Sarah Brownlee on a new collaboration between a couturier and textile artist
A kimono may be inherently Japanese, but this particular incarnation is the result of a myriad of influences, some of them very Scottish. As the combined work of Glasgow-born textile artist Morag Macpherson and Hebridean couturier Sandra Murray, of the Isle of Lewis, this is not entirely surprising – but it’s not immediately obvious upon seeing the creation. What straight away beguiles is the exquisite cut of the piece, coupled with the colourful patchwork of patterns.
At SOFA in Chicago last November, where it was part of a Craft Scotland showcase, it went down a storm, which was satisfying for both Murray and Macpherson after months of hard work on its creation. Three and a half, to be exact, with Murray sewing every square of the silk patchwork – each patch required 500 micro-stitches – not to mention all the hand-finishing.
In 2009 Murray was awarded an MBE for her services to Scottish fashion and textiles, having made a name for herself making exquisite bespoke garments for private clients featuring such luxurious materials as tweed, cashmere, lace, silk and velvet. It was she who mooted the idea of a collaboration with Macpherson, after they met at a trade mission in New York in April where Macpherson was showing her bold designs, some displayed in the form of kimono wall-hangings.
‘Early on in my needlework career in the mid-60s and 70s, I used to specialise using natural fabrics like Liberty print Tana Lawn, wool challis and Liberty’s varuna wool making appliquéd tunics, so maybe [Morag’s work] struck a subconscious chord,’ says Murray. ‘I was initially drawn to the intensity of the colours in her graphics, and I was keen to see what my own kimono design, in her cloth, might look like.’
Macpherson was in turn drawn to the considered way Murray goes about her craft, pleasingly at odds with the fast pace of modern life. ‘I love the way Sandra builds relationships with her clients in a very personal and word-of-mouth way, which seems old-fashioned in this world of social media and information overload,’ Macpherson counters. ‘I liked how she was quietly confident, as a person, and her ability to work with fabric as a couturier reflects her high-quality craftsmanship.’
And so they set about the project that would see Macpherson develop seven new designs, which were digitally printed onto silk at a workshop in Galashiels before being sent to Murray’s studio in Inverness for the long process of making that included the stitching together of those patches, the lining with Italian silk georgette, and all the hand-finishing topped off with an obi belt.
As a starting point for the new designs to tie in with its proposed unveiling at SOFA, which predominantly focuses on glass and ceramics, Murray suggested stained-glass art, and Macpherson embarked on further research at her studio in Kirkcudbright. The stained glass of Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Frank Lloyd Wright proved a big inspiration: ‘It interested me that they were both firstly architects and shared a fascination for stained glass that was reflected in their craft,’ Macpherson says. The fact that Lloyd Wright spent much of his life in Chicago (SOFA’s city of choice) while Rennie Mackintosh pioneered the Glasgow Style (Macpherson’s roots) made the two influences seem all the more relevant.
Further inspiration came from Macpherson’s graphic design heroes, including Milton Glaser, as well as the art of Glaswegian Jim Lambie – and more specifically his use of abstraction and vivid colours.
The patchwork masterpiece has now made its way back across the Atlantic ocean to Scotland, where it awaits a buyer. And although undoubtedly a work of art the future owner should be reminded that it is also made to be worn. ‘I love the idea that instead of putting it in a wardrobe you can take it down off the wall and have fun with it,’ says Macpherson.