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.
I’ve had a welcome few days away with family and surrounded by beautiful landscape that was abundant with wildlife. The warm summer we’re having is glorious but I love the relief of the evening air and the light at that time of the day can do wonderful things to a field of grasses.
During walks I gathered grass and twisted it into this ball of string. I enjoy exploring a material like this: manipulating it and seeing what it will do and improving my technique as I go. It dries quickly and the fresh green above is soon dulled. Working the grass I find there is a sweet point where it is dried a bit and so a little firmer but once it dries too much it becomes brittle. The ball is my little record of the places we walked.
Now that the Shirt Collar Project exhibition is open and the final pieces have been revealed I can share a few images of my finished work. There is a full explanation of the process and decisions that led to these pieces over on the project blog. I ended up making three small book forms using the prints I made from my collar. I find the 3D nature of these pieces very pleasing. I often feel drawn to working in a more three-dimensional way and perhaps this project has taught me to go with that impulse. I really allowed the experimentation with the materials to lead me this time, with no particular outcome in mind: a really useful challenge.
I’ve been working on my contribution to the Shirt Collar Project and it has taken me in a direction I didn’t expect. Pictures of the final pieces from all ten artists will be revealed over on the project blog but here are a few images of my process as it unfolded (or folded!). I didn’t expect to make book forms but having printed from my collar on to both paper and fabric I then tested various routes and this was the one that I ended up following.