Last week I went with a group of fellow members from ” Textile Forum South West” to several of the venues in the Stroud International Textile Festival 2010, which goes on until the 23rd May. Visiting this festival is always fascinating as it brings some of the most prestigious textile artists in the world to this small Gloustershire town and there are exhibitions in shop windows, church halls and open studios. But we also wanted to see our members’ work, which was shown in various venues, so I have to say from the off, that this is quite a biased view of things. I always feel a little nervous of viewing exhibitions by people I know, especially if I don’t know their work – I obviously want to see it out of sheer curiosity but what will it be like? and say I don’t like it – well “like” isn’t exactly what I mean, but will I be able to appreciate it – will it alter my view of the person?
So first we visited the Brunel Broderer’s, a small eclectic group who are celebrating their 20th anniversary this year. The title CURIOUS DRAWERS made me slightly nervous as well, embroiderers love closets and chests of drawers, usually the smaller the better which can lead so easily to the twee and fanciful. Several of my fellow committee members were showing here, some I knew well and some I had just met. Would their work be a match to my opinions of them made when working together; the one thing we rarely do is talk about our own work, when we have committee meeting there is so much stuff to get organised for the future of the Forum.
But I have seen Liz Harding’s work before and this was the first exhibit I saw, a sturdy brightly painted chest of drawers opening to reveal all sorts of stuff, maps, string, leaves a “cabinet of curiosities” collected from walks with her boxer dog Tiggy. Above this, was a large scale embroidery in dyed and hand stitched organdie, referencing the contents of one of the drawers, a work in progress.
So far so good, this work reflected and strengthened my impression of her work which is developed from her own found materials and based on strong drawing and stitching skills. I thought that the panel was handsome and though simple in design, very subtle and rich in its construction and colour. I hope that there are more to see in this series.
The next set of work I reacted to strongly was by Kay Swancutt, because here I recognised some of my own research into historical textiles, patchwork papers, which are used for the backings of English hand- sewn patchworks. Kay seems as intrigued as I am by these incidental documents.
I am never sure how I feel at first when I see work that is based in the same research as my own, it ranges from “oh Hell, that’s really great – why didn’t I see that? to ” oh no, I am just too late to get making my piece as people will think I have copied this one” Of course neither of these reactions makes any sense at all, we all work from out of our traditions in some form of another even if it is to completely reject it – you have to know what you are reacting to. What got me about this exhibit was that her work was so elegant and I know mine is destined to become a full- on colour fest, more in keeping with an original sample – a traditional piece of Victorian mosaic patchwork which I am currently working from to make a “Secret Security Blanket”. I was also intrigued by Kay’s work as I hadn’t known what to expect and here was something so very connected to my own – must talk to her next time we meet.
Then another real shock, Susi Bancroft’s embroidered hands complete with messages, the hands stitched by machine (phew- not quite the same as mine then) but definitely in the act of making stuff and with messages written all over the background. My last piece of work has a similar look to it although the ideas behind it are totally different, and even spookier when I looked into the drawers below it what did I see but embroidered hearts….
Now this is weird because I had just met Susi the previous day at a meeting, so I had no idea of what to expect. But how fascinating to have found such strong connections to my own current work from both of these people, they will be aware if each others’ work but they are both new to me; but we have such connected ideas which we are using for different reasons in different contexts, maybe we should consider some sort of collaboration or a meeting just to discuss and cross reference.
But the most surprising thing was almost the last piece of work I looked at, a large dark chest of drawers drilled and waiting to be stitched by anyone who fancied it, bold, colourful and fun to watch as people responded to it. This was by Alison Harper, a quiet and considered person who I have known for almost a year. I had expected her interactive work to be as ethereal as she seems, but then I saw another set of drawers by her….made of the thinnest tissue paper and delicately stacked – that’s definitely more in keeping with my perception of her – must ask her about the stitched drawer piece though.
Now we went off to see an open studio The Textile Studio, in the middle of Stroud, part of a mixed arts studio complex called Stroud Valleys Artspace. Here I felt at home, I worked with printed textile design students on a B.A. course in Bristol for many years and I could sense that this was a busy and productive space, spruced up for the occasion but still vibrant and full of a good energy. This really made me consider why I work at home alone, but I need my own space to really be able to concentrate for hours at a time when stitching by hand and thinking about the work, here there would be too much to look at and distraction by good company.
Next was the journey to the park to see the main exhibition but on the way we swerved into a delightful vintage clothes and textiles shop aptly called Strangeness and Charm. We descended on the stock like a flock of chattering birds, riffling through racks of delicious printed dresses and embroidered and beaded blouses oohing and aahing at the fake jewellry and tiny feathered hats which some of us remembered our mothers wearing at weddings
Then off to the other side of the town and across a park to see the main event, Vision into Colour, an exhibition mainly of the work of Edinburgh tapestry weavers – it was really vibrant – COLOUR COLOUR COLOUR -what a change from usual. For years I have wandered around so many textile exhibitions feeling starved of colour, I usually have to go immediately and buy myself an ice cream to remedy my sensory deprivation – now how wonderful to see so much refined and unusual colour, if you can go and visit this show at Gallery 1 Museum in the Park, Stratford Park, Stroud.
But the one set of work that really spoke to me exhibited near the entrance of the gallery, a tableaux by a local maker Annie Hutchinson. She says she works with recycled memories stitched with mementos, signs and symbols – well that resonates with me, but the work is really curious, sort of a cross between the stitched monkey (see Commissions) and those terrible Victorian stuffed animals, like stoats or even worse – frogs, which are fully clothed and made into tableaux, sitting around a dinner table or something equally bizarre. However this work is as evocative and charming as it is unsettling, like all true fairy tales.