Cochineal Dream 3

Well, it’s really taken me rather a long time to get round to writing a post about the completed Cochineal Dream 3. It was completed before Christmas. When last you saw it, it looked like this – i.e. very raw and basic in its early stages:Putting together Cochineal Dream 3

The finished version looks like this:Cochineal Dream 3

I’m pleased with it, although I must say that I was also pleased to complete it and feel that I could give cochineal a rest for the time being. This dense stitching really does take some time and working at the rate I do means that I have to live with a piece for a long time. I like the effect of the three pieces together and I’d like to exhibit them as a group. I did offer them for an exhibition but was turned down. I wasn’t especially surprised as the exhibition was seeking somewhat larger pieces than these, and didn’t feel particularly disappointed. However, I will look for other possible outlets as I think they are worth exhibiting. I haven’t had them framed yet, but I know what I want and will probably sort that out in the near future. I was going to take them to a framer just before Christmas, but then the flooding happened in the north-west of England and getting about became difficult and even dangerous in places so I decided not to risk it. The moment passed and has not yet recurred.

I’m a little uncertain about what to embark on next as a project, and am having a good think and working on samples and ideas. Something that isn’t pink seems the most promising direction at the moment…..

Update on the cochineal project

Cochineal Dream 2I thought it was time for an update on the cochineal project. I exerted myself a bit last week, and finished the second in my ‘Cochineal Dream’ series. I even pulled myself together sufficiently to line it and finish it properly, and here it is (with the first piece underneath it):

As intended, it’s darker than the first piece, but the theme is still definitely cochineal. Here are a couple of close-ups:Cochineal Dream 2 close upCochineal Dream 2 close up

I’m currently pondering whether to make a third or not. I’m happy to continue in this vein, and I do think a group of three similar things is more satisfying and altogether better than a group of two… but perhaps I should be heading off in another direction. I’ve got lots of ideas, but insufficient time…. we’ll see.


Cochineal Dream 2

I said a few posts ago that I was going to continue with the same theme as previously, to develop and work on another cochineal-based piece. Working title: Cochineal Dream 2. Just to show that I’m getting on with things, and not spending my time just crocheting woolly animals, here’s a photo of Cochineal Dream 2 in its early stages.Cochineal Dream 2

I suppose the first thing to say about this is that it’s got less cochineal in it than the first piece. As you see, I’ve not used any cochineal threads yet. However, you can gather something about my intention from the Barbie pink piece of cotton scrim in the bottom left hand corner. There will be more pink and red in this – just not yet. I intend to make this darker in theme, with more distinct areas of darkness and light. As ever, I’m enjoying the process of putting this together and working on it very much. I’ll report back on progress. Part of my plan is that it should be very similar in shape and dimension to the first piece which was more or less square. I think I’ve mentioned previously on this blog that I’m endlessly fascinated with the square. The exploration of the Klee-style blocks embodies squares, and it seems appropriate to create whole pieces in my favourite shape. I’d like to do more on grids and squares, and maybe I will. Keep watching….

Cochineal Dream 1

I noted a couple of posts ago that I’d finished the stitching on my cochineal piece. However, this wasn’t quite an end to it as I needed to finish it off properly. I did this by padding the back with a layer of felt and then backing the piece with a medium-weight cotton (the medium-weight cotton is actually John Lewis curtain lining material which I find to be rather a useful resource for all sorts of things as well as for lining curtains). And here’s the finished article:Cochineal dream 1

You’ll see from the title of this post that I’ve actually named the piece. I thought ‘Cochineal Dream’ seemed right, and I added the ‘1’ because I felt motivated to create at least one more piece to make a mini-series. I keep having ideas about other things I can do with this particular approach to stitching, so I reckon I might as well continue with it for a bit longer. If I do make progress on this I will write more blogposts about it. I’ve read textile artists on the subject of working in a series; Lisa Call even has a course on it, and it seems to be generally regarded as a good thing to do. It seems to me it does make sense to be able to present, and to refer to, a coherent body of work, so I’m by no means averse to moving in this direction. But, at the same time, I have lots of other, different, ideas that I’d like to explore if only I had time. They can put that on my tombstone: ‘….. if only she’d had time….’.

I’ve been doing some more dyeing recently, and have been very absorbed in it. We’re having a few days of a kind of Indian summer at the moment, and this is a good time to be hanging cloths and threads out to dye. When I get it all organised, ironed and the threads untangled and wound I’ll no doubt write something more about it.


Finished cochineal piece

I’ve finished the cochineal piece that I’ve been working on for many weeks at a snail’s pace. Here’s the finished article just out of the hoop:Cochineal Klee-inspired piece

You’ll see that I put quite a lot of white and grey into it. Just because I felt like it. When I started this piece I wanted to get some pink and red contrasts (cool contrasted with warm reds and pinks) but didn’t have much clear idea other than that where I was going with it. I collected together various threads that I thought might work together and then just picked them out to use as I felt like it. This is fine in a sample piece. However, I think the next stage with this is to experiment with composition a bit more, so that the principal shapes and lines in the piece are more planned. I may also experiment with using line more, rather than working the colour in blocks. First, though, I’ll get this sample finished off, by backing it with something suitable and neatening the edges. I’ll post a photo of the finished piece once I’ve done this.

I’ve ordered a copy of Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art by Claire Wellesley-Smith. This was published a couple of weeks ago, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it. Some readers may remember that I went on a course on natural dyeing with Claire a couple of years ago, and came away deeply impressed and very keen to try out natural dyeing techniques. If you haven’t come across it, Claire has a beautiful blog. She doesn’t update it as frequently as she once did (I can relate to that) but it’s well worth a look. And if you get the opportunity to go on one of her courses, drop everything and go.

I’ll probably get round to writing a review of Claire’s book at some point, so look out for that.

Colour juxtaposition

One of the most interesting aspects of colour is the odd effects that arise from colour juxtaposition. Josef Albers put it as follows in the introduction to his classic work ‘Interaction of Colour’:

In visual perception a color is almost never seen as it really is — as it physically is. This fact makes color the most relative medium in art.

In order to use color effectively it is necessary to recognize that color deceives continually. To this end, the beginning is not a study of color systems.

First, it should be learned that one and the same color evokes innumerable readings. Instead of mechanically applying or merely implying laws and rules of color harmony, distinct color effects are produced-through recognition of the interaction of color-by making, for instance, two very different colors look alike, or nearly alike.

I’ve noticed this relativity a lot since I started to use so many different greys. It sometimes seems that it’s impossible to appreciate what grey really is, unless through placing it in a colour context. I was particularly struck by this when working on my cochineal piece, where I couldn’t quite believe the colour that I was getting. Here’s a detail of my piece: Cochineal detail in hoop

To the right of the slightly curved cochineal section and below the white, there are four lines of a greenish grey colour. I was really interested to see the greenish element emerging because I had no idea it was there in the thread. Here’s a photograph of the thread:Logwood cotton thread

This looked, and still looks, to me like a pale, very neutral grey, oriented towards blue if anything. But when you put it in context up against all the pinks, its essential greenness emerges. The extent to which you will be able to see this (if at all) depends upon the monitor you’re viewing it on. I’m seeing this on a monitor that seems to leach the greenness out of the grey. I have two monitors in front of me, and when I move the images across to the other one, I can see the green much more clearly. When I look at the actual piece and the thread, the difference is very striking to me.

This is just another, very small, example of the weird wonderfulness of colour. I have been looking at colour for some years now, and I sometimes feel that I’ve barely started exploring it.




Long absence

Yes, it’s been a long absence from the blog. Sorry. Health problems, I’m afraid. I’ve had a couple of quite long drawn-out problems to contend with and I’m not quite sorted yet. However, the neck and back problem that cropped up again late in July is now largely vanquished, thanks to some excellent physiotherapy. Here in the UK you can get access to physiotherapy services on the NHS but I know that there’s typically a long wait. For readers outside the UK – the NHS can be absolutely wonderful. It’s a Very Good Thing and we should be proud to live in a civilized country that provides free access to healthcare for all. It’s also very cheap and efficient compared to healthcare provision in say, the USA or in some other parts of Europe. If you have a limb hanging by a thread or are in imminent danger of falling off your twig because of some vile disease, the NHS steps in and sort you out. It’s very good indeed for acute problems. Where it’s sometimes less impressive is for chronic problems. (And if you’re mentally ill you have little chance, because of budget cuts in recent years).

Where I live (I think this is not the case in all areas) you can access private physiotherapy services quite readily by ringing up a clinic and making an appointment. So when I started getting serious pain in my upper back and neck I didn’t hesitate – I rang up the clinic straight away. The receptionist mourned the fact that she couldn’t provide me with a same-day appointment, but provided one for the following morning. I improved rapidly, but then at around a fortnight into the treatment I decided to award myself an afternoon off work to do some stitching. I’d not done any for a while because of the intense pain in my neck, but I thought it might be a good, relaxing, thing to do. Big mistake. No, HUGE mistake. By the following day my back was very much worse. I sloped off to see the physio and she asked me to detail for her all the activities I’d engaged in on the previous day. When I got to the stitching, she stopped me…’that’ll be it’, said she. And of course, I could tell she was right. So there was no more sewing for me for a while. I half-heartedly suggested that perhaps I could do some machine stitching but she vetoed that as well.

However, all things must pass, and gradually I’ve got better. I was able to pick up my work for five or ten minutes and then gradually for longer periods. But I still have to be careful not to stay in the same position for too long. It’s preventing me getting really immersed in the work, unfortunately, but I suppose I’m just going to have to be sensible.

In mid-July I wrote a post about composing a piece based on cochineal, inspired by Paul Klee. I’ve continued to work on this, although in small fits and starts, and here’s a view of the almost-completed piece in the hoop:Cochineal composition in hoop

Despite the physical problems, this has been a joy to work on. I love the pinks. I’ll write more about the piece next time.


Dyeing with cochineal

Cochineal is the Princess Barbie of natural dyeing. It’s an expensive dyestuff but a small amount, as with logwood, goes a very long way. I used the same dyepot, containing around 5gm of cochineal powder, and processed five different loads of fabric, comprising various cottons, silks and linen, together with several hanks of thread. The results are as shown in the photograph. To get some of these colours I used a dye modifier in the form of spirit vinegar. I’ll write more about modifiers in a future post; they’re very useful for extending the range of colours you can get from a particular dyestuff.

Cochineal is extracted from the bugs of that name, mostly in Peru and the Canary Islands. So I guess if you’re a strict vegan or vegetarian this particular dyestuff may not be for you. (However, it’s quite difficult to avoid as it is widely used as a dye in various food products).Dyeing with cochineal