Wednesday 17 December 2014

Subversive samplers

I love traditional samplers and enjoyed the ‘The eye of the needle’ exhibition at the Ashmolean earlier this year (see blog in September). I like their regularity and neatness but they always bring to mind the contrast between the constrained cross stitched messages and the feelings of the embroiderer. I would love to meet Polly Cook whose sampler is referred to in Rozsika Parker’s book ‘The subversive stitch’, unfortunately there is no picture but the text reads ‘Polly Cook did it and she hated every stitch she did in it’ (Parker 1984 p132). In the spirit of Polly Cook I produced a virtual sampler using the Illustrator program. The complete text reads: ‘I sew a long seam and my pins and needles help me for sometimes the thread escapes me’ but the words fade in and out to reveal the phrases ‘help me’ and ‘I long for escape’ hidden within the main text, reflecting the concealed thoughts of the seamstress (see image above, taken at the Cloth and Memory exhibition in 2012). I’ve also been sourcing samplers for a Pinterest board on subversive stitching and have found some lovely examples, such as ‘Dull women have immaculate houses’, ‘You’ve done this wrong’ on a sampler stitched vertically instead of horizontally, and my favourite, which says simply ‘Don’t f**k with me’.

Thursday 11 December 2014

Marriage lines

‘Marriage lines’ is my response to a group project at Jane Austen House Museum. The brief was to make a textile response to link Jane Austen’s needlework and some pages from her unfinished story ‘The Watsons’, which are currently on display in the house on loan from the Bodleian Library. I was struck by Jane Austen’s use of pins to ‘cut and paste’ paragraphs from her manuscript, in the same way she must have used pins to hold her needlework together before sewing it. I therefore wanted to link the ideas of pins, unfinished text and fabric, and I decided to make a wedding veil, as Jane’s stories all link to marriage and courtship. The lace trim of the veil includes words from a quote about marriage from ‘The Watsons’ spoken by the heroine’s sister, Elizabeth: ‘I think I could like any good humoured man with a comfortable income’. The words are on separate pieces of lace and are pinned in place, in the same way Jane pinned her needlework and her manuscripts, suggesting that she is just about to sew them down but hasn’t quite decided on their final arrangement. The veil therefore mirrors Jane Austen’s own practice in crafting textiles and text and her equivocal views about marriage - her own and those of her characters.

Tuesday 9 December 2014

Stitched together

This exhibition at Jane Austen’s house, Chawton, includes the work of 11 artists - including mine – the veil shown above. The brief was to make work inspired by Jane Austen’s novels and her needlework to coincide with the loan of some pages of her unfinished manuscript, The Watsons, from the Bodleian Library. Several of the artists linked the idea of lace and text including Charis Bailey’s embroidered text, Jo Lovelock’s dream catcher (see below), Poppy Szaybo’s printed lace collars, and my veil – more of which in a future blog.

Others focused on layers and fragments including Charlotte Small’s overlapping layers, Laura Brainwood’s work inspired by layers of paper, Clare Rose’s fragment of patchwork incorporating text and Beverly Ayling Smith’s fragments of patchwork scraps hidden throughout the house (see below).

The remaining artists concentrated on the idea of text, including Denise Jones who linked text with music, Hannah White’s iPad case enclosing original correspondence, and Charlotte Martin’s quotes from Austen’s novels woven into cloth. The artists are all linked to either the University for the Creative Arts or the Royal School of Needlework as staff or students. Caren Garfen mentored all the artists during the project. The exhibition isn’t on for long, it closes on 16 December, so do go and see it before then.

Tuesday 2 December 2014

Sampling TB lace

I’ve made a start on my TB lace using linen thread and crochet cotton as a gimp. The basic design indicates the shapes of the bacteria by using gimps to outline open areas in a half stitch ground. The idea was to have open lozenge shapes to represent the bacteria and then add inclusions, again in rough lozenge shapes, to indicate other bacteria in various stages of deterioration. Having made a start on working the pattern, I’m happy with the lozenge shapes outlined in the gimp but not so sure about the inclusions. I think the best plan will be to make the lace and then add other threads to the lace by hooking or sewing them in later if I think I need them. I’m pleased with the tally though and think I will use more, as it adds a bit of interest and also maintains the open shape of the ‘bacteria’.

Wednesday 26 November 2014

Gothic crochet

I was delighted to come across this book of gothic crochet designs from 1964. Unfortunately they are based on gothic architecture rather than the spooky kind of gothic, which would have been really exciting, but they are interesting none the less. They are all in the same style and seem to have been designed by the same person but sadly his or her name is not given. They are all worked in Coats Mercer-Crochet no 20 using a no 3 crochet hook. Most of the designs are for round mats based on such exalted sites as the Rose window of Chartres Cathedral and the fan vaulting of King’s College Chapel Cambridge. However there are also some edgings based on the West Front of Lichfield Cathedral and tracery at St Lorenz, Nuremburg. What impresses me is that the Coats Sewing Group had the commitment to design, in the early 60s, to commission crochet mats based on a theme like this.

Wednesday 19 November 2014

Lace doilies

I’ve been doing some research into lace doilies and was delighted to find these at the Lace Guild. They cover a variety of techniques including Bedfordshire bobbin lace, crochet, tatting, and netting.  It seems that doilies were named after a draper with a shop in the Strand in London, in the early nineteenth century. However, I’ve also discovered that it is quite difficult to define a doily as there are many types of lace mat and combinations of lace mats including luncheon sets, cheval sets, coasters and tray cloths. It’s a case of ‘you know one when you see one’, but defining it is not so easy!

Monday 10 November 2014

Tuberculosis lace design

I’m designing some lace as part of my research into domestic conditions in the nineteenth century. It will be embedded in silk paper to represent the idea of the curtains of the home and the lungs of the body being clogged up with germs and particles from the air. I’ve decided to base it on the tuberculosis bacterium as TB is a disease of overcrowded living conditions, which we associate with that period of history. I’ve found some images of the bacteria and they seem to be long lozenge shapes, so I’m using them as the central motif of the lace, embedded in a fairly open half-stitch background. I also want to add some trapped particles so I will intersperse the ground with cocoon-like shapes, probably in thicker threads. Most of the lace will be covered in silk paper or have silk paper overlaying it so making the lace too fine would be a waste of effort. I’m not sure how to design the edges yet but will probably opt for some sort of scalloped shape to make it easier to attach the silk paper when I come to make that. I’ll keep you posted!

Wednesday 5 November 2014

Releve, pirouette, What now?

This is the title of an intriguing exhibition of work by Chien-Wei Chang at the Crafts Study Centre at Farnham. He is a metalworker and often combines silver with found natural materials. As a Taiwanese artist living in the UK he brings two different aesthetics together in his work and much of it is physically composed of two artefacts split and rejoined. I was very taken with his pieces made from small containers and spoons (the works are not titled) – they appeared to me like tiny reliquaries, just the right size to hold in the palm of the hand, and held the promise of hidden meanings. Splitting of objects pervaded the entire exhibition, with vessels and furniture cut and displayed in two parts, alluding to the two aspects of Chang’s life coming together to produce this fascinating work.    

Saturday 1 November 2014

Lacemakers exhibition at Orleans House Gallery

This is a mixed exhibition of lace and work inspired by lace, at the Stables gallery at Orleans House, Twickenham. Although it includes a complete mixture of textiles, drawings, prints, ceramics, and jewellery, they are all linked by the thread of lace and come together to form a pleasing exhibition. I liked some of the contrasts created, such as the texture of Gail Baxter’s felt and bobbin lace ‘Cover cloth’ compared with the pristine lines of Teresa Whitfield’s ‘Charlotte Bronte’s shawl’ (both shown in the image above). It was interesting to see Hannah White’s light reflective collar ‘Lace tracks’ and Gill Bird’s ‘Raised and rolled’ black and white wired piece. Gill Smith’s cut paper giving the illusion of an open door and its shadow was both beautiful and clever, as was Dawn Cole’s printed collar incorporating text entitled ‘Men had eyes removed’.

Janice Webb’s collaged pieces also contrasted with Lizzie Lee’s conical lampshades made of recycled lace (pictured). I also liked Beth Walsh’s use of bobbin and needle lace in her hanging ‘Porta della carta’ and the more formal lines of Clare Sams’ filet lace ‘I loved you’ antimacassar. It was nice to see Tamara Goulding’s three dimensional needlelace ‘Floating’ and contrast it with Maggie Bonsey’s delicate, black, three dimensional geometric forms.

I thought Gil Dye’s tiny lace collars and Dorie Millerson’s small needle lace vehicles could have been displayed to greater effect. Gil’s work would have benefited from being seen from above and Dorie’s from better lighting and shadows. In contrast, Emma Tann’s black crochet and embroidery installation was beautifully and painstakingly displayed at one end of the gallery (image above). It is always difficult to hang a mixed exhibition and, on the whole, I thought the curators had done a great job and produced an interesting exhibition, expanding the theme of lace beyond the textile.


Friday 24 October 2014

Textile research at the V&A

‘A year at Clothworkers’ was a fascinating symposium about textile research at the V&A. Staff and researchers from the newly opened Clothworkers Centre, based at Blythe House, spoke about their work and their experiences over the past year. All the speakers were enthusiastic about their particular textile specialisms and we heard about radiographing seventeenth century clothing (image above); the use of historical textiles in contemporary fashion; Chinese, Indian, Moroccan and East Asian textiles; dragon robes; British Utility clothing; Persian carpets; and biography through clothing. We heard about the detective work required to link a lost portrait and a seventeenth century man’s costume and the serendipitous discovery of Kenneth Tynan’s driving licence in one of his jacket pockets. We were told how to access the collections and reminded that the online catalogue is the place to find accession numbers when requesting items for study. One of the advantages of the new facilities is that it allows space for several items to be studied and compared at the same time – not generally a problem with lace, but useful if you are researching carpets.  

Friday 17 October 2014

Biology and lace

As part of my current research into the net curtain, I want to make some lace that conveys the idea of disease and the part germs played in the culture of cleanliness in nineteenth century women’s lives. I’ve decided to produce a strip of lace and incorporate it into a handmade curtain, the upper part of which will be made of silk fabric and the lower half of silk paper. The lace will lie on the boundary of the two materials to give the idea that the fluid silk material is gradually turning into a fragile, papery tissue, mirroring the idea of the disease taking hold but also the concept of the curtain clogging up as it traps the germs. As tuberculosis was so prevalent at that time I’ve decided to base my lace design on the bacterium responsible for the disease (Mycobacterium tuberculosis). The images I’ve collected so far show a series of capsule shapes. It’s nice to be incorporating biological ideas in my lace again, like the image above. My recent work has concentrated on social history so it’s interesting to combine the two themes.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Disobedient objects

This exhibition at the V&A brings together a variety of artefacts designed or appropriated for protest. As the introductory panel states ‘Many of the rights and freedom we enjoy today were won by disobedience’. The textiles were what interested me most and they included Chilean arpilleras, handkerchiefs, banners and crochet, all made by women using traditional female skills. The arpilleras are appliqued panels, originally made to protest against the Pinochet regime in Chile. They were sold to provide funds for the protest and were initially dismissed by the regime as unimportant women’s ‘folk art’.
Women have since been inspired to use this technique as a medium for protest and the image above shows Deborah Stockdale’s ‘Shannonwatch’ a panel celebrating the peace activists who monitor the use of Shannon airport by the American military to move prisoners. The figures wear burqas in solidarity with Afghani women caught up in the fighting.

The ‘Handkerchief for Roy’ was made by the collective Bordamos Por La Paz in Mexico, with the mother of Roy Rivera, to commemorate his ‘disappearance’. He was kidnapped when he was 18 and, despite paying a ransom, his mother never saw him again. The collective make and display handkerchiefs to honour victims of violence and to shame the government into protecting its citizens more effectively.

I thought these two stitched pieces were moving examples of the way in which stitching can give women a voice and that by using their traditional domestic skills women can bring a particularly female perspective to 'disobedience'.

Monday 6 October 2014

The Big Stitch

I enjoyed The Big Stitch day at the Ashmolean Museum on Saturday. There was plenty to do – lectures, gallery tours, demonstrations and workshops. I was lucky enough to book on Mary Brooks’ workshop on examining textile objects. This was linked to the ‘Eye of the needle’ exhibition (see my blog of 9 September), which Mary had curated, so was focused on seventeenth century embroidery. Mary gave us a checklist of key things to look for when studying textiles and we worked in small groups to analyse the artefacts – my group examined a woman’s bodice embroidered in silk – but we also saw embroidered pictures and samplers from the Ashmolean collection. The gallery tours in the afternoon were interesting as they revealed the various textile gems dispersed in galleries throughout the Museum. It was also interesting to see so many demonstrations of different types of embroidery and lace (the latter by Gaby Lloyd and Gail Baxter) and the public interest in them.

Monday 29 September 2014

‘Water fan’: silk paper and lace

I often combine lace and silk paper when I want to be able to see through the lace but need a strong, translucent structure for holding it in place; my ‘Water fan’ is a good example. I wanted to produce a fan that would be practical but simple to make so I started with a piece of wire bent to a fan shape and designed some lace to fit across the shape.


I then placed a layer of plastic over the pattern and laid down the first layer of silk fibres roughly across the fan shape leaving a channel for the lace.


I then put the wire in place making sure the edges were on the silk fibres. Then I carefully placed the lace across the channel left between the areas of silk paper and attached it to the wire frame. To attach the lace to the silk paper I looped extra threads along the edges of the lace which were then smoothed into the silk area. This is the fiddly part and you might need to use tweezers or a cocktail stick to manoeuvre the threads.


Once the lace was in place I carefully placed another layer of silk fibres over the first layer to trap the lace threads in a sandwich of silk fibres. I also made sure the wire frame had a layer of silk above and below it so the frame was secured.


Once everything was in place I placed a layer of net over the whole thing, sprayed it gently with warm water and patted in down to make a flat slightly damp layer. Then I sprayed it with diluted acrylic gloss medium, and used a stencil brush to make sure the adhesive had penetrated all the layers. I then left it all to dry. When it was dry I removed the net layer and gently peeled the fan off the plastic. Although it looks delicate, it is quite robust and can be used as a fan.


Thursday 25 September 2014

Wedding dresses at the V&A

This lovely exhibition is displayed in much the same way as the previous V&A exhibition of evening dresses with the historical clothes on the ground floor and the more modern ones in the mezzanine gallery above. There is some lovely lace on display including a 20 inch deep Honiton flounce on a dress worn by Eliza Clay in 1864, as well as Honiton lace on her collar, cuffs and veil. Also a beautiful Point de gaze veil worn by Roxanna Wentworth at her wedding in 1892 which was later exhibited at the Chicago World Fair of 1893. In contrast to such extravagance, Elizabeth King made her dress out of upholstery fabric for her wartime wedding in 1941 as it wasn’t rationed in the same way as dress fabric; it was a beautiful embroidered fabric nonetheless. Anna Lin also had a lovely dress for her 2004 wedding, which she designed herself, incorporating embroidered phoenix feathers and seams delicately joined with seed pearls. Other favourites of mine were Lady Sarah Armstrong Jones’ simple understated elegant dress by Jasper Conran and ‘Flower bomb’ by Ian Stuart a dramatic extravaganza of net, fabric and flowers. Unfortunately no photography was allowed so the image above, of an 1850 wedding veil of Brussels needle and bobbin lace, is from the permanent display in the V&A costume court.

Monday 22 September 2014

National Open Art Exhibition


I saw this mixed exhibition of work by emerging and professional artists at Somerset House. There is no theme and it includes a variety of media. My two favourite pieces were Rogan Brown’s ‘Outbreak’ in fine cut paper and Chrys Allen’s ‘Walk in progress: Bedrock’ which were hung together. Outbreak spoke of biological forms and lace-like layers of tissue. It reminded me of the work of Piper Shepard, or rather how her work would appear if it escaped from the gallery. The colours and images in Chrys Allen’s painting seemed to include the materials of the earth and it was displayed in a meandering fashion as if it were walking itself. I think what I like about both pieces is that they not only represent but actually embodied the subjects they covered.

Friday 19 September 2014

Darning the land: Sewn by Philippa Lawrence

Interesting to hear Philippa Lawrence speaking at the Waddesdon ‘The art of lace’ symposium last weekend and then to visit her installation in the grounds with her. ‘Sewn’ was inspired by darned textiles in the Waddesdon Manor collection and represents a line of sewing in the landscape playing on the double meaning of sewing with thread and sewing seeds. The flowers are a selection of wild flowers put together for the Olympic celebrations and the ‘stitching’ reveals different colours and flowers as the seasons progress. Lying on a slope the ‘sewing’ provides an attractive visual installation for visitors to the Manor and an interactive meander through the grounds for those who follow its path.

Monday 15 September 2014

The art of lace symposium

I spent a very enjoyable day at Waddesdon Manor on Saturday taking part in ‘The art of lace symposium’ organised to coincide with the ‘Imagine’ lace exhibition that is taking place there until 26 October. There were five speakers in the symposium and plenty of catching up with new friends and old. Rachel Boak, the curator of the Waddesdon exhibition began the day by speaking about historical lace and its display in a museum and stately home setting. She was followed by the landscape artist Philippa Lawrence who has an installation based on lace in the Manor grounds (more of that in another blog). She spoke about considering lace as a border and described how she developed the idea for her installation of lace as planting in the grounds. Lauran Sundin, who makes precious jewellery using bobbin lace techniques considered handmade lace as an art form. The contemporary lacemaker Gail Baxter then discussed definitions of lace and what constitutes lace, challenging traditional concepts of what lace can be. I then spoke about conceptual lace and how lace is used by contemporary artists to convey a message or tell a story. It was an interesting day and the themes and artists we all used to illustrate our talks overlapped, and complemented each other, linking the themes of the symposium together.

Tuesday 9 September 2014

The eye of the needle

This exhibition of 17th century English embroideries (and some lace) at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford celebrates the skill of the needlewomen who made them. The exhibition focuses on the social context in which they were stitched explaining technique and construction as well as the themes and motifs that were popular with 17th century women. The exhibition includes band samplers, pictorial scenes, bags, coifs, caps, book covers and embroidery tools from the Museum and the Feller collection. Three of the band samplers incorporated exquisite pulled work and needlelace and I was impressed with the tiny eyelets making up the alphabet on the 1671 sampler by Mary Lane.  Biblical and allegorical themes were popular for the panels and many were copied from Gerard de Jode’s 1579 collection of biblical illustrations. ‘The judgement of Solomon’ was a popular theme and my favourite panel was a three dimensional needlelace rendering of that scene. It seemed full of life with applied leaves, curtains, pearls and even a lifelike baby, all beautifully depicted in tiny stitches. The exhibition runs until 12 October.

Wednesday 3 September 2014

Painted lace

I saw this self portrait of Rolinda Sharples with her mother at the Bristol Museum and Art Gallery. I like the way she has painted the lace to emphasise its delicate ethereal frothy quality, but it’s a shame we can’t see it in more detail. The painting is dated 1818 and both women are wearing a good amount of lace. Rolinda was an oil painter and also produced pastel portraits. Also on show was a painting of ‘The cloakroom at the Clifton Assembly Rooms’ showing the well-to-do about to leave at the end of their evening’s entertainment. Each face can be clearly distinguished and the characters seem to come straight out of a Jane Austen novel – there are soldiers, well dressed young men, flirtatious young women and elderly chaperones. All are beautifully dressed in their evening clothes, which seem suitable for the occasion, but I’m puzzled by Rolinda’s choice of clothes for her self portrait which shows her painting at her easel in what appears to be a fine lace-trimmed gown.

Thursday 28 August 2014

Lace designs at Calais Museum

I love these design registers and it’s great to see some of them out on display in the Calais Lace Museum. These pages of lace nets are interesting for the variety they show. Some are regular and look like nets that would be used on hats (the two on the second row) while the piece at the centre of the top row looks quite irregular. The sample at the bottom left looks similar to the design used on the ceiling in the restaurant (see my blog in July). The date given for these pieces is 1908 but the designers are not specified.


Thursday 21 August 2014

Contemporary machine lace at Calais


One of the highlights of my trip to Calais Lace Museum was seeing contemporary lace being produced on a vast scale on the Leavers machine. The lace was designed by Gail Baxter as part of the Crysalis project, in collaboration with the Calais designer Frederic Rumigny and with the practical help of the tuillists and machinists at Calais who interpreted the design into a pattern for the lace machine. Gail based her design on the sound of the working lace machine as it rumbles through the Calais Lace Museum, which she interpreted into a pattern of sound waves. She linked this to more solid areas containing holes in the style of jacquard cards, which are used to control the patterning of the machine, and used two different types of filling stitches in the spaces between these design areas. The lace is made from a combination of threads that take up dye in different ways so the lace takes on different aspects when it is dyed - my favourite is the black version with silver accents. It is an amazing experience to see the Leavers machine, developed in the 19th century, still churning out vast quantities of lace, but even more exciting to see it producing contemporary lace


Thursday 14 August 2014


Sensations is an exhibition of costumes from the fashion house ‘on aura tout vu’ and I saw it on my recent trip to the Calais Museum of Lace and Fashion. The costumes were exhibited in groups according to the five senses (visual, aural, touch, taste and smell) as well as two extra categories: the sublime and the imaginary. They were made from an amazing variety of materials including glass, mirrors, forks, wood, coathangers and fabrics in a myriad of colours. One of my favourites was this ‘lace’ wedding dress fashioned from wood, incorporating hearts and the words ‘I love you’. It was no surprise to discover that Livia Stoianova and Yassen Samouilov, the founders of the group, use poetry as one of their frames of reference and Oscar Wilde’s quote ‘One should either be a work of art or wear a work of art’ seemed very apt. The exhibition continues until 31 December.

Monday 4 August 2014

Lace effects 2

I went to the Calais Lace Museum to see the Lace effects 2 exhibition, which includes one of my curtains entitled ‘Looking through’, which you can see in the image above, in the background on the right behind Ine van Son’s monumental ‘Earth flower’. All the work in the exhibition was based on lace in some way either by using lace techniques or taking its inspiration from lace. The bobbin lace techniques ranged from a twist on the traditional, in the form of To Bielieve’s beautiful floral lace worked in two variations with tiny porcelain bobbins (Ceci, c’est ton fil; detail below), to Jeanne Verlinden’s ‘Belle epoque’ a lovely 3D piece in subtle silks produced using her own open style technique. I also used contemporary bobbin lace in my work (I’ll explain more about that in another blog) as did several other artists including Sylvia Broeckx with her work based on butterfly wings, Stephanie Emond with her bird’s wing, and Trudi Meijer with her work inspired by cactus fragments.


Other techniques used were digital embroidery on net by Tessa Acti in her beautiful ‘Lace bird’ bodices hanging delicately on a thread to twist in the air, and hand embroidery on net by Gail Baxter in her series ‘Tracing the line’ to form rolls of fabric. Diana Harrison had distressed cloth to form a woven lace-like material, while other artists had used back-lit porcelain (Tina Roskruge) and incised silver (Sara Bran) to produce lace-like effects. Fine drawing techniques had been used by Teresa Whitfield to produce uncannily realistic images of Honiton lace, and by Dawn Cole to produce lace pieces composed of tiny words taken from the diaries of a nurse in the World War I. Several artists had used cut fabric to produce lace including Elsa Barbage who had cleverly incised layers of X-ray film to produce a composite 3D image, Martha Henton who had laser cut images of machine knitting to produce a backlit translucent image and Emma Gribble whose laser cut lampshade produced lace shadows on the adjacent wall.

Shadows were also used to great effect in displaying the work of several artists including Lydie Chamaret’s lace cube, Nicole Kockaerts’ spiral forms, and Karine Sterckx’s subtly coloured circular lace and metal construction (above). The exhibition includes a wide range of contemporary lace and lace techniques and the pieces have been thoughtfully put together to form an excellent and varied show, highlighting the work of contemporary European artists working with lace. The exhibition is part of the Crysalis programme, the aim of which is to bring together four European partners to promote textiles in various ways, and it runs until December at the Calais Lace Museum.

Thursday 24 July 2014

Lace ceiling at Calais Lace Museum

I was intrigued to see this lace ‘ceiling’ in the restaurant of the Calais Museum of Lace and Fashion during a recent visit. The threads are illuminated and the central sequin-like circular shapes are the old bobbins round which the thread is wound for the lace machines.

Monday 21 July 2014

Ghost of a ghost

I saw this evocative steel metalwork by Lizzie Hughes at the William Morris Gallery. The title ‘ghost of a ghost’ comes from an 1899 review of Morris’ work which references his response to an old door hinge at the gallery. It links the idea of hinges and Rorschach blot tests, which according to the label were devised ‘to exploit the human desire to find form in pattern and abstraction’. I like the way the hinges have become quite eerie stylised bat-like creatures while still retaining their function. Lizzie did this work during a period as artist in residence at the Gallery in 2013 with the help of Design Blacksmith from Stepney City Farm.

Tuesday 15 July 2014

The lace trail: Sophie Ploeg

I saw some of Sophie Ploeg’s lovely lace inspired portraits at the National Portrait Gallery last week. Sophie won the BP travel award in 2013, which she used to study 17th century lace and textiles in Dutch and English portraits, and the seven portraits I saw were the result of her year’s study. She has produced a series of four portraits depicting the four ages of woman each incorporating lace in a different way, cleverly referencing paintings by Johannes Verspronck, William Larkin and Marcus Gheerearts. Also in a reference to William Larkin she has painted ‘The handkerchief girl’ a young woman wearing a fine net and lace skirt and clutching a handkerchief edged with reticella lace; a common pose in the 17th century to show off one’s wealth. The lace is beautifully depicted and ranges from the crisp definition of Italian needlelace to the fine, subtly patterned scrolls of Flemish bobbin lace, while the characters of the sitters shine through. The image on the catalogue (above) is a self-portrait of Sophie in a ruff she made herself. The exhibition runs until 21 September and there is an accompanying catalogue which describes Sophie’s research in more detail. 

Wednesday 9 July 2014

English Magic Jeremy Deller

Having demonstrated at the William Morris Gallery last week it was interesting to see William Morris starring in Jeremy Deller’s exhibition at Bristol Museum. I had seen ‘English magic’ in Venice at the Biennale last year (post on October 2013) where Jeremy Deller was representing the UK but it was interesting to see some of the work again in a different setting.  The main reference to Morris is in the large painted mural ‘We sit starving amidst our gold’ in which he is hurling a yacht into the Venice lagoon as a protest against their overbearing presence in Venice. However there were also more domestic references such as a sample of the printed fabric ‘Evenlode’ (above) with some of the wood blocks used in its production and the tile panel from Membland Hall. Both typical Morris designs with flowers, leaves and pomegranates.

Friday 4 July 2014

Lace exhibition at William Morris Gallery

The William Morris Gallery was celebrating all things Belgian yesterday evening and invited me to demonstrate lace making, show a small exhibition of my contemporary lace and some images of traditional Belgian lace. Belgian waffles and beer were also available in the café and the music of Jacques Brel wafted around us. Many of the visitors were keen to try out lace making for themselves on the three practice pillows I had and some had even come specially for the lace taster. There was a steady stream of visitors all evening and they were all very enthusiastic and interested to learn about lace in general and Belgian lace in particular. The Belgian theme came about because the gallery is hosting an exhibition of the paintings and drawings of Frank Brangwyn who was a great supporter of the William Morris Gallery and also the Brangwyn Museum in Bruges, the city where he was born.

Tuesday 1 July 2014

QR code curtains at Digital Encounters

The two curtains I’m exhibiting in the Digital Encounters exhibition are titled ‘Insider information’ and ‘Unheeded warning’. They both incorporate stitched QR codes that can be read with smart phones to reveal warning messages. The QR code on Insider information says ‘Escape while you can’ and combined with the words ‘Help me’ stitched in human hair suggests the homely is becoming unhomely. The QR code on Unheeded warning says ‘I warned you’ and is combined with a tear in the curtain suggesting all is not as it should be. I developed the idea of using QR codes when I was looking for a way of coding information in a decorative way. The aim was to hide the information in plain view so that it could easily be overlooked. Previously I had used lettering hidden within lace patterns but I found that I could include more information within the QR code. I tried making them with bobbin lace but found that cross stitch on even weave canvas was more accurate and therefore easier for the smart phone to detect. The two curtains form a domestic narrative and the viewer is left to piece together the clues to discover the hidden story.

Tuesday 24 June 2014

Digital encounters exhibition

This exhibition at the Herbert Read Gallery in Canterbury opened last week and my previous post described the opening symposium. The exhibition celebrates current practice using digital textile design in its many forms and links the digital to four themes: material, personal, social and historical. Its aim is to explore the role of digital technology in contemporary textile practice. As the curator, Jenna Rossi-Camus, reminded us in the symposium, digital implies modern technology but also has links to the handmade. The exhibits include smart textiles, digital printing, interactive textiles, digitally produced textiles and digitally reconstructed historical artefacts. There are over 40 pieces in the exhibition so I will just give you a flavour of some of my favourites. Quite a lot of the work involves digital textile printing which was beautiful in many cases but inevitably I was drawn to the more quirky exhibits. I was fascinated by the textiles of Nadia-Anne Ricketts, a former ballet dancer, who discovered a mathematical connection between music and fabric construction and now weaves music under the name Beatwoven.

I also liked the subversive nature of ‘Disastrous dinner’ by Wendy van Wynsberghe and Claire Williams (above) which uses Arduino technology to produce an interactive dinner party table cover. Placing your hands in different combinations on the tablecloth produced conversations, rude noises and the sound of breaking china. My own net curtains ‘Insider information’ (image at the top of this post) and ‘Unheeded warning’ are also interactive and I was pleased to see the QR codes working on several phones during the evening of the private view.

I also liked Hannah White’s laser cut lace (above) made from reflective materials that highlighted the movement of models wearing the lace. Another interesting piece was Shelly Goldsmith’s ‘Concealed’ an embroidered blouse hiding the image of a woman from the Lodz ghetto within the embroidery. I also liked the elegant simplicity of Jenny Shellard’s ‘Palindrome’ and the complexity of the figures drawn by Rosie James in ‘In the city’ using the sewing machine. All in all, there is plenty to see in this exhibition and the catalogue is an interesting read so it’s worth a visit.


Saturday 21 June 2014

Digital Encounters symposium

The Digital Encounters exhibition opened yesterday at the Herbert Read Gallery in Canterbury and two of my curtains with QR codes are in the exhibition. The event opened yesterday with a symposium before the evening private view. Both the exhibition and symposium were divided into four areas concerned with different aspects of digital textiles; my work was shown in the digital x social section and I took part in the panel discussion linked to that theme. My fellow panelists were Rosie James (who uses the sewing machine as a drawing tool), Louize Harries (whose work considered the possibility of robots creating craft) and Nicola Flower (who talked about her embroidery project with the visually impaired) as well as the curator of the exhibition, Jenna Rossi-Camus, who facilitated the discussion. We talked about our processes, the themes engaged in our work and the time-consuming nature and value of hand work. The other panels linking the digital to material, personal and historical were also interesting particularly the insights they gave into the work in the exhibition. I’ll blog about the exhibition in another post.

Thursday 12 June 2014

Whisperings at Waddesdon

My curtain entitled Whisperings is currently being exhibited at Waddesdon Manor as part of the ‘Imagine … lace at Waddesdon Manor’ exhibition. The theme of the exhibition is ‘house party’ and the lace design had to be based on an artefact in the Manor. I chose to design a piece of Bedfordshire style lace based on a bundle of lace trimmings in the Waddesdon lace collection. The idea is that the lace pattern is quite formal and represents a very polite and conventional house party which might begin with formal introductions and polite conversation but then degenerates into a babble of voices, confidences and gossip. The formal lace pattern is then subverted to become a tangle of whispers, innuendo and hidden conversations. There are nine ‘whispers’ altogether including ‘Have you heard what she did?’, ‘Keep out it’s not your business’, ‘He says she’s not herself today’, and ‘He frightens the life out of me’. So all is not the comfortable veneer we assumed to start with; there are some hidden whispers and cries for help under that formal pattern.

Sunday 8 June 2014

Lace in Selvedge magazine

The current issue of Selvedge magazine (May/June) is a bit of a lace themed issue. I have a piece in there on the cut works of Piper Shepard, which is mainly a review of the recent exhibition but also describes her working technique and is illustrated by an image of her Granulated diamond hanging. There is also an article by Annabel Talbot of the Bowes Museum about the development of lace for fashion in the 17th century, which is beautifully illustrated with some Flemish lace. Finally, there is also an article about the work of Iris van Herpen, which although it is not traditional lace is very lace-like in its effect. Worth having a look at if you can find a copy.

Monday 2 June 2014

Piper Shepard’s cut work

Even though Piper’s exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham is finished I thought you’d like to see a close up of her work to see how it is made. This is a close up of ‘Lace like’ and you can see where she has cut with a knife in some places and a round punch in others. The fabric she uses is ‘muslin’ painted with gesso – I discovered during her visit though that what Americans call muslin we would call calico, which seems to correspond to the more solid nature of the fabric. During her presentation at the conference she told us that her interest in lace began when she was using devorĂ© techniques and was further inspired by a visit to India looking at filigree screens, windows and walls. She is also interested in the shadows her work creates which are shown quite well in this image.

Saturday 24 May 2014

Piper Shepard’s lace at the Crafts Study Centre

Today is the last day to see Piper Shepard’s cut works at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham.  As well as the ‘pillar’ in the atrium, shown here, which was originally made for Lost in Lace exhibition at Birmingham in 2011, you can see more of Piper’s cutworks in the upper gallery. In that space she is exhibiting two pieces entitled ‘Lace like’ that showcase her beautiful, black, filigree cut work as well as ‘Granulated diamond’ a large, black, square (96 x 96 inches) cut with a lace like border and a diamond ground centre. She is also showing three new pieces. These are entitled ‘Radial 1, 2 and 3’ and are based on prints with some hand cutting but not as much as in the ‘Lace like’ pieces. An extra dimension to the exhibition is brought about by the shadows the pieces cast on to the wall behind them accentuating their lace like quality and adding layers of hidden lace behind them.