Dalia James is one of the five New Makers that TOAST will be supporting and nurturing throughout the year. She creates her striking weavings in her studio in east London using biodegradable fibres and a vibrant colour palette.
“I dip-dye the yarns by hand, so even though the structure of a weaving can be the same, no two will ever be identical,” explains weaver Dalia James. She creates unique pieces on three looms in her east London studio. Her space, which she moved into thanks to a grant from the Arts Council, is in a building with 25 other units, so there is a great sense of community.
“Before I moved into this space over a year ago, my largest loom was in storage for a few years,” she explains. About the size of a king-size bed, she uses it to create large rugs, while making wall hangings and woven artworks on the smaller looms. Dalia is inspired by the Bauhaus movement, particularly the work of Josef and Anni Albers, pioneers of 20th century modernism – Josef was a teacher, writer, painter, and colour theorist, while Anni was a textile designer and weaver who was one of the first to posit weavings as art. Influenced by their work, as well as a broad range of architectural styles, she uses geometric forms and vibrant colours in her unique pieces.
“I might end up several hues away from the initial research palette,” she explains, but there is always a starting point, such as the green and white striped marble at Florence Cathedral, which she visited when her sister lived in the city. “The colours can come from a piece of art, but I usually look at buildings and architecture for inspiration.” The shades she uses always combine to joyful effect. “Colour always lifts my spirit!”
Dalia initially studied printed textiles at Loughborough University, but switched to woven textiles after a year. Students on both courses shared a studio, “and I was always so much more interested in what the weavers were doing,” she says. While studying she began to dye her yarns by hand, a process which is still integral to her work – the dip-dyed threads create a hazy effect when they are woven, similar to ikat fabrics. This brings a certain softness to the geometric lines. “I love the juxtaposition of something that's really angular with something quite random,” Dalia says.
She uses biodegradable fibres including bamboo, wool and silk to reduce her impact on the environment, and has recently started experimenting with materials such as SeaCell – made from seaweed – and is looking to start using pineapple leaf fibres. “That’s great because the farmers get an extra crop, from a part of the plant that would otherwise be wasted,” she says. The natural threads also take the colour beautifully.
To create the wall hangings for TOAST, Dalia uses a double cloth structure to form intricate geometric blocks in the weft, juxtaposed by the organic nature of the hand dip-dyed warp. The artworks are handwoven from spun silk and bamboo yarn and wrapped around a piece of board.
“I really wanted to focus on big, structural wall hangings and artworks, rather than smaller pieces for interiors such as cushions, which I started out making,” she says. “I found working solely to create pieces that had an application quite limiting. I always wanted to make larger pieces, to really focus on form and colour.”
Interview by Alice Simkins.
Loom images courtesy of Dalia James. All other photographs by Suzie Howell.