Delving into the collection of Ethel Mairet’s hand woven and naturally dyed textiles at Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft is like rummaging through a brand new sweet tin at Christmas. They are a feast of potent colour combinations and sublime textures, and guaranteed to quietly thrill the most discerning creative eye.
This collection dates from the 1920s when Mairet, inspired by the developing artistic community in the village, moved with her second husband Philip Mairet to Ditchling to live and work at Gospels their newly built Arts & Crafts home and workshop. Whilst few of her garments remain intact in museum collections, her weaving sample portfolios used in teaching, are abundant. A few are annotated with Mairet’s instantly recognisable handwriting, but most remain without description.
The museum is also home to Mairet’s photograph album from the 1930s which is filled with images of her students working at Gospels: a cheerful plaid jacket; two jaunty tam o’ shanters made from offcuts; a large zipped terracotta pocket, and, intriguingly, a matching rescued biased hem. And there is a beige and brown silk scarf recently acquired with a romantic story attached. It is from a woman whose parents exchanged Mairet scarves shortly before their wedding in the 1930s and there is a lovely photograph showing the couple in their winter coats and matching scarves. These have recently gone on loan to Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art near Tokyo, Japan, as part of their new exhibition Enchanted with Ethel Mairet which pays homage to her influence in their craft town, and where her seminal treatise Book on Vegetable Dyes, written a century ago, is still used today by ninth generation weaver and dyer, Mr Tadeshi Higeta.
Ditchling Museum of Art & Craft is also celebrating the centenary of this book with an exhibition entitled Dyeing Now: Contemporary Makers Celebrate Ethel Mairet’s Legacy in which contemporary textile designers and dyers are invited to recreate Mairet’s one hundred dye recipes and show their work alongside the museum’s collection. Mr Higeta’s work will also feature in the display. This is an extract from Donna Steele's article in the Wild issue of Selvedge.
Hosted by Jenny Dean, Dawn Wiley, Jenny Kilbride, Steve Kennet and Donna Steele,
3 - 7 April, £895
Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft, Lodge Hill Lane, Ditchling, East Sussex, BN6 8SP