The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Gina Ferrari 3On Saturday I went to my local Embroiderers’ Guild annual lecture, this year with Gina Ferrari. I’ve followed her lively blog for some time and had been looking forward to meeting someone I’d only known virtually. She did not disappoint!

Her talk, The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, was a fascinating insight into a series of works exploring women’s stories.  Historical and fictional characters had beautifully crafted corsets created for them that in their design reflected Gina’s take on aspects of their story.

We learnt about the elements of character or story that had significance for her and also the techniques she used to interpret them.  For instance, Anne Boleyn’s garment had ivy leaves as a motif, representing the clinging entrapment that Gina felt characterised her life story at Henry’s court.

Gina Ferrari 1As expected the craftsmanship in the works contributed to their beauty; Gina has years of experience as a machine embroiderer. Unexpected, to me at least, was the knitting expertise used for Marie Antoinette.

For me it was most interesting finding out about the artist’s thought processes in developing her theme. Her acknowledgement that the stories we ‘know’ about the historical figures can be as constructed as those in fiction. Was Cleopatra really beautiful? Probably not. Was Anne Boleyn a scheming young woman with ambition or a pawn in her family’s power game? Do we even know what she looked like?

I always enjoy hearing how artists work, why they choose the themes they do and what motivates them to continue.  Gina’s series began as part of her formal learning, assignments in her City and Guilds course. It continued to inspire her for many years afterwards, and still does – Frida Kahlo still hovers around waiting for her winged bodice.

Gina Ferrari 2Gina spoke of the importance to her of being part of a group, Prism, of having that engagement with others and the impetus to produce new work that comes from exhibiting. Thank you Gina, for coming to us despite having cracked your ankle! It was a real pleasure to meet you and learn more about your exquisite and thoughtful work.

Learning by copying

1999 Deepwater_Lights_1

Eszter Bornemisza Deepwater Lights

Steve Jobs quoted Picasso as saying “Good artists copy, great artists steal’. I recently read Will Gompertz Think like an artist and he explains this as a progression: as artists  learn their trade they copy the masters to gain skills and then they take (steal) certain techniques or approaches as theirs in developing their own voice. Part of the City and Guilds work is to study contemporary makers and in doing my first assignment I have certainly been ‘copying and learning from’ an artist. I hadn’t expected  the challenge involved in producing samples of the techniques and designs to go with my project. Trying to deduce from a relatively small photo online just how a piece has been constructed was the first hurdle. The second came when exploring the new-to-me techniques I thought had been used. Eszter Bornemisza’s recent work I find interesting, complex and beautiful and have been fascinated by it at several recent shows.  Her early work, in the late 1990s looks very different in concept, colour and technique. Plan of workMy first sample was based on Deepwater Lights (above) made in 1999; its striking colours and sense of light and movement seem almost by a different artist to the current pieces. But how had she constructed the work? Applique? piecing? with templates? freeform? After poring over the photos on her website I decided to machine piece with the fabric cut to exact pattern pieces to get as close as I could the appearance she created. I have little experience of curved seaming so it took some time to be comfortable with it. Diagrams were drawn, planning the order of joining and giving templates to be cut round.  As the work progressed I gained confidence and abandoned the paper patterns, cutting each piece freehand to fit with its partner edge. Choosing fabrics from my limited stash was tricky but I was satisfied with the overall effect. joining pieces with curved seams. The quilting lines were hard to see in the photos and I was puzzled at first that lines crossing different colour fabrics showed no contrasts. Then I read that Eszter uses transparent threads – a solution and another first for me! A very springy thread (with a mind of its own when being wound on to a bobbin), but the machine handled it well and I like the freedom it gives the viewer to concentrate on the textural aspect of the quilting rather than colour contrasts. pieced sampleAs always I was surprised by the difference to the feel of the piece the quilting lines made, they really bring the piecing to life. Sample with quilting





A worthwhile, if time-consuming, learning activity.  I can see that this form of detailed study will lead to having a better range of skills to interpret my ideas and produce particular effects.