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.
When I was in Italy a few weeks ago we explored the nearby lanes and land, collecting plant material and objects that we could make use of in the studio through various printing, mark making and construction techniques. Most of what we used then went to the tip when we’d finished with it. There was a lot of rubbish on the lanes, so I feel that we did quite a good litter-picking job, making use of things before they went in the bin.
There was charred wooden debris amongst the olive trees, presumably as a result of tree pruning, the brash being burnt on site. I used a piece to draw with on my first walk around the fields. There was also the smell of bonfires in the air all week as neighbouring farms and small holdings cleared the land ready for the growing season ahead.
There were a few objects that I picked up in the olive grove around the Masseria and these came home with me to the studio. I have since been playing with them and forming new structures and surfaces in response. These will form part of Findings, which I will be showing later in the year. There were various nut shells: walnut, almond and acorn cups. The acorns from the majestic Macedonian Oak, which we saw in various places are huge in comparison to the ones I’m used to here in the UK.
I’ve been making small vessel structures from paper yarn and once the surface of these is rubbed with mud they take on a really interesting quality. These structures are made with a looping stitch, sewing with a needle but building up a three-dimensional form. I used the same looping stitch but with a pliable linen thread on the burnt olive wood, encasing and wrapping the forms, getting to know each line, crack or subtle change in the surface as I work my way round and round the wood. And as I handle the wood the aroma of smoke takes me back to the place that they were found.
Anyone who follows me on Instagram (where I post images almost daily) will know that I am starting to develop new work based on a series of collections of objects. Ultimately I am working towards an exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Shows 2016, which I’m really pleased to have been selected for. My working title is Findings. I have been developing ideas for this over some months now, thoughts whirring away in the background while other things happen. Findings will be a series of responses to objects I have collected in different locations.
1. the action of finding someone or something.
2. information discovered as the result of an inquiry or investigation.
The first group of objects I am exploring are a collection of limpet shells I brought back from Anglesey in the summer. I didn’t collect the complete shells: it was the ones with holes in that I was drawn to and I came back with a couple of hundred of these. I love the subtle variation in a series of items like this: they’re similar but all unique. Some are really worn down and smooth; others are rough and intricately mottled; some have a jagged broken top; others are almost perfectly smooth rings. I’ve been experimenting with replacing the broken section with a stitched/woven ‘patch’. Some of them end up mended completely, others partially filled. Some are being filled in across the inside, leaving them with a sort of woven plate across that reminds me of the limpet’s ‘foot’.
As I work away at these experiments (inquiries, investigations. . . ) the results are starting to form a new collection: a collection of my Findings.
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.
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’ve spent some time updating the project pages on my website today. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, but it is the kind of job that always falls off the bottom of the list. Today I can tick it off and it is good to see some of the recent projects I’ve been involved in, or that are ongoing, summarised. I always have a number of different things on the go at the same time. Sometimes it can feel like I flit between them and never really progress, but there are small steps forward all the time. And of course there is always planning for the future going on, things that aren’t yet at a stage I can share my thinking on but that are bubbling away in the background. It can be misleading to have to present things as discreet ‘projects’. In reality each thing leads to the next and all of the things I am working on are inter-related, part of a continuum of thinking and exploring.
One of the newly recorded projects is Leaf Stitching. This is not a new activity, but one that has been going on in spare moments for quite some time. This is an adventure in playing with materials really: materials that are sometimes fragile and sometimes surprisingly robust. It is an exercise in treating those materials with care and precision and really getting to know them in the process. There are other leaf stitchers out there producing some beautifully embellished pieces: Christine, Hillary and Susanna.
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.
I have books on the brain at the moment – if I’m not writing words for one, I’m playing about with book forms. On a recent workshop I was teaching, where simple book forms was a small part of what we did, I was inspired to try out some new bindings. I used some of the demonstration samples to experiment with and now they have become little books.
I recently got a copy of Little Book of Book Making, out in America (and I think a UK version is coming out later in the month under a different name) in which my work is featured alongside some amazing book artists. Making books is just a small part of what I do and I only use very simple structures, so I feel very honoured to have been included in such a collection.
I spent most of last week at Oxford Summer School teaching an extended workshop called Lost & Found. We had great fun and it was lovely to get to know the students a little over the period of the workshop. We shared a host of different techniques: mark-making, printing, stitching… all based around various found objects and there was much delight at the discoveries we made. The students produced some really exciting work.
I will be working in the Virtual Studio at the Festival of Quilts on Friday morning and Saturday afternoon this week. This inspiring area of the show (run by the wonderful Committed to Cloth) provides an insight into how different artists work in the studio, so isn’t necessarily about finished pieces but the journey you go through before they are reached.