Tag Archives: cloth

Experimenting

As an artist who uses cloth I am very interested in how it is used in the landscape that I am trying to evoke. I take great inspiration from sails and tarpaulins that can be found everywhere here on the coast and recently I have been researching traditional ways of preserving and waterproofing them.

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Nowadays, sails are made from highly technical synthetic materials that won’t shrink, rot or stretch out of shape when battered by the wind and weather. But before these fabrics were in common use, sails were made of canvas and linen – fabrics that will degenerate quickly if they are not treated with a preservative. I often use canvas and linen in my work and so it is appropriate to look at traditional ways of preserving these types of cloth.

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There are several traditional ways that sailors and fishermen would preserve sails, ropes and nets. Tanning or barking is a process of boiling sailcloth in a solution of cutch, an extract of the plant Acacia Catechu that is very high in natural tannins. This process turns the sail a reddish/brown and gives protection from the elements, but the sail remains absorbent and becomes heavy in wet weather.

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I find the process of ‘dressing’ sails with linseed oil, wax and ochre more intriguing. The mixture is spread on both sides of the sail and penetrates the cloth to create a barrier that protects it from the wet. Despite the fear that the linseed oil coated cloth would spontaneously combust (!), I have made some samples and hung them up in a well ventilated room to dry.

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Since using chalk that I had collected, hand ground and turned into distemper in a recent piece of work, I have been keen to use other natural materials collected from the environment. I thought that I could easily replace ochre in the dressing mixture with another material and for the past couple of weeks I have been looking for a substitute on my walks along the beach. Red clay from Cley beach and sea-coal from the East Hills in Wells have proved to be worthy alternatives.

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When I first made these samples I was disappointed. I thought they looked like dirty scraps of cloth with no aesthetic appeal. However, I looked at them again a couple of days ago and the drying process has greatly improved their appearance and touch and I think there could be some potential.

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Now the linseed oil is less sticky and smelly, the yellow/brown oil, wax, and coarsely ground red clay turns the cloth a wonderful, translucent terracotta and similarly coarse-ground sea-coal gives texture. I’ve also mixed some of my previously ground chalk with oil and wax and the mixture gives a dense, creamy coating that gently cracks when manipulated.

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These are my first experimental samples. They need a lot of refining and I should spend longer processing the clay and sea-coal and trying out different proportions of oil and wax.  But I have ideas …… I’ll keep you updated!

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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.

The Sluice Creek Cloths

There is only a week to go before the Knitting & Stitching show! Nearly everything is packed up in copious amounts of bubblewrap and I am running around deciding on slightly strange things like how to transport 2 buckets of dry sand without it spilling out everywhere. Today I’ll give you a bit of information about the main part of the Moments of Being body of work – The Sluice Creek Cloths.

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Sluice Creek is a tidal inlet just off the main channel at Wells-next-the-Sea. It runs north/south and narrows to the north in a labyrinth of seemingly endless inlets and creeks. It is a quiet place but at the same time it teems with life and movement – there is always something new and interesting to see and experience.

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The Sluice Creek Cloths are inspired by the memory of encounters with physical processes that I have encountered whilst out walking or sailing: the sun moving over the marsh and creating shadows, the clink of halyards knocking against masts, the shape of a bend in the creek or the way saltwater marks my clothes.

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I have invested a huge amount of time and effort in these cloths and they have taken me about 18 months to make. There are seven cloths in the series. Each one is made from linen and hangs double over a shiny, varnished pole. The mark I have chosen to use as my personal notation for this body of work is the hole. It is a space – an immaterial emptiness that is surrounded by a physical material that describes its shape and allows us to see a nothing. The holes I have sewn into the linen of The Sluice Creek Cloths are edged with thread-bound iron wire. These evoke the small metal eyelets and fastenings that are in tarpaulins, boat covers and sails found in a coastal environment. Each cloth has been dipped in the sea several times to rust the eyelets and to mark the cloth.
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The information I have written over the past three posts has come from a book that I have designed and self-published to accompany the Moments of Being exhibition. It is a 20 x 20cms, soft-covered book with 60 pages. It includes text that describes my inspiration and way of working and has photographs that I have taken myself of the work and the environment that inspired it. It will be on sale at the show next week. It will also be on sale  after the show in my shop.
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Do come and say hello if you are there!

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 …..

 

Yellow cloth

Things are a bit frantic here at the moment what with exhibitions going up and being stewarded and two deadlines looming for future exhibitions. I am also continuing to make work for my gallery at the Knitting and Stitching show in the autumn ….. sometimes I feel as if I’ve bitten off more than I can chew!

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The good weather we have been having recently has helped my time pressures enormously. I need to paint large pieces of cloth and it is so good to be able to go out into the garden on a warm day and spread out and drip in the open air. Everything dries so much quicker in a gentle warm breeze than in a cold, dark garage which is where I have to do wet stuff in the winter. Only a month ago it was taking 4 or 5 days to dry an equivalent cloth.

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It is so much easier not to have to worry about covering the floor as outside the drips just soak away into the grass.

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The shadows stand out on the vibrant yellow ochre ….

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and as the cloth is a loose weave linen so you can see through it as well.

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These marks were a very serendipitous and timely surprise!

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Of course within half an hour the sun had gone in and it was raining which is good for the garden but it’s back into the garage to paint the next layer today!

 

Sea Dipping

I have finally got to the stage with part of my latest piece of work where I can dip it into the sea and I have been thinking about why this process is so important to me.

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Recently, I have placed the finished cloths into the sea two or three times. This, I thought, was principally to rust the iron rings that I had sewn into them, but it has become obvious that the process of taking the cloth to water has more significance than just the visual effect of the rusting.

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The cloths are inspired by vividly remembered encounters and engagements with the coast: processes, sights and sounds of the the sea, the beach and the marshland. Placing the work and photographing it in the environment that inspired it somehow brings the whole thought process back full circle.

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For me the work I make in response to a place is about the experience of looking, touching, hearing, light and space. The work, for me, is not separate from the original experience. The energy of the place is within the energy of the piece, although its form and material come from my imagination. The introduction of the work to the place brings together two halves of a whole.

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The photographs I take of this ‘introduction’ are not a work in themselves, but the documentation of bringing work and place together is highly significant to me and the photographs form a visual record of the act. The other record is of course the resulting rust marks that stain the cloth from the contact of sea and iron.

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Without this baptism in the sea the work would not be complete.

 

A week of collecting – final outcome

I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed the Week of Collecting project that I finished last week. It was such an satisfying, yet simple, exercise and one that I will definitely do again in the future.

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The project was rewarding on several levels. Firstly, it was of course good to get out and walk and look and decide what to pick up and take home. It was good practise to write concisely about what I had collected and to hone my thoughts about that particular object. Finally it was very good to draw everyday.

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This was quite nerve-wrecking as I had decided to do my drawings on one continuous piece of paper so that I could bind them into a concertina book at the end. If I went wrong the whole thing would have been ruined and by the end of the week I was beginning to get quite nervous about putting paint to paper. Drawing this way makes you think and observe and consider much more carefully than normal.

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I did  however have one shot at getting the drawing right in the journal that I recorded and documented my findings.

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Both of these hand-bound books will be on display at The Archive Project exhibition at Haslemere Educational Museum in February.

Along with the books I’m also showing a series of small sea-purses and other imagined objects that could well have been found on the strand-line. Here they are photographed on the beach and give a clue as to how they will be displayed in the museum.

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I’ll give you a preview when they are ready ….