The Easties decided to have an outing to the Frida Kahlo exhibition last Tuesday – we had agreed the date some time ago and just by chance we more or less chose the hottest day of the year. However, a few of us had a nice ride to and from London in a newish, air-conditioned train and the V&A itself was cool. By the time we emerged from the exhibition the rain had begun to fall and 5 of us could be found sitting in the central courtyard garden balancing trays on our heads as makeshift umbrellas.
The Frida Kahlo exhibition, Making Her Self Up, was more about Frida Kahlo herself and her iconic appearance rather than her art, many of the exhibits being her personal effects which had been locked away for many years. Some may say “would this be what she would have wanted” – people looking at her corsets and her artificial leg rather than her art. I think if you didn’t know much about Frida Kahlo’s art before you went to the exhibition, you wouldn’t know much more about it afterwards.
Nevertheless, despite all the suffering and pain that she suffered in her life through polio and her accident and subsequent amputation of her leg, she had an extraordinary life. I bought a copy of her illustrated dairy some years ago which documents the last ten years of her life. Covering the years 1944-54, the diary contains Frida’s thoughts, poems and reflects her stormy relationship with her husband, Diego Rivera. During her lifetime Diego was the more famous artist but in death I think more people have probably heard about Frida than Diego.
In her diary she portrays herself with a broken classical column for a spine – below is a small Frida Kahlo figure that I made and stands in my workroom.
How do you feel that women have made progress over the last 100 years?
What would you like to see improved for women in the next ten years?
You will have the chance to create and contribute to a legacy textile wall-hanging expressing your opinions and feelings, through stitch, about what you would like for women in the future, by joining me and others on Saturday October 6th 2018 in Ipswich.
There will be other free craftivist activities and the chance to see ‘The Women’s Quilt’. The Women’s Quilt is the brainchild of Gedling Labour Councillor, Roxanne Ellis but is a collective work undertaken by women across the country inspired by the Femicide Census and Karen Ingala Smith’s Counting Dead Women project. This is probably the last chance that the quilt will be available to view at a public event. Roxanne will be there to talk about the quilt and answer any questions. First shown at the InternationalWomen’s Day 2017 the quilt has travelled across the country as more and more people hear about it and it’s powerful message. Many other inspiring women can be seen on the Facebook page of Women’s Voices Women’s Votes where 100 women are featured as a lead up to the festival.
On Saturday I visited Norwich Castle Museum for a lecture that was part of the Women of the World (WOW) festival. It was all about the samplers and stitched letters by Lorina Bulwer delivered by Ruth Battersby-Tooke, senior curator of costume and textiles at the museum. I was treated to over an hour of (almost) non-stop information and analysis about the letters with close views of the exquisite pieces. The stories and facts about the Lorina Bulwer work are fascinating and entrancing. I was totally captivated.
Ruth’s enthusiasm, despite the number of times she has spoken to groups about Lorina Bulwer, was such a pleasure. She picked out parts of the text giving explanations but also throwing as many questions. There are many theories and suppositions around the text Lorina chose to use, how she was able to produce the work and how they managed to survive. Given that a lot of the text was very rude about (seventy) named people it is possible that other pieces she made did not survive, the recipients having thrown them out in fury. However, had the letters been written conventionally on paper it is unlikely that these fascinating pieces would have been kept.
Lorina’s anger and passion come through immediately in her use of strong and forthright language. Written as stream of her consciousness even though the pace of the stitching would not be as fast as her thoughts. Repetitive, song-like words tumble and pour out, ‘AMY NANCY TICKLES MY FANCY (ref Billy Boy folk song). Words all sewn in capital letters nowadays, in the digital age, gives the message a shouting voice but would have been easier to sew. Her spelling was excellent throughout her work except for three noteworthy words; eunuch, hermaphrodite and majesty.
The technical discussion interested me too. How Lorina made the stitches so uniform (generally) and on different types of fabrics pieced together like a patchwork. Fabrics may have been donations to the workhouse for rag books and a mixture of institutional fabric, ticking, velvet, silk and cottons. The bindings around the edges differed, sometimes small pieces of fabrics patched together or longer lengths with more words stitched on top bordering around the main body of the letter. Many words were underlined with contrasting coloured stitches to emphasise them and some words have a shadow that make them stand out more. ‘O’s were sewn by pulling through a loop of thread and couching it, helping with speed. It has been calculated that for the 12-foot-long piece it would have taken about six months.
The act of stitching can be such a therapeutic activity for many people, used over centuries and particularly in times of stress and trauma such as soldiers convalescing. Looking on the www at the links nowadays one gets links to stitching and mindfulness, giving time for reflection, recovery, peace. When the medication route doesn’t seem to be working for many troubled minds nowadays why isn’t therapeutic stitch not used more, nor promoted more as part of the cure in mainstream healthcare? “Stilling the mind by busying the hands”.
Alternative Arts Education
As a result of tuition fees and the restrictions of current art education there is an increase in the emergence of alternative arts education.I’ve been really lucky that an alternative MA has been set up in Southend.TOMA is a postgraduate level course now in it’s second year that is artists led, for a small monthly fee we have developed a course of critical theory, group crits,, visiting lectures exhibitions and practical workshops. that are suggested by all students making each year really bespoke to the members of that year.It’s been brilliant for my practise, the development of collaborative pieces within joint exhibition.I’ve recently worked with Pottery Richard Baxter to respond to each others work I gave him a Co op bag full of burnt beer cans while he gave me pots with holes and slashes for me to work into.
collaborative working and amazing guest speakers such as Grizelda Pollack, Richard Wentworth and Bruce Mclean my work has developed and taken some surprising turns. I’m currently working on Sculptural pieces, the stitch is still maintained but in some cases deconstructed to a point where the mechanics of stitch are there but the term of stitch could be questioned.
TOMA has been lucky to receive Arts Council funding and the amazing Emma Edmonson who conceived The Other MA, will be taking up residency with the 17 TOMA artists in the Royals shopping centre in Southend where we will have studio space, a shop and exhibition space.
On Saturday we will be opening a drawing show, please come along if your in Southend.
Like the whole population who live in eastern England we have snow. Not just one downfall which will disappear in a couple of hours – it has been snowing on and off, and mainly on, all morning.
For me, Wednesday is the one day of the week when I get all the boring household jobs done with a weekly sortie into Bury St. Edmunds to shop but today the only sensible thing to do is raid the freezer and hunker down for twenty-four hours.
There’s no point in clearing the path to my workroom because the footsteps that Briar and I made when we went off for the morning walk are completely covered, so I thought I would write an EAST blog.
However, I’ve not done anything particularly noteworthy recently except continue with my design work for Power of Stitch and make the next square, or in my case, book for the Suffolk West Embroiderers’ Guild March meeting tomorrow which has just been cancelled. The colour this month was indigo so my book contains some indigo patterns which can be achieved with dyeing.
One of the members of SWEG discovered this proclamation and duly circulated it. I thought it would be a good place here to remind ourselves of the correct sewing procedures which we all observe!
Hope it gives you all a chuckle: it certainly did me.
Does anyone have any spare French chalk?
A couple of years ago I joined the newly re-formed branch of the Suffolk West Embroiderers’ Guild. During this year (2017-18) the branch is running a project where each member embroiders a square in a specified colour – “Rainbow Squares”. The colours progress in the same sequence as the rainbow so the first square was red.
I wasn’t very excited by the prospect of decorating a square with red stitches but I soon realised that I could make an eight square centimetre, four page booklet and attach that to an appropriately coloured square.
I made the cover from torn scraps of fabric bonded to some felt, then integrated them with machine embroidery. I covered this with a piece of muslin which I had coloured several years ago when EAST had a weekend with Ruth Issett. I folded the cover in half, then added four pages inside which had a love poem, “Echo” by Carol Ann Duffy, embroidered on them.
The next square, for November, was to be orange. I made a list of orange things – a colour, a drink, a fruit, a principality, a butterfly etc. – and embroidered these onto scraps of orange silk which I applied to a zig-zag book. This I put inside a cover which had been made as before except with scraps of orange fabric.
The December square was yellow. I didn’t realise until I began to sew what a difficult colour yellow is to work with and how few fabrics and threads I owned in that colour. Nevertheless, I had decided that the book was to have images of shells inside so I raided my supplies.
The square to make for January is green so, hopefully, I will have more items to play with and the book will probably contain leaves – unless I get any better ideas.
I wish you all a very happy, healthy and productive 2018.
At the end of October I went to London to see the Prism exhibition ‘Another View’ this was first shown at the RSBA in Birmingham then in London at Hoxton Arches. This was a very interesting exhibition as usual, many members of Prism took part exploring “different ways of looking, seeing and understanding; a chance to visualise the complexities and possibilities of people, places, events and the world we live in”. It was very interesting to see how members had interpreted their ideas from the title into textile. I thought Jo Coombes’ work was really outstanding exploring human motives, both for individuals and nation states when values diverge and beliefs become irreconcilable. I was also drawn to Dee Thomas’s ‘Underfoot, showing the many small items on a beach which are trampled underfoot when out walking. Paulene Cattle’s work which showed, in black and red felt pieces, her impression of an unused and dilapidated post box. Dorothy Tucker’s mixed media landscapes showed a lovely mix of digital printing, paint and stitch while Jackie Langfeld’s decorated teaspoons were a delight.
Many pieces showed a wonderful interpretation of ideas, others were beautifully worked, so in all a great exhibition that was well worth the trek up to London.
Above image is of Jo Coombs’ piece
Above image is of Dee Thomas’ piece
Above image is of Paulene Cattle’s pieces
At the beginning of September I went on a Jo Budd workshop in Eastbourne, although Jo comes from Bungay in Norfolk. Jo is a trained artist but works in textiles and has a method of working with Procyon dyes whereby she uses them like paints, mixing her colours in a palette using the thickener Manutex.
Every artist seems to have their own method of working with Procyon dyes and I find it useful, every now and again, to brush up on technique and ideas.
Jo makes up the basic dye powders with water and makes up the Manutex with chemical water. She then takes what she required from the dye pots to mix up the required secondary and tertiary colours and it is at this stage she uses the Manutex. She will also apply chemical water to her fabrics if she wishes to use them wet but quite often she applies the dyes to dry fabric – obviously you get different effects. She does not add chemical water direct when making up her basic dye colours as the “clock starts ticking” the minute you add the chemical water to the dye. So when she mixes a secondary or tertiary colour she uses the Manutex which contains the chemical water and then can create effects by applying, for example, the colour to a plastic surface to create a mono print or apply the dye direct to fabric using various brushes, sprays and mark making tools.
When I first did a workshop with Jo, besides adding soda ash as a fix for the dyes, she was also using a bullet steamer to fix the dyes. With limited space and facilities in Eastbourne Jo had simply bought a large electric water heater in which she has stood a trivet in the bottom so that the fabrics (wrapped around a cardboard tube) did not come into direct contact with the water. The fabrics were stood on the trivet and the water brought up to temperature and the fabrics steamed for three minutes before the fabrics were then rinsed. Alternatively you could steam iron the fabrics on both sides for three minutes before rinsing. Jo follows this method to ensure colour and light fastness.
The fabrics could be overdyed with unthickened dyes as required.
I composed the two landscapes below with the fabrics I’d dyed – think they have possibilities.
Southend has said goodbye to a sculpture commemorating the First World War – Poppies: Wave moved onto the next stop on a national tour. Poppies: Wave, by Paul Cummins (artist) and Tom Piper (designer), was installed at Barge Pier, in Gunners Park, part of the old ranges which has a long military history, and was a perfect setting for this art work. Most poignant was the playing of the last post every evening at sunset, well worth seeing if you should get the chance.
“Poppies: Wave, a sweeping arch of bright red poppy heads suspended on towering stalks, was originally seen at the Tower of London as part of the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. “
It can currently be seen at the CWGC Plymouth Naval Memorial until the 19th November, 2017.
What a fabulous day out at the Museum of East Anglian Life today – Carol, Lorna and ex EAST member June Carroll and myself went for a day out to see the exhibition Fabric Fields and French Knots. This exhibition marks the 50th anniversary of the Museum of East Anglian Life. To celebrate they have teamed up with members of local Embroiderers’ Guild groups in Suffolk and Essex to create new works inspired by the museum collections.
Among the artists exhibiting is our own Carol Dixon, along with such familiar names as Jan Lovell, Susan Cranwell, Malelaine Nightingale, Vendulka and Olivier Battais, Mary McIntosh to name just a few.
The exhibits are housed in various buildings on the site as well as in the Abbot’s Hall Gardens. You definitely need the little guide to find all 68 pieces and even after three hours we still did not get round it all, so make sure you allow plenty of time when you visit. For more details go to www.eastanglianlife.org.uk
The photographs below show a selection of the exhibits which hopefully will give a taster and make you want to go along to have a look.
The first exhibit below is to be found in the conservatory in the main Abbot’s Hall and is a joint effort.
Below if a detail from the tree above.
Winter Hedgerow by Carol Dixon
Winter Hedges by Madelaine Nightingale
Gypsy Caravan by Vendulka and Olivier Battais
Country Faces by Madelaine Nightingale
Steam Power byJan Lovell
Footplate Jan Lovell
Cedric – Suffolk Sheep by Susan Cranwell
Frieda – Suffolk Sheep by Susan Cranwell
Allan – Suffolk Sheep Lamb by Susan Cranwell
Edges by Madelaine Nightingale
Celebration Stitch by Gay Macbeth