Well…! That was a long break from blogging. I do have some quite good reasons, though. We’re in the process of moving from Lancashire to Northumberland. It’s been, and continues to be, a frenetic process. The house sold in early March and we packed up and left, putting most of the stuff into storage. We will be moving into the new place within the next two or three months, but don’t yet have a date. In the meantime, we’ve been travelling around with a car containing the bare essentials for five or six months.

The nomadic sewing kit contains:

  • My sewing machine (couldn’t bear to be parted from my Bernina for that long)
  • Two large bags of art and stitching materials, full to bursting and spilling out

This lot occupies quite a lot of volume in the car (which is a pretty normal hatchback size). We’ve each got a couple of bags of clothes and personal items, and there are two large boxes of paperwork, both domestic and work-based (because I have to carry on working throughout this period). Computer equipment and lots of trailing leads. Then there are a few domestic items that were last minute (e.g. teapot and coffee pot, a sad little teaspoon on its ownio) and odds and ends that just somehow got left behind. A solitary plant which we couldn’t just abandon. Shoes. Sandals. Coats and jackets to cover the different seasons.

It’s been quite an upheaval, to put it mildly. I suppose it’s good for a person, to have everything thrown up in the air, and to still be waiting to see where the pieces fall a few months later. But, to be honest, I’ve found it much more difficult than I expected – and I wasn’t expecting it to be easy.

And just to make life that little bit more difficult, in the course of all this I’ve had my latest round of dental implants done. Most of the time since we moved we’ve been in either France or Scotland, but I had to go back to England for a couple of things, once of which was the dental implant op towards the end of April. And it’s taken me till now, early June, to feel more or less back to normal. We’re back in France, although I’ll be off to England again in a fortnight for work. And then after that it’s Spain for a few days….. I know this must sound really interesting and possibly even enviable, but really, I just want to move into the new place, sit down on the sofa and cuddle the cat (who is in long-term care at the cattery – I miss her lots) and not move for rather a long time. I rather enjoyed gadding about when I was young, but that was then and this is now.

So, I’ve got started with blogging again, I’ll have to have a bit of a retrospective catch-up over the next few entries. I have continued, somewhat surprisingly, to get some stitching done. I’ve had work exhibited at Ramster. I’ve been on another Matthew Harris course. I spent a day stewarding at the Prism exhibition in Birmingham. And although I haven’t kept up with social media to the extent of doing any blogging, I have been quite assiduous about keeping up with Instagram. I’ll write a bit more about all these things over the next couple of weeks.

One thought I’ll leave you with for now is about stuff. This move had been planned for some time but the transaction was getting so dauntingly difficult (this is in England where property transactions are more often than not a nightmare) that it looked as though it wasn’t going to happen. Once it did happen, it happened incredibly quickly and we had less than a week in which to organise a last-minute leaving party for friends and neighbours and get everything packed up to go into storage. Apart from the items I mentioned earlier, it’s all gone. Nearly three decades-worth of stuff. And what, if anything do I miss? Most of all I miss the cat, way out in front of anything else. Next, I miss certain items of art that we have bought over the years, although I have to say there are some items I’m quite indifferent about. I’d like to get back to having a really big table for artwork and stitching. And, er, well, that’s about it. It’s going to be interesting to unpack all this stuff, and to properly appraise whether or not we want to keep it.

Stitching inspired by Paul Klee – finished piece

Back at the end of January I wrote a post about a piece I was working on, inspired by my visits to the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern. I’ve allowed myself to become distracted by other projects, but I was quite resolved to get this piece finished, and now I have. Here’s a photo of the completed piece with my embroidery scissors alongside to give you an idea of scale.Paul Klee inspired piece

This represents quite a lot of hours of work because I find working satin stitch is quite a slow process. It’s far from being my favourite stitch, but I did enjoy working this piece. I like the way the various layers of different coloured fabric show through the stitching, and have the effect of subtly altering the perceived hue of the stitches.

Paul Klee inspired piece close upHere’s close-up of the stitching to show you how raggedy and uneven my satin stitch can be. This is partly because I’m too impatient to spend time on getting it perfect, but also because I’m still having trouble with my right thumb (I wrote about this quite a while ago). I mentioned this to the doctor the other day and he sent me off for an X ray of the offending object. I’ll see what he says when the results come back but I have a nasty feeling that the problem may be arthritis.

I do like this effect, and I will probably do more. I was thinking about trying out something a bit more linear (as opposed to blocks) next time and will post about it if I do. For the time being, though, I want to concentrate more on continuing my experiments in dyeing, and also on doing some more prolific work for my course which has been rather neglected of late.

An update on “Time”: Living Colour

I’ve been travelling for the last few days and haven’t had access to anything other than my iPhone. A few days without a computer is a blessing rather than a curse, but it did mean that I wrote today’s post (‘Time’) in the middle of last week before I left, and scheduled it for publication today. In that post I was in a rather sombre frame of mind, I guess, wondering why I spend quite so much time doing things like stitching.

Well, just as I was about to set out on my journey on Thursday morning, I did a final check on my email and was thrilled to ribbons to find one from Brenda Gael Smith who is curating the Living Colour touring textile exhibition.

Living Colour 2014

Brenda congratulated me on the selection of my textile work for this exhibition – one of 32 entries selected from a total of 177. I haven’t previously mentioned on this blog that I put in an entry for Living Colour in the middle of last month. I’ve never done anything like this before, and I’ve not had any work exhibited previously. So I’m sure you can understand why I might be so pleased.

Being due to leave the UK for several weeks, I had to put on a turn of speed to get the work despatched to Brenda. This necessitated a detour from the M6 Southbound, to buy a padded envelope of appropriate dimensions at Staples, packing the work up in the hotel on Thursday evening and then a rapid trip to the post office on Friday morning. However, it all worked out without mishap, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it arrives safely in Australia within the next couple of days.

So what’s it like, this great work?  I don’t have a photograph of it to hand (I’m not writing this on my own computer with all my stored pictures), but Brenda is publishing previews of the selected pieces of work in the period before the exhibition opens, and there will be images of all the works on the Living Colour website before too long (click on the link or on the Living Colour logo above). A brief description of my work: it’s 100cm x 40cm (which are the prescribed dimensions) and it’s constructed out of squares of my naturally-dyed fabric. There are 160 squares in the piece, all of which I have embroidered. It took ages, and I’ve been busy on it for months. The title of the piece is ‘Madder and friends’ and it demonstrates how easily and well naturally-dyed colours go together. The predominant hues are variations on the reds/browns/pinks that you can derive from madder, but there are also some squares dyed in logwood and goldenrod (the ‘friends’) to provide contrast.

The acceptance of my piece into this exhibition does make me feel that all the time I’ve spent on stitching, especially over the last few years, has not been wasted. In any case, as I said in my post earlier today, I’m going to carry on regardless but it’s just really nice to have some external validation and recognition.

Woven cloth sample

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with a woven cloth sample. I made this using indigo- and madder-dyed cloth. This allows you to make a small amount of cloth go a good deal further so it’s good for large scraps. I assembled it by weaving the coloured strips in with some plain white, and then incorporating a few oddments to fill up gaps/add a bit of interest at the edges. Once I’d put together something that I thought looked quite interesting I tacked it to a base of lightweight calico to hold it all together. Then I just set off embroidering bits and pieces without thinking too much about what I was doing, just to see what would happen.Woven cloth sample

This has been with me for a while. I’ve embroidered it on train journeys, as a passenger in the car and picked up at home in odd moments. It’s nice to have an on-going, not very serious project, to pick up and put down. But I think I’ve now done as much as I want to on this, and I’m going to move on to something else. While I’ve been working on this, over several months, I’ve been reading Jude Hill’s Spirit Cloth blog, and I’m sure I’ve been influenced by what she does, although I’ve not been trying consciously to copy. But I think it’s worth acknowledging her work which is very beautiful.

One of the habits I got into when doing the City & Guilds courses was to ruminate, once I got to the end of something, about what I might have done differently. The conclusion on this one doesn’t require a lot of rumination. I realised straight away when I started it that I’d made a bit of a blunder with the materials. Most (not all) of the cloth you see in the photograph is taken from an old cotton sheet (lace edging just visible over on the left hand side) which I’ve cut up to dye. The weave is pretty tight and it’s been very hard work getting the needle through two layers plus calico. So I won’t do that again. The cotton will be fine for anything that requires machine stitching but handstitching is just too demanding.

I suppose the squares (rectangles, really) could be a little bit of a homage to Paul Klee (see previous posts) but actually I started this piece long before I went to that exhibition. What it does reflect is my long-standing attraction to grid forms. I just love those squares and grids.

Next photo is a close-up detail of the same piece, included mostly because I’m having a good time taking close-ups with my new camera.Woven cloth sample close up

Blue and orange are complementary colours, and I chose these quite consciously. Of the classic complementary pairings it’s my least favourite. I don’t know that it works particularly well here, but another mistake I think I made was in using the harsh white for interweaving. Well, next time I put a woven piece together I can reflect on these mistakes and try to avoid them.

Layered fabric sample

Here’s a layered fabric sample I’ve been working on over the last three days. It’s small – around 9cm x 9cm but even so, there’s quite a lot of stitching in it.Layered Fabric Sample

The base is lightweight calico with small pieces of other fabrics laid on top of it: white cotton organdie, silk organdie (grey/silver), a small piece of Indian brocaded fabric (bottom left hand corner) and over it all a very sheer piece of black organdie. I basted these layers together and then embroidered little blocks of satin stitch all over the surface. The idea for this came from – who else – Paul Klee. One of the many techniques he experimented with was a kind of pointillisme where he covered the surface of a painting, not with dots, but with little blocks of colour. The effects he achieved with this are quite amazing. Here is an image of one of his best-known works: Ad Parnassum (1932), which uses the block painting technique.Ad Parnassum by Paul Klee

This is actually a very big painting by Klee’s standards so the photo doesn’t really do it justice. I should add that I’ve not seen this particular painting; unfortunately it’s not in the Tate Modern exhibition. But I hope you see the point, and see what I was trying to do in this tiny sample. I’ve used very sombre colours in the black/grey range (apart from the yellow, of course), and maybe next time I sample this technique I’ll go for something a bit more colourful.

Finally, here’s a close-up of my sample:Layered Fabric Sample - Close up


Book review: Sara Impey – Text in Textile Art

This is a book I’ve been waiting for. I first saw an example of Sara Impey’s work at the V&A exhibition ‘Quilts 1700-2010 – Hidden Histories, Untold Stories’, and like many other visitors I lingered over it reading the text, and being impressed by the perfect execution of the quilt. I subsequently saw one of her pieces that I liked even better – ‘L’inconnue’ at the Quilt Art at 25 exhibition at York’s Quilt Museum – this was also beautifully made, and I found it witty and thoughtful. In both exhibitions, Sara Impey’s work was amongst the most striking exhibits for me; I really admire her rigour and formality.

Sara Impey - Text in Textile ArtSo, to the book and what I thought about it. It’s in Batsford’s relatively new hardback style, with a very pleasing cloth cover. I enjoyed reading the text very much; there’s plenty of it (which isn’t always the case with books about textile art) and it’s very well written and put together. Each time I dip into the book I seem to find something new. There are some examples of text art that I hadn’t seen before (e.g. Lorina Bulwer’s angry sampler from 1901 which is a real find – if you get the book have a look on page 17). I also found some more familiar pieces, like Caren Garfen’s excellent and unusual ‘Main Course, Wafer Thin, a Study of the Role of Fat’ which I saw at last year’s Knitting and Stitching Show. In summary, then, there’s lots to recommend about this book.

Any criticisms? Well, much as I like Sara Impey’s work, the illustration of it doesn’t come across very well in book format. I think this is a problem for many books about quilting where the objects themselves tend to be so large, but it applies particularly in the case of her work because you want to scrutinise the text so closely. Also, there are areas I wish she’d had the space to explore in more detail. For example, she mentions in passing the embroidered banners used by trade unions and I’d really like to know more about them. However, I guess that would be a big enough subject on its own for another book.

  • Did I like this book? Yes
  • Would I recommend it? Yes, definitely.

Has anyone else read this book? Do you agree with me? Any comments?