So, this is the latest in my suite of Laura Ashley projects. This is it opened out. It must be about 4 feet long (1.2 metres?) and quite narrow. It is an interesting piece to me for several reasons.
- I started it as part of the workshop we had at the Bath Textile Group. We all had to take an envelope with elements to work with that we shared with the group – so we all took one item out of each envelope and worked them into our pieces. I also decided to take the tiny Laura Ashley scraps I had from making up my interviewing sample books, and two small lucky bags which I was given as my Secret Santa present at work at Christmas, and challenged myself to use all three in what turned out to be each panel. The scrap element was chosen at random, but I matched the Laura Ashley scrap and the Secret Santa piece to what emerged. I don’t usually respond very well to these kinds of challenges, but it just seemed to work on this occasion.
- Chris, who was running the workshop suggested that I didn’t cut a piece off the long roll of upholstery fabric that I used as my background or substrate, but gave me the opportunity to work on a larger scale. The background fabric was the trimming from a lovely set of curtains that my mother’s friend’s son, Graham, (following?) passes on when he has finished hanging and trimming his window treatments. This was a lovely heavy cotton with little tufts which fell into small panels. I was going to do one panel but making several seemed to be key to the success of this piece. I have a feeling that I need to start working ‘big’ again after making some small pieces. The offcut was also backed onto some interlining and so the piece almost formed itself into a quilt. I put the backing on right at the end of the process.
- I was really surprised and delighted to see that my own style was coming through again really naturally. So, these little pieces turned into very heavily embellished panels. It felt a bit like coming home; it certainly felt like the welcome return of an old friend. I used lots of beads and bits of broken jewellery and did quite a lot of stitching.
- It was also fortuitous that I ended up making a book box, as I really had no idea what to do with the piece when it was finished. The box is an elegant and neat solution to the storage/display problem and contributes to the secrets and hidden things theme of the Bath Textile Artists’ next exhibition.
- I was very interested to see that such a narrative strand emerged in the full thing for me. Although the style is quite contemporary, I had a strong sense of making a life story in cloth (a clothograph, as they called it in the Victoria and Albert exhibition, last year), of an Edwardian lady. The elements presented and preserved in the final thing seemed to me to tell the story of a colonial lady, maybe a missionary, maybe a colonel’s lady. I am intrigued by the way that the Laura Ashley project is all entirely storied. This has led to quite a lot of theorising which I want to explore over the summer. I was also really interested to hear Cirel, one of the other Bath Textile Artists, talking about how she tells herself stories as she is making her pieces and how she was surprised to hear that not everyone did the same. I wish I had pursued the conversation and I wish I had had my tape recorder!
- I was struck by how this came out in a huge rush and how I just wanted to get it finished. I went flat out to complete it. I think it’s really interesting the way that some things just take over and almost possess you when they are going well. I have been thinking a lot about Laura Ashley and Anita Roddick as my muses. They refuse to leave me alone. It is a joy and a curse!
Here are some photos to illustrate some of the above points:
These are the tufts in the original fabric. I pulled some out of the backing fabric to supplement the front. Graham had pulled out quite a few in order to get a flat fold for hemming. Pulling them out was immensely satisfying! It was also interesting how much the very plain quilting at either end of the piece seemed to finish it off. Plus I like the texture of the almost white on white effect.
This is a good illustration of the narrative that seemed to emerge from these panels. I started with the little square of gold leaf which is under the big, flat, shiny, black bead and which came in the piece of paper which has the elephant on it. I think it comes from Thailand. The gold is used by the faithful in temples to add to statues of the Buddha. It is so fine that it was hard to work with, and I ended up using bondaweb which was not ideal as I couldn’t peel off the backing paper. I also really liked the wrapper with the elephant on. I used the trick of crumpling and re-crumpling the paper to break down the fibres so that it becomes easier to handle and more like fabric.
The black flowered fabric was from the Secret Santa bag and nice a silky for once. The tiny Laura Ashley sliver is in the top left-hand corner of the floral fabric.
Although I think the gold comes from Thailand, I prefer to think of the elephants and what is now Sri Lanka – formerly Ceylon, which was part of the British Empire. I can see the woman in this panel as tea planters wife or in some way related to some functionary of the Empire. The spiky iridescent fabric reminds me of temple architecture and the little elephant plaque is something which has been lurking in my bead collection for years, which I bought in Stratford-on-Avon of all places.
This panel strikes me as having something of the shabby chic, Edwardian lady feel to it:
The coffee lace reminds me of Merchant Ivory films.
This one reminds me of India – the jewel in the crown of Empire:
There was some badinage about the fact that I had used all the beaded piece of braid down the right hand side rather than cutting a piece off and putting it back in the envelope, but it seemed to fit exactly. This one also has a huge loop earring that Janet, the ace felt maker drew out of the bag and couldn’t make work in her piece. It fitted straight into mine! The bling-y broken earrings seemed to finish off the treasures of the maharajas feel.
This is the last panel and possibly not the most interesting, but it represents the return home. Under all the embellishments there is a scrap of a photocopy of one of the first maps of Bristol, antiqued a bit with some strong coffee. It felt like a good homecoming.