Marram grass

With gale force winds and rain forecast for later on today an early walk at Holkham to get the best of the day was called for. I know I’ve been a rather quiet here recently so I took my camera with me to see what caught my eye.

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As is usual when the wind is coming from the west, I walked along the path at the back of the pinewoods so that the wind would be behind me on the walk back along the beach. Coming out into the open across the dunes it was immediately obvious how sheltered I had been as the force of the wind took my breath away as it buffeted me sideways from the left.

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The dunes at the top of the beach are topped by marram grass, Ammophila arenaria, whose fibrous roots  stabilise dry, windblown sand and aid the dune building process. The dense, grey/green tufts of this grass can be seen all along the coast and is so common that I don’t usually pay it much attention. However today the wind had animated into swirls and waves of alternating light and dark movement. A continuous, swooshing rustle drowned out any other sounds.

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Hunkering down between the dunes and the grass to find a modicum of shelter and to drink a cup of coffee I found my fingers itching to pick the marram. Twisting it round and round on itself I started to make a string – strong, fresh green grass at first but as that split and broke I found  that old dried, yellowing blades were stronger, more pliable and held up better to the twisting process. Before long I had a couple of metres that I rolled it up into a small ball to put into my pocket.

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I love the process of looking and noticing and the way I never know what will catch my eye from one day to the next. The ever-changing weather conditions, the shifting light or just being in the right place at the right time draws my attention to something I could never have foreseen. It’s good just to go out and see what there is to see.

Hurray!

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I have finished sewing the last Sluice Creek Cloth for my gallery at the Knitting and Stitching Shows in the autumn ….. phew! This last cloth is a twin to the very first cloth I made in the series this time last year. Both these cloths are based on the regular and rhythmic sound of halyards knocking against the masts of boats in the wind and they focus on the way the sound of the chattering ropes shifts slowly in and out of unison.

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I took the cloth down to the beach in the evening to give it its first dip in the sea. At the moment this cloth is clean and unmarked and the unpainted part of the linen and the stitched rings are pristine white. It won’t be like this for long! I intend to dip this cloth into the sea and dry it around five times so that the rings rust and mark the cleanness of the cloth. I want the look of a utilitarian tarpaulin or work cloth that has been used, is dirty and has had a life.

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This Masts and Halyards cloth has been quite a task. There are about 250 rings sewn into it. I average about 5 rings an hour …. you can work it out!

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It was a beautiful evening for sea dipping at the beach.

Looking one way ….

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and the other.

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I will write more on all of the Sluice Creek Cloths in due course …..

 

Sea Lavender

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I’m hiding away, hermit like, at the moment, sewing for hours each day to get the work for my gallery at the Knitting and Stitching shows in the autumn finished. I already have a great deal of work, but it is amazing that the nearer the show gets, the more concentrated I become. I have been finding that work I made nearly a year ago doesn’t seem to work and I keep making one last thing in order to push things a bit further. This obviously has to stop at some point as I don’t have the time to go on for ever, so I have set my self a deadline of the end of July to finish the series of cloths – The Sluice Creek Cloths – and I am presently sewing the very last one (it will be the very last one!).

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It isn’t all nose to the grindstone however, and I am  getting out at least once a day to sail or walk.

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This is one of my favourite times of year out on the marsh as the sea lavender (limonium vulgar) is flowering and a soft purple haze is covering large areas of the saltings. It is a tolerant, hardy plant that gets covered by the sea when there is a high marsh tide.

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Each stem is about 30cm tall and the flower heads have a dry look to them. It is a bit of a pilgramage to go and pick a small bunch each year. It keeps, out of water, for months although by Christmas it has lost its colour and is usually rather dusty and cobwebby.

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Gun Hill

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Despite the fact that it has rained just about everyday for the last few weeks the paths along the edge of the marsh are dry. In winter they are permanently wet and muddy – too muddy to walk along without wellies. However the irregular intervals of warm sun and wind at this time of year, coupled with a week of small tides, means that the paths have dried out to a crazy paving of cracked mud and they are now negotiable.

I reach the hut (portacabin) where I was hoping to sit and draw but someone is there before me, perched on a convenient ledge, face up to the sun and quietly enjoying the heat. This is a favourite spot and I have sat here and drawn many times. I move on and find a dry, sand-pebbled spot at the end of the point overlooking the Scolt Head channel.

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The tide is out and there are many birds poking about in the mud. A group of oystercatchers chirp continuously with their ‘peeping’ call. They run around on short, red legs and then suddenly rise up, black and white stripy wings flashing in the light, only to land a few yards away, to continue feeding, talking and bickering – a typical family.

A streak of white comes in from the left and lands. Elegant legs and a crooked neck. A little egret stands out brightly against the dark mud. These egrets are a common sight here now on the marshes. At this distance I can’t see its bright yellow feet.

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Gulls wheel on the thermals and a skylark rises up from the dunes behind me. Its melodious song strengthens as it flaps its wings and climbs higher and higher. It is still singing half an hour later as I get up and walk on.

Cley16

For the past couple of days I have been at St Margaret’s church, Cley-next-the-Sea, helping to get the Cley16 exhibition off the ground. Today I hung my large suspended work, Curlew Song.

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I have been working on this piece for the best part of four months and it has been a stupendous effort to get it done on time. Because of its large size (350 x 150 cms) I haven’t been able to get a proper sense of its scale and proportion. Hanging in my studio it seemed enormous, but I knew that in the vast, airiness of the tall church aisle it was likely to get lost and I felt very nervous this morning as we suspended the pole, slung the cloth over it and hoisted it aloft.

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I think it’s ok. There are other works around it (a 6m tall dress, a swan in flight and an angel)  and it feels right. The open, drawn thread work reflects the black leadwork of the latticed glass windows that line run top and bottom all down the side of the church. The large, sewn rings provide ‘holes’ through which there is a clear view to the other works and the beautiful architecture of the church. It has been made so that it can be viewed from either side. It moves back and forth gently in the breeze from the open door. Yes, I think I’m pleased.

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You can read some of the background to this piece here and here.

The exhibition starts next week on 7 July and runs for a month until 7 August at St Margaret’s Church, Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

Right …. I’ve got to get on with the work for the Knitting and Stitching Shows in the autumn now …. I’ve a busy summer ahead!

 

 

Exhibitions

I have work in two exhibitions that are showing over the summer.

The first exhibition is The 62 Group exhibition, Making Space at The Silk Museum, Macclesfield which opens on 17 June and runs until 3 September.

Holed Cloth 1 and Holed Cloth 2 are wall hung works. They are both made from one long piece of folded cotton duck that has had iron rings sewn into it and then soaked in a saturated salt solution for about 6 weeks.

‘A hole is just a space – an immaterial emptiness that is surrounded by a physical material that describes its shape and allows us to see a nothing. I have made holes in cloth to give form to space and to make visible the invisible’.

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The second is CLEY16 , a group exhibition at St, Margaret’s Church, Cley-next-the-Sea, Norfolk. It is from 7 July until 7 August, 10am-5.30.

I have two works in this exhibition that are inspired by vividly remembered engagements with the North Norfolk coast and explore how I can communicate visible and non-visible processes such as light, movement, sound, rhythm, erosion and regeneration.

Curlew Song notates the call of a curlew: a low drawling sound that rises to an eerie, trilling, bubbly ripple. This is a large, suspended work that can be viewed from either side. It measures 350 x 150 cms and consists of one large cloth (300 x 350 cms) that hangs double, over a long varnished spar.

Here are a couple of details.

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Molluscs are objects from my imagination that could well have been found on the strand line – the threshold between the land and the sea. 40 salt, encrusted ‘tubes’ stand upright, partially buried in sand.

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Starfish

Cley beach is a place I love to walk. It has everything: birds to watch, proper rolling waves and pebbles and stones to collect, but it is particularly special when something unexpected appears along the shoreline.

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On a sunny day a few weeks ago the receding tide stranded hundreds of orange starfish high and dry on the shingle. At first I thought they were all dead, but closer inspection showed that some were still alive as tiny tentacles were moving about slowly on their undersides. I carefully picked one up to throw it back into the sea (possibly a futile exercise as the waves would probably fling it back). It was bigger than my hand and its arms were fleshy, muscular and stiff  and surprisingly heavy.

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I imagine that the heavy water of a storm at sea must have lifted them from their feeding grounds on mussel beds and washed them all ashore. It is sad to see so many creatures tossed out of their natural habitat and I wondered if they would stay alive until the next high water when the tide might carry them back out to sea.

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The Common Starfish – Asterias Rubens –  can grow up to 30cms in diameter. It has five stout arms and the amazing ability to regenerate if an arm is lost. The lost limb can grow back completely within a year. If a part of the central disc comes away with the arm, that arm can, incredibly, become a new fully functioning starfish.

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Seeing so many starfish on the shore reminded me of this,

‘.… when she saw the shimmering pattern of orange stars, she thought the world was upside down and the heavens finally within reach.’

From a Year of Marvellous Ways, Sarah Winman.

I like the idea of sea stars dotting the shoreline like the night sky.

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