Saturday, November 10, 2012

10 November 2012: Gizella Warburton -
"Fragments – a Textile Journey of Discovery and Experiment"

By Alex Messenger

When I first saw Gizella’s work on her website, I wasn’t sure whether this workshop would suit me or not, as her work is deceptively simple, both in colour and design, and seems to use a collage approach to combining natural fabrics and threads in a very understated way. However, being a firm believer that you always learn something from these days, I found my materials list and set to packing the bag.

At Night
© Gizella Warburton
As it was, I didn’t need to take very much – picture for ideas/inspiration, selection of fabrics and threads to go with it, and usual sewing stuff. Many of us often feel we need to adopt a "kitchen sink" approach to the workshops and take absolutely everything, but you learn with time, that you don’t – invariably the tutor has organised supplies (for a small charge) when they are using something unusual or others on the day are happy to share if there is something you’ve forgotten or they have just the perfect shade of fabric/thread you need.

This turned out to be a minimalist day. We started with a magazine picture – randomly supplied by Gizella (no choosing) which she asked you to study briefly for colours, textures, shapes etc. She then tipped out a huge bag of scrappy, fabric bits and you had to choose some to represent the items in your picture. So, with smooth paper to represent the fridge, shiny cotton to interpret the glass table, and brown tweed for the wooden chairs, I laid these onto the calico in a sort-of collage representation of the picture. The idea was to simplify it down, not create an exact copy. It was interesting that some people wanted to recreate the picture, others picked out the textures and almost ignored the shapes, others picked out lines and angles, and one looked at the proportions of one colour to another in her vivid mauve/orange floral picture.

Original Picture
We then used a viewfinder to find an area that we liked – whether that was the colour combination or shapes or lines. We then had to again pick fabrics and create a simple collage of that area. We were all getting further and further away from the original picture. The mobile phones came into their own as you could photograph a layout that you liked before you moved it around to perhaps find an even better one (and invariably didn’t so used the picture to go back to where you were!) .

First Attempt
The next step was to simplify down again, but this time in monochrome – not necessarily black/white but certainly shades of one colour. Having taken a lot of grey fabrics, I scrabbled around in my bag, and without realising, began to consider the combination of textures as well as the simplified picture itself. The mix of tweed with a knobbly, thin thread; using a scrap of Gizella’s furnishing fabric with the same colours as the pile of plates; an open weave linen square on top of a dyed cotton. As Gizella reminded us, it doesn’t have to be all fabrics – you can combine papers as well, and she had some interesting textured wallpapers which we were welcome to use.

Then came the stitching. Just very simple stitches to "make a mark" and hold down the fabrics in some way. You did have to think about which stitch you wanted to use, in what thread, and where you were going to put it. The simple, minimalist approach is definitely not to be considered as slapdash – having collaged your fabrics carefully you can’t just plonk heavy, dark stitches on top in a haphazard fashion. The stitches were there for a purpose, to add something, but not stand out and detract – for example, simple couching or running stitch but with big gaps between or extending the thread loosely over the top.

So by the end of the day, we all had some pieces of work that may have started from a magazine picture, but had become uncluttered and simple collages of fabrics and threads. We all had the chance to view each other’s pieces - a bit nerve wracking when you had to say a few words, about it but Gizella was only looking for an outline of what you thought, and liked or disliked about where you had ended up. It was interesting to hear the various comments – "I never use green usually, but I have this time and quite like it"; "I usually create busy pieces so it’s a challenge to make it so simple", "I liked the strong lines and could use either pleated fabrics or stitches to give me this effect", "going monochrome, I went back to an inspirational picture of stones from the Lake District that I’ve always liked".

Finished Piece
I found being guided through the day with exercises so much easier than if I had just been told to "think freely and interpret". Sometimes it can be good to try and bring things down to a simple combination of fabrics and threads and yet still create something that is pleasing to look at. Gizella herself was friendly, helpful and guided us through rather than imposed her own ideas. I guess the test of a workshop is always what you do with the piece when you get home. I’m pleased to say, I finished stitching mine and did a second one for the Travelling Book.

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