Lockdown week 9

I wondered if I should call this post Semi-lockdown week 9, as the traffic in my part of London seems to have reverted to normal levels, and the fine weather has brought many more people out on the streets. But my situation remains the same, so I shall stick to lockdown for now.

After all the sampling for my coiled tortoise piece I’ve done in previous weeks, this week I’ve focused on actually making it. Having established that linen thread was my material of choice, I ordered some in colours closer to the radiated tortoise and set to, making 10 individual scutes.

Then I joined them all together.

That’s as far as I’ve got this week. Next I have to make the overall border and then start thinking about the base.

I realise that I forgot last week to post the link to the online Prism exhibition In Search of (Im)Possibilities. The exhibition has been divided into three themes – environment, materials, and place – and each day a post is published featuring four or five artists relevant to the theme. Here is a link to all the posts so far. My work is featured in Chapter 2, Day 1 – Materials. Click on an image to see the artist’s statement.

Finally, although I’ve stopped posting about the V&A kimono exhibition, you can now watch a series of five short films of the show with the curator Anna Jackson. Even better!

Stay well!

Lockdown week 8

I said last week that I would post more information about the coiling project I’m working on for my City Lit basketry course. The original deadline to finish was today, but because the course is currently on hold, the deadline has been extended indefinitely. Just as well, because I haven’t finished yet! 🙂

I’ve been working on the project in fits and starts over the past eight weeks. There’s been a lot of sampling to get the effect I want, but I think I’ve finally nailed down the materials and techniques to use.

The theme of the project is animal markings. From the start, perhaps leading on from the pattern on the cane platter I made, I was attracted to the radiated tortoise (Astrochelys radiata) and Indian star tortoise (Geochelone elegans). Both are endangered species.

Radiated tortoise
Indian star tortoise

It’s not just the pattern – it’s the domed form of the individual parts of the shell (called scutes) that appeals. My plan was to make several individual units and then join them together to create the shell.

Looking at the shapes of the individual scutes, I could see that the central ones were hexagonal, while those at the edge had five or four sides.

I made the first samples with raffia, both with a wrapped core and an exposed core. I decided I really don’t like wrapping with raffia – it always seems to fray, and it feels quite plasticky. Shame, because raffia comes from Madagascar, like the radiated tortoise!

I liked the idea of an exposed core evoking the concentric ridges of a tortoise shell, but it was tricky getting a defined pattern this way.

I also toyed with the idea of creating a more openwork shell, to represent the fragility of such an endangered species. But this came out more domed than conical – more like a jellyfish – so although I loved the effect I decided to put that in the box labelled “Ideas to pursue later”.

Then I moved onto working with a solid core, using sash cord wrapped with knitting yarn. The pattern here was very distinct, and though this started as a sample I couldn’t help myself and carried on to make a complete bowl (as reported in Lockdown week 3).

The scale of this was too large for my tortoise (unless I swapped to a giant tortoise!), so I replaced the core with thinner string plus copper wire (to help shape the pieces) and started experimenting with different wrapping materials – soft string, fine hemp, linen thread.

In the end, I concluded that the finest pattern was obtained using linen thread (shown in the sample at the back in the photo above). The wire in the core enabled me to shape it into a hexagon.

Next was the problem of how to join the individual units. The first samples I made had no border, so the edges were a mixture of black and neutral stripes.

I tried joining them together with figure of eight stitch in neutral thread, but this looked messy against the black. Overstitching was less messy but somehow too intrusive.

So I made more samples with the outermost round entirely in neutral-coloured thread, and joined these with figure of eight stitch, which was much neater.

I then joined all the samples I had made together to test out how an overall border, enclosing them all, would work.

The joining on these samples isn’t very neat, for the reasons explained above. But I learned two things from joining them all together.

  • The overall border will undulate because the angles where the individual scutes meet is not sharp. I don’t mind that – in fact, I think it adds more movement and fluidity.
  • With three central hexagonal scutes (as in the page from my sketchbook above), the overall shape would be disproportionately long and thin. So the final piece will have only two central hexagons. This will mean making 10 individual units rather than 13.

Phew! Just have to make it now. And as I envisage this being the lid of a box, there’s still all the planning to make that work. More to come!

 

 

Lockdown week 7

I’ve been spending more time in the garden this week, where the sunny weather is definitely encouraging more growth, which in turn requires more weeding (as well as pulling out dead daffodil leaves to dry for cordage!).

Perhaps fortuitously, then, an email arrived from basketmaker Hanna van Aelst with a link to her video on how to make a Catalan tray from foraged materials.

It’s not that easy to get out and forage at the moment, but I did have a pile of prunings, mostly forsythia but also some bay, hebe, fuschia and an unknown plant invading from next door. So I used these instead.

Inevitably, it wasn’t as easy as Hanna makes it look! Forsythia branches, I have discovered, are mostly hollow, so they break quite easily. And my hoop wasn’t very level. The fuschia leaves have now died, so I will cut them off. But it was fun.

I also combined some of the dandelion cordage I made last week with the rhubarb cordage I made the week before into a tiny bowl – I love the colour combination here. And a week on, with everything dry, the colours remain vibrant.

dandelion and rhubarb bowl dandelion and rhubarb bowl

The rest of my creative time has been spent making yet more samples for my City Lit coiling project, which is going on indefinitely as we have still heard nothing about when or if the course will resume.

I will write a more detailed post, probably next week, about the process I’ve been going through, just in case anyone is interested! But for now I will tell you that the theme is animal markings. Here are a couple of the samples – I wonder if you can guess the animal that inspired them? Answer next week!

This week’s garment from the V&A kimono exhibition is an early example of recycling. In the second half of the 19th century, as Japan opened up to the West, Japanese items became very fashionable, including kimono. For some, it represented luxury and non-conformity, free of restrictive corsets.

However, this is an example of a conventional dress cut and retailored from a kimono imported from Japan. It was made around 1876 by the London dressmakers Misses Turner. The satin silk features hand painting in ink, stencil imitation shibori, and embroidery in silk and gold-wrapped threads.

As the V&A puts it, “the dress thus had a familiar structure but an excitingly foreign appearance”.

Stay well!

Lockdown week 6

Week 6 of lockdown and my creative mojo has gone walkabout. When I look back on the past five weeks I can see I’ve tried a lot of new ideas and materials. By comparison, this week has mostly been about collecting materials and honing familiar techniques.

The weather hasn’t helped. April in the UK has been the sunniest month on record, and the lockdown finally goaded me into getting my bike fixed (bike shops remain open). So I’ve been getting more of my daily exercise on two wheels, discovering the delight of relatively quiet roads in the city.

I’ve also been out gathering materials. The one new thing I did try this week was making cordage from dandelion stalks. Much to ESP’s horror, I failed to remove all the dandelion heads before hanging the stalks up to dry in the garden. So I may not have to go too far to gather dandelions next year! 🙂

dandelions drying

Once the stalks were dry, I sprayed them with water to rehydrate before twisting into cordage.

dandelion cordage

I’m fascinated by the dried dandelion heads left over – they remind me of miniature jellyfish.

dandelion headsdandelion heads

I’ve also been gathering dying daffodil leaves for more cordage and coiling. It made me reflect on how things have changed. Four years ago I was obsessed with collecting the dead flowers to dye with; now I’m more interested in the foliage!

I still do some dyeing, mostly with indigo, so I’ve been shibori stitching some recycled items ready to go into the next vat.

shibori stitching

I’m currently working on a fiddly coiling project for my City Lit course, which involves lots of sampling. I’m not ready to talk about that yet, but for relaxation I made another coiled bowl from sash cord and wool. Unlike the coiling for City Lit, it’s something I’m able to do while watching TV (another activity I’m doing rather a lot of!).

coiled bowl

Talking of shibori, this week’s kimono from the V&A exhibition is a modern garment made in 2019 by Yamaguchi Genbei, decorated with a dramatic depiction of Mount Fuji.

kimono by yamaguchi genbei

Made from machine-spun hemp, this summer kimono was part of the Majotae project, which aimed to produce hemp on a commercially viable scale for clothing, as it is particularly suited to the Japanese climate.

Stay well!

Lockdown week 5

My experiments with coiling continue, some based on previous work, like this coiled bowl made using a core of sash cord wrapped with knitting yarn.

I’ve also coiled a couple more pear trays.

For the borders I just used the thickest thread I had in my stash – together they remind me of those hot Indian colours.

I also had another go at making rhubarb cordage. This time I left the peelings to dry out, then sprayed them lightly before twisting them. It was much more successful, and smelled nice to boot! The colour was stronger too.

Another satisfactory olfactory experience was working with pine needles. There is a long history of making pine needle baskets in North America, where some pines have incredibly long needles. The longleaf pine, Pinus palustris, for example, has needles that can be up to 18 inches long!

I collected the needles I used from the ground beneath a tree in Kew Gardens a couple of months ago when such things were still possible. They were only around 5 inches long, but this was fine for making a small rustic basket. 🙂

As I mentioned previously, the straw vessels I’ve been making were for a Prism exhibition called “In Search of (Im)possibilities”, which was due to open in London in May but has been postponed, probably till next year. However, the group has decided to organise a virtual exhibition instead, starting on 13 May. This means that those of you who are not in the UK will also be able to see it – a silver lining!

This week’s garment from Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the V&A is an ensemble created by John Galliano for Christian Dior in 2007. According to the label, “The sweeping lines of the outer garment reference both uchikake (outer kimono) and the swing coat pioneered by Dior in the 1950s.”

The layers of colour at the neckline also evoke kasane, colour combinations found in the garments of aristocrats during the Heian period. The hat is by Stephen Jones.

The photo below shows some of the lavish embroidery with silk threads and hand painted lace appliqué.

Stay well!

Lockdown week 4

Cabin fever must be getting to me – I’ve started coiling household objects! I had a moulded cardboard tray used for holding pears, which I cut up into individual sections. This is the result of coiling the first one.

coiled cardboard coiled cardboard

I did consider stitching into the cardboard itself, but decided to go for the minimalist look, especially as the bottom is quite textured (it looks like an avocado).

Over on Instagram, I was inspired by Suzie Grieve’s amazing rhubarb baskets to try making some rhubarb cordage. I used fresh rhubarb peelings, which was a mistake. They were very wet and slippery to work with, and they shrank a lot when they dried.

rhubarb cordage wet
Wet rhubarb cordage
rhubarb cordage dry
Dry rhubarb cordage

I rather like the open helical structure of the dried cordage, but in this case it wasn’t what I was after. Another lesson learned!

The series of straw vessels for Prism continues. This one is a combination of cobbling and coiling (coibbling?). Cobbling, as I understand it, is bunching soft material together with random stitching.

cobbled straw vessel

Only a week after planting, my Japanese indigo seeds have germinated and are doing well.

japanese indigo april 2020

This week’s kimono from the V&A exhibition is a bit unusual. It’s a kimono for a young boy commemorating the first flight from Japan to the UK in 1937. Made from printed wool, it’s decorated with images of Mount Fuji, Tower Bridge and the route taken by the plane.

kimono commemorating first flight from tokyo to london

I’m not sure what the other flag is next to the union flag. It looks like the international maritime signal flag representing the letter T (tango), which usually means “keep clear”. Or maybe the T stands for Tokyo?

Stay well!

Lockdown week 3

I got a bit carried away with the blue and white coiled sample I started last week, and ended up with a fully fledged bowl! The finishing was neater on this, so I am improving. 🙂

coiled bowl

I also completed another straw vessel, this one made of coiled cordage. I found making cordage from straw a bit challenging, to put it mildly.

Although I soaked the straw and left it to mellow, some of it still had a tendency to split, and the stiff nodules made it difficult to twist. If I cut the nodules off I was left with very short fibres.

Also the resulting cordage varied in thickness, which made for a bit of an uneven pot. Still, I got there in the end.

straw cordage vessel

Making the straw cordage reminded me that I still had a lot of dried daffodil and day lily leaves I saved last year. So I also made a bit of cordage from day lily leaves. It was so easy compared with using straw – quite relaxing and meditative! You can see last year’s post on making cordage here.

lily cordage

The weather warmed up this week, so I planted my Japanese indigo seeds, saved from last year’s plants. I was also delighted to see green leaves unfurling on some willow stubs I stuck in a pot about a month ago.

willow leaves

I don’t think I will have enough to make a basket for a couple of years, but it’s a start!

Slightly further afield in my local park (the one that hit the headlines when it was shut down on Sunday), the swans are nesting.

swan nest

I thought the weaving was a bit loose. 😉 But it was interesting watching the bird plucking down from its breast to keep the eggs insulated.

I also came across a dog with a stick (or should that be a stick with a dog?)!

dog with large stick

The dog certainly didn’t give up – I came across it carrying the stick shortly after entering the park and then met it again on the other side of the park, still with the stick!

This week’s kimono from the V&A exhibition is actually a kamishimo, an outfit for a male. Samurai wore these for formal occasions – this one is probably a boy’s. It comes in two parts – a pleated lower garment (hakama) and a sleeveless jacket (look at those shoulder pads!) called a kataginu.

kamishimo

Stay well!