Lockdown week 1

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.

Lemon on a tree given to me by my good friend Magdalen

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.

outer kimono for a bride

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.

Stay well!


Silk paper

Right at the beginning of last academic year at Morley College, we were shown how to make “paper” by lightly spraying gummy silk waste with water and then ironing it between baking parchment. I remember thinking that it was an interesting technique but with so many other things to explore I never got round to having a go.

silk paper by sarah lawrenceI was reminded of it when I found this book in a discount bookshop. The author, Sarah Lawrence, was British (she sadly passed away last year) but the price on the back is in dollars, so it must be a US edition. The cover is different, but there seem to be a couple of similarly titled books also by Sarah Lawrence available in the UK and published at the same time, and I’m assuming the content is similar.

The book starts with the ironing method, combining it with layers of sinamay or knitting, or using it as a base for embossing, moulding and die cutting. It also explains how to make paper with degummed silk by soaking it in a mediium like PVA, or by stitching through layers using water-soluble film to create 3D vessels .

Finally, there’s a very inspiring section on using silk carrier rods and cocoons.

Of course, I immediately began to wonder how I could combine these techniques with my beloved felting and shibori. Felting should be fairly straightforward – adding silk is an easy way to create more texture and colour.

But would silk paper fall apart if I put it in an indigo vat? Is it strong enough to stitch or bind? I may have to find out.

Chrissie’s kindness

Great excitement this morning when I picked up not one but two parcels from the sorting office. They were from Chrissie, who has not only lent me some foot lasts, but was also kind enough to include a small present – an undyed mixed media pack, including silk cocoons, silk throwsters’ waste, silk rods, bleached mulberry bark, skeleton leaves and silk threads.

Most of these I’ve never used, so I’m really looking forward to experimenting with them. Thanks so much Chrissie!