I spent most of last week on a workshop in Devon at the studio of Susie Gillespie. I do quite a lot of teaching now and I feel it is really important to be on the other side of that sometimes too. The workshop was all about growing, processing and spinning flax into yarn and then weaving with it. It was a really stimulating workshop in a lovely location and I felt very lucky indeed to have had the opportunity to be there.
There is a lovely vocabulary that goes with this activity: retting, rippling, combing, breaking, scutching…
It is quite an involved business to get this small hand full of fibres ready to spin. I quickly developed a huge respect for peoples of the past whose only way to have cloth was through this series of processes.
I’ve not done any spinning before, although I do have my Granny’s spinning wheel in the cellar. I’m hoping to use it now I’ve had an introduction. The linen yarn I spun was very hairy and more like rough string than beautiful linen thread, but it is a start and I am looking forward to improving my spinning skills.
It was also good to see a little of the surrounding landscape with walks along part of the River Dart and a windy bit of the coast at Man Sands.
We did some natural dyeing, ending up with a lovely colour palette of linen threads to play with and incorporate into our weaving. I was asked to lead a stitching session on one of the days: we used the dyed threads and a host of items we collected on our walks.
I will be teaching with Susie in April and August this year and I’m really looking forward to returning to this lovely pocket of Devon.
Earlier this month I was fortunate to be in Southern Italy, teaching at the wonderful Masseria della Zingara. We had a great week exploring the land around the Masseria, walking the lanes, collecting things to use in the studio and using various techniques to record our experience. We collected, printed, stained, wrote, stitched, wove, folded . . . and ate!
Spring was in full swing (which it certainly isn’t yet here in the UK!) and we were surrounded by fruit trees in blossom, beautiful wild flowers and a green lushness that I’m sure will have gone once the temperatures rise later in the year. The wonderful red earth in that part of Italy provides a striking foil for the colours of growth. And of course my travel reading had to be The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, which provides the story for one of my favourite films, a must-see at this time of year.
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 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.
At Easter I collected some mud from a tributary of the Severn Estuary, whilst down in Somerset. The tubs of this lovely mud have been sitting patiently in my studio, waiting for me to open them up and play with their wonderful smooth contents. I’ve been weaving away at a long strip for quite some time and this came off the loom last week. Although it was woven on a table loom, once off the loom I manipulated it so that most of it became densely packed, covering the warp in a tapestry weave structure.
This morning the strip was coated in the silky estuarine mud. Freshly muddied and still wet it has taken on a ceramic quality. It will dry slowly now and its surface quality will change as it does so. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to the surface as it changes.
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 am well and truly in a weave phase at the moment. My studio wall has a growing number of samples pinned up and I’m enjoying exploring a variety of (mostly) linen yarns and the surfaces and structures that they produce when held under tension on a warp. I am constantly delighted by the simplicity of plain weave and the simplicity of the technology that produces it. I’ve been working on my table loom, but even then I have tended to beat things hard so that the warp is covered, producing a surface almost like tapestry weave.
This warp is now off the loom and the samples separated. I did enjoy them as a strip though, and it was tempting not to separate them. The linen formed these lovely curved bridges between the weave.
Most of the samples will be dyed, dipped or stained in some way. I have also been weaving on a frame and this piece is growing a little each time I get to the studio.
This, too, won’t stay white all over. I have plans for it to meet some walnut ink. but more on that another time.
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.
The summer holidays are almost upon us and with them the mix of relief (I could do with a break!) and dread (how on earth do I fit in all the work I need to do whilst also enjoying time with the family?). I know I’m not the only one to feel that way about school holidays and it really will be lovely to have some time away from the normal routine.
Yesterday I delivered Tide Marks to Artlink in Hull ready for them to put it up for my exhibition which opens on 26th July. There is a preview on Friday 25th from 6-8pm so if you are in the area do come along. Each time an exhibition goes up in a different gallery there can be different hanging requirements. As I’m not hanging it myself this time I decided the best way to deal with the little woven pieces that make up Tide Line was to mount them onto a piece of wood so that they are effectively one piece. This took far longer than I thought (each one is sewn to the wood) but I’m pleased with the result and I just managed to squeeze it into my little car to take it over to Hull. I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks next week when I go back for the preview.
There is still another week to see Tide Marks in Stroud. I’ve really enjoyed being in this lovely gallery and this friendly town. I’ve met some wonderful people and had fascinating conversations. I feel very privileged to be part of SIT Select and this popular festival brings visitors with specialist knowledge and interest. Despite the fact that the logistics of being away from home for a chunk of time are tricky, it makes such a difference being in the gallery and able to to talk to people about the work; both for the visitors and for me. My able gallery assistants (AKA Mum and Dad) did a wonderful job of looking after the gallery last week while I was back at home.
The woven Tide Line has been particularly popular and now I am itching to extend it, in length and scale…
The exhibition is at Lansdown Gallery until 24th May, 10.30 – 4.30 (closed Monday). It goes to Hull and London later in the year.