Cocooned from the Elements

A stormy residency in Scotland inspired weaver Lynne Hocking-Mennie and natural dyer Prach Niyomkar from North-East Thailand to collaboratively explore the symbol of an umbrella as protection from the elements.

This blog is part of a series by the Scottish makers participating in a programme of residencies with makers in Mexico, Thailand and Canada as part of the AAS international exchange project to create new work on the themes of identity and sustainability for an exhibition, Meet Make Collaborate.

My name is Lynne and I’m a weaver and a scientist living and working in Aberdeen in north-east Scotland. I combine my love of science and textiles to create handwoven objects that take inspiration from data and communicate scientific concepts. I typically work with natural and (where possible) locally-sourced materials. I took part in the Crafting Futures Thailand portion of Meet Make Collaborate, and was paired up with Prach (known as Mann) from Sakon Nakhon in North-East Thailand. Mann is passionate about natural dyeing and sustainable processes, and works with local artisan weaving communities to create handwoven clothing. Mann is also working to create space at his home to grow dye-plants and run workshops on natural dyeing and weaving.

Mann and I spent ten days together at Cove Park on the west coast of Scotland in February 2020. We were there just as Storm Ciara was finishing her work and were subjected to some extreme weather patterns over the course of our residency, changing between sunshine, gales, hailstones and snow sometimes as often as every five minutes! This hugely influenced the direction of our work, focusing our minds on climate crisis, changing global weather patterns and environmental sustainability, as well as what it means to need protection from the elements.

We set to work using only natural materials. Mann had arrived from Thailand with some indigo paste and he taught me how to build and work with an indigo vat (above). We experimented together with creating dyes from various lichens (below) found on wind-felled branches around Cove Park. We dyed plant-and animal-based yarns that are typically used in Thailand and Scotland, including handspun cotton,and unspun flax and wool, to create a “materials library”. And we laughed at the irony of Scottish lichens giving us sunshine yellows while the Thai indigo created rainy blues!

We explored different ways of working with these materials (below), whether using various weaving techniques to create fabric or braids from spun yarns, or working with unspun yarns. Initially, we had planned to create an abstract composition that showcased the materials and processes we worked with but it became apparent that this was not really pushing either of us creatively, and so we went back to the drawing board.

In Thailand, “cocoons” are objects that are created as part of the process of spinning cotton (below). In Scotland, we do the same thing before spinning wool but refer to these are “rolags”. The cocoon as both a form of protection and a place of transition/transformation seemed an appropriate symbol for our collaborative journey. That, and the umbrella…..

Umbrellas and parasols are tools used globally for protection against rain or sun. After our shared experience of violently-changing weather patterns, we decided to explore what umbrellas and parasols of the future might look like when they need to offer protection against multiple weather types in every outing. Starting from the same point of inspiration and using similar materials, we are each creating a separate “space of protection from the elements” inspired by the weather patterns we experienced during our residency, formed around an umbrella (above) or parasol.

My umbrella (images above of macquette) will incorporate data on the weather pattern during a one-hour period of our residency expressed using cocoons interwoven into fabric, and Mann is creating new tablet woven symbols representing weather and nature inspired by the residency that he will incorporate into a parasol.

I’m intrigued to see how our individual expressions around the concept of protection from the elements diverge and converge in the objects that we create, and how these can be used to provoke discussions about climate crisis and environmentally sustainable practices.

Top image: Materials library

Read about the experiences of other Scottish makers taking part in Meet Make Collaborate – ceramicist Susan O’Byrne, weaver Cally Booker, textile maker Fiona Hall, basketmaker Sarah Paramor, textile designer Kate Davies and artist Louise Barrington.

The Meet Make Collaborate exhibition is part of an international project by Applied Arts Scotland SCIO in partnership with the British Council Crafting Futures programme including the British Council Mexico and British Council Thailand, the British Council ScotlandHigh Life HighlandMuseums Galleries Scotland and Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and funded by Creative ScotlandEdinburgh College of Art and Highlands and Islands Enterprise

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