Sunday, February 21, 2010

Lino Block Prints

Hand carved blocks have been used for centuries for stamping graphic images and designs onto cloth and other surfaces. Traditionally they were made from wood and metal. In the 1970's it became popular to carve the images into linoleum floor tiles which were softer to carve. The softer medium allowed more women to step into the printing arena because the new material was more suited to their physical capabilities.
Linoleum floor tiles were made from a linseed oil mixture, that was dehydrated and rolled flat onto a hessian base cloth.
When linoleum floor tiling went out of fashion, and was replaced with other more modern floor finishes, manufacturers continued to make lino for the craft industry.
I discovered lino blocks for the first time in 1993. The first time I worked with it I fell in love with the versatile potential of this craft. The leather in this picture was printed with an ornate lino block that I carved in 1999. This delicate block took me three weeks to make.
I was priveleged to see a collection of Penny Le Roy blocks from the 1970's some time back and I was very interested to note that the modern lino that you buy from a craft shop is a fraction of the thickness of the material that was a available back then when it was more widely used for flooring. Today it is just a sliver of tile that you work on. Although the thickness of the block does not affect the printed image, it does affect the handling and lifespan of your modern blocks.
Lino tiles are inclined to become brittle and cracked, especially if you use them with water-based inks. I am no longer able to use the one in the picture above because it has just become too brittle with age. Old lino blocks can be rehabilitated and cared for with a coating of linseed oil to feed it.
In the mean time, I have discovered a wonderful new material that is available. It is a rubber sheet that you can buy at craft shops to do the same job. The rubber is butter-soft to carve, flexible to work with, easy to clean and it does not become brittle when used with water-based inks.
Although we live in the modern age of full colour digital printing, it cannot beat the charm of a hand made print for me. I love hand crafts. Hand made items give you a glimpse into the mind of the creative behind the work. The level of care required to produce beautiful prints can only be carried out by a true artisan with a love for their medium.
In our mass-produced world, hand made prints represent individuality and a love of old-fashioned processes. While machines can deliver quicker, better, more...they cannot deliver the love and care that lies behind authentic hand made prints. They cannot translate the language of love that the artisan speaks through his medium.
Have a great day in full colour!
Kind regards

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Penny Le Roy

Penny Le Roy was a South African fashion designer who made a big name for herself in the 1970's with her lino block printed garments that she sold in her own retail stores here and abroad.
This is one of her signature prints on a black velvet A-line skirt.
The Penny Le Roy story runs like a golden thread throughout my life and it was in her studio in 1993 that the dream for my current business acquired another layer of colour, and another way of getting it onto cloth.
All through my years in high school, I was friends with a beautiful girl called Justine Le Roy. We hung out together. At that time in my life I wanted to become a science fiction writer and I had no plan at all to go into the textile industries. I did not know about tie dye or lino block prints.
After I left school, I was less sure of what I wanted to be and I ended up working in casinos as a croupier to earn a living in the mean time. In 1993 I began to experiment with dye and lino prints. I shared a factory in town with a leathercrafter called Fern. One day we were talking and when she heard me speak about Justine Le Roy she became suddenly animated. She wanted to know if Justine was related to Penny in any way. Once she found out that Justine was Penny's granddaughter, she would not rest until Justine had organised for us to go to her home in Melville and meet her in person.
I will never forget that day. The light in the room. The smell of ink. The sense that this room had seen the birth of many, many ideas... I had been friends with Justine for all these years, so that it could distill into this one fulcrum moment in time where I fell in love. Head over heels. In this moment my fate with fabric was sealed forever.
The story does not end there.
As is usually the case, we do not understand the significance of some events in our lives until much later. Perhaps it is because the scale is so large it can only be fully understood from a great distance?
I lost contact with Justine after that, for more than ten years. One day the significance of the Penny Le Roy thread became more clear to me, and I decided to write about it on my website. A short while later I received an e-mail from Dominique Le Roy (Justine's younger sister). She was collecting all the material that she could find online about her grandmother, when she stumbled on my site. Penny Le Roy had passed away in the mean time.
This thread of events re-united me with Justine just in time for our 20 year school re-union, and we drove there together, giggling, lost, fashionably late...
The Le Roy family continues to inspire my work with their colour, creativity and laughter. The granddaughters are both intensely creative. Dominique works in stained glass and Justine sews, prints, paints, makes and tinkers with anything she can get her hands on. The gene is alive and well.
The Le Roy's really know how to have a great day in full colour!
Kind regards

Monday, February 8, 2010

Carnival In Rio

A couple of years back I saw this quilt for the first time at an exhibition and I stood in front of it for quite some time just drinking in the colours with my eyes. Not only is the vibrant colour compelling, the three dimensional windows within the work are even more fascinating.
Imagine my delight when I stepped back from it and realised it was made by one of my students!
Kathryn Celliers-Louw attended one of my classes at Keen On Crafts in Cape Town in 2006. She went home and proceeded to dye everything she could get her hands on. This quilt is the result of that colourful outburst of inspiration.
She fittingly named it Carnival In Rio.
I am blown away every day by the power of inspiration. It always amazes me when a small seed blossoms into such an astonishing flower. This is by far the best part of my job, seeing what my students get up to with a teaspoon full of my knowledge.
Kathryn lives in Hermanus and teaches ladies in the Cape about quilts and dyeing their own fabrics. She is truly passionate about textiles and she is always inventive in her approach. She is a valuable resource to the local quilting community.
Have a great day in full colour!
Kind regards