30 April 2012

Book du jour - pictures from an exhibition

The labels were peeled off the walls when we took down Tony's "Kew Gardens" exhibition. They are printed on see-through adhesive plastic, and as I didn't know at the time what I wanted to do with them, I stuck them on some pages of a steno pad - you can of course see the remains of the lines as they imperfectly peeled off the paper later. The five pages are double-sided .

The remaining paper provides a receptive surface for ... something ... someday ...
These bits of rediscovered paper, blown-up photocopies of shadows in snow, also seem to want to become "page" or "book" -

Embroidery - the back view

Following on from my recent fascination with the "wrong side" of embroidery, and the irresistible impulse to turn a piece of embroidery over to see the back, this piece by James Hunting deliberately uses the reverse. (Thanks, Shelagh, for showing some of his recent works.)

Maribeth Baloga's work from the late 80s is double sided. The only images of her work on the web, it seems, are the two sides of "Helen" on this blog, which to my delight waxes lyrical about one of my favourite books, Barbara Lee Smith's "Celebrating the Stitch". Published in 1991, it continues to delight. Copies are still available, at affordably low prices...

Smith says of Baloga: "She challenges our ideas of what is beautiful or perfect in embroidery, and what should be seen and what hidden from view", and "the time-honored tradition of hiding the 'wrong' side behind a frame or backing." Her interest in fashion history and experiments in embroidery came together as two-sided embroideries depicting figures from the past; as she worked she had the idea of the frame contianing all the essential information and the portrait itself being a blurred image - a reversal of the traditional role of a frame and portrait. During her research for "Helen" she chanced upon Ebikhil, an ancient temple guardian in Mesopotamia, wearing a sheepskin skirt.
The piece is 6 1/2 inches square, made with stranded cotton floss.

The work reveals process as well as product. Baloga says: "The back is kind of a skeleton of the front; it contains all the information that's on the front, but in a different fashion. It contains the essence of the front, and it can tell you more than the front tells you. It tells more about the rhythm of the stitching, about the pattern. I look to the back to see if something is out of whack in my composition. If I look at the front, the identifiable image gets in my way of seeing an imbalance or a colour that isn't working. I turn it over and see the blurred area of stitching, and things just pop right out and tell me what is happening."

29 April 2012

Art I like - Sylvia Ptak

Sylvia Ptak makes her faux-texts by pulling threads out from the background fabric and then applying colour.
For this image, from a 2008 exhibition called The Unicorn and The Date Palm, based on renaissance herbals, she has used heat-transfer to add the illustration after the "writing" is in place.

In a 2004 exhibition called Commentary at the University of Toronto’s Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library she slipped between the pages of a number of the library's rare books her own “pages” of abstracted, text-like shapes carefully woven into sheets of gauze; these pages were almost indistinguishable from the ancient pages of the real tomes.

Ptak says she is interested in “the multiple meanings that texts generate” - the incoprehensible language of her texts reads like everything and like nothing. "We have such faith in the printed - or handwritten - word that we feel it must be saying something," said the reviewer in the Globe and Mail; but to me, this writing is drawing, literally, in that a thread is drawn out of the fabric.

See a gallery of images from the exhibition here.


The two faces of embroidery - here, on the hem of a dress.

Here, an embroidered book cover, part of a (US) Penguin series. And from my bookshelf, Matthew Harris's "Trace Elements" -

28 April 2012

Big textile event

Stroud International Textiles has been an annual event for some years. This year the 52-page brochure is online - here's a sample page from the section on the "Pairings" exhibition, not coincidentally showing the page with the work of one of my favourite ceramicists, Claire Curneen -
Other makers involved in the main exhibition - which runs till 27 May - are David Gates, Jane WebbAlice Kettle; Sharon BlakeyIsmini Samanidou; Shelly GoldsmithAnnie Shaw; Janet HaighRachel Kelly; Jane McKeating &Jilly Morris;  Dawn Mason &Nigel Hurlstone; Kate EganVanessa Cutler; Rhian Solomon; Fiona Haynes.

One of the collaborations has been blogged by Jilly Morris here.

Morse code knitting

If K=0 and P=1 (or vice versa), anything can happen - the dots and dashes of morse code can be knit into an account of creation theory, for example.
Kristen Haring's piece spells out the text of a letter that Leibniz wrote to a Jesuit missionary who was a mathematician in contact with the Chinese emperor. The piece is 88 stitches wide - doubly lucky in China. She talks about her morse code knitting, and other binary systems, here. (She's a mathematician and historian of science -- who had the good fortune to be born into a hands-on crafty family.)

Other ways of generating pattern during the knitting process are shown here. Stocking stitch, anyone?

27 April 2012

Decisions about couching

Until I figure out how to do the couching project -- working title, Journey To The Studio -- I can't get on with actually doing it. These samples explore background and type of thread - 
 Front and back, on repurposed linen and colourcatcher, using rayon cord and various couching threads -
Just add ink and it looks rather different! Mostly I put the ink on the back so that it could seep through the fabric, hopefully leaving the thread the original colour - and making the rather messy back a nice, uniform black. Type and consistency of ink make a difference.

I like the ikat effect of the seeping ink into linen that's been sprayed with water before the ink is added, and also the way that sometimes the colour of the couching thread is left.

Asia House fair

Things handmade from points east - a chance to fill your eyes with colour - three floors of a lively and colourful marketplace. The fair is on till Sunday (nearest tube Oxford Circus) - details here.

Joss Graham's stall is always full of too many temptations (as is the shop) -
Baskets of little embroideries -
Racks of clothes and accessories -
Simple and beautiful, a cushion cover panel at Nigel Atkinson's stall -
Kantha cats - based on Edward Lear -
More embroidered delights -
A basket of bright silk shawls -
 The one that came home with me (via Katherine Khadi) -

26 April 2012

More couching, and some bookcloth

Enthusiasms come and go, and I'm caught up in couching at the moment. In fact I've rather lost my intention and am simply enjoying the stitching - to the extent that I got a lot done on sample #2 while travelling in to college. Also in the photo is my portable ironing board, to be used in a skill-sharing session at college, more of which later.

Samples so far:
The pink thread, close up, looks like beads... I'm inclined to undo that sample and reuse the thread, as my supply of it is limited (but see below...). The twisted rayon thread at the bottom is held to the linen with short lengths of threads from the fabric itself, used double; the linen is simply too floppy but might work as a double layer.

The next sample will be on colour catcher. I have a fair few -
 and an embarrassing richness of threads -
though in the end all that colour might get hidden under rich, black ink. Or perhaps my rationale for this piece might have changed by then...

As for the skill-sharing - Abi showed us how to make our own bookcloth. There are many explanations, tutorials, and videos on the internet, but a personal demo is always best! Briefly, you make a sandwich with (un-coloured) tissue paper, fusible adhesive, and the cloth. The tissue keeps the glue from soaking through the fabric, and using white tissue paper means the colour of tissue won't soak through to the fabric when the glue is applied. (Though if your fabric is dense enough and you're careful with the glue, you can use fabric direct.)
These might become covers for blank books (one day).

25 April 2012

Book du jour - couching II

Turning the "journey lines" into stitch - to represent "the journey to the studio" - perhaps this is a good way to start the day, with a little stitching? A way to ease into studio-time? Or just feeding my need to stitch....

First some decisions:
-on paper or on fabric?
-what size
-what kind (thickness, colour) of thread to couch down
-what kind of thread to couch with
-how much to do each day

I'm inspired by Judy Martin's ongoing daily stitched journal/journey (see it here).

Before the work on the actual piece can start I'm making a few samples. The one above uses overspun rayon, held down with cotton, sewn onto japanese paper. The width is the width of the roll; the depth is as much as can comfortably be held while stitching -- I don't believe in fighting with the materials. These could be sewn together but the practicalities and my preferences have me leaning towards using fabric, which can be scrunched while stitching ... and feels more congenial than paper!

Next, some experiments with colour - different inks (the blue bits in between are Quink). I quite like to have a bit of the colour showing. The next pic shows how the light shines through the parts the ink didn't reach -
Next, experiments with fabric (linen? I have a lot of recycled linen...) and a careful look through my threads, and thinking about whether to leave the original colour(s) or to ink it up or dye-paint it.

23 April 2012

New look

Finally, finally I took courage and pressed the "upgrade to new template" button. All the additions to the previous template have gone ... 'cos I neglected to save the old one before hitting the button. Duh.

We seem to have passed the point of no return.

Some comfort food seems called for at this point....
Chocolate peanut butter swirl ice cream; recipe here

Book du jour - couching

An experiment in couching - like the stitched islands and lakes, sewn into a little notebook from Paperchase. As with all embroidery, there is a back and a front to the work, and how many of us were taught that the back should be as neat as the front? I suspect that within many of us there lurks a secret member of the Embroidery Police ... why else would be compulsively turn the work over to look at the back?

My embroidered books exploit this tendency, often without managing the neatness thing - what's to be done with the inevitable end of the thread? 

In this as-yet-untitled book, the thick thread is continuous - it just lies there - and the couching (thin) thread starts at the middle of the page, goes round the edge, across the middle, round the edge of the next page, and back to the middle before needing to be tied off. As it goes round the page, the thread can go either above or below the previous one, giving either smooth results, as above, or this sort of thing -

The edges of the pages, where the threads cross to the next page, are rather satisfying.

I like to have a title in mind while I work, but this has no title yet. "Readers" have commented that it's like views out the train window, or like a conversation, or music - and even that its black-and-whiteness, thick-and-thinness reminds them of the Wainright guidebooks to the Lake District -
Been there, done that ... and the sun shone. Image from here
Each of those responses brings up different possibilities for adding elements, or - simpler; better! - different ways of manipulating the line.

22 April 2012

Speechless Sunday

Reading week (so-called)

Nothing happening at college this week - after three weeks of Easter holidays we have "reading week" - library and workshops are open. But I didn't use the opportunity to get in to letterpress ... still thinking about how - or, whether - to move my "seepage" project on, into an edition.

Thanks to the availability of friends for art-meets, I have seen numerous exhibitions this week, but all the looking has left little energy for thinking, remembering, analysing, or blogging about them....

Boetti at Tate Modern - fabulous, especially the large pieces that look like indigo stitching, but are biro (ballpoint pen) marks (image from here) -

Damien Hirst at Tate Modern - all show and no go, imho - the live butterflies were beautiful (but can a wild creature have any sort of life if it's kept in an interior room, away from the sunlight?) and people were very interested to see the inside of the cow (Mother and Child) - both exhibits had long queues (so British, so civilised!)
Image originally published here
Zoe Leonard at Camden Arts Centre (again

Louise Bourgeois at Freud Museum - her intense writings, in her handwriting, made me feel very claustrophobic - perhaps they came a little close to the bone...
image from this review
Katie Patterson at Haunch of Venison - "art meets astronomy" -spare but satisfying - quick to look at but I find lots to think about in the ideas behind the work and the way she's realised them -
Wilhemina Barnes-Graham and Robert Rush (at Art First), a Russian father and son at another small gallery on Eastcastle Street

Liza Lou at White Cube, Hoxton Square - we arrived 10 minutes before closing, which in a way was enough - on the other hand, I'd like to spend a quiet day with each of these works, drawing/painting/stitching material to hand. Not what I was expecting at all - very subtle -

21 April 2012

April showers

Waiting for an eastbound bus on Oxford Street, watching the sky grow darker in the west... Fortunately the bus arrived before the rain did.

Art I like - Christine Mauersberger

Looking for something else (as you do...) I found this -
and traced it back to the blog of Christine Mauersberger. Then spent ages there, looking, looking... finding this -
as well as images of the work of many interesting artists; what struck me particularly was this wallwork by Julia Barello
and Dorothy Caldwell's repair project.

Book du jour - sonnet

The first in what is intended to be a book of well-known sonnets is "Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part",written by Michael Drayton (1563-1631). It was published in 1619 and is reckoned to be the only great sonnet among the 150 that Drayton wrote. (But I didn't know that before rewriting it....)

The format of my page manifests a method of memorising poetry - start at the end and work forward. So I wrote the last line, then over it the penultimate and on the line below the last, then the last three... which makes the top line very dense, because it consists of the entire poem, layered so that the first line is on top (not that you'd notice!). I'm quite familiar with the end of the poem by now, but cannot confidently recite the entire thing.

Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part,
Nay I have done, you get no more of me,
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free;
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of love's latest breath,
When his pulse failing, passion speechless lies,
When faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And innocence is closing up his eyes,
  Now if thou would'st, when all have given him over,
  From death to life thou mightst him yet recover.

20 April 2012


Elizabeth Brimelow was the speaker at this year's CQ annual meeting. She brought along a selection of quilts for us to have a close look at (and to touch!) - including these long narrow ones. Apologies for the fuzzy pix - they are 12x zoom shots, from the back of the hall -

Elizabeth's work can be seen better online - or if you get a chance to see her work in person, don't pass it by!

Mags Ramsay has a detailed description of the day on her blog - and some good quilt pix.

Elizabeth brought along some sketchbooks too, and I long to emulate her large, free drawings. In fact the main message for me was to make drawing a habit.