Saturday, September 17, 2016

Reality, Influence and Invention

Guest Artist: Shirley McKernan

This blogspot has a number of posts that highlight the artwork of invited artists. For you convenience I have listed them below:
Jennifer Libby Fay
Lesley Turner
Flora Fascinator

I first met Shirley in the early 2000’s at Fairfield City Museum & Gallery, NSW, where she worked as an Administrative Assistant. Her passion for the exhibition artworks which were displayed at the gallery was evident in those days and it came as no surprise that she discovered her own art and voice during that time.

Fairfield City Museum & Gallery (NSW, Australia).

Shirley McKernan knitting 4 cm wide torn strips of indigo dyed silk from her original attempts to perfect her artworks “Stairs to the Moon” and “Pumpkins”.

Since then I have been delighted to experience her distinctive artistic voice using stitch and dye techniques on cloth. I am a fan of her artwork and so I was pleased that she agreed to be a Guest Artist on this blog spot. For more information contact Shirley at the following email address: Shirley shirlmck at

Reality, Influence and Invention - The Artwork of Shirley McKernan
How Shirley Discovered Her Art
Sewing, knitting and embroidery, which over the years was done out of necessity, now have become one word for Shirley - textiles. She discovered textiles working as an Administration Assistant at Fairfield City Museum & Gallery (NSW) during the 80s, where internationally acclaimed artist, Helen Lancaster, curated many textile exhibitions. Helen’s husband, Eardley, was a photographer and so a catalogue of each exhibition was produced. These prestigious exhibitions showcased Australian and International textile artists. It was here that Shirley’s underlying creativeness exploded. She saw that the basic running stitch could be interpreted in a myriad of ways. Dye on cloth was even more fascinating especially using silk.

Many of the exhibiting artists were members of the Australian Textile Arts & Surface Design Association (ATASDA), which Shirley joined, and where she met more talented artists, and so she participated in workshops and exhibitions with the ATASDA group of artists.
“I was in awe of two ATASDA members, Kirry Toose and Carol Wilkes, who both used a sewing machine for drawing and manipulation on cloth. This was a revelation; my sewing machine was in for an almighty shock. I became obsessed with silk slivers. The silk slivers (or tops), were laid-out between water soluble medium, free machined to hold the fibres together, then soaked in water to remove the medium. The finished result was a lustrous sheen, soft and vibrant in colour”. Shirley made many scarves from purchased, commercial dyed silk slivers, which were sold at the Lindy-Rose and Leonard Smith's Rosedale Street Gallery, Dulwich Hill, NSW.

Then came shibori, pole wrapping, and stitch on silk.
“It was at this time I explored fine merino wool as a fabric for pole wrapping and dyeing. I loved the end result, texture, softness and playing with different dye colour combinations”.

Stairs To The Moon
The inspiration for “Stairs to the Moon” was a culmination of reality, influence and invention. Reality - Staircase to the moon is a natural phenomenon, which occurs when a full moon rises over the exposed tidal flats of Roebuck Bay (Broome, Western Australia). The staircase to the moon happens 2-3 days a month between March and October.

Influence: Glennis Dolce - Shibori Girl Studio (California, USA). Shirley has been an avid follower of the Shibori Girl blog and web sites, where Glennis Dolcie has a hands-on approach to all things silk and indigo moons.

Invention: The placement of the moon and stairs had to be a design process otherwise the viewer would be confused as to what they were seeing. She used Mokume stitch for the moon, drawing a circle on silk and stitching individual rows. Each row of stitching was gathered tightly and secured to form a resist to the indigo dye. The stairs were mokume stitched - each stitch exactly ¼ inch, each row exactly ¼ inch apart. This required drawing a precise grid on the silk for stitching to be precise. Each stitched row was pulled tightly and secured. Then, magic followed, into the Indigo bath. Then the stitches were pulled-out to reveal my own phenomenon.

Title: Stairs to the Moon (Full view).
Medium: Silk habotai.
Technique: Hand stitched lines to create a resist for the Indigo dye.
Size: 108 cm high x 37 cm wide.

Stairs to the Moon (Detail view).

Pumpkins, because of their shape, were the chosen opportunity to explore “capping”, a form of resist, so that dye does not penetrate into the “capped” area. Shirley drew a pumpkin onto cardboard then cut out each segment. Each segment was individually placed onto silk cloth to form one pumpkin, and then each segment was drawn around, which enabled Shirley to stitch and gather without losing the shape of each pumpkin segment. Each segment was then gathered tightly forming a puff. Each puff was then covered in a small piece of plastic then bound tightly around the base of the puff with thread to form a resist. Then it was ready for the indigo bath. Finally the stitching could be pulled-out to reveal the pumpkins.

Title: Pumpkins (Full view).
Medium: Silk habotai.
Technique: Hand stitched segments to create a resist for the Indigo dye.
Size: 100 cm wide x 45 cm high.

Pumpkins (Detail view).

Palm House, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney
Shirley's recent work was influenced by attending a two-day workshop at Hazlehurst Gallery, Gymea, NSW, showcasing “Kantha Stitch”, tutored by Carolyn Sullivan, a well-known Australian and International Quilter and Embroiderer.
“Participating in Carolyn’s workshop was the perfect topping for my love of silk, dye and stitch. By pulling slightly on the Kantha stitch it results in a tiny ripple effect”.

The piece, “Palm House, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney”, was shown at an Australian Textile Arts & Surface Design Association (ATASDA) Exhibition, titled, “Façade” in May 2016. Shirley was able to mark out palm trees on silk cloth, using her stitching skills to reproduce the palm fronds and palm trunks. She chose to use palm trees as these represented the actual Palm House heritage listed building at the Botanic Garden, Sydney. The piece was indigo dyed, stitches pulled-out, dried, and ironed and a fine batting, backed with quilters cotton fabric was placed under the completed piece to give substance for the Kantha stitch, which then gave the illusion of moonlight on a building (façade).

Title: Palm House, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney (Full view).
Medium: Silk habotai.
Technique: Hand stitched outline of Palm trees and moon to form a resist for the indigo dye.
Size: 53 cm (high) x 32 cm (wide).

Palm House, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney (Detail view 1).

Palm House, Royal Botanic Garden, Sydney (Detail view 2).

Sunrise Over Bondi
“Sunrise Over Bondi” was a reality waiting for Shirley to capture. She dyed a piece of silk habotai in orange acid dye. The sun was drawn onto the orange silk and mokume stitched, the sunrise on the water was also mokume stitched. Each row of stitching for the sun, and sun on water, was tightly gathered to form a resist to the next dye bath. The stitched piece was then soaked in water for 24 hours, water squeezed-out, then into the blue acid dye bath. Acid dye was used to keep the dye type consistent to the piece. When dry the stitching was pulled-out, then ironed. A fine batting layer and cotton fabric was placed behind the piece before commencing the Kantha stitch. She chose a variegated thread to Kantha stitch rays of sunshine.

Title: Sunrise over Bondi (Full view).
Medium: Silk habotai.
Technique: Orange acid dye, hand stitched outline of the sun, and sun rays over the water to form a resist for the dyeing of blue acid dye.
Size: 60 cm (high) x 40 cm (wide).

Sunrise over Bondi (Detail view 1).

Sunrise over Bondi (Detail view 2).

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Hi Marie-Therese,
I'm so glad you chose Shirley McKernan as a guest artist. I think Shirley's work is spectacular - as I keep telling her - but somehow I don't think she believes me. This was a lovely article.