Last year I was asked to make a piece of work for an exhibition called Pick & Mix that invited artists to work with items held by Bradford Textile Archive as inspiration for new work. It opens this week at the new Dye House Gallery at Bradford College. There are a range of responses to the archive by artists working in different media and include fantastic textile interpretations by Hannah Lamb, Liz Clay, Helen Parrott and Helen Farrar.
The archive holds the collection of the Society of Dyers and Colourists, an organisation based in Bradford since the 1880s. I have worked closely with their education team on some of my community-based projects and it is a fantastic resource. In the SDC collection there are many dyers' notebooks, dating back to the early nineteenth century and this is where I settled on my subject.
I have picked one of the many notebooks in the collection of David Smith (1819 - 1891): Halifax based dyer and printer, prolific writer and Strict Baptist minister. The notebooks in this collection span a long career, a record of recipes used and samples made but with other curiosities amongst his exacting instructions. His books brought to my mind the ‘commonplace books’ of an earlier time, a place to note down important texts, useful reminders, and passages from scripture. Book 41 is specific to the creation of black dyes on cloth. It is a handmade book, full of text, a few sample cloth pieces and some musical annotation.
My flyped (or folded) bundles of local worsted cloth have slowly absorbed a traditional black dye and are saddened using an iron mordant. They are heavily stitched along their folded edges. I am using these materials to explore the density of processes that now mostly happen out of view, and the arcane textile language that accompanied them.
Pick & Mix is at the Dye House Gallery, Lister Building, Carlton Street, Bradford BD7 1AY from 13th January - 18th February.