Julie Ryder's Samplers of Stains

Julie Ryder’s Samplers of Stains

Australian artist Julie Ryder’s background in microbiology has led her to develop a distinctive vocabulary of surface design techniques. Ryder cultivates natural dyes by placing slices of citrus fruit on the surface of silk fabric and allowing nature to take its course. Over a period of four to five months, bacterial colonies, mold, and the by-products of fermentation leave deposits on the fabric. When the decay process is complete, the fabric is washed, and a legacy of colors ranging from black to red to orange, rust, and coffee emerge.

The natural dyes need no mordant to set the color; they are stubborn and permanent stains. Ryder’s fabric of choice is antique kimono silk, which is particularly receptive to dyes and represents, like the substances that stain it, a ‘material archive of the past. The silk fabrics capture the patterns of the segmented fruit with varying degrees of subtlety. In some, a faint outline of the imprint is apparent, while in others minute details are discernable. Displayed as pieced and whole-cloth wall hangings and scarves, the fabric is further embellished with hand stitching and applique. In some works, the sections of citrus pattern are duplicated by screen-printing that takes the motif into a second generation as the intricacies of the design build.

Ryder’s stitches often seem to replicate shapes such as the human thumbprint or surface ripples on water, commonplace but ultimately unique patterns. The stitching and piecing reflect the same patience required to cultivate the dyes. There is little about this work that feels hasty or spontaneous. Instead, delicate hand stitches in swirls and circles add to the fabric a peacefulness and lack of urgency that honors nature’s patterns and rhythms.

Jenni Sorkin notes in “Stain: On Cloth, Stigma and Shame” (in the journal Third Text, issue 53, winter 2000-2001) that the “stain is a negation of an area of fabric.” For many textiles, this is most certainly the case. But here we see the “mend and make do” philosophy of traditional textile work taken to new ironies. Decay, the epitome of oversight and domestic mismanagement, is elevated to a focus, rather than being ignored or maligned. Ryder renders stains respectable.

Ryder has exhibited her work in solo shows at the Lesley Craze Gallery in London and Planet Furniture in Sydney. Her work is also in several permanent collections, including the Dutch Textile Museum (Nederlands Textielmuseum) in Tilberg and the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney.

FiberArts magazine (summer 2004: 16)