Friday 31 May 2013

Waddesdon Manor lace collection

I spent an interesting morning looking at samples from the lace collection at Waddesdon Manor yesterday. I particularly admired the examples of Chantilly lace – a flounce and a fan, but there were also exquisite pieces of needlelace as well. The visit was arranged as part of the Lace 21 project, which is seeking proposals for lace interventions in the house for an exhibition in 2014.

Tuesday 28 May 2013

Nottingham Contemporary

I finally managed to get to see Nottingham Contemporary last month. It’s an art gallery in the Lace Market area of Nottingham, but the reason I wanted to see it was not for what it houses but for the lace embedded in the concrete fa├žade on the outside of the building. The lace was worked by Louise West based on a piece of Valenciennes style machine-made lace produced by the Nottingham lacemaking company of Richard Birkin in 1847. If you want to see how the lace was developed from an antique sample to concrete slabs, Louise has the details and lots of photos on her website. It’s great to see Nottingham celebrating its lace history at a contemporary site in this way.

Friday 24 May 2013

Oversized lace

I’ve been making this oversized ninepin lace edging out of string (it's 8 inches wide) for an exhibition at the Crypt gallery in July called ‘The fabric of memory’. I will be showing large images of lace and fabric and oversized pieces of lace and fabric to complement them. Working on such a large scale has been interesting. I’ve had to scale up my bobbins to carry the amount of string required. I’ve been using tapestry bobbins and sticks of bamboo and I’ve found that keeping a short thread between the bobbin and the work is the easiest way of working. I’ve also used false picots rather than traditional Bedfordshire ones as they are easier to manage in string. Tensioning the lace has been tricky too because my pins are small in comparison to the work, but using larger pins or nails would have destroyed the polystyrene ‘pillow’ I’m working on. I’ve had to work one small section at a time, mainly so I don’t get backache, and also because the lace takes up so much space on the pillow. So much for all the technical problems – the lace is almost finished and I hope it looks good in the Crypt in July.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

No borders

‘No borders’ is an exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery which brings together 12 artists from the Middle East, Africa and Asia to consider how we are all linked through history, politics and economics. As you enter the gallery you are met by Shilpa Gupta’s seesawing double microphones and hear her performance of speeches by Jinnah and Nehru from 1947, when India became independent and Pakistan was created, emphasising the similarity of the two. Her image of a flag composed from a poem made out of high visibility tape saying ‘There is no border here’ also considers the abstract nature of borders. Ai Weiwei’s ton of tea questions the border between art and function and Walid Raad’s work questions the border between fact and fiction, while Akram Zaatari’s video of a typewriter romance considers the function of social media. However, some of the works seem to emphasise borders rather than erase them. Haegue Yang's blinds consider feelings of displacement and isolation, while Hala Elkoussy’s photographs of Cairo emphasise changes within the city. Shahzia Sikander’s images consider colonial differences between Britain and India, and Amar Kanwar’s video highlights the daily marking of the border between India and Pakistan by the soldiers on either side of it. Zwelethu Mthethwa’s photographic images of sugar cane cutters and Yto Barrada’s images of illegal migrants from Africa into Europe sleeping rough emphasise their humanity but in doing so highlight the huge economic borders they have to negotiate. Imran Qureshi’s blood red gestural hand prints and linked images of Indo Persian lotus flowers commemorate the murders of two people at the hands of a vigilante mob in Pakistan, suggesting that for them the borders of justice were breached. I left the exhibition considering that ‘No borders’ was an ironic title as what seems to unite us all is the numerous borders and barriers that make up the stuff of everyday life.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Commissioning craft: the home and the homelike

This was the title of an interesting talk at the Crafts Study Centre this week by Professor Simon Olding. He started by talking about Robin Tanner and the commissioning of crafts for the home in the early twentieth century and then went on to consider the present trend for commissioning crafts for heritage buildings. This mirrors the shift in craft from the functional to the inquisitional. The National Trust and English Heritage have both supported programmes in which contemporary artists have responded to heritage properties and produced craft to challenge or illuminate these sites. We were shown several varied examples of such interventions, for example: Jilly Edwards’ tapestry weaving at Highcross House; Peter Freeman’s light installation outside Winchester Cathedral; and Sally Freshwater’s flower firescreen at Nymans. The contrast of sitting in the white cube space of the Crafts Study Centre surrounded by crafts while considering the placing of crafts in heritage properties gave the talk an added interest.

Thursday 16 May 2013

Queen Anne’s lace

Alice Kettle’s ‘Flower helix’ currently on exhibition at The Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum, for which Gail Baxter and I acted as consultants, was based on the idea of Queen Anne’s lace. Queen Anne’s lace is not actual lace at all but is a country term for cow parsley and is featured in the rhyme from Alison Uttley’s book Little Grey Rabbit makes lace (1950 London: Collins):

Queen Anne, Queen Anne
She sat in the sun
Making of lace till the day was done
She made it green, she made it white
She made it of flowers and sunshine and light
She fastened it on a stalk so fine
She left it in the hedgerow to shine
Queen Anne’s lace, Queen Anne’s lace
You find it growing all over the place

The Flower helix was designed to appear as a cloud of white lace-like flowers spiralling down the centre of the Tulip staircase looking like fronds of cow parsley and having seen it on site I think we were successful.

Monday 13 May 2013

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

I finally saw Matthew Bourne’s gothic version of the Sleeping Beauty ballet on Saturday evening and it was definitely worth the wait. The idea of having gothic ‘fairies’ representing the ‘virtues’ of passion, rebirth, plenty, spirit and temperament was a clever twist on the original tale, especially as two of them were named Feral and Tantrum, and they were led by Count Lilac rather than the traditional Lilac fairy. The dual villain of Carabosse and her son Caradoc was also a touch of genius and allowed the male and female aspects of that menacing character to be explored. The puppet baby was very cleverly controlled and appeared to have a personality and mind of its own. And of course the vampire theme overcame the problem of the 100 year length of Aurora’s sleep. The costumes, scenery and dancing were all excellent and Tchaikovsky’s music was as beautiful as ever – it was a magical evening.

Thursday 9 May 2013

Alice Kettle’s Garden of England: private view

It was very exciting to see Alice’s Garden of England embroidery at the private view in The Queen’s House at the National Maritime Museum yesterday. Having worked with Alice on the lace like Flower helix and seen her embroidery in various different stages it was lovely to see it all in place at the site. Alice had combine floral and lace themes from some of the portraits and the Tulip staircase to produce an embroidered portrait of Henrietta Maria and an embroidered Garden of flowers for the floor in one room (see image above) and a cascade of flowers for the Tulip staircase (image below).

I blogged previously about helping Alice devise and produce the Flower helix (in March 2013) in collaboration with Gail Baxter and it was exciting to see it in place at last. Alice had also kindly acknowledged our help on the label for the work and we were also thanked in the speeches as well as being given a beautiful rose each and one of Alice’s colourful embroidered flowers as a brooch.

Tuesday 7 May 2013


Synchronise is an exhibition of collaborations between various members of Design Factory based at The National Centre for Craft and Design. I only had a quick chance to look at the exhibition and concentrated on the work of Clare Gage and Jayne Childs of JC Middlebrook because their work references lace. Inspired by the lace archive at Nottingham Trent University (which I visited last week - see my earlier blog), in particular the blueprints, as well as Wedgewood china, they produced a range of interesting designs for this exhibition, combining lace and ceramics to produce tableware and jewellery.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Beauty is the first test: the film

The five craftspeople chosen to be case studies for the exhibition ‘Beauty is the first test’ have all been filmed in their studios by the video company Electric Egg. It was my turn on Monday, and Steve and Neil from Electric Egg and Liz Cooper the curator of the exhibition came to my studio for the day. I was interviewed and then filmed making lace, designing a lace pattern, winding bobbins and pricking a pattern. They were very easy to work with and put me completely at ease so it was easy to discuss my work with them. They also made a short video for me to link to one of my lace curtain pieces which was a bonus. Once they have filmed and interviewed all the case studies (Carol Quarini, Gail Baxter, David Gates, Stella Harding, and Margo Selby) they will produce an impressionistic video of the combined responses rather than straightforward documentaries of each of us. The film will then be shown with the exhibition, first at NCCD Sleaford and then at the subsequent venues (Bilston Craft Gallery, Wolverhampton, and Platform Gallery, Clitheroe). I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product.