In Conversation with Textile Artist Dalia James

Having seen and instantly fallen in love with some of Dalia James' work last year at the inaugural edition of Artefact in June 2021, we hot footed it down to her East London Studio where our admiration for her work simply grew and grew.

Dalia often references early twentieth century design, artistic movements and philosophies in her work, using simple geometric forms to explore how colours interact with each other.

  • After sudying a foundation course at Camberwell College of Arts, Dalia went on to complete a BA in Textile Design at Loughborough University and, in 2019, was selected to take part in the Crafts Council's Hothouse programme. Since then, her work has grown from strength to strength.

    The last twelve months have been a bit of a whirlwind. This rising star has had features in FT to How to Spend It, Crafts Magazine and House and Garden Magazine to name but a few. She's been awarded a place on retail brand Toast's New Makers Programme and has secured countless commissions for her weavings. On top of all this, she became a mum for the first time at the end of last year. So, you can imagine how delighted we were when she was able to create a new body of work for us for this year's Artefact.

    We caught up with Dalia to find out a little more about her work and practice as a weaver.

  • Cavaliero Finn: Tell us about your first encounter with woven textiles?

    Dalia James: I first encountered woven textiles at Loughborough University, I had gone there to study Printed Textile Design but switched course in my second year as I was way more interested in what the weavers were doing! I found the translation of their initial research and drawings into cloth really interesting, and I also liked the practical and ancient nature of the craft. I am from a creative family, my mother spent many hours with me and my siblings when we were young teaching us to draw and make things.

  • CF: In 2020 you were commissioned by The Ruskin Museum in Lancaster, which houses the Victorian critic and artist John Ruskin's collection, to make a textile commission funded by the Economic and Social Research Council. Can you tell us about this commission and how it came about?

     

    DJ: I had created a homeware collection that referenced Red House (family home of William Morris) in 2019. In 2020, The Ruskin were organising a symposium to discuss how buildings themselves can be an archive so they got in touch to ask if I could talk about how I had used the building as a design reference. They consequently commissioned a piece for the museum space that referenced John Ruskin's archive as well as the building itself.

  • A scene from the studio during the preparation of The Ruskin commission. Dalia has created a two-panel textile that responds...

    A scene from the studio during the preparation of The Ruskin commission. Dalia has created a two-panel textile that responds to the form and material qualities of The Ruskin building, designed by Richard MacCormac RA.

  • Dalia took inspiration from the interior colour scheme of The Ruskin and the archive at the heart of the building...
    Dalia took inspiration from the interior colour scheme of The Ruskin and the archive at the heart of the building that is finished in polished red/orange Venetian plaster. Dalia hand dyed the yarn using natural materials such as turmeric, saffron and cochineal.

    Dalia took inspiration from the interior colour scheme of The Ruskin and the archive at the heart of the building that is finished in polished red/orange Venetian plaster. Dalia hand dyed the yarn using natural materials such as turmeric, saffron and cochineal.

  • CF: How do you decide which colours you are going to work with in each body of work?

     

    DJ: I start with research, I create a research board (like the one in the Ruskin image above) and then I'll pick out the colours I want to use. I'll then refine them by playing with different shades of the initial colour palette. Once I've done that I'll create some watercolor sketches that give me an idea of how I want to section the warp. I then wind the warp out and use pieces of coloured yarn to map out each section of colour. I find this much easier than using computer software as it gives me a true idea of what the warp will look like in a three-dimensional space.

  • Dalia's latest work for Cavaliero Finn on the loom.
  • CF: Where does your fascination with geometric patterns come from?

     

    DJ: From school, I loved trigonometry and anything where we have to find out the angles of shapes. I've also loved buildings from as long as I can remember, the angular forms of modernist buildings particularly interested me. I used to love going to the Barbican centre as a child, we would often go to the library there.

  • Dalia James, Puata II, 2020

    Dalia James

    Puata II, 2020 handwoven silk and bamboo
    108 x 34cm
  • CF: Tell us a little about your process.

    DJ: After sectioning the warps, I prepare the dye bath for the lightest colour (I always work from lightest to darkest as if I have a problem like a section of the warp is dyed by mistake, it can be overdyed with a darker colour). I dye all the sections of the warps that are that colour before moving on to the next. When two colours intersect, you get a hazy jagged line. My work isn't classified as a tapestry as a tapestry has a weft faced structure, that is to say that you only see the weft (horizontal) threads. My work uses a double cloth structure, it is two warps (vertical threads) woven together to form intricate blocks. It is predominantly a warp-faced structure, so the opposite of a tapestry. That being said, you can still see the weft threads but not to a great extent.

  • Planning out the dip dyed sections of the two warps. Dalia is pretty old school in her approach, she finds...
    Planning out the dip dyed sections of the two warps. Dalia is pretty old school in her approach, she finds it much easier to plan in real life with real yarn rather than on a computer. She lays out the warp and uses the lengths of undyed yarn to mark out the each section then essentially fills in the space with a length of dyed yarn in the colours she intends to dye. She then can visualise what the entire warp will look like.

    Planning out the dip dyed sections of the two warps. Dalia is pretty old school in her approach, she finds it much easier to plan in real life with real yarn rather than on a computer. She lays out the warp and uses the lengths of undyed yarn to mark out the each section then essentially fills in the space with a length of dyed yarn in the colours she intends to dye. She then can visualise what the entire warp will look like.

  • Dalia prepares the wonderfully coloured hand dyed silk and bamboo warp on the beam in preparation for weaving.
    Dalia prepares the wonderfully coloured hand dyed silk and bamboo warp on the beam in preparation for weaving.

    Dalia prepares the wonderfully coloured hand dyed silk and bamboo warp on the beam in preparation for weaving.

  • CF: How sustainable is your practice?

    DJ: Well that depends on who you ask. The textile industry is one of the worst polluters on earth, so to some, the only way my practice can be truly sustainable is if I stop. That said, I don't believe it's the case of all or nothing. Human beings have for a long time wanted to have beautiful things, from simple animal bone combs to intricate tapestries and jewellery. I don't think the answer is just to stop making new things. In my practice I only use natural fibres, and have started using fibres that have less of an environmental impact such as bamboo which doesn't require pesticides or a lot of water to harvest and SeaCell which is made from Lyocell and seaweed extract. I have always used silk, I try to reduce the carbon footprint of the silk I use by using a supplier that spins the silk using hydroelectric power and is working towards becoming carbon neutral. Although I use very small amounts of synthetic dyes, I have been looking into using natural dyes as part of an Arts Council funded project. The view is to reduce or perhaps even eliminate my use of synthetic dyes. I also create pieces that are meant to be kept and treasured, they are not throw away items.

  • Dalia James: Intersection V, 2020, silk and bamboo, framed, 56cm x 56cm (sold) The colours in this piece took its...

    Dalia James: Intersection V, 2020, silk and bamboo, framed, 56cm x 56cm (sold)
    The colours in this piece took its cues from the pink, green and white marble facade of Florence Cathedral

    Shown here with Abstract Balance and Rampant Succulence both by Cecilia Moore (sold)

    Image by Robert Chadwick

  • CF: Why do you think weaving has become more popular in recent years?
    DJ: I think people are tired of looking at screens all the time and want to do something with their hands, something that connects them to the world around them. Weaving is an ancient craft, it hasn't really changed all that much in over a millenia. Yes, many processes have been mechanised but many of the processes still need to be done by hand, even on an industrial scale. Hand weaving requires nothing but your hands, it is a slow process, it cannot be rushed, I think that it allows people to disconnect from our 24hr modern lives.

  • CF: What would you say makes your work unique?

    DJ: I never know how to answer this question, I guess like any other artist it is an expression of my view of the world around me, that makes it inherently unique.

  • A selection of our artists' work at Artefact (in view) by Ikuko Iwamoto, Matthew Chambers, Mimi Joung, Nicholas Lees, Dalia...

    A selection of our artists' work at Artefact (in view) by Ikuko Iwamoto, Matthew Chambers, Mimi Joung, Nicholas Lees, Dalia James, Cecilia Moore, Soledad Christe, Hannah Tounsend, Bjork Haraldsdottir, and Simon Gaiger - image by Robert Chadwick

  • See Dalia's avaiable work here