Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Beauty is the first test: exhibition at NCCD Sleaford

I have been chosen as a case study for this exhibition and it was great to see my work and the rest of the exhibition at the private view at The National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford, last week. The image above shows my ‘get off me’ mat and associated items, on the quirky furniture David Gates designed for the exhibition, with some of Michael Brennand-Wood’s lace in the background. I like the combination of Michael’s lace based on 16th century cutwork and mine referencing 19th century Bedfordshire lace, but both with a modern twist.

The exhibition explores how mathematical concepts underpin craft techniques and artistic development and features Michael Brennand-Wood; Suresh Dutt; Janice Gunner; Lesley Halliwell; Lucy McMullen; Janette Matthews; Peter Randall Page; Ann Sutton and Laura Thomas. The case studies of five makers (Carol Quarini, Gail Baxter, David Gates, Stella Harding, and Margo Selby) are also included. The exhibition runs from 29 April to 30 June 2013 at NCCD, Sleaford, and then transfers to Bilston Craft Gallery, Wolverhampton, in September. My case study included my lace mat, some of my antique lace bobbins, my sketchbook showing the design development, and a glossy booklet produced by the curator, Liz Cooper, describing my work and showing images of my practice.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Nottingham Trent lace archive

I’ve just spent two fascinating days carrying out research at the Nottingham Trent University lace archive. The archive contains several very thick manufacturers’ design books (the spines are about 10 cm wide) with hundreds of examples of different lace patterns. Most of the manufacturing examples are machine lace from the Nottingham area but there is also some handmade lace, probably for comparison or inspiration for the machine lace designers. There are also books from European lace areas, historical books and a series of volumes of The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine which links to my PhD research on Victorian domesticity. I’ve taken loads of photos and made lots of notes and sketches and now need to sort them all out and plan some future research.

Monday, 22 April 2013


I saw these tapestry bobbins at the recent Wool House exhibition at Somerset House belonging to Victoria Crowe. She was there demonstrating and showing some of her work from the Large tree group. It’s always interesting seeing the tools other craftspeople use and I couldn’t help comparing these large bobbins with the smaller ones we use for lacemaking (below).

Bobbins for the English laces that developed in the Midlands are slim and straight, often decorated and weighted with beads. The beads form a loop at the end of the bobbin and were traditionally made of square cut glass. Also we use bobbins for all our threads, unlike tapestry where a warp is set up on the loom for most of the passive threads. However, we both seem to use half hitches to secure the thread to the bobbin. Interesting to see how tools develop for particular crafts.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Treasures of the royal courts

This sumptuous exhibition at the V&A is ostensibly about the story of diplomacy between the British monarchs and the Russian tsars between 1509 and 1685, but it includes several good examples of textiles. There are portraits of Queen Elizabeth as a young woman and many others of her courtiers, all accurately depicting their clothes and jewels. At the beginning of this period there was little lace in costume, but there was plenty during Elizabeth’s reign, which is shown in the portraits and in some artefacts including a beautifully mounted and displayed ruff of Italian needlelace and a pair of men’s gloves with magnificent gold lace, spangles and embroidery. Unfortunately the style of the portraits under the Stuart kings became more fluid so some of the lace appears as an impression rather than as an accurate depiction, but the portraits depict the opulence of the fashions well. In addition to the large portraits there were also a number of miniatures and an interesting video showing how they were produced. I found it a fascinating exhibition from the textile point of view although the highlight of the show is the collection of English silverware presented to the tsars. Apparently, this collection of silver is more extensive and of a better quality than any UK silver collection of the period, because in 1642 most silverware was melted down to fund the English Civil War.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Insider information: the theme

‘Insider information’ is the title of the net curtain I am exhibiting in the James Hockey Gallery at Farnham as part of the ‘Time-Place-Space’ exhibition. This net curtain conceals and reveals many coded messages and the idea is that the elements all contain hidden messages and together form a narrative about the domestic. It includes an embroidered QR code and the words ‘help me’ stitched in human hair. The use of cross stitch and human hair reference Victorian domestic needlework, in particular samplers and mourning brooches. The embroidered QR code speaks of neat controlled stitching but conceals another message. The stitching in human hair tells one story but conceals the DNA of the seamstress. The veil of the curtain itself suggests another reading. They all provide many layered meanings and together produce a narrative about the domestic that can only be read by those with keys to unlock the codes. I like the idea that stitching can be considered a form of coded communication and an alternative site of meaning making.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Insider information: hanging the work

Insider information is the title of the piece I have just hung for the exhibition ‘Time-Place-Space’ in the James Hockey Gallery at Farnham. The picture shows the hang underway. The net curtain I’m exhibiting here includes the words ‘help me’ stitched in human hair and an embroidered QR code, which links to a message if you have a QR reading app on your smart phone to decode it. The idea is that the elements form a narrative, but there are lots of hidden messages, each of which adds a layer to the story. I’ll post a better image another day with more information. If you can visit the exhibition, it opens tomorrow and runs for a week until 20 April.

Monday, 8 April 2013

Bristol Guild Gallery

This light and airy gallery, on the top floor of the Bristol Guild, hosts exhibitions by local artists. On the day I visited they had a mixed media exhibition by five artists and the work included mosaics, textile pictures, nuno felted and knitted scarves, silver jewellery, silk panels and glass wall hangings. I liked Gabbie Gardner’s jewellery based on images from tiles and Lyn Holland’s scarves both of which you can see in the image from the brochure above.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Stitching and thinking: artist’s talk

I blogged about this exhibition at Bristol Museum when I first saw it in January, but this week I managed to get back to hear Dawn Mason talk about it. As always, it was interesting hearing an artist talking about her work and that of the other members of the Stitch and Think group. She explained that she and Janet Haigh, the founder members of the group, had discussed how drawing, stitching and talking were all involved in communicating ideas, but they felt that hand skills seemed to be dying out. As a result, they held a workshop that brought together participants to explore the use of stitching as a visual language and it was from that meeting that the group was formed. I was particularly interested in hearing more about the development of the work in the exhibition, especially the sewn and mended ceramics, and about Dawn’s experience of stitching with human hair. She also told us that the group intends to continue working together, so I look forward to seeing their future exhibitions.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Wool House

This celebration of wool at Somerset House combined all aspects of wool including spinning, weaving, textiles, fashion, room designs and fine art. Everything seemed to be made of wool including the brightly coloured wool ‘sheep’ and ‘trees’ outside the entrance and Shauna Richardson’s Crochetdermy brown bear in the entrance hall. Various designers had been given rooms to furnish and decorate with wool products including a nursery, a snug, a study, a natural room, a modern room, a classic drawing room, and a bedroom. They included woollen furnishings, carpets, hangings and ‘wallpaper’. My favourite room was probably the nursery by Donna Wilson mainly because of the central mobile of clouds and rain and the three dimensional ‘wallpaper of trees with separate leaves, all made of wool. I also liked the Winged pendants by Kate Ramsay in the drawing room (below).

Other rooms housed spinners and weavers giving practical demonstrations including representatives from Dovecot Studios and the Handweavers Studio demonstrating tapestry and weaving, respectively. Jason Collingwood was also there as artisan in residence but sadly not on the day I visited. There were also tapestries by Claudy Jongstra and fashions for men and women made from woollen fabrics. It was a great advertisement for wool in all its guises.