Leaf Stitching is showing this week in London and I’m enjoying being back in the calm space that is the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery. This exhibition is all about detail. Most of the pieces are intimate in scale and they draw you in to notice their intricacies. Small careful stitches punctuate the natural leaf material; the colours and surface qualities of the leaves invite close inspection.
I have a flurry of workshops at the moment for various groups, which is getting me out and about around the country. In between those and the preparation for them I am making final touches to work for my exhibition Leaf Stitching at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, London in a couple of weeks. It seems very fitting to have this exhibition as autumn is upon us and I hope it will be a celebration of the leaf at a time when we become particularly aware of these wonderful objects.
As well as pieces featured in the book I published earlier this year with the same title there will be some more recent leaf stitching I have been working on, including 2D and 3D pieces. The Oak leaf Quilt I made a few months ago will be there, and some panels made from eucalyptus leaves that are still work in progress…
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.
My Leaf Stitching books have just arrived, hot off the press from the printers. The book is now available here. This book forms a photographic record of a series of experiments with leaves and hand stitch that I have been playing about with for a couple of years. As it says in the afterword: This book illustrates a line of inquiry, the following of a thought process.
Some of the pieces that feature in the book, and others that don’t, will be exhibited this Autumn at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, London.
Just as the new buds are unfurling in the woods I am using last years leaves. I am working on my largest leaf stitching piece so far. This is a sort of experiment, just to see what happens when I try to scale up something that I’ve been doing previously on a hold-in-the-hand scale. These leaves are pretty fragile, although they were collected at a point when the winter hadn’t completed its job of weakening and breaking down the fibres. Pressed and dried flat they are generally doing what I want them to and I am learning all the time what the boundaries are. As I work on this piece in the studio my Leaf Stitching book is finished and at the printers. I hope it will be available in the next couple of weeks.
I’m working on some pieces for an exhibition called Coded: Decoded with Prism this May and Autumn. A Language of Leaves is a series of works loosely based on thoughts about asemic writing and the forms that leaves make when they fall and are arranged on the ground. Asemic writing is that which has no specific meaning or semantic content. It can suggest meaning but is open to the viewers’ interpretation. I’m making a series of ‘lexicons‘ (a catalogue of a languages words) with different leaves.
Since the excitement of my Tide Marks exhibition going up and opening last week there has been a period of catching up, both with myself and with a few things that had to be set aside while I got the exhibition prepared. A week of half term holiday for the kids means time away with family and some welcome walks in the countryside near my parents’ home. I set myself a little challenge on these walks: to use only what I found to make colour in my sketchbook. Along with a single drawing pen and then the addition of some home-made walnut ink I managed to make a surprising number of different colours.
The things that I made marks with included: mud, sticks, leaves, chestnut leaf stalks, dandelion flowers, elderberries, haws, hips, sloes, conker (horse chestnut) cases, privet berries, cabbage leaf, blackberries.
I’ve been finishing off various bits of work for Tide Marks. With less than two weeks to go until the opening it is finishing touches time. Amongst the work are five paper pieces with embossing and stitching on a scale that I’ve not attempted before. Stitching into paper this size (70 x 50 cm) provides certain challenges but I’ve worked away methodically at my kitchen table with the autumn light changing rapidly as the weather flits between sunshine and showers, the now cold wind carrying animated leaves past my window. This has been a more attractive place to work than my studio of late. I miss the eye onto the outside when I’m there.
These pieces are subtle, quiet. They change massively with the light: sometimes the embossed lines and stitches catching dark shadows so they look like drawn marks; sometimes the whole piece looking flat and empty. The space that appears empty from a distance is full of detail when you’re close. Space can be scary: it is tempting to fill it up, but just like silence that can be beautiful I hope the spaces can be too.
I’ve been asked about the frame I’m using for my weave samples. Here is the full frame. The late-autumn light is not good for photographing things successfully at the moment and we’ve had some particularly grey days. My samples haven’t progressed as I’d have liked due to many other things happening but my frame and its narrow warps are slowly being populated by little investigations.
I’ve been using some of the string that bound previous rust bundles. These are variously dyed themselves so when they are woven they produce random stripes and mottles.
I am enjoying the discipline of weaving again. I have also put a first warp on the four shaft table loom I rescued earlier in the year so I’m switching between loom and frame. In both I feel that plain weave offers so much potential. I love the simplicity of it and the focus on the action, the repetitiveness, the discipline of achieving evenness and a straight edge. There is so much scope for exploring subtle texture and colour that I’m not sure I will ever tire of it. I admire complex weave patterns in others’ work but for now plain weave has enough to hold my attention.
I’ve taken to the woods… I’m in a period of mixed activity: planning, proposing, thinking, updating etc. Most of this is based at home and I do find that a change of scene works wonders when I’ve had enough of the computer screen and the same walls.
My nearest woods are ten minutes walk away and they are glorious right now. Even on a grey damp day like today there is a riot of colour and a plethora of detail to be noticed. I might draw; I might stop to write notes on what I’m thinking about; I might take a few photos; I might pick up a pocket full of acorns or a handful of leaves to play with back at home.