Thursday 16 February 2017

Dr. Who's New Scarf

Dr. Who's New Scarf (detail)
The Heathlands Project, 2016

Over the past few years I've been building up the Textiles department at The Heathlands Project and it's now a popular and busy section. The members have really developed their skills and ideas and have been creating some very beautiful and inspiring work. Our timetables change every few months (with the members choosing which sections they want to work in) so my groups change and whilst some members always like to pick this section others like to try it for a while and then have a change. When the groups changed last year my Thursday Morning Textiles group decided they wanted to make work together.

Working together on large pieces of paper to create designs

Working together on large pieces of paper to create designs

Design ideas and notes
For their first project they decided that they wanted to use felt and we had a varied range of inspirations; space, flowers and rainbows. We began by covering the table with paper and everyone started to draw their ideas and designs onto this paper. This gave us a starting point for our felt piece which was made over the course of several weeks.

Laying out the base

Laying out the base

Starting to add the background

We began with a base of natural white fleece (because it's the cheapest!) and then built up the background with dark colours of merino fibres; black, dark greens and blues and purple. We worked in layers to make a strong fabric and it was good to see the more experienced members helping out those who were new to felt making.

Making the background

Making the background

On top of our base felt we used bright colours of merino and a bit of silk to create designs based on our original drawings. At this point the design of the piece really started to come together and we began to get an idea of how the final piece would look. Then the hard work started; rolling out the felt. As we were working on a big piece but there were quite a few of us we worked in teams to roll the felt until all the fibres were felted and holding together. Once again I was impressed at how well the group worked together, encouraging each other and cheering each other on.

Building up the design

Building up the design

Building up the design

Once the piece was fully felted and rinsed out we wanted to give it a title, as the piece was long and thin and definitely had a spacey feel we decide to call it Dr. Who's new scarf. The group worked so well together on this project from start to finish. I encouraged the members who'd done felt-making with me before to lead on a lot of the sessions and it was great seeing them take responsibility and explain how to do things. The group enjoyed the process so much they decided to carry on working as a group and create a winter themed hanging, more on that at another time.

The finished piece

Dr. Who's New Scarf (detail)
The Heathlands Project, 2016

Dr. Who's New Scarf (detail)
The Heathlands Project, 2016

Sunday 12 February 2017

Prism Arts Gallery Trail at Tullie House

The start of our Gallery Trail...

One of my 'proper jobs' is as Lead Artist on Prism Arts Studio Arts programme, a visual arts programme for adults with disabilities. The programme developed from the Studio Theatre programme (which I also worked on) when we recognised that there was a really strong developing interest in the visual arts amongst our participants but no opportunity to explore and develop that interest. Studio Arts provides that opportunity and over the past couple of years the group have learnt a huge amount and are really developing as individual artists.

Objects from Tullie house Collections

Work in progress...

Work in progress...

Work in progress...

Following on from other projects with Tullie House (such as the response work to Cumbrian Art: Picturing Places and Richard Slee) the Studio Arts group have been working on a big project related to the Craftspace and Outside In touring exhibition Radical Craft: Alternative Ways of Making which is showing at Tullie House from now until 26th March. This is a fascinating show featuring the work of 34 artists who, for various reasons, are considered to be 'outsider' artists.

Drawing from the objects

Developing designs

Work in progress...

We felt this was a great opportunity for us to work with Tullie House and to give our artists the chance to exhibit work there. After talking to Tullie House we decided that it would be really interesting to create a gallery trail through the Border Galleries with work inspired by Tullie's collections as well as the Radical Craft exhibition.

The Hound Creation: Harvey Tye

Flags: Andrew Evans

Stitched Coins: Rosie Thompson

Obviously, our participants couldn't respond to an exhibition they hadn't seen so  instead we researched some of the artists featured in the exhibition; their stories, ways of working and inspirations. We then had access to a selection of objects from the Tullie House collections which we used as starting points. We also made visits to the galleries, with each artist finding inspiration in different objects.

Dragon: Michael Morley

Sheep, Cat, Dog: Michael Morley

Bowl: Caroline Stanley

Over the course of the last four months the artists have developed their ideas and work through a range of techniques and media, including drawing, textiles, sculpture and collage and have created a series of pieces that sit within the Border Galleries. As well as being beautiful and interesting objects in themselves part of the idea is that by juxtaposing them with the artefacts in the museum viewers will be prompted to look more closely and hopefully make new connections and stories around the museum's objects.

Rome: Jonathan Harkins

The Knights Crest: John Lake

Amber's Dresses: Amber Bloxham

I think the gallery trail works really well, the pieces that the participants have made work well in their settings and I think it provides a new and exciting way to explore the galleries. Although it has been quite a stressful process it has also been a lot of fun and I think it has stretched the artists and shown them what they can achieve when they really commit to something.

Martha and Friends: Michelle Watson

Drawing: Andy Wright

Sampler (detail) Claire Harper

There are two starting points for the trail; one in the art gallery (where Radical Craft is on show) and one in the lift lobby. At these starting points you can pick up a gallery trail and go and explore!

Embroidery: Andy Wright

Buttons: Cheryl Hickman

Wednesday 1 February 2017

Spinning Progress

Hand spun Merino yarn

A little over a year ago I learnt to spin. I initially learnt so that I could use the spinning wheel we'd been donated at The Heathlands Project with the members there. However, I very quickly became addicted and within a couple of months I had my own wheel and a rapidly growing stash of hand-spun yarn.

First attempts...

Experimenting with adding feathers

My first attempts were very lumpy and bumpy and uneven, although not without their own charm! With practice my spinning has improved and although I'm far from expert I can now spin a reasonably even and smooth yarn. I even treated myself to a chunky flyer so I can also spin chunky yarns now (which, surprisingly, is harder than spinning fine yarns.)

Making rolags with white wool tops and nepps

Spinning with the jumbo flyer

Chunky yarn

Chunky yarn

I've enjoyed experimenting with spinning different fibres and it's been a great way of working through my fibre stash, although in reality what has happened is that I have transferred it from the fibre stash to the yarn stash. I think this year I will have to work on using up some of my hand-spun yarns.

Rolags for my Magpie Yarn

Magpie Yarn
Magpie weaving using my hand spun yarn and other materials

I'd always been intrigued by spinning but had shied away from trying it as I thought it would be far too time consuming to produce any useful quantity of yarn. I've been surprised by how quickly I can create a skein of yarn that I can then go on and use for other things (or sit and admire.) As with  many textile processes I'm drawn to the somewhat alchemy like nature of spinning; creating something precious from something everyday. I like being able to produce the materials I use in my work myself.

Fleece bought at Woolfest

Being spun...

...into yarn

Over the past year walking, being out in the natural world and collecting and using natural materials has become increasingly important in my work. Spinning feels like an extension of this, working with natural fibres to create yarns that I can then dye or use as they are. One of the things I want to explore further this year is natural dyeing. I've already dyed up some of my hand-spun and am looking forward to doing more, particularly when the weather improves and things start growing again!

Dyeing with logwood

Dyeing with Kool Aid

Dyeing with Kool Aid

In something of a contradiction to my previous point about connections with the natural world I did experiment with dyeing my yarn with kool-aid; about as far from natural as you can get. However, it's a very easy process and I'm pleased with the results. Having seen what it does to yarn though there's no way I'd actually drink it! Even without dyeing spinning is a great way to experiment with colour, blending different fibres together to create unique yarns with subtle (or bold) variations in colour and texture.)

Bowl made from my chunky hand spun yarn

Fingerless gloves knitted from my hand spun yarn

Fingerless gloves knitted from my hand spun yarn

One of the main reasons that I've got so into spinning is that it is incredibly relaxing. It's a very gentle movement and very tactile, I can happily spend an hour or two feeding the fibre through my hands and creating something beautiful and useful. I find it a good way to unwind if I'm feeling tense or stressed, the repetitive actions are soothing and there's the added bonus of a finished product! On that note, I'm off to do some more spinning...