Happy new year (I know I’m a bit late in getting round to saying that, but it is still just the middle of January). We’re still in the depths of winter, and although today the weather has provided a mix of cold wind, sleet, snow and generally depressing greyness I did notice yesterday that it is getting dark a little later now.
I have news of new projects and new workshops. Back in September I started studying for an MA in Creative Practice. This is a research-based course, the focus of which (for me) will be my new allotment. I have taken on this plot in order to garden but also to explore the site in creative ways. I hope to use material from my plot for a variety of different techniques, recording the site and its changes through the seasons. If you follow me on Instagram (where I post pretty much daily) you will already have seen some of the things going on there.
There is a lot to do over the winter to get my plot ready for the growing season as it hasn’t been properly tended for a few years. However, there is a good structure of beds, sheds and fruit trees under the weeds. I am very excited about this project; about the possibilities it offers for creative engagement with a site over an extended period, as well as the benefits of being outside, having my hands in the soil, growing some lovely things and the fresh start it provides.
I have a long list of workshops which get under way from March onwards and which are all listed on the workshops page with links to the relevant studios for booking. I am looking forward to returning to familiar locations to teach this year, as well as some new ones. Some of the workshops are full, but these have waiting lists (it is always worth being on a list as people do sometimes have to drop out). I understand here are still places available at Lund Studios in early May, ArtisOn in late May, Moor Hall Studio in August/September and the wonderful Masseria della Zingara in Puglia in October.
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.
Earlier this month I was fortunate to be in Southern Italy, teaching at the wonderful Masseria della Zingara. We had a great week exploring the land around the Masseria, walking the lanes, collecting things to use in the studio and using various techniques to record our experience. We collected, printed, stained, wrote, stitched, wove, folded . . . and ate!
Spring was in full swing (which it certainly isn’t yet here in the UK!) and we were surrounded by fruit trees in blossom, beautiful wild flowers and a green lushness that I’m sure will have gone once the temperatures rise later in the year. The wonderful red earth in that part of Italy provides a striking foil for the colours of growth. And of course my travel reading had to be The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, which provides the story for one of my favourite films, a must-see at this time of year.
Join me at Teesside University, Middlesborough on Tuesday 19th January at 4pm. I will be speaking about my work as part of the Fine Art Department and Mima’s visiting lecture series . More details here.
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.
I am in the middle of a flurry of workshops at the moment. I’m looking forward to teaching at Stone Creek Barn over in East Yorkshire later this week and then my first workshop for Committed to Cloth down in Surrey next week. There is currently one place available at the Committed to Cloth workshop due to a cancellation.
I have organised a couple of dates for Stitch, Fold, Rust workshops at my studio in Keighley. One in July and one in September. These can be booked through my online shop. I hope to fix some dates for more of these next year. I have been invited to teach in Italy and France next year, which is really exciting. Details and dates for 2016 will go on the workshops page when links are available for booking.
I’ve just spent a really inspiring and thought-provoking weekend with the Textile Study Group, of which I am now a member. We meet twice a year to learn together and this weekend we had Lesley Millar with us to guide our study and discussion. Members of the group are given a professional review every five years and, being new, I was included in the rota of reviews this year. I had a very worthwhile session with our mentor Jane McKeating, which as left me with a lot to think about. We discussed my recent work and future direction and developments. Selecting the most relevant work to bring together for something like this is a useful exercise in itself. To have it looked at by fresh (and such experienced) eyes is a little daunting but so useful. I feel very lucky to be a member of such an interesting and active group of artists where sharing, developing and educating (of others and each other) is so embedded.
By the way, if you wish to vote for me in the 2015 Craft & Design Magazine Selected Maker awards you can click on the badge on the right or go here. Voting is open until 31st March and you can vote for as many of the makers as you want to.
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’m developing some new work in the studio at the moment. I’m experimenting with various weave techniques and enjoying being back at a loom. I have a table loom that was rescued from going in a skip a few years ago. This spends most of its time sitting in my studio looking rather redundant but I’m making good use of it now. I’m preparing a series of samples, on which I will then experiment with other processes. I love the act of actually making a structure that becomes a fabric and I’m aiming to end up with some quite three-dimensional pieces… but that could all change.
I am also playing about with an inkle loom (shown above). When I acquired my Grandmother’s floor loom (currently sitting redundant, but maybe over the winter it will see some action) there came with it a whole load of paraphernalia, much of which I didn’t know what to do with. Sadly, Granny died before my career change and my professional interest in textiles developed so I didn’t get to share this interest with her. She spun wool and wove rugs on the loom I now have and I wish I’d had an opportunity to learn from her experience. I do have some of her rugs though, as well as a couple of her paintings.
One item amongst the box of wooden accessories I realised was an inkle loom and I’ve just been working out how to use it. I bought a book but this still wasn’t very clear and I realise how different it can be to learn something when you are shown what to do rather than trying to understand a written instruction. With the help of various online instructions and a couple of false starts I got the thing warped up and have started to weave on it. I even found Granny’s little heddles, made from some strong yarn, that had sat in amongst other things and I hadn’t realise what they were for. They’re still strong and now in use on the loom.
And as if those two looms aren’t enough, I’ve got a couple of tapestry frames on the go too for more samples.
At the weekend I spent a really inspiring two days with Emily Harvey, printmaker. My printmaking experience has been bitty (kind of on the back burner for a number of years) and, although I did have some access to the printmaking room at college, I never had enough time to give to it properly. But the desire to integrate it more into my work has remained and this was an opportunity to learn a bit more and test out some of my ideas. Collage is a tool I have often used as part of my design process; here it is key to the bringing together of texture and contrast that is used to make the print.
This intensive weekend was just what I needed to confirm to me that these processes suit my sensibilities. I am comfortable with the whole routine of printmaking (more so, I have to admit, than with screen printing); I love the experimental nature of both making collagraph plates and of printing from them; I love being able to concentrate on texture and line and that the 3D element is important, even though it is a low-relief kind of 3D. And, importantly, I can see how I can integrate my use of stitch into both the making of the plates and the resulting prints (something I started in my college work but that I want to push further).
We spent the first day making collagraph plates using a whole range of different techniques and resulting in a good bunch of different ones to then print from on the second day.
There were just two of us with Emily this weekend, and it was perfect – enough energy and ideas bouncing around between us to have kept going for a week I reckon! Here is the product of our labours (a bit more colourful than I would have naturally gone for, but using all that colour was a great way to understand the different effects you can achieve):
It was really interesting to see how different the resulting print can be using the same plate but with different inks and combinations of intaglio and relief printing.
I had a go once before at chine colle, so it was good to be reminded of this technique and to see how the layering up of a different paper can be really effective. Some of my experiments with this technique worked better than others, but I had lots of ideas about using this more.
When I got home I spent a good hour scribbling down lots of notes and ideas. It was a really inspiring weekend, I just have to let it all sink in and work out how to take things forward. At a time when I’m trying to focus my work in I am suddenly faced with more possibilities than I know what to do with!