Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Artist Review: Justine Aldersey-Williams

As you know, I've been writing the 'Art and Creative Review' every Tuesday for the last few months and Rachael has very kindly invited me to share some of my naturally dyed surface patterns with you this week.

As you're reading, I'm actually at the New Designers graduate show in London, setting up my area of the Glyndwr University stand. With any luck my displays have made it in one piece! More about that later.

I've been studying a part-time MA in Design Practice since October 2011. Around the same time, I was one of the first to start Rachael's Art and Business of Surface Pattern Design e-course.

As a textiles graduate of the pre-digital era, I spent the first year of my MA updating my skills in surface pattern design (thanks to 3 modules of ABSPD!) creating drawn, painted and cutwork motifs which I manipulated in Photoshop and Illustrator for various commercial markets. I began freelancing and developed my own collection, which I now sell online.

Eco-friendly printed products from my 'Folk Flora' collection, available to buy from Folksy

For my final MA project however, I chose to rediscover hand made surface pattern design as a balance for my computer based work. I believe passionately in natural materials and enjoy working in relationship with thread, cloth and dye using unpredictable, ancient and sustainable techniques, which demand I relinquish control.

Shibori resist silk dyed in wild camomile flowers, madder root and rhubarb then modified with solutions of rust - hence my lovely fingernails!

I shifted my focus from the requirements of designing for a client and product, to creating purely for the pleasure of the process, without design, taking inspiration from the materials themselves. The MA gave me the luxury to delve deep into my own creative process, to find what it is I really love to do, so I decided to take the opportunity while I had it!

I got into quite a bit of trouble for using all my beloved's large pans and even dyed my linen shirt in our copper kettle!

I had great fun exploring wild flower, root and bark fabric dyes, Japanese Shibori resist techniques and narrative hand embroidery. Each unique result inspired my hand sewn embellishments, from a simple running stitch around complex patterns to more intricate philosophical graffiti that I embroidered into pictures and text.

Pages from my sketchbook where I've worked into the dyed patterns with embroidery, recalling my early childhood memories in St. Ives, Cornwall.

Timeless Travellers Silk Scarf - featuring this embroidered extract from my longer poem, 'I love people who see the wrapping paper for what it is, who find beauty in flaws and grace in imperfection. I love people who have the faith to wait, the confidence to persist and the wisdom to slow down. The timeless travellers who've seen it all and are still full of wonder.'

I thought I loved colour before beginning this process but I realised I had probably never seen natural colour, only its flat, more perfect, chemical equivalent.  Botanical dyes offer a beautiful complexity, especially in daylight, that is impossible to reproduce synthetically. There is a wise, sustainable provenance to the cloth, which honours the slow pleasure of making and infuses the garment with a subtle, natural aroma. 

Sacred Mundane Silk Scarf - featuring my philosophical ramble, discharge printed on top of the tie-dye pattern and then embellished with hand embroidery. 'I thought I had to know but now I find gateways within not knowing' - much of the writing on my work sums up my outlook on life!

Cloudgazer Treehugger Silk Scarf - appliqu├ęd silk letters embroidered on to scarf dyed in madder root and modified with ammonia

I'm not puritanical about natural materials though, I love a mix of new technology when it's balanced with some sensible wisdom from the generations before us. I express this in my blend of natural dyes with rebellious pops of neon thread. I absolutely love digital design too, I'm just really interested in the old ways - the wisdom of production methods almost forgotten in societies quest to make everything faster and easier and the healthy satisfaction that comes from making something yourself. In an era when mass produced textiles form 30% of landfill, I feel it's time for individuals to rediscover ethical manufacturing both for its slow, heirloom quality and to remedy the environmental impact.

If you're in London this week from 26th - 29th June, you can come and visit my exhibition at the New Designers graduate show. It's at the Business Design Centre, Islington. I'm the maverick textile designer in amongst the ceramics, glass and jewellery in the Contemporary and Applied Arts section (long story!) up on the right hand side gallery on stand CAA20 (Glyndwr University). I'm a little worried that all you SPD and textile enthusiasts won't venture upstairs, so hopefully this will convince you to come and say hello! If you are coming, you can get a discounted ticket with the code: NDEXHIBITOR1

In the meantime, you can check out my artsthread portfolio, visit my blog, where I'll be posting in more depth about the techniques, thrills and spills I've been having or pop along to my website. I'll be running eco-textile and yoga retreats soon and if you like my new 'Lose Yourself Retreats' facebook page, you'll have the chance of winning a free place. Have a great week! Justine x


  1. Justine this is wonderful I love what you have done they are beautiful and so unique. Truly inspirational work full of passion and personality. Good luck at ND!

  2. Oh how I loved reading this! Totally adore your handmade work, Justine! I too miss the handmade in the middle of all this digital stuff and might start experimenting for a handprinted collection soon … All the best for ND! I am sure that your special work will resonate with the visitors!

  3. Thanks, you two, it's great to get some feedback after working on my own with this, glad you like it xx


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