Saturday, 31 May 2014

Prism 2014 Code: Decode

I went to see the Prism show at the Mall Galleries today.

I very much enjoyed it, and came home with lots of images and ideas in my head and my notebook. the gallery seems to be a good space for this exhibition, being generally well lit and big enough for a large number of exhibits on the wall. The seating area made me feel welcome and more relaxed than some hushed galleries. The exhibits in the middle of the floor were less well served I think. There was one room which was a bit darker and more cramped-feeling, and another which felt more like an entrance lobby than an exhibition space. There didn't appear to be any pieces which had been made specifically with the venue in mind.

It was good to see such a range of styles and ways of going about making things in textiles, from the point of view of someone who is just starting out. I haven't commented on all of the exhibits - just the ones that particularly piqued my interest.

Molly Williams digitally printed and linocut layers of translucent fabric in perspex were beautiful, and unusual in the feeling it gave, which I will try to describe. The subject matter was more nightmarish than beautiful - people imprisoned in the internet. It was very clean and clinical, but at the same time complex and the shapes were softer than you would expect for something about computers. The shades of grey against white worked well to remind me that this was about what was happening inside a machine. I thought the subject matter was a bit trivial for such a lovely thing.

Julianne Long's piece was a witty surprise - thistle heads made of rusted basketry and paperclips. Fantastic. I wanted to feel the texture of the woven parts, and have the rust come off on my fingers. This one changed the way I look at that kind of seed head for ever. I wasn't so sure about the arrangement of lots of the heads together on a wall. It brought in a dispassionate flavour that I don't think was helpful. Perhaps a more natural arrangement would be better - in a vase? I don't know.

Judith Hammond made dresses of plastic bag lace and shopping receipts. Initially they looked fairly normal but with printed and handwritten writing in various sizes and styles. When I noticed the mundaneness of the materials it had a visceral effect on me (being a woman who is sometimes defined by the mundane). The supermarket receipts printed on linen strips particularly appealed - why? Something about the permanence of a disposable thing. And the reference to the mundane of housewives of the past. I am inspired to try the bag lace.

Consuelo Simpson's split cane receptacles called 'Hedgerows' was beautiful and kept me interested by the intricacy and variety. There is something about repeating the same thing differently over and over again which seems to be fundamentally attractive. And these vase-things have an organic look to them, like nests or clumps of grass or the bellies of the birds themselves. I was a bit confused about the name. I wanted a name to indicate the symbolism.

Willeke Klaasen's sculptures were all intriguingly like my personal images of the bad bits of being a woman. I was hugely impressed by the way she achieved the shape of the sagging (or filling out) blue/green woman, and the skin of the woman changing into (or out of) a trunk of wood. The felted texture was appropriately soft warm and dimpled, with the unreal blue/green colours making it clear that it was not intended to be taken literally.

Bea Sewell's tower of postcodes had presence in the gallery, despite being hidden behind a wall. I was attracted to the regularity and pretty dangling things. I initially thought they represented people, and it took me a while to find out they were parcels with postcodes. Each one different, and presumably relevant to the postcode they represented. I thought the repetition of a shape could be used symbolically to make a point. Or to explore decorative qualities.

Eileen Harrison's 'de profundis' is beautiful, painterly, and way beyond anything I could do myself. The feathery layers of subtly coloured silk on paint. The glow of gold emerging from the darkness is moving and thought provoking. So much so that I forgot I was looking at something sewn. I want to see more.

'Fields bound in lost language' by Celia Bliss was a lovely idea, neatly executed, and made my mind wander to the transience of the people in the ancient landscape of Cornwall.

Charlotte Sewell's 'More to me than meets the eye' was funny, confident, and made the point that what we wear is not what we are, and that people are always more complex than our prejudices.

Jacqui Parkinson made a moving tribute to remember all those girls hidden away. The pieces of worn patchwork quilt with their names embroidered on the back was a simple but effective way of conveying their number, and the poverty of their lives.

Celia Stanleys pieces about the constraints of traditional mens wear were lovely to look at and showed her skill and attention to detail. She used printed, heat treated and stitched tracing paper to convey the dryness and restrictions of wearing a collar. It looked fragile and strong at the same time.

Diana Barretts' stainless steel mesh sculpures used the qualities of the material well, and were well lit to show off the soft textural shine of them. It made me even more want to try what I can make with it.

Julie Harper's cabinet of amulets for protection was lovely to see. Initially I thought it was a collection, but then realised she had made them all in the styles of different cultures. What fun that must have been. They looked right all together like that - colourful and quirky and personal.

'Mendings' by Beverley Ayling Smith was interestingly different - lots of little separate mended splits and tears in fabric, referring to the emotional scars we all have. They were all very neat. And tidily arranged. And securely repaired. And rather neatly cut as well. Begging the question, for me anyway, what about the tears that cannot be repaired? That would be stronger. But then I'm not very good at neat.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Presenting my samplers

Now the issue of how to present all these samplers to my tutor so that she can try them  up against the light. So sticking them into a sketchbook is out of the question. (Although I've sadly already done that with the first two).

I decided that they need to be able to be held together in a kind of book, but to still be removable when needed. I also like the idea of having them attached to each other by various kinds of holey or translucent fabric so that this can also be held against the light with them.

My solution is to make join pairs of samples together into strips, which can then all be held in a 'book' using a bulldog clip. Which can double as a holder when they need to be looked at.

Here are some photos I took of the strips being held up against the window together to see the effects that created. Of course there are lots of other combinations!

The last sample I made used the shadows coming through it to conceal or reveal parts of my face below. It needed to be suspended away from the face to do this, so I have mounted it and the picture of my face on the two faces of a simple frame.

Thursday, 22 May 2014


I know that this module is supposed to be about exploring the qualities of the material, but something that keeps coming up for me is the idea of masks.

It started in my sketchbook, when I took the advice of my tutor to work on my drawing. I started with some drawing exercises from 'Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain' by Betty Edwards 1979 HarperCollins.

After: Grace in the car
These exercises have certainly improved my drawing of portraits (see before and after below), but also led me on to doing a series of drawings of masks, and to incorporate the idea of masking a face into the photos I made of my samples.

Before - self-portrait

Mask - pencil on watercolour

Mask - paper collage

Mask sketches in sketchbook
This links to an article about the enduring interest of masked portraits. Also see the Elle article about Maison Martin Marghiela this month.

Dorothee van Biesen 'blurring the line between protection and ornament at Collect 2014.

I did some photos of myself with shadows and brightness in different areas to help me explore the shapes of faces, and also thinking of the shadow as mask.

Putting these photos up brings into focus one of the issues that the image of a mask could illuminate - how much or how little we show of ourselves in public.

Until now I have been very reticent, almost paranoid, about showing what I really look like on this blog. Or on the internet as a whole. While at the same time wanting to be sincere.

Ironically, it is a project about masks that has brought this into focus and made me finally put my face on the blog.

I still prefer the photo on the right, though!

Monday, 19 May 2014

Stage 5: Playing with the chosen image

Working from the photos in my sketchbook, I tried out various ways of representing the image, using some of the techniques I'd already tried, and some new ones.

I soon found that I was doing only one of the three images, which was the most interesting. This of course made the composition all wrong so I would have to think about that later.

This was my attempt to use free machine embroidery as drawing, inspired by seeing a huge Alice Kettle wall picture at Collect 2014.

This is folded muslin, fixed with PVA glue. The folded parts look more intensely white with the light in front of them, and darker with it behind.

I like the way this works, and the contrast between the stiffness of the glued fabric, and the softness of the curves and translucency, and would like to try more of this in future.

At this point I realised that the book about folding that I ordered, as recommended by my tutor, has not yet arrived, so it will be too late for me to use for this assignment. Which is a shame.

This was rather less successful, an attempt to make the shadow shape using patterned black fabric and black machine 'drawing'. Part of the problem is that machine stitching has to stop somewhere, and the thread is visible behind. Also that the pattern needs to be purposeful in the image, or it just gets in the way of visual understanding.

I decided to try a combination of the soluble fabric and layering techniques to create an image of all three shapes like the glasses photo. I tried to use the texture of the bondaweb to give more interest to the background, and a more densely woven fabric to give contrast between the shapes and background. I wanted to make this one very white. This is what it looks like with the light from the front and from the back.

Finally, I had a go doing something similar with colour.

What I wanted to capture, if I could, was the quality of light that was in the original photograph - that light that shows you used a flash in a dark place.

I also wanted to capture something of the feel of the mysterious striped coat from Martin Margiella.

For this I again used yellow organza in several layers, and bondaweb, but this time I used strips of it rather than a whole sheet. I made the shape/ background contrast using a piece cut from an old kimono dressing gown with some flower pattern in the central part. I sewed pale yellow lines in topstitching to indicate the patterns within the shape.

This is also interesting to look at, and I think that it does
capture  the strange specific glow of light that  wanted it to.

Then I printed off a photo I had taken of regular metal fenceposts onto extravorganza, and superimposed this on the image.

This is what it looked like with the light in front (left) and the light behind it (right). The one on the left allows the details of colour and translucency variations, and the sewn lines, to be seen. The other one is more threatening somehow.

This is interesting, and I think the most successful of the samples I've made, and I would like to explore this more with different kinds of bars in front of different kinds of images.

As usual, the ideas start coming more when the deadline approaches.

Weaving in progress, with shadow.
The final weaving piece as a mask
This didn't work as the shadows were not
visible on the face photo at this distance. 

The final weaving sample with shadows

Weaving piece (without shadows), showing how it is intended to be part of a larger piece
with more interesting composition

Monday, 12 May 2014

Stage 4: Choosing an image

I got to this part of the course work and realise that this is where I should have put my photographs and other visual research rather than earlier. 

Looking through them again, these are the ones that I would most like to do more with at this point in the process:

Because of the light.
I would love to be able to capture the
quality of light in the dark like this.
But the rest of it isn't really appropriate for this exercise.

This image has texture, pattern, and that quality of light.
The composition isn't very good though - it needs something more interesting going on shape-wise.
So, this is what it looks like when I have
cropped and straightened the image from
the original photo.
This has shapes, patterns, textures and colour
- enough to work on for the rest of this assignment.

My visit to Collect 2014

I went to see the Crafts Council show called Collect 2014 at the Saatchi Gallery.

This seems to be the very high end of crafts, where they turn into art, and the stalls mostly belonged to galleries, or sometimes representing a particular country. Of course it was a bit of an intense experience, which I cannot digest all at once, but these are my first impressions. It was clear that some galleries were not happy with people taking photos, so these are photos taken with permission. Which left a lot of beautiful things that are not in this blog.

First, the textiles pieces. Here are a few of the pieces that illuminated my thinking about this assignment.

Ismini Samanidu exhibit at the Wills Lane Gallery stall
 These were fascinating pieces woven with thread, giving the detail a fineness that you can't achieve with normal tapestry yarns. There was of course an immediate relevance to what I am doing on this course. 

Dorothee van Beisen at the WCC-BF Gallery
 Hand stitched imitation leather and satin. Inspired by armour and gladiators.
A second skin revealing some and concealing other things.

This large folded piece by Angela Fung was hanging from the ceiling of the cafe.

This made me think that I should take the advice of my tutor and look at a book about folding techniques and their shadow-pattern effects.

I love the scale of it.
Tobias Mohl,  glass, Adrian Sassoon gallery
Great to see some of the same ideas making
beautiful things in other crafts.
This one is so relevant to this theme.

This is the very end of a long embroidered narrrative wall piece, like a Bayeaux tapestry but contemporary in black grey white and red only. By Virginie Rochetti, and displayed by the Collction Ateliers d'Art France, which seems to be a sort of collective organsation for craftspeople.

The limited palate, free hand drawing and some computer-aided images had an interesting effect of making this look like a sketchbook.

It made me want to try more free-machine sewing.

It was very 2D, though, and not really relevant to my current course.

This piece by Kyoko Kumai could hardly be more relevant -
A study of the effects of light on woven stainless steel panels,
and their effects on the light. Beautiful and skillful.
Katie Jones gallery.

And these delicate bowls caught my eye too - along with their reflections.
Made by Guy van Lempert, (Terra Delft ceramics gallery),
who learns from nature how to make strong structures
with the least possible material.  

There were several artists exhibiting who I had been interested in and investigated before, including Alice Kettle (whose piece was so much more intricate and powerful in real life than any of the reproductions I had seen of her work before); Audrey Walker; Lewis Thompson with his colletions of glass jars for intriguing organic-looking delicate things; Jean Opgenhaffen 'a strange movement in a simple way' demonstrated with subtle changes in the angles of slates; and the very quiet and beautiful woven photographic hanging by Ainsley Hillard.

As well as the galleries, there was a Project Space for several well-known craftspeople to show a series of pieces each. I went on the day when Jilly Edwards talked about her new yellow tapestries (a change from her previous blue series), and also went to a workshop where another of the exhibitors, Heidi Harrington, spoke about the nuts and bolts of how her career has developed, followed by a similar talk from Rebecca Gouldson, a metalwork artist. These were good talks for me at this stage, as I have been starting to think about what it might take to one day sell something I have made.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

Stage 3: Reviewing materials and processes

Looking at the samples in combination:

Lovely translucent effect, like seeing seaweed through water.

The brown and white discs through the knitting holes makes the rest of the background look foggy by contrast. The fluffier grey knitting is intensified and mysterious, creating a barrier, where the string loops take the eye through them to the background instead.

A similar thing happens here, with the eye being drawn through the key hole and blocked by the horizontal woven bamboo yarn.

The subtle green on the right adds atmosphere but not depth, while the pink gives perspective.

The distorted weave is made more organic-looking by the loose ends.

This combination creates a lovely flimsy translucency, which I did not expect because of the physical nature of the weaving sample.

The darker vertical stripes actually seem to intensify the details and contrasts of the underlying weaving, rather surprisingly. 

I like the way the folds in the cotton give a graduated change in translucency in this one. And the contrast between this and the simple but wriggling lines in front.

Not the most evocative though.

Looking at the way the lines cross, and the effects their crossing has on the translucency.

At one level it looks boring as a tablecloth, and at another, could be used to make something magical.

Worth exploring more.

The gutta pattern comes through the layers of organza like a watermark.

The distortions of the melted net add a magical, dewy quality to the printed image, making me think of holes in the barrier between us and something unknowable. 

Finally, the wriggly lines and lace seem to be made for this, adding nicely to the messy illusion.

The combination of sewn lines and layers of fabric is one I would like to explore further. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Stage 2: Knitting and weaving with holes

I started by knitting a piece with different sized knitting needles. The smallest were standard size 11, the largest were my daughter's drum sticks. This is what I made. 

I was rather disappointed by the subtlety of the differences, especially given that it had been quite difficult to knit. I wasn't sure if that was a result of using thick wool, so I changed yarn a couple of times and the result was more obvious with the thinner less compressable yarn. 

Then I tried weaving. I decided to use stripes of fishing line (microfilament) which has a pale green tint on the reel and using a flash, but is quite transparent in normal daylight, alternating with more standard warp yarn. This gave me a variety of options of combinations, so I only had to do one sampler to work out several different effects.

This gives an idea of how it is easily possible to introduce gaps in the weaving.

I have always liked the way the texture of the tapestry is apparent through the shadows, as in the grey area of this one.

This photo below shows two translucent areas - the ribbon, with a striped texture of its own and little in the way of shadowing.

And the tapestry-weave part with wet-looking highlights and shadow-texture. It allows much more of the background to be visible.

The ends of the microfilament won't conform by tucking in, and so make an intrinsic part of the outcome of using this yarn.

Anniken (see earlier blog) and Parniczky (Craft & Design magazine March/April 2014) both weave with this very skillfully and effectively.

As this section also seems to be about light, and reflection as well as refraction, I included some silver foil in the weaving to try it out.

This was an interesting idea but doesn't work well here. Perhaps using silky or plastic yarns would  be more effective.

I saw that the weaving sample was interesting, but rather colourless on its own.This was me trying to mask the weaving with translucent coloured poly organza.

This adds some depth and colour to it, and makes the microfilament less visible, so that the blocks of weaving and cotton yarn look as if suspended. This had some potential for developing it further. 

The photo on the left is the same combination but lit from in front, showing how much reflection pattern there is from the organza.

On the right is the combination of the weaving with a more tightly woven organza (with holes for curtain rails), showing that it disguises the microfilaments even more, and making me think that its not always a case of 'the filmier the better'.