Sunday, 18 December 2011

Love at t'Mill

This may one of my final blog posts (at least for a little while, until I've figured out my trajectory for the final practical project of the year!) This is also one of my last weeks in The Stow for a wee bit, and I must admit I'll miss it. In early January I'll be travelling back down to Falmouth, to deliver a presentation on The Cure for Love, bringing this project to a close.

The celebratory end of The Cure for Love happened last night, with a joint exhibition and embroidery workshop at The Mill community centre, where Tina and I held our Is There a Cure for Love? workshop in October. 

My embroideries were displayed with a booklet of all the texts I wrote throughout The Cure for Love. Each embroidery was numbered according to its corresponding text in the booklet.





In the workshop I offered two options; either make a love potion or a cure for love of your own concoction. It was enheartening to an old romantic like me that most participants chose to make a love potion; perhaps we're all more sentimental and optimistic around Christmas time?

Some of the ingredients of these, er, "love potions" were a little suspect, though:


Looking at the photos, it seemed like everyone enjoyed themselves; they've certainly all got smiles on their faces (me included!) I'm very lucky to have such supportive friends and family.

We even had a number of curious locals in, eager to have a gander and try their hand at stitching.




It was a lovely evening, and a very fitting end to The Cure for Love.

I suppose all that remains is for me to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas! Until next time (whenever that may be!)


Monday, 28 November 2011

"A Disparate Patch-work" - Writing and Sewing



In her essay Sew to Speak: Text and Textile in Eudora Welty, Geraldine Chouard describes the process of writing as "editing "with needles and pins," shifting and assembling textual fragments, in a fashion very similar to patch-work quilting."

Indeed, it could be said that my own writing practise is akin to "patch-work"; I have assembled the texts I have used in The Cure for Love out of various "scraps of material" garnered from different poems and short stories.

Not only that, but the various art forms explored throughout The Cure for Love (text, sound art, embroidery, and, in the near future, video) are combined together into a "patchwork quilt", comprising the project.

I almost always write, like Chouard, in "strips - paragraphs here, a section of dialogue, and so on."

Chouard goes on to explain that "A text is always a second-hand piece, made of words which have had a life of their own in previous arrangements, as are the fragments of a patchwork quilt which have served other purposes and which, stitched together in a particular fashion, form new patterns."

I concur; to paraphrase Cixous, when we write, we collaborate with all writers who have gone before us; all texts; all language.

Cixous writes of "a spokesperson I, the social I who votes, who represents me. I have an I who escapes me. I have an I who answers for me. I have an I who knows the law. The I who writes gives speech to all the other Is." Is this "I" not the same as Freud’s “ego” ?

The "speech" which the "I who writes gives (...) to all the other Is" is thus the canon of writing passed down to the "I who writes" over the passage of time. Through drawing this conclusion, Cixous arrives at an ideology in her own writing of never asking herself "who am I?" (qui suis-je?)", but instead asking herself  " “who are I?” (qui sont-je?)"
All writing, therefore, is patch-work.

"To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world"

Liz Whitehouse introduced me to this gorgeous poem by Cecilia Vicuña (translated by Rosa Alcalá). Thanks Liz!


Word & Thread

Word is thread and the thread is language.
Non-linear body.
A line associated to other lines.
A word once written risks becoming linear,
but word and thread exist on another dimensional plane.
Vibratory forms in space and in time.
Acts of union and separation.
*

The word is silence and sound.
The thread, fullness and emptiness.

*

The weaver sees her fiber as the poet see her word.
The thread feels the hand, as the word feels the tongue.
Structures of feeling in the double sense
of sensing and signifying,
the word and the thread feel our passing.

*
Is the word the conducting thread, or does thread conduct the word-
making?
Both lead to the centre of memory, a way of uniting and connecting.
A word carries another word as thread searches for thread.
A word is pregnant with other words and a thread contains
other threads within its interior.
Metaphors in tension, the word and the thread carry us beyond
threading and speaking, to what unites us, the immortal fiber.
*
To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world.

*
In the Andes, the language itself, Quechua, is a cord of twisted straw,
two people making love, different fibers united.
To weave a design is pallay, to raise the fibers, to pick them up.
To read in Latin is legere, to pick up.
The weaver is both weaving and writing a text
that the community can read.
An ancient textile is an alphabet of knots, colors and directions
that we can no longer read.
Today the weaving no only "represent," they themselves are
one of the being of the Andean cosmogony. (E. Zorn)
*
Ponchos, llijllas, aksus, winchas, chuspas and chumpis are beings
who feel

and every being who feels walks covered in signs.
"The body given entirely to the function of signifying."
René Daumal
A textile is "in the state of being textile": awaska.
And one word, acnanacuna designates the clothing, the language
and the instruments for sacrifice (for signifying, I would say).
*

And the energy of the movement has a name and a direction: lluq'i,to the left, paña, to the right.
A direction is a meaning and the twisting of the thread
transmits knowledge and information.
The last two movements of a fiber should be in opposition:
a fiber is made of two strands lluq'i and paña.A word is both root and suffix : two antithetical meanings in one.
The word and the thread behave as processes in the cosmos.

The process is a language and a woven design is a process re-
presenting itself.
"An axis of reflection," says Mary Frame:
"the serpentine
attributes are images of the fabric structure,"
The twisted strands become serpents
and the crossing of darkness and light, a diamond star.
"Sprang is a weftless technique, a reciprocal action whereby the
interworking of adjacent elements with the fingers duplicates itself
above and below the working area."

The fingers entering the weave produce in the fibres
a mirror image of its movement, a symmetry that reiterates "the concept
of complementarity that imbues Andean thought."
*
The thread dies when it is released, but comes alive in the
loom:
the tension gives it a heart.
Soncco,
judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central
fiber.
The word and the thread are the heart of the community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.
is heart and guts, stomach and conscience, memory, judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central
fiber.
The word and the thread are the heart of the community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

My exhibition at The Mill

If you're in London, I would love to see you there!

Love Potion Number 1

Remember the potion book I shared with you in a previous post? Well, I've spent the past few days stitching up the love potion from it (apologies for the long absence; I've had two friends to stay pretty much consecutively, and consequently have been quite busy!)

The tiny stitches are practically illegible; unintelligibility is a concept I have previously been interested in in terms of the spoken word in sound art; censorship, self-censorship, a lack of transparency of communication, stuttering, irritating modern-day “thinking aid” fillers such as “Yeah” and “Like”, etc. I think illegibility can sometimes work when done intentionally, for example in this case with the sprawling handwriting of young children, with its invented and secret languages. Also, it only adds to the mystique of potion-making!




Yesterday an aforementioned friend who was staying with me and I visited the Wellcome Collection in Euston, one of my favourite London galleries. The exhibitions are often a fascinating combination of art and science. The current exhibition  which I was most interested in, however, was a bit of a departure from the scientific side of things; titled Charmed Life: The Solace of Objects, it was curated by the artist Felicity Powell (who I think may just be my new favourite artist!)

Powell selected talismanic objects from the collection of Edwardian amateur folklorist Edward Lovett (which comprised 1400 amulets). Despite rising to the rank of Chief Cashier at the City of London's Bank of Scotland, Lovett had a keen interest in the superstitions of working class Londoners. He began collecting charms which these Londoners carried for luck or protection, amassing the huge collection from which Powell has drawn the exhibition.

The sea horses shown above, for example, were made in Venice and carried by Londoners to bring good luck.

A coil of wire from Ceylon with "length equal to the height of a person" was intended to ensure a successful resolution to any request by the person in possession of it. Alongside the wire were displayed "Gemstones of poor quality, given by Gem-miners", also intended to bring good luck.

One of the most aesthetically interesting installations was comprised of a huge selection of beautifully laid-out charms, votives, and amulets, to ward off "nightmares" etc. These included glass acorns, lucky horse-shoes, glass slippers, tin hearts, carved coral and bone, fossils, and metal crosses and phalluses. The (rather blurry and wonky)scan below shoes how this installation was laid out:


Powell also made work in response to the exhibition; ranging from an etched coin "Against insomnia, for sleep, against amnesia, for memory", with a scene of clouds gathered over the sea. This put me in mind of relaxation techniques for sleep; "whale song", and imagining that "you are on a beach..."

Powell's current practise mainly focuses on wax "amulets" carved into mirror backs. These dream-like scenes are evocative of folkloric art. The short films Powell had created for the exhibition truly captivated me; they were full of the illusion and "magic" with which the objects Powell curated were imbued. In one, Powell "strokes" wax on to a mirror back, and hands appear; in another, "beams" of coral-coloured wax dissolve into flames.

Sleight of Hand, video, 7 minutes, 2011

Folkloric art and charms is definitely a practise I will be looking into towards the time of my CAP (the final performance/installation/presentation of my degree). I feel it is relevant for The Cure for Love, however, due to my focus on love potions and seeking a "cure" for love.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Blogged by Stitch Therapy

Stitch Therapy (aka Emma Parker) did a post on some very talented needlework artists, and included one of my pieces; I'm very flattered to be featured alongside the likes of Matthew Cox! Thanks, Emma!

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Champagne (yet right-on) Socialist, and some blokes who sew

According to a 1908 biography of William Morris I picked up on my trip to Brighton, Morris (much like me) was "a born romantic". However, his romanticism was applied to "the hard facts of life"; he channelled his "sense of wonder" and "passion for beauty into the making of beautiful things which were eventually to become the starting-points for the wonderland of a new civilisation: in a phrase - the discovery of the romance of work." In short, Morris yearned for a socialist utopia in which great pleasure and pride was found in every type of work, and (in particular) in the decorative arts. 

This love of work is evident in, I think I can safely say, all the minor masterpieces of arts and crafts design that Morris and Co. produced.

William Morris
Morris wasn't merely a romantic artist and designer, however; as an article in the Socialist Review put it, he was "a socialist by design". He wrote pamphlets, gave speeches, edited two socialist newspapers, and was one of the first to join the Social Democratic Federation, in 1883.

In keeping with his socialist principals, "William Morris even envisaged a time when the sexual division within the domestic arts would vanish for ever. He anticipated the day when 'the domestic arts; the arrangement of the house in all its details, marketing, cleaning, cooking, baking and so on' would be in the hands of everyone"

In many respects, his dream has become a reality; no longer do domestic duties appear to be divided (quite so) strictly along gender lines. However, my dad may do the bulk of the ironing, but the cooking is still Mum's "job"; Dad lacks the confidence to try cooking anything more adventurous than his famous "baked bean shepherd's pie" (it's a culinary... experience).

As far as craft is concerned, more men do seem to be turning to the needle, although gender lines are more rigid here; Mum may do the majority of the DIY, but, at least in my household, it's the women who darn the proverbial socks.

"Manbroiderers" of the Jamie "Mr X Stitch" Chalmers ilk are trying to change this. I suspect the upsurge in male embroiderers is due to a few factors; the "invention" of the "new man"; the current vogue for all that is analogue and twee; and a similar vogue for the ironic and post-modern.

Throngs of men embroidering at craft nights, however, is something that, unfortunately, I've yet to see. It would be encouraging to have some brothers-in-arms!


Elusive male crafters at an East London Craft Guerrilla night

After all, there's certainly nothing effeminate about Chalmer's work; one of his most recent undertakings was a series of cross stitchings of the spam filtered out of his inbox, including the ubiquitous invitations to "sharpen your love sword"!



Richard Saja and "Johnny Murder", founder of the Manbroidery blog here on Blogger, are fellow male embroiderers. 

Richard Saja,  "... and a half-extinguished fire is soon relit", 2011
"Johnny Murder" doing his thing... bare chested... with a cigarette (very much putting the "man" in "manbroidery")

A section of male society who have taken to embroidery in force, perhaps surprisingly, is prisoners. Fine Cell Work is a charity which aims to "foster hope, discipline and self-esteem" through teaching British inmates to hand embroider. Their embroidery is then turned into cushions, bags, and patchwork kilts. The prisoners are paid for their work, and trained to a high skill level by volunteers from the Embroiderers and Quilters Guild, as the photographs below show:
Love Cushion, a Daisy de Villeneuve design embroidered by British prisoners
Beetroot design, embroidered by British prisoners

The enterprise is clearly vastly rewarding for the prisoners; Steve, an inmate at Wandsworth prison, is quoted as saying that he is "learning a new skill" which he "did not think possible. I also know that people do care about me and what I do because otherwise why would people take an interest in my fine cell work! I now believe what others think about me makes a real difference to how I conduct myself.”

However, it would be wonderful to see some more embroidery by un-incarcerated men! Come on guys! Get stitching.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Bramble Snagged Heart



This is my penultimate collaboration with composer Joe Donohoe. This one, Bramble Snagged Heart, strikes a middle ground between Kiss the Book and The Alchemist; the text has some of the cynicism of the former combined with the earnest love poetry of the latter. With the sound of the piece, I was aiming for a recreation of the atmosphere of Walthamstow Village at night; therefore Joe used the sound of wind running through trees, traffic passing, and a church or clock bell. He also used the sound of cars beeping in traffic to highlight the phrases "terrified in headlights" and "roadkill on the motorway" We were also aiming for a "wintry" effect, which I think Joe has achieved through the guitar in the piece. He also created a "jarring" effect with the guitar which is played during the phrase "wolf bites down my neck", and then repeated for the line "I deep plum bruised".

I really enjoy the contrast of the three pieces; the first, with minimal music, used chord harps, the second, simulated tuned percussion, and this, the third, guitar.

Here's the text of Bramble Snagged Heart:

Bramble Snagged Heart

Love is no mythical creature my dearest darling, but just before I stumbled into you I would stumble into blind backstreet alleys for the piss-promise of male, malingering company, for the price of cheap white rum, baptised, doused in the stuff, yet all doe-eyes and fuzzy-kneed, fuzzy knees, knees a-trembling, brand spanking newborn and just mewling out for love, terrified-in-headlights. Roadkill. O don’t you know that is how love feels now? Awake from shrieking sunbleached streaky sleep and roadkill on the motorway is more, more than beautiful. Life is more than bearable.
So, sweetheart:
Invent me, mark out my borders with your fingertips, write me into the periodic table. Name me after yourself.
 All I ever used to want was his, oh hell, anyone’s wolf bites down my neck, inky keepsake emblems, and a spring in my step. Because I was brand-new, white and slippery as bathtubs and as yet unblemished... but... I bit off more than I could chew, I deep plum bruised. A bathtub heart covered in hairline cracks. So I prayed to no one in particular;

(Lord) give me a hundred denier heart
To keep the cold out
To keep lost souls out
And never let it ladder on no fences
(And when it’s held up to the light
Let it show no ladders)

Except...
You snagged on my thighs and tugged me to attention,
Snuck
Into my heart,
My opaque winter heart, suddenly
Unstoppered
It
And
To my surprise
What a gentleman you proved
I am no lady but
I only want a gentleman
And a gentleman
Is what I’ve found.

For the accompanying embroidery, I illustrated one of the opening lines of the piece, "Love is no mythical creature". I chose to illustrate this phrase with a narwhal, as in the Middle Ages narwhal tusks were believed to be unicorn horns. Unicorns are mythical creatures; narwhals, however, are not, and neither is love (despite what the cynical amongst us might have you believe).

This phrase is also a reference to Tao Lin's short story Love Is A Thing On Sale For More Money Than There Exists, which contains the following quote: "Though if love was an animal, Garret knew, it would probably be the Loch Ness Monster. If it didn’t exist, that didn’t matter. People made models of it, put it in the water, and took photos. The hoax of it was good enough. The idea of it. Though some people feared it, wished it would just go away, had their lives insured against being eaten alive by it."








I used French knots to create dense texture and the spotted pattern of the narwhal's back.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

"As I cannot write"

I received a very interesting email yesterday from Liz Whitehouse, a graduate and fellow ex-student of Dartington College of Arts. My tutor put me in touch with her as she had explored embroidery as a medium and context for the final project of her final year.

Her research initially focused on the etymological roots of the words "text" and "textile"; both derive from the Latin "texere", "to weave". Clearly there is an ancient relationship between writing and textile art even before one begins to embroider words!

(When researching the etymology of the two terms myself I stumbled across the blog Text, Textile, Exile, which I must return to at some point.)

For her final piece, Liz took as a starting point an extraordinarily moving sampler completed by a young woman named Elizabeth Parker in the 19th Century, which is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.


The sampler is worked in miniscule red cross stitch, forming tiny letters which make up the story of Elizabeth's (rather traumatic) life up to the present; there are details of employers treating her "with cruelty too horrible to mention", and of her thoughts of suicide. The piece ends abruptly and hauntingly with the phrase "what will become of my soul"; it is unfinished, and this only serves to make the sampler all the more poignant and heartbreaking. Whereas a sampler would generally be comprised of an alphabet and decorative floral design, Elizabeth's is midway between cathartic diary entry and soulful prayer. Its opening phrase, "As I cannot write" is immediately contradicted by the uniformly perfect stream of words which issue from her needle.

The text that Liz wrote and then embroidered as a "sampler" of her own echoes this opening line of Elizabeth Parker's sampler in its first line ("though I cannot stitch or write/With your patience"):

 Blood Lines

These are my blood lines; though I cannot stitch or write
With your patience
Spoilt by the freedoms of my generation, I try to summon your strength
Recall your nimble hands. I find myself beside you
In those quiet moments of my childhood. I listen to your words.
****random stitches here****
So that I can write my veins in thread and not be orphaned by my pen.
I am undone. To be a woman is to sit with you.
T know my place, my point;
To stitch myself ... a patch ... on to our maternal quilt;
So that I can carry your words and share them with our daughters
You wield a power that I cannot muster from my pen.
I am gender-illiterate, but I write.
Thus I dedicate my every effort as a woman
to yours.

Fittingly, Liz embroidered this text with red thread, symbolising these "blood lines".


The text was embroidered on to images of groups of women sewing, which Liz transferred on to fabric and then quilted together, referencing, through making, the following quotation from Géraldine Chouard's essay Sew to Speak: Text and Textile in Eudora Welty:

"Writing, as piecing, is the art of arranging disparate scraps of material into a unique and distinctive design. A text is always a second-hand piece, made of words which have had a life of their own in previous arrangements, as are the fragments of fabrics of a patchwork quilt which have served other purposes and which, stitched together in a particular fashion, form new patterns."

Liz's sampler is also a touching tribute to her grandmother.

As Liz pointed out to me in her email, it's very fitting that she should have shared her work and research with me via the internet; after all, one of my main contexts of this project is the dissemination of embroidery via the web, which is itself an interwoven network of threads. Similarly, it's appropriate that the interviews I conducted with Iviva Olenick, Joetta Maue, and Debbie of the East London Craft Guerrilla were online.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Craft and Feminism

My mum flagged up last Saturday's omnibus edition of Woman's Hour for me, as there was some interesting discussion about the role of craft and creativity in women's protest movements.

Beginning with brief interviews of female members of the current protest camp gathered outside St Paul's Cathedral, Jenni Murray spoke with Dr Deborah Thom, (Fellow and director of Studies for the faculties of History and Social and Political sciences at Robinson College) and Ann Pettit (a founder of the Greenham Common camp)about the history of women's protest.

Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp came into being on the 5th September 1981, when the Welsh group Women for Life on Earth marched to Greenham Common in Berkshire, with a view to challenge the RAF's decision to site nintey six Cruise missiles there. When the women were denied a debate, they set up camp around the military base, with only a nine mile fence seperating them from the base itself. They were joined by more women, and the protest (and camp) lasted for nineteen years.

On Woman's Hour, Ann Pettit described how, at Greenham, women came together to transform the nine mile fence into a work of art and a site for protest, embroidering and weaving into it.

The nine mile fence at Greenham Common in the 1980s, woven with a message of love
Dr Deborah Thom went on to explain that this creative spirit was also present in the Suffrage Movement, from embroidered banners to smaller-scale embroideries and knitting.

Women sewing stars on to a Suffrage banner
 I have written before about how embroidery was employed by the Suffrage Movement for a subversive cause, and later reclaimed by the Feminist Movement in the 1970s. Domestic handicrafts had long been considered just that; merely domestic "women's work", and not "high art". Many feminist artists of the 1970s set out to challenge this notion, transforming this "women's work" into "high art", embracing the femininity of craft, "shedding their shackles, proudly untying the apron strings—and, in some cases, keeping the apron on, flaunting it, turning it into art" (Lucy Lippard, Household Images in Art).

Miriam Schapiro was one such artist who embraced femininity through her art. In the 1970s she began creating sewn collages from scraps of fabric which she christened "femmages"; these femmages recalled the woman's craft of quilting. In fact, Schapiro wrote of her femmages that she "wanted to validate the traditional activities of women, to connect myself to the unknown women artists who had made quilts, who had done the invisible 'women's work' of civilization. I wanted to acknowledge them, to honor them."

Miriam Schapiro, Explode, 1972

Schapiro was also involved in the Womanhouse exhibition of 1972; an installation and performance space situated in a deserted Hollywood mansion. Each participant in the exhibition was given her own space in which to operate inside the building. The exhibition was conceived by Schapiro and her colleague Judy Chicago (together the pair founded the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts). The exhibition explored the concerns and mundane stereotypes of female existence; from the household chores of washing, ironing, cooking and sewing, to menstruation (as in Chicago's Menstruation Bathroom). It makes me a little sad to think that I'm too young/live in the wrong part of the world to have experienced this exhibition!

A selection of work from Womanhouse, 1972 (including crochet, an example of craft)
The reclamation of craft for political purposes by women continues into the present day through the Craftivism Movement. Reading up on Craftivism on the internet, the ubiquitous Wikipedia reminded me that craft has long had links with subversion, even etymologically; firstly, in the Old English, the word craft actually means "power, physical strength, might"; a far cry from the "passive, gentle" feminine craft as envisaged in the 19th Century! Also, as Wikipedia points out, "to call someone crafty is to identify them as clever and cunning. In Greek, one would say to “spin” a plot. Similarly, the French word for trick is tricoter, which means to tie or knot together".

Craftivism is closely linked with Third Wave Feminism and the Riot Grrrl Movement, and continues the practise began in the 1970s of reclaiming craft for subversive aims. In Craftivism, crafters take the traditionally domestic pasttimes of, for example, crochet and knitting, and bring them into the public sphere. For example, on May 23rd 2006, the Anarchist Knitting Mob held a Massive Knit in Washington Square Park, New York, in remembrance of Jane Jacobs, an activist who helped prevent the construction of an express-way through the park. The participants covered every possible surface with brightly coloured yarn.
Participants in the Massive Knit in Washington Square Park
I don't think it would be possible for me to conclude a blog post on craft and feminism without writing about Tracey Emin. During my A Levels I wrote a dissertation on text in feminist art, which featured Emin rather heavily! I have written about her before on this blog, as she explores the theme of this project (love) through writing and sewing. Emin may have the Marmite effect and be known almost more for that famous appearance on Channel 4 than her art, but she undeniably considers herself a feminist and I would argue that she is one.


Despite the often raw and unsettling aesthetic and subject matter of her work, the materials and colours Emin chooses to produce it in are often described by the media as “feminine”(though arguably this is a somewhat hackneyed term the art world tends to use when describing the work of any female artist). Like Miriam Schapiro, Emin recalls the lineage of woman's craft through her hand-appliqued blankets; they are not dissimilar to quilts. Also like Schapiro, Emin's aesthetic is (like her subject matter) raw and unpolished; in this way she subverts the femininity inherent in craft.

Tracey Emin, The New Black, 2002

In subject matter, too, Emin is a feminist artist; she records the experiences of her emotional life as a mirror by which to reflect the human (and, in particular, the female) condition. In my opinion, having visited her most recent exhibition, Love Is What You Want, Emin’s work has a universal value, rather than merely being an indulgence of the artist’s narcissism, as many critics have derided it as; many if not all women would be able to relate to the emotions expressed in one of her blankets. She certainly carries out the old feminist rallying cry of "the personal is political".

Emin follows in another female lineage, this time a feminist one; like the feminist artists of the 1970s, she has said that she does not use embroidery "like a craft, but like high art".

Saturday, 5 November 2011

William Morris: Story, Memory, Myth

I popped along to the William Morris: Story, Memory, Myth exhibition at the newly opened Two Temple Place gallery today, to have a gander at more Morris textiles, tapestries and embroideries (having previously visited Morris' Red House in Kent)!

The exhibition catalogue describes the "close relationship" between the arts of storytelling and craft; Dr Esmé Whittaker explains how, traditionally, "the craftsman's workshop was the place where stories from the past and from faraway places were exchanged between the resident master craftsman and travelling journeymen", and that "Morris also believed that storytelling belonged within the craftsman's workshop". This makes perfect sense when we consider that Morris was not only a designer but also a poet, and (as I will go on to explain), combined both facets of his creativity. This is particularly interesting for me, being both a writer and crafter.

Unfortunately cameras were not allowed in the exhibition, but I will include photographs from the exhibition catalogue.

The exhibition was centred around four tapestry panels from the Morris and Burne-Jones designed frieze The Romance of the Rose. Le Roman de la Rose was one of the most influential texts of the Middle Ages. The first part of the poem was written by Guillaume de Lorris in 1230, and the second part around 1275, after Lorris' death, by Jean de Meun, but the version Morris and Burne-Jones would have read was a translation by Chaucer, The Romaunt of the Rose.

The poem recounts a dream in which the pilgrim-narrator encounters a beautiful garden, in which he has a vision of a rosebud, symbolising ideal love. A personified Love strikes him with an arrow, and thus the pilgrim is determined to reach the rosebud. He is aided (and hindered) in his quest by a number of allegorical figures.

The tapestry panels, like the Bayeux Tapestry, are in fact not tapestry at all, but an incredibly detailed, large-scale embroidery. The five panels of The Romance of the Rose took  Lowthian Bell's wife Margaret and daughter Florence eight years to complete (from 1874-82), and no wonder; the detail and texture is astounding. The embroidered wall hanging I saw in the Red House pales by comparison! The Romance of the Rose is comprised of silks, wools, and gold thread on linen; unfortunately the photographs in the exhibition catalogue don't do it justice, but here they are:

The Pilgrim Studying Images of the Vices on the exterior of the Garden of Idleness

The Pilgrim Greeted by Idleness at the Gate of the Garden

The Pilgrim in the Garden of Idleness


Love Leading the Pilgrim Through the Briars

The Pilgrim at the Heart of the Rose
A genuine tapestry in the exhibition which was of particular interest to me was The Woodpecker tapestry. This tapestry is "an example of Morris working simultaneously as a poet and a decorative designer." It is one of a series of tapestries for which Morris composed lines of verse (which were later published in his book Poems by the Way in 1891). The tapestry is around 12 feet high (so is no small feat!) and depicts a woodpecker sitting in a tree heavy with fruit. The text, "I once a King and chief/Now am the tree-bark's thief,/Ever 'twixt trunk and leaf/Chasing the prey" refers to the Ovid story of Picus, King of Ausonia, who was transformed into a woodpecker by the goddess Circe because he did not reciprocate her love.

It's good to see that I follow in a rich tradition of combining poetry with illustrative textile art.

The Woodpecker tapestry
The most breathtaking piece of the exhibition was an embroidered wall hanging depicting Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees. Also around 12 feet high, the wall hanging is rendered in silk thread which reflects the light, giving a fluid motion to the folds of Pomona's robes. The design the embroidery is based on was actually originally a design for tapestry, from the same series of illustrated poetry as The Woodpecker tapestry. The verse of the embroidery reads "I am the ancient apple queen/As once I was so am I now/For evermore a hope unseen/Betwixt the blossom and the bough/Ah where's the river's hidden gold/And where the windy grave of Troy/Yet come I as I came of old/From out the heart of summer's joy". The embroidery was completed around 1885 by the Royal School of Art Needlework in floss silks on linen.

Pomona
 The final piece of embroidery on display was a frieze by Morris' daughter, May, following in the tradition of her father by illustrating one of his poems. The frieze included quotations from Morris' poem June, from the book The Earthly Paradise. The frieze put me in mind of a giant sampler, with its verse surrounded by a floral border. I will have to do some more research into samplers, particularly since Joetta Maue describes my work as "samplers" in this post.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

The World Wide (Stitched) Web

I was in a pub a few weeks ago with a friend who was surprised to hear quite how violently the online embroidery community was flourishing! In fact, the internet is both building and revolutionising the embroidery (and wider craft) community.

The blog Mr X Stitch champions contemporary embroidery; the site's founder, Jamie Chalmers, recently published PUSH: Stitchery, a book which presents the cutting-edge needlework of thirty embroidery artists, most of whom had previously been featured on his blog.
Not only does Mr X Stitch introduce us to the length and breadth of contemporary needlework, but its Flickr group, the Phat Quarter, gives any embroiderer with a camera/scanner and internet access the chance to share their work with a community of like-minded people. In addition to this, the Phat Quarter is forging more personal links between embroiderers through its themed swaps, the most recent of which was based around the theme of food.

Death Paste by crafty and devious, for Riann's Pictures; a new take on Vegemite for the Phat Quarter food swap
The online handmade marketplace Etsy is allowing craftspeople to turn their passion into an (often thriving) business. One such needle artist is the very funny Stephanie Tillman; her What Party? embroideries feature wild animals in a variety of human predicaments. Tillman makes any one of the vast variety of her designs to order through Etsy.


Disturbed Fox Just Watched Antichrist, a What Party? embroidery by Stephanie Tillman, available to order on Etsy (and particularly relevant as I went to see the new Lars Von Trier, Melancholia, last night.)
The Embroidered Digital Commons Open Source Embroidery Project goes one step further in dispersing embroidery, virtually, through the internet; it is a series of embroideries about the internet, on the internet. The project "is based on the beautifully crafted language of the Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons (Sarai, 2003) written by the Raqs Media Collective. The full lexicon is an A-Z of the interrelationship between social, digital and material space".

The Mr X Stitch community stitched the term Fractal:
Sewn by Alison Bancroft

Sewn by Renee King

The project is a perfect example of the collaborations the internet can facilitate. It was actually a post here on Blogger which led to one of my own collaborations; Emma Parker, aka Stitch Therapy, blogged about taking her hand-sewn hearts to the Pharmacy of Stories gallery. Intrigued, I went along to the private view of the exhibition Emma had sewn the hearts for, and there I met Tina, owner of the gallery. The exhibition, Here Is My Heart , fitted so perfectly with The Cure for Love it was unreal. We decided to collaborate, leading to an embroidered love potion-making workshop (and hopefully future collaborations!)

Emma has recently been involved in a swap of her own, with another stitching blogger, Annika, of All The Live Long Day. The pair have sent each other motivational, hand-stitched postcards:

Emma's postcard to Annika

Annika's postcard to Emma
In addition to leading to collaborations, the internet has also allowed me to contact textile artists whose work I particularly admire; both Iviva Olenick and Joetta Maue were kind enough to write insightful answers to the interview questions I sent them via email. I also conducted an email interview with Debbie of the East London Craft Guerilla on the relationship between Walthamstow and arts and crafts.

I hope that the internet will long continue to foster links and collaboration between needlework artists. Now, back to admiring the magnificent narwhals in Frozen Planet; I may or may not be stitching one up for my next piece!