Friday, 28 September 2012

Telling a Story - The Spitalfields Tapestry Project

Time:
Just before the Millenium.

Place:
East London ( Spitalfields, Bethnal Green & Hackney)

People:
A group of vulnerable women of all ages and backgrounds living in the area.

The Project:
To create one or two panel(s) for a large textile hanging in shape of a fan telling the story of the French Huguenots (Protestants) who settled into the East London area after they have been offered sanctuary in England by Charles II in 1681, fleeing severe persecution by the French Church and Law. Most of these 40 000 immigrants were highly skilled weavers, mainly using silk. Hence the idea of a tapestry/textile wall hanging celebrating the local history of East London in time for the millenium.

So, this was the background history, research and idea for this project.
But instead of teaching the participants how to weave with silk we decided to use the screenprinting technique (stencil, photographic) and images of Huguenot silkweavers and their architecture in East London (churches and weavers' houses) to tell a 'picture story' of these influential immigrants.

Most of our lovely students (and teachers!) were not aware of this important bit of local history and how it actually influenced East London as it is today.

So we started by handing out photocopied historic images which our students carefully traced onto tracing paper....

Some students concentrated on the architecture.....


....while others were fascinated by the landscape and people.

The traced images were then transferred onto a photographic screen: A light- sensitive emulsion is layered thinly onto the screen. The image is then laid out on top and the screen gets exposed to a strong light for a short while. The emulsion around the image hardens, while the covered image areas can then be washed away, leaving an exact mirror image of the original. A great technique for more complicated images with fine lines!         
We used a 'home-made' light box to do this back in our studio on Brick Lane.


But before those photographic images, which looked like drawings, could be printed onto the large canvas fabric, we asked the students to create some colourful background patterns first.
To do that we taught them two new printing techniques: One was the simple stencil printing, using a cut out image, textile paint and a sponge; the other was batik. Batik is an Asian textile printing technique where molten wax is painted or brushed onto cloth to block out selected areas. These areas stay in the original colour, when the fabric is then dyed. This process can be repeated many times, working from light to dark colours.



Unfortunately I do not have my own images of the finished products, the panel and the whole tapestry, because I had already emigrated to Australia before the Millenium. But I came across a very interesting Blog about Life in Spitalfields, where Di England and her massive tapestry Millenium Project is featured. Check it out : www.spitalfieldslife.com , Di England- Stitches in Time.

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