Yesterday I pulled up the flax plants that I showed growing at the allotment in my last post. They will now dry and then be retted and processed. Last week I finally got round to processing the small amount of flax that I had grown last year in a couple of pots at home. Because they were grown in less than ideal circumstances the fibres turned out to be pretty poor quality. However, I managed to get a handful of processed fibre, which was then spun.
Despite this being a very small amount of fibre and a great deal of work to get it to that stage, it was a very satisfying thing to do. The right hand spool shown below is the spun fibre. The small ball and the left spool are spun from the ‘tow’, which is the rougher fibre separated out during the combing, or ‘hackling’, as part of the processing.
These were added to a series of cordage samples I have made using a variety of different materials from my allotment plot. This series includes lots of different plant material (leaf, bark, stem and bast) as well as plastics, cloth and paper: things either growing on the plot or found in the sheds.
These form part of my submission for the third module of my MA in Creative Practice. I’ve really enjoyed the process of getting to know the properties of each material that I’ve worked with. To a certain extent I’m starting from scratch with each new fibre, but there is also a cumulative effect of the experience of working the materials. I’ve also been surprised by some that I had low expectations of and which turned out to be much more pleasing to work with than I’d expected.
I don’t have any plans yet for what I might do next with the different cordages, that may come later. For now, the process of working with each material and getting to know its possibilities and limitations have been very rewarding. Furthermore, tied up within each bundle of ‘string’ is the experience of the place they were made: the birdsong that surrounded the making, the smell of each fibre as it passes through the fingers and the slow accumulation of local knowledge about the plot of land where they are from.
I’ve updated my online shop here with some new items. Some of the stitched leaf cubes that featured in my Leaf Stitching exhibition are on there now, along with a selection of other small 3d and 2d items, books and cards. I do always have a selection of framed pieces from previous exhibitions available, as well as unframed and mounted works (textile and print), but these are not advertised on the shop. I am happy to arrange a visit to the studio (Keighley, West Yorkshire) if you are looking to buy. If you are further afield and have particular requests then do send me an email and I’d be happy to discuss options for work I have available.
Leaf Stitching is showing this week in London and I’m enjoying being back in the calm space that is the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery. This exhibition is all about detail. Most of the pieces are intimate in scale and they draw you in to notice their intricacies. Small careful stitches punctuate the natural leaf material; the colours and surface qualities of the leaves invite close inspection.
I have a flurry of workshops at the moment for various groups, which is getting me out and about around the country. In between those and the preparation for them I am making final touches to work for my exhibition Leaf Stitching at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, London in a couple of weeks. It seems very fitting to have this exhibition as autumn is upon us and I hope it will be a celebration of the leaf at a time when we become particularly aware of these wonderful objects.
As well as pieces featured in the book I published earlier this year with the same title there will be some more recent leaf stitching I have been working on, including 2D and 3D pieces. The Oak leaf Quilt I made a few months ago will be there, and some panels made from eucalyptus leaves that are still work in progress…
Suddenly the seasons have shifted. Although today is the start of the meteorological autumn it doesn’t always feel autumnal on the first of September. The last week has felt very autumnal with changes in the feel of the air and subtle shifts in foliage colours. There are fruits and seeds ripening and all sorts of interesting fungi appearing. Last week I was teaching down in Hertfordshire and staying in a village surrounded by arable fields. The harvest over, machinery was busy turning the earth ready for the next lot of crops. One day a golden blanket of stubble covered the gently rolling landscape and the next it had been turned in on itself, revealing rich chocolate brown earth.
Walking the lanes near where I was staying my hands became full of treasures, so much so that I used my umbrella to hold them! I don’t now very much about fungi and I wouldn’t normally do more than admire. But I do know a puff ball when I see one and I was delighted to find one that was fresh and firm: ideal for my tea.
Back in Yorkshire a day later and we walk in local woods. Again there are beautiful perfect fungi, ripe berries to pop straight into the mouth as we walk and under one tree we find a scattering of oak galls, which I gathered for use in dyeing.
At home I drew the berries I’d found on the lanes and used their juice to add colour to my pages. The colours won’t stay true for very long but there is something ‘true’ about using the object you’ve drawn to make marks itself. A leaf that also caught my eye because of its purple hues sits alongside and seems to sum up the shift in the year.
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.
My Leaf Stitching books have just arrived, hot off the press from the printers. The book is now available here. This book forms a photographic record of a series of experiments with leaves and hand stitch that I have been playing about with for a couple of years. As it says in the afterword: This book illustrates a line of inquiry, the following of a thought process.
Some of the pieces that feature in the book, and others that don’t, will be exhibited this Autumn at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, London.
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.
I’m working on some pieces for an exhibition called Coded: Decoded with Prism this May and Autumn. A Language of Leaves is a series of works loosely based on thoughts about asemic writing and the forms that leaves make when they fall and are arranged on the ground. Asemic writing is that which has no specific meaning or semantic content. It can suggest meaning but is open to the viewers’ interpretation. I’m making a series of ‘lexicons‘ (a catalogue of a languages words) with different leaves.