Category Archives: stitching

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.

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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.