Make It Through The Night is the working title of a series of embroidered household textiles, sheets, pillowcases, curtains etc. that I am currently making. It is very personal work and it marks a return to my original practice of embroidery into cloth, these pages will show the slow development of this work as I am making it
These rapid drawings below are early attempts to express one of my most vivid dreams lest I ever forget it…. But the dream was not ready to be forgotten, it has reoccured often in one form or another – evidently I have not learned its message; the loosening ladder rungs and the tiny impossible blue window never change
the earliest drawing above on the left has some written comments that I was interested in using for the embroidery also I seem to have both shoes on; the one on the right is scaled up for embroidering on a sheet! What was I thinking?
So I recently decided to embroider it as a pillow for my ongoing project Make it Through the Night . It is a simple idea and my friends who saw the drawing were highly amused by me in my nightdress losing my shoes…but I started this piece just before the lockdown and now I see it in a very different light.
The interpretations of dream referring to ladders are many and varied depending if you are climbing up or down, and a broken rung (just the one) means “you will never achieve your greatest ambitions” while “to lose a shoe is indicative that you have forgotten something important ” or “finding your direction in life difficult” – and as to the lack of underclothes whilst climbing a very high wall in your nightshirt……
I found stitching the ladder the most challenging piece of work, a vintage pillow has only a limited space for inserting embroidery hoops and working straight onto fine linen needs stretching. I preferred to use some natural linen yarns and whip them into position making a more fluid line – finding knots and drawing them became a fascination.
above are the various ways I managed to stitch the ladder into position, with and without a stretcher.
Now to the window: in some dreams it is impossibly teeny tiny, in others I get to go through it – only to find a steep and shaky descent on the other side into more blueness, the one thing always in common is that it is always a brilliant and shining deep blue
the background of the sky is painted with cotton dye, then embroidered in silk threads, it is high up in the farthest corner of the pillow case
I feel now that it makes its own statement without the added words; and why should it balance? I mean, what am I describing?
AND it is only after finishing this that I see this is a perfect portrait of how I feel right now – just coming out of the strictest lockdown period….uncanny!
However, we were well into the current lockdown before I had found the impetus to finish this work. And while stitching I realised that I just wanted to stop this whole project that excavates very personal ideas, dreams, mottoes, and observations….I did have more ideas that I planned to stitch, but now I no longer want to make them. It has taken me over 10 years, off and on, to get here.
Today is my birthday (no need to say which one). I am celebrating with a party for a very few neighbours in the garden in a style permitted by the loosened lockdown rules in England, starting today,
And here is the dress I am wearing ( Yacco Maricard -my favourite design company) bought at great expense back in March when I knew shopping was off the agenda for months; reasoning that it cost less than all those little buys necessary to seasonal adjustments, this year they include a mask and sunglasses. I admit it is one of my favourite photographs of me – ever!
I also thought that I would prefer to wear something lovely to enjoy everyday, even if I saw no-one else but my husband and my dogs, while continuing to work busily in my home studio.
How wrong I was – as further posts will illustrate……
I use drawing to express myself to myself. I feel that Drawing is the language closest to my heart; my second and most used language after English, followed by the most difficult to have mastered, Stitching. It is the foundation of my chosen discipline of hand-made stitched textiles and almost all my work starts with a drawing, sometimes just a scribble or as a written note, but it will be expressed as a drawing with enough information for me to proceed.
Scribbled thoughts are put down as lists for skies I see when waking up, and on whatever is to hand. The imagery is enough to lead me to another drawing…..
Very occasionally when I work from photographs, I will start an embroidery without a drawing – and it always leads to difficulties as I am torn between the ‘real’ thing as recorded by the camera and my initial vision of it. Basically the drawing is the first edit of the image, it concentrates me on what was important when I first took the photograph, but the camera sees everything and I get seduced too easily by captured colour, and sometimes the colour isn’t the same as my memory.
Below are various single pages from individual sketchbooks – the top 2 are observational drawings taken directly from life, the red in pen and ink is a detail from of my garden, the iris was from a friends garden. The the others are all working /design/ research drawings, (with added photographs of finished brooches)
I keep all my working drawings in a series of books that go back some 40 years! The types of drawings collected in them range from a scribble on the nearest available paper, as above, through to straightforward observational drawings that then get re-arranged or even collaged together
then eventually the detailed working drawings are assembled and kept together, and accompanied by any other research materials.
The images above are open pages of my own research books from different long term projects, they really show the way my mind works, both visually and mechanically.
The 2 pages below are anemone flower drawings made from photographs in a garden magazine many years ago for my Flora embroideries, they have inspired many many different pieces of work in a variety of materials; good drawings have their own energy and life.
a few of the many different works that have been generated directly by the drawings above.
The images above are of vitreous enamel dishes and a silk applique with a machine stitched drawing that plays with the idea of anemones, another name is windflower.
Occasionally I do make finished drawings ready for exhibition.
but somehow the stitching seems always to get in on the act.
and here are I suppose my most personal drawings ( sad isn’t it) that just arrive onto any page near me, usually when I am talking on the phone to friends and colleagues, and sometimes prospective clients but always when i am fully engaged, they do not arise out of boredom. What is very strange is they have never changed over all the years I have been making them…
Affirmative sayings seem to be the philosophy of our times, the be-in-the-here-and-now mindfulness movement. But I have been collecting and pasting all sorts of sayings and mottoes in my work books and on my studio walls for years. Quotations, overheard remarks or messages and even poems from friends sometimes develop into pieces of work, but most often they just serve to enable me to grin and bear with it – see above!
A current favourite was heard when I was mid-way through making the ‘Butterfly Dream Pillow’ – “I am proud of it and I am ashamed of it” immediately struck me as the perfect expression for how I feel about the work I do. I wrote it down on my work-top with the first thing that came to hand – an indelible pink marker! I have read it out to other artists and makers, and they smile and nod in recognition.
It almost made it onto my own Comfort Blanket, which is part of my ongoing work project, Make it Through the Night..and I did write it out along with the ones that have stood the test of time. I wrote all of them onto large scale graph paper so that my own handwriting could be resized, with the idea of stitching them easily. I have had this ‘affirmative sayings’ idea for several years, and for several different media, even as a vitreous enamel patchwork, but never had the time or energy to face making it. In between some commercial projects, late last year I started to make it – piece-meal.
Above show the first attempts to design the ‘blanket’ idea as a quilt; the inspirational Strippy Quilt above right is an American design, I love the wobbly lively stripes, like a flying flag. Initially I had considered stitching a vintage wooden blanket, then I realised that heaving around such a large piece of fabric would not be easy for a lot of hand embroidery. I remembered a Strippy Quilt in Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar” by Roderick Kiracoffe, it inspired me to change tack, this way I could stitch the sayings piece-meal and patch them all together at the end; it also meant I didn’t have to decide the order of the quotations immediately.
I started by using some scraps of vintage striped deckchair fabrics, but they were too hard to hand stitch into. I turned to my stash of scrap fabrics, Kaffe Fassett Studio’s lovely subtle shot cottons and woven stripes left over from various quilts that my team have made for his Patchwork and Quilting books were perfect. Very colourful and here very RED, and “the purest and most noble minds are those that love colour”. But not having enough of any one fabric for the background I cut my stripes into strips and joined the clashing shot cotton colours together as a background.
I have a saying that lives with me – a mantra that I recite during my sleepless hours of most nights; it has subtly changed over the years I have used it to still my thoughts, and I can chart my state of mind by what I have decided.
Eventually I got them all into order, some sayings were dropped or the blanket would be enormously long I would need to re-design, others were added as they described more succinctly what I wanted to express about how I feel about the work I do. The quotations are all by individuals who have used their life to express themselves, teachers and critics, a bon vivant, a dancer – and me. They are in order from the top, The Rev. Sydney Smith, John Ruskin, Richard Sennett and the last 2 (heavily edited) are by the American dancer Martha Graham. The succinct “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are. sums up my husband’s philosophy for living…
And ” I am proud of it and I am ashamed of it” – go figure!
It is almost 20 years since I had this disturbingly beautiful dream but I have NEVER forgotten it. Re-visiting my sketch books archive, I found the original drawing that was hastily scribbled down when I thankfully I woke up.
Now, I have decided to complete my long standing/stitching on-going work project “Make it Through the Night“, after not working on it for more than 5 years. I have determined to complete the project to a degree where I can hopefully resolve it but so as not have it in my brain as frustrating “unfinished business”. I just can’t ignore it any more…. too much of me resides in it; and as the composer Gustav Holtz puts it ” Compose nothing unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance”
The initial drawing , above left, is dated 28th July 03; the second drawing is another later version when I was trying to make a composition for a stand-alone embroidery….. now I have decided to add it to the ‘dream pillows‘ and I need a different composition. Recently looking very carefully at the 2 drawings I realised I had completely forgotten that the butterfly had a face – YIKES!
In the actual dream it was a giant butterfly several yards/metres wide, dying and lying on some grass underneath a tree, the remnants of wings scattered round it. People were picking up the large technicoloured pieces of shattered wing and I really wanted some as well – but I thought I would get it something to drink first, then decided to pick it up and take it to a nearby puddle, the result was my butterfly covered hands…I abruptly woke up.
I started to research the ways on which I could have held the massive butterfly. I looked at many different British butterflies and chose the Peacock mainly because it was so colourful but it has eyes as well – one of the major symbols I use in my work. Every year we get smaller butterflies over-wintering in the house but these beauties are rare here.
I enlarged the first peacock butterfly image and cut out my hand shapes…next I had to add the patterns to enable me to stitch the whole hands……the original working drawings below with a a technical sample that I would use for the very complicated patterned hands. I decided to paint dye onto the ground first to give me guidance for the colour blending and to assess the amount of work I would have to manage.
Next I had to imagine the shattered butterfly – I tried many variations; the shape had to show a degree of violence and some direct connection in the shapes left after my hands had devastated it, because it shows the terrible result for the insect…
I drew the hand outlines and running stitched them, then drew my palmistry lines on each hand and painted dye within the lines and fixed it securely – all of this before I could start stitching, which I was itching to do …..
2 images above show the first and last day’s stitching of the hands. I started this project in early August and now it was late September – I needed to move onto the butterfly now…
working from my research drawings, I drew and embroidered the main area of the butterfly and then placed paper shapes to act as the shattered wings to make some connection to my hands.
It was at this point that something strange started to happen….I found a trapped Peacock butterfly in the window of my studio, I was delighted, I had never seen one of these in the house; the weather was still warm, so I let him go….
But then more and more Peacocks came into the studio, and in different areas of the house… in all we had 11 different Peacocks visit us. SPOOKY WOOKY……
Sadly some of them died indoors and I keep them in m studio – they are all in different conditions; some very tattered wings and faded colour but others still beautiful.
so I eventually finished the pillow, completed the writing in running stitch and it is ready to join the Make it Through the Night project.
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.
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.
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’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.
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’ .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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 )
The work she showed was made over the entire duration of the project and shows the progression of her own personal work…
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………
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?
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…..
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?
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 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.
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.
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….
something tells me that that red and white is the new black, white and grey of studio art textiles…..
and yet again…..well mending seems to = blood red for a whole lot of women.
Just a very short post to say Da! Da! I have eventually finished my second pillow of dreams, the Shoes dream….and I have written another piece to accompany the recent post Slow Progress where I discussed the doubts and frustrations of making slow hand crafted work. At last it can be now be viewed in my pages for ‘Make It Through the Night’ as a the last section of Ongoing Work which is found directly underneath the header image – which is an embroidered dream flower detail of another pillow from the same series
If you have not viewed this section it is set out in reverse order so that you read/view my ideas as they unfold; this way you can follow the development of a personal set of work – with all its trials and frustrations over the months, and from this month the past year (I started this work in December 2009) so this section appears at the very end of the whole page and you will have to scroll down to it …. but anyone interested in the way someone’s mind works while working slowly through a whole series of interconnected and complex ideas which somehow are supposed to form a cohesive narrative or in this instance make for a comprehensive gallery exhibition, should find it of interest.
I wrote in the About page that I would show work in various stages of progress, successful or not; and as I have almost finished the second dream embroidery for my “Make it Through the Night” project, I thought I would show this at the “will it never ……. end”? stage. This embroidery has been a real struggle to make, which is so strange as I have had the drawing of my dream for over 10 years, have often looked at it and thought “one day”.
For several well considered reasons I decided to embroider it onto a bed sheet, therefor everything was life size – “a sheet of dreams” I started it in August and mention it in the blog “Samplers” and It took about one month of drawing, making patterns and sampling various techniques before I could start to make the work; then another month’s actual making before I gave it up – I thought that if I shelved it I may eventually get the courage to continue the mammoth task of stitching it. I had made many samples and even got as far a printing an entire quilt onto the bed sheet, this took weeks so I was loathe to abandon it. But basically the sheer scale was just too daunting – I knew I had to hand stitch each shoe and there were about 10 0f them, and they were shoe sized and in a single thread, and I was losing the will to live at the thought of it. I didn’t blog about it at the time as I was unsure of why I was experiencing such difficulties and I certainly didn’t have the heart to write about it.
Meanwhile I made other works – some commissioned pieces which can’t be blogged until they are published….and so generally let the problem lie at a low level, to be absorbed knowing that eventually it would re-emerge…this is how work often resolves itself; you just have to be patient and let it suggest its own way forward…..then I made somehandkerchieves for the same project, and realising how good it was to work small and quickly again – I thought I could maybe make the work smaller and embroider a” pillow of dreams” – after all, I reasoned, this is where you lay your head and where all the action stems from.
So I set to work again restitching the whole image onto a vintage linen Oxford pillowcase. The drawings remained exactly the same but now I used running stitches to make the quilt then padded it like a trapunto technique to emphasises the body shape that emerges from the distorted “patchwork”. This was all so really interesting to work, I was now on the right track and gone were the misgivings of “copping out” for a smaller scale.
I really wanted to get on with the shoes though, the drawings were taken from many old sketches and my own collection –
Some shoes I cannot bear to throw away and have used them for years for drawing classes – if you can draw shoes you can draw most things put in front of you.
Eventually I got to embroidering the shoes, they are quite small about 10cms / 2 inches long and are stitched in one strand of silk, cotton or metal threads, I love glitzy shoes.
Of course the whole point of the dream was that I couldn’t wear the shoes any more, look closely at the lack of feet….yet to be embroidered – I will address this issue later when I publish the finished work in the Ongoing Work pages. But meanwhile I set to to do the rest of the shoes – they take between 3 and 8 hours to work each one, but it is now driving me to distraction, I really dislike the days spent stitching these shoes……
Ironically I constantly bang on about how stitching is like meditation and I am presently running a project called “Stitching and Thinking” with a group of makers where we are considering the state of mind reached when the world goes away and its just you and your thoughts and the work; sometimes called a state of Flow, or old hippies used to say ” In the Zone” – wherever it is it is wonderful.
I haven’t been there for a few weeks while battling with these embroidered shoes…and I blame an “acquaintance” of mine, Nigel Hurlstone, who is a tutor on a course where they still embroider – Manchester Met (MMU). He gave me a much needed and requested mentoring session on the whole ‘Make it Through the Night’ set of work whose progress he has been following – we have a reciprical arrangement where he crits my stitched work and I crit his new written story – telling work.
But he inadvertently said something that absolutely made me loose faith in how I have made this piece of work – “what is really fascinating and worth you considering is that these shoes LOOK as if they have been stitched on the multi – head machine – but they haven’t ” – and he was right! The long and short stitches are so neat and precise they look machine made – I have been overtaken by technology. So I now have to rethink for what and how I stitch by hand….. how will this machine – made perception affect the way people appreciate my work?
One of the ideas underpinning my current practice is the notion of time taken: to hand stitch something which is very slow and therefor valued means that the subject or concept is worth consideration……but meanwhile I have to finish this piece of work – but am I wasting precious time when I could just give it to some one to machine it for me – I am not about to learn how to use a multi -head. But it does make me wonder how I can change my whole way of working in cloth when anyone can “draw” with stitch.