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Making Space

Next week I am helping to put up the 62 Group, Making Space exhibition at the Knitting & Stitching show, Olympia. This is the next stop in the tour for this exhibition that was first shown last year at the Silk Museum, Macclesfield. The theme of ‘Space’ has been interpreted by members in diverse ways using hand and machine stitch, print, weave, installation and mixed media inspired by textile techniques. I will have one salt work showing, Holed Cloth.

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‘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. Debbie has made holes in cloth to give form to space and to make visible the invisible.’

I’ll be stewarding all day Saturday if you want to come and say hello!

The Knitting & Stitching show is open from 2 -5 March, 10am – 7pm Thursday and 10am – 5.30pm Friday  – Sunday.

 

 

Marshscape Collage

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It is only three weeks now until the Knitting and Stitching show and I have finished making all the work for my gallery. There are just the fiddly (but surprisingly time consuming) things left to do to make sure that everything is in perfect order – finishing off, sewing in ends, thinking about what I need to actually hang the work and other paper/computer related things.

I thought that in the lead up to the show I would give you a taste of what I will be showing and a short explanation of the work’s inspiration. First the title of the work – Moments of Being.

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Moments of Being is a concept that occurs in an essay by Virginia Woolf called A Sketch of the Past. In it she wonders why it is that some ordinary, but powerful memories rise above the forgotten trivia of everyday life. She concludes that there are two types of experience: moments of non-being and of being. Moments of non-being are experiences that one lives through but are not consciously aware of, whereas a moment of being is a flash of conscious awareness.

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My new body of work is inspired by a series of vividly remembered encounters and engagements with the marshes and beach of the North Norfolk coastline. I have taken my own quite ordinary, but powerful, recollections to form the basis of the work. Each work notates the memory of a commonplace event or observation: 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. These are not unusual experiences, but are personal and intensely remembered moments.

The last of this work to be finished is a set of 16 small Marshscape Collages and so I’ll start there. The collages are mounted on thick board and framed with a waxed cloth border. They are 20 x 20 cms each.

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The collages have been created intuitively. They are images of the Norfolk coastline that come from my memory: the shape of a bend in the creek, the rocking of moored boats or the outline of the saltmarsh. They are about shape, colour, light and space. I have made them from bits pulled out of my big bag of odds and ends (mainly unfinished or discarded work and left-overs) and specially painted paper and cloth. It is rather like doing a puzzle. I move shapes and colours around until they suddenly jump into the right place – what Sandra Blow calls that ‘startling rightness’.

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The first of the Knitting & Stitching shows is at Alexandra Palace, London from 5 – 9 October. Please do come and say hello to me if you are there.

In which I feel lost but come up with a plan

I’m feeling rather reluctant at the moment to show you things! I’m working on several ideas but nothing seems to be resolving itself into finished work at the moment. This happens. When I’m in ‘nothing is working’ mode sometimes the best thing is not to think but to just make what feels right. I firmly believe you can overthink and often it is only when the work is made that the ideas and the objects can be joined together to make a whole. I often remember Terry Frost who said that the thinking happens before and after the making. When actually making (or in his case painting) it is all about putting materials together – not concepts.

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For the past weeks (or indeed months) sewn eyelets are what seem to be right for me and I’ve made quite a few small cloths in an attempt to feel my way. I hadn’t looked at them for three or four weeks as I’ve been busy doing other things, but this morning I got them out and they seem to be a lot better than I remembered! I feel reinvigorated as suddenly I can see potential.

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On the whole the things I want to make are not direct representations of landscape or place. They are ambiguous objects that are inspired by a huge number of experiences and memories that are the result of being in the environment. Textures, sounds, objects and happenings all come into play and sometimes it is a puzzle to pin everything down to the what, where, when and how.

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For these works however I do know that I am interested in the physical qualities of the cloth – the actual cloth used, its colour, scale and the processes used to make it into its final realisation, rather than using it as a surface for an image or narrative.

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For now the plan is to keep going down this route and see what happens …

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.

The Sewing Machine Project (Part 1)

For two years textile group Studio 21 has been working on a project that will be exhibited next month at the Bracknell Gallery, South Hill Park Arts Centre, Bracknell. As a member (and chairman) I have taken an active part in the leadership and evolution of this project and it is exciting to see it finally all coming together.

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Here is a little bit about the project (the photos are of work I made as part of the project) ….

The Sewing Machine Project is a well-researched exhibition that explores all aspects of the sewing machine. Subjects range from sewing machine mechanics, decoration and operation to personal, cultural, political and social histories. Each member of Studio 21 has produced a comprehensive body of work that reflects their personal interest in this transformational machine.

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The Sewing Machine Project falls into three parts. Part 1 is a visual, aural and tactile response to the Sewing Machine. Part 2 is a cultural, social, historical or personal response to the Sewing Machine and Part 3 is a joint project that uses the sewing machine as the main method of construction and stitching. Part 1 was done during the first year of the project, and Parts 2 and 3 during the second year.

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Throughout the two years of the project members of Studio 21 took part in regular informal workshops and creative activities. Drawing, mono-printing and sculpture sessions took place during their monthly meetings to enable the group to work together in a supportive manner and to allow individuals to increase their knowledge and enthusiasm and to develop work in their chosen area.

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The initial activity was to take apart three abandoned machines to reveal their workings: nuts, bolts, levers, drive belts and camshafts were all stripped down to leave the solid metal hulk of the machine. The sewing machine parts gave the group their first inspiration and the shapes, lines and textures of the mechanical paraphernalia were explored and developed in the first phase of the project with rubbings, wire sculptures and sgraffito sketches.

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The group went on to discuss the sensory effects of the sewing machine: its sound and its feel, and what the machine means to their practice. These discussions resulted in each member choosing three words to describe their response to the sewing machine. These three words formed the basis of their first personal project which was made at the end of the first year of the project. Words chosen and responded to include: Rhythm, Repetition, Lines, Circles, Excitement, Cogs and Stitch.

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The second phase of the project saw each member researching one topic related to the cultural, social or political history of the sewing machine. The next large pieces of work were linked to these individual areas of research so a variety of work and approaches can be seen in these pieces reflecting each artist’s individual approach to the project.

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A joint project ran alongside the second part of the project and used the sewing machine as the only method of construction or stitching. All members took part and a different member set each task.

The tasks were:

  1. Blue
  2. Little Boxes, Little Boxes
  3. Interlocking Forms
  4. Machine Sound
  5. Automatic Stitches

Work from all parts of the project can be seen at the exhibition.

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Next time I’ll show you the two pieces of work that I have made!

 

Well House Gallery exhibition

Tomorrow I am going to set up an exhibition for textile group Studio 21. I really enjoy the process of putting up exhibitions – curating – deciding what goes with what and how it should be hung. I know all the work in this exhibition really well having put it up once before as the works showing are a condensed version of Chinese Whispers, an exhibition from 2013. The exhibition will be at the Well House Gallery, Horndon on the Hill, Essex and here are the details.

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I am showing a few pieces of work…

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Sea Waves and Currents

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Sea Movements

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Counting Cloth: 24 Hours (night and day) 

There is a private view tomorrow evening between 7.30 and 8.30. Do come along if you live nearby as several Studio 21 members (including me) will  be there. If you can’t make it I’ll put some pictures on my Facebook page later in the week.