Review by Lindsay Rendall
Natural Processes in Textile Art is a book which leads the reader through a selection of techniques using natural processes and found materials to create stunning textile art. The author Alice Fox is a textile artist who works creatively making the most of what she can forage, find and gather around her. Alice looks to the natural world to find her inspiration, having been fascinated by natural history and the environment around her since a young age. Her techniques make use of natural found materials such as leaves and acorns to generate dyes, but she also makes use of man-made cast offs like rusty nails which she uses for some of the mark making techniques described in the book, as well as directly incorporating them into her finished pieces (for example by embroidering them onto the surface of the work).
The book is beautifully photographed with a number of pictures of her work. She also introduces the work of other textile artists working in the same field to help illustrate the techniques described. The book is covered in an almost peach skin like fabric which is deliciously soft to the touch and gives it a very luxurious feel (I must admit I spent several minutes fondling the cover when it arrived).
The book itself is designed as a source of inspiration as well as an introduction to the various techniques used. The aim is to arm the reader with the necessary knowledge to explore the processes and generate their own textile art rather than as a typical craft ‘project’ book which takes the reader step-by-step through how to create a particular project. As such, the book is perhaps more suited to those who are either studying a textile art course or hobbyists who are looking to explore textiles and textile art and develop their skills in a more in-depth way than for the casual crafter who is looking for specific projects to do.
The book is split into 6 chapters in which Alice leads the reader through the various processes, starting with “Exploring, Finding, Collecting” which explores the different kinds of materials which can be found and collected, where they might be found and also looks at responsible foraging (not taking too much, where you can and can’t pick and what you shouldn’t take). This includes both the likely natural spots such as woodlands or the beach but also some more unexpected places like the pavement on the way back from the school run or the garden shed. She shows the reader how they need to open their mind to the possibilities all around them and look at their familiar surroundings with a new perspective.
The second chapter “Natural Colour” deals with eco printing and natural dying techniques. Here Alice’s scientific background comes to the fore as she explains the chemical processes involved (along with the relevant safety information). Many of the natural dyes used are not by their nature very stable although the addition of mordants can aid in that respect.
Following on from this, the next chapter “Rust Marks” takes the reader through the process of staining fabric using rusty items such as old screws. Part of the attraction of this is that the mark making process is not an exact one; rather than printing specific designs, the artist must wait and see how the rust interacts with the fabric so the end result is always a surprise.
Foraged fibres are covered in chapter 4. Alice shows the reader techniques such as how to make string from grasses, stems and other natural fibres, how to collect found pieces of rope fibre and netting from the beach and produce weavings with them and how to quilt leaves and darn acorns.
Alice then brings all these techniques together in the 5th Chapter “Combining Techniques”. Here she looks at how they can be layered and combined to make beautiful art works. The chapter also covers a number of techniques such as embossing, rubbings, monotype and relief printing. A number of examples of other artists’ work are also presented to provide inspiration to the reader and to show just what is achievable with the techniques.
The final chapter “A Sense of Place” deals with the relationship between the artists and the landscapes they draw their inspiration from. Alice explains how each artist will capture the same landscape differently as they bring their own interpretation to the place; she describes her own experiences as artist in residence at Spurt Point nature reserve and how she recorded the environment around her to create her art works for the project. She then goes on to suggest to the reader how to incorporate the artists’ practices in their daily life, to record the environment around them and come up with their own art works.
I have found this to be a beautiful and fascinating book which would inspire any aspiring textile artist looking to further their work into new directions.
Natural Processes in Textile Art by Alice Fox
Published by Batsford Ltd