We are launching the new book, Little Ribbon Patchwork and Applique, on Tuesday 15th September at the American Museum, near Bath. Things are a tad hectic here, even my old dog Boysie is getting in on the act posing in the Heart Space Studio window for the Ribbon book display….and all of us who are working hard on this part of the publicity keep laughing and saying to one another – “it’s a tough job…….”
Meanwhile other people have been posing in this window – all in my efforts to publicise the book
But to start at the beginning, the books have finally arrived in the building, boxes and boxes of them.
We have a small UK edition and are selling copies at various book and craft shops and galleries and of course at Heart Space Studios. The first opportunity to advertise came in the form of a photo-shoot for local press featuring the neighbouring businesses in Coldharbour Road, organised by Sue Fyfe-Williams. To make the best use of the fashion models on offer, we made masses of ribbon beads – I mean masses….
and One Solitary Earring……
So when we saw our model Patricia, in a lovely tailored jacket by The House of Sheldon Hall, with her severe hair by SK109 – we just knew that the combination would make spectacular images
the most amazing thing about these beads is that they are made of all the left-overs of ribbon scraps from the other projects in the book – and they are the most popular item in it – we have sold out our launch Making Ribbon Beads workshop at The American Museum , but of course we are running them later this year at Heart Space.
But that’s not all – off we went this week to mount a display for the launch at the museum. Jane- Marie Mahy, Ilaria Padovani (2 of our amazing volunteers) and I arrived at the very cool and elegant Gallery Shop.
what would our hotch – potch of brilliantly coloured Kaffe Fassett inspired projects look like here?
We needn’t have worried – perfect colour co-ordination with Kaffe’s section of the shop…..was it Ruskin who said that only the noblest minds concerned themselves with colour?
eventually everything was in place
and then the gals took piccies….colour co-ordinated or what?
now all that is left to do is make the ribbon packs for the Museum to sell alongside the books; sort out the bead workshop materials and pack, get some workshop leaflets printed, organise guests to get into museum with the invitation, bring extra blue tack just in case…oh and turn up on the day in time for the launch itself……….
Here it is, my very first look at the proper printed books – Heart Space Studios’ Little Ribbon Patchwork and Applique, inspired by and featuring Kaffe Fassett’s wonderful ribbons. And this is the English edition, and it is published by Heart Space Studios…But oh the hopes and fears were in equal measure when I saw that neat white package of the first 10 advanced copies of the book…
Originally the book was commissioned by the American publishers, Taunton Press ( and uses American terms and measurement – bliss – I was educated using inches and yards) and then I was offered the opportunity of producing a small UK edition and this is it. And as a consequence I have spent a large proportion of the last 9 months working on this and other publications involving Kaffe Fassett’s ribbons and fabrics……
I was first asked, by Susan Berry, a book producer concentrating on textile crafts (whom I have worked with for many years) if I had any design ideas for using the beautiful Jacquard ribbons designed by of Kaffe Fassett and produced by Renaissance Ribbons. Susan advised me to see them at his exhibition at the American Museum in Britain, that took place in 2014. Then I was sent a few reels of ribbons to ‘play’ with and this is what I came up with in the first few days….
I have a vintage – quilt hanging on my studio door and I immediately thought that this system may translate to the ribbons; so I just cut some random lengths and using running stitch gathered them up to form these pretty circles…some worked and some didn’t – see above; but it is a designers task to make them all work beautifully – so lots of samples later I made this, below, which I intended to grow into a huge throw or curtain.
Then of course I thought of crazy patchwork, and this eventually became the heart-shaped cushion on the back of the UK edition cover
of ribbon with the loose yo yo’s, easy -peasy as these ribbons have been designed to work together – a rich mix but what else would you expect from Kaffe Fassett?
I just took lots of photographs as I researched, and sent them off with rough ideas for a book of small patchworks made of ribbon and plain fabrics – but the journey from playing with ideas to a finished book has been long and let’s say problematical – ideas are always easy for me to come up with, making them work for inclusion into a “how to do it” book is not easy at all.
The first thing I realised was that I needed to put some other ribbons and fabrics with these intensely patterned Jaquard ribbons. So I included the Grosgrains, or Petershams, fine ribbed ribbons that come in many sizes and colours, Renaissance Ribbons have many different versions – and they duly sent me some and more of the new ribbons from their Kaffe Fassett range; and then I needed a ribbon that could be used to tone with the 2 brights – I chose my old favourites – tartans. Tartan ribbons are universally available now on-line, and they conform to the clan colours so I felt sure that most buyers of the book could get hold of them easily. But then which fabrics to use for the patchworks particularly the crazies?
I am a fabric hoarder, like most textile designers, and I found some small pieces of ‘shot’ cottons – the warp and the weft of the fabrics are different shades or even different colours from one another so the woven fabrics are subtle colours and so more easily used with other materials; and by chance who were these shot cottons designed by? Kaffe Fassett. So that was an easy decision as well and I sent off to The Cotton Patch, (who have the best user – friendly, on-line ordering fabrics service) for more samples of these lovely fabrics. I started designing approximately 20 different samples of ribbon patchworks and appliques.
But I fist made myself some new fabrics – out of the ribbons themselves….
what I needed to realise is that when you are making your own ideas for a book, it is important to be able to demonstrate by using photographs, drawings, diagrams and words how someone else, who has not got your knowledge and may even be a complete beginner, can easily follow the instructions …a lot of lovely ideas and more complicated designs got thrown out in this process.
But here are some examples of 20 samples that made it, from first ideas, through to illustrations of the steps involved and finally the 20 projects that I made with the samples. There are 4 types of patchwork and applique techniques in the boon, strips – see below, crazy, squares and yo-yo’s.
from the work table to the finished book in one bound!
and eventually this design turns up on the contents page as well….
the yo yo designs quick and fun to make and design with, within the book they come single, embroidered….
halved and giant.
in fact I could have written another book about making and decorating with yo-yos
I could write for days about the book and all that it contains – but then why would anyone buy it? As I write I am waiting for the large consignment of books to arrive from the printers….it is a small edition but I have plans to advertise it, it is being launched on September 15th at the American Museum in Britain, well it is full of the American Kaffe Fassett’s ribbon designs… and for this I am giving a special bead – making workshop. ( more of which in a later post )Then the book is being sold with special packs of ribbons and fabrics on the Cotton Patch stand at the Knitting and Stitching Show in October; but meanwhile we have a lovely display in the shop window of Heart Space Studios, devised by our style guru, Jane- Marie Mahy, please see below and I have devised a whole set of classes to complement the book – go to http://www.heartspacestudios.co.uk/workshops/ribbon-patchwork-hearts-half-day-class/. for more information. And eventually we will be selling the new book on our website – watch this space
Shaun the Sheep – the popular cartoon character from Aardman Studios, Bristol’s world famous animation company is being celebrated with a series of decorated sheep statues being deposited in a trail throughout Bristol (and London). The local high street community, including Heart Space Studios, has sponsored a sheep sculpture and he arrives in the first week of July….meanwhile Heart Space have decided to welcome him with a knitted yarn bombed lamppost and bunting.
We recycled an old length of knitted bunting by giving it a really good wash and then Paula made lots of crocheted flowers which I stitched into place to liven it up; we are really pleased with our efforts and all our neighbours are delighted to see our new bunting, they keep photographing it…..the local children come and hug the lower area of the lamppost and we made this particular design as all proceeds for Shawn go to the Bristol Children’s Hospital
So to add to the funds we once again, by popular request, ran a children’s workshop this time to decorate bags….Paula also helped out with this – I kept well out of the way, just occasionally took the photographs….it looked very lively in the main studio..
we had provided sheep patterns for the sheep, prepared fabrics with bondaweb, found buttons beads, eyes and all kinds of stuff to play with.
as soon as the children – boys and girls – arrived they started to trace around our specially drawn templates, and using special fibre pens coloured,
stitched and appliqued….. Mothers helped as well – with the pressing,
we also had boys making their own characterful versions of sheep …..
choices, choices choices….the children’s imagination knew no bounds when it came to decorating the simple drawn outline.
after refreshments – provided by Ilaria and her mother, who was visiting from Italy,
the bags were finished
and everyone had to be photographed as they left the studios.
we had lots of happy people leaving with their own very personalised bags….
New to Heart Space Studios – Kantha Club; started as so many people who have been to our day classes, tutored by Susi Bancroft, have become fascinated by this simple method of hand quilting. We have 3 trial sessions being held once a month – each meeting is 3 hours long – enough to get re-acquainted with the technique and start something to take home to develop further.
Susi, had brought lots of different pieces from her own work, the most interesting for me are the tiny patches of patterned fabrics all held together with simple rows of running stitches and by allowing frayed and ripped fabrics to be caught in place, dense and rich cloths have been developed.
One of the things that I find interesting in Kantha is that each side of the cloth looks different depending on the choice of fabrics – so a simple ground will show up the stitches but a patterned ground is given another layer of pattern – the fabric below shows this very clearly.
Several people had brought in their own samples, some from earlier classes that they now wanted to develop….others already used the technique for their own practice and just wanted to meet up and develop and discuss the work with other people – we are hoping that the new textile clubs we are planning at Heart Space, will enable like-minded people to develop new work together….the 2 pieces below are by makers who has studied Kantha previously, Kay Swancutt, and Liz Hewitt ,
but some people although used to stitching, came along for a new experience – they brought other types of things – the different types of work were really interesting, I am looking forward to seeing how everyone develops in the coming months.
After the introductions we all started to work on our own projects
I have joined the club as well as I want to develop new work using this technique – I have played with this way of setting up rhythms across fine fabrics and I brought in several pieces of old work to demonstrate how I wanted the work to develop – I want to make a stitched sea/sky/land scape – very large using images from my photographs of the views of sunrise and sunsets from my windows at home.
I am layering transparent fabrics so that many subtle colours are made to represent the sky, then held held in place by rows of running stitches. As my home view includes a stretch of the Severn Estuary and the Welsh hills, the textures and rhythms of the water, mud flats and tidal salt marsh in front of the house, could successfully be rendered using this technique, we will see…
when everyone got to working Susi provided us with background fabrics and a wonderful array of her own threads, as well as books and a variety of other materials to help us help ourselves.
Several people started developing different motifs as samplers, using the books that Susi provided..
So we ended the first week with everyone having a piece of work to develop (or not!) for the next meeting…there were a few surprises in store.Some people had started new pieces and developed different techniques….
some really adventurous samplers have been started..
then there was this perfectly ordered piece of quilting on top of a traditional Indian fabric heart
Others continued to develop their own work – I do like the ancient next to the modern in the image below – traditional stork embroidery scissors, hand made pin cushion and mobile phone!
The motifs seem to be very popular but, like me Anne is trying some new colour background fabrics strips – really looking forward to seeing this develop
I hope she has more luck than I did! Eventually I want to make a large piece of work – at least 1 metre wide – so I had started off using wide strips – but found that the rhythms of the stitches started to develop a mind of their own, which I couldn’t get to grips with – so I chopped my original work into smaller segments and really let the running stitches go where they would – it is very exciting to work with…..but where do I go from here?
Well – where else but back to the third Kantha club meeting to see how everyone else has developed and if they all feel that they want to carry this experimental approach forward into a functioning club, with membership, regular meetings, guest speakers, exhibitions and all the other benefits joining a club entails….watch this space.
The second class in the mixed Media Sampler Course at Heart Space Studios began by looking and assessing the finished story boards; several people needed help to get everything organised but here are the results so far….Ceema (above) has refined her theme, she has kept the silvered wallpaper but added a lot of spirals an various forms as well as exquisite Chinese style florals.
It is interesting to see how they have developed from last session, Jo (above) gave herself just a tiny bit more information to work with – the Kaffe Fasset postcard on the left hand side, has added a whole set of new information to play with – patchworks, Japaneses style prints, roses, decorative leaves and diamond patterns- so just a small addition can add a whole new continent to a theme!
As I suspected, some people could just not make up their minds exactly which “story” to develop, often a real problem that stops the maker from progressing; every time they get stuck – they keep retuning to other ideas they have set aside! But the beauty of this discipline, and it is a basic design discipline, is that once you have embarked on this set of stimulus you just have to keep to it….I will make sure of it!
Marion brought in 2 boards, as she liked both so we put them up on the wall and had a group vote….the romantic mauve one won – but i said to keep hold of the vibrant red and gold version for other projects – nothing creative is ever rally wasted.
well Sophie’s work will have to be gilded, richly coloured and silky with very refined imagery in lots of stripes….
Shirley has made a really eclectic patched and spacious board with lot of white space around the images, but an evocative warm colour palette that is redolent of rich cultural heritages. I can see, Indian textiles,American rural, Islamic carvings, and dyed and distressed fabric and paper samples – should be interesting to see this colour emerge in the different materials.
Naomi, has made a collaged picture – more a “mood” board than a story board – but this is an alternative name for this dicipline..mood boards are more nuanced, lees graphic – but I will still expect her to develop samples in the different media that conform to this look…
and looking at the way she has started to develop the theme she certainly intends to work with stitching decoratively on the papers – which was the theme of the second session.
we prepared fabrics and papers by bonding them together in order to have the strength and resilience to take being stitched, either by hand or machine.
we got a lot of different materials ready to be stitched and collaged for the following sessions – everyone preferred the back of the silk ravells seen through the hand made paper.
but whatever we stitch with and whatever we apply in terms of materials and imagery – one thing has been established – the colours and quality of the inspiration….more to come.
New this term at Heart Space Studios is a course of 9 sessions – working with mixed media. Debby Bird and I are working together – we both started with Paper for the first session – later in the term we will add Leather and Suede, or felted materials for the vegans amongst us. Working over a prolonged time (18 weeks) means that we need to develop some overall colour scheme and theme.
So we started with a show and tell of our own mixed media work and I showed the group a series of colour stories or mood boards used in textile design companies to show the atmosphere and colour gamut of a collection. I use the same system for showing publishers to show how my books will look.
I brought in a pile of art postcards and other images for everyone to choose 1 or 2 or even 5 – from this they each had to develop their own story board, isolating colours, textures from their cards. At home they can inject their own imagery and details.
the selections were very different from one another….
we also offered a whole table full or wallpaper samples, Japanese papers, maps, books, tissue papers, paper-lace doilies, Chinese New Year Money – anything and everything to give inspiration
soon everyone was at the table – it was a veritable feeding frenzy
then the room went quiet as everyone tried to make some sense out of what they had chosen and the editing began…the first step of design.
slowly the selection became richer and more subtle.
lots of variations follow…subtle and softly coloured,
and even more variations….
some people just believe that more is more – as do I!
then when everyone was settling down Debby showed them how to dye papers using simple wax resists……
subtle and refined papers were prepared when attention was given to the original post card images.
now these could be added to the mix. and attention given to the type of cutting or ripping and alignment of the papers to reflect the atmosphere and colour of the original selected postcards – learn to trust you initial instincts when starting a new design
eventually everyone managed to resolve their ideas into a piece of collaged work to take home and add some more personal embellishments.
Story Boards are a visual statement of intent – so we will be drawing everyone’s attention back to their finished board each time we sample a new technique over the coming weeks ….watch this space
Gertie the Sheep just about sums up what the first Bristol Wool Fair held on Durdham Downs (which still has ancient grazing rights for sheep) was all about…amusing, colourful and very woolly in all parts…..The Wool Fair is the brain child of Sarah and David Harris who run a large and fully stocked yarn and fabric supply store called “The Spinning Weal
Gertie was the first neighbour I saw when I arrived to set up the Heart Space exhibition and stand. she was placed on a table with hundreds of lovely crocheted flowers at her feet…her face already made-up and a flower ticked behind her ear. each day she got more a more of the flowers added to her coat, by anyone who cared to assist. She was slowly dressed up each day and by the end of the show she was ready for her progress around the show ground – in a basket on a push trolley.
Heart Space Studios was invited to attend as part of the educational content alongside the various fibre and fabric guilds. I decided to mount an exhibition of the only completely woolen embroideries that I work – they are designs for the canvas work kit company Ehrman Tapestry.
we also exhibited any of pur current workshops that feature wool – so knitted lampshades and some lovely beaded knitwear.
Heart Space also gave demonstrations of various workshops ion offer, Amanda Jones, had a fascinated audience for knitting with beads – the beads are threaded onto the yarn first and then the fun begins…
Heart Space also helped with teaching anyone and everyone to learn to knit and crochet, several members of out Knit and Stitch clubs volunteered their services.
other demonstrations held by our tutors were also very popular; the children’s activity book made using felt applique got a really attentive crowd.
The world is full of surprises. You invite a group of people to develop ideas together in a studio in order to make work for a themed exhibition over a period of 6 weeks, then they go away and come back 3 weeks later with something completely different – Hey Ho! BUT sometimes the things they bring back are so different and you realise that they have taken a new direction because of the theme – what could be a better result?
So when Ilaria Padovani, who is a volunteer at Heart Space Studios, arrived the day before the deadline with 4 folded and paper sculpted books, I could only gaze in amazement (she was making a flight of patchwork butterflies last time we spoke)! I had asked everyone to write a few sentences about why they had done the work, knowing from experience that most people engage more easily and trust the words they read, rather than the images they view – I have the opposite point of view but that’s anther story!
‘VERBA VOLANT, SCRIPTA MANENT…Spoken words fly away, written words remain…’
“This was my big sister’s reply to a letter I had written to her pontificating on how to raise her child. Although my intentions were good I had been arrogant and hurtful to someone I love dearly.After her phone call, I stayed up all night thinking of a way to show her how deeply sorry I was for my inconsiderate missive. I had wished the words I had written could have flown away from the page like a flutter of butterflies.
I started folding the pages of a book she used to read to me as a child. I folded a kaleidoscope of butterflies and arranged them soaring out of the pages. The making was cathartic to me and so was her forgiveness on receiving the book”.
Writing was a theme for many of the pieces in this mixed media exhibition. Steph Wooster, was researching ideas about carrier pigeons, doves and messages of peace, so this old airmail letter has been printed and then embroidered in cross stitch with a the one thing that you can’t give up when waiting for news. Steph’s images are truly mixed media, she prints, knits and embroiders onto papers and fabrics of different densities – layering the multiple sheets of images and text together.
” I have an ongoing interest in mixing media, materials and processes. Attending workshops at Heart Space has introduced me to paper-cutting and patching processes that I have explored further with my knitting, stitching, printing and sketching. Making work for Things with Wings I immediately thought of pigeons. I love pigeons, grey, common, mundane and overlooked. Their invisibility and homing instinct led me to layering maps, graphs, envelopes, knitting, photographs, feathers and tracing paper. I wanted to show the humble pigeon as cousin of the dove who brought Noah the olive branch, embodying hope for the future.”
Mary Bishop has used her own hand-writing to inscribe poems and rhymes that have been illustrated by embroidering into papers and fabrics. I always recite this rhyme when I see any magpies – its an old English saying. Mary has condensed and enriched her first sample idea that she was working on in the studios to make these encrusted applique and collaged pieces.
My inspiration for this piece was my workroom which is like a magpie’s nest, full of bits that glitter and are pretty, things that cry out to be reused. I really enjoyed reflecting it in this nest
I love ladybirds, so pretty and attracted to colour, I was really inspired by my many colours of threads to build up this flower bed and the cobweb to illustrate this lovely poem.
Keeping with framed pictures, Debby Bird made some really popular (and fast selling) beetle things, some with wings but the main interest for all the viewers was the materials she used, interference foil that distorts the light rays into rainbows of different hues being the most fascinating. The free machine-stitched insect boxes illustrate her idea that many insects are as precious and beautiful as jewellry displays.
“Despite being overlooked and under-loved , Insects are the most successful of the worlds’ species . They are so varied and often more beautiful than the most precious gems, yet they can take off and disappear before you get a proper look.
My free-stitched specimen boxes are representing the energy of live bugs just gathered for a quick inspection before they fly home!
There are classes is this technique by Debby in the new Heart Space Studios Autumn programme of workshops
Sarah Dennis cuts paper by hand and the results are stunning, she conducts her very popular workshops, both day and evening sessions, for Heart Space Studios. The 2 large pieces of work attracted a lot of admiration, people can’t believe that they are looking at a hand made piece of such simple means. I like her simple explanation for the genesis of her things with wings…..
I love nature; these pieces were inspired by watching a David Attenborough documentary.
Deep Blue was created after watching a scene where the ocean and the sky met together – watching a bird dive from the sky and the whale swam around the surface of the ocean in a circular motion, the fishes sprung out of the waves into the sky. I wanted to capture the movement and life of that moment in paper.
Flamingos is a response to how astounded I always am by the incredible journeys that animals make to survive. I try to exemplify the beauty of nature through the delicate detail of paper.
Some people are really good with the words that they use to describe how they developed their imagery – Sophie Bristol, our administrator – studied History of Art for her BA hons. degree at the Courtauld Institute, so I was not surprised by her eloquence when she wrote about the piece that, at first glance, looks to be just a highly decorative triptych.
One of my greatest past-times is exploring flea markets, making chance discoveries of overlooked gems, which might not be particularly valuable, but are lovely none-the-less.
I recently stumbled across a pack of playing cards at a market, and was drawn to the gilded image of a bird on the reverse. The picture fascinated me because it was both beautiful and slightly sinister. I decided to incorporate the cards into a piece for the Wings and Things exhibition, using hand-embroidery skills, beading, and mixed-media techniques to continue to explore the tension between the beautiful and the macabre.”
Alas, my own framed pieces are very conventional – I had to make them relatively quickly at home in any spare time I could find, so relying heavily on my stitching skills, I made what I hope are amusing images of the ends of things….
“One of the daily tasks of running Heart Space Studios is sweeping the studio floor. Things found on the floor though, are often lovely – scraps of silk, ravels of multi-coloured threads and scatterings of beads; but as they are so small and dusty they usually get binned.
Buttons are another matter, they get used here for eyes and noses for toys made at children’s parties; but after a few months only the brown and beige buttons are left in the tins. I suspect that most homes harbour a tin of odd brown and beige buttons….
I got to thinking “Ideally, what would happen to the beige buttons that no-one wants, or the teeny scraps of ragged fabric and threads? Where would they go, what would they become”?
So now we get to the things out of the frames – I feel that out of the frame is perhaps a better way to develop work like this – so we had a flight of dragonflies from Susi Bancroft, rather difficult to photograph, so here is just one; he looks kind of menacing – but as Susi says……
“ inspired by my delight in watching dragonflies in flight whilst walking by the river. From pale green delicate ethereal things, to flashes of bright iridescent colours skimming the water, I caught my breath watching them. These creatures are an interpretation, a play on ideas. My mind wandered around the real as well as imaginary – the beauty of nature and the fantasy of invented things with wings – from fairies to surreal stinging insects! These may hang indoors or outdoors – catching light and breeze and hopefully raising a smile!
Made on the sewing machine from wire wrapped in glittery metallic thread with seed beads I pre-threaded on the wire – a somewhat exciting technique which requires some nerve!
But where are the things without wings? Well for a start there are lovey simple feathered heart shaped hangings form Jane- Marie Mahy, our display manager.
” I was inspired by the work I have done in the past for Heart Space Studios simply decorating willow hearts which are rustic in texture against different found objects – lovely old beads, buttons and lately clock faces. Feathers were the obvious things to add to the hearts for this project and making them into these angelic hearts”.And unusual beaded necklaces made by Ilsa Fatt, who teaches beaded jewellry making and often using her own lamp- worked beads as inspiration..
“The seed for the idea of Spirit-Bird necklaces came not from a bird, but a beetle. I was thinking about the sacred Egyptian scarab beetle, which led me to thoughts on the strange Egyptian bird-headed gods. These were in my mind when I first started making glass beads for the Heart Space exhibition.
As I worked, I became more and more drawn to the idea of the bird totems of the Pacific North West coast, such as the thunderbird that can shape-shift into human form. The little glass birds that finally emerged are things-without-wings, but for me they embody the idea of wings, and of the power of imagination’s flight.
And now for both things with and without wings from Kirsten Hill-Nixon, who works with us teaching felt-making but has many other skills to be developed. she really took flight (sorry) with her imagination for this project.
The image below does not do justice to this piece – it lives under a vintage glass dome so is very hard to see with reflections everywhere – It is made up from some dyed and embellished real chrysalis – and the strange beings that have escaped from them…the twig is felted wool but everything else is metal and glass, with found objects like large beads and parts of domestic plumbing as well.
“What a Great Title – ‘Wings and Things’ – ‘Things’ could be literally anything! And with winged shoes, aeroplanes, sycamore seeds and half the animal kingdom to choose from – what should I do? I spread out all my shiny objects, threads and fabrics on a large table, things I have been hoarding for years waiting for an opportunity to use them – and here it is.
There is always a moment of great excitement finding a shiny beetle in the garden; that unexpected flash of sparkling wing on the dragonfly – so Bugs it had to be. Small and precious like jewels, my winged things would need the protection of a glass dome just like the exotic specimens in a Victorian museum collection
I spread out all my shiny objects, threads and fabrics on a large table, things I have been hoarding for years waiting for an opportunity to use them – and here it is.
and just one more from this set of Things with Wings
I seldom feel that my work fits easily into contemporary textile exhibitions – it often looks too colourful, or too decorative, or even too old fashioned in its simply stitched narratives…but recently I have work exhibited in a group exhibition that feels like I belong. “Construct – eight textile artists explore identity” is showing at the Ruthin Craft Centre in North Wales. Much of the work is expressed in the form of stitched domestic textiles: tablecloths, curtains, quilts and some clothes, and so my own embroidered counterpanes, bolsters and pillow cases of dreams feel very much at home.
I was invited to submit work earlier this year by Dr. Melanie Miller whom I met when we both gave presentations at the Textile Society’s annual conference, Embroidering the Truth in 2013. Melanie’s presentation was an up to the minute resume of textiles by recent graduates from MA courses; mine was an overview of my embroidered narrative commissioned works over the past 40 years. Melanie worked with June Hill to quickly bring a focused exhibition together and also developed with Lisa Rostron, at Lawn Creative, an excellent and beautifully produced catalogue – well worth buying for a stand alone document even if you don’t catch the exhibition.
Walking into the exhibition space the large and airy gallery looks fresh and the work on the walls looks clean and tidy – it also looks resolved. I often feel that much modern art textiles look like work in progress, like they have just been snatched out of the hands of the maker – full of possibilities and open to suggestion… but here is a varied range of ideas on identity, simply expressed with a rare degree of intent.
The work of Caren Garfen has many overlapping concerns with my own; she uses popular phrases and she employs a sly humour to subvert. Caren meticulously hand stitches screen printed images with messages found in advertising aimed at women to conform as thin glamorous domestic goddesses
Several of her pieces depict ranges of domestic tasks that usually fall to women to manage; the relentless repetition of her imagery, whether patched, printed or embroidered, echoes the repetitious nature of all domestic work, after all – a woman’s work is never done. The roll of fabric printed and hand embroidered for ‘Wafer Thin’ is 10 metres long!
Repetition is also a device used by Naomi Ryder – she records a daily task for many women – putting on make-up; for some a chore (me), for others a delight. By repeating the same but slightly varied image over a length of fabric she shows the time and energy spent on getting our public ‘identity’ in order before we go outdoors.The continuous daily tasks that women are expected to devote their time to – cleaning, ironing, shopping – she depicts by machine embroidering acutely observed small-scale line drawings onto lengths of sheer fabrics that recall net curtains.
Women’s work undertaken to construct an acceptable public identity is a subject shared by these 2 makers – but what of the men? Interestingly Nigel Hurlstone, I know, takes extreme care over his own personal presentation but as yet has never chosen to reflect on this in his work.
Nigel’s powerful group of stitched photographic portraits of men who have been very carefully costumed, create an ambivalent atmosphere – half jolly japes and half menace. The 9 pieces of work shown are based on a set of portraits of young men, taken between 1918 and 1950, in what could be construed as ‘fancy dress’ but presumably dressed up , or down, for the sexual delight of the photographer.
The men were dressed either as street urchins or soldiers and they were apparently picked up on the streets and then posed to conform to a sexual identity desired by the photographer…to my mind they look to be highly amused by the proceedings…..
However – the tight rows of machine stitching make the fabrics look like moire or water-marked and obscure the almost life-sized photographic images. I think this makes them initially more easily accessible to the viewer as we aren’t exactly sure of what we are seeing. The actual fabric is compelling, you can’t ‘read’ it easily and this allows the viewer an excuse for deeper scrutiny – close up and personal. The original subject matter was never meant to be for the public gaze, at first glance the men look happy though not exactly innocent, but somehow when we are closer we are aware of an undertow of sleaze or is it menace?
War and its effect on women’s change of identity is clearly a personal issue for Val Jackson. Her work deals with reflections upon her mother’s life – the uneasy transition from performing vital and fascinating war work in contrast to the traditional role of wife and mother. Inheriting her mother’s effects, including her correspondence during the war, made it clear to Val that this transition had been difficult. The arresting burnt -orange curtain fabric uniform very neatly combines the 2, opposing? halves of a woman’s working life – the professional and the private.
From my own observations of friends and colleagues, the pull between motherhood and making your own work as an artist is a major modern predicament. Linda Barlow uses humour and cartoon representations to depict the complexities of managing this situation. Based on interviews with 8 such women she has made a short animated film – ‘Artist Mothers: a series of observations regarding the frustrations of being an artist and a mother”. It does what it says on the tin – refreshing not to have a punning title – I am guilty of the over use of puns myself…note for later.
Women artists often choose to who work within a community – I always think that this is half way between being a social worker and an artist and a really decent thing to pursue. Two such people have this type of work exhibited; Deidre Nelson,who has chosen to work around the world, using textiles as a means of defining the social history of an area, often working with local groups of people, and Lyn Setterington – who makes quilts based on the Kantha technique.
Lyn also works on textile based projects within communities; quilt making is historically a community based production, so her own interest in the history of her chosen medium makes a natural lead to this activity. She has recently become fascinated by Signature Quilts and I share this interest – Crazy Quilts – which fascinate me, often contain signatures and messages and they do make the mind start the journey to who exactly made this. There is at present, in artists’ textiles, a fascination with writing as evidenced here – and as part of the education programme at Ruthin Craft Centre I have undertaken to teach 2 workshops for different styles of hand stitched writing while the exhibition is still showing in July.
Lynn sees the signature quilts as a form of social networking, as she brings groups of people together to make to celebrate their local community. A richly embroidered quilt stood out in the exhibition, the Streepur Quilt
I enjoyed the wealth of embroidery that was evident on the quilts. Rich in many different stitches they are a testament that decorative embroidery is alive and well somewhere in the world. I can see pattern darning, running stitch, chain stitch, back stitch and coral knot just in these 4 samples as well as crochet and Broidery Anglaise even if machine made. I also like the change in “taste” that this quilt brought to the exhibition, they had so much energy and joyfulness – but maybe that is just a reflection of my identity as an embroiderer at heart.