Last week the Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace was full-on and tiring but a great experience. It was an honour to be amongst some really high quality exhibitions at the show and in such an amazing venue. After so long making the work for Findings it all came together on display for the first time and it was really good to see how the many visitors to the show reacted to the work. It was lovely to watch people working their way around the walls of the gallery space and breaking into smiles when they realised that what they were looking at were stitched acorns or shells.
The way I presented my Findings was as if they were part of a natural history collection or a group of archaeological artefacts. Perspex boxes, rows, grids and entomology pins helped give a flavour of a museum collection. My visit to Manchester Museum last year helped me plan for this. Once the work was up and lit in the gallery there were all sorts of interesting shadows cast by the both the pieces and the perspex boxes. I think the best views were looking through the side of the boxes seeing the work inside surrounded by reflections of other pieces and the work on the walls beyond.
Now I’m looking forward to doing it all again in Dublin next week.
The autumn Knitting and Stitching Shows are upon us, with the Alexandra Palace show opening on Wednesday 5th October. My front room is full of Findings in boxes waiting to be loaded into the car and taken down to London tomorrow. There are still some unknowns about exactly how the work will fit in the space: it is impossible to test it out fully and the actual space may well feel very different to the imagined one. But careful planning means that I hope it will come together successfully over the next couple of days. As I was making the final fixings and preparations I got really quite excited about how this collection of objects will come together next week. I’m looking forward to seeing it all together on display rather than in and out of boxes in the studio.
My Findings book, published to accompany the exhibition, arrived a few days ago and this will be available at the show along with my other titles. The new book is now on the shop and will be available to order in the next few days. I have put a page with the work list of all the items in the exhibition here. This lists titles and prices and is intended for reference whilst viewing the show or as a reminder afterwards. It isn’t possible to post images of all the work but I hope to be able to show how the exhibition looks once it is up.
I spent last week in a quiet part of Cumbria. It was a working week but in a beautiful location away form home and studio. We made time to explore a bit as well, enjoying the sweeping views across the valley and the changing weather patterns.
Almost exactly a year ago I had a similar week working here and came across an old lime kiln that had been used recently as a bonfire site; a place to dispose of various bits of agricultural rubbish. You can see this structure on the picture above, in the middle near the bottom. What remained amongst the ash and nettles were various bits of metal, rusty and burnt. Some of these objects formed the starting points for a section of my Findings project. I brought this group of work back with me, intending to photograph them ‘on location’. So last Friday, with good light conditions and a pleasant breeze, the pieces accompanied me on a walk up onto the edge of the fell until I found a suitable limestone rock. This was within view of the old lime kiln and made a very suitable foil for my line of Findings.
I’m now in the midst of putting together the book to accompany the exhibition. This publication, like my previous self-published books, tells the story of the project. Images and words are gathered together from the places that sparked off the ideas, the making of the work and the finished pieces.
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.
I’m now half way through my drawing project 40 Sycamore Keys. Each time I go to the studio I start the day by doing a couple of these drawings. The latest 10 are now listed on my shop. I’m really enjoying working my way through the collection, studying and recording each one in turn.
This week I haven’t managed to get to the studio. I’ve had a great deal of administration to do, so I’ve concentrated on that and done research and reading. I find it depressing to spend a week staring at the computer screen rather than doing what feels like ‘proper’ work. However, it is all relevant stuff and next week will involve much more making.
Once again it is the time of year when Craft & Design Magazine run their Selected Makers Awards. Voting is open until the end of March. If you would like to vote for me (here) your help would be much appreciated – thank you!
As I mentioned a couple of posts back, I spent my 40th birthday exploring the wonderful Hackfall woods in North Yorkshire. This special place is a historic landscape garden, which appears wild but has been manipulated by the hand of man for over 400 years. Now managed by The Woodland Trust and The Hackfall Trust, it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
For two whole days, from sunrise to beyond moonrise, we drank every detail of the woodland in. Walking every path, treading each 18th century step, discovering all the carefully planned vistas and more. From our precariously perched hideaway we looked down onto the steeply sloping valley, lined with a tapestry of trees recently exposed as their winter selves. The luminous larch held the light and glowed from it’s soon-to-drop yellowing needles. Walking amongst the trees we came upon the recumbent trunk of a fallen tree that had become home to a whole community of plant species: a garden where fairies might have partied, littering the populated surface of the trunk with their tattered wings. The death of majestic birds was exposed before us on the path: blood spilled and feathers strewn. The naked pink of sycamore stems caught our attention. We marvelled at hazel branches holding droplets to sparkle in the last light as the moon rose behind silhouetted boughs. And through it all the rushing river wound its noisy way; energetic always. Water is a constant in this wood: dripping, rushing, hanging, pooling, reflecting.
Those tattered fairy wings I found were sycamore keys in various states of delicate decay. I collected a few, popping them into a little jar to study later. Back in my studio I emptied out the jar and laid out the keys. Counting them I found that I had collected exactly 40. I set out to draw each one, studying the detail of their veined surface and aiming to capture something of their fragility.
The drawings are made in walnut ink on watercolour postcards. The ink was made from walnut husks gathered in the Yorkshire garden of a friend. The first few of the series are now posted in my shop and a donation will be made to The Woodland Trust from the sale of each drawing. My drawings are ongoing, a few a week until all 40 are made. I’ll let you know how I get on.
The experiments I’ve been doing recently in the studio are my way of exploring 3D structures and trying out different ways to form them. This shot from earlier in the week shows some of these experiments alongside some of the objects that live on my studio wall, which I described a couple of posts ago. I am not necessarily trying to re-create the forms of these objects but there are often similarities between the ones I’ve got pinned up there (for instance, the ones included here on their own or incorporated into a a new structure are either circular, have holes or form vessels) so they gently influence my making in different ways.
My favourite book of all time is Gerald Durrell’s My Family and Other Animals. I have other books by Durrell but a few months ago in a second hand book shop I was pleased to find one to add to my collection: The Amateur Naturalist. If I had had this book as a child I know it would have been a constant companion. I am working my way through it at the moment and enjoying the wonderfully practical instruction and beautiful photography of found items from different habitats.
Last week I visited Manchester Museum to see their natural history collection and in particular to look at how their collections are displayed. I didn’t have time to linger and sketch, as I would have liked. But I got a good idea of what is there and hope to go back with more time.
The wall in my studio (shown at the top) where I gather items and samples of current interest is slowly building a new collection. This wall gradually changes as items are added and others might be put away: a constant work-in-progress. It is somewhat like the pages of Durrell’s book, where items are grouped but vary within that group, showing the mix of different things that might be gathered on any one visit to a location. The wall features both found items (natural and man-made) as well as experiments in making. The objects I am developing are responses to found items, not directly copying them but shapes and forms influenced by them and sometimes incorporating found elements. My new collection is forming slowly.