I have become fascinated by skin as a material to work with. This has come about, no doubt, by my recent project to develop a piece of work for Pairings II for the Stroud International Textile exhibition. I used a huge skin that had been prepared as vellum – or parchment – a hide, possibly reindeer in this case, treated in such a way as to make a smooth, hard, fine grained surface after removing the pelt, either fur or hair – don’t let’s forget that all animal leather and suede is simply skin with the fur or hair shaved off.
What is really exciting me about working with vellum is that I can draw onto it as well as stitch into it. There are other things to do with it as well but drawing and stitching really are the backbone of my textile practice, and here is a new material redolent with all sorts of symbolism that I can start to mine. So maybe this will lead to more drawn imagery with stitch to enhance the drawing – not sure yet – but hand stitching this material needs long and slow preparation.
Recently I have been working with all types of other skins, mostly calf skins, some with the hair still on…
I have done quite a lot of work with fine leather and suede, most recently at a workshop in Finland at the University of Ostrobothnia, at the faculty of Applied Sciences, where I first experienced the large scale sheets of vellum as an option to work with. However I chose metallic leathers, cow hides and farmed fur to create an embroidered seascape, embellished with silver leaf. But I had remembered the large vellum skin and how beautiful it was and so used it for the Daphne Tree metamorphosis piece.
The company who farmed and manufactured the vellum, were generous in sending me a whole skin to work with; it has caused much interest in the exhibition, most people seem to think that vellum is just some esoteric writing-paper and keep asking me where is the animal?
But what is really exciting is that the leader of the Finnish workshop, Basil Kardasis, is conducting another workshop at Heart Space Studios, but this time using one of the most unusual and beautiful of skins – fish.
He is introducing this material for a master class for experienced makers, called Surf, Turf and Sky, using fish skins, leathers and feathers – all of which are by-products of the food industry, so think eel….
water snake (they eat these in Scandinavia)……
and smaller whole dyed fish skins….like salmon, trout, pike….
and also some specially hand – tanned skins from Sweden, perch, cat fish, and plaice.
the individual skins are small but call out to be combined with other materials to enable us to make fabrics out of them..
but my favourite fish sample is a tiny single side of Knot, it already appears to be embroidered.