I’m taking part in this exhibition of embroidery and textile art. It’s at Ramster Hall, a lovely 17th century manor house in Surrey. The exhibition will be open from Friday March 1st until Sunday March 17th every day from 10 am until 5pm. There are two big halls of exhibits, with a wide variety of styles and media, including mixed media and all involving at least some stitch. The tea room will be open at the same time. It would be great to see you there; it’s a good day out, and they do great cakes.
One reason for the gaps in blog posts last year was a rather sudden and unexpected trip to the Philippines. I’ve finally sorted out some of my photos and wanted to share them with you here. Hubby was asked to do some work in the Philippines at quite short notice. Unusually, I was able to clear the decks from work at short notice and go out to join him. This was a surprise trip in many ways. As well as being quite sudden, it was a country that I had no previous knowledge of in terms of culture, politics, art or textiles. Having studied the textiles of my chosen countries in the City and Guilds Diploma course, and having travelled in India and Nepal and various other countries around the world, it was an interesting experience to come across such a very different and unfamiliar culture that I had absolutely no previous exposure to.
I thought you might be interested to see some of the back-strap weaving that we came across, in the mountainous regions in the north of the country. This lady was weaving in the traditional back-strap method, where the warp is tensioned by a strap round her back. This is the piece that we bought from her. I bought it as a long wall-hanging, and discovered that it is actually a traditional piece that is worn by men as a loincloth in ceremonial dances. Here are some young lads wearing the loincloths from this village in a ceremonial dance. It was so lovely to see these teenagers enjoying their culture and celebrating it with such gusto, and sharing it with travellers. And at the other end of the age-range, here are some ladies from the village wearing their traditional woven clothing and head-gear.
Weaving on the loom – a bigger scale of production, but still hand-made.There’s such a rich source of designs and images, everywhere you look. What a inspired way to use redundant plastic, to cheer up the front of your house. It makes you think about what we throw away every day.And how about this for a travelling shop? I could go on for ever, but I’ll finish with a photo of me eating an amazing dragon-fruit from a roadside stall. Delicious!
I’m currently taking part in a small textile art exhibition at the Roffey Park Institute near Horsham. Roffey Park has a new exhibition of art-work every 3 months, and this time they invited six local textile artists. It was good to meet other textile people while we were putting it up (supposedly silently, as we were installing the art in the corridors while training courses were going on, although silence was hard to achieve once we got chatting). It was lovely to meet the other people exhibiting. If you’d like to visit, please phone the institute first as it’s a working environment.
Here’s some lovely work by Isobel Moore and Diane Rogers (below). I’ve seen both their work online and in exhibitions, so it was nice to meet them ‘for real’.
Also on display are the amazing ‘Rainbow hangings’ that were created by different Embroiderers Guild branches. There are 50 or so densely embroidered hangings, made up individually stitched squares of one colour, between them making a lovely rainbow-coloured collection. They were stitched by different Embroiderers Guild branches and put together as a collective exhibition that tours the country. Here are 2 close-up examples.
So many blog posts get partly written in my head, usually when I’m driving, when I have time to think about it but not actually do it……and then a month goes by, and another month…….
There’s always something else pressing, like ‘life and stuff’. I’ve been sucked into Facebook (a bit late to the party, resisting all the way, but now I’ve become quite an addict). And I think there’s also a loss of momentum with blogging, and wondering who is out there reading it. FB is so quick and immediate; just toss in a photo and a couple of sentences, and job’s a good’un. There’s an argument in my head between the appeal of the instant click and share, and the enjoyment of longer reflections and ramblings with time to explore thoughts and ideas. But if I always aim for longer reflections then this may be part of the reason why I don’t get round to doing it, so maybe I need to start again with shorter simpler posts. Anyway, to get started again I thought I’d just post some a few random photos of what I’ve been up to since my last post.
Oh, and another distraction is that I’ve been working on a new website for Worthing Tuesday Embroiderers Guild. It’s had more attention than my own website, so do check it out here.
That’s all for now. It would be great to know who reads this. I know from Google Analytics that people do visit, but I’d love to know who you are so do leave a comment. ‘Toodle Pip’.
It has been great to take part in the Ramster Embroidery Exhibition 2017. Exhibiting alongside some well-known names is slightly daunting, but it’s been an enjoyable and friendly experience. It was wonderful to see so much textile art all together in one place – I think there were nearly 300 exhibits, by 120 different artists, and all so varied. I’ve picked out a few pieces here that I particularly liked.
I love the pincushions above by Jane Cobbett. They are inspired by a Victorian pincushion although they remind me of the mad little silk-worms that are often featured in Elizabethan embroidery. I like the insane grin on the stripy one’s face. I also like the way the velvet pear looks kind of aged.
One of my favourites is ‘House in the Fields’ by Jane Mckeown. There’s something quite modest about it that appeals to me. Even though I have no idea where it is (maybe it’s not a real place at all), but my instant thought was ‘I know that place’. Maybe it reminds me of the small-holding in the Shropshire hills that my parents ran until I was three. It’s beautifully coloured and proportioned. I think it adds so much that the sky is grey not blue, and I love the rows of vegetables all carefully tended. I think it’s a lovely under-stated piece. See more of Jane’s lovely work here
Above: Gillian Lamey, Seed Heads 2. This appeals to me because of it’s subtlety. The textures are wonderful (they don’t show up too well here due to the reflective glass, but in real life they’re lovely).
Rita Johnson, Inside the Dance, Embellishment and machine embroidery. I like the sense of movement in this, and the colours.
We took the opportunity for a walk round the beautiful Ramster gardens. The enormous flowering shrubs and trees are magnificent. Some of the magnolias have held their leaves and others had shed them into bright pink carpets (spot the colour coordination with my friend’s clothes!) Does anyone know what this amazing flowering tree is?
I’ve given two talks in the space of a week. The first was to the Milton Keynes Embroiderers Guild which coincided with our new textile art exhibition there by ‘FIVE’ (here’s a photo of part of the exhibition – more about that in a later post). The second talk was to Wey Valley Workshop Textile Group in Godalming. I’m delighted to report that I actually enjoyed both of them! No need to lie down in a darkened room to recover, although that bottle of wine later on in the evening did hit the spot. Both groups were lovely and welcoming, and everyone was really friendly. I was pleased with the response to both talks, and I’ve been pondering over why I was apprehensive about it beforehand.
Surveys asking what people worry about seem to suggest that fear of death only occupies the number two spot. Fear of public speaking comes in at number one. It’s that 3am kind of worry, when the house is silent, the dressing-gown hanging on the back of the door in the darkness is someone lurking silently in the shadows, and the people you are going to speak to the next day are definitely going to eat you.
I’ve done my share of giving evidence in Court for work, so I’m used to preparing myself for cross-examination by a hostile barrister whose purpose in life is to make you look stupid, or contradict yourself, or lose your thread, or burble. You do gradually learn the tricks that the barristers employ such as ‘The Withering Look’ or the facial expression that says ‘I Cannot Believe You’ve Just Said Something Quite So Stupid’. I have to remind myself that when I’m speaking to a textile group I am actually talking to a friendly group of like-minded people who have come along because they share the same interest in textiles, and who have come along in a positive spirit. Old habits die hard though, and it is lovely when I have got started and begin to realise that I’m not going to be eaten for breakfast. I start to see nods and smiles and no Withering Looks. The icing on the cake is that the questions are friendly and interested, not critical.
I think part of the apprehension is also an element of ‘So what do I know’. I get invited to do these talks on the strength of having won the C&G Gold Medal for Excellence in Stitched Textiles, rather than because of the years of exhibiting, teaching and publishing experience that many speakers have. I find myself thinking ‘If I had more years experience in textile art, then I would have more to say’. Let me confess something. Once, the night before giving evidence in Court, I dreamt that I was standing in the witness box dressed up in my formal Court clothes except that I had forgotten to put on my skirt. ‘Beam me up, Scotty!’ So, what actually is the worry? Being exposed, like the emperor in his non-existent new clothes? Being caught out? Being found lacking in some way? All of the above, I suspect. So it’s really exciting and liberating to have a positive response to my talks from these two lovely groups (and I’m pleased to say that I did remember to get dressed beforehand!)
I based these talks on exploring questions about why adults so easily lose the creativity that they had when they were children, and how we can get it back if we do lose it. This is something I’ve thought about a lot, because it connects with both my professional working life and my re-discovery of creativity and textiles later on in life.
When I did two previous textiles talks last year I found it very distracting using written notes. It was like someone switching on a fan that blew all my ideas around into heaps of chaos. Those two talks definitely had some Grade A burbling! ‘The mind is a wonderful thing. It starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public’. (Roscoe Drummone). So this time I decided to use the digital images as the prompts instead, and to have no written notes at all. This worked much better, I think. It did occur to me that it would be good to have a Plan B in case of technical failure, but hey, they say adrenaline sharpens the mind.
I guess it will take some time until I lose the unnerving feeling that when I speak about textiles, people are secretly wondering why I forgot to get dressed! I’m not quite sure where the transition comes between being an enthusiastic amateur and being a professional artist. I have a kind of reverence for ‘proper’ textile artists – the ones who earn their entire living through their art. I’m coming into this quite late compared to the bright young things who emerge from art college, so I think I’ll just carry on bumbling along and developing my work and I’ll see where it takes me. In the meantime, with these latest two talks I feel I have dipped my toe into the water. I’m so pleased to find that the water was warm and there weren’t any crocodiles lurking below the surface.
Today, 4th November, over 70,000 people are writing about peace on their blogs. This is organised by ‘Blog4Peace’ which was started by Mimi Lenox 10 years ago. Now over 70,000 bloggers join her on this day each year, to record their messages of hope and peace.
I heard about this from a blog I follow, Dancing With Sunflowers. Janice Heppenstall has written about the darkness and despair of current times, the wish to make it better, and the importance of small acts of peace. I think if I tried to add my own version of what Janice has written then I’d only be paraphrasing her words, so with her permission I’ve put a link here so you can read her words yourself.
Sometimes I just feel helpless in the face of the cruelty and bleakness in the world. Some days I avoid watching the news because it feels like there’s nothing I can do except feel rage and despair, which doesn’t change anything or help anyone.
I find peace and hope in the people I love, in nature, and in the vibrant colours of art and textiles. But I do sometimes feel guilty about enjoying such things when other people don’t have the basics of clean water, safety, shelter or food. I feel a sense of responsibility to know what is happening in the world, as if I should be ready to spring into action ‘when the time comes’. I read about the courage of people who put their freedom or even their lives at risk in order to fight for what they believe in. In their shoes, I wonder if I would have the courage to stand my ground, with sword or pen (or computer mouse) in hand? Or would I actually be cowering behind safety, wishing I was braver? I guess none of us know which way we would leap at the crucial moment.
Recently when I was worrying about what I could actually do to help, I read a call-out for volunteers to load a lorry going out to Iraq loaded with donated medical supplies. It was in a warehouse two streets away from me, on a day when I wasn’t working, and so it was easy to walk round and spend the morning lifting and carrying. It was a small gesture – one morning of my life – but what else can you do except small things?
There are places in the world where writing about peace, or even writing a blog about anything at all, would mean risking your life. It seems a small thing to do, to add my voice to the 70,000 people who are blogging today about peace, knowing I can do so with no risk to my own safety or well-being. Looking for hope, in place of words I offer you an image that reminds me of beauty in the world. This lovely creature sat on my finger for five minutes in the summer, taking my breath away with his delicate colours. Surely there has to be hope while there is such beauty in the world.
We are moving our recent exhibition (together with some new work) up to Milton Keynes. We are showing stitched textile work inspired by the wonders of World Textiles. You will get get two exhibitions in one visit, because we are exhibiting alongside an Embroiderers Guild exhibition based on the work of garden designer Capability Brown. I’m working away on some new pieces for the new location. Will try to post some images but time is escaping – as it does – I think the world has sprung a leak somewhere, so the time dribbles out! I hope you can come and visit us at the new venue.
I had a delightful day this week, teaching a textile art workshop to the West Sussex-based Tamarisk Textiles group. What a lovely group to work with – experienced and enthusiastic, and very focussed. The day was based on applique cut-away quilting technique, combined with Procion dyeing (see green sample here). This colour range seemed to catch people’s interest, and about six people chose to work with the combination of very acidic lemon yellow and turquoise, giving a range of greens. I’ll probably add some contrasting stitching to this sample later – maybe in a really different colour like orange or fuschia, or maybe in the darker shades of green already in the piece.
Cut-away applique is as old as the hills, and has been used in many different ways by so many different cultures and embroidery traditions ranging from India to Panama. On the left is a photo of a piece I made donkeys years ago, using cut-away applique (I’ve shown it here before, I forget why). The padded top layer is dyed viscose velvet and the bottom layer is a ‘sandwich’ of different fabrics and threads. Stitching goes through all the layers and is then cut away leaving the top one standing proud of the background. The difference with this one is that I dyed the fabric first, which is why the greens and reds haven’t bled into each other. I did it that way because I didn’t want to blend them and end up with brown. For the blending approach, it’s important to like the colour that you get when your chosen colours bleed into each other.
At this week’s workshop everything was stitched in white on white, and then dyed at the end. The idea is that the dyes will ‘bleed’ across the different fabrics and react differently with each one. The background is built up with pieced and patched bits of un-dyed fabrics with different textures, which is held in place with decorative stitching in undyed thread. It is all dyed at the end.
I think I’ll re-dye this yellow and turquoise one, as the turquoise would be better darker – I think it looks abit ‘weak’. The other issue with this one is that a slight bondaweb sheen can be seen through the strip of dyed lace, so I think that would be better hand-stitched into place instead.
This purple one was made in a slightly different way. Rather than applying bits of fabric, I layered lots of snippets of thread across a backing fabric, on a layer of bondaweb, and then stitched them down with machine vermicelli free-stitching. I’m not entirely convinced by this one because there’s a slight sheen coming through from the bondaweb (it doesn’t show in the photo and other people say it’s OK, but it annoys me). Deeper layers of threads would solve that, but then they slither around while you stitch over them. This was dyed with turquise and fuschia pink. I haven’t photographed the orange and fuschia pink piece that I made as a demonstration in class as I haven’t rinsed it out yet.
The group produced some lovely work. It was quite a tall order to create the backgrounds, stitch them, apply the padded and raised motifs and get it dyed, all in one day. It could only be done with an experienced group. Some people used my Indian motifs and others created their own. I’m really annoyed with myself for not taking photos of work in progress, and I only remembered to take photos after most of the pieces were packed away. As a result I’ve only got pictures of six pieces of work from the day instead of all 15, but they give an idea of the range of work. I’d be pleased to see some photos of some of the finished pieces when they’re dried and rinsed out. Scroll down for some of the work produced in the workshop.
There is now a Scriptorium in our house, created by two brave young Knights from Vienna aged 11 and 6. The Scriptorium is an inner santum of the house where a secret password is needed for anyone to enter. The Knights have been commanding their brave army and fighting off thousands of warriors that were trying to attack from the back of our garden. Phew, we’re saved!
Then in the Scriptorium, the Knights and Queen Jane write treaties and draw maps to secure the peace. A special feather pen is used for the writing, which the Knights got from their recent visit to the Tower of London. Here’s a map of the Kingdom on the left, showing mountains, a forest, volcanoes, sea, a windmill, a village and secret treasure.
On the left you can see the story of the battle between dark and light, and how the Knights re-established the Yin and Yang of balance. I’m glad to say we’re been saved from darkness.
The old paper was made from Khadi paper soaked in tea, and leather parchment was made from scrumpled tissue paper and PVA glue, soaked in tea. I always knew that the City and Guilds Embroidery course would come in handy!
Apologies for the delay since my last post, but I’m sure you’ll understand that important international treaties have to take priority. I’ll return to my blog some time in the next week or so when I’ll update you with photos of our exhibition in May, and the Worthing Open Houses which finished a couple of weeks ago. In the meantime, back to important treaties to secure peace and harmony.
The ‘FIVE’ exhibition is now installed in Worthing. I’ve ‘disappeared’ from my blog for a while because of preparations for the exhibition, so I’m pleased to say it’s all hung and open to visitors now. There’s one photo above of a finished section, and I’ll add more photos of the final installation when I’ve taken some in better light.
In the meantime, here are some photos of ‘work in progress’ while we were hanging the work. We did have a few ‘headless chicken’ moments, but we were OK once we’d worked out a ‘grand plan’ of what was going where before getting down to details. There’s so much to organise in advance, down to the minutest details like the size and length of screws needed, where to source plinths from, publicity and writing Artist Statements etc. Working out a ‘house style’ was well worth the time invested, to give some continuity for labels etc.
The ‘team’ all stayed at my house during the 3 days of installation as I’m the only one local to the exhibition. I have to admit, by the time we were kicked out of the gallery each day at closing time we were ready for a glass of wine or three. My husband is now convinced that textiles are just a ‘cover’ for an eating and drinking group. Mind you, having just taken out the recycling I can see why he thinks that!
We’re at The Studio Gallery at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery, Chapel Road, Worthing BN11 1HP. If you’re planning to come over, then a good time to come would be this Saturday, 14th May between 2 and 5pm. That’s the one time when all five of us will be there so we’d love to see you then. Otherwise, we’re open until May the 21st, from Tuesday-Saturday, 10.00am to 5.00pm. Do come to see us if you can. Here’s a sneak preview below of part of the room in a panoramic shot.
There’s something about the sparkle of metal thread that keeps drawing me back to it. Perhaps I was a magpie in a former life? Here’s an update on the piece that I was working on some time ago, based on motifs from Indian textiles. I’ll just show you some details rather than the whole finished piece, because it will be going into our exhibition in May – but once it is up on the wall then I’ll post pictures of the finished thing. I’m working on several other pieces alongside it, but this particular one has been quite time-consuming so it’s good to see it finally coming together. I really wanted to do something that was purely decorative and not ‘conceptual’ in any way. I prefer not to use an embroidery hoop where I can avoid it, so working on thick felt makes that easier as it isn’t too floppy. Unfortunately it makes it hard to photograph. Something about the way felt absorbs light seems to drain the colour out of the photo, so it either looks dull or harsh. The colours are better in real life, honest! I’ll post some of the other pieces that I’m working on in another post quite soon.
On the subject of bling, I ran a day workshop on goldwork last week for the West Sussex Federation of Women’s Institutes. They have regular craft days that are open to all the different local branches. It’s an opportunity to get together and learn something – and yes, some stitching did go on in between the chatting! I enjoyed teaching such a friendly and welcoming group, and their enthusiasm was lovely. I offered the choice of working from my design, or ‘going off-piste’ and working more spontaneously. Three people chose to work from the design and nine chose to work spontaneously. I have seen people getting quite stressed with goldwork because of the emphasis on ‘perfection’ and the difficulty of achieving that in the early stages. It’s hard to try to produce something perfect when you’re learning the techniques, and the traditional plain silk backing really emphasises any little mistakes. The idea of doing it more ‘free-form’ is to let the materials dictate the shapes, so that there is no ‘right or wrong’ place to position each piece. As I explained, the design did not need to be any more challenging than starting with a zig-zag or a wiggle, then letting those develop to complement the first lines, and then filling in spaces. Several people produced pieces that looked quite ‘art nouveau’ in their shapes, because they let the materials ‘flow’ quite naturally.
Working like that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, and I did explain that it was abit of an experiment, but I was impressed that so many were willing to give it a go. The people who worked from a design also produced some pleasing results.
Now I must focus on finishing off the half-done pieces for the exhibition in May. Just to remind you, it’s from Fri 6th May to Sat 21st May (Tuesday to Saturday) 10.00 to 5.00, at The Studio Gallery at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery. See the ‘FIVE’ page on this website for more details.
I’m pleased to tell you about our new exhibiting group, ‘FIVE’. We’re a group of textile artists (yes there are five of us – how did you guess?!) who have joined together as an exhibiting group. We met through the City and Guilds Diploma course in Stitched Textiles at Missenden Abbey, and became firm friends through our shared love of everything to do with textiles. How lucky you are if you stumble across people with shared interests, and what a joy it is to support and encourage each other along our textile journey.
We all felt ready for a new challenge, so we decided to plan a joint exhibition of textile art. We all love the rich variety of world textiles, which we studied in some depth during our course, and it left us buzzing with new ideas for designs. For this reason we decided to base our first exhibition on World Textiles. The starting point for each piece is something from the world textiles that we love. It may be a colour combination, a pattern, a shape or function, or it may just be a texture.
We’re all working on very different things. I’m working on a series of Indian-inspired panels, using the bright colours and the ‘sparkle’ of Indian textiles. Barbara is working on cushions, some of which are inspired by the subtleties of English embroidery. Elaine is making a series of embroidered mirrors that each reflect the colours and motifs of different continents, all so very different from each other. Suzanne is working on a hand-felted and embroidered jacket in the vibrant and exciting colours and patterns of Guatemala. Cheryl’s ‘family of stitched dolls’ represent family groups from different countries and cultures who are uprooted from one country to another, and the journey they go on as they move from a familiar culture to a new one. They are currently travelling the country, and the people ‘hosting’ them are writing different entries in their travel journal. It will be interesting to see what has appeared in the journal by the time they reach Worthing in May.
It’s an exciting and challenging experience putting on our first exhibition outside the more ‘sheltered’ confines of end-of-course shows. It’s all very exciting – I’ll keep you posted.
Here’s the latest piece of the ‘hand-stitched Indian doodles’ panel that I’ve been working on. This is another panel that will form part of the wall-hanging that I showed in my last post ‘Hand-stitched Indian Doodles’. I thought I’d add a couple of photos here, to show you ‘work in progress’.
The background is pieced and patched dyed felt, in grey, red and greeny-blue, and the embellishment is added with a combiniation of silver metal-thread techniques, beading, and hand-stitch. This particular panel has an outline in couched silver ‘jap’, with cut-glass beads and a filling of ‘rough check’ cut into pieces and applied like beads. What I can’t capture in a photograph is that it reflects light and sparkles, especially aongside the other shiny bits of the other panels. When the piece is finished I’ll set it up in better light and try to take some pictures with a better colour balance and focus.
It’s slow work, but very absorbing. I must admit, I do wonder what I was thinking when I decided on the overall size. Metal thread work is lovely to do, but very time-consuming so it’s really better to stick to something teeny-tiny (note to self for next time!)
Another reason for slow progress is the impact of building and decorating work, and the dust and chaos that it brings. I’ve also had some pretty major dentistry this week (bone augmentation – but that’s probably enough info in case anyone reading is dentophobic!) But one good thing about this is that I have strict instructions not to over-exert myself or put my head upside down. I’m not sure how long I’ll get away with the argument that making cups of tea is exertion! But it definitely excludes sanding floors and painting ceilings, so I have the perfect excuse to snuggle up in the warm and get on with some embroidery. Every cloud has a silver lining, in this a case silver metal thread lining.
I’ve been working on Indian designs lately so I thought I’d show some work in progress. The inspiration for this is some of the densely stitched metal thread work that I saw in India. At the moment each piece is a separate motif stitched on a square or rectangle of dyed felt, and they’ll eventually be joined together with some freer stitching wandering over the whole piece to unite them. I’m doing the stitching in a combination of silver kid, silver metal thread (purls and pearls) silver jap, embroidery thread and beads. The sizes and shapes of the squares and rectangles are based on the Fibronacci sequence, so the measurement of each piece is either 1,2,3,5,8,13 or 21cm. Once I’ve found an arrangement that works, they’ll all be pieced together and mounted together, possibly surrounded by something silver.
Here’s an initial arrangement done in coloured card (apologies for the strange colours and photo quality!) The idea is that I can juggle with the actual arrangement as I go along and the combination of shapes and sizes should balance each other. That’s the theory anyway – we’ll see if it works! It’s abit of an experiment as I normally have a clear idea of the overall design of a piece before I start stitching it – sometimes to the extent that maybe I ‘over-design’ it. It feels quite ‘free’ to just start each bit with whatever comes into my mind at the time – a very different way to approach it all.
There’s been quite a gap since my last post here, but a few photos may show you why. We’re in week 4 of a 2 week building project, which turned out to be a much bigger project than we or the builders realised. The hall, stairs and landing are covered in dust-sheets, tools, plasterboard etc., and the front garden is full of rubble.
The builders are lovely, but I wasn’t planning on having them in the house all day Christmas Eve! It’s very lucky this wasn’t happening last year, when we had a house full of visitors all week. This year relatives are coming to us for Christmas lunch, but they’re all local so they don’t need to stay overnight. We’ll clear a path free of tools and rubble for Roger’s mother’s wheely-walker, and I’ve managed to get the living room relatively dust-free.
Buying a Christmas tree was delayed because of the building works, but I finally rushed out and bought one yesterday, a lop-sided B&Q left-over. Once I’d got that decorated, it did finally begin to feel like Christmas, so things are looking up. With the state of the world as it is, it seems churlish to grumble about abit of dust. Let’s just be thankful that we’re warm, dry, safe and have food to eat and people around us. Just as long as I don’t accidentally mix plaster-dust in the gravy!
Here’s wishing everyone a very happy, relaxing and peaceful Christmas and a creative New Year.
My mother used to say that her vision of entering heaven would go like this: The Pearly gates roll back. St Peter emerges carrying a tool box. After serving tea, gin and tonic or whisky (depending on the time of day) St Peter asks ‘are there any little jobs you want doing Mrs R?’ Well, my version of entering heaven goes like this. The Pearly gates roll back, to reveal the entrance to Jayalakshmi Silk Shop in Cochin. I am greeted by a whole department store stacked from floor to ceiling with silks of every colour, hue and texture beyond my wildest imaginings. Not one, not two, but a hundred shades of each colour. Floaty gossamer chiffons, dense shimmering satins and textured hand-weaves. And even better, there’s a remnant corner where an area the size of a medium-sized planet is packed with ends-of-rolls at crazy give-away prices.
This isn’t the time to be all English in your shopping style. It’s no good in India saying ‘Thank you, I’m just browsing’. In India that is interpreted as ‘I need more help to find what I want’. In my experience, this usually leads to all the contents of the shop spread out on the floor, more coffee drunk than I normally have in a week, and some random thing bought just so I can get out of the shop. Instead, in Jayalakshmi Silks it’s best to enjoy the help and advice of the most delightful sales assistants in the world, and to accept the offers of iced water and a coffee-break when needed. There’s even an air-conditioned ‘waiting room’ with iced water and ginger coffee served to the waiting men-folk before they lose the will to live. Apparently it’s not unknown for groups of women to spend three days there when they’re buying the fabrics for a big wedding. You can see the men nervously fingering their wallets!
My previous attempts at fabric buying earlier in the trip weren’t a great success. On my last trip to India (Rajasthan and Gujerat) it was really easy buying fabric from small shops and stalls, but for some reason it was harder in Kerala. Some of the markets and shops I located on Google before the trip were in fact huge stores for wholesale only, and others were selling synthetic tat. I did manage to find a great bazaar in Madurai in Tamil Nadu which had lots of stalls selling silks. ‘Great’, I thought to myself. ‘This is the place’. Most of the fabric stalls sell fabric that they give to tailors who make made-to-measure clothes that are stitched up immaculately there and then. (Apologies for the fuzzy focus in this photo, but I was using the phone not the camera). It was a lovely time-warp experience to see the old singer treadle sewing machines like my granny’s.
There’s a story behind why I look so hot and bothered in this photo taken in the bazaar. Firstly, I was too hot. A hot Jane is a dangerous thing, according to my husband. Secondly, I discovered afterwards that my guide had told the stall-holder that I was a big buyer from England who wanted to buy hundreds of yards of silk. I think something got lost in the translation – no wonder the seller was eager! Thirdly, I hate haggling and have no idea how to do it (anyone remember the Monty Python haggling scene, when the buyer talks himself up and up in price?) My version of haggling goes like this. Me: ‘How much is it?’ Seller: ‘X rupees’. Me: ‘OK’. Not how it’s done! And the final problem was that when I converted rupees to pounds I got totally confused with the number of zeros (I blame the heat). That left me thinking I didn’t have enough cash on me, and putting most of the silks I’d carefully chosen back on the shelf and buying just a couple of apologetic half-metres. I cut this photo in half to post it here- the other half has a rather thunderous-looking stall-holder standing next to me. Ah well, you live and learn! And Jayalakshmi Silk Shop made up for it.
There’s been a long gap since my previous blog post and there’s so much to catch up on. I’ll try to keep abit more up-to-date and to catch up on my trip to Kerala and some of the wonderful colours and designs (not too many holiday snaps, I promise!) And also an update on what I’m working on at the moment, and a wonderful course I’ve just been on with Ruth Issett at Art Vango. Where do I start? But I think the sun’s under the yard-arm so I’m signing off for now.
I promised in my last post that I would add some more about how the palm-leaf weaving is used. Apologies for the long gap since the last post – I’ve just been ridiculously busy (nothing exciting, just things like house chaos for new boiler installation etc.)
I’ll start with a coarser form of palm-weaving that is used to make houses. The palm-leaves below are drying in the sun. They have been plaited while still attached to their branch rather than cut off to make strands for finer weaving, because they’re going to be used for making houses. These have been plaited while they’re still supple, so they hold their shape when dry.
The woven Palm-leaf branches are used to make the walls and roofs of houses. They are wonderful to sleep in, because the breeze wafts in from the sea, keeping the air cool and the mosquitoes away. Here’s a little house, called a fale (pronounced fallay) that we stayed in on one of the Vava’u islands before the kayak trip, firstly looking from the outside. You can see some un-woven palm branches that have been laid over the top of the house, and you can see the woven palm fronds that make up the wall, tied to a wooden frame.
Later in the trip we went on a village home-stay with a family up in the mountains in Fiji (we stayed in the green and pink house below). My brother and his son had stayed there some years ago and were made really welcome, so we asked if we could stay with the same family.
The palm-leaf weaving techniques in Fiji are similar to Tonga, although with local variations. The woven matting is used as floor-covering, and also doubles as something to sit on and also to sleep on. Here are four generations of our host family inside their house.
It’s a far cry from the ‘tourist cocoon’ way of travelling. It was beyond our normal comfort zone, and was a totally eye-opening and happy experience. Communicating with no shared language was interesting (and possible!) and the children seemed to find us a very strange novelty! One thing was a real eye-opener. Having slept in the family’s house, shared their meals, drunk kava at village ceremonies and been invited for tea in neighbouring houses, we began to feel we kind of belonged. We understood who was who, and how the village worked. After a few days a bunch of white western European tourists came to the village and wandered around. They looked so fearful and suspicious, clutching their bags close to them as if someone was about to mug them. One of the young men who spoke English commented very sadly to us that they looked at him and his village as if they hated them. This is incomprehensible to a Fijian way of thinking, as strangers are all future friends. Meeting Tongan and Fijian people has completely changed my attitude to talking to strangers wherever I am.
But back to the palm-leaf weaving. Here are some finer pieces of weaving, where the pattern has been added by weaving in a darker strand. The patterns are different between Tonga and Fiji, and a local expert can identify each pattern as coming from a specific village. Decorative weaving is used to make a long rectangular strip that is worn by men and boys on formal occasions such as Church or village meetings, wrapped around the waist and hips, tied off with a piece of cloth. They look quite stiff and uncomfortable to wear, which kind of adds to the the formal posture and the ‘gravitas’ of the occasion.
I’ll finish with a little tale. We were fully immersed in the village, enjoying learning about the traditional way of life. A life with no TV, computers, electricity or other mod cons, where everything is based on tradition. A young lad acted as our guide one day to go up the local mountain. He told us that he would become the village Chief later on in life. I asked if that meant that all the girls wanted to marry him. His answer was yes (with no hint of false modesty) but he added that he already knew who he was going to marry. I imagined that he would have been betrothed at a young age to a young girl selected as ‘suitable for a future Chief’s wife’, like generations before him. Then it became clear that his future wife was from a village on a completely separate island, and I couldn’t understand how they had met. It soon made sense… they met on Facebook! Coming from a Chief’s family, they had the only generator in the village so he was able to charge his mobile phone. The reason he was so keen to guide us up the mountain was that the top of the mountain is the only place he could get a mobile signal to get onto Facebook. Ha, that caught me out!
I promised to share some photos here of palm-leaf weaving in Tonga and Fiji. I was there the summer before last, on the trip of a lifetime based around a kayak-camping trip between some far remote Tongan islands. Memories of this were re-kindled a couple of weeks ago when I went on a twining course with Mary Crabb.
Pacific island culture is unbelievably friendly, more than anywhere else I’ve ever been to. That makes it very easy to get chatting to people about their crafts, despite limited common language. It’s amazing how much you can communicate with signs and gestures, and before you know it you’re having a lesson. I had a lesson in palm-leaf braiding with this lovely lady, in her home on the island of Eua. She has prepared the palm-leaf fronds, firstly by drying them out in the sun for a couple of days. Then the wide fronds are ‘sliced’ down into narrower strands, by running a sharp piece of tin-can along the length of them. The fronds are quite tough and so they’re pretty hard on the hands, but they make very strong items once they’re woven. For the purposes of teaching, I was shown how to make a four-ply braid. The same principle is used for weaving bigger things, and all sorts of decorative details are added.
Life in Tonga moves at a much gentler pace than here in the UK. Weaving mats is a chance to sit and gossip with friends. I heard the most heavenly singing coming from this Church hall, and wandered in to find these women sitting weaving. They welcomed me in to sit with them while they worked and sang.
The little speck on the horizon is the next day’s destination. And in the meantime there’s the taxing question of which exact spot in heaven to set up camp…
I’ll dig out some photos of how the woven items are used in daily life. Unfortunately for now time has run out, so I’ll include those in a later post. I do feel nostalgic for the experience of ‘timelessness’ in the Pacific. I don’t expect that people on the islands often say ‘I didn’t have time’. There always is time, if not today then tomorrow.
I’ve just finished two samples of twining, which I learned on a course with Mary Crabb at Worthing Museum and Art Gallery last weekend. Mary brought an enormous selection of threads and yarns – including some ‘special’ ones which she shared very generously with students. It was a sunny day so we had the door into the Museum garden open, and there was a calypso band playing outside for a private view for a new exhibition in the Studio Gallery. Lovely. The starting point for our work was looking at some of the antique fans in the Museum, in particular their colours and shapes. Twining is a technique that’s kind of a mixture between weaving, plaiting and braiding. Rather than one strand running to and fro like weaving, two strands are worked at the same time, with a crossover twist round each of the uprights.
This one was worked over willow, which gives a firm foundation. As the shape fans out, extra rolled paper uprights are added in between them so that the woven strands don’t have to span too much distance between them.
The picture below is students work in progress during the day.
During the day we were chatting about different kinds of weaving / twining / basket-making / braiding / plaiting, and it brought back memories of learning how to weave with palm fronds last year when I was travelling in the Pacific. I’ll dig out some photos of palm frond weaving, and how they are used in Pacific island houses. I need abit more time to find those, so it will have to be ‘part two’ of this post.
Mary’s work takes twining into a more experimental dimension, including sculptural forms made out of wire. You can see some of these on her website www.marycrabb.co.uk
Apologies for the rant in the last post. I’m pleased to report that Facebook did accept the paper-trail that proved that Stephanie Jane Robinson is actually the same person as Jane Robinson. By gracious permission of Facebook, I exist! A miracle occurreth! It was only the extreme good fortune of never having bothered to correct my accidental ‘dual’ registration with City and Guilds, which meant that I have certificates in both names, and a newspaper photo of me in the name of Jane which they could compare to my passport photo as Stephanie.
So I am reinstated on Facebook, hopefully before anyone realised I had disappeared (which I realise would have been of world-wide significance to all). This is the photo I used for my Facebook page. Someone commented that it looks like something from the 18th century. Another century is probably where I really belong anyway, in a world before technology and electronics, and where you cannot accidentally delete yourself in one click.
Thank you, oh Facebook God. I promise that in gratitude for Your gracious mercy I will commit no more crimes. I will not do the following ever again: Think mean thoughts. Do the right thing for the wrong reasons. Puff up the chocolate packet to look like I haven’t secretly eaten more. Open the bedroom curtains and go back to bed, so people outside think I’ve got up. Rant (no, delete that one, without ranting I would explode).
Now let’s get back to planting some plants and doing some art!
No images for this post because I’m too fed up.
Well, after a long time not getting around to joining Facebook I finally decided it was time to do it, partly because I realised that I was missing out on so much sharing of images and information in the textile world. So I spent more time than I care to admit setting it all up, opening my account, setting up an Artists page, linking to other pages, sending friend requests, looking at videos of cute cats etc. I submitted a couple of pictures of my work to ‘Textile Arts’ on Facebook and received 400 Likes in 24 hours and many lovely comments. People started linking from my Facebook page to my website. ‘Great’ I thought. ‘I’ve cracked social media. Piece of cake’. But then it all went horribly wrong. Through the post I’d put on the Textile Artist page I received friend requests from people I didn’t know. I didn’t want to offend anyone by declining, so I sent them messages inviting them to ‘follow’ my Artists page instead. Therein lies the problem. By sending the same cut-and-paste messages to people not on my friends list in quick succession, I triggered a security alert on my account and found myself locked out and my page closed down.
I received a computerised message which I interpret as saying that they don’t think that I am me. OMG, then I suddenly realised what the problem is. Very few people know that I was christened Stephanie Jane, because since before I can remember I have always and only been called Jane. It just never occurred to me that opening a Facebook page as ‘Jane’ might be seen as fraud, because Jane is who I am! I identify so little with ‘Stephanie’ that I’ve sat in waiting rooms wondering why the Stephanie who is being called isn’t responding. I’ve always been so careful at work to make sure that things like professional registration and DBS checks are all coordinated with my legal documents and to link the name I’m known by and my legal identity. I’ve always signed things like Court reports as ‘S Jane’. But I just didn’t think of it for Facebook. I received an automated message asking me to submit identification – but everything on their list is in the name of Stephanie, not Jane. How on earth do I prove that I am Jane??? As far as I’m concerned, Stephanie is the one I don’t identify with and she’s the one who can produce all the apple-pie documents. In the end I’ve submitted a copy of my C&G Medal for Excellence as ‘S Jane Robinson’, a C&G Medal for Excellence from Bucks CC as ‘Jane Robinson’, and a newspaper feature of me receiving the medal as ‘Jane Robinson’. This was the only way I could think of to link both Stephanie Robinson and Jane Robinson with a photo of yours truly that is publicly identified as Jane and can be compared to that other Stephanie woman in the passport. I really don’t know if that will do it.
If not, having just invited all my friends and family to be ‘friends’ and put myself about on the Textile Arts page with 10,000 or so textile people, anyone who tries to follow links to me will find that I’ve been deleted, leaving me looking and feeling very stupid. If it makes me feel like they have deleted me along with the Facebook page, then that probably illustrates why I held out for so long against joining it. Apologies to anyone who tries to contact me through Facebook only to find I’ve disappeared off the face of the earth. Please believe me that I do still exist, in real life, as a real person (who answers to Jane and not Stephanie) . I am still available for phone calls, emails, getting together in person, having real conversations and ‘doing stuff’. How quaint! How last-century!
Now for some alcohol. Herrumph. So the Luddites were right all along.
I’ve been trying out some of the experiments that I mentioned in my previous blog post. Last time I wrote about making lampshades using batik-dyed fabric. This week I’ve been playing with tea-lights, using a cut-away technique. I’ve used a ‘kit’ from Needcraft for the structure. This provides you with a top and bottom ring and a plastic stick-on backing that you apply the fabric to before assembling it all. My experiment was to see whether the backing plastic could be cut away and stitched into in the same way as pelmet vilene. It’s a lovely technique which gives you a lacy effect over the holes. It’s quite strange to stitch off the edge of the hole with no fabric or soluble fabric, and just carry on stitching ‘in the air’ until you reach the other side.
The fabric is space-dyed cotton. Yes, it was deliberate to leave the crinkles in (in fact I scrunched it while it was wet to make it more pronounced). The reason for that is that later on I will highlight the scrunches, either with metallic foil or with treasure-gold highlighter.
I stuck the fabric and the plastic backing together, and drew the motifs on the plastic and cut it away with a sharp blade before cutting the fabric away leaving the hole to stitch over. A zigzag stitch round the edge neatens it and catches the lines of stitching in place.
I was using a thread with two strands to it, one metallic and one viscose, which is usually quite good-tempered. The main problem I found is that the thread keeps snagging on the edge of the hole in the plastic, unlike stitching on pelmet vilene. Each time it snags, the metallic strand snaps which means re-threading. To try to avoid this I have to stitch really slowly and there’s alot of re-threading of the needle, so progress is slow.
I’m not happy with the quality of the stitching, which is abit ragged compared to the purple and green sample here that was done on pelment vilene. I think it would be better to use a more slippery thread. Another improvement would be to do the stitching in the fabric first, before sticking it to the backing, and just cut the holes in the plastic wider than the holes in the fabric so that the plastic edges are concealed behind the zigzag edging. I’ll add some photos later on when it’s finished, but thought I’d add it now as ‘work in progress’ in case anyone has any suggestions of a better way to do it.
I’ve just been on a workshop on making quick and easy lampshades. Years ago my mother taught me how to make lampshades the traditional way, by wrapping bias binding round the frame and then hand-stitching the fabric to the bias binding, whilst with the third hand trying to keep the tension on the fabric in several directions at once. Since then, I’ve gone for the ‘quick dash into Ikea’ approach to lampshades, often ending up with something fairly neutral that I would then spot everywhere else I went. The joy of these lampshade kits is that you can use any fabric you want, and can produce a professional-looking shade without hours of tugging, tweaking and hand-stitching. Magic! The kits come from Needcraft and the workshop was at Sew In Brighton. Here’s a collection of shades by different students on the workshop – all came out looking good, and all so different.
For my particular shade I used some batik fabric that I made a long time ago, which has been sitting in a cupboard for a long long time. It is cotton lawn, coloured with a batik process using the trusty potato-masher. The first stage was to paint on some fairly pale Procion dye in pinks and turquoises. Then the hot wax was applied with the potato-masher, and finally the fabric was re-painted with more concentrated, darker Procion dye.
A kit is a far cry from the traditional hand-stitched approach – but the net result is very professional looking. I would like to try using whole range of original art-textiles and making them into shades – batik, printing, marbling spring to mind. And of course stitching. I’m pondering using the technique of cutting away parts of the fabric and machine stitching over the holes – probably by bonding the fabric to the stiff backing PVC first, and then cutting through both and stitching both at the same time. Like this cut-away image below – maybe even the same design (which came from a repeat-pattern that I developed from a collage). But instead of the green backing there would be a hole that lets light through. I sense some experiments looming!