Lino printing adventures

Having bought some lovely white Belarusian linen in Ukraine, I’ve decided to try printing on it, this time using lino instead of potato. Here are my first, pleasing, if not entirely successful attempts. I’m using Dylon fabric paint and lino from an arts supply shop, but have a feeling one or both of them is causing the prints to come out too weak. The lino seems a little bit hard and brittle, and the paint doesn’t seem as sticky as it should be for printing.

In a recent post, I started to put my thoughts about the garment industry and its problems into words. It’s made me want to look more closely at clothing and fabric, so my first lino cut was inspired by this – literally looking closely at, or ‘zooming in’ on the fabric on which it’s printed.

My second print was borrowed from a blackwork embroidery design in Rosemary Drysdale’s The Art of Blackwork Embroidery. Blackwork is a type of embroidery used in England from the time of Henry VIII, often seen poking from collars and cuffs in Tudor portraits, as in this painting by Holbein, and sometimes for more largescale decoration, such as in this portrait of Elizabeth I. After I made the prints I came across other blackwork embroidery designs resembling fabric weave, so I’ll take the happy coincidence of the two designs being related as an encouraging sign!

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Barrington Court

barrington19On our way back from Devon last month, we stopped off in Somerset to pay a visit to Barrington Court, a Tudor manor house near Ilminster.

As the first large property acquired by the National Trust, in 1907, Barrington Court was a bit of an embarrassment for them, since the repairs and maintenance costs were just a bit higher than anticipated (ie astronomical). It was only in the 1920s, when the property was leased to Colonel Lyle (of Tate & Lyle) that sufficient funds were provided to make the house watertight and visitable. Colonel Lyle also used the property to house his collection of wood panelling – much of it rescued from the many other large old estates being sold off at the time.

barrington16Unusually for a National Trust property, the house is devoid of furniture (and so also teasels and, largely, room attendants). It was surprisingly engrossing to walk through big empty rooms; instead of quickly becoming blasé about heaps of Chippendale chairs, tapestries, chaise longues, silver cutlery, Rembrandts, Staffordshire ceramics, crewel-worked curtains, four-poster beds, and family portraits, I followed my camera’s excited nose, focusing on the patterns of light created by the old wibbly-wobbly glass windows, and the impressive display of Delft tiles in every bathroom.barrington17

barrington21barrington23barrington24barrington25barrington26barrington27barrington28barrington31On the top floor, quiet wood-paneled galleries branch off symmetrically into light-filled vistas – like some kind of Tudor sci-fi film set, or how I imagine one to look anyway. A warm, woody minimalism.

I think the space reminded me of something futuristic because it felt oddly history-less. Without the curios and knickknacks of past inhabitants, Barrington Court gives visitors few chronological markers, letting them roam around with just their own ghosts for company.

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Knitted Tudor Caps

In a recent post on the Tudor and Stuart Fashion exhibition at the Queens Gallery I mentioned the Museum of London’s amazing collection of sixteenth-century caps.

There’s little or no archaeological context for most of these hats; they’ve probably survived the past 400+ years thanks to being thrown into the city cesspits by fashion-conscious Tudor workers and businessmen, as they adopt the latest style. In the 20th century they were uncovered by workman building the city business district as we know it today, and then gradually found their ways into the collection.

Portrait of Sir William Hewett (d. 1564), wearing a split-brim knitted and fulled cap.

In the anaerobic conditions of layers of city waste their wool and even dye have survived remarkably well. The construction details can still be seen and recreated: knitted on the round, the hat then went through the ‘toughening-up’ process of fulling (washed, beaten and felted) and knapping (raising and trimming the pile, for a velvety finish). Then the cap might be dyed a bright red or blue, colours that have long-since faded. Presumably, the finished product shrunk thanks to the felting process, so would have initially been knitted on a much larger scale. The resulting hats were extremely tough and waterproof, so could have fashionable slashes cut into them without fear of unraveling.

So here are a few examples, skimmed from the museum’s excellent online collection. Click on the images to access detailed individual records on the MoL site. All images © Museum of London

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion

In all things related to the British monarchy, I wholeheartedly share Mark Steel’s views.

That being said, I can’t help having an awe and fascination for the exquisite monstrosities that only a budget unimpeded by common sense and commoner conscience can summon. So, this week I paid up £10.75 and paid a visit the Queen’s Gallery to see the exhibition In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion.

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The curators successfully refocus our attention of familiar paintings (such as those of the young Elizabeth I and Edward VI) onto the changing fashions of the Tudor and Stuart courts. Alongside the paintings are displayed examples of clothes similar to those the sitters wear. Seeing the real clothes seems to bring the painted ones into our space, breathing life into them.

The oil paint on wood depictions are supposed to outlive their sitters and the fashions they proudly show off, so it’s incredible to see these sixteenth- and seventeenth-century garments still intact, let alone looking fresh. Their materials, cost and craftsmanship has inspired diligent care by a line of owners and now textile conservators to challenge the wearing effect of the passing of centuries.

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Portrait of a Young Boy, by Paulus Moreelse, 1634.

The exhibition has some unexpected elements; it shows us that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, dresses were not just the garb of little girls and long curly periwigs were not the reserve of men.

I timed my visit to hear a ten-minute talk by one of the curators, Ann Reynolds (and I’m very glad to have made it on time). She chose the title of her talk Pretty Ladies dressed like men, from a comment by Samuel Pepys in his diary of 1660-69, to describe two unusual portraits – one of Frances Stewart, the other of Mary of Modena. The paintings contrast with the standard seventeenth-century depictions of courtly feminine beauty. In both, the usually bare arms and décolletage are hidden beneath outdoor masculine clothing, the usually delicately pinned-back hair is replaced by the impressively thick spaniel ears of periwigs, and both sitters (or, rather, standers) hold a sword. They remind us that, then as now, people play with identity by trying on different guises, expressions and masks.

Frances Stuart, later Duchess of Richmond (1647-1702). Painted by Jacob Huysmans (c. 1633-1696), c. 1664. Oil on canvas, 127.7 x 104.4 cm Royal Collection © Her Maj Queen Elizabeth II

tuastfashion2Another object in the exhibition quite literally plays with identity. A portrait miniature of Henrietta Maria, it comes with a set of transparent overlays to ‘dress’ the lady in different outfits. It’s hard to tell whether the set is supposed to honour or ridicule the wife of Charles I, since it was produced after the execution of the king. Is it commemorative or malevolent? Either way, it was designed to be entertaining.

The fact that half the surviving overlays are of masculine clothing is another example of seventeenth-century play with gender, although the intention behind it is obscure. Was the act of dressing Henrietta in, for example, the hat and collar of Oliver Cromwell, the ultimate form of mockery, or was it just another outfit in a courtly masquerade party – nothing to bat an eyelid at?

Set of mica overlays and miniature of Henrietta Maria (1609-1669), British school, c. 1650

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The exhibition is both informative and thought-provoking, and the curators succeed in giving a clear picture of the fashions of the Tudor and Stuart courts. However, I found myself wishing for a little more social context: who made these clothes? Where did the materials come from? How were they made? What was the rest of the country, outside of the court, wearing at the time?

In a reimagined version of this exhibition I see a lord’s bejeweled bedcap sitting side-by-side with one of the countless knitted caps thrown into cesspits by Tudor city workers and later found there by 20th century workmen (many of these are now in the Museum of London collection). Also, there would be a map charting the journey of the silk for the thread covering that button, a recreated version of a Tudor taylor’s workshop, examples of the dyes used for Edward VI’s doublet..

But that’s all another exhibition.

In Fine Style: The Art of Tudor and Stuart Fashion closes Sunday 06 October 2013.

Adult ticket £9.50 + £1.25 booking fee (make it a 1-year free pass if you remember to get it stamped on the way out)