Janet Haigh : Her Work

Textiles: ideas, drawing, design, stitching….


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Almost Shaun the Sheep

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Shaun the Sheep plays it cool.

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Paula and I hand stitch the knitting onto the lamppost

Shaun the Sheep – the popular cartoon character from Aardman Studios, Bristol’s world famous animation company is being celebrated with a series of decorated sheep statues being deposited in a trail throughout Bristol (and London). The local high street community, including Heart Space Studios, has sponsored a sheep sculpture and he arrives in the first week of July….meanwhile Heart Space have decided to welcome him with a knitted yarn bombed lamppost and bunting.

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Paula New stands beside her creation – the knitted sheep lamppost

 

We recycled an old length of knitted bunting by giving it a really good wash and then Paula made lots of crocheted flowers which I stitched into place to liven it up; we are really pleased with our efforts and all our neighbours are delighted to see our new bunting, they keep photographing it…..the local children come and hug the lower area of the lamppost and we made this particular design as all proceeds for Shawn go to the Bristol Children’s Hospital

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recycled knitted bunting

So to add to the funds we once again, by popular request, ran a children’s workshop this time to decorate bags….Paula also helped out with this – I kept well out of the way, just occasionally took the photographs….it looked very  lively in the main studio..

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patterns, fabric, felts, buttons and beads all ready to for the children to decorate the sheep bags

we had provided sheep patterns for the sheep, prepared fabrics with bondaweb, found buttons beads, eyes and all kinds of stuff to play with.

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all sorts of stuff neatly laid out for decorating

as soon as the children – boys and girls – arrived they started to trace around our specially drawn templates, and using special fibre pens coloured,

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stitched and appliqued…..stitch1 Mothers helped as well – with the pressing,

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everyone joins in the making session.

we also had boys making their own characterful versions of sheep …..

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get those blue eyes!!!!

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now that’s what I call a pig ready for a party!

choices, choices choices….the children’s imagination knew no bounds when it came to decorating the simple drawn outline.

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after refreshments – provided by Ilaria and her mother, who was visiting from Italy,

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the table full of wonderful hand made cakes and biscuits from Ilaria and her mother..

the bags were finished finished

and everyone had to be photographed as they left the studios.

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we had lots of happy people leaving with their own very personalised bags….

 

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and we raised money for the charity as well.fin2

 


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Kantha Club

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Indian modern Kantha fabric – from Liz Hewitt’s collection – wonderful patterns to start us all stitching

New to Heart Space Studios – Kantha Club; started as so many people who have been to our day classes, tutored by  Susi Bancroft,  have become fascinated by this simple method of hand quilting. We have 3 trial sessions being held once a month – each meeting is 3 hours long – enough to get re-acquainted with the technique and start something to take home to develop further.

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3 different Kantha pieces from  Susi s collection demonstrating the different types of fabrics, colours and patterns afforded by this  technique

susi kantha introSusi, had brought lots of different pieces from her own work, the most interesting for me are the tiny patches of patterned fabrics all held together with simple rows of running stitches  and by allowing frayed and ripped fabrics to be caught in place, dense and rich cloths have been developed.

One of the things that I find interesting in Kantha is that each side of the cloth looks different depending on the choice of fabrics – so a simple ground will show up the stitches but a patterned ground is given another layer of pattern – the fabric below shows this very clearly.

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Kantha strip showing back and front of the stitching – intriguing

Several people had brought in their own samples, some from earlier classes that they now wanted to develop….others already used the technique for their own practice and just wanted to meet up and develop and discuss the work with other people – we are hoping that the new textile clubs we are planning at Heart Space, will enable like-minded people to develop new work together….the 2 pieces below are by makers who has studied Kantha previously,  Kay Swancutt, and Liz Hewitt , 

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beautifully simple stitching by Kay Swancutt

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detail of Liz Hewitt’s densely stitched Kantha hanging

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

but some people although used to stitching, came along for a new experience – they brought other types of things – the different types of work were really interesting, I am looking forward to seeing how everyone develops in the coming months.

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small perfectly stitched quilted heart – but enough to get a maker to the next stage of developing new ideas and techniques

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beautiful etheral embroidered and lacy fabrics combined with Kantha stitches by Nicky

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After the introductions we all started to work on our own projects

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the club gets down to real stitching, and Nicky is stitching the piece  above right

I have joined the club as well as I want to develop new work using this technique – I have played with this way of setting up rhythms across fine fabrics  and I brought in several pieces of old work to demonstrate how I wanted the work to develop – I want to make a stitched sea/sky/land scape – very large using images from my  photographs of the views of sunrise and sunsets from my windows at home.

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series of my sky photographs from over the Bristol Channel

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my first attempt at putting the sky fabrics together

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am layering transparent fabrics so that many subtle colours are made to represent the sky, then held held in place by rows of running stitches. As my home view includes a stretch of the Severn Estuary and the Welsh hills, the textures and rhythms of the water, mud flats and tidal salt marsh in front of the house, could successfully be rendered using this technique, we will see…

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the layers of transparent fabrics are eventually held in place by massive tacking stitches

when everyone got to working Susi provided us with background fabrics and a wonderful array of her own threads, as well as books and a variety of other materials to help us help ourselves.

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Susi’s own stash of threads; and just visible my “kantha bible” The Techniques of Indian Embroidery by Anne Morrell

Several people started developing different motifs as samplers, using the books that Susi provided..

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continuing older work using new inspiration

 

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 working a sampler directly from the books provided

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So we ended the first week with everyone having a piece of work to develop (or not!) for the next meeting…there were a few surprises in store.Some people had started new pieces and developed different techniques….

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embellishing a ready printed fabric is a really good way to get started…

some really adventurous samplers have been started..

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Vibrant Kantha motif sampler on hand dyed base – Naomi Clarke

then there was this perfectly ordered piece of quilting on top of a traditional Indian fabric heart

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Heart Kantha by Jo Hurst

Others continued to develop their own work – I do like the ancient next to the modern in the image below – traditional stork embroidery scissors, hand made pin cushion and mobile phone!

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continuing to develop the first colourful sampler – Jo Hurst

The motifs seem to be very popular but, like me Anne is trying some new colour background fabrics strips – really looking forward to seeing this develop

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strong coloured ground strips for experimental work by Anne Harrington

I hope she has more luck than I did! Eventually I want to make a large piece of work – at least 1 metre wide – so I had started off using wide strips – but found that the rhythms of the stitches started to develop a mind of their own, which I couldn’t get to grips with – so I chopped my original work into smaller segments and really let the running stitches go where they would – it is very exciting to work with…..but where do I go from here?

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my tiny but wayward stitched sampler of sky and sea kantha

Well  – where else but back to the third Kantha club meeting to see how everyone else has developed and if they all feel that they want to carry this experimental approach forward into a functioning club, with membership, regular meetings, guest speakers, exhibitions and all the other benefits joining a club entails….watch this space.

 

 

 

 

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Story Boards To Go

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mixed media story board – Ceema McDowell

The second class in the mixed Media Sampler Course at Heart Space Studios began by looking and assessing the finished story boards; several people needed help to get everything organised but here are the results so far….Ceema (above) has refined her theme, she has kept the silvered wallpaper but added a lot of spirals an various forms as well as exquisite Chinese style florals.

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rich and saturated colours in ripped collage formation by Jo Clarke

It is interesting to see how they have developed from last session, Jo (above) gave herself just a tiny bit more information to work with – the Kaffe Fasset postcard on the left hand side, has added a whole set of new information to play with – patchworks, Japaneses style prints, roses, decorative leaves  and diamond patterns- so just a small addition  can add a whole new continent to a theme!

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First Story Board by Marion

As I suspected, some people could just not make up their minds exactly which “story” to develop, often a real problem that stops the maker from progressing; every time they get stuck – they keep retuning to other ideas they have set aside! But the beauty of this discipline, and it is a basic design discipline, is that once you have embarked on this set of stimulus you just have to keep to it….I will make sure of it!

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Second Story Board by Marion Conlan

Marion brought in 2 boards, as she liked both so we put them up on the wall and had a group vote….the romantic mauve one won – but i said to keep hold of the vibrant red and gold version for other projects – nothing creative is ever rally wasted.

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Gold Control by Sophie Bristol

well Sophie’s work will have to be gilded, richly coloured and silky with very refined imagery in lots of stripes….

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lots of contrasting  imagery here from Shirley Paske.

Shirley has made a really eclectic patched and spacious board with lot of white space around the images, but an evocative warm colour palette that is redolent of rich cultural heritages. I can see, Indian textiles,American rural, Islamic carvings, and dyed and distressed fabric  and paper samples  – should be interesting to see this colour emerge in the different materials.

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pale, ethereal, silvered and stitched by Naomi Clarke

Naomi, has made a collaged picture – more a “mood” board than a story board – but this is an alternative name for this dicipline..mood boards are more nuanced, lees graphic – but I will still expect her to develop samples in the different media that conform to this look…

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Sartting to stitch wallpapers – this could be a really good theme to develop for Naomi

and looking at the way she has started to develop the theme she certainly intends to work with stitching decoratively on the papers – which was the theme of the second session.

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Sophie’s stash of threads ready to stitch prepared papers to correspond with her story board.

we prepared fabrics and papers by bonding them together in order to have the strength and resilience to take being stitched, either by hand or machine.

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bonding silk threads onto paper prior to cutting into shapes

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the right side to the silk ravel bonded into position

we got a lot of different materials ready to be stitched and collaged for the following sessions – everyone preferred the back of the silk ravells seen through the hand made paper.

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wonderful ravel of silk threads for Ceema to start stitching with.

but whatever we stitch with and whatever we apply in terms of materials and imagery – one thing has been established – the colours and quality of the inspiration….more to come.


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Story Boards

1 story board for Mixed media course

1 story board for Mixed media course with inspirational post card

New this term at  Heart Space Studios is a course of 9 sessions – working with mixed media. Debby Bird and I  are working together – we both started with Paper for the first session – later in the term we will add Leather and Suede, or felted  materials for the vegans amongst us. Working over a prolonged time (18 weeks) means that we need to develop some overall colour scheme and theme.

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colour story/mood board for book, Colour on Colour – Janet Haigh

So we started with a show and tell of our own mixed media work and I showed the group a series of colour stories or mood boards used in textile design companies to show the atmosphere and colour gamut of a collection. I use the same system for showing publishers to show how my books will look.

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a old postcard collection is the inspiration for the paper project .

I brought in  a pile of art postcards and other images for everyone to choose 1 or 2 or even 5 – from this they each had to develop their own story board, isolating colours, textures from their cards. At home they can inject their own imagery and  details.

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just 2 postcards selected here, a Fra Angelico angel and a modern quilted vest; but the tone and the colour is immediately apparent.

the  selections were very different from one another….

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selection of stronger colours and images Indain Painting , a Korean gown and a Polish naive paining.

we also offered a whole table full or wallpaper samples, Japanese papers, maps, books, tissue papers, paper-lace doilies, Chinese New Year Money – anything and everything to give inspiration

 

wall paper samples ready for selection

papers ready for selection

soon everyone was  at the table – it was a veritable feeding frenzy

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a flurry of paper selections

then the room went quiet as everyone tried to make some sense out of what they had chosen and the editing began…the first step of design.

discussing what to choose and where to place it

discussing what to choose and where to place it

slowly the selection became richer and more subtle.

one simple   strong textile provides inspiration for a beautiful clear and rich colour gamut

one simple strong textile provides inspiration for a beautiful clear and rich colour gamut

lots of variations follow…subtle and softly coloured,

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wide selection of subtle coloured and printed papers

and even more variations….

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rich strong colours elicited from 2 cards – a modern embroidery and a mosaic arch from 12th century Ravenna

some people just believe that more is more – as do I!

wonderful array of ripped papers from the Heart Space stash

wonderful array of ripped papers and fabrics

then when everyone was settling down Debby showed them  how to dye papers using simple wax resists……

preparing papers with resist dyes.

preparing papers with resist dyes.

subtle and refined papers were prepared when attention was given to the original post card images.

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2 papers subtle papers have been prepared by studying the worn surface of an old painted door

now these could be added to the mix. and attention given to the type of cutting or ripping and alignment of the papers to reflect the atmosphere and colour of the original selected postcards – learn to trust you initial instincts when starting a new design

cutting refined outlines when adding prints

cutting refined outlines when adding prints

eventually everyone managed to resolve their ideas into a piece of collaged work to take home and add some  more personal embellishments.

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softly coloured story board romantic and refined

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vibrant collage with strong sense of rhythm

 

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fresh and jaunty board of layered toning papers

Story Boards are a visual statement of intent – so we will be drawing everyone’s attention back to their finished board each time we sample a new technique over the coming weeks ….watch this space


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First Bristol Wool Fair

wool fair mascot

Gertie the Sheep at the Bristol Wool Fair

Gertie the Sheep just about sums up what the first Bristol Wool Fair held on Durdham Downs (which still has ancient grazing rights for sheep) was all about…amusing, colourful and very woolly in all parts…..The Wool Fair is the brain child of Sarah and David Harris who run a large and fully stocked yarn and fabric supply store called “The Spinning Weal

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first day gets underway decorating Gertie.

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Second day for Gertie

Gertie was the first neighbour I saw when I arrived to set up the Heart Space exhibition and stand. she was placed on a table with hundreds of lovely crocheted flowers at her feet…her face already made-up and a flower ticked behind her ear. each day she got more a more of the flowers added to her coat, by anyone who cared to assist. She was slowly dressed up each day and by the end of the show she was ready for her progress around the show ground – in a basket on a push trolley.

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end of second day

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Gertie on her final day

Heart Space Studios was invited to attend as part of the educational content alongside the various fibre and fabric guilds. I decided to mount an exhibition of the only completely woolen embroideries that I work – they are designs for the canvas work kit company Ehrman Tapestry.

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The Heart Space Studios’ stand at the Wool Fair – featuring my designs for Ehrman Tapestry Company

we also exhibited any of pur current workshops that feature wool – so knitted lampshades and some lovely beaded knitwear.

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detail of art- work and finished canvases in the exhibition with samples from the autumn workshops, knitted lampshades, felt jewellery and beaded knitting

Heart Space also gave demonstrations of various workshops ion offer, Amanda Jones, had a fascinated audience for knitting with beads – the beads are threaded onto the yarn first and then the fun begins…

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everyone enjoying the demonstration of beaded kitting by Amanda Jones.

Heart Space also helped with teaching anyone and everyone to learn to knit and crochet, several members of out Knit and Stitch clubs volunteered their services.

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Paula New, who runs the Wednesday morning Knit and Stitch club teaches a group of young people to get a grip of those large knitting needles

other demonstrations held by our tutors were also very popular; the children’s activity book made using felt  applique got a really attentive crowd.

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Iaria Padovani demonstrates the charms of teaching numerals in her felt activity book for younger children.

To be continued……


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Things With and Without Wings

folded book sculpture

folded book of flowers and butterflies – Ilaria Padovani

The world is full of surprises. You invite a group of people to develop ideas together in a studio in order to make work for a themed exhibition over a period of 6 weeks, then they go away and come back 3 weeks later with something completely different  – Hey Ho! BUT sometimes the things they bring back are so different and you realise that they have taken a new direction because of the theme  – what could be a better result?

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folded book with moths- Ilaria Padovani

So when Ilaria Padovani, who is a volunteer at Heart Space Studios, arrived the day before the deadline with 4 folded and paper sculpted books, I could only gaze in amazement (she was making a flight of patchwork butterflies last time we spoke)! I had asked everyone to write a few sentences about why they had done the work, knowing from experience that most people engage more easily and trust the words they read, rather than the images they view – I have the opposite point of view but that’s anther story!

 ‘VERBA VOLANT, SCRIPTA MANENT…Spoken words fly away, written words remain…’

  “This was my big sister’s reply to a letter I had written to her pontificating on how to raise her child. Although my intentions were good I had been arrogant and hurtful to someone I love dearly. After her phone call, I stayed up all night thinking of a way to show her how deeply sorry I was for my inconsiderate missive. I had wished the words I had written could have flown away from the page like a flutter of butterflies.

I started folding the pages of a book she used to read to me as a child. I folded a kaleidoscope of butterflies and arranged them soaring out of the pages. The making was cathartic to me and so was her forgiveness on receiving the book”.  

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stitched and printed air mail letter – Steph Wooster

Writing was a theme for many of the pieces in this mixed media exhibition. Steph Wooster, was researching ideas about carrier pigeons, doves and messages of peace, so this old airmail letter has been printed and then embroidered in cross stitch with a the one thing that you can’t give up when waiting for news. Steph’s images are truly mixed media, she prints, knits and embroiders onto papers and fabrics of different densities – layering the multiple sheets of images and text together.

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multi-media layered image of pigeons and laurel branches – Steph Wooster

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multi-media Hope dove – Steph Wooster

 

 

 ” I have an ongoing interest in mixing media, materials and processes. Attending workshops at Heart Space has introduced me to paper-cutting and patching processes that I have explored further with my knitting, stitching, printing and sketching. Making work for Things with Wings I immediately thought of pigeons. I love pigeons, grey, common, mundane and overlooked. Their invisibility and homing instinct led me to layering maps, graphs, envelopes, knitting, photographs, feathers and tracing paper. I wanted to show the humble pigeon as cousin of the dove who brought Noah the olive branch, embodying hope for the future.”

Mary Bishop has  used her own  hand-writing to inscribe poems and rhymes that have been illustrated by embroidering into papers and fabrics. I always recite this rhyme when I see any magpies – its an old English saying. Mary has condensed and enriched her first sample idea that she was working on in the studios to make these encrusted applique and collaged pieces.

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Magpie’s nest – Mary Bishop

My inspiration for this piece was my workroom which is like a magpie’s nest, full of bits that glitter and are pretty, things that cry out to be reused.  I really enjoyed reflecting it in this nest

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ladybird, Ladybird – Mary Bishop

I love ladybirds, so pretty and attracted to colour, I was really inspired by my many colours of threads to build up this flower bed and the cobweb to illustrate this lovely poem.

Keeping with framed pictures, Debby Bird made some really popular (and fast selling) beetle things, some with wings but the main interest for all the viewers was the materials she used, interference foil that distorts the light rays into rainbows of different hues being the most fascinating. The free machine-stitched insect boxes illustrate her idea that many insects are as precious and beautiful as jewellry displays.

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Things With Wings – Debby Bird

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Flying and Crawling Jewels – Debby Bird

“Despite being overlooked and under-loved , Insects are the most successful of the worlds’ species . They are so varied and often more beautiful than the most precious gems, yet they can take off and disappear before you get a proper look.

My free-stitched specimen boxes are representing the energy of live bugs just gathered for a quick inspection before they fly home!

There are classes is this technique by Debby in the new Heart Space Studios Autumn programme of workshops

Sarah Dennis cuts paper by hand and the results are stunning, she conducts her very popular workshops, both day and evening sessions, for Heart Space Studios. The 2 large pieces of work attracted a lot of admiration, people can’t believe that they are looking at a hand made piece of such simple means. I like her simple explanation for the genesis of her things with wings…..

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Deep Blue – papercut – Sarah Dennis

 I love nature; these pieces were inspired by watching a David Attenborough documentary.

Deep Blue was created after watching a scene where the ocean and the sky met together watching a bird dive from the sky and the whale swam around the surface of the ocean in a circular motion, the fishes sprung out of the waves into the sky. I wanted to capture the movement and life of that moment in paper.

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Flamingoes, paper cut – Sarah Dennis

Flamingos is a response to how astounded I always am by the incredible journeys that animals make to survive. I try to exemplify the beauty of nature through the delicate detail of paper.

Some people are really good with the words that they use to describe how they developed their imagery – Sophie Bristol, our administrator – studied History of Art for her BA hons. degree at the Courtauld Institute, so I was not surprised by her eloquence when she wrote about the piece that, at first glance, looks to be just a highly decorative triptych.

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gilded triptych – Sophie Bristol

 One of my greatest past-times is exploring flea markets, making chance discoveries of overlooked gems, which might not be particularly valuable, but are lovely none-the-less.

I recently stumbled across a pack of playing cards at a market, and was drawn to the gilded image of a bird on the reverse. The picture fascinated me because it was both beautiful and slightly sinister. I decided to incorporate the cards into a piece for the Wings and Things exhibition, using hand-embroidery skills, beading, and mixed-media techniques to continue to explore the tension between the beautiful and the macabre.”

Alas, my own framed pieces are very conventional – I had to make them relatively quickly at home in any spare time I could find, so relying heavily on my stitching skills, I made what I hope are amusing images of the ends of things….

“One of the daily tasks of running Heart Space Studios is sweeping the studio floor. Things found on the floor though, are often lovely – scraps of silk, ravels of multi-coloured threads and scatterings of beads; but as they are so small and dusty they usually get binned.

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the Apotheosis of the Embroidery Thread Ends – Janet Haigh silk hand embroidery

Buttons are another matter, they get used here for eyes and noses for toys made at children’s parties; but after a few months only the brown and beige buttons are left in the tins. I suspect that most homes harbour a tin of odd brown and beige buttons….

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the Apotheosis of the Beige Buttons – Janet Haigh, silk hand embroidery

I got to thinking “Ideally, what would happen to the beige buttons that no-one wants, or the teeny scraps of ragged fabric and threads? Where would they go, what would they become”? 

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the Apotheosis of the Fabric Scraps – janet Haigh, silk applique and patchwork

So now we get to the things out of the frames – I feel that out of the frame is perhaps a better way to develop work like this – so we had  a flight of dragonflies from Susi Bancroft, rather difficult to photograph, so here is just one; he looks kind of menacing – but as Susi says……

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One imaginary winged creature – Susi Bancroft. wire and beads

 “ inspired by my delight in watching dragonflies in flight whilst walking by the river. From pale green delicate ethereal things, to flashes of bright iridescent colours skimming the water, I caught my breath watching them. These creatures are an interpretation, a play on ideas. My mind wandered around the real as well as imaginary – the beauty of nature and the fantasy of invented things with wings – from fairies to surreal stinging insects! These may hang indoors or outdoors – catching light and breeze and hopefully raising a smile!

Made on the sewing machine from wire wrapped in glittery metallic thread with seed beads I pre-threaded on the wire – a somewhat exciting technique which requires some nerve!

But where are the things without wings? Well for a start there are lovey simple feathered heart shaped hangings form Jane- Marie Mahy, our display manager.

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Feathered Beaded Heart – Jane-Marie Mahy

” I was inspired by the work I have done in the past for Heart Space Studios simply decorating willow hearts which are rustic in texture against different found objects lovely old beads, buttons and lately clock faces. Feathers were the obvious things to add to the hearts for this project and making them into these angelic hearts”.And unusual beaded necklaces made by Ilsa Fatt, who teaches beaded jewellry making and often using her own lamp- worked beads as inspiration..

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black and white necklace _ Ilsa Fatt

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Re Necklace – Ilsa Fatt

 “The seed for the idea of Spirit-Bird necklaces came not from a bird, but a beetle.  I was thinking about the sacred Egyptian scarab beetle, which led me to thoughts on the strange Egyptian bird-headed gods.  These were in my mind when I first started making glass beads for the Heart Space exhibition.

As I worked, I became more and more drawn to the idea of the bird totems of the Pacific North West coast, such as the thunderbird that can shape-shift into human form.  The little glass birds that finally emerged are things-without-wings, but for me they embody the idea of wings, and of the power of imagination’s flight.

 

And now for both things with and without wings from Kirsten Hill-Nixon, who works with us teaching felt-making but has many other skills to be developed. she really took flight (sorry) with her imagination for this project.

 The image below does not do justice to this piece – it lives under a vintage glass dome so is very hard to see with reflections everywhere – It is made up from some dyed and embellished real chrysalis –  and the strange beings that have escaped from them…the twig is felted wool but everything else is metal and glass, with found objects like large beads and parts of domestic plumbing as well.

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Curious Chrysalis – Kirsten Hill-Nixon

 “What a Great Title ‘Wings and Things’ ‘Things’ could be literally anything! And with winged shoes, aeroplanes, sycamore seeds and half the animal kingdom to choose from what should I do?
I spread out all my shiny objects, threads and fabrics on a large table, things I have been hoarding for years waiting for an opportunity to use them – and here it is.  

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detail – Dragonfly, embellished chrysalis, tin foil, wire and beads – Kirsten Hill Nixon

 There is always a moment of great excitement finding a shiny beetle in the garden; that unexpected flash of sparkling wing on the dragonfly so Bugs it had to be. Small and precious like jewels, my winged things would need the protection of a glass dome just like the exotic specimens in a Victorian museum collection

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butterfly detail – copper, chrysalis, wire and beads – Kirsten Hill-Nixon

I spread out all my shiny objects, threads and fabrics on a large table, things I have been hoarding for years waiting for an opportunity to use them – and here it is. 

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sheer invention – Bugs  – Kirsten hill-Nixon

and just one more from this set of Things with Wings

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copper, wire and washers – Kirsten hill-Nixon.

 


 

 

 

 


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Construct: Stitched Exhibition

 

Caryn Geffyn

Starter – Don’t make a Meal of it – Caren Garfen

I seldom feel that my work fits easily into contemporary textile exhibitions –  it often looks too colourful, or too decorative, or even too old fashioned in its simply stitched narratives…but recently I have work exhibited in a group exhibition that feels like I belong. “Construct – eight textile artists explore identity” is showing at the Ruthin Craft Centre in North Wales.  Much of the work is expressed in the form of stitched domestic textiles: tablecloths, curtains, quilts and some clothes, and so my own embroidered counterpanes, bolsters and pillow cases of dreams feel very much at home.

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Hand embroidered Dream Pillow from my ‘Make it Through the Night’ series

I was invited to submit work earlier this year by Dr. Melanie Miller whom I met when we both gave presentations at the Textile Society’s annual conference, Embroidering the Truth in 2013. Melanie’s presentation was an up to the minute resume of textiles by recent graduates from MA courses; mine was an overview of my embroidered narrative commissioned works over the past 40 years. Melanie worked with June Hill to quickly bring a  focused exhibition together and also developed with Lisa Rostron, at Lawn Creative, an excellent and beautifully produced catalogue – well worth buying for a stand alone document even if you don’t catch the exhibition.

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printed patchwork bed cover – Caren Garfen

Walking into the exhibition space the large and airy gallery looks fresh and the work on the walls looks clean and tidy  – it also looks resolved. I often feel that much modern art textiles look like work in progress, like they have just been snatched out of the hands of the maker – full of possibilities and open to suggestion…  but here is a varied range of  ideas on identity, simply expressed with a rare degree of intent.

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Don’t Make a Meal of It detail. Caren Garfen

The work of Caren Garfen has many overlapping concerns with my own; she uses popular phrases and she employs a sly humour to subvert. Caren meticulously hand stitches screen printed images with messages found in advertising aimed at women to conform as thin glamorous domestic goddesses

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Wafer Thin – a study on the role of fat – Caren Garfen

Several of her pieces depict ranges of domestic tasks that usually fall to women to manage; the relentless repetition of her imagery, whether patched, printed or embroidered, echoes the repetitious nature of all domestic work, after all – a woman’s work is never done. The roll of fabric  printed and hand embroidered for ‘Wafer Thin’ is 10 metres long!

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Sarah Puts her Lipstick on – detail Naomi Ryder

Repetition is also a device used by Naomi Ryder – she records a daily task for many women – putting on make-up; for some a chore (me), for others a delight. By repeating the same but slightly varied image over a length of fabric she shows the time and energy spent on getting our public ‘identity’ in order before we go outdoors.The continuous daily tasks that women are expected to devote their time to – cleaning, ironing, shopping – she depicts by machine embroidering acutely observed small-scale line drawings onto lengths of sheer fabrics that recall net curtains.

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detail of Katherine’s Day, Naomi Ryder

Women’s work undertaken to construct an acceptable public identity is a subject shared by these 2 makers – but what of the men? Interestingly Nigel Hurlstone, I know, takes extreme care over his own personal presentation but as yet has never chosen to reflect on this in his work.

 

 

 

 

 

Nigel’s powerful group of stitched photographic portraits of men who have been very carefully costumed, create an ambivalent atmosphere – half jolly japes and half menace. The 9 pieces of work shown are based on a set of portraits of young men, taken between 1918 and 1950, in what could be construed as ‘fancy dress’  but presumably dressed up , or down, for the sexual delight of the photographer.

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machine embroidered photographic imagery – What Pleasure by Nigel Hurlstone

The men were dressed either as street urchins or soldiers and they were apparently picked up on the streets and then posed to conform to a sexual identity desired by the photographer…to my mind they look to be highly amused by the proceedings…..

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machine embroidered phot0graphic print – Nigel Hurlstone

However – the tight rows of machine stitching make the fabrics look like moire or water-marked and obscure the almost life-sized photographic images. I think this makes them initially more easily accessible to the viewer as we aren’t exactly sure of what we are seeing. The actual fabric is compelling, you can’t ‘read’ it easily and this allows the viewer an excuse for deeper scrutiny – close up and personal. The original subject matter was never meant to be for the public gaze,  at first glance the men look happy though not exactly innocent, but somehow when we are closer we are aware of an undertow of  sleaze or is it menace?

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Curtains to Independence – Women’s Auxiliary Service uniform made from vintage curtain material – Val Jackson

War and its effect on women’s change of identity is clearly a personal issue for Val Jackson. Her work deals with reflections upon her mother’s life – the uneasy transition from performing vital and fascinating war work in contrast to the traditional role of  wife and mother. Inheriting her mother’s effects, including her correspondence during the war, made it clear to Val that this transition had been difficult. The arresting burnt -orange curtain fabric uniform very neatly combines the 2, opposing? halves of a woman’s working life – the professional and the private.

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fabric figures ready for stop motion animation by Linda Barlow

From my own observations of friends and colleagues, the pull between motherhood and making your own work as an artist is a major modern predicament. Linda Barlow uses humour and cartoon representations to depict the complexities of managing this situation. Based on interviews with 8 such women she has made a short animated film – ‘Artist Mothers: a series of observations regarding the frustrations of being an artist and a mother”. It does what it says on the tin – refreshing not to have a punning title – I am guilty of the over use of puns myself…note for later.

Women artists often choose to who work within a community – I always think that this is half way between being a social worker and an artist and a really decent thing to pursue. Two such people have this type of work exhibited; Deidre Nelson,who has chosen to work around the world, using textiles as a means of defining the social history of an area, often working with local groups of people, and Lyn Setterington – who makes quilts based on the Kantha technique.

 

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Signature quilt – Lynn Setterington

Lyn also works on textile based projects within communities; quilt making is historically a community based production, so her own interest in the history of her chosen medium makes a natural lead to this activity. She has recently become fascinated by Signature Quilts and I share this interest – Crazy Quilts – which fascinate me, often contain signatures and messages and they do make the mind start the journey to who exactly made this. There is at present, in artists’ textiles, a fascination with writing as evidenced here – and as part of the education programme at Ruthin Craft Centre I have undertaken to teach 2 workshops for different styles of hand stitched writing while the exhibition is still showing in July.

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family names quilt detail- Lyn Setterington

Lynn sees the signature quilts as a form of social networking, as she brings groups of people together to make to celebrate their local community. A richly embroidered quilt stood out in the exhibition, the Streepur Quilt

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I enjoyed the wealth of embroidery that was evident on the quilts. Rich in many different stitches they are a testament that decorative embroidery is alive and well somewhere in the world. I can see pattern darning, running stitch, chain stitch, back stitch and coral knot just in these 4 samples as well as crochet and Broidery Anglaise even if machine made. I also like the change in “taste” that this quilt brought to the exhibition, they had so much energy and joyfulness – but maybe that is just a reflection of my identity as an embroiderer at heart.

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