“Listening, overcoming the obstacles, compromising, letting go when it doesn’t work, and then pulling it together”.
Tim Blades and Valerie Michael’s collaboration dates to 1991 when Val visited the historic silk workshop in Florence of Antico Setificio Fiorentino with her friend Stefano Bemer, the celebrated Italian shoemaker. Val bought a piece of hand woven silk ‘Damask Uccellini’, with a Renaissance design of blackbirds and berries woven on a loom dating from1786. On another trip Val found a piece of calf leather that matched the fabric and Stefano encouraged her to work with the materials. Over the years Val made some sketches, but the silk and leather remained untouched.
Two Make prompted Val to talk to Tim about making something that was distinctly their own, but sympathetic to the silk fabric:
“The process of collaboration has been fascinating. Although I have worked with Tim before, usually it has been “Tim, please will you make me a buckle, this is what I want” . However collaboration is different, it is about sharing ideas. There is no one in charge, so, there is this listening and tr ying to be open to approaching something in a completely different way. I listen, and he listens, and then we come up with something.”
Tim and Val decided to make a small bag from the silk, leather, silver and 1.5mm garnets. The project had many technical challenges: the weight of silver, the tiny stones, the thickness of the leather, and the delicacy of the fabric.
“I’ve been dreaming about it, problem solving in the night. You wake up in the morning and have solved the opening being too small, or the hinge not being quite right.”
Tim made tiny wax models drawn from detailed design of the fabric. He uses a microscope and modified dentist tools to execute the fine detail on the blackbird and berry wax moulds which are then cast in silver and attached to the leather.
Tim wanted the bag to have a secret: “When the bag is closed you see the scalloped leather shape with the fabric flowing from this. All you see of the silver frame are two quite narrow strips, the hinge and fir cone clasp. When you open the bag you have this surprise decorative canvas.”
For Val and Tim their bag is an achievement of working together: “listening, overcoming the obstacles, compromising, letting go when it doesn’t work, and then pulling it together”.
For Val, it is also in memory of Stefano who died age 48 in 2012. A fine craftsperson, and good friend.