A few weeks ago there was a real shift in the seasons as things tipped from late summer into autumn. Since then we’ve had a number of frosts at the allotment and as a result some things suddenly faded and flopped. As well as gathering produce in for eating and preserving I have been gathering materials too and preparing what I can for storage, meaning I have a supply of colour or fibre when I need it. Various flowers have been dried and bottled up. Some are ones I know are worth keeping for future use, others are more of an experiment. I’ve also dried various plant fibres to make into cordage when I have time over the winter.
I set up a series of solar dye jars in the summer and these were eventually emptied out to reveal dyed linen squares to add to my on-going collection of colours from the plot. Sunflowers have been quite a revelation, with interesting colour from leaves and petals. I grew a mix of different coloured ones and they were really happy with the particularly hot summer we had.
The individual units that make up ‘Unknown Book’ are a series of small Coptic bound books. The structure that encases the books is made up of 106 units in a grid. Some of these are filled with one book structure, whilst others contain a number of separate sections. There are therefore around 250 individual items that make up this collection.
The book structures are made of a mixture of good quality printmaking paper and re-purposed paper from publications discarded by the library. Edges are torn and uneven.
The books made of new white paper have been marked, dyed, stained, printed, wrapped, scrunched, rubbed, scuffed, distorted and dipped. The structures made of re-purposed books, magazines and papers have been bound, scrunched, curled, wrapped, sliced, deconstructed, reconfigured, cracked, folded and formed.
Together these make up a collection of experiments with material, form and process. They contain a record of my thinking and making around the subject of a collection of books; about scale and accessibility; about classification and collections; about the physical properties of paper and the changes it might go through.
We hung Findings last week at the Ropewalk Gallery, Barton on Humber. This gallery suits my work very well in both scale and environment and I am really pleased with how the exhibition looks. Having hung this body of work on three different gallery spaces during the Knitting and Stitching Shows last year it is good to have had some time to reflect and then show it again, making a few changes to how the work is presented. There are some additions as I sold some pieces from the original show; some pieces have been re-mounted for the wall rather than being shown on plinths; my recent walking book series has been incorporated as these book structures record many of the locations that feature in the rest of the work.
This time the work hangs in one continuous line, so you can take a journey through the objects, studying each one in turn. Each individual piece is intimate in scale and the detail is all-important. Together they form a much bigger whole and I hope that they tell a story; each viewer reading a slightly different narrative.
Shall I take you on a walk around the gallery? I can’t show you every piece (there are over 200) but this will give you a good flavour of the work…
As many of you will know, there is a publication which accompanies this body of work. Findings, which has close-up images of much of the work as well as writing that links the pieces to the places that they record and essays by Nigel Morgan, is available to order here. The exhibition continues until 3rd September.
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’m busy in the studio at the moment making work that will be shown in the autumn as Findings. You can read a bit more about the exhibition on the Knitting and Stitching Show website here. Findings is made up of a series of collections of objects. Some are forms that I have made, incorporating a found object within their structure. Once constructed, the form is then either soaked or dyed to allow the fibres to be stained by the embedded object; the detail of how the stain develops and ends up is unpredictable. Some are structures that I have made and then coated in gathered mud or ground-up stone, changing the colour of my woven, knotted or looped surface but also changing the character of it, transforming it into an almost ceramic-like surface. Other pieces are objects that I have gathered and then altered or added to, stitching or weaving into or onto the object itself.
Most of the pieces are made using neutral thread, allowing the staining to develop at the end after construction is complete. It can be quite difficult to make the leap from a fairly pristine surface where the contrast between clean fibre and rusty metal, weathered wood or hard stone is stark. But once the fibres are stained or marked the relationship between fibre and object becomes much closer, more complete. There are images of how some of the pieces are developing on here.
Each piece is an experiment, a trial, a question: what happens if I do this? There are variations on themes within the collections, some forming a series of developments, others being more individual because of their particular characteristics.
Suddenly the seasons have shifted. Although today is the start of the meteorological autumn it doesn’t always feel autumnal on the first of September. The last week has felt very autumnal with changes in the feel of the air and subtle shifts in foliage colours. There are fruits and seeds ripening and all sorts of interesting fungi appearing. Last week I was teaching down in Hertfordshire and staying in a village surrounded by arable fields. The harvest over, machinery was busy turning the earth ready for the next lot of crops. One day a golden blanket of stubble covered the gently rolling landscape and the next it had been turned in on itself, revealing rich chocolate brown earth.
Walking the lanes near where I was staying my hands became full of treasures, so much so that I used my umbrella to hold them! I don’t now very much about fungi and I wouldn’t normally do more than admire. But I do know a puff ball when I see one and I was delighted to find one that was fresh and firm: ideal for my tea.
Back in Yorkshire a day later and we walk in local woods. Again there are beautiful perfect fungi, ripe berries to pop straight into the mouth as we walk and under one tree we find a scattering of oak galls, which I gathered for use in dyeing.
At home I drew the berries I’d found on the lanes and used their juice to add colour to my pages. The colours won’t stay true for very long but there is something ‘true’ about using the object you’ve drawn to make marks itself. A leaf that also caught my eye because of its purple hues sits alongside and seems to sum up the shift in the year.
I’m part way through teaching a workshop at Committed to Cloth in Surrey. We’ve been blessed with beautiful weather this week: it has actually felt like summer! This has made a real difference to how we have been able to get out and explore the area around the studio.
We have recorded walks in a variety of ways and used what we found along the way in a range of print and mark making techniques.
We worked out in the meadow, and at the edge of woods, a short walk from the studio; yesterday printing outside, today manipulating grass and leaves and other gathered materials.
Tomorrow we finish, bringing things together in some simple book forms and whatever else appears out of the mix of ideas and starting-points we’ve explored.
Back in December I showed the beginnings of some tapestry weave on a frame. This slowly grew over the last month or so and I ended up with two separate pieces done on the same warp. The main piece was relatively successful and I managed to keep things fairly even. The second ended up being badly pulled in at the side and I learnt a lot during the making of it, persevering when things went awry, but then giving up on it eventually. I was using the same linen for the warp and weft and I realise that this was probably not robust enough a warp. By the time I got well up the frame it was probably stretching and distorting. I have so much to learn. Most of my weave has been on a small scale so far, and working that way I can get away with a lot. My challenge is to be able to work on a larger scale and still be happy with the results.
I ended up with a beautifully white construction with slits that break up the surface. The intention was always to mark the surface with ink, but I did enjoy it in its pure state for a while first.
The walnut ink was applied with a roller. I knew there would be some unevenness and I like that unpredictability. The ink catches the surface of the weave, revealing the pattern of lines where the weft rolls onto the surface and then leaves it again.
I recently completed this little piece (25cm x 25cm). It has 25 found beer bottle tops trapped between layers of linen and a lot of small stitches. Once all the stitching was complete it was dipped into tea so that the rusty bottle tops could stain their surrounding fabric and stitches in their own special way. It will be shown as part of 25 x 25 x 25 at the Mall Galleries, London alongside the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s 25th annual Designer Crafts exhibition in January.
Later this week I’ll be at the Knitting and Stitching show in harrogate. On Thursday I’ll be stewarding part of the day in the Prism exhibition Coded : Decoded, in which I have some work on show. On Friday I’ll be demonstrating in the Artists in Action area on stand C590. Do come and say hello if you’re visiting.
Last year I was commissioned to make a special record of a garden. This record was for the occupants of the garden (and its house) for over 20 years to take with them when they move on to pastures new. There is more information about the project here and there are some images of how things developed in an album here. The final set of prints were chosen over Christmas and are now with the framer. I’m looking forward to seeing how they look as a finished series. Meanwhile, I will be bringing the experiments and developments together in a special book to go with the framed prints.