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.
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! 🙂
Once the stalks were dry, I sprayed them with water to rehydrate before twisting into cordage.
I’m fascinated by the dried dandelion heads left over – they remind me of miniature jellyfish.
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Only a week after planting, my Japanese indigo seeds have germinated and are doing well.
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.
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?
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?)!
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.
Our basketry tutor at City Lit managed to send through some photos and instructions on coiling around a solid core. I ordered some sash cord online and have a plentiful stash of knitting yarns, so here are a couple of samples.
Starting and finishing is the trickiest – I need more practice on this!
Does this pattern look familiar? Not that I’m obsessed or anything! 😉
I also managed to finish another straw vessel for the exhibition “In Search of (Im)possibilities”, whenever it happens (see last post). This one is random weave with a coiled border.
In the garden, spring continues to progress. Last week I spotted what I thought was a furry ginger bee with a long proboscis feeding on the forget me nots. (You can see my video on Instagram.)
Turns out it’s a bee-fly, which is a parasite. The fly larva fastens on to a real bee grub and sucks all the fluids out of it. However, it apparently has little impact on bee numbers, and it’s fascinating to watch.
Ever Supportive Partner has been working from home, and his stained glass classes have been cancelled. With no other outlet for his creative urges, he’s taken to wiring together all the offcuts of my cane platters. I think I may have competition! 🙂
Finally, this week’s kimono from the Victoria and Albert exhibition is an outer kimono (uchikake) that would have been worn over another kimono. The long sleeves mean the weater was young and unmarried.
Dating from the early 19th century, the kimono is made of silk satin and combines shibori, paste resist dyeing (yuzen), and silk embroidery.
I’m hoping that this will turn out to be a short series of posts, but I fear this may be overly optimistic. The world as we know it has been turned upside down in just a couple of weeks, and who knows how long it will last?
I work alone from home most of the time so have not been affected by restrictions on travelling to work. However, ESP is now also working from home, which encroaches on my space somewhat! And City Lit has cancelled all face-to-face teaching at least until the end of this term, so I’m missing my weekly basketry class. 😦
Still, these are small inconveniences compared with what others are going through – we are still healthy, we have enough food (and toilet roll!), and spring is happening in the garden regardless of events.
In search of impossibilities
In the last few weeks I’ve been working frantically on a piece for the upcoming Prism exhibition in May. That has been postponed, of course, though there are plans to do an online version in the meantime. So I shall tell you about it anyway.
The title of the exhibition is “In Search of (Im)possibilities”.
My first idea was to turn a sow’s ear into a (silk) purse. This involved slicing pigs’ ears to remove the layer of cartilage, scraping off the remaining membrane and fat and then attempting to make them into leather by tanning them with tree bark. (There is a tanning process that involves animal brains, but that was a step too far even for me.)
After two attempts I abandoned this idea. The first lot of ears went horribly slimy and smelly after we went on holiday for a couple of weeks (the tanning solution needs to be changed regularly). The second lot were better but I just got bored. So although it may be possible to make a purse from a sow’s ear, I am not going to be the one to prove it.
My second idea focused on the human obsession with gold. Alchemists try to create gold from base metal; in the fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin spins straw into gold; folklore talks about finding pots of gold at the end of a rainbow. So I thought I would make a series of straw vessels to represent these endeavours.
The first problem was finding straw – the stuff they sell in pet shops is all chopped up and too short. So I ended up ringing suppliers of thatching straw and driving for 1.5 hours to pick up a couple of sheaves. I didn’t want it to get damp so kept it in the house at first – but then the mice discovered it, so it had to go out on the porch. Do any other artists have their work eaten by mice?!
Anyway, here are a couple of the vessels I’ve made so far.
These are made by coiling, using a metallic thread. It’s a bit fiddly, because the straw has to be damp and the thread is mostly viscose, which is weak when it’s wet so it breaks if you pull too hard.
The straw also has nodes along its length, which are quite tough and difficult to bend. I originally wanted rounded vessels, but ended up with more angular forms because materials have a way of making their presence felt!
I’ll post more in later weeks.
Another cane platter
I’ve also had time to make another cane platter. This is larger than my first one, which allowed me to create more branches. The shape is also slightly more irregular, which I think suits the organic feel.
Kimono pic of the week
Museums and galleries are now closed, but a few weeks ago I visited Kimono: Kyoto to Catwalk at the Victoria & Albert Museum. I never got round to writing it up, but I thought I’d post an image from the exhibition each week to keep our spirits up.
This is an outer kimono (uchikake) of brocade silk, now worn only by brides. The cranes represent longevity. Brides often change outfits several times, with red being worn after the ceremony. Late 20th century, probably Kyoto.
This exhibition, in the sumptuous surroundings of Two Temple Place, features highlights from the eclectic collections of seven female textile collectors from the 19th century to the present day. It’s a splendid mix of beautiful embroidery and costume, elegant homeware, and art textiles.
Edith Durham (1863-1944)
Edith Durham was an artist who travelled extensively throughout the Balkans, especially Albania, in the period before the First World War. Journeying on horseback with a local guide, she collected many examples of traditional dress, textiles, and jewellery, making detailed notes and sketches on their cultural significance and local customs. After she died her collections were donated to the Bankfield Museum in Halifax.
Louisa Pesel (1870-1947)
If you’ve read A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier, you’ll instantly recognise the name. Louisa Pesel was a distinguished embroidery artist and historian, teacher and writer. After studying at the Royal College of Art she went on to become director of the Royal Hellenic School of Needlework and Lace in Athens. When she moved back to Britain, firstly to Bradford and then to Hampshire, she started teaching people to stitch, whether for employment, therapy or pleasure. Her students included shell-shocked soldiers, refugees, and volunteers at Winchester Cathedral – the subject of Chevalier’s novel.
Olive Matthews (1887-1979)
London resident Olive Matthews started collecting as a child, saving her pocket money to buy costumes from Caledonian Road market. Such items were not regarded as particularly collectable at the time, so she prided herself on getting a bargain, not paying more than £5 for anything. At the beginning of the Second World War she moved with her family to Virginia Water in Surrey, and her collection formed a key part of the Chertsey Museum when it was set up in 1965.
Enid Marx (1902-1998)
Enid Marx was a leading designer probably best known for her industrial textile designs, such as the seat fabric for London Transport. Before that, she was an apprentice with block printers Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher, which led her to explore the process of printing fabric with wood blocks and natural dyes. She was also a great collector, along with historian Margaret Lambert, of folk art and popular ephemera, some of which are included in the exhibition. The Marx-Lambert collection is now at Compton Verney.
Muriel Rose (1897-1986)
Muriel Rose was a leading advocate for 20th-century British craft, determined to put craft on the same footing as painting and sculpture. She set up the Little Gallery near Sloane Square in London in 1928, where she exhibited the work of textile artists such as Enid Marx, Barron and Larcher, and weaver Ethel Mairet, as well as potters such as Bernard Leach. She travelled and collected extensively, both abroad and closer to home – for example, she sold high-quality handmade quilts by Durham miners’ wives alongside work from Japan and Mexico. She went on to become Director of Craft and Industrial Design at the British Council and a founder trustee of the Crafts Study Centre (now in Farnham).
Dr Jennifer Harris
Jennifer Harris was responsible for building up Britain’s foremost collection of contemporary textile art at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester. From 1982 to 2016 she was the deputy director and curator of textiles, collecting “statement acquisitions” and more speculative pieces made with traditional craft techniques but more conceptual and sculptural in form. Examples of pieces she collected included some stunning indigo work from an exhibition she curated in 2007 and large-scale machine-embroidered “drawings” by Alice Kettle.
As senior keeper of the International Collections at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford from 1985 to 1998, Nima Poovaya-Smith made the collections more representative of Bradford’s diversity. Reflecting the big Pakistani community, the exhibition includes a lovely stitched kantha piece as well as phulkari embroidery.