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.
I’m working on a series of sculptural pieces that are woven in linen, each made specifically to relate to a piece of found metal. I then manipulate the cloth so that it responds directly to the metal: encasing it, wrapping it, slotting through it etc. The metal is then allowed to stain the weave where it is in contact with the rust, with the aid of seawater.
The first uses a metal pipe that I collected on Holkham Beach in Norfolk. The object is linked to the place in my mind because that is where I found it. It is therefore completely ‘of the place’ to me, even if the object has no other significant link to there: I have no idea what its history is prior to me picking it up.
The next piece takes a metal hoop as as starting point. The strip of tapestry weave sits gathered and looped within the hoop, extending either side.
The third piece is shown here just off the loom with its warp ends still waiting to be finished, but looking rather beautiful in their wild arrangement. There is a hole in the cloth, ready for its designated metal to slot into.
Each stage of the process is slow and to be savoured: the weaving by hand, beating each weft down to cover the warp; stitching each warp thread back into the weave; the staining of the cloth by the rusty metal as it dries.
I don’t drink a lot of beer but I seem to find a lot of beer bottle tops when I’m out and about. On a recent walk along the nearby canal I came home with a little stash in my pocket. I love the way they get squashed by cars and their crinkled edges go in different directions. They are all at slightly different stages of going rusty. After completing 25 Beer Bottle Tops I decided to make a scaled up version and am now part way through its making.
This time there are 49 Beer Bottle Tops. The number isn’t significant, but these fit nicely into the dimensions that I decided to work on, four times larger than the first piece. They are arranged in a grid, again, not for any specific reason, but I find the arrangement pleasing. I often arrange things I find in lines like this in the studio. It is a way of sorting, of getting to know the objects, cataloguing them almost: they are like collected specimens laid out for inspection. Once trapped and stitched around and then allowed to stain their surroundings their regimented lines will contrast with the random stitching and the marks that they make.
The stitching is now in progress. This is slow and repetitive. This kind of stitching marks out the passage of time. Each stitch is similar to the one before but unique in its detail.
I’ve been stitching away for a few weeks in between other things. I’m experimenting with different ways to stitch with and round the various rusty bits and pieces that find their way into my pockets on a daily basis – a kind of rust journal. It starts out white and I’m enjoying the crispness of white on white, but it will change.
These ones are being trapped and stitched round. They will then go outside in the weather to see what marks the rust will make on the cloth and thread they’re embedded within.
This is a different piece, one that is now living in the garden and has started to develop marks.
Here is a glimpse of the un-wrapped bundles that I showed earlier in the week. I pinned them up in my studio and have been getting to know them a little. The marks can be so surprising and sometimes so very subtle, while other times really strong. I love the creases and folds that remain from how the bundle has been bound and from what it has been bound round. They are like the ridges and dips left in wet sand twice a day when the tide recedes. These three-dimensional elements have dictated what I do next: some are left exactly as they are, some are stitched to a backing to preserve the creases, some are ironed because the marks are more important than the creases. The decision making is quite organic: I can have a plan of what I’m aiming for but really the piece is dictated by what happens along the way.
This group (with one other piece) are called Sand Marks. They will hang as a group but will be staggered so that they sit together as one, balancing each other. I’m looking forward to seeing them completed.
My book is a record of things picked up in the streets around my home on everyday short walks during autumn and winter: on the way to the post office or back from school. The things I’ve picked up are insignificant: a rusty washer, a few leaves, a beer bottle top… They have come together with the help of the chemistry of tea to make marks on the pages of the book. I’ve then used rollers and ink to build up more marks and texture and finally there are stitches added in response to the other marks.
This morning I finished my book and now I can post it off to the Brooklyn Art Library for it to join all the other books from around the world. Eventually my book will be available online to view digitally, but for now here are a few peeks at the detail:
There’s nothing quite like a production line to give you a feeling of satisfaction at achieving small goals. Making and writing Christmas cards in between other jobs this week I have been reminded of how rewarding repetitive tasks can be. Whether it is weaving, stitching, folding paper… once in your stride the task is repeated fluidly and with rhythm. Paying attention to the smallest detail of the movements; applying just the right amount of pressure; placing something exactly where it should be; enjoying the physical movement of each small element; mind focussed yet available to explore and reflect at the same time.
My little tapestry weave samples are progressing slowly. The next stage for these is to be left outside for the winter weather to play its part and see how the rust marks the cotton.
I’m hoping that the rust will seep its way into the thread and stain the cotton in a similar way to my rust prints on paper. I haven’t yet added any agent to help the process as I’d like to see what the elements will do on their own.
I’m experimenting with the marks that can be achieved by laying items on to paper that have either been soaked in the remains of a dye bath, or rusty items that are laid onto wet paper (in this case wet with tea or with vinegar). It takes time, but as the moisture dries I am left with some exquisite marks that are a curious mixture of planning and randomness – something I feel underlies so much of my work.
This one isn’t strictly printing, more dyeing, as the paper had been submerged in a dye bath with clamps to resist. I love the randomness of the rust marks next to the straight line created by the clamp.