Friday 14 December 2007

Tutankhamun exhibition

One of my favourite pieces is the golden shrine because it is so opulent and costly yet depicts domestic scenes in the life of the king and the queen. Because of its religious significance, the hieroglyphics on the shrine would have had a significant meaning to those who made and used it and some of this power comes across to the viewer. It is a beautiful object with layers of meaning and details of the daily life of those who used it.

Beautiful gold work can also be seen on the ostrich feather fan. The original feathers have not survived, but the stumps of the feathers are still present in the holder. It is made of wood covered with sheet gold. Each side of the fan depicts scenes of hunting and one shows how the fan would have been used.

It was an excellent exhibition, but inevitably very busy and it was difficult to look at the artefacts in detail. It was impossible to sketch anything but there were several books on sale with pictures of the artefacts. The photos here come from the booklet that accompanied the original exhibition in 1972. Comparing the two exhibitions, the older one was more educational and this one was more of a show. This may reflect the different venues and settings or reflect the changes in curating that have occurred during the 35 years that separate the two.

Talk by Lesley Millar

Lesley came to Farnham on 11 December to talk to us about cloth and culture. We discussed with Lesley how our knowledge of textiles begins through touch and that skin is the surface through which we experience textiles. She reminded us that to touch is also to be touched and that this mutuality creates a dialogue. Cloth retains conscious and unconscious memory; it bears the trace of the maker and the wearer.
Used cloth holds layers of memories. The same piece of cloth can have different meanings to different people, for example it can be functional, art, religious, or a statement of identity. Pattern in cloth can provide a non-linear textile narrative. In the Baltic states under communism, textile patterns were used as cultural identity in a subversive way as a means of political dissent. Lesley also told us about her new exhibition Cloth and Culture which brings together 35 artists from Estonia, Finland, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania and the UK and opens in the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich in January 2008. She also discussed our individual research with us.

Friday 30 November 2007

Indigo a blue to dye for

I saw this Whitworth Art Gallery Touring Exhibition at the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery. The part about the history of indigo dying was interesting and there were some lovely pieces of work illustrating the different uses of indigo.
I was most interested in the modern pieces, particularly the installation by Hiroyuki Shindo. It was made up of eight panels each comprising three parts: the central one in each hanging was patterned and the outer ones were plain, several of the outer pieces were see through. This made the piece seem lighter than I was expecting because the eight panels wafted slightly in the breeze. The sections of the panels were loosely joined by open stitching, which also enhanced their lightness. The installation was hung with four panels on each side and dyed indigo balls of string were placed on the floor in the central area. I thought this worked well because it tied the whole piece together and made it an installation rather than eight separate hangings. Unfortunately photography was not allowed.

Crafts magazine

Nice to see Crafts referencing lace on its front cover with a lace pricking and pins. All thanks to Catherine Bertola and the fact that she is exhibiting at the V&A in their craft for the 21st century exhibition ‘Out of the ordinary’. This issue has a review of the exhibition and also an article on the lace produced by Urh Sobocan and his grandmother Iva (see blog below).

Linked by a thread

This is the title of an article in Crafts number 209 on the lace produced by Urh Sobocan and his grandmother Iva. The combination of expert lacemaker and graphic designer has worked well and they have produced very individual work that retells their family story. Urh has also reworked the images digitally to produce interesting three-dimensional effects and shadows. Their website is

Fabrications, Craft in the 21st century

This symposium was held on Friday 23 November 2007 at the V&A in conjunction with the exhibition Out of the ordinary. I have full notes in my file but the main themes I found interesting are mentioned here.

Displaced making, when artists have their work made by professional fabricators, was discussed. The general consensus seemed to be that if this was acknowledge it was acceptable although many galleries have a problem with it because there are problems over authorship. Many of the works in Out of the Ordinary had required collaboration, for example between craftspeople and film makers and this seems to be the path crafts is taking.

In a discussion on displaying crafts, Jorunn Veiteberg noted that a white room is not a neutral setting for craft. Also, the amount of space round an artwork indicates its prestige and value. She also reminded us that experience is always mediated and that while aesthetics are still relevant in craft they are no longer relevant in art.

Sorrel Hershberg noted that what you call yourself affects the status of your work as does where it is shown. She also told us that in general craft horizons are seen as narrow – why limit yourself to only one thing? Immersing yourself in one technique hinders your design. This is why many artists embrace the technique of craft but refuse its nomenclature. I found this slightly confusing because I can see sticking to one craft could be limiting, but painters and sculptors generally stick to one ‘craft’ and no one accuses them of being limited!

Charley Peters concluded by saying that the V&A tries not to be the museum of technique. He noted that you don’t go to the Tate and see how paintings are made. I completely agree with this, so many people in the crafts world want to add technique to exhibitions, but all it does is devalue the ideas because you are effectively saying “look this is so easy anyone can do it” without explaining that it takes years to develop craft techniques to a high standard and beautiful craft is no use without the conceptual input into the work.

Out of the ordinary: spectacular craft

This exhibition at the V&A runs from 13 November 2007 to 17 February 2008. It includes eight artists who use crafts in a modern way. Their aim has been to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary and they have achieved this.

Olu Amoda uses nails and found metals objects to produce sculptures that have a very lace-like quality. He says that nails are small but lethal: a nail is able to defend itself but yields to the will of the craftsman – as do the pins Anne Wilson (see below) uses, and those used by lacemakers.

Catherine Bertola creates site specific installations that tell a story about the history of a space. She has used dust collected from the Museum to produce wallpaper that reflects on the past. I thought the way she had used units of cut paper to do this was useful to bear in mind for my own practice.

Annie Catrell uses glass to produce images that make the invisible visible and the ethereal solid. Her glass towers appear to trap tiny scraps of cloud.

Susan Collis produces work that at first appears to be stained and marked but on closer inspection reveals itself to have been finely worked.

Naomi Filmer is a jeweller who celebrates the human form by producing casts of different parts of the body and isolating them in glass lenses.

Anne Wilson and her team have produced a large map-like drawing on a table using bits of lace and pins. She has also used an animated film to show how the piece was made. The use of lace and pins in a non-lacemaking sense was interesting – the pins were used to pin down the lace specimens like insects rather than aid their production. The animated film was very effective and gave the pieces of lace and the pins a life of their own.

One of the main themes of the exhibition was show much collaboration there had been between the makers and those helping them to produce animations, sound tracks and display materials. Craftsmen are no longer working on their own in a vacuum. Craft has become a collaborative process. However, this may lead to problems with authorship, some of which were addressed in the symposium ‘Fabrications, craft in the 21st century’ which coincided with the exhibition.

Simon Periton

Simon Periton had decorated the tunnel leading from the underground passageway to the V&A with his piece ‘The anti (sic) room of the Mae Queen’. He usually works with paper but all this work was in metal. His aim was to make a chamber in which an icon of the Golden Age of cinema merges with the pagan goddess of life. The references to Mae West and the May Queen eluded me when I saw this installation, but it formed a very attractive entrance into the V&A nonetheless. However, his use of units may be something I reference in my own practice.

Saturday 17 November 2007

Urban FIELD Symposium

This symposium was organised by the Craft Study Centre and complemented the Urban FIELD Exhibition held there earlier in the year. The aim was to bring the rural and the urban into contact. The first speaker was Deidre Figueirdo who spoke about promoting craft practice in the urban setting among immigrant communities. Love Jonsson talked about the revitalisation of Swedish crafts and how craftspeople are now talking about their work in terms of craft not art or design – they are reclaiming craft with pride. They are making functional items rather than art works. He helped to set up iaspis a Swedish initiative aimed at involving Swedish craft in the international scene. Sabrina Gschwandtner the founder of KnitKnit magazine spoke after lunch. She told us how knitting in the USA is being used as performance art, graffiti and sculpture. The Graffitti group in Houston, Texas, enclose things in the street, such as door knobs and telegraph poles with knitted cosies then record people’s reaction to them and publish them on MySpace. Sabrina described other contemporary knitters including Dave Coles who makes conceptual sculptures, such as a huge teddy bear made out of insulation wadding, and Kat Maser who made the Nike protest knitting - both shown in the Radical lace and subversive knitting exhibition. Finally Ian Hunter spoke on repositioning the crafts in the context of rural regeneration and environmental sustainability. It is encouraging to see the crafts being revitalised and used in modern subversive ways. I liked the knitted graffiti. The day after the symposium I saw smoothie bottles in Sainsbury’s with little knitted hats on promoting a scheme to help the aged – so they weren’t being subversive just used to represent the elderly – bands of knitting would have been subversive but hats weren’t. That’s the fine line in crafts - you can be ironic but there is the danger that it comes over as kitsch or even the other way round!

Monday 5 November 2007

Snow Queen

We went to see the Snow Queen at the New Theatre Oxford on Thursday night. Lots of interesting costumes particularly the red and black ones for the gypsies, the white lace-like ones for the snow maidens and the snow leopard costumes. The dancing, sets and costumes were good but somehow it lacked the wow factor we were hoping for. After some thought we decided that was because the principal dancer had no main male partner so there was no set piece pas de deux to impress us.

Thursday 1 November 2007

The Textiles Collection at Farnham

The Textile Collection is available on line at Linda Brassington explained to us how the collection could be accessed and how the online images can be saved. The objects in the archive can be found under the headings: function, origin, maker/designer, raw materials, cloth structure and process.

Cass Sculpture Foundation open air park

The Cass Sculpture Foundation open air sculpture park featured on the Culture Show on Saturday night when it was shown from the air. There are so many amazing sculptures in this park in Goodwood and they are so beautifully displayed that it is difficult to choose a few to illustrate this blog. The first thing you see when you arrive are Wendy Ramshaw’s magnificent gates which part across the centre for you to enter. Then on your left the simple, but very effective, Loop by Ellis O’Connell.

Other favourites of mine were Thomas Heatherwick’s Pavilion (I am a great fan of his and particularly like his bridge at Paddington) and Confessional by Cathy de Monchaux.

Julian Wild’s System No. 19 appealed to me because of its lace-like qualities. On a more monumental scale I found Jon Isherwood’s Passages, origins and circumstances very interesting and I also admired how Stephen Cox had set out Catamarans on a granite wave. The study centre contained models of many of the sculptures in the park. While outside the centre was this amazing water feature that filled and emptied and refracted the images of the trees behind it.

The sculptures are all placed so that they can be admired individually and can be seen from different viewpoints and glimpsed through different avenues of trees. They are cleverly sited so that each one appears on its own and can be appreciated by walking around it but clever juxtapositions of views enhance the viewer’s experience.

Rezia Wahid exhibition

Lovely exhibition of Rezia Wahid’s cloths at the Crafts Study Centre. She uses silk and merino wool to weave fine lengths of cloth. She hangs them in air so light can travel through them. Also on display are some of her sketchbooks and a video of dancers wearing the cloths in different ways and moving with them to enhance their air-like quality. The way the cloths are displayed is the way I like my silk paper and lace pieces to be seen with light passing through them and enough space for people to walk round them. The cloths are simply hung over an acrylic rod and pinned in place, so they move with the breeze. I will also use photos of the exhibition to illustrate my research on how textiles are hung in large gallery spaces.

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Hundert Wasser

We saw this exhibition of the work of Hundert Wasser in the Art Museum in Budapest. He was interested in the relationship of the built environment to nature. For example he didn’t agree with the repainting of walls because he felt that patches of dirt created organic patterns that lent a unique design to exteriors. He lived from 1928 to 2000 and was influenced by Klimt. His works use basic colours and designs in squares and circles. He used a variety of media including silk screen printing, tapestry, wood blocks and graphics.

Art in Budapest

Many of the buildings in Budapest are beautiful with art nouveau designs although many look quite run down. There are statues throughout the city and these magnificent gates at the royal palace. Hungarians produce a type of ceramic with very lace like edges – like a paper doily in porcelain, which they use to make ornate bowls and plates. The circular lace pictured here came from the Villeroy and Bosch china shop in Andrassy Street.

Ethnographic Museum in Budapest

We visited this grand museum and eventually found the permanent collection of Hungarian life tucked away down several corridors. The peasants in Hungary were only freed in about 1840 so life was hard for many.
We saw interesting costumes, embroidery and leatherwork. There were also many items of daily life including farm implements, cooking utensils and furniture.


We spent the weekend in this lovely city on the Danube with a castle on the hill. Lots of things to see, including the churches of St Matthias and St Stephen; the first full of Pre-Raphaelite style paintings and the second baroque and very ornate with lots of gold leaf. We also saw the parliament, Heroes’ Square, the castle and the fishermen’s bastion. We had a boat trip on the Danube and visited St Margaret Island with its lovely Japanese garden and ruined convent. We visited the thermal baths in the Gellert Hotel and swam in the Art Deco swimming pool. In the evenings we went to a concert in a small gilded hall and listened to a choral performance in a local church.

Wednesday 17 October 2007

Meet the artist day

I spent Sunday 14 October at Highcliffe Castle, Dorset, with our exhibition Rhythms and Cycles (see September blog) demonstrating lacemaking and answering questions from the public. It was not a very busy day but there were some interesting comments in the visitors’ book including ‘Absolutely gobsmacking’ from Gil Bird and others saying the exhibition was stunning.

Green is the new black

I found this book by Tamsin Blanchard in the local library – she was on the TFRG question time panel last week. She explains the principles of ethical fashion, from why it matters to how to do it. It is also full of useful websites. For example those for Borovicks, Kleins, V V Rouleaux, Button Queen and Sew Hip. She also gives some sites about knitting and sewing: Sweet, Loop, Barley Massey and Hip knits. Also some free designer patterns: an Alexander McQueen kimono jacket and one from Martin Margiela. The textile environment design website also gives lots of leads to other interesting green websites.

Friday 12 October 2007

Textile Futures Research Group

The TFRG presented an Eco textile design salon at the ICA on Thursday 11 October. The afternoon session was a series of four conversations between Rebecca Earley and Natalie Chanin; Mo Tomaney and Elaine Jones; Sandy Black and Christoph Bergmann; Carole Colet and Maja Kuzmanovic. The evening meeting was based on the Question Time formula. The panel consisted of Tamsin Blanchard, Kindley Walsh Lawlor, Lynda Grose, Carole Collet, Clare Brass, Rebecca Earley and Kate Goldsworthy. I got lots of useful references and websites to follow up.

Crafting beauty in modern Japan

Lovely exhibition at the British Museum showing ceramics, metalwork, textiles, wood, bamboo, lacquer and dolls from Japan. In 1950 the Japanese government created a law for the protection of cultural properties. These can be craft objects or music and dance. Holders of these skills are designated ‘Living national treasures’ and their work is promoted by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. We saw some lovely textiles, both woven and printed kimonos and woven obi sashes and a short film of a maker producing block printed fabric for a kimono. The overwhelming impression was of simple elegance.

Wednesday 10 October 2007

Context and Collaboration

Context and Collaboration is a series of seminars that set out to provide a forum to investigate strategies for museums, art galleries, higher education institutions and professional practitioners to collaborate to increase the profile of contemporary textiles.

It is difficult to find high profile venues for contemporary textiles despite the large potential audience. There are few opportunities in the UK to buy contemporary textiles and gallery owners find it difficult to assess their ‘enduring significance’ because there is no market for them. One idea to encourage collaboration is the creation of a textile specific venue, although this could lead to ghettoisation. Another is the development of a champion - either a person or group of galleries – that would encourage collaboration and bring together buyers and sellers.

The project director was Lesley Millar and an article on The profile of contemporary textiles is published in Embroidery Sept 2007 pp 32-35.

Westhope Group meeting

Westhope is a group of contemporary lacemakers who meet annually at the end of September for a weekend at Westhope College. This year we had a day’s workshop on papermaking with Bobby Britnell. I gave a short presentation about our exhibition at Highcliffe Castle. Gail Baxter talked about our work with Sonumbra and Gil Dye talked about her lacemaking trip to Japan. We also discussed the work we will be showing at our group exhibition at the Knitting and Stitching Show in 2008. Ann Wheeler is the coordinator for the exhibition and Gail and I will help her set up at the NEC and Alexandra Palace.

Thursday 4 October 2007

Crafts Study Centre

Access to the Centre's collection is by appointment and 1 month's notice is required. For more information contact the Collections Manager or phone 01252 891452. Some useful websites for associated collections are and

Tuesday 2 October 2007

The Textile Network

The Textile Network profiles the work of staff and students at the Cumbria Institute of the Arts. Mitch Phillips gave a talk about the site at the ETN conference.

European Textile Network Conference London Saturday 15 September

Rachel Wingfield from Loop talked about responsive textiles. She discussed Sonumbra – the umbrella project that Gail Baxter and I were involved in. Then described Loop’s new project at Kew and one with scientists at Cambridge.

Marie O’Mahoney (co-author of Techno textiles 2) described a lace project she undertook in Australia. The aim was to produce modern ‘lace curtains’ for people living off Sydney harbour. Digital imagery of handmade lace was sandwiched between two layers of electrochromic glass. At a flick of a switch the glass could go from transparent to opaque.

Janne Kyttanen showed us how rapid prototyping works and can be used commercially. He showed us examples including clothes ready formed complete with zips, bags, lighting products and jewellery. Larry Preusser described digital modelling for clothes and showed us an amazing video of virtual cloth draping over a ring.

European Textile Network Conference London Friday 14 September

We were given an introduction and tour of the Digital Manufacturing Centre at the London Metropolitan University. They have facilities for rapid prototyping, laser cutting and digital printing. The Centre is part of Metropolitan Works which offers workspace access, offices and business support on a pay as you go basis. We were given a laser cut butterfly as a sample.

In the evening we went to the private view of ‘On the fringe’ an exhibition of research led digital and craft practice by academics from the University.

Thursday 27 September 2007

Exhibition at Highcliffe Castle

We set up our exhibition at Highcliffe Castle, Christchurch on 4 September. My piece is a family tree - each strand represents a member of the family and they are tied together with red thread to represent ties of blood. Each strand incorporates handmade bobbin lace strips and bobbin lace pieces embedded in silk paper. There are four complementary portraits of family members on the wall - like a portrait gallery in a stately home - each with their own family tree in needlelace. The exhibition is entitled Rhythms and cycles and the other exhibitors are Gail Baxter, Jane Atkinson and Denise Watts. It runs until 26 October 2007.