Wednesday 27 August 2014

Weaving a Nest

Willow nest in the Cherry tree

As I wrote about a little while ago I've got a slight sphere/nest obsession thing which has been going on for some time. I recently made a piece on the theme of 'home' for an on-line exhibition based on my nest ideas. This weekend Mr. Stitches decided he wanted to cut the hedges and trim the little Glasgow Willow in our front garden, I asked him to save the willow for me as I thought I might have a go at a bit of weaving.

The raw materials

Work station

I started off with no real plan, I just wanted to have a play about with the willow and see what would happen. I'm planning to do a traditional basketry evening course this term so I thought a bit of free form messing about might be good. Obviously the willow I was working with was very fresh (leaves and everything) and I had a somewhat random selection of lengths and widths. However, I chose to embrace this as part of the project and one of the things I'm really interested in is to see how the piece changes over the coming weeks, how it weathers and if it can retain it's structure.

Willow circles

Starting to take shape

I began by making a few different sized willow circles by gently flexing and bending the willow and wrapping it around itself. As I started playing around with the circles the idea of a nest popped back into my head so I set off (very vaguely) in that direction.

Nest entrance

The finished nest sculpture

I've done a fair bit of willow weaving (mostly giant puppets!) but this was quite different. As I was working with quite short lengths and unstripped stems it was harder to see the structure emerging and I've ended up with quite dense areas and very open areas rather than a more even spread. I also was not using tape, as I have done previously, but relying on the willow itself and a few bits of linen thread (I wanted the whole thing to be totally bio-degradable) which has led to a perhaps less strong structure than I would normally create.

Finished sculpture hanging up

Weave detail

Entrance detail

Despite these challenges (and a very limited supply of stems) I persevered and I'm quite pleased with the result, which I've hung in a tree in our back garden. I'm looking forward to seeing how the nest changes and alters over the coming weeks, how the weather and nature will affect it and how long and in what format it will survive. Maybe I will wake up tomorrow to a pile of twigs and a heap of thread or maybe it will survive the winter and the climber that grows up the tree will colonise it, or maybe something entirely alternative...

Saturday 23 August 2014

Silvery Threads

The Silver Thread, machine embroidery on dyed and painted organza. 2014

Another competition and another piece of work! I saw this particular call for submissions quite early in the year but didn't have chance to work on my entry until quite near the deadline (nothing like a deadline to get you going!) The competition was run by Norwich based charity the Costume and Textile Association. To celebrate their 25th anniversary they ran an open textiles competition on the theme 'Silvery Threads.'


As soon as I saw the brief I had an idea of the kind of piece I would like to make; something to do with hands making to carry on from my drawings of hands engaged in various textile practices such as knitting, crochet and stitching. Having started to experiment earlier in the year with machine embroidered drawings on organza I decided that this would be a good option to explore further.

An embroidery from earlier this year

My experience with display and mounting of my stitched drawings earlier this year made me very aware of how the work should be displayed so I tried to keep this in mind throughout the time I was working on the piece.  To fit in with the theme of silvery threads I had decided I would use silver thread for the embroidery and I also wanted to incorporate a silver yarn. So, after drawing and playing about with ideas I decided to create a stitched drawing of hands crocheting, with the yarn the hands were crocheting forming a long, silver chain that would fall off the edge of the piece. I was thinking a lot about silvery threads and spider webs and the various creation myths associated with spiders and threads.

Stitch detail

Stitch detail

The piece was quite challenging to work on for a number of reasons. Firstly, as usual, my drawing ended up really big so manipulating it around the sewing machine was awkward. Secondly, metallic thread is not the easiest to work with and I had to work with it in the bobbin so I was in effect working backwards (the right side of the work being face down.) As I was working on organza this wasn't too bad I just had to keep checking I was going in the right direction!

Crochet chain

Hem detail

However, by far the biggest challenge came in trying to photograph it. When I hung it in front of a wall the camera was unable to pick up the silver thread, so the pictures just looked like a random blue rectangle. When I photographed it with light behind the drawing was clear but not that it was in silver thread. So, for my submission I had to do a halfway house. I sent a picture photographed against the light so you could see the drawing and a detail against a dark background so the silver thread would show up. The piece wasn't selected but I learnt a lot making it and I've got a few ideas out of my system so I can now focus on other things. Onwards and upwards!

Thursday 14 August 2014

All that glitters is not Gold

All that Glitters is not Gold,
Screen print and embroidery

I have recently finished another magpie piece, this time using screen printing and hand embroidery. After I had made my last magpie embroidery (Hail to the Thief) I carried on drawing magpies and playing around with ideas connected to them and found that I had lots of other pieces of work I wanted to make and develop. I think that there may before too long be a whole series of magpie based art works! 

Magpie screen print on fabric

Magpie screen print on black paper

Screen print detail (fabric)

Usually when I work on a piece I begin with drawings and an idea which I then sketch and write about until I have a rough outline (at least in my head) of how I am going to make the piece. This piece was slightly different, although it did begin with drawings. I was doing some 1:1 work with an emerging artist and we were exploring screen printing; partly to demonstrate with and partly because I just really like screen printing I made a three layer stencil of a magpie. I wasn't originally going to add much stitch but once I started I felt that I really wanted to make a heavily embellished piece with lots of texture and colour. 

Getting started

Leg detail

Building up the colours

I choose the colours and stitches as I went along, referring to my drawings and photos for guidance and frequently unpicking areas if they were not as I wanted them. I wanted to use rich, precious threads for the magpie so a lot of the threads are silk and are hand dyed. 

Foot detail

Head detail

Wing detail

As the last magpie piece had come from the starting point of silver and my ideas have been revolving around the odd relationship we have with magpies (they are surrounded with superstitions and suspicions; we call them thieves yet we also salute them, berate their penchant for shiny trinkets but admire their glossy and iridescent plumage) I decided to perch the magpie upon a pile of pretty, but essentially worthless, pearls and crystals. None of the pearls or crystals are 'real' and most have been reclaimed from old necklaces. This use of 'fake' materials brings up questions of authenticity and how we place value on things. As I work in an often maligned medium these questions are central to my work. 

Thursday 7 August 2014

Home (and the benefits of talking it through)

Nests, 2014

As I keep saying, this year I am focusing on getting back to my own personal artistic practice and developing my work. To this end I have been making more time to spend in my studio and I have been entering competitions and answering calls for entries for quite a range of exhibitions and opportunities.

Nest/sphere drawings

One recent call for submissions that I made a piece of work for was from Gallery 202 for an on-line exhibition entitled 'Home.' (The resulting gallery is really interesting. There is a wide range of responses and media and some of the pieces are great, I'm enjoying working my way through and exploring other people's art works.)  The title seemed to fit well for an idea I've had buzzing round my head for some time based on nests. One of my favourite things to draw when I get stuck are these spiralling, sphere nest like shapes. I've been wanting to create them in various forms for a while and the recent felt making workshops I'd been running had also pushed them to the front of my mind.

The start of the larger nest

Finishing the smaller nest

I did not have much time as I saw the call quite late so I decided to crochet the nests from wool and then felt them. This was a process I wanted to experiment a bit more with anyway so it seemed like an ideal opportunity. The smaller nest is crocheted from a 100% wool yarn whereas the larger one is about 80% wool so it has not created quite such a dense fabric when felted. This allows a little more stitch definition, showing the original process.

Detail before felting

Detail after felting

Small felted nest

My original plan had been to crochet the nests, felt them and then either colour the insides or line them in some way. I would then arrange them, in a suitably artistic fashion of course, and that would form my piece of work. However, when I was speaking to my partner about it he suggested adding sticks. I must confess that my first instinct was to reject his idea out of hand, however, I listened and I began to warm to the idea (after a good argument about WHY I should add sticks.) I went away and experimented with driftwood, twigs and bamboo sticks until I found an arrangement that I thought worked. I liked the way the straight, regular lines of the sticks (which I painted black) contrasted and defined the nests. They made me think of architecture and how spaces define us, make us behave or feel in certain ways; how home suggests safety, softness and warmth (as textiles and particularly felt does) yet the materials that make the home (brick, concrete, tile, timber) are not often associated with these things.

Nests (detail)

Nests (detail)

I also like that it's not something I would ever have come up with myself. Sometimes it can be quite isolating working away on your art (tiny violin) and I think it's good to step outside of your bubble, get some input from others and try something different. It won't always work out but you never know where a conversation might lead.

Sunday 3 August 2014


Screen Printed Saws

Last month Tullie House and Prism Arts offered a commission opportunity for an outsider artist to respond to the work of Richard Slee (who currently has a major exhibition at Tullie House.) I thought that one of the people I support up at The Heathlands Project would be interested in this opportunity and that his work would fit the brief very well. When I spoke to him about it he was very keen and began working on some ideas.

Drawings from the exhibition

Getting ready to print

The first colour

Unfortunately he didn't get the commission, however, the selection panel (which included Richard Slee as well as representatives from Tullie House and Prism Arts) really liked his work and Prism Arts decided to offer him a small grant. The grant included some mentoring time from a Prism Arts artist (in this case me) as well as some money towards materials. The work that comes from the mentoring will form part of the C-Art exhibition in the Prism Arts studios in September.

Two colours done

Screen print on fabric

So, for the past couple of weeks I have been working with this artist to help him further develop his skills and ideas and work towards a finished piece of work. He had already expressed an interest in screen printing so that was one of the main areas for us to explore and also the use of stitch.

Adding stitch

Screen print with stitching

We began by visiting the Richard Slee exhibition to get some inspiration and do some drawings. We then used these drawings to create stencils. These stencils were then used to create a screen print. As his design involved three colours he made three separate stencils. His style is very bold and graphic so screen printing is a great way to show this off.

Saw detail

Saw detail

At the start of the second session I asked him whether he wanted to do more screen printing or to work into the prints from the first session. After a discussion about pop art and working in multiples he decided he wanted to work into the prints from last week. So, we spent the day looking at embellishing the work with stitch. Using small running stitches to outline his designs is a technique he has employed before and I think it is very successful here. Although it is simple it is very well done and adds a delicate, hand made element to the otherwise quite harsh lines of the print and subject matter. This also fits well with the playful approach of Richard Slee.

I am looking forward to seeing how he chooses to finish the piece. We discussed several options but he has chosen to take his time and consider it before reaching  his decision. Hopefully it has been a beneficial experience for him and enabled him to explore a new technique and have time to develop a piece of work. It has been very rewarding for me being able to see how the work has developed from idea to almost completed and to have been able to help by giving some guidance and technical assistance.