Thursday 26 November 2015

Making veils

As part of my research into veiling I’ve bought myself a commercial pattern for a selection of veils ranging from a short circular veil to a long trailing version. It is interesting to see how they are constructed. Although some are made of one piece of fabric others are composed of a short ‘blusher’ veil that covers the face and a longer piece of netting that hangs down the back of the dress. I think I’ll be using the short circular veils to start with, as my aim is to show off the lace and embellishments I’ll be adding rather than having swathes of netting, which would probably look very attractive on a bride but will just fill up gallery space when I exhibit them. I now need to find some suitable netting to make them from – the pattern suggests tulle, netting, Illusion or Point d’Esprit. I have no idea what the last two look like so as bit of research in a fabric shop is obviously needed next!  

Wednesday 18 November 2015


I’m working on veiling for my next body of work. Having made a veil as a response to a call for work at Jane Austen House last year, I found representing her equivocal view of marriage in that way worked well. I’ve decided to start in that format by designing veils for fictional characters – Miss Havisham and the Woman in white are obvious candidates from my PhD research. However I may then go on to look at the writing and memoirs of real people. I recently attended the ‘Silence in the archive’ conference in Oxford, looking at how women’s voices have been silenced in the historical record, either voluntarily by themselves or by family, biographers and historians. It left me thinking there was a fund of information in women’s life writing that could be inspirational for practice. I think this could be a huge project!

Friday 13 November 2015

Lace at the Great exhibition

My research into lace curtains at the Great exhibition has revealed that lace was catalogued in a class with ‘tapestry, floor cloths and embroidery’. And what a mixed group it is! As well as bridal and guipure scarfs, shawls and double flounces in Honiton lace, there is also ‘modern point lace worked with a common needle’. Embroidered and tamboured muslin dresses rub shoulders with altar cloths, fire screens and sheepskin slippers. ‘A basket of flowers knitted in Berlin wool from nature’ sounds intriguing and I would love to see the ‘armorial bearings of the exhibitor, worked by himself in Berlin wool and silk’ – how grand! One of my favourite entries is ‘a shawl knitted on wires by an aged person’. There is also an embroidered collar made by ‘an exhibitor born without a right arm’ as well as exhibits from ‘the poor children of Newry’ and the ‘inmates of an institution for the blind’. As I said, a complete mix of work and exhibitors reflecting Victorian society. Luckily there is also a good mix of lace and lace techniques - including some lace curtains for my study.

Wednesday 4 November 2015

Kawaii exhibition

I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this exhibition on ‘kawaii’ the Japanese culture of cute, so was pleased to find it was more a critique of cute rather than a celebration of it, and tended to focus on the subversive side. The nail art by Mina Okuhata (above) exemplifies that approach in which small, meticulously crafted objects become works of art with a subversive message. I don’t pretend to understand the nuances of the Japanese approach to kawaii but it seems to represent things that are small, sweet, lovely and endearing. For many Japanese girls it is a way of expressing themselves through fashion and possessions. However, as it tends to be applied to female and childish objects it is also a dismissive term and in the sense that it represents prepubescence, knowing sexuality and male fantasy an instrument of repression.

Minako Nishiyama’s installation of posters highlights the darker side of kawaii. Her posters of cute fantasy girls, with an associated telephone number, recall the telephone ‘dating’ clubs of the 1980s that were thought to encourage schoolgirl prostitution. When Minako originally pasted these posters in the streets of Japan the telephone number was linked to pink telephone booth in an associated gallery so that the men phoning in became part of the installation.

Chika Ohgi’s ‘Transient petals’ considers a more traditional side of kawaii that celebrates the small, weak and transient. Her beautiful petals made of kozo paper are based on cherry blossom and its short fleeting existence before the petals are blown away on the wind.

Aya Kametani notes that many small Japanese objects, such as bonsai trees, suggest that there is a wider world hidden within them. She has used this fantasy idea to produce worlds embedded on the backs of rams where you can see tiny people and even the microclimate they shelter beneath.

These few examples show that Kawaii contains a host of complementing yet often contradictory ideas. The exhibition shows the work of 16 artists and runs until 11 December at the James Hockey Gallery, Farnham, and will move to the Rugby Art Gallery and Museum in 2016. It is well worth a visit.