Sunday, 25 August 2013

Constructing a heart

Making fat

This is the lump of wool I picked up from a field. It was pretty dirty so needed a good wash (without too much agitating to prevent it felting too early).

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At History Live! I had bought myself a little hand spindle, which I used to make a ball of rather lumpy yarn out of this wool. I didn't card it first because I wanted it to be irregularly lumpy like the fat itself!

Hand-made hand spindle - wood and ceramic

Then I crocheted it into a shape like the one in my painting of a heart. I thought it would be good for the fat pad, but that it needed some colour variations.

For some of the fat pads I did this and then shrunk it in the washing machine to give it a denser texture, reminding me of what I am reading about the Fullers and Weavers of Ghent in the 14th Century being the start of workers' rights movements.

What shape is a heart? - not 'heart-shaped' for sure!

The shape was a bit more difficult to work out, but I decided to make it with four irregularly shaped pieces of fabric. I guessed the shape, generously, since there would be room for adjustment when I put them all together.

I wanted it to have the fibrous thickness and density
of heart muscle, so I cut the shapes out of an old quilt.
(The colours in all these photos are less yellow than in reality)

Then I tacked on pieces of fabric of the colour and texture
I envisaged.

This one shows the 'fat pad' applied at the edge of the shape,
with darker chiffon applied in parts with texture made from
stitching in a similar colour of a darker shade.
Blood vessels were added using a mohair mix yarn.

This shows another way of making a fat pad - a flatter one
this time, The colour is given by the lower layer of fabric,
and the texture by polyester lace fabric over the top,
embroidered in lumps in a darker thread.
(The red lines are tacks)

Once the fat pads were finished, I started putting in the
other blood vessels. Here you can see some made by slitting the top
fabrics to show the red from beneath,
and some by appliqueing strips of maroon on top.

While doing this sewing, I was thinking about how to make the golden container in a bit more detail, and wondered whether I could incorporate any of the formal patterns from the St David's Cathedral tiles into it - perhaps around the largest blood vessels at the top.  This should reinforce the contrast between the formal 'architectural' squares of the gold and the soft organic flesh of the heart.

I found some gold wire from around bottles of Rioja that is very fine and flexible but holds its shape well, so I may use that.

Friday, 23 August 2013

Medieval images from the Vatican Museum

We were lucky enough to get a few days in Rome this summer. Of course there were a lot of beautiful things from different eras of European history there. Here are some images from the medieval period.

Detail of tapestry from the Vatican Museum

A reliquary, showing saints bones in a box decorated with pictures of holy lives.

Another reliquary.
Again, the decoration is separated into compartments,
and there is a distinct reliance on gold to express the importance of this object.

This is a detail of a cope decorated with fine embroidery (behind glass).
Although there was no label to it, there were details which made me think it may be opus anglicanum, including the use of split stitch, and the the shapes surrounding the pictures.  

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Reliquary for a soft heart - trying things out

This is what my mind came up with in response to the question -
how can I make the meaning clearer and keep it medieval?

I found out some Latin sayings that seemed relevant,
and tried out scripts copied from
Faces of Power and Piety  by Erik Inglis 2008 J Paul Getty Trust,
a book that I found at the British Library
And now I've finally decided what I'm making, I thought I'd better get on with it.

This was my attempt to make the lattice from my image.

The red crosses could be something else, but I haven't thought what yet. I think red looks good when it's like this, but when its around a red heart it might look wrong. In my picture it started off with halo spikes, so perhaps I should think about that possibility.

I also need to think about how I'm going to attach the ribbons with latin on them. And if it will work to have them in the grooves like that.

I also wondered about making the squares stiff, by fixing the ribbons to wire at the back or something.
And whether they should start out in squares, or whether it might be better if their size is graduated across the shape of the heart.

Lambs heart from

Obviously if I am going to make a soft toy in the shape of a heart I have to do my best to make it look realistic. It will be covered a bit by the golden reliquary, but what's visible has to look as though it was intended to look like the real thing (only soft and not rotting!). And I didn't particularly want to have a real one in my house. So I found a clear photo of a lamb's heart on the internet, and painted it with acrylics. That didn't quite give the texture, especially of the arteries and fatty parts, so I drew over it in colour pencil.

Painting of a lambs heart
The textures of the different parts are very different from each other. The large vessels at the top are smoothly rubbery, but not shiny - like octopus parts. The red muscle is often more purple than bright red, and fibrous, and shiny in places. And the fatty parts are much bigger than I would have predicted, are lumpy in parts, and smoother in others, and split by brighter red blood vessels. The fat seems to be thickest, and smoothest, in between the lumps of heart muscle.

Thinking about the colours and the textures here, I picked out some fabrics which I thought might work to represent these tissues. I found myself picking velvet, linen and cotton, all familiar from my research on the Medieval period, but I also wanted silk and chiffon because of the subtle shine to them. I picked one polyester netting fabric because it had something of the same texture as the more knobbly parts of the fat around the heart. I also picked raw sheeps wool that I had picked up from thistles next to a sheep field recently, because it has a similar colour, and I wondered if I could make it a similar texture to the fat pads.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

A Distant Mirror by Barbara Tuchmann

I started reading a history book about 14th century France.  I don't usually go for history books. This one is a biography of the son of a wealthy family in Picardy. But is essentially a social history of Western Europe for the whole of the 100 years war.

One thing that has caught my imagination, possibly because I am making a reliquary to a lost child, is the attitude of people of that period to children. Apparently there is very little reference to children, even the children of great families like this one. And even less to parental love. The author gives a long list of advice/ self-help books from the period, about all sorts of trivial and homely things, but none about raising children. This might be related to the very high death rate of children, or to the fact that people became adults at 14. There must have been love and nurturing of children then as there is now, but for some reason it was not thought a fit subject for writing or painting. The only images of a mother and child are of Mary and baby Jesus, and often she is looking distinctly uninterested in him!

I wonder if there was a kind of collective blindness to this because of the grief that must have gone along with it for so many people. And the amazingly gruesome and callous way they dealt with crime and treason. Peoples' heads were put on sticks in public places and left there for months. And they were still drawing a quartering people. Not to mention the Black Death killing 1/3 of all people in Europe.

Which would certainly harden your heart to the suffering of others at an early age, if only for your own emotional survival.

The hardening of my heart through my life experience is really what this piece of work is about. And what I have lost by it.

In retrospect I can see that this idea was inspired by pieces by Roseanne Hawksley, some of which were obviously inspired by reliquaries in turn. (See blog entry dated 15th April)

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Rethinking my plan

Sketchbook design for reliquary 

Having got as far as planning my reliquary in detail, my background reservations about this as a design are coming into focus.

First, the details are very personal and some of my thinking has been about how much explanation needs to be in there about what the various images might mean. And the confusing questions about whether to us what I think the Middle Ages symbolic meanings if things might have been, or to use more modern imagery with older techniques.

There is a more practical problem which is that starting to draw out detail has let me understand better quite how long making this reliquary is likely to take me. Which is far longer than would be reasonable for this first part of the course. I found in the previous OCA course that I did that being ambitious in my choice of work was generally a good thing as it encouraged me to learn new techniques and express ideas better than I expected. But there has to be a limit and I suspect this is on the other side of it.

And even more importantly, I think that this idea does not convey what I want to say clearly and cleanly enough. I want to make something that gives the idea of something magical and good being dead. And that dressing it up in ornateness is the expression of a wish that it was possible to get the miraculous thing back. My initial thought was that the dead thing was my innocent wish to make everyone else feel ok. I now think that's too complex an idea to have any power, so I'm thinking about simpler ways I can express the central regret and loss of this.

This thinking feels like a familiar part of the process of making things which, while it feels rather uncomfortable, generally leads to improvements in the final piece. So the next task is to ponder on the central idea, do some exploring, and see what pops into my head.