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The exhibition ‘Mending at the Museum’ has finally been launched at The Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery - and it runs until April 2013….which sounds simple enough but it is the culmination of at least 3 years collaborative practice based research between academics and professional makers and artists. The ‘Stitching and Thinking’ research group, which I facilitated in my post as a senior research fellow, evolved the exhibition via a series of mixed media workshops, visits to the museum’s mended collections, many meetings, discussions, conference papers and a small sample-stage exhibition; and it also caps off my academic career which started in 1973 and finished last year in 2011….. So no pressure then.
I co-curated the exhibition with Dawn Mason, currently the award leader of Drawing and Applied Arts at U.W.E. Bristol, and my long-term academic colleague and collaborator in all things stitched. In the museum we worked with Karin Walton, the Curator of Applied Arts at Bristol Museum, and who holds the secrets and the keys to the museum’s sampler collection, the mending samplers were the main inspiration for the work that has finally been exhibited.
When I arrived on the first morning to hang the work, Dawn and Karin had already placed the exhibits, still in their wrappings, on the floor below the wall space allotted to them, but there were piles of extraneous pieces, scattered over tables and chairs, it became my task to sort these out.
The idea of the exhibition is partly to show how ideas evolve during the making process – Dawn and I have written and spoken many times of the necessity of makers to have time for reflection; making work worthy of contemplation requires as much time for the thinking as it does for the making process. It is a constant making and thinking about what you made, re-making, re-thinking until somehow the pieces resolve themselves and you wonder how they could ever have become anything other than what they are.
Each exhibitor was responsible for physically putting their own work on the wall, this saves so much argument later….but with only 7 exhibitors who know one another well we each respected one another’s’ space – well most of the time. So during the next 2 days each member of the group came and sorted their own work out meanwhile just looking at all the unwrapped pieces was really fascinating as work seen only at the sample stage 4 weeks before, now appeared ready for the wall. Work can made or marred by the way it is hung and also what it is hung next to. We were all acutely aware of how the whole exhibition must work together. It comprises 3 different elements; some of the museum’s mending samplers, our own samplers of work made throughout the research period, and the pieces made specially for exhibition.
Steph Wooster’s knitted and pieced work looked different when it was stretched over some embroidery hoops that acted almost as magnifying mirrors – drawing the eye to the details of her messages. She writes of museums being ‘houses of high culture; they show the best of us’. Finding evidence of mending within the museum’s exhibits she delights in glimpses of ‘everyday life’ . Her work, influenced by the written messages on samplers, ‘celebrates the ordinary’ by using simple fabrics with ubiquitous machine knitting.
Jilly Morris‘ children’s aprons came neatly laid one on top of the other with a Fragile label printed on the cardboard wrapper – a comment, I felt, not about the fact that the contents could be damaged but of the fragility of what was inside and already ‘ damaged’ .
The title of the work produced is ‘Mending Takes Time’ and refers to the functional stitching that was traditionally taught as part of their general education to girls, as transferable skills in an era when fabrics were ‘treated with regard’ and material was frequently mended to preserve a precious commodity – so at odds with our easy access to all types of fabric from all over the world.
The cross shape made by various commercial medical dressings recall the basic shape of most darns seen on the samplers; when executed in ready-made modern plasters she references the ‘quick fix mentality and disposable culture’ of the present day.
Jess Turrell came in with a box of assorted table-wear cups, saucers and a range of metal components such as spoon bowls, fork tines, knife blades and their specially made handles – which she made up before she placed them in a large vitrine.
Her work is called “Inappropriate Mendings” and she is having some fun at the idea of making aesthetically elegant mending that is really useless for any practical purposes, fork handles are whittled from wax candles (gedditt?) cups are mended with calico, and spoon handles wrapped in plasters from the first aid tin.
Dail Behennah brought in a fragile darned wire piece, mercifully it was framed and so this was the easiest to hang…the piece is simple and refined and references a particular black darning sampler in the collection, which is placed in a vitrine opposite her work.
Dail reflects that the darning in an old garment are often stronger than the fabric that they hold together, she has taken this to ‘absurd lengths’ by making a piece of metal fabric entirely compose of darns. The shimmering quality of the image is created by the shadows set up by the work being suspended in a box frame, below is the darning fabric in the making
Dawn Mason exhibited a series of different responses to the mending samples, called Face to Face her work reflects the reverse side of the samplers, some how when we look at the ‘wrong’ side of a piece f stitched work it seems much more immediate, the involvement of the maker is more apparent because here we see the comings and goings or the threads and often the struggle the maker has had is left as evidence where on the front of the work all is perfectly presented and correct. (I know that given the opportunity people usually will look at the back of any stitched work – maybe searching for signs of the maker’s involvement )
The work she showed was made over the entire duration of the project and shows the progression of her own personal work…
Like Dawn’s exhibited pieces, my own work forms part of an ongoing series of stitched work, that has been a direct consequence of our involvement in this project. “Make it through the Night” includes many references to mending as mending broken hearts has been the major inspiration to my personal work for several years now – as this blog illustrates – there are many postings around the ideas and practice of mending, and the first ever post was about my mended clothes………
I have made a whole series of embroidered handkerchiefs, let’s face it some nights we have all needed a handkerchief if only to hold on to. So I have embroidered them with positive mending mottoes and other words of wisdom - the set is called ‘ Patch Grief with Proverbs’ a sentiment that rings true to me. How often we just find ourselves reciting platitudes in response to grief?
I made 21 embroideries all with their own distinctive darns and patches to reflect the written proverb, they took quite a time to get onto the wall…..I had to search many different sources to find enough texts to make a wall full – but one lovely Greek proverb was given to me by Basil Kardasis and this was the last piece I embroidered – an a very large-scale cotton handkerchief I had to purchase new – the rest were all on vintage linen.
Which brings me neatly to the last exhibitor, Basil Kardasis, his exhibit is called ‘The Buttonhole’, and he collected from his family and friends ( we all had to contribute) ” treasured, revered materials…that may represent them ” and also a button; then , with the help of his sister Ella, spent may months button-holing all the pieces together so that they made a “protective cloak” for his son.
Many different materials and articles appear in the cloak, which has a very colourful interior as well, the range of fabrics perfectly reflect his wide-ranging experiencing as a designer and educator world-wide, students and colleagues and friends from practically every aspect of his life gave him wonderful and rare pieces of cloth for this coat, my favourite is a piece of lasered leather in a lace pattern – now this I could really get working on – it only I had much more of it…..
Looking at the image now of this lasered work I am reminded of the joint piece of work that had to be abandoned for inclusion in this exhibition, due to personal reasons by my making partner Hanne Rysgaard. We were making a porcelain hanging from impressed lace fragments but sadly this was shelved until we can both find the space in our very busy lives to get together again and make it. Now I am thinking that these 2 disparate materials may somehow work together…leather and porcelain – Basil where did that lasered skin come from and is there any more?
This is a first for me and I want to share it with you – I am, from today, exhibiting in America. I have 2 pieces of work in an exhibition called Mending = Art showing at the Gershman Gallery in Philadelphia and this evening I should be at the private view, but instead I have just returned from Heart Space Studios having run a birthday party, making beaded brooches with ten 9 years olds – and very enjoyable it was too. But how I would love to be seeing my work in an international exhibition at such an amazing event as the Philadelphia biennial textile art festival FiberPhiladelphia 2012.
The call out came early last year, from American textile artist( she of the wonderful brilliant red website) Diane Savona, for textiles made around the theme of Mending…this must have been the universe answering my call. I had several things on offer, as looking at the ‘ Ongoing Work” section of this blog will show you. But unusually she also asked me to send her an image of the inspirational early woodcut that has inspired at least 10 years of textile and enamel work, and mending was the subject of my first post in this blog.
and above is the other work that Diane chose to represent my mending embroideries, a real heart-felt cry now that I look back on it, I can remember every stab that contributed to this image but then yoga certainly reaches the parts the needle can’t.
So this is the shorted post I have ever written, but now I am off to celebrate with a glass of something chilled and pink and fizzy……
OK so it’s the day after the night before day and here are the pictures from the exhibition sent today from Diane Savona.
and very glad to see a video work from one of my colleagues Amy Houghton,
then there is my work hung together with Frau Minne keeping count in the middle of it all….
something tells me that that red and white is the new black, white and grey of studio art textiles…..
and yet again…..well mending seems to = blood red for a whole lot of women.
Erin Endicott in front of her work……ooooh!!!!!!
Just a very short post to say Da! Da! I have eventually finished my second pillow of dreams, the Shoes dream….and I have written another piece to accompany the recent post Slow Progress where I discussed the doubts and frustrations of making slow hand crafted work. At last it can be now be viewed in my pages for ‘Make It Through the Night’ as a the last section of Ongoing Work which is found directly underneath the header image – which is an embroidered dream flower detail of another pillow from the same series
If you have not viewed this section it is set out in reverse order so that you read/view my ideas as they unfold; this way you can follow the development of a personal set of work – with all its trials and frustrations over the months, and from this month the past year (I started this work in December 2009) so this section appears at the very end of the whole page and you will have to scroll down to it …. but anyone interested in the way someone’s mind works while working slowly through a whole series of interconnected and complex ideas which somehow are supposed to form a cohesive narrative or in this instance make for a comprehensive gallery exhibition, should find it of interest.
I wrote in the About page that I would show work in various stages of progress, successful or not; and as I have almost finished the second dream embroidery for my “Make it Through the Night” project, I thought I would show this at the “will it never ……. end”? stage. This embroidery has been a real struggle to make, which is so strange as I have had the drawing of my dream for over 10 years, have often looked at it and thought “one day”.
For several well considered reasons I decided to embroider it onto a bed sheet, therefor everything was life size – “a sheet of dreams” I started it in August and mention it in the blog “Samplers” and It took about one month of drawing, making patterns and sampling various techniques before I could start to make the work; then another month’s actual making before I gave it up – I thought that if I shelved it I may eventually get the courage to continue the mammoth task of stitching it. I had made many samples and even got as far a printing an entire quilt onto the bed sheet, this took weeks so I was loathe to abandon it. But basically the sheer scale was just too daunting – I knew I had to hand stitch each shoe and there were about 10 0f them, and they were shoe sized and in a single thread, and I was losing the will to live at the thought of it. I didn’t blog about it at the time as I was unsure of why I was experiencing such difficulties and I certainly didn’t have the heart to write about it.
Meanwhile I made other works – some commissioned pieces which can’t be blogged until they are published….and so generally let the problem lie at a low level, to be absorbed knowing that eventually it would re-emerge…this is how work often resolves itself; you just have to be patient and let it suggest its own way forward…..then I made some handkerchieves for the same project, and realising how good it was to work small and quickly again – I thought I could maybe make the work smaller and embroider a” pillow of dreams” – after all, I reasoned, this is where you lay your head and where all the action stems from.
So I set to work again restitching the whole image onto a vintage linen Oxford pillowcase. The drawings remained exactly the same but now I used running stitches to make the quilt then padded it like a trapunto technique to emphasises the body shape that emerges from the distorted “patchwork”. This was all so really interesting to work, I was now on the right track and gone were the misgivings of “copping out” for a smaller scale.
I really wanted to get on with the shoes though, the drawings were taken from many old sketches and my own collection -
Some shoes I cannot bear to throw away and have used them for years for drawing classes – if you can draw shoes you can draw most things put in front of you.
Eventually I got to embroidering the shoes, they are quite small about 10cms / 2 inches long and are stitched in one strand of silk, cotton or metal threads, I love glitzy shoes.
Of course the whole point of the dream was that I couldn’t wear the shoes any more, look closely at the lack of feet….yet to be embroidered – I will address this issue later when I publish the finished work in the Ongoing Work pages. But meanwhile I set to to do the rest of the shoes – they take between 3 and 8 hours to work each one, but it is now driving me to distraction, I really dislike the days spent stitching these shoes……
Ironically I constantly bang on about how stitching is like meditation and I am presently running a project called “Stitching and Thinking” with a group of makers where we are considering the state of mind reached when the world goes away and its just you and your thoughts and the work; sometimes called a state of Flow, or old hippies used to say ” In the Zone” – wherever it is it is wonderful.
I haven’t been there for a few weeks while battling with these embroidered shoes…and I blame an “acquaintance” of mine, Nigel Hurlstone, who is a tutor on a course where they still embroider - Manchester Met (MMU). He gave me a much needed and requested mentoring session on the whole ‘Make it Through the Night’ set of work whose progress he has been following – we have a reciprical arrangement where he crits my stitched work and I crit his new written story – telling work.
But he inadvertently said something that absolutely made me loose faith in how I have made this piece of work – “what is really fascinating and worth you considering is that these shoes LOOK as if they have been stitched on the multi – head machine – but they haven’t ” – and he was right! The long and short stitches are so neat and precise they look machine made – I have been overtaken by technology. So I now have to rethink for what and how I stitch by hand….. how will this machine – made perception affect the way people appreciate my work?
One of the ideas underpinning my current practice is the notion of time taken: to hand stitch something which is very slow and therefor valued means that the subject or concept is worth consideration……but meanwhile I have to finish this piece of work – but am I wasting precious time when I could just give it to some one to machine it for me – I am not about to learn how to use a multi -head. But it does make me wonder how I can change my whole way of working in cloth when anyone can “draw” with stitch.
You know when you get an idea and a light goes on in your head and you think – why did it take me so long to see this? Well this has just happened to me – last weekend I was looking at the stitched ceramic dishes I had made for the Museum Mending project and thought – why don’t I just stitch these images onto cloth? The mottoes, the hearts, the hands….all these relate to my personal project Make It Through the Night so why don’t I include these into this? DUH!
I have done all the research, found the mending mottoes and sorted out the drawings of the hands, but what will I stitch them onto? Well when you are broken- hearted what do need to mop up the tears – a handkerchief – which is a ready- made square of cotton or linen – perfect. And when I looked through my white fabric stash I found a packet of 4 table napkins left over from another project – hem stitched in linen – perfect. I always take these pieces of luck as a sign that I am on the right track.
I thought I should try to match the mends with the mottoes and to use the broken and mended heart as a link to the Counterpane/Counterpain embroidery which features in the Make It Through the Night project in Work in Progress section of the blog. I decided to keep the same stitching techniques and colour.
I started with a cut and darned heart, which would need considerable strengthening at the edge of the handkerchief, so the motto had to be ” that which does not kill you makes you stronger” a proverb that I think has a stoical attitude. Having drawn out my design and checked the correct darning system in an old sewing manual, and taking courage into both hands, I cut from the edge of the handkerchief straight into the heart, tacked a run and fell seam and set to work sewing it.
I chose to sew it in red thread as in the little household sewing sampler that I had bought years ago from an Oxfam shop. It is probably from middle of the 20th century and made as part of an infant school sewing class. The choice of red for stitching is a swine as every single stitch glows out whether rightly or wrongly placed, I started to dislike the original needlework teacher – why impose this on to your pupils? – well discipline of course….and suddenly my little basic sewing sampler looked like the work of a consumate needlewoman – poor girl - unlike me she didn’t choose to do it.
You can see by the finished piece above just how personal this embroidery got for me I have hand written “me” instead of ” you”. This was quite a difficult piece of darning even though I have worked this technique several times before; the plain hem stitching on the run and fell seam above the heart was really tricky to get even on both sides. I would choose something easier for the next one………
I found the motto, ” Red is the ultimate cure for sadness” and decided to use a patching system using a scrap of scarlet linen, I withdrew the threads and darned them onto the heart. Easy Peasy it wasn’t!
The finished red darning piece can be seen pinned to my studio wall, to the side of it can be seen a sample of Darning as Jewellry by Dail Behennah.
The next piece was also patched, much simpler this time a basic inset patch of fine linen.
On the left can be seen the set of instructions for basic darning with the sample of the same system next to it. There are many old sewing manuals with all this information in them, up until about the 1960′s when they begin to just talk about machine stitching for darning
For this handkerchief I decided to cross stitch the motto onto the patch beforehand, and on the left can be seen the embroidered patch prior to cutting and inserting it onto the heart on the handkerchief, below.
The image of the small pink and red broken and mended heart pinned above the handkerchief below is a photograph of a set of 50 enamel badges I made for an ETC project several years ago. Maybe I should make some more?
By the time I got around to stitching the 4th mending motto I thought Mend It or End It was a suitable finish to this series, the finished piece is the seen at the head of this blog, simple and effective the simple cross – way darn also makes a good warning symbol to make your mind up – the type of real advice my friends actually do give me when I am dithering about anything…I think these mending mottoes will lead to other handkerchiefs, I particularly like the one about the colour Red, I wonder what other mottoes there are about colours?