charlotte gets colder and colder on the journey, and to her lover's and parents' dismay, before they reach the ball Charlotte freezes to death.

Lokesh has created garments that would suitably and stylishly keep Charlotte warm and prevent her untimely death.

 I loved Lokesh's treatment of beautifully printed and plain, Indian and English fabrics, their layering and stitching. Charlotte could not have refused such beautiful coats to compliment her ball gown and keep her warm

 Tapan Das is from a family of rickshaw painters from Dhaka, Bangladesh. The amazing artwork adorning these great methods of transport are a feast for the eyes. I think this country could do with some of Tapan Das's decorating to brighten up the drab greyness that we are surrounded by!

 While Tapan Das had an artist residency in Nottinghamshire and London, Thurle Wright travelled over to Dhaka in Bangladesh and Ahmedabad in Gujarat. The result was her unique paper cut works of art. She had collected images and texts out of all sorts of books and cut and sculpted the pieces combining with stitched and stuck objects and sequins to create intensely intricate masterpieces clearly inspired by India and Bangladesh's rich culture and arts.

The above detail of one of Wright's pieces reminded me both of an ear adorned with earrings, and the traditional mirrored embroideries of Gujarat.


Steven Follen who also travelled to Dhaka and Ahmedabad, created sculptural metal pieces, clearly inspired by the bright floral garlands that adorn the markets, streets and people all over India.

Monday, 2 May 2011

I haven't let the thesis take over all my time. Especially when the weather tempts me outside. The other day we cycled to Dunham Massey out in the Cheshire borders of Manchester. I had never been before, and not realised how easy it was to get to on a bike. We rode along the bridge water canal there, and along the trans penine trail back. I didn't take many photos, except for this one at the quaint tea shop we stopped at for a well earned tea and scone break

I love the colour combinations of the red brick of the old stables, bright blue of the sky and picnic table and lush summer green of the grass and trees.

I also finally made it to see the exhibition Embellished the art of fabulous fabrics  at the Harris museum in Preston just in time before it ended at Easter. Considering I'd heard raving reviews about it, and have been looking forward to seeing it for a while, it wasn't as impressive as I expected. I liked the idea of focusing on the decorative skill full detail added to garments worn in different periods of time and different cultures . However I thought they might focus on fabrics for the home and accessories too. There wasn't a great deal of variety, and the fact that textile pieces have to be displayed in dark glass cases, to conserve them, makes the viewer feel detached from a piece, unable to feel the luscious texture, and even look closely at the immense detail of an embroidery or weave, and rich colours and pattern of a print.

These were a few pieces I particularly liked though.

 This is a darning sampler from 1830. It is a reference for different darning techniques but makes for a decorative piece of work on its own.

 I didn't note down when or where this piece is from, but it is a tea cosy made of printed fabric that has been embroidered into.

This is a 'stomacher' a piece worn in the 1700s to decorate a dress. I had never heard of one of these before. Ladies would transfer these richly embellished pieces from one dress to another, almost like a piece of jewellery. I think we should have this as a trend nowadays too. It would save a lot of money, just as long as you've got a few white or plain coloured dresses. A belt piece or trimming might be more appropriate though...

I was actually more drawn to these Autobiographical Terrains that were displayed up the sweeping staircase of the gallery, than the exhibition I had travelled to the museum to see. They are etchings and artist's books by Lisa Wigham. I love her simple, delicate use of line that convey the dreamlike emotion of still, peaceful landscapes. These photos unfortunately do not do them justice as, like the textiles, they were displayed behind glass.