Bling Slings

my vintage rose bouquet printed headscarf

To celebrate my return to posting my blogs I am showing a small selection of decorative arm slings – yes dear readers I have a broken wrist, my right wrist; so there has been no writing, stitching and perhaps worst of all no drawing/doodling/scribbling for more than a month now. But I determined to make something visually interesting for HER WORK from the whole unhappy event as soon as I could manage to use my Mac beyond typing/tapping with my left hand

pansy sling
my old favourite pansy scarf

Sensing a dressing -up opportunity I got rid of the NHS white cotton sling as soon as I could – like the next day, and instructed my husband, Steve, to take pictures each morning of mt slings. The commercial alternatives for the longer term support were in  dreary colours  – as if you wanted to hide the injured limb – I want everyone to see clearly my affliction and Keep Clear! So I determined to find alternatives from my stash of both vintage and modern scarves, let’s face it any excuse to dress up !

woven silk sling
my shot silk woven scarf with my co-ordinated enamel heart brooch and new pink cast

in fact I welcomed the opportunity to wear these old scarves, using them as slings affords much more are pattern to seen, tied around the neck only a small area is glimpsed if you have long hair.

woven striped sling
a really wide and draped stole sling

the really wide slings hide my new bright pink cast when it doesn’t tone with the clothes.

vintage 1950's scarf sling.
vintage 1950’s printed scarf sling

I am especially pleased to be able to wear the original art deco head square, very dynamic and such unusual colours and pattern clash.

art deco silk scarf
my art deco scarf looks so modern worn like this

and last but not least my actual ‘bling sling’ which is a length of vintage black beaded net, that I had previously stitched to a length of velvet ribbon in order to wear as a belt.  I went  to a party, the only party of the season that I had managed to attend; and I apologise for this bleary image but this was taken after the party had finished and we were both a bit tired and emotional,

black beaded bling sling
the original bling sling with my vintage beaded cardigan

Crazy Barcelona

crazy mosaic by Antoni Gaudi at Parc Guell, Barcelona

Crazy Barcelona – crazy patchworks everywhere, but not in fabric – in ceramic, stone and marble. OK then, crazy mosaics, but whatever you call them there is no better place to appreciate them than at Parc Geull, designed and built by Antoni Gaudi in the first 14 years of the 19th century. I have seen images of these mosaics before but never appreciated the size and the sheer exuberance of the patterns.

undulating crazy seating on the terrace
view of the entrance to Parc Geull from the crazy mosaic seating

I was delighted to see broken plates, tiles, and rounded roof ridge tiles put together in a myriad of ways, some where just pretty with sections with large flowers that had been broken but kept intact when cemented together and then surrounded by all shades of one background colour. Here is inspiration indeed, but immediately I thought of the Crazy Embroidery classes that I teach at Heart Space Studios, lots of new ideas to create crazy samplers.

broken flowered ceramic tiles  and plates with narrow borders

I started to see how the sustained patterning of the whole site didn’t just merge into one long visual porridge; there were sections of patterns with plain areas between them and the way that the patterns started to drift into plain areas was really brilliantly handled…

chintz patterns give way to a plain white area.

Sometimes the crazy patches were confined to simple shapes and surrounded by a sea of broken ceramics in a wide range of whites, the use of white ceramics when fired and glazed to produce many different variations is a major feature in this garden.

circle of crazy within white surround
diamond of crazy with mixed white surround
many different crazy whites shapes make for gentle and cool seating surfaces

there were other more fluid shapes contained by the white ground….

amorphous paisley shapes
commas placed in a line around the base of a column

I also really enjoyed seeing patterns within patterns,

patterns within patterns

I really like these wonky squares set in a sea of crazy patterns; the makers must have had such a good time doing this work. Transitions from patterns to solid colours was just masterful in places

this transition from rich colour to single coloured patterns is masterful

in fact the single coloured sections were simply beautiful – here is a range of crazy blue patterns

broken plates in a sea of blue
typical Spanish hand painted blue tiles
refined diamond designs on blue and white striped ground

while most of the ceramic patterns are traditional in flavour there were also some more abstract patterning to be found,

abstract patterns must have looked strange in the early 1900’s

but this whole set of designs is made from re-cycled materials, apart from the abundance of beautiful old and broken patterned tiles from the Spanish ceramic factories, I was happy to see this poorly fired plate used to good effect.

poorly fired glazed plate has been put to good use.

After an hour of my visit I started to see evidence of Crazy everywhere..

the sandy ground in the park is impressed with crazy patterns

looking down at the sandy pathways I saw crazy patterns impressed by the soles of many different shoes, and once out of the park, everywhere I looked was Crazy Heaven.

the Crazy cafe floor
and the Crazy marbled walls

So now I have decided to try to develop some of these ideas into new Crazy Patchwork designs for cushion cover designs to show Hugh Ehrman at Ehrman Tapestry company for their future collections.

Knitwear – but not as you know it!

feather collar by Stephanie Wooster

We have a wonderful new exhibition at Heart Space Studios. It is a collection by Stephanie Wooster  ( who conducts unusual knit workshops with us) developed from her MA studies and it concerns itself with wrapping, tying and generally caressing the upper body. the names of the different pieces tell how they are perceived by the maker – Swaddle, Swathe, Shawl, Sheath, Mantle, Shroud. The work is embroidered, felted, machine knitted, plaited and patch-worked together, with feathers, braids and calico. It sets a calm but slightly surreal feeling to our small gallery space.

Steph starts to set up her exhibition

The first things brought in were  a series of clear plastic torsos which were then dressed in simple calico shifts before being hung on the wall.

The calico shifts or shrouds?

then Steph started to dress them up; first the dramatic feathered collar was placed to set the atmosphere….

scarves and stoles begin to be layered

Then out came feathered scarves, stoles and wraps, hand knitted and coiled hanks of wool, even felted knitting with feathers as the motif….

felted feather design on machine knitted wrap.

the large wraps, shawls or scarves, call them what you will – are made from several different textiles and hand stitched or even embroidered together often using a red knitted braid as a backing, this causes interesting lines to be drawn around the body when draped.

the feathered scarf with plaited woolen collar

the row of 4 pieces are really powerful and entice people to study them up close and personal…viewers are not quite sure what they are seeing, are these felted woven blankets, some unusual woolen ticking or  simple striped knitting?

row of 4 pieces awaiting the extra exhibits.

When this group were placed Steph brought out a whole range of very finely machine knitted lengths in different colours and combinations, these can to worn any which way – I like them draped around the neck as an elegant sort of knitted necklace.

wall of fine knitted necklaces in brilliant colours and pattern combinations.

We like to have exhibitions of selling stuff at Heart Space, and most of these pieces are for sale, but Steph also brought a selection of beautifully refined knitted ribbons, that are carefully joined at the back so that they always behave well when draped! This is  what I like to have for sale in the studios, exciting but wearable pieces with an edge, not fashion but style!

Also seen in far right of the picture is another knitted and embroidered piece ” I am what I am”

wall mounted scarf with embroidery ” I am what I am..”

this was made for another exhibition and shown earlier in the year , Mending at the Museum, it was really good to see it again with these earlier pieces and interesting to see how new work develops out of completely different stimuli. Steph has also made a series of mixed media hot water bottle covers, developed from her samples at the Heart Space Mixed Media workshop earlier in the year, with more of her hand warmers( it is Autumn after all) and these have specially colour co-ordinated to the exhibition.

colour-co-ordinated hand warmers – heat them first in the microwave!

This is what intrigues me about many successful textile makers and designers, they can develop many different types of work, from applied art pieces for museum exhibitions, to practical hand crafted things for everyday use. This is the way many of us manage to make our living while finding time and energy to research and develop our own personal work. In fact without the research and development of private passions many new and commercial designs would never see the light of day.

work book showing stages of making as well as research inspiration for the collection.

Looking through this book lets us see how Steph links all sorts of unusual images and ideas and then literally knits them together to make new and exciting wearable textiles.


Ribbon Felted Flowers

my totally moth eaten cashmere cardigan – but with darning still intact!

This is a sad story with a happy ending. My favourite cardigan that was included in my first ever post, Make Do and Mend, where I proudly showed the careful darning that I wore with pride, sadly,  got lost. When I eventually found it pushed to the bottom of my laundry basket (don’t ask) it was totally ruined even beyond my restorative darning powers.
I decided to felt it by boiling it twice. The colours are so vibrant that I just had to try to find a use for it and I found the perfect solution when designing with some lovely felted woolen blanket flowers that Kirsten Hill-Nixon had brought along as a new idea for a class at Heart Space Studios.

the reds and pink  selection- I really like the tartan rose.
the neutral colour selection

 Kirsten will make the flowers in the morning class and I will develop the design and make session with them in the afternoon…but first I had to design something with what she had brought me, and she had brought me a whole selection of disparate flower heads – just as I has asked her to.

I made 2 colour sets of flowers. the neutrals were really soft and wooly, very tactile and I thought first to just make a heart out of them – well I would wouldn’t I? and in fact this is a really nice idea I may go back to…..

sewing on some beaded and buttoned centres

But then I imagined them as adorning a woolly winter jumper or cardigan, they aren’t heavy but they are bulky and a brooch seemed better than stitching them to a piece of clothing. But I had been given so many flowers that I soon decided on a necklace….

Kirsten’s red flowers arranged as necklace

I set to work but when stitching them together without a backing fabric, soon realized that I needed just a few more roses….then I remembered my old ruined cardigan. I cut the sleeves into ribbons of different coloured stripes and stared to stitch the rose buds by simply rolling and folding the strips to suggest overlapping rose petals.

cut strips of sleeve being curled to start roses
stitching the rolled rose securely with matching fine wool thread

I had used this system many times as it is so easy – you just need to stitch as you go and control the folded edge,  I found the way to do it in a vintage dressmaking manual from the 1930’s; the natural affinity to roll for cut knitting really helps the rose petal effect. I was starting to see a new life for all my old felted woolens.

the finished necklace –

I inserted my knitted roses between Kirsten’s more substantial felt blanket ones, ( I really like her use of the blanket stitched edge for a fat rolled rose). She had provided leaves as well so they helped make the reds even stronger. Then I simply stitched 2 suede strips for ties onto the last roses and there it is – now for the neutral necklace.

the neutral necklace made of different blankets and added wooden beads.

this time I added wooden beads by threading them onto the leather strips to make a more decorative finish. Kirsten had filled some of the centres of the flowers with soft glowing beads so I added some wooden ones as well, the soft tones and texture of the wood feels just right for this sort of fabric.

finished felted blanket necklace

I was really getting into my stride, and now I just want to make more of these simple flowers pieces and I didn’t use the lively red tartan rose – so now I need to pluck up courage to felt my  tartans and paisley scraps to use with my old washed out jumpers……

Crazy Mixed-Up Samplers


strip sampler of tweed, embroidery, nuno felt copper and paper- Kirsten Hill-Nixon

I am interested in developing a set of workshop using mixed media at Heart Space, think leathers, metals, ceramics, fabrics, glass and wood….. so I thought I could try the idea out on the people who work with us, all expert in their own field and up for a challenge.

And as Crazy Patchwork samplers have been such a success at Heart Space Studios that I decided to run an Away Day for the tutors and staff to enjoy time making together. I asked everyone who could attend, to bring their own favourite materials and their tools. Each person would make either a strip sampler  or a crazy square sampler by using decorative embroidery stitches to join the materials together.

tutor’s own stash of hand made wool felt
the administrator’s collection of everything vintage

Most people brought their own stuff to share between the group, I am always impressed by the generosity of makers in workshops like this. The group dynamic is encouraged so that people really want to help one another. What is also an added bonus is finding a shared love of a particular technique or material, even makers of different ages and styles come together when they find they both appreciate a particular aspect of their chosen discipline.

I also brought a large selection of materials from my home-based studios, all kinds of things: woven metal fabrics, stencilled enamels on copper, leathers, plastic lace, metallic damasks and other fabrics –  and also the tools to drill stitch and manipulate them.

one of the best things about attending any materials based  workshop is the abundance of new and unusual stuff that is introduced by people who are experienced in working with it – this can save days of researching.

my stash of copper discs, enamelled triangles and metallic braids
copper and aluminium wires for working with in any way possible.

I particularly like metallic leathers and fabrics, so I brought lots of these in for everyone to sample, as well as scraps of thin copper, some patterned with vitreous enamel. such a shame I had no time to experiment with the other tutors’ materials for this research session.

metal meshes and pressed copper foil, enamel applique and metallic leathers.

The task for the morning was to choose 3 different materials and join them together using their own preferred techniques or I would  teach anyone various embroidery stitches and techniques. As the group comprised experts in knitting, stitching, crochet, felting, print as well as display, administration and even a drama student (a daughter on a flying visit), it proved to be a mixed bag of talents, attitudes and experiences. Perfect for generating new ideas and enthusiasms

colour co-ordinated mother and daughter

Everyone set to work choosing their 3 materials and laying them out, the strip sampler proved to be the most popular as it is the easiest to co-ordinate; odd crazy  shapes take a lot longer to set up.For the task of joining two of the disparate materials together – colour, surface texture, weight of each material has to be considered as well as the selecting the technique.

traditional crazy shapes
strip sampler of cotton, leather and paper

I showed everyone how to make regular holes in various surfaces, involving textile techniques – a tracing wheel, an old darning needle and a hammer! It works for me every time…..and off they went with mixed but interesting results.

marking out where to make the stitching holes on copper.

At first everyone just chose a colour co-ordinated or used an unusual type of thread to work with…

metallic leather, woven braid stitched together with silky knitting ribbon, awaiting the addition of a scrap of plastic tablecloth.

only to find that when stitched it looked very different than imagined. after a relaxed start the makers’ critical faculties began to kick in!

colour co-ordinated threads and second thoughts

I noticed that the knitters worked completely differently from the stitchers; they immediately made a start by adding a linking system to one edge of a piece of material  either using  crochet or knit to form an edge ready to accept the next piece of material – this gave them much more contemplation time for what comes next – the stitchers are able to join 2 pieces together simultaneously. Why had I not appreciated this before?  However working the wire into fine leather was a fiddly affair – see below right.

knitting wool onto a copper foil strip
developing the crochet wire joining strip

Now I really must get the knitters to teach how to do this technique. When I first attempted to join metal together using my own stitching techniques I used a different system – making rows of simple cross stitches between the strips of vitreous enamelled copper pieces, so joining each at the same time. It took me some time to try the different insertion stitches. In fact it was an aversion to drilling all the holes that put me off developing this technique for a long time – but now I happily drill rows of holes for hours at a time – well not exactly ‘happily’….maybe I will get to like crochet after all.

my very first attempt at joining metal with stitched wire

When the crochet wire was worked into some copper strips it was very successful…the strong steady base really helps achieve an even texture and the structure gives the metal wire movement and elasticity which is much more compatible to work into fabric.

copper wire crochet edge to copper foil strip

now the strips of materials are starting to look like they belong together

concentrating on the task in hand- and a heart on her sleeve

I showed several people how to embroider simple insertion stitches for a lace-like join…securing the fabric to a piece of card first to steady the gap between the pieces, a traditional technique found in my old embroidery manuals for white work.

cigarette cards stitched onto paper to steady them ready for gold insertion stitching

Now the invention started to kick in…

insertion stitches and beaded braid for that vintage vibe – Sophie Bristol
a really crazy mix of materials crocheted together by Avril Best
elegant beaded joining stitches between rows of leather, wallpaper, metallic braid, crumpled copper foil, nuno felted silk and drilled copper sheet – Debbie Bird
various knitted materials for joining disparate materials;- copper, copper wire, silk and wool nuno felt, shisha mirror in wool embroidery – Clare Griffel
ripped card, copper foil, nuno felted silk and wool, tweed and hand embroidery all joined together in crazy style – Kirsten Hill-Nixon.
interesting how the plastic tablecloth now looks like a precious fabric when seen with the other expensive elements, leather, woven brass and silver fabric. Jane-Marie Mahy
all things vintage – patchwork cotton, linen thread appliqued enamelled copper circle , cards and silver fabric. Sophie Bristol
pre machine knitted lace, crocheted copper wire with copper foil and wall paper – Steph Wooster.

And to prove that sampling really does inspire people here is new work from Steph – the day after the workshop she added some of the sampled techniques and materials to her range of knitted hot-water bottle-covers.

steph hot
new knitted and embroidered samples – Steph Wooster

Vintage Darning for Mending-Nerds

it does what it says on the card.

I really love vintage clothes and still wear pieces I bought 30 years ago when they were at least 30 years old at the time; keeping my old clothes alive and wearable has probably prompted my fixation with darning and mending. So I was very pleased recently to help Cleo Holyoak-Heatley, the owner of my favourite vintage clothes shop, Clifton Vintage Boutique, in Clifton Arcade in Bristol.

wall of beautiful embroidered gowns and shawls at Clifton Vintage Boutique

I was talking to her about the current  Mending Exhibition while scouring round looking for something -anything fanciable; it’s not worth going to look for something specific in a vintage clothes shop – the eyes, mind and purse have to be open to anything and everything on display, in season or out…..

rack of fair-isle  knit wear.

It was a freezing day and I was checking out a rack of Fair-isle sweaters and vests, when Cleo asked if I knew of anyone who could possibly mend a favourite Fair-isle sweater of hers  with a hole in the elbow? I at once volunteered – it could be a bit of a challenge but as I am currently running mending classes at Heart Space Studios, I thought I could get some practice in.

Fair – isle sweater

When I called back the following week, the sweater she brought out looked pristine, with band after band of different patterns, it almost looked like a sampler with sleeves. The hole was in the elbow and very small. I thought that this looked easy to stitch, what was going to be tricky was getting the right darning yarns in the right colours. Luckily Cleo had some old stock of vintage mending yarns, including a card of “Chadwick’s Wool and Nylon for Reinforcing and Mending”, the Nylon is included for strength so that the darn will last longer. Amazingly we found 2 perfect colours, I had to find the others – the background and some blue to mix to get the heathery look of the original wools. although this is a chunky jumper the yarn used is very fine, 2 ply – this is called crewel wool is embroidery terms and I have a stash of it to work my stitching samples when designing canvas needle work kits  for Ehrman’ s Tapestry,

damaged sleeve with selected mending wools

The first thing I had to do was secure the knitting form un-ravelling any further, easy enough in a small hole but needs quite a bit of reinforcement in anything bigger, I decided to try to re-knit the loops left over, but the wool was very weak and kept fraying. I have to say that what follows is for mending nerds only….. but if you want to see the finished result just go to the end of the post.

starting to mend the  damaged area with the 2 colours of wool

The problem with any patterns, knitted or not, is that several colours have to be used to make an imperceptible mend , and here the damage extended through 2 colours, the pattern and the ground colours. so threading up 2 needle with the colours on each row, I started a few cms. away for the hole and using a type of  French Darning , which is covering the knitting stitches along the row in a zig -zag pattern, this covers the hole and reinforces the surrounding fabric.

working the brown stitches over the existing pattern

 The back not so wonderful to look at but the extra stitching makes for reinforcement and elbows wear out first

back of darned area

The mending looks OK on the front, you can just see the different colour tones of the darned area –

finished darn showing different tones of stitched threads

When I returned the sweater, Cleo was really thrilled and was wearing another of her Fair Isle collection…

Cleo, in even more intricate Fair – Isle.

Making a Mending Exhibition

my sentiments about the Mending at the Museum exhibition

The exhibition ‘Mending at the Museum’ has finally been launched at The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery – and it runs until April 2013….which sounds simple enough but it is the culmination of at least 3 years collaborative practice based research between academics and professional makers and artists. The ‘Stitching and Thinking’ research group, which I facilitated in my post as a senior research fellow, evolved the exhibition via a series of  mixed media workshops, visits to the museum’s mended collections, many meetings, discussions, conference papers and a small sample-stage exhibition; and it also caps off my academic career which started in 1973  and finished last year in 2011….. So no pressure then.

mending Sampler from the Bristol Museum collection

I co-curated the exhibition with Dawn Mason, currently the award leader of Drawing and Applied Arts at U.W.E. Bristol, and my long-term academic colleague and collaborator in all things stitched. In the museum we worked with Karin Walton, the Curator of Applied Arts at Bristol  Museum, and who holds the secrets and the keys to the museum’s sampler collection, the mending samplers were the main inspiration for the work that has finally been exhibited.

school’s sampler from the museum’s collection
table of samples and exhibits
Steph Wooster’s wrapped work

When I arrived on the first morning to hang the work, Dawn and Karin had already placed the exhibits, still in their wrappings, on the floor below the wall space allotted to them, but there were piles of extraneous pieces, scattered over tables and chairs, it became my task to sort these out.

The idea of the exhibition is partly to show how ideas evolve during the making process – Dawn and I have written and spoken many times of the necessity of makers to have time for reflection; making work worthy of contemplation requires as much time for the thinking as it does for the making process. It is a constant making and thinking about what you made, re-making, re-thinking until somehow the pieces resolve themselves and you wonder how they could ever have become anything other than what they are.

Each exhibitor was responsible for physically putting their own work on the wall, this saves so much argument later….but with only 7 exhibitors who know one another well we each respected one another’s’ space – well most of the time. So during the next 2 days each member of the group came and sorted their own work out meanwhile just looking at all the unwrapped pieces was really fascinating as work seen only at the sample stage 4 weeks before, now appeared ready for the wall. Work can made or marred by the way it is hung and also what it  is hung next to. We were all acutely aware of how the whole exhibition must work together. It comprises 3 different elements; some of the museum’s mending samplers, our own samplers of work made throughout the research period, and the pieces made specially for exhibition.

Steph Wooster draping her knitted shawl

Steph Wooster’s knitted and pieced work looked different when it was stretched over some embroidery hoops that acted almost as magnifying mirrors – drawing the eye to the details of her messages. She writes of museums being ‘houses of high culture; they show the best of us’. Finding evidence of mending within the museum’s exhibits she delights in glimpses of ‘everyday life’ . Her work, influenced by the written messages on samplers, ‘celebrates the ordinary’ by using simple fabrics with ubiquitous machine knitting.

one of Steph Wooster’s knitted and stitched wraps “you are my rock and my hard place”

Jilly Morris‘ children’s aprons came neatly laid one on top of the other with a Fragile label printed on the cardboard wrapper – a comment, I felt, not about the fact that the contents could  be damaged but of the fragility of what was inside and already ‘ damaged’ .

Jilly Morris’ stack of children’s aprons

The title of the work produced is ‘Mending Takes Time’ and refers to the functional stitching that was traditionally taught as part of their general education to girls, as transferable skills in an era when fabrics were ‘treated with regard’ and material was frequently mended to preserve a precious commodity – so at odds with our easy access to all types of fabric from all over the world.

Mending Takes Time – Jilly Morris

The cross shape made by various commercial medical dressings recall the basic shape of most darns seen on the samplers; when executed in ready-made modern plasters she references the ‘quick fix mentality and disposable culture’ of the present day.

Jillt Morris, child’s apron with first aid pocket – paper
Jilly Morris, Child’s apron pocket with commercial first aid plasters and staples

Jess Turrell came in with a box of assorted table-wear cups, saucers and a range of metal components such as spoon bowls, fork tines, knife blades and their specially made handles – which she made up before she placed them in a large vitrine.

Jess Turrell making her Fork Handles
Jess Turrell first aid plaster wrapped ceramics

Her work is called “Inappropriate Mendings” and she is having some fun at the idea of making aesthetically elegant mending that is really useless for any practical purposes, fork handles are whittled from wax candles (gedditt?) cups are mended with calico, and spoon handles wrapped in plasters from the first aid tin.

Jess Turrell, Fork Handles
Jess Turrell – vitrine of inappropriate mendings


Dail Behennah brought in a fragile darned wire piece, mercifully it was framed and so this was the easiest to hang…the piece is simple and refined and references a particular black darning  sampler in the collection, which is placed in a vitrine opposite her work.

Dail Behennah – Holding it Together, copper wire and thread.

Dail reflects that the darning in an old garment are often stronger than the fabric that they hold together, she has taken this to ‘absurd lengths’ by making  a piece of metal fabric entirely compose of darns. The shimmering quality of the image is created by the shadows set up by the work being suspended in a box frame, below is the darning fabric in the making

dail behennah darn
Dail Behennah, darned fabric detail.

Dawn Mason exhibited a series of different responses to the mending samples, called Face to Face her work reflects the reverse side of the samplers, some how when we look at the ‘wrong’ side of a piece f stitched work it seems much more immediate, the involvement of the maker is more apparent because here we see the comings and goings or the threads and  often the struggle the maker has had is left as evidence where on the front of the work all is perfectly presented and correct. (I know that given the opportunity people usually will look at the back of any stitched work – maybe searching for signs of the maker’s involvement )

Dawn Mason, hanging her newest pieces – cotton organdie

The work she showed was made over the entire duration of the project and shows the progression of her own personal work…

Dawn Mason – early stitched and darned work – printed polished paper and thread
Dawn Mason, stitched texts on printed polished paper and thread

Like Dawn’s exhibited pieces, my own work forms part of an ongoing series of stitched work, that has been a direct consequence of our involvement in this project. “Make it through the Night” includes many references to mending as mending broken hearts has been the major inspiration to my personal work for several years now – as this blog illustrates – there are many postings around the ideas and practice of mending, and the first ever post was about my mended clothes………

a rare photograph of me in action – here pressing ‘Counterpane – Counterpain” on the museum’s walls

I  have made a whole series of embroidered handkerchiefs, let’s face it some nights we have all needed a handkerchief if only to hold on to.  So I have embroidered them with positive mending mottoes and other words of wisdom –  the set is called ‘ Patch Grief with Proverbs’ a sentiment that rings true to me. How often we just find ourselves reciting platitudes in response to grief?

Janet Haigh embroidered linen handkerchief with linen voile patch.
Greek proverb, cotton handkerchief and thread

I made 21 embroideries all with their own distinctive darns and patches to reflect the written proverb, they took quite a time to get onto the wall…..I had to search many different sources to find enough texts to make a wall full – but one lovely Greek proverb was given to me by Basil Kardasis  and this was the last piece I embroidered – an a very large-scale cotton handkerchief I had to purchase new – the rest were all on vintage linen.

Which brings me neatly to the last exhibitor, Basil Kardasis, his exhibit is called ‘The Buttonhole’, and he collected from his family and friends ( we all had to contribute) ” treasured, revered materials…that may represent them ” and also a button;  then , with the help of his sister Ella, spent may months button-holing all the pieces together so that they made a “protective cloak”  for his son.


Many different materials and articles appear in the cloak, which has a very colourful interior as well, the range of fabrics perfectly reflect his wide-ranging experiencing as a designer and educator world-wide, students and colleagues and friends from practically every aspect of his life gave him wonderful and rare pieces of cloth for this coat, my favourite is a piece of lasered leather in a lace pattern – now this I could really get working on – it only I had much more of it…..

lasered lace calf skin

Looking at the image now of this lasered work I am reminded of the joint piece of work that had to be abandoned for inclusion in this exhibition, due to personal reasons by my making partner Hanne Rysgaard. We were making a porcelain hanging from impressed lace fragments but sadly this was shelved until we can both find the space in our very busy lives to get together again and make it. Now I am thinking that these 2 disparate materials may somehow work together…leather and porcelain – Basil where did that lasered skin come from and is there any more?

black lace press
paper porcelain impressed with Guipure Lace

Porcelain Lace

lace impressed porcelain

I have been working with Hanne Rysgaard sampling new work for an exhibition of the Stitch and Think research group, called Mending at the Museum which starts in November this year and runs for 6 months at Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery. Hanne does not like mended things, in fact she is fundamentally opposed to the idea of mending or using anything cracked or broken BUT she does  like transformation – well as a ceramicist she would wouldn’t she ? transformation by fire is fundamental to her practice.

my pieces of damaged vintage guipure lace and drawn thread work

We have been trying to get together to work since our visit to the Lost in Lace exhibition in Birmingham early this year, where we determined to develop some porcelain lace work – possibly a curtain. The idea is that Hanne will transform my tattered bits of lace into porcelain and I will stitch or embroider the patches together to make fabric.

So Hanne prepared some sheets of paper porcelain for us to work on and we set to work rolling several types of lace and drawn thread work into the surface of the clay.

Hanne rolling black guipure lace into sheet of paper porcelain

She was much the stronger roller – my first attempts were really puny. We had placed the larger sheets of lace under the clay as we thought we may want the resulting ‘fabric’ to be seen from both sides. I prefer the stricter linear drawn thread work impressions but Hanne just loved the rich and romantic guipures..

guipure lace and drawn thread squares impressed into the fresh porcelain

We used all types of patterns to give ourselves a good range to sample with. We needed to ascertain how big the individual pieces could be as this would give an indication of the size of finished piece…I had envisaged a huge floor to ceiling drop of larger sheets of porcelain but Hanne explained that making hand  -sized pieces of porcelain was more viable; first the pieces need to be fired without cracking and then be strong enough to be handled later when being stitched together+all my scraps of vintage lace are damaged and small sized, but  how else could I have afforded to collect such lovely pieces?

impression in damp porcelain of the black lace above

As you can see the first impression in the damp clay is stunning, so crisp and clear, we were whooping with delight at the fine detail, every stitch can be seen and this is machine made lace. We now had  to cut the lace into shapes and I was amused to see Hanne pick up a pair of scissors to cut it; but first I handed her an old fashioned tailor’s tracing wheel to impress regular holes in the surface where I have to stitch. We placed the holes anywhere we thought useful – we will have to regulate these more carefully on the finished work.

fettling the edges of the cut porcelain motif

Now to the kiln…Hanne packed it….

kiln packed ready to be fired

and 2 days later I returned to collect the finished motifs…

fired porcelain motifs

The pieces are slightly smaller but the holes are fine for stitching, the quality of the unglazed porcelain is so like a starchy linen fabric that the transformation is uncanny – they look like material but are brittle and now all uniformly white….ethereal.

fine linen drawn thread work square

and like similar transformations in vitreous enamel, plastic lace often makes crisps and clear impressions.

plastic lace impression

So now it is over to me to develop the new fabric, I start by placing the different pieces in formal patterns – I originally intended to use wire to stitch between the gaps using decorative lace like stitches to fill in any spaces….now I realised this was not going to be at all easy, even at this moderate scale. The wire won’t behave well – it needs careful and regular stitches to develop the rhythm required to give embroidery its formal beauty.

motifs arranged formally as a lace curtain design.

I started to draw between the pieces to try to find decorative stitches that could be used between the motifs,

drawing stitches between motifs

but it became obvious that I will need to use a backing fabric and applique the motifs onto it, this will act as some protection but it has to take the weight of the porcelain, so now I am researching silk organzas, cotton organdies and maybe netting…as we are both designers and therefor pragmatists we are liking the transparent quality of the organza first sampled – and applying lace motifs on a pre-made net ground is used as a lace making technique.

first sample of applique on organza, seen against a black background

I have a long way to go before this fabric begins to do  justice to the quality of the impressed porcelain motifs…..but it has started to remind me of Crazy Patchwork
it could be a lovely airy crazy patchwork –   I am now thinking of new ways to develop it further

Mending = Art = Exhibition

Darned Heart Sampler – vintage linen, vellum,vitreous enamel, silk mirror

This is a first for me and I want to share it with you – I am, from today, exhibiting in America. I have 2 pieces of work in an exhibition called Mending = Art showing at the  Gershman Gallery in Philadelphia and this evening I should be at the private view, but instead I have just returned from Heart Space Studios having run a birthday party, making beaded brooches with ten 9 years olds – and very enjoyable it was too. But how I would love to be seeing my work in an international exhibition at such an amazing event as the  Philadelphia  biennial textile art festival FiberPhiladelphia 2012.

the inspirational wood cut from the Berlin Museum-  Frau Minne’s way with Mens’ hearts

The call out came early last year, from American textile artist( she of the wonderful brilliant red website)    Diane Savona,  for textiles made around the theme of Mending…this must have been the universe answering my call. I had several things on offer, as looking at the ‘ Ongoing Work” section of  this blog will show you. But unusually she also asked me to send her an image of the inspirational early woodcut that has inspired at least 10 years of textile and enamel work, and mending was the subject of my first post in this blog.

counterpane/counter-pain – vintage cotton and cotton thread

and above is the other work that Diane chose to represent my mending embroideries, a real heart-felt cry now that I look back on it, I can remember every stab that contributed to this image but then yoga certainly reaches the parts the needle can’t.

So this is the shorted post I have ever written, but now I am off to celebrate with a glass of something chilled and pink and fizzy……

OK so it’s the day after the night before day and here are the pictures from the exhibition sent today from Diane Savona.

from left: Amy Orr (organizer of FiberPhiladelphia) Miriam Shapiro (curator at the Gershman) Dorothy Caldwell and Libbie Soffer, as Amy says a few words in front of the Japanese boro from the Liao Collection.

and very glad to see a video work from one of my colleagues Amy Houghton,

then there is my work hung together with Frau Minne keeping count in the middle of it all….

mine all mine!

something tells me that that red and white is the new black, white and grey of studio art textiles…..

Ilaria Margutti in front of her work

and again….

Wolfie Rawk in front of her work

and yet again…..well mending seems to = blood red for a whole lot of women.

Erin Endicott in front of her work……ooooh!!!!!!