Book review: Natural Processes in Textile Art by Alice Fox
This book is a treasure trove of inspiration and ideas in which Alice Fox guides us through her methods of working with natural processes and gives us the encouragement to explore those processes for ourselves. Beautifully illustrated throughout, this book has wonderfully detailed photographs of all my favourite things; meticulous hand stitch, rusted and stained fabrics and collections of ‘found’ objects. The book is interspersed with some lovely examples of work by other artists who also use natural processes.
Since childhood, the author has been fascinated by the natural world. She went on to complete a degree in Physical Geography and worked as a nature conservationist before later training, as a mature student, in Contemporary Surface Design & Textiles. Alice now works as a professional artist. Her artistic practice has a strong link to the natural world and encompasses textile art, fine art printing and tapestry weaving. This book is part of a series of textile books published this Autumn by Batsford. It has a stunning cover photograph of a detail one of Alice’s leaf stitching pieces and you certainly won’t be disappointed when you look inside.
What’s in the book – Chapter by Chapter
Chapter 1 ‘Exploring, finding, collecting’
In Chapter 1 ‘Exploring, finding, collecting’ we are introduced to hunting and gathering. The chapter is full of tips on responsible collecting, including guidelines for picking plants. Foraging hotspots are highlighted with sections on the coast, the countryside, farms woodland, and urban spaces, including home and garden. There are also tips for staying safe whilst collecting. The chapter concludes with an account of Alice’s project ‘Gifts from the Pavement’ outlining how it was put together.
Chapter 2 ‘Natural colour’
Chapter 2 ‘Natural colour’ explores the use of plant material as a source for colour. It includes sections on Eco printing and the low impact processes involved; including advice on safety when handling dyes and metals. Alice encourages us to look for local plants to produce colour. On the page ‘Animal, vegetable or mineral‘ Alice explains how the fibre of the base fabric can make a difference to the finished result. The processes are clearly detailed and Alice guides us through basic recipes that are easy to follow. There is a paragraph on growing plants for dyeing, instructions for how to make vegetable inks using kitchen waste, and a couple of methods for making walnut inks. Alice recommends ways of collecting colour on walks and how to make marks ‘in situ’ with mud, clay, and charred wood.
Chapter 3 ‘Rust marks’
Chapter 3 ‘Rust marks’ is my own favourite part of the book. I have long had my own collection of rusty items, so beautiful to my eyes that I can’t part with them. I have not used them extensively in my work so I was interested to read more about the process of rust printing. In this chapter Alice starts by giving us an explanation of what rust is and how it can be used to make marks. There’s a fascinating few pages about the chemistry of using tea and vinegar to release and enrich the colour of rust prints and suggestions of other wetting agents to try. There is advice for making rust prints on paper as well as information on how to prepare fabric for printing and tips for wrapping and binding and for using salt water as a mordant.
Chapter 4 ‘Foraged fibres’
Chapter 4 ‘Foraged fibres’ begins with suggestions on using found fibres instead of conventional threads. In the section ‘Twisting and Twining’ Alice details how to use plant material to make fibrous threads and string that can be used to stitch and to weave. There is a short piece on beach-combing to collect materials for weaving, and simple methods for weaving, both on and off a frame, are fully described, as well as darning acorns and collecting leaves to stitch and quilt.
Chapter 5 ‘Combining techniques’
In Chapter 5 ‘Combining techniques’ Alice tells us how her work builds up in in layers and how she uses fabric and paper equally as her base material as each has different qualities. This chapter also covers processes such as printing from a relief, rubbings, monotypes,and embossing. There’s an absorbing section showing how, with minimal equipment required, screen-printing can be done on the kitchen table. There is instruction for making simple books and also on how to experiment with, and incorporate stitch into your prints.
Chapter 6 ‘ A sense of place’
In the final Chapter ‘ A sense of place’ Alice talks about her connection with landscape, her relationship with the coast and outlines her time spent as artist in residence at Spurn Point on England’s east coast. ‘Taking time’ and ‘A fresh view’ urge us to notice details and spend time looking with fresh eyes at the familiar to discover things previously unseen.
I will leave the last word to Alice herself “Perhaps engaging more consciously and creatively with the physical world can provide an antidote to our increasingly virtual lives. Recognise the potential in the everyday and you will find resources all around. An appreciation of the local helps to build a deeper understanding of the world around us. I hope that you will start to see things you wouldn’t previously have noticed. Look closely and use your imagination – there are so many possibilities”
Who is it for?
This book is a must for those wishing to explore natural processes or who want to look at their own practice with a fresh eye. Both the enthusiastic beginner and those with more experience will enjoy reading this book. With clear instruction and with plenty of inspirational illustrations this is an indispensable book which will be referred to again and again.
Product details Natural Processes in Textile Art 2015 by Alice Fox
Published by Batsford – 128 page full colour illustrated hardback book.
Product Dimensions: 27.9 x 22.4 x 1.5 cm
Book review by Sue Stone
Which other textile books inspire you? Leave a comment below to let us know.