Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Two features on embroidery blogs in two days!

(Well, almost two days!)

Since coming back to the Flickr and Blogger folds, my blackwork commissions of treasured childrens' storybook illustrations have been getting rather a lot of love.

First they were featured over at the &Stitches blog on Sunday:

And today they were featured on Mr X Stitch's "Too Cute Tuesday" post by the wonderful blogger Olisa Corcoran (aka cocoaeyesthestitcher):

The response to these pieces has just reconfirmed for me that delicate blackwork is what I should be focusing on right now... I'm working up a little series, and will hopefully exhibit them in the summer. Here's the first of the series:

Monday, 29 April 2013

Nothing But Flowers


After weeks of stitching (and distractions), my Melancholyflowers are finally all stitched up! They're based on an illustration from the turn of the century childrens' book Land of Play - Verses, Rhymes, Stories, first published in 1911.

I've so enjoyed embroidering these delicate little flowers, although their intricacy did make it a frustrating process at times! I shall have them framed soon and look for somewhere to exhibit them along with the other embroideries in the blackwork series I'm working on. But for now, back to work on The Constellation Quilt.

Friday, 26 April 2013

An interview on the origins of Poesie Grenadine

Recently I've been contacted by a number of different students wanting to interview me on my practice as it relates to feminism, writing, and fashion. It's a real pleasure to answer their questions (not to mention immensely flattering!), and it wasn't very long ago at all that I was bothering artists Joetta Maue and Iviva Olenick with a plethora of nosy questions for my own projects.

This interview was with a fashion journalism student who is creating a literary magazine which focuses on the marriage between poetry and fashion. I'm very excited to see the finished publication.

What came first - your love for writing or your love for sewing?

Writing came first for me. I struggled with literacy at school, but after receiving my first "proper book" (with chapters!), Horse Pie by Dick King Smith, in my stocking, one Christmas when I was seven or eight, it was like turning on a tap; the writing just poured out of me.

When did you start doing each?  Why?

With the writing, the more I put in, (in the form of novels, poetry, non-fiction, plays) the more continued to pour out of me; this continued from the Horse Pie incident and hasn't really stopped, although my writing is a lot more pared down and concise now, as it often has to be embroidered, and embroidery is a very time-consuming medium! Aside from GCSE Textiles, when I embroidered a dress I'd hand printed with unfurling fern designs, I began embroidering in earnest after a very debilitating period of mental illness three years ago, as both an occupation and a form of therapy; I found the meditative, repetitive process soothing; perhaps I was stitching my ego back together again. Occupational or art therapy, if you will!

Are there any themes (in your writing and sewing) that you constantly use in your work?

As the above may hint at, I'm particularly concerned with public (mis?)conceptions of mental illness, notions of romance (and romantic notions), pop fem(me)inism, flora and fauna, the tortured artist cliche, sickness and recovery, the English national psyche, and art which is soft, twee, delicate or "girly" as a foil to darker subtexts.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

The online embroidery and feminist art communities are a constant source of inspiration and support, and I am very grateful to them, and to the web for making them so accessible. I try to take in as many exhibitions as financially possible, and, as it did in my formative years, my reading material continues to inspire me in wonderful ways. Being in nature is, in my opinion, also really important for the creative process, and helps me breathe.

What's your creative process like?  I.e. Do you find yourself writing first and then applying that to your stitch work?

The seed of an idea for an embroidery often begins as a scribble in a notebook, or, more often than not, as a note saved in my phone! There's always rather a lot of writing and planning done before I "commit to cloth". Documentation and reflection is a very important part of my creative process, and I do this by blogging over at http://poesiegrenadine.blogspot.co.uk

What is the significance of words on clothes/accessories for everyone to read?

Words on clothing will always make a statement about the reader to passersby or the general public. Why else do people buy branded clothing than to broadcast their affluence and sophistication to the world? Similarly, my brooches convey pride in oneself and allegiance to a feminist (or femme) cause; a pride in one's womanhood.

So far, which item that you've sewn has been your personal favourite?  Why?

 It's very difficult to pick an absolute favourite embroidery I've sewn; of the embroidered accessories I've created, my "Thunder Thighs Are Go" heart shaped brooch, with its play on the Thunderbirds catchphrase and body positivity, has proved a firm favourite with the Tumblr crowd and is a favourite of mine too (I may have to make myself one to keep!). I'm also rather fond of my Stitch Witches rosettes, created for my collaborative project Stitch Witches, which is soon to culminate in a zine celebrating contemporary and subversive stitch craft, curated and created by an embroidering girl gang of two.

CUSTOMISABLE Stitch Witches Rosette

Is there one in particular you believe to be most powerful?  If so, why is it?

People have really embraced "Thunder Thighs Are Go" as their own phrase to celebrate their bodies, and I'm moderately proud of that. I think that makes it quite powerful. Some of my embroideries on the subject of mental health, created in bitter and knowing irony, have been taken literally and reclaimed as a badge of honour, and I think either taken in this reading or in the spirit they were originally intended, they are powerful statements of defiance.

Describe some of the word play you use. 

My work is always underpinned by the written word, whether that be by beautiful etymologies, dreadful puns, or linguistic philosophy (though it is a little heavy on the puns!)

Currently, how many different projects do you have going on?
I'm currently taking a break from my most ambitious project yet; a hand made quilt on the subject of the stars and fortune telling, based around my character Polly Kettle, an occult siren. Whilst I'm ruminating on that, I've embarked on a blackwork series of turn of the century childrens' book illustrations. I'm also working towards bringing out the first issue of Stitch Witches zine with my collaborator Hannah Hill (http://hanecdote.tumblr.com/)

When you created your first piece, what were the reactions like from other people?

The people to see my first piece of embroidery were my parents, and I think they were tickled by the playful wordplay and clumsy stitches! Considering how amateurish it is, it's received a surprising amount of attention on Flickr.

What are your hopes for your creations in the future?

This September I will be starting the tutor training course at the Royal School of Needlework in Hampton Court Palace, to learn, practice and teach hand embroidery to the highest possible level. In addition to and because of this, I would hope to exhibit my work more widely, and expand my practice of participatory performance embroidery workshops, social events where I use embroidery as a tool to open up conversation on a theme in a fun and performative setting.

By the way, where did the name Poesie Grenadine come from? 

Poesie Grenadine is a French phrase which translates roughly (and very broken-ly) as "purple prose". As much of my earliest embroidery arose out of re-workings of terrible teenage love poetry, it seemed most apt. I'm also somewhat of a florid, pinkish person, so it's suitable in that way too!

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

At home in the universe

Every now and then, I need a little respite from making. I feel that being in nature is really important for the creative process, and helps me breathe. I've been kayaking a lot recently, which is a really novel and relaxing way to experience the city.

Now that spring is (finally) well and truly sprung, Pip and I took the opportunity to go on our most gothic date yet; a long overdue trip to the famous Highgate Cemetery, burial place of Karl Marx and many other thinkers, writers and celebrities.

The Cemetery really is "a haven of beauty and tranquility" as its website says; strolling around the graveyard one couldn't help but feel at peace, and sitting by the firefighters' memorial surrounded by birdsong and inquisitive, fearless robins was the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.

 The Cemetery is teeming with life; many graves are more like flower beds, covered with planted daffodils, primroses and pansies. I find the intersection of life and death inspiring and life-affirming; to know that we continue in the form of natural beauty when we die. A number of tombstones had been laced with ivy which had died back, leaving veinous patterns to add to their marble design.

Human design, too, was very inspiring here; there were many witty examples of gravestones the deceased or their families had chosen, from the tomb designed to look like a Penguin Book cover, to  pop artist Patrick Caulfield's sculptural grave, which reads, rather dryly, "DEAD".

When I was doing my A Levels, the topic of one of our Photography modules was "Links and Connections". I chose to look at the links between life and death, and, more specifically, at graveyards.

I also photographed a whale's spine decomposing on the beach of the tiny Highland hamlet my grandparents live in.

The vetebrae sticking up into the air put me in mind of the tombstones I was also photographing at various graveyards in the North West Highlands.

Visiting Highgate Cemetery reminded me of this, and it was a shame I didn't bring a better camera than my everyday digital one! I did, however, snap merrily away, and got many pictures of the profusion of flora and vegetation in the Cemetery, and the varied examples of design in the tombs, ranging from art nouveau to art deco, Sorry this post is so picture heavy; I did get slightly carried away:

I thought this was a particularly lovely epitaph.

Douglas Adams's grave, complete with an offering of pens to the writer

This woman had such a beautiful name; I wonder what her story was?

Blooms covering a "flowerbed grave"
...and luscious ferns

Patrick Caulfield's acerbic tombstone
Pat Kavanagh's art noveau-inspired gravestone

Jeremy Beadle's tomb was judged to be the one with the most books!

This woman is buried with her dog, Emperor

Somehow the erosion of statues like this one only adds to their romantic beauty

George Eliot's tomb

As it is perhaps the first week of tightsless weather this year, I couldn't resist dressing up for the day out in my new imitation-fifties frock (complete with petticoat), and genuine-fifties Polaroid sunglasses.

Now it's back to stitchin' for me; I will try to have my Melancholyflowers up on here this week; it's just that all that foliage is so fiddly (but I do love sewing it!)

Monday, 15 April 2013

Say It With Flowers

"What a desolate place would be a world without a flower! It would be a face without a smile, a feast without a welcome. Are not flowers the stars of the earth, and are not our stars the flowers of heaven?" ~ AJ Balfour
A rainy Friday found Pip and I at the Garden Museum delving into the history of the flower trade. Whilst the flowers outside were getting a drenching, we learnt an awful lot of floral trivia, including that the Floral Industry in the UK is worth a whopping 1.65 billion, that roses are edible, that over four hundred flower girls were selling bunches in London in 1851 , and that, according to scientific research, flowers just make us feel good.

Flower Seller, Unknown Artist, Between 1800 and 1850
I've recently started stitching some flowers that feel bad; some melancholy flowers. This is a bit of a break from my big project, The Constellation Quilt, harking back to my project Milk Thistle (which I swear will get done one day!), which explores the link between flowers and sickness and recovery.

Possibly the flowers I'm stitching are suffering from depression; they certainly seem (literally) downcast, and slightly weepy! They are an illustration from Land of Play - Verses, Rhymes, Stories, first published in 1911 and written by Sarah Tawney Leffert. The melancholy flowers were sketched either by M.L. Kirk or Florence England Nosworthy (though I do hope by Florence, due to the floral connection of her first name!)

I'm growing very fond of turn-of-the-century illustrations of this style; they seem to really suit my laywoman's blackwork technique (not for long though; soon I'll be a pro at blackwork, as it's one of the first techniques I'll learn at the Royal School of Needlework!)

Floriculture, the exhibition at the Garden Museum, may have been all about the inspiration afforded by cut flowers, but a site specific installation which I came across recently celebrated both the vibrancy and the restorative properties of living flowers. Bloom was a public artwork comprised of twenty eight thousand potted flowers which filled the offices, basements, day rooms, wards and corridors of Massachusetts Mental Health Center from the 14th to the 17th November 2003. The building was scheduled to be knocked down the same year, and the artist, Anna Schuleit, was commissioned to create a public artwork memorialising the lives and experiences of those who had lived, worked, and been treated there over the building's lifetime; a memorial which was also open to the public.

Although the Center had been a place of healing and hope as well as sadness and despair, Schuleit was struck by the lack of colour and vibrancy in the worn old halls. She struck on flowers, a symbol of vitality, new beginnings and hope, to flood the building with. In a fantastic interview on the Colossal art website, Schuleit writes that "Bloom was a reflection on the healing symbolism of flowers given to the sick when they are bedridden and confined to hospital settings. As a visiting artist I had observed an astonishing absence of flowers in psychiatric settings. Here, patients receive few, if any, flowers during their stay. Bloom was created to address this absence, in the spirit of offering and transition.

This very much relates to my Milk Thistle project, and makes me wonder why it is that the mentally ill are rarely brought flowers, when surely an injection of cheerful nature into their environment could (almost always) only be positive. Certainly many of the former patients who visited Bloom during its four day installation were deeply moved by the artwork, with one writing "Today we flourish", and another visitor commenting "For all the patients who never received flowers, these flowers are for you. I don't know if I've ever encountered such a life-affirming and gorgeous artwork; part of me wishes I could've nipped across the pond in 2003 to witness it, but another part recognises that it was a deeply personal installation best experienced by those who had been a part of the building's story.

Flowers signify so many different things in our culture; healing, new beginnings, love, celebration, life itself. I will be undertaking a little research into the language of flowers to learn more about the symbolism of the "stars of the earth".