Brunel Broderers’ Exhibition at Newark Park

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On my recent visit to Newark Park I was lucky enough to see the Brunel Broderer’s exhibition, which was of work made in response to the house and gardens.  I really hate singling people out in exhibitions, because often it is just a matter of taste as to whose work you prefer, but there was some glorious embroidery on display.  I particularly liked seeing the sketchbooks accompanying the work, and I liked the way that it was spread throughout the house and not just in the gallery.  For example, my good friend Liz Hewitt had this rather lovely piece in a little ground-floor reception room:

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This is a little taster of the rest of the show:

The combination of this very high quality contemporary needlework, and the older pieces I mentioned in an early blogpost make this a really good day out for sewers of all sorts.

 

 

 

New for Now: The Origin of Fashion Magazines – my sketches

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The Medieval Historian and I decided to go to Amsterdam for our wedding anniversary this year.  I wanted to see the new entrance to the Rijksmuseum, and the exhibition, New for Now: The Origin of Fashion Magazines, the catalogue for which the MH had given me after his previous visit there.  The exhibition is now over which is a shame because it turned out to be fascinating even for the MH who was not expecting to enjoy it.  It was a show of their collection of early fashion magazines, and the style of drawing was as interesting as the clothes for me.  Although you could take pictures and the illustrations in the catalogue (plentiful on-line) were magnificent, I think there is something about drawing which is useful because it makes you look hard and notice.  So here are my sketches – pretty rough – done in waterproof pen and ink, with a wash applied later in the hotel room, which is why there are colour notes on them.  I am sorry that for some reason I can’t enlarge them without the dreaded pixellation today, but they will give an idea:

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Incidentally, I loved the Rijksmuseum extension.  I love the idea of a main road running through a museum.  That really does bring in hard to reach audiences.

Finger painting 2

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The first exercise in the finger painting course that I have been following was just to make finger prints.  I was really inspired to do this by the exhibition of Richard Long’s work at the Arnolfini in Bristol.  There was one small room full of his finger print drawings.  Here are some examples:

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There are lots of really good illustrations of these pieces on his official website.  They really reminded me of the print of the slave ship carrying bodies crammed into the hold for the Atlantic passage:

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I found the paintings hypnotic, probably because of the repetition of the same shape: the human finger tip.

The instructions in the course were to use no colour straight from the tube.  Everything had to have a little bit of some other colour in it.  This resulted into some lovely marbled effects:

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It’s not a technique for people who like to control their work.

It also reminded me of my fascination with the flints in the National Museum in Copenhagen.  I have blogged before about how you can see all Scandinavian design in these flint axe heads, which have a pure, functional form and a respect for materials which you see in Scandi-style from furniture to textiles.  I can stand and try to sketch them for hours.  This is a page from a different notebook, pages made at the National Museum in Edinburgh, but the principle holds:

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And I have long wanted to do something with these forms as an applique piece.  The fingerprints pretty much capture the subtlety of the colours and forms.  Possibly the next stage is to try them out on fabric.

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They are really compelling to make, and I have done sheets and sheets of them.

What I did at the weekend

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This weekend was spent filling up the reservoir, as it were, as I spent a lot of time with my Grate Frend Beatriz at exhibitions and in art shops.  On Friday we went to the blockbuster exhibition about Alexander McQueen at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and on Saturday we went to the Fitwilliam Museum in Cambridge to see the Treasured Possessions exhibition.

I may get round to writing about the McQueen exhibition at some later point, but for now all I can say is that it is every bit as stunning as all the publicity for it says it is.  It is more like art than fashion, visually stunning with brilliantly chosen music.  It is disturbing and horrifying and delightful and enrapturing.  If you like beads, embellishment, fabric, beautiful technique, which you probably do or you wouldn’t be reading this, then this is paradise.  But equally you could see demons around every corner and it wasn’t hard to see why he took his own life.  So sobering as well as seductive.

On Sunday morning Beatriz and I spent some time in her studio working with what we had seen and, in my case, pouring liquid watercolour as a starting point for a design based on the impression McQueen had left on us.  This is mine:

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Treasured Possessions, on the other hand, was small and rather restrained, certainly compared with the ravishing excesses of the McQueen experience.  It was about material culture, and in particular, shopping and consumption, with a big emphasis on the eighteenth century.  Something I would never have predicted was just how lovely a set of Meissen figurines depicting people selling things would be.  The very word Meissen brings back Sunday teatime and ‘Going for a Song’ (I am that old) and ‘Antiques Roadshow’.  But these were delightful.IMG_4423

My very quick sketch of the Meissen figurines.

I got a huge amount of inspiration for my work on Laura Ashley at this show, which I will write about later, but what I really I want to talk about is an accompanying exhibition to the main show called ‘A Young Man’s Progress‘.

This is a collaboration between sisters, artist-photographer Maisie Broadhead and fashion designer Bella Newell (Burberry); and Professor Ulinka Rublack.  In it they take a remarkable book, a collection of images commissioned between 1520 and 1560 by Matthäus Schwarz of his most fashionable outfit of the year and recreate or reimagine them telling the fictional story of Matthew Smith, a young man from North London, who is obsessed with clothes.  The modern photographs are sumptuous, I think lifesize, images of exquisite clothing, but what makes them so arresting is the witty reworkings of the original picture.  Now, while the Fitzwilliam has postcards of the contemporary pieces, it does not have the corresponding images of the sixteenth century source material so I can only demonstrate using this not very lovely snapshot taken with my phone:

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So we can at least see the substitution of the North London scooter for the horse, and possibly appreciate the way the cut of the coat echoes the folds on the original tunic.  I really liked the weapon being replaced with the mobile phone in this image.

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It’s a shame these aren’t clearer but there is a very good video on the Fitzwilliam site.  I loved these photos and the process to create them because they were clever, inventive, aesthetically lovely and they made me laugh outloud.  I really recommend this little show, which is separate from the main one, and free and on until 6 September, if you happen to be in Cambridge.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life?

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This is quite a small panel, one of the last ones I made, but the one which will be in the top-left-hand corner.  Some of the panels have fents or offcuts instead of costume prints, including this one, which has three pieces of the finer lawn prints from the 1980s and 1990s.  On top of this is some beaded lace, and some burnt away fabric offcuts from another project.

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Because this came quite late in the process, I bought little items rather than using things in my stash, and as ever, I have only dim memories of where they came from.  But these two bits came from Copenhagen:

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I am quite proud of the little seed beads holding on the golden spray of leaves, and I really like the little black crown underneath the key.

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Although this doesn’t look much, I am very pleased with the stem-stitched box round the leaf charms.  Stem stitch has always defeated me until the wonderful Tanya Bentham showed me how to do it properly in one of her workshops.  So a small personal triumph.

I really enjoyed the hand embroidery on all of the pieces.  This is a ribbon rose:

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IMG_0845I wish it were as glorious as this contemporary take on a crazy quilt from the Bristol Embroiderers’ Guild Exhibition.  Unfortunately, I didn’t make a note of the artist’s name, so only one unauthorised picture.  If you know who made it please let me know.

Bloggy the Blog Dog

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I bought this fantastic little dog at the Bristol Embroiderers’ lovely show at the weekend.  I just loved his exuberance.  He’s like a 3D sampler with his beautifully couched back and his french knots and loop stitch. I love the perfect facetted bead nose.  He’s made from an old blanket, I think.

The exhibition was a delight.  I really enjoyed the way that the members had taken and updated a lot of traditional skills which may well soon be lost.  There was also some lovely drawing with the needle.  I don’t like singling people out, and I had my favourites, but Margaret Maple’s exquisite gold work given a really fresh look through her colour palette was a highlight for me.

Gillian Travis at Malvern Quilt Show

 

 

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There was a lot of lovely work on show at Malvern, but the ones I liked the absolute best were Gillian Travis’ Indian quilts.  I think this is probably because my own work is going through such a figurative phase.  I loved the vibrant colours and the clever techniques

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Nice use of block printing over the finished piece, here, for example, and I like her substitution of foil for glass shisha mirrors.  I also really liked the use of a small mini-quilt on the side of the main piece picking up a design element:

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The figure here is a very clever layering of black tulle.  This is the ‘detail’ quilt

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I also admire the machine quilting in metallic thread, which really isn’t as easy as it looks here.

Her book with Pat Archibald, Dual Journeys in Stitch is absolutely gorgeous and had the weird effect of making me want to reach not for a needle but my sketchbook.  I did say that I wouldn’t use many photos as people are  increasingly nervous of having their international property stolen, so she has a lovely blog, website and facebook page, so there is plenty of opportunity to see the work.  Here’s one more quilt to finish the post:

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What I did on Saturday – Bristol Quilters’ Exhibition

 

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This weekend we held Bristol Quilters’ Exhibition.  It comes round once every two years which is a really good spacing because it gives us time to produce some very nice pieces.   I can’t single out any one piece, and I can’t put everything in, so I will just include a photo of a poppy made by Alison, one of my oldest and best quilting friends.  I am just stunned at the craft and skill and know-how that went into the production of this:

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In some ways, though, the standard and beauty of the quilts is a secondary issue about the exhibition.  What was really striking was the atmosphere in the halls.  We had over a thousand visitors, which is exceptional, and they were all really enjoying the occasion.  With my academic hat on, I was wondering why this was.  There has been a lot of work in the past looking at what makes voluntary organisations work.  Why do people work so enthusiastically for free.  Peter Drucker, the very well-known Swiss management guru wrote extensively on this.  Of course, a lot of the academic interest in this is how can we take this enthusiasm and commitment and turn it to commercial advantage.  No-one has succeeded so far as I know.  I am less interested in that than I am in why that exhibition was such a lovely experience for those visiting.  I am still working on it so here are some bullet points!

  1. The rooms were awash with colour and pattern.  I am convinced that colour therapy works.  Goths dress in black for a reason.  I love bright pink and orange, preferably together, when I am a bit depressed.  Humans love pattern.  We read pattern.  We know when it is wonky.  We love it when it is regular.  We make pattern instinctively.  Our concentration, it seems, improves when we doodle.  We are pattern-making and colour-loving animals, and that room was full of both.
  2. The rooms were stuffed to the gunwales with love.  The quilts were often made with love for someone – a husband, child, friend, relative, but they were almost all made for the sheer love of quilting.  I think that this is one of the great mysteries of the material world.  We really do sense the emotion behind made things.  Not all the time, but often we love a textile because of the emotion which has been infused into it.  I think visitors were picking up that they were in a great vault full of love.
  3. People were joyful.  The magnificent organisers of the show, again it is invidious to name names, were really delighted with the way it was going.  The welcome at the ticket desk was warm and genuine,  The people who exhibited were delighted with the response to their work.  We all felt proud to belong to a group which could produce such high quality work.  Other quilt groups who came felt inspired to try out some of our group ideas.  There was a tremendous feeling of ‘we did this’.  I imagine that you get this in all sorts of settings: concerts, community gardens, charity runs and so so on.  We did this.  We are successful.  We have made a contribution.  We are good.  And I think that is infectious.
  4. There was cake.  Now this is not as flippant as it sounds.  There was cake, reasonably priced, beautifully presented, served with real warmth, and largely handmade.  Again, this is really important.  Not only do we want the unprocessed delight of a cake made in a domestic kitchen rather than stuffed full of preservatives in an industrial bakery, but we also, again, I think, ingest that love that we sensed in the quilts.  One of my favourite novels is Like Water for Chocolate in which the cook’s emotions all find their way into what she is cooking, with all sorts of consequences.  I think there is some truth in it.  Love on a plate.
  5. The whole event was a celebration of creativity.  I have long thought that thwarted creativity is responsible for all sorts of ills in people.  Expressing your creativity is, again, a very human act.  Until very recently in our history we had to be creative to survive – someone had to build a shelter, a pot, a trap, and it would probably help you get a mate if you were good at it, and we tend to be better at things we enjoy.  So your DNA as a good maker would probably get passed on.  Being creative is part of being alive.  I am tempted to think that we should give the socially disruptive a couple of hours with a gelli plate and some paint and let them get on with it.  Creativity and boredom don’t really go together at all.  I live in a city famous for its graffiti which tends to bear this out.  That creative urge will express itself somehow.  So a ritual celebration of our usually overlooked creativity is bound to make everyone feel better.

I am not totally starry-eyed about this.  There is huge competition in quilt groups, and jealousy and resentment.  There are major disparities in wealth and the access to materials that brings.  There are hours of tedium in quilting, which is why so many who can afford it tend to have their quilts professionally quilted (including me).  There is frustration at getting it wrong, or where it won’t fit, or running out of a particular fabric, or the sewing machine playing up.  But overall, we love it because it allows us to access part of ourselves which would otherwise be frustrated and would turn in on us.  And, I defy anyone to say that the atmosphere was not positive, joyful even, but at the very least infused with delight.

In addition…

I put in two pieces: my little Lauras quilt:

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which I will blog about later – now that it is finished, and my memorial or mourning quilt:

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Not a great photo, but you can see the very basic piecing with a lot of embellishment on top.  The fabric came from Peggy Pounce, whom I used to quilt with for a very long time.  When she died we all had some scraps leftover from a quilt she made and used them to make something of our own.  I am very interested in the way that we commemorate so much with quilting: new babies, weddings, children leaving home, anniversaries and so on, but don’t really continue the old death quilt tradition.  There was a quilt in the exhibition made of a husband’s shirts, which had a really elegant simplicity:

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Made by Ann Kelly, it was called  A hug from John.  There were other memorial quilts, but these were really outweighed by the celebration of life pieces.  We don’t do the sitting by the bedside that our Victorian foremothers did, so we don’t need to have something to fill the hours and take our minds off things, but I think there is also something about the last taboo that we don’t want to engage with.

An added bonus was a small exhibition of the school magazine covers of Badminton Girls’ School which was our venue.  They ranged across most of second half of the twentieth century, and were produced by the girls.  They are a rich source of data on the changing fashions in graphic design:

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The 2013 issue, by contrast had a photo of a young woman, positively glowing, as she climbed a sheer rock face.  Although I loved the image of her, I thought it was a bit of a shame that the treasure trove of graphic styles seems to have come to an end.

 

Stroud International Textile Select 2014

 

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The Medieval Historian and I went to the Stroud International Textiles Select 2014 today.  We went to the main exhibition in the Museum in the Park, which was fine, and had some nice work by Caroline Bartlett, but the majority was not really what I would call textiles.  Nice though it was, there seemed to be quite a lot of ceramics and paper.  Another venue, The Pink Cabbage Gallery, had some absolutely wonderful work by a group called Sticky Paper whose members include Liz Valenti, Diane Jefferies, Tamsin Golesworthy, Susi Harries and Gabriel Broad.  The works were in paper, but I really loved everything in the show.  The website for Sticky Paper gives a good overview of the collection.  The show was paper works mainly about clothing, but there were some very nice boats as well.  I would really recommend this show, which is a short walk up the main hill through Stroud and is on until 24 May 2014.

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Learning Medieval Embroidery at the Ashmolean

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I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there were several things I wanted to blog about: drawing armour at the Wallace Collection, and drawing zentangles,  then there was the Kevin Coates exhibition and the workshop I did at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on medieval embroidery with Tanya Bentham.  I’ve done the zentangles and the armour  and now it’s the workshop.

The workshop was held in conjunction with the exhibition which was of a bestiary of jewels associating animals with certain people such as Flaubert’s parrot and Montaigne’s cat and so on.  So in the workshop we were invited to take a fantastical animal from our imaginations or a manuscript and combine it with a person we would like to make it for.  We were also learning to do laid and couched work, which was the embroidery technique used on the Bayeux Tapestry.

I did the course because it was taught by Tanya Bentham.  We have been in touch for a couple of years via our blogs but we had not met, so I was in a bit of trepidation in case we did not get on.  But, Tanya turned out to be fantastic.  She is a very good and well-prepared teacher, and the workshop was an absolute bargain as we not only got the tuition but a generous supply of all the materials, and the frame, and the most delicious biscuits imaginable, including some raspberry macarons that will live long in the memory.  Plus she gave me a big bag of beads.  Fantastic.

Anyway, I decided against one of the bestiary animals as I was totally enchanted by a lovely unicorn jewel that Coates had made for his wife.  I made a sketch of it:

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It was a very beautiful piece set with various precious stones.  I decided I wanted to do a unicorn because  I had done some work on the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in Paris for a scholarly piece of work.  Although unicorns now seem to be viewed as horses with a horn, I know from the Medieval Historian, that originally they were as much like goats as horses and often had beards and a lion’s tail, like the one in the following zentangle:

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This is a technique in a second book on zentangling that I bought, in which you define an outline using the patterns and the  silhouette is a sort of negative space.  Here’s a detail:

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I decided to combine the unicorn with my dog, Harry’s ludicrously fluffy tale.  Here’s the working sketch:

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And here’s the shocking zentangle of a unicorn I did while waiting for my tutorial with Tanya:

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My problem as with the first drawing is that the unicorn is white, and the wool fabric we were embroidering onto was also white.  I decided to do my couching in blue and also to have a blue tale and blue outline so that the white creature would stand out:

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I  thought it gave a sort of fairytale or heraldic flavour to the piece, like the books of hours rather than the Bayeux Tapestry or Lutrell Psalter, which were our main inspirations:

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It is a very rough piece of work and not up to Tanya’s standards but I really enjoyed doing it.  The outline is in split stitch, as is the beard, and all the wools are dyed with natural dyes and so are authentic.  I quite liked the discipline of a small colour range, and I forced myself not to add a bead or a gold thread, even though I was desperate to put some sparkle in his eye.  He is probably about four or five inches high.

I also enjoyed doing some sketches.  This one, which reflects my current interest in armour, is a rescue on a terrible drawing:

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I found them quite compelling to draw:

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And enjoyed working with the head as a design like the original inspiration:

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I think a bit of watercolour wash really lifts these drawings.

So this was a fantastic workshop and I really learned a lot.  The technique is easy in theory, but it takes a lot of practice, I expect, to get to the point where you can do it as evenly and accurately as Tanya.  If you want to see how it should be done, check her website Opus Anglicanum