Exquisite embroidery

Last week I indulged in a visit to the William Morris Gallery in Walthamstow. I’ve been before, to learn about the man himself, and his influence on the Arts and Crafts  movement and textiles in particular.

This time I went because there are now three rooms devoted, until January, to an exploration of his daughter, May. I’ve known about her role in the Morris and Co Embroidery Workshop, as manager from the age of 23, and some of her wonderful embroideries. The Gallery has gathered  some truly exquisite works, over 80, together with photos and other memorabilia documenting her significant role in the development both of active socialism and the arts and crafts movement, with women artists particularly.

A delightful, and enlightening, glimpse into the life and work of someone who has been too long neglected, in her father’s shadow. We were fortunate in the unseasonal warm and sunny weather and ate lunch on the veranda overlooking the park and very good day. There’s a good website here. All the pictures in the post are from the Gallery’s website.

‘Threads’ and the design process

A break in posting as I have been on holiday and also very busy! I managed to complete and mount two additional pieces of work for the local Threads exhibition. A bit last minute as I was actually stitching the final work to its canvas half an hour before going down to setup. Still, I always work more effectively right up against a deadline.

There seems to be a growing interest in textile-based art; this is the second exhibition in Wivenhoe this summer. The six of us had very different approaches. Eliza’s art features simple appliqué and stitch; Lesley is a fantastic milliner; Annie’s landscapes shimmer and glow; Beth’s fabrics are bright and enticing; Janet creates her life drawings in machine line and transparent appliqué; and my pieces feature hand embroidery and machine piecing and quilting. It was very exciting to be asked to be part of this, and a challenge.

On Saturday there was Design to Stitch in Swaffham, the Embroiderers’ Guild Eastern Region’s annual get-together. Well worth the long drive. There were exhibited embroideries  to enjoy, many traders to patronise and two great lecturers. Jane McKeating explored for us the design processes of several established, and not so established, artist/makers. A fascinating insight into the many different ways it’s possible to move from idea to finished piece. Sian Martin continued the theme in the afternoon by asking us if we were ‘sat-nav or road atlas’ designers. Sat navvers have a starting idea and a definite end point, following a thought out route to their destination. Road atlasers take the opportunity to explore side roads, alternative routes and places of interest (and their destination may change as well!). We had all written our names in bright fabric pens on a sheet at the beginning of the day and now each was handed a random small square from this to stitch on in any way we felt. A fascinating exercise in trusting one’s intuition when stitching and responding to all the ‘what-if’s’ that come to mind. The final array was impressive and will be stitched into a banner to be used in campaigning for the restitution of creative arts and textiles in schools. A great idea.

Textile exhibition

Recently I was asked to put some of my work in a textile exhibition. Gulp. I was very flattered of course but also a little intimidated. Does anyone not feel nervous about putting there work ‘out there’?  I know I do.  Somehow it’s easier to submit a piece to a juried exhibition because any rejection happens in private.  No-one will know my work was not considered appropriate. I won’t say ‘good enough’ because the piece would not have been submitted if I hadn’t felt it didn’t meet my own standards, therefore for me it was good enough.

So I’m now in the next stage of trying to decide which pieces to hang and get some pieces completed in time. I included a pair that I started and left unfinished before I had to take a break, so at least two years ago. I’ve very much enjoyed getting myself back in touch with the theme I was working on and seeing it through to finished pieces. Giving a title to work is tricky isn’t it?  I thought long and hard about that and finally decided on Stone Stories 1 and 2.  Of course this might change before I actually type up labels… The images came about from my thoughts on old buildings, specifically Romanesque churches, and how the stone still stands as witness to a time and society that has vanished and that we find hard to understand.

Details of some pieces in the photos; I’ll post full pictures once the exhibition is open.  If you live locally to Wivenhoe do come and see ‘Threads’ at the Nottage Maritime Institute on the Quay from  8 to 23 July on Saturdays and Sundays (please check opening times on the website).

Below is the information from the website – I feel very much a newcomer in such illustrious company!

The exhibition showcases the diversity of ideas and range of  techniques used in working with fabrics and textiles.  The exhibitors are all residents of Wivenhoe.
Beth is a freelance textile artist who makes designs for printed fabrics.  There will be printed samples of her designs for sale.
Annie is known for her framed silk stitched collages and her work reflects her love of the sea and the timelessness of landscape. She uses highly decorative techniques crossing the boundary between fine and applied art.
Janet’s love and understanding of colour and geometry are evident in her abstract works while her ability to draw and her imaginative use of fabrics enliven her more complex figurative pieces.
Eliza is a highly regarded textile artist working with words in her hand stitched and embroidered artworks.
Trained at Kensington and Chelsea College of Fashion and Design under Noel Stewart, Lesley produces exquisite bespoke head creations in all materials.
A member of the Embroiderers’ Guild Susan is a teacher of traditional hand embroidery but is also an expert in new techniques.

Art and textiles

The exhibition ‘America After the Fall’ at the Royal Academy featured the iconic work ‘American Gothic’ by Grant Wood.  We finally went to stand and stare back at the enigmatic couple last week.  I wasn’t familiar with his landscape work and it wasn’t what I was expecting (though I’m not absolutely sure just what I was expecting).  It was quite naive in style but what struck me most was just how much like textiles his hills and valleys and planted or ploughed fields looked.  His hills clearly had been over wadded and seemed in places to be splitting apart under the strain!

I can see great possibilities in exploring how to recreate those painted textures in fabric and stitch.

I also enjoyed revisiting my favourite Tudor and Stuart characters and their wonderful costumes at the National Portrait Gallery.  Getting close up to these detailed paintings to appreciate their superb depiction of the lush fabrics and embroidery is always a real treat.

Glazig embroidery teaching

Another good day teaching last week, with everyone getting into Glazig embroidery, the latest in my ‘Stitches with Stories’ series, and its interesting stitches.  Somehow working a stitch with a name like Point Kamm, or Point Laouig, seems much more exciting than one with an English name (though I’m not sure a Breton would have recognised my pronounciation of Laouig!). I first came across this decoration of traditional Breton dress in the museum in Quimper and it seems my students enjoy it as much as I do. We looked at the history of the regional costumes and how the stitches and motifs have been adapted to contemporary styles, particularly by Pascal Jaouen. We also looked at using non-traditional colour schemes and decided that they worked delightfully.

At the weekend I went to our local art gallery, the Sentinel, to see the work of some friends in an exhibition entitled ‘Text’.  Such a fascinating grouping of textile artists and ceramicists in whose pieces lettering and words play a key part and who all approach it differently.  The wonderful Sara Impey was there, with familiar and new pieces using her beautiful, controlled machine embroidered text, in contrast to Eliza Kentridge whose hand stitched lettering had a sense of playfulness underlying sometimes serious concepts. Kate Lammin used the repeated and scattered letters of words to create images of a murmuration of starlings in flight. The exhibition is on until the end of the month and I thoroughly recommend it.