Author Archives: debbielyddon

About debbielyddon

I am a textile artist

Fish Traps

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My studio was formerly an old whelkshed – a place where fishermen would bring mussels and whelks to be to be washed and cooked. It is in an area which is still very much the working part of Wells-next-the-Sea and I am surrounded by buildings and paraphernalia that are used today by fishermen and the staff who keep the harbour running efficiently. In the unadopted lane that runs past the studio there are always stacks of both old and new lobster creels and traps, and old anchors and massive pieces of worn oak (the remains of wooden sailing ships) rest outside the boat park having been scooped out of mud by the dredger as it keeps the channel clear for boats. These are all an indication of both the town’s past and present activity.

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Although my work does carry latent indications of man’s intervention in the landscape as I echo man-made objects such as jetties, sluices, and the remains of old wooden structures that can be found all across the marsh, I realise that I don’t very often directly address the idea of man in the landscape as my bias is mostly towards the effect of natural processes. With this in mind I have looked just outside the studio for inspiration to the objects lying there that are the immediate evidence of human activity in this environment – lobster pots.

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The pots, or creels, used here on the North Norfolk coast for catching shellfish – mainly lobsters and crabs –  are D-shaped and covered with black netting (apparently black netting is more effective at catching shellfish than any other colour). There are usually 2 or 3 entrances, each with a conical inner net that leads to a hard ‘eye’ to allow the shellfish to crawl up and then drop into the ‘parlour’ or main body of the creel.

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So here is the first ‘fish trap’ that has been inspired by some of the features of the traps outside the studio: black net, a crawl space and an inner ‘eye.

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I’m not a weaver or a knotter but I am a knitter, so that was my chosen method. The material I am using is Habu Textiles, Shosenshi Linen Viscose Paper. It is a 4mm wide flat tape that is made from 100% linen and covered with a permanent viscose sizing. It is very crispy and crackles and crunches in my hands as I work with it. It is a posh sort of raffia and when knitted up I like that it looks a bit like Thongweed, a long thin type of seaweed.

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This is my first ‘fish trap’ and there is another on the needles now. I must say I am really enjoying the process of making these objects that relate so directly to the Norfolk landscape.

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The protective coast – 2

Last time I spoke about some of the research I have been doing around tidal surges and rising sea levels, and the ability of salt marshes to protect the coast by buffering wave actions from the force of the sea.

P1050764Ordnance Survey Norfolk Sheet 111 SE, 1907, 2nd edition.

This is a concern that is very real here in Wells. During the last tidal surge, in 2013, hard defences protected the west of the town – the floodgate was deployed and a glass flood wall held back the huge sea – however to the east of the flood defences the water built up flooding local businesses and houses along the quay. The solution for future surges could be to allow the eastern marsh, Slade Marsh, to flood. Lowering the height of the sea wall (or possibly removing it altogether) would relieve the pressure created by the ‘hard’ defences during exceptional tides by releasing the high water over the marsh and farm land and therefore protecting the buildings along the quay. This of course sounds counter-intuitive but this area used to be a place where the tide regularly flowed before the land was reclaimed for farming in around 1719.

P1050753Sample 1 – taken directly from map

My studio sits to the east end of the town and during the 2013 surge the water rose up flooding the building to about 1 metre (a former occupant has marked the level). This issue is of importance me.

P1050754Sample 2 – taken directly from map

So where to start with a project that addresses some of these concerns? Well I decided to start with a map of Wells and in particular the area to the east of the town. The map is an Edward Stanford Ordnance Map of Wells, dated 1907. It was very kindly given to me by a friend (thank you Helen Terry) and shows the creeks, the marsh and the town very clearly and in great detail.

P1050755Sample 3 – taken directly from map

When you don’t know what to do, or which direction to take, I think it is often best to start simply, and in this case I began by just copying parts of the map. I like that these first efforts depict the creeks as they were over 100 years ago as it gives me scope to research the changes that have actually occurred since then.

P1050757Sample 4 – Using shapes from my observation of the landscape and ‘colouring in’

The samples are 50 x 50 cm, sewing cotton on painted linen. The white on blue hints at blueprint maps. I have to say I really like these first three samples and learnt quite a lot stitching them, but they are much too literal…. too map-like.  So my next move was to come away from the obvious map shapes and to use shapes that come from my own observations of the landscape.

P1050756Sample 5 – Making marks with white paint and then stitching

Again, I feel they are sterile – there is nothing for the imagination to work with. So, I tried making my own marks with paint rather than just ‘colouring in’ and there is much here that I like, especially where in sample 5 the paint looks like a stain that is almost accidental.

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Sample 6 – Making marks with white paint and then stitching. 

I thought I might be ready to make a larger version – to make a ‘finished’ piece – but I put everything away for a week and now I look at them again I know I’m not ready to go bigger or finished. I like the fluid, wavering lines that suggest shifting boundaries. I like some of the painted marks. I like the distressed cloth background and the eyelets. But the imagined shapes in the later samples have no meaning for me.

P1050760Sample 7 – Making marks with white paint and then stitching. Couched wire.

My next move? Well I think to do more research. I need to walk the creek at low tide. Draw what I see and notice the effects of the water on the mud and the sand. And then I need to move inland and walk the sea wall and the fields behind – to look and to listen in order to really understand what is at stake here and to give meaning to the marks I paint and stitch.

This is a long term project and I have no idea how it will end. Maybe some of these ‘samples’ will turn out to be actual work (it often happens), but I intend to document each move here, so next up some drawing.

The protective coast

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About 6 months ago a friend popped an article through my letterbox and it has been percolating around in my mind ever since. From an issue of Horizons, the University of Cambridge’s research magazine, the piece focuses on the East of England and considers climate change and flooding. It questions whether manmade barriers are the best coastal defence and with predicted rises in sea level of up to 1.5m by 2100, in the future these hard defences would only have to be built bigger and higher and become more conspicuous.

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The East coast is a low lying ‘soft’ coast. The energy of tides and waves brings silt and clay that accumulates near the shore. As the water shallows, the particles are trapped by salt tolerant plants and salt marsh begins to form.  Salt marshes are a valuable environmental resource as they can absorb and bury carbon from the atmosphere and offer habitats to unique plants and animals

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Although salt marsh changes daily with each tide, and is particularly vulnerable to coastal erosion, tidal surges and flooding, the article, written by Sarah Collins, suggests that it could actually provide a more sustainable option to hard, concrete defences and act as a protective barrier, buffering wave actions, reducing their height and therefore their potential for damage. It has been shown that a narrow strip of salt marsh 40m wide reduces wave height by 20% and strip 80m wide can reduce waves to zero – the saltmarsh is able quite literally to swallow the waves.

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Here in Wells, low-lying reclaimed farmland is protected by man-made sea defences – high sea walls that were built to protect the land in the aftermath of the flooding of the 1953 tidal surge. These walls do protect the land, but they also create a barrier, stopping the shore from moving inland and squeezing the saltmarsh between the sea and our coastal defences.

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To act efficiently as natural flood defences the sea and salt marsh needs to be able to move landwise naturally and freely and with the projected rise in sea levels it is unlikely that the coastline will stay as it is at the moment.

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The issue of the changing coastline has occupied my mind for some time now and I have been considering how I could make a piece of work that considers these issues. The drawings here are some of my first ideas and explore ideas around the destructive tide, inundation and shifting boundaries. Next time I’ll show you my next steps in this project.

Swallows

I’ve just spent a lazy hour sitting in the shade at the studio looking at what was going on and watching the swallows swoop and dive around me.

These small, elegant black and white birds arrived about three weeks ago, (or maybe a bit longer – I can’t remember exactly)  and they will be here now for the rest of the summer.

Swallows feed on the wing and their flight patterns are mesmerising as they hunt for insects. So of course I grabbed a pencil and started to draw – flight path, over flight path, following their movements with my eyes.

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Another page and the side of a graphite stick varied the marks,

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and on further page a few more jottings.

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The words read:

Swallows fly past

Now high

Now low

A glide and then a short flap of wings.

Rise higher and another glide.

A sudden, flutter and turn, flutter and turn – switchback

Falling – wings back – they chirrup.

From the left a straight, confident path,

swift and low

to rest on the far bank.

 

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I have used the swooping shapes of a swallow’s flight in my work before but it is always a pleasure to have another look.

Finally, on another note, you may be interested to know that I am giving an online workshop for TextileArtist.org as part of their new TextileArtist.org Stitch Club. The workshop starts next week and in it I talk about how objects can tell a story and take you through the processes I use for making small containers for some objects that you have chosen yourself. I think the last day for registration is tomorrow!

Where’ere you walk

Hello! I hope you are well.

Today I am going to take you for a walk. We’re lucky here to have lovely places to walk to from the front door and as it was warm and sunny on Saturday we decided to do a long, full circuit that skirts Holkham Park, down to the beach, through the pines and along the beach bank back home.

A  few minutes from the house is the path that leads to the East Gate of Holkham park. I love these old twisted holm oaks, quercus ilex, that hold their arms up and over the path. There are a lot of holm oaks scattered all over the estate – apparently they come from the acorns that were used to pack cases of artefacts from the 1st Earl’s trips to Italy in the 18th century.

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Just through the East gate there are more trees, beech, ash and silver birch. The sun shines down through the new lime, green leaves – bright, fresh and full of spring. Another sign of spring is the cuckoo that seems to follow us along the path with its loud, intermittent call.

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A beckoning pastoral scene, but we head off down a path to the right towards the main gate.

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Through the gate is the long sweep of the road right down to the beach. You can just see the pinewoods at the very end, and beyond that is the beach. Estate worker houses line the top end of the road, and beyond the main coast road, that crosses the path about half way down,

P1050522and past the cow parsley …..

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…. is Lady Anne’s Drive. Looking back up the drive from the beach end you can see the beach carpark that is usually full of cars but at the moment it is completely empty.

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So, along the duck boards that skirt the pines ….

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to Holkham gap and the beach, where the tide is out.

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Today we decide not to walk on the beach as there is a stiffish breeze coming from the east that would blow straight onto us, so instead we head into the pines.

The pinewoods run for three miles from Wells to Scolt Head and there are three kinds of pines that grow in the woods, Corsican (grey trunk, small cones), Scots (orange upper trunk) and Maritime (large cones in tree-top clusters). They were planted over 150 years ago to stabilise the sand and to form a barrier to stop the sand blowing onto the crops growing on the reclaimed land behind.

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Apparently there are little owls in the woods and every time I walk through I look up into the trees in the hope that I might see one – but I never have.

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The end of the beach huts appear …

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… and before long we’re on the beach bank that runs for 1 mile from Wells to the beach.

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Back to the quay and home for a cup of tea and a piece of cake …. we’ve deserved it!

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I think the words to this aria from Handel’s opera Semele are very apt.

Where’er you walk
Cool gales shall fan the glade
Trees where you sit
Shall crowd into a shade

Where’er you tread
The blushing flowers shall rise
And all things flourish
Where’er you turn your eyes

 

Shadow Pots

Hello everyone! A couple of weeks ago I posted about some tiny salt pots that I had made and today I am going to show you two bigger ones.

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They are both about 80cm long and I’ve hung them up on the wall so that you can get an idea of their scale. This little corner of the conservatory has become my working spot in the last few weeks, and sometimes I think I might take root in the chair. At the moment I feel uncomfortable spending a lot of time in the studio and so I have been bringing materials back to the house to work on here.

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These pieces originated from asking myself the simple question, ‘how would it be to make some big salt pots’? Their final form comes from the technical problems encountered in trying to salt them. Normally I turn the pots upside down, put them in a shallow bath of salt water and wait for them to do their stuff. But the length and unstable nature of the pulled thread work means that  I couldn’t use this technique here as they would droop and topple over.

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In the past I have filled bags with salt, soaked them in water and waited for them to dry and form crystals. So I considered putting loose salt in the bottom of the container, soaking and drying. But this would mean the salt might fall out and be messy if moved and I didn’t want that. The solution was to make a separate little bag filled with salt, a salt bag, (a bit like a sand bag), soak it until it was thoroughly saturated and then put it in the foot of the bag whilst still dripping wet. The salt has had to soak through two layers of cloth so the salting is subtle with a slight, weathered encrustation. I am really pleased with it. The salt bag also gives the work a bit of weight.

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I waxed the solid part at the top of the pot so that it would hold its shape.

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They look great in the evening when the light is switched on as they cast shadows on the wall. The blue is cast light from the lampshade.

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And it this casting of shadows that has started me off thinking about other ways that I could use shadows in my work.

Marsh Watercolour Books

1/2020Marsh Watercolour Book #1/2020

I have painted some watercolours, folded them into concertina books and bound them with hard covers. They were done in my studio overlooking the marsh just before the lockdown started. I am finding that a lot of the work I am making at the moment is in response to past experience and each of these images is an interpretation drawn from my visual memory. The shapes, lines, spaces and light are a combination of inventiveness and actuality.

2 2020_edited-1Marsh Watercolour Book #2/2020

The writer AS Byatt said, ‘Memories can be polished, like objects taken out, burnished and contemplated’, and indeed we do not record experiences precisely, as in a photograph. Instead we take parts of the experience and reconstruct it rather than retrieve an exact copy, adding feelings and knowledge of other experiences into the mix. Each time we remember, we remember differently.

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I have discovered that the very act of remembering has enabled me to create a distance from an experience so that the original observations and thoughts have the opportunity to re-emerge from my mind transformed by my imagination (and other past experiences) to make a new and more lively construction of a remembered reality.

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We are all, of course, distanced from all sorts of experiences at the moment so the opportunity to remember and to reconstruct in order to create something new is very pertinent.

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These Marsh Watercolour Concertina books have been painted on Saunders Waterford HP watercolour paper, with a black bookcloth cover and I have put them in a simple paper pocket cover for protection. They are 16.5 x 75.5 cm (open) 17 x 10 x 1 cm (closed) and each book is signed on the back with a catalogue number.

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I have just put them up for sale on my online shop.

Cutting and sticking

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Yesterday I spent a very happy afternoon sifting through a huge pile of discarded watercolours to see if there was anything in them that could be of use.  I have a box in the studio where I throw ‘stuff’ that doesn’t quite work – little drawings (and big ones as well), stitched pieces, maquettes …… I have been meaning to go through the drawings/watercolours in particular for months.

The rejected drawings were all shapes and sizes and had come from several different projects. Some had been folded up in disgust and others not. The intention was to crop out the interesting bits and glue them into sketchbooks so that they would become a readily available resource for possible new work (most probably stitched cloth collages).

These bits came from a series of long drawings that had been folded to form concertina books. I simply cut out the bits I liked.

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Other bits were whole drawings (quite small) that although they had been discarded I still thought had something interesting about them. So I stuck the whole thing in.

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And some I collaged together or extended to make something new altogether.

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And then there was a whole slew of bits, mainly from quite large, boring drawings, that nevertheless had interesting marks or shapes that gave the possibility of being reinterpreted in cloth and stitch. So first I selected, and then cut out those sections and stuck them in.

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I love watercolour; it is such a fluid and spontaneous medium. The drawings are wonderful in their own right but can also be a source of inspiration when they don’t quite turn out the way you hoped and now I have two sketchbooks full of ideas ……. a good afternoons work!

To Coil

Hello! I hope you are all well. With all the time I have on my hands I’ve made another piece of work. As I was sewing, I was thinking about how the work came about and also about the manner of creation in general.

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When I begin a new piece work, I usually only have a vague idea of what it will be. Normally I have in mind a work that I have previously made, or an observation of something that has happened, or maybe an idea that I have read about. There is always some sort of starting point, but there is very rarely a definitive end point. So, when and how does the thinking and deciding what the work will be, take place?

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Very, very occasionally I think a piece into existence. I have an idea; I spend time drawing it up in my sketchbook; I make the piece and the final form is as it appeared in my sketchbook. The work is the materialisation of a thought.

But this rarely happens. Even if I think I have an end point, as soon as I start making, a dialogue starts up between my hands and my materials; they start telling me things and I begin to respond. Ideas change and so does the work as my engagement with the properties of the materials and observation of what is happening generates new knowledge.  This is a knowledge that can only be understood by actually engaging and asking questions. What did I notice? Why did that happen? How can I use that?

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By using your hands, listening to the movement and transformation of your materials, and then reacting to them, you can literally feel your way forward using your imagination and improvising as you go.  This is the method of making that I prefer to employ and the anthropologist, Tim Ingold, calls this creativity in action ‘participant observation’.

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This piece of work originated from two thoughts. First the idea of enclosure that came from the two works I showed you last time and secondly from a work I made sometime ago that was coiled. My starting point was a 5 m x 15 cm strip of fabric – all I knew was that I would coil it up and place it in a container with walls of about the same height. Other than that each move in the making process was dictated by my observations of what had gone before. The turquoise paint was too bright, so as I painted along the strip I dulled and darkened it. The eyelets were too close, so I moved them apart. The seam was too bulky, so I changed the manner of sewing it. The piece looked flat and unexciting, so instead of waxing it I salted it to give texture. One exchange after another pushed the piece forward to how it is now.

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And as I write this, I have found another reason for actually doing rather than just thinking. The title of this post comes from Richard Serra’s verb list. He stated that: ‘drawing is a verb’ and compiled a list of verbs in response to this statement and used it as a guide for his art practice. The list consists of the infinitives of a series of verbs whose actions relate to ‘oneself, material, place and process’. I realise I should write my own verb list of actions related to what I do – I don’t know why I haven’t thought of this before!

New work

Hello everyone. I hope you are all keeping well.

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It has taken me a little bit of time to settle into this unusual time and to discover how I will be for what looks like to be the foreseeable future.  I had a period of anxiety and being scared in the first few days and found that I couldn’t think about, let alone focus on my work. But by not looking at the news (something I recommend) or social media I have relaxed into what is now my new normal. I am lucky to be a person who is never bored and I can always find something to do. So as well as cleaning things that haven’t been cleaned for years, I have been knitting, baking, taking a daily walk, and making some new work.

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After the first few unsettling days I found that my mind was beginning to clear and ideas started to percolate. I began to make. There was no great concept, just some materials and my hands. I let things take their own course and allowed myself just to do what I like to do. I have finished these two small pieces of related work. Both sets are made up of 24 tiny little thumb-sized pots. One set is salted and the other set is waxed. One set is enclosed the other set isn’t. The pebbles at the bottom of each pot have been gathered on my daily walk down to the beach.

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This is an extraordinary and exceptionally challenging time but I am trying to think of it as special period where I can quietly be and let my mind wander where it will. I have already started another piece of work and will show that to you when it is finished.