This time last week I was on an island surrounded by water, mud, birds, boats and a clear blue sky… Northey Island is in the Blackwater Estuary, Essex and has only two houses on it. One of these was ours for the weekend for a workshop through which we explored the island and recorded our experience of it.
The approach to the island is via a causeway that is covered for a few hours at high tide. It only takes half an hour or so to walk right round the island. Salt marsh and mud continue beyond the land you can safely walk on, creating tantalising patterns that extend toward the watery edges and change with the ebb and flow of the tide.
After a period of bad weather we were blessed with a dry weekend of sunshine and blue skies, a keen wind and stars at night. Spending much of the time outside, we undertook a series of mark making, drawing, printing and recording activities, with students exploring different aspects of the place. We also shared our marks in a collaborative exercise one evening.
Then we made a series of books with our marked papers, which became our personal records of the place to take away.
I spent most of last week on a workshop in Devon at the studio of Susie Gillespie. I do quite a lot of teaching now and I feel it is really important to be on the other side of that sometimes too. The workshop was all about growing, processing and spinning flax into yarn and then weaving with it. It was a really stimulating workshop in a lovely location and I felt very lucky indeed to have had the opportunity to be there.
There is a lovely vocabulary that goes with this activity: retting, rippling, combing, breaking, scutching…
It is quite an involved business to get this small hand full of fibres ready to spin. I quickly developed a huge respect for peoples of the past whose only way to have cloth was through this series of processes.
I’ve not done any spinning before, although I do have my Granny’s spinning wheel in the cellar. I’m hoping to use it now I’ve had an introduction. The linen yarn I spun was very hairy and more like rough string than beautiful linen thread, but it is a start and I am looking forward to improving my spinning skills.
It was also good to see a little of the surrounding landscape with walks along part of the River Dart and a windy bit of the coast at Man Sands.
We did some natural dyeing, ending up with a lovely colour palette of linen threads to play with and incorporate into our weaving. I was asked to lead a stitching session on one of the days: we used the dyed threads and a host of items we collected on our walks.
I will be teaching with Susie in April and August this year and I’m really looking forward to returning to this lovely pocket of Devon.
I’ve really enjoyed drawing recently. Drawing is an important part of my practice but the product of it is usually not shared. I’ve been drawing with graphite and home-made oak gall ink, which has captured a surface quality that I’m really pleased with.
I found this squashed rusty bucket a couple of years ago and it has been sitting waiting for attention in my studio. It is squashed flat so that the metal has creased and folded like cloth. It reminds me of one of Cornelia Parker’s steam-rollered objects.
I have been studying galls of as many varieties as I can find. This drawing will form part of work I will be showing with the Textile Study Group later this year. I’ll write more about that another time…
I will be teaching a workshop in March at West Dean College in West Sussex. As a new tutor to this renowned centre for the creative arts I have been invited to show some of my work in the College foyer in the run up to my course there. I have sent a variety of work to show in this exhibition, including: Spurn Cloth #1, the large art quilt piece I made during my 2012 residency at Spurn; 49 Beer Bottle Tops (shown above) and 76 Hair Grips (both incorporating found metal with hand stitch and natural staining); a selection of paper-based pieces incorporating rust prints, collagraph and stitch. The exhibition runs form 10th January to 10th March.
I like the quiet pause that comes at the closing of one year and the opening of the next. There is a delicious stillness, particularly today, the first of January. This stillness is to be breathed in deeply and then exhaled slowly as the wheels of routine turn and normality resumes over the coming days.
Yesterday, at dusk, we walked in the woods and listened to the wind in the trees. The rooks that roost in the trees along the top of the wood were chattering and restless, scattered groups in other parts of the valley. We waited. Eventually they started to gather; more and more coming together and settling under the narrowest sliver of a new moon.
I really enjoyed my time at the Knitting & Stitching Shows – what a wonderful bunch of people are involved in the whole thing, from organisers, exhibitors, logistics staff, through to the visitors. Over the three shows I have met so many lovely people and had some amazing conversations. Thank you to all who came to see the work on show.
I am now in recovery! I’m having a quiet week catching up with things at home and fighting a cold. I have just updated my online shop here with a few things that might make good seasonal gifts…
The third and final Knitting & Stitching Show is on next week in Harrogate. This leg of the shows is the one I am most familiar with, having visited it for years as a punter and then more recently as a demonstrator in the wonderful Artists in Action stand. This year I won’t be demonstrating because I’ll be with my Findings gallery, TG6 in hall M.
The gallery space at Harrogate has different dimensions from the spaces I had in London and Dublin, so it will be interesting putting the work up in a differently configured space again.
I made some of my stitched limpets into brooches before the London show and they have been quite popular. There are a few on my shop here, along with some other small work. I hope to have some with me in Harrogate too.
Last week the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace was full-on and tiring but a great experience. It was an honour to be amongst some really high quality exhibitions at the show and in such an amazing venue. After so long making the work for Findings it all came together on display for the first time and it was really good to see how the many visitors to the show reacted to the work. It was lovely to watch people working their way around the walls of the gallery space and breaking into smiles when they realised that what they were looking at were stitched acorns or shells.
The way I presented my Findings was as if they were part of a natural history collection or a group of archaeological artefacts. Perspex boxes, rows, grids and entomology pins helped give a flavour of a museum collection. My visit to Manchester Museum last year helped me plan for this. Once the work was up and lit in the gallery there were all sorts of interesting shadows cast by the both the pieces and the perspex boxes. I think the best views were looking through the side of the boxes seeing the work inside surrounded by reflections of other pieces and the work on the walls beyond.
Now I’m looking forward to doing it all again in Dublin next week.
The autumn Knitting and Stitching Shows are upon us, with the Alexandra Palace show opening on Wednesday 5th October. My front room is full of Findings in boxes waiting to be loaded into the car and taken down to London tomorrow. There are still some unknowns about exactly how the work will fit in the space: it is impossible to test it out fully and the actual space may well feel very different to the imagined one. But careful planning means that I hope it will come together successfully over the next couple of days. As I was making the final fixings and preparations I got really quite excited about how this collection of objects will come together next week. I’m looking forward to seeing it all together on display rather than in and out of boxes in the studio.
My Findings book, published to accompany the exhibition, arrived a few days ago and this will be available at the show along with my other titles. The new book is now on the shop and will be available to order in the next few days. I have put a page with the work list of all the items in the exhibition here. This lists titles and prices and is intended for reference whilst viewing the show or as a reminder afterwards. It isn’t possible to post images of all the work but I hope to be able to show how the exhibition looks once it is up.
So we’re back in the old routine now term has started again and the kids are back at school. Our holiday seems a long way off but my head is still full of the sights, sounds and smells of the Outer Hebrides and my sketchbook is full of moments captured in one way or another. Those empty white shell-sand beaches that turn the sea the most wonderful turquoise greens and stretch for miles are just fantastic – the stuff of dreams (mine anyway!). I have been to the outer isles before but not the Uists and this trip took me to places I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time. It takes quite an effort to get to these remote parts and I love a good ferry journey, which is necessary (made even more special by the dolphins and porpoise we saw from the boat). This is the very edge or Europe, and apart from the tantalising St Kilda, which we saw on a particularly clear day, when you look out across the sea the next land is Canada. Highly recommended: this fascinating exhibition, which is based on St Kilda but also deals with amnesia, was on in Lochmaddy. It will be moving to London soon here.