30 October 2008

Julia Caprara

Sad news that Julia Caprara has died. I attended her classes at City Lit for years in the heady days of the mid-90s, when she was head of textiles there and brought in many well-known tutors for short courses and one-day workshops. She was very, very important (indeed, seminal) in my textile and artistic development - a teacher who encouraged students to develop in their own paths, rather than imposing her own. She introduced us to many embroidery techniques that are now being used by quilters for surface design and embellishment, but most of all she sought to develop creativity and critical skills in her pupils at City Lit and latterly at Opus School of Textile Arts.

Thanks to Julia I have copious sketchbooks, to which I refer often (isn't it interesting how one's early themes keep coming back?). One of my favourites started with her postcard of two huge jars at Knossos and developed into a series of embroidered felt pieces about "old pots"- this one was shown in one of the "Cloth and Stitch" exhibitions that Julia masterminded while at City Lit.

We met on a train once, going north - she was going to Leeds to give a talk and I was going to Halifax to see a Quilters Guild exhibition at Dean Clough, 7-8 years ago - and we had a congenial journey, sitting and chatting and stitching, and exchanging threads. Here's a detail of the piece I was working on -
Julia's thread is the pale green used for seeding on the left. Seeding - that's so appropriate for her role in my creative life.

29 October 2008

Finsbury Park - the park

In the 25 years I've lived in north London, I haven't been to my local park, Finsbury Park, as much as 25 times in total. This "people's park" isn't on visitors' must-see lists, but it provides "a rich tapestry of landscapes" - a nice green space as you go by on the bus -Inside is a cafe, boating lake, several childrens' play areas, tennis courts and sports fields, a running track, and flower beds laid out like they were in the 1870s. The views past the large victorian houses (now shabby hotels) is of the City skyline, including the Gherkin -This tree -was planted in 1939, to commemorate 50 years of the London County Council.

Nearby is this signpost for the Capital Ring walkway - 15 miles east to Woolwich foot tunnel and 28 km west to Richmond Bridge -Add ImageUnderfoot are various leafscapes -I couldn't resist taking some of the large leaves home and doing some quick prints on scraps of fabric -

Finsbury Park station

Good public transport is one reason for living near Finsbury Park station, which goes back to 1861. It has two underground lines and a 5-minute overground journey to King's Cross. On match days (Arsenal's home stadium is nearby) the tube station is overcrowded and the train station is busy as fans head northwards home -Turn around and you see the "now controversial" Finsbury Park mosque(raided in 2003 by "only shoeless Moslem police officers") and now renamed North London Central Mosque.

28 October 2008

Transition series

A story is developing. Recently we had "Going Around in Circles" - here it is finished -
Now it's "Starting to Fall into Place" -I'm "Getting Ready to Play" -
Looking forward to release! "Out of the Box 1" -Hoping for an explosion of creative opportunities! "Out of the Box 2" -


From a reprint of an 1842 anatomy book that's been lying around the office.

23 October 2008

A matter of timing?

During October I've been making this month's BQL bag-challenge bag, and am pleased to have finished it. It involves 60 squares of 4 pieces each - not huge as quiting projects go. It uses up some of the hand-dyes of pre-used fabric I have lying around, and it wassomething to nibble away at, whenever I had 15 minutes to spare.

Yesterday morning it was all pieced and ready to be quilted and put together; I had the entire day free.... Somehow the quilting, handles, and lining took 4-1/2 hours - I was determined to get it done and dusted, but was amazed at how long it took, and that has made me wonder just how long the cutting and piecing had taken, and what the wage-equivalent value (and possible commercial value) would be.

Of course that's not the point - it's the enjoyment of the making, isn't it?

But sometimes you do have to ask yourself: is the really the best use of my time.

Boating in autumn

The Oxford canal, near Lower Heyford.A brightness of boat-painting -

And domestic details -
Here are two bridges along the canal. All the bridges are numbered, and it's one-way traffic under them:Sometimes there are more modern lift-bridges. One person has to hop off the boat, cross the bridge, pull on the chain that dangles from the weighted diagonal (hidden behind the tree), which raises the bridge. When the boat has gone through, you can let go (carefully), cross the lowered bridge, and hop back on the boat at the other side.The strategically placed sign points to The Bell in Lower Heyford - pleasant pub in a mellow village (or so it seems on a chilly day).

22 October 2008

Revisiting the spooky forest

Exactly three years ago I was being driven through the tall trees northeast of Melbourne, huge trees and ferns like these (photo by Palmina Moore) -The memory of the drive surfaced in some "spooky forest" pieces made at the CQ summer school in 2007, which I've written about here and here.

Since then I've been collecting spooky forest pictures and thoughts.

And this little "forest" quilt is based on an etching by Australian landscape painter Fred Williams, seen in a book - a couple of years before my trip to Australia.

21 October 2008

Darned art

Hilary Hollingworth lives in Lancashire and works in Yorkshire and has a family history of involvement with cloth - those "personal and collective memories" (as she says on her website) are reflected in her textile work. Here's a scene from "up north" - the brick houses, chimneys, and lines of washing -
At the Knitting & Stitching Show, Hilary gave workshops on her darning technique - these samples encapsulate it -

18 October 2008

Art heros - Xu Bing

Seeing some pages from "Tianshu" in an exhibition of modern chinese calligraphy at the British Museum many years ago was a turning point for me. (Below is the complete "Book from the Sky" installation, which took Xu Bing four years to make.)I'd wanted to use some chinese characters for linocuts for an assignment for the illustration course I was taking at (then) London College of Printing. But you know how it is, you don't want them to say something unexpected. And suddenly, here were "nonsense" characters -- perfect for my project. While I was standing there drawing them, an elderly chinese-looking gentleman said to me in an American accent, "You know, I can read Chinese, but I can't make any sense out of this."

That led me to wonder exactly why or how they could be nonsense, and to a week's intensive Mandarin course at City Lit - after which I had some idea of how the writing system works, and which left me wanting to be able to read Chinese. Well, first you have to be able to speak it and understand it... four years of classes and several years without have left me with fading traces of the language, and the ability to recognise only eight or so characters. Maybe in "retirement" I can get back to this; it certainly keeps the mind nimble.
Back to Xu Bing. He started with the woodcut, and had some wonderful work in the British Libary's "Chinese printmaking today" exhibition a few years ago. His "Book from the Sky" offended a lot of traditionalists when it was first shown, and he now lives in the USA, where he's done more exciting work using language and script, including "New English Calligraphy" - making English words look like Chinese ideographs.

17 October 2008

Distractions enrich life

"Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast. In the pool where you least expect it, there will be fish." -- OvidEscher's Fish, 1942, woodcut on textile.

Something seasonal

Who knew you could make roses out of maple leaves? In case you get the urge to do this, pictures are here; the simple instructions are: fold and wrap, fold and wrap. Stand back and watch out, Andy Goldsworthy!There are no instructions on how Andy did this cube. But have a go, anyway. (Hint: he uses pine needles, tiny twigs, or thorns to hold things together.)

Years ago, visitors left lovely red leaves in the lamp above my dining table. A nice touch.

16 October 2008

Something pink and round

The journal quilt for this month is taking shape. Perhaps inspired by seeing Jean Littlejohn's work at the Knitting & Stitching show, I felt the need for circles. (This pic of Jean's work is from the 62 Group website - her work shown at K&S, especially the Pathways series, is even more yummy.)And now my little thing (rather close up), front -
and back -
Its title might be "Going round in circles" - or it might be "In the pink" ... or maybe "Giant gooey marshmallows"? ... there's still a bit to stitch and the edges to finish.

Peter Collingwood

Sad to hear that Peter Collingwood has died. Known as a weaver, he qualified and worked as a doctor for a while. His online but unfinished autobiography makes delightful reading.

His 1998 book "The Maker's Hand: a close look at textile structures" is based on the objects he collected during 35 years of weaving life. Sometimes he just had to acquire something so he could decipher its puzzling technique. He says: "Although structure is all-important, the physical characteristic of an object is naturally also influenced by the material used in its making. The resulting interaction between material and structure is an absorbing study.

"Studying traditional objects in detail, not just admiring them, brings to light the ingenious ways in which their makers exploited the possibilities and overcame the limitations of both material and structure. Behind my magnifying goggles, looking closely, I feel I have made journeys into the minds of these skilled anonymous makers; journeys which have greatly increased my respect for them."
Page 104 shows "probably what is still my favourite textile"; he says: "Eating in his tent in the Jordan Valley in 1950, I only asked the Sheikh Abu Achmed Mansour where a woven hanging was made. I carefully did not admire it. But even so he signed to his son, who whipped out a knife, cut it down and placed it rolled up in front of me."

He has also written books on sprang and on tablet weaving. Here, he talks about split-ply braiding, "a technique originally tied exclusively to camel trappings" and there are photos of completely new interpretations building on this technique.

As with so many craftspeople and artists, there is no page for him on Wikipedia.

15 October 2008

Morning miscellany

Some interesting things that distracted me this morning. First, from a publicity e-newsletter:

"Churches, competing for more members during a time when nearly half of American adults switch religion affiliations, are turning to corporate marketing strategies such as focus groups, customer-satisfaction surveys and product giveaways.

"And pastors hire "secret church shoppers" to report on what they find during their undercover visits. Did someone greet them when they arrived? Were the restrooms clean? Was parking adequate? And what about the sermons?"

That's an excuse for a picture of some stained glass by Chagall at Tudeley:

Secondly, language, and how categories underly reasoning - the Japanese classifier hon "is normally used to mark nouns in the category of “long skinny things”—pencils, candles, hair, rope, and so on. This classifier also applies to nouns that don’t objectively fit that model, but which have some indirect connection. A volleyball serve is hon, for example, because the trajectory of the ball is long and thin; a roll of tape uses this classifier because it’s long and thin when unrolled; telephone calls are hon because they are made using wires, which are long and thin; and TV shows are hon because of their similarity to telephone calls. There are many other examples, but what [Berkeley linguist George] Lakoff wanted to show was that even though a volleyball serve, a roll of tape, and a TV show share no objective quality, Japanese speakers automatically group these things together because of a mental category that depends on metaphor.

"Even in English, we implicitly group words in classes. For example, Lakoff points out [in his book "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things"] that we put time in the same category as money—it’s something that can be “spent,” “saved,” “earned,” or “wasted,” even though time is an abstract concept that doesn’t have any objective characteristics in common with money. Recognizing these unconscious connections can lead to rethinking one’s assumptions about the way the world works."

One of the fascinating things about learning Mandarin is this kind of insight into the underlying reasoning in a very different culture. (Another is the way that language, and its writing system, has evolved without any input from other languages.)

While looking for a "hon"ish picture, I came across a blog from Japan written in English but with a long post in German. Well German is my mother tongue and it's good to use it now and then (my vocabulary is mostly stuck at the childish stage) so here's a list of words from that blog post that might come in useful some day: kommunkationsunfreudig, Stoffrausch, Suchanfrage, Naehblockade, Handarbeitsinsel, Stofflager, wuehlen.

And the concept of "herbst"ing ("es herbstet" - it's becoming fall/autumn) is timely - today the wet streets and pavements are covered with golden leaves.