Category Archives: stitching

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.

For one day only

I’m very happy to have been invited by Viv and Kev at Art Van Go (stand TGF1) to be one of several Artists in Residence at this year’s Knitting & Stitching show at Ally Pally and I am going to be there this coming Saturday.

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The brief is to ‘examine options, explore ideas and work through processes’ and the idea is that each artist should work in their space as if it were their own studio. I am going to be bringing along some unfinished and unresolved works in progress. I am working through various new ideas at the moment and I intend to show how the concept of one of these ideas begins and how it could possibly unfold.

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The works are intended to be a small part of a much larger body of work that looks at the connections that can be made between the experience of different places. It looks at the encounter with new environments and how the experience of a new location is touched by similarities and associations to more familiar places in a never-ending, and possibly unconscious, triangulation of place, experience and memory.

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I am a great collector and just about every time I  go for a walk I will pick up pebbles, shells, wood, rope, fossils, seaweed and rusty detritus. These ‘evocative’ objects come from various locations and create associations to a particular place and can be seen as reminder, or a touchstone, of experiences and impressions that in turn feed the creative mind and the imagination. I am exploring how these objects could be included into these small works.

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On Saturday I will bring the inspiration for this work – drawings, found objects and things I have already made (including the work you see here). I will be experimenting  with colours collected from the landscape: chalk, yellow ochre, clay and sea coal and other materials to paint cloth and then when its dry, hopefully, I’ll be waxing and stitching it – I may even sew in an eyelet or two. At this moment nothing is set in stone ….. if you are there do come along and see what happens and to say hello.

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 I’ll report back next week with what I managed to achieve!

Finally, also at the Knitting and Stitching shows, I have two pieces of work in the Colour Notes exhibition by textile group Studio 21. The works tie in very neatly with what I will be doing with Artists in Action at Ally Pally as they are both coloured using ‘colours from the landscape’: chalk, yellow ochre and sea coal.

fullsizeoutput_d1f.jpeg copyGround Work: CoilLinen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground chalk, hand-collected and hand-ground yellow clay, beeswax, sea water. Approx. 29 x 29 x 10 cm

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Ground Work: Fold, Linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground seacoal, sea water, beeswax, found threads. Approx. 35 x 40 x 10 cm

 

Brisons Veor – Seaweed

From my sketchbook:

‘Priest’s Cove – they say every seventh wave is a big one. I count – it’s not true in this case. There are big and small waves, but they are random. Two big ones together and then a series of small ones. Every now and then a piece of seaweed gets washed ashore and dumped on the concrete slipway – kelp I think.’

‘Sennen Cove – seaweed fronds have caught on the iron girders supporting the ramp to the lifeboat station and hang flapping in the wind. They are all different colours: red, green, brown, yellow, grey.  Dried and waved. Gentle quivers of frond on frond and louder smacks as the wind blows it up against the metal.’

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Using material that is collected directly from the landscape is a very important part of my practice. It creates a direct connection between the environment itself, my experience of the environment and the work. It is the medium through which I try to evoke the sensuous qualities of a landscape in a multi-sensorial way.

I saw one seaweed in particular all along this part of the coast in Cornwall. It is called Oarweed or Tangle – Laminaria digitata, it is a type of kelpIt can be found attached to rocks at the lowest tidal level and is often washed ashore. It has smooth, thick, cylindrical, flexible stalks which expand into leathery, oar-shaped blades that divide again into many finger-like fronds.

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From my sketchbook:

‘Looking out just beyond the breaking waves at Priest’s Cove I can see the seaweed’s dark fronds swaying just below the surface of the water. A graceful, undulating dance that moves in time with the continuous play of the waves.’

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Seaweed is a material that embodies the coast. I gather a large armful of wet, slippery stalks and fronds to take back to the studio. It smells faintly of the sea – not unpleasant, and it weeps a wet, sticky residue – rather unpleasant.

I know that when seaweed dries it becomes hard and leathery. I also know that it can be re-hydrated once dry. This characteristic has been put to good use as a traditional way of forecasting the weather. If the seaweed is wet and slippery rain is due and if it is dry and brittle, the weather will be fine. It has the possibility of being a versatile material that changes with the humidity of the atmosphere. It could have great potential for me.

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I cut some fronds and sew them tightly together. It’s a messy business as this seaweed is glutinous and sticky. I leave it hanging over the banister and it takes about 2 days to completely dry. It shrinks. It curls. It’s wonderful. I try again with another piece. This time I cut the fronds to the same size and press them under a heavy book when I’ve finished stitching. This piece takes about 3 days to dry. It is also wonderful.

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These small samples are brittle and have cracked on the journey back from Cornwall, but I know that if I wet them they will become supple again. I have a couple of bags of kelp drying in the garage. I will definitely be making something out of this unconventional material.

Just a quick catch-up

I just wanted to say hello! I’ve had my head down recently getting on with stuff and there haven’t really been any new developments to tell you about.

I’m presently working on 3 large cloths for an exhibition next year. They are going to be coloured with hand-collected and hand-ground pigments: probably chalk, sea-coal and yellow clay. After that they will be waterproofed and dressed with a wax and linseed oil concoction that will change their nature completely so that they become glossy and stiff.

At the moment I am preparing the cloths prior to the colouring and waxing process. The one shown here has been dipped in the sea to rust the eyelets and it is presently hanging in my studio so that I can get to know it. I like to live with things for a while to see if they need changes. I’ll put it away presently and then look at it again in a week to two to see if my view has changed ….. it often does when you turn your back.

The balance I am trying to get in the work is tricky. It is between having enough interest in the way the cloth is put together: the utilitarian seams, reinforcements and eyelets, without detracting from the the pigments and wax which are the main reason for the work. I want the pigments and wax to speak for themselves.

I feel that I may have been a bit fussy with this first cloth, so the one I am working on at the moment will be much plainer – almost a blank canvas with just one row of eyelets.

 

Burnt Cloth

Some of you may be wondering whether I did decide to burn the last of the ‘Flags’ in my Signalman body of work. I was undecided when I last wrote about it.

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Well, after much hum-ing and haa-ing I took the plunge and did it. This wasn’t a scientific, controlled process but more of a ‘go into the garden with a box of matches, some stout boots and a garden hose, type  of procedure’.

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It was surprisingly difficult to make the cloth catch fire and even more difficult to make it catch fire in an artistic way! Anyhow I’m pleased with the result and even more pleased with the patch that I had to put on it where it burnt through too much.

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You can see this flag and the other two in the series at The Archive Project@The Cello Factory from 4-12 May 2017.

Simple starting points

I’ve started making a new piece of work. I’m at the beginning of the process and although I’m beyond the first sampling and trying out stage, I’m still in, ‘not quite sure exactly how this will turn out’ mode. I thought I’d write a little about some of its origins and a few ideas I am pondering at the moment.

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The form of this work comes from Minimalist music that originated in America in the mid-sixties. This type of music broke away from the classical tradition to be more chaotic and you could say, less musical.

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Some of the features of Minimalist music are:

  • Layers of repeated rhythmic, melodic or harmonic patterns that are repeated many times (the proper word is ostinato).
  • Repeated patterns that gradually change over time.
  • Layered textures

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Composers included Terry Riley, Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

I remember taking part in a performance of Terry Riley’s In C, when I was at music college and being completely amazed by the way a seemingly simple score could create such complex sounds.

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In C consists of 53 separate bars of music in the key of C, each with a different melodic and rhythmic pattern.  Players repeat each bar as many times as they wish before moving onto the next. The result is an ever-changing web of sound where complicated patterns and unpredictable combinations of the set bars occur.

The idea that one simple form, when repeated over and over again, can produce complex and multifarious patterns is very beguiling and is also very relevant to visual art. The work I am making at the moment is made up of a simple, repeated form. When assembled these forms will create an altogether new and more complex work. I think that this work is the simplest interpretation of the idea…..

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….but already my mind is moving on to how I could make an even more complex work from the simplest of ideas: very, very, simple repeated, rhythmic layers that slip in and out of sync with each other to make a complex work.

However, for now, it’s on with the sewing – there’s a lot to do.  More on this project later as I progress!

 

 

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 …..

 

Collecting/Documenting

I’ve recently started a new project that responds to the collection at Haslemere Educational Museum. This is a traditional museum – dare I say, rather old-fashioned. It was founded in 1888 by Sir Jonathan Hutchinson as a centre for learning. All the artefacts were at that time on open display as Hutchinson ‘believed that people could learn as much through their hands as their eyes’.

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I am of course a great believer in understanding things using all the senses and not just the eyes, so this idea appeals to me. Unfortunately the artefacts in the three permanent Geology, Natural History and Human History galleries are now all behind glass. However, the work I am making for the exhibition responds to the idea of open display and will be highly textured and tactile – it will encourage exploration with more than just the visual sense.

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You will not be surprised to hear that I was drawn to the Natural History galleries and the collections of insects, bones, marine life and shells. Most of the artefacts  were collected by naturalists and collectors at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. These collections show an obsession for exploring, learning and understanding new and mysterious things. Many of the collections are neatly labelled with the artefact’s scientific name, date of collection and locality.

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I am a collector. I can’t help myself. It is as Rachel Whiteread says, a type of ‘absent-minded browsing, like doodling in a sketchbook’. I wander along the beach, eyes down, mind whirring as I bend down and pocket stuff. I take it all home and put it in containers – often the bottom of milk cartons (which now I look at them are interesting in themselves as they are dated and the supermarket they come from gives me a clue to where the ‘stuff’ was collected). This, up to now, has been the limit of my rather crude form of documentation.

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The plan for this project is not to use my collection but to take inspiration from it. In the spirit of the Victorian collector I will  gather and place together mysterious objects to be wondered at. I will make a collection of imaginary marine debris that will consist of things that could have been found and collected along the beach strand-line – objects that could have floated ashore on the waves and deposited as the tide retreats.

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So far I have made one set of objects. I will make more sets over the next few weeks and I intend to make drawings as well …. I’ll keep you posted.

The Sewing Machine Project (Part 2)

Last time I told you a bit about The Sewing Machine Project  – an exhibition that Studio 21 are showing in October/November at South Hill Park Arts Centre.  I thought I’d give you a bit of insight into the two pieces of work that I have made for the exhibition.

A sewing machine repeats its actions over and over again in a replicated sequence of rhythmical movement. These highly rhythmic repetitions mark the passing of time.

(From my entry in The Sewing Machine Project booklet)

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I have used the fold and the seam, the most basic construction methods, to explore two themes.

For the first part of the project the group thought about the sensory effects of the sewing machine: its sound and its feel, and what the machine means to their practice. We each chose three words to describe our response. Mine were Repetition – Duration – Succession.

My first piece, Fold, is a response to these words and considers the relentless mechanical movements of the sewing machine: the way the needle punctures the fabric as it moves up and down, the action of the feed dogs and the of stop/start action of the machine user. I stitched, folded, pierced with wire and rolled eleven, 12 metre strips of cloth to represent the fundamental processes of the machine.

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My second piece originated with a piece of historical research and looks at the domestic relief and benefits brought to women by the invention of the sewing machine.

It started with finding this interesting piece of information in Godey’s Lady’s Book. (Godey’s Lady’s Book was a magazine intended to entertain, inform and educate the women of America. The Lady’s book was produced in Philadelphia and included works of fiction, latest fashion, recipes for cleaning andeducational activities for children.)

‘In 1860 Godey’s Lady’s Book reported that the sewing machine was the ‘Queen of inventions’ and that a gentleman’s shirt required 20,620 stitches which at the rate of 35 stitches per minute took about fourteen hours and twenty six minutes to finish by hand. Operating a sewing machine at 3,000 stitches a minute, a seamstress could assemble a shirt in one hour sixteen minutes by machine’.

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I thought I would try this out and see how long it would take to sew that many stitches by hand as opposed to by machine. I rounded the number of stitches down to 20,000 (I like round numbers) and got stitching. The result were two pieces of work. Seam I: 20,000 stitches (sewn by hand) and Seam II: 36 metres (sewn by machine).

I chose to do back stitch as I thought using running stitch a shirt would quickly fall to pieces! Well …. I can’t sew 35 stitches a minute! I only managed 10-15 stitches a minute (mostly nearer 10 than 15 minutes). 20,000 stitches final took me 30 hours and 38 minutes to complete and the seam was 36 metres long.

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You can see how tiny the stitches are. I counted every stitch and inserted a little red marker thread every 50 stitches  – I timed each session.

Seam II: 36 metres compares how long a 36m seam takes to sew by machine as opposed to by hand. And the answer is….

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…32 minutes.

It’s definitely quicker to use a machine!

I’ve put all the research into a little hand-bound book that will be at the exhibition for you to look at.