Barbara Rogers is a textile designer and artist who specialises in exclusive fabrics for fashion and interiors. She has gained international acclaim for her work which incorporates innovative shibori techniques together with other traditional methods.
Your internationally acclaimed work is recognisable for its bold and complex patternation, colour harmony, and technical precision and innovation. Could you share with us more about the development of your unique aesthetic?
I generally work with black fabric, remove some of the colour, then over-dye. I started working this way many years ago as an experiment and it seems to have become my ‘signature’. I find the times I pick up a piece of white fabric I am daunted, but by working on black, and creating patterns through removing colour rather than by adding, gives me a starting point. Patterns and colours, layer upon layer, that slight shifting of pattern. Sonia Delaunay has always been a favourite, as well as Anni Albers. I enjoy looking at the Modernists, from fabrics to furniture, those simple clean lines and colours. I am constantly experimenting, working with shibori in a non-traditional way. No two items are ever the same and the challenge for me is to make exciting designs. Each piece is a new challenge.
You have travelled extensively, learnt under the tutelage of authorities such as Inga Hunter, Yoshiko Wada and AnaLisa Hedstrom and studied traditional and experimental techniques. What was it like working with these other amazing artists and how you have connected these experiences to your own practice?
Inga Hunter was my introduction to shibori and the world of dyes. Since then I have been fortunate to take other workshops - here at Textile Fibre Forums, and in America at the Surface Design Association conferences. Otherwise various International Shibori Symposia have been opportunities to see the variety of work that is possible. Sometimes it has just been a conversation with someone, or an image can give me that ‘light bulb’ moment and I will sketch and try out as soon as I can.
Your travel has allowed you to explore and research textiles and dying techniques around the world – can you share with us some of the experiences of seeing these practices and reflect on the histories and culture embedded within these textile practices?
My first big influential trip overseas was to Santiago, Chile in 1999, for the 3rd International Shibori Symposium. This followed from a workshop (again at Forum) with Hiroyuki Shindo, a master Japanese shibori artist. Fellow shibori artist Margaret Barnet applied for a Government grant for a group of us to attend the symposium and exhibit our work. I had 3 garments in the Wearable Fashion Parade - and made the front page of their paper the next day. It was a wonderful experience and really well organised with talks and exhibitions. The exhibitions showed me all that could be done under the terminology ‘shibori’.
The 1st International Shibori Symposium (ISS) was held in Nagoya, Japan in 1992. Since then, more International Shibori Symposia have been held in different parts of the world – China, Chile, India, France, Mexico etc. Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada has organized these Symposia every 2 or 3 years and I have gone to quite a few and exhibited in all of them. I have made many friends from these experiences.
Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada is an artist, author, curator, textile researcher, and an exponent of traditional and sustainable practices in fashion and textile production. Yoshiko is President of the World Shibori Network and co-chaired all past International Symposia.
You have a background as a dress designer working in the fashion industry, extensive knowledge of different materials, including natural and synthetic fibres and dyes, and over the past 20 years have become influential in the field of Shibori. How has your practice evolved over time?
My first job after College was with a knitwear company here in Sydney. Two designers designed 4 ranges, 3 times a year, one of the ranges printed on a knit fabric. Each season we had to choose the colours and design prints. A good learning experience. I was there for over 2 years. The travel bug bit and I made plans to go overseas for about 3 months, but it was a year before I returned, having spent nearly 6 months in Africa (accidentally). Africa and African textiles have always interested me.
When I returned, I tried to find a job, but the market had changed a lot in that period, so a friend and I started a clothing business, which we ran for about 6 years. I always included a small number of garments that had a screen print.
In 1989 a Textile Fibre Forum shibori workshop was offered featuring Inga Hunter. I had heard a lot about her as a leader in her field of batik and her expertise with dyes. I had no knowledge of shibori, or dyes, but I had worked with screen printing processes. The class was fabulous, Inga Hunter was a great teacher and the other students were willing to learn and share. I think I was a little frightened of the dyes, and it took me a while to start experimenting once I got home. Through the Batik Association (now ATASDA, Australian Textile Arts & Surface Design Australia) I attended other workshops with dyes and my confidence grew, and several years later I decided to make clothes and scarves, and, with a friend, take a stand at the then annual Craft show, held at the Showground in Sydney. My work seemed to get a good response (though not many sales), but I did find venues to sell my work, and so my life with shibori continued. Craft shows were held in other states so I kept on exhibiting and trying out new patterns, also entering some exhibitions.
More Textile Fibre Forum conferences were offered in shibori, so I kept on going! Janet De Boer, the former Executive Director and Editor of Textile Fibre Forum magazine, developed week-long ‘FORUM’ conferences that had a focus on outstanding workshops offered by Australians and also overseas tutors.
Your exhibition works are not always intended to be worn, but rather, their sculptural forms operate independently as artworks. Your garments, (which also operate as artworks in their own right) embody a sense of thoughtful attention for the wearer and are effortlessly complimentary on the body. How do you balance these different modes of your practice and how do you feel these inform one another?
With my dress design background, it was natural to work with clothing, but over the years I have moved more towards scarves - each unique – as well as wall hangings and some more sculptural/concept pieces. Shibori, and its variety of techniques is always the focus, each piece individually hand crafted. It may appear simple, yet involves many layers, the cloth is manipulated, stitched, folded and hand dyed.
What is the importance of adornment to you?
Scarves are an accessory to enhance the wearer. A scarf can completely change an outfit.What sort of studio or making environment do you have?
Messy. I am fortunate to have a sewing area and a dye area.
Would you share with us the story of one of your most precious collected objects or tools?
My books are my precious objects. My favourite at the moment is KIMONO-MEISEN, The Karun Thakar Collection. Meisen textiles were fabricated by weaving pre-dyed threads, using the ikat technique. These were very popular in Japan from the 1920’s to 50’s. I love the wild patterns and colours on these kimonos, reminiscent of Hawaiian shirts. The designs depict huge brush strokes, painterly marks, optical illusions, layering and 3D effects.
What are you looking forward to? / What’s next?
I am working on two exhibition pieces scheduled for showing later in the year. I have taken this time to revisit some books on my shelves, and unfortunately for my groaning bookshelves, acquired a few new ones….
Barbara Rogers, Shibori Dyed Silk Scarf, Craft Victoria. Image courtesy of the artist.
Barbara Rogers, Here & There. 2020 Barometer gallery. Image courtesy of the artist.
Barbara Rogers, Stitched Shell, Triple silk georgette, de-coloured, stitched shibori, 195 x 85cm. Image courtesy of the artist.