Tuesday, 16 May 2017
So here I am on the tablet. That's a funny word for a little laptop. Musing about why I make what I make. I have recently been playing with books, still in progress but here's a sneaky peek...
It's surprisingly satisfying to stitch paper, whodathunkit?
But where do the kantha and the kangaroos come in, I hear you ask? I made a pouch. It's what little rectangular scraps of stitched cloths often become. I found a piece of cotton wadding (batting) with little scrapments of sari silk pinned to it. I don't remember doing that but it must have been me. No one else in the house would do such a thing... So I framed the weird shape I had created with some old cotton and kantha stitched right through in both directions. I ended up with a mini quilt, the perfect size for a mouse. But there are no mice here. Monsieur Barney Cat sees to that. So I made a pouch. I like pouches, they are so pouchy and useful for holding things. Marsupials have them. Kangaroos are marsupials. I like kangaroos. They look weird. If they didn't exist and someone made them up, you wouldn't believe they were real. I like kangaroos so much, I named one of my children 'Joey'. I don't know if that is why I like pouches, if there's a link. But kantha and kangaroo are words that fit nicely together and that is link enough. Here's my kantha kangaroo (pouch)...
Are you drawn to making certain things over and over? Can a woman ever have enough pouches? Kangaroos make do with one... k3n x
Monday, 24 April 2017
Here is a selection of my Cuddle Cloths.
My Mother's Day Bouquet Cloth. Two strips of silk into which I bundled the wilted flowers and leaves. Steamed for half an hour in a semi-used onion skin dyebath. I often have one of those sitting around. Left for a week, opened, rinsed, pressed, sandwiched up with a strip of walnut-dyed silk noil and kantha stitched. I put the last stitches in yesterday and felt sad and satisfied at once. It has no 'purpose'. It is too small for a scarf or shawl, too precious for a table runner, too long for a book wrap, too unassuming (and double-sided) to be hung on the wall. It is a Cuddle Cloth, no more, no less. It gives me pleasure and preserves the precious bunch of flowers from my precious daughter forever. If someone asks 'what is it FOR?', there's my answer.
This is the newest addition to the family. A piece of lichen-inspired embroidery on a scrap of old linen, gifted to me by a friend. This was begun on Friday during a workshop with the sublime Alice Fox where we looked at ways to stitch with found objects. Here are all my loose threads pulled from natural dyed cloths, kept because I can't bear to discard them. In among are some actual scraps of dried, dead lichen. I will not take live lichen (even that growing on dead wood may be alive). It grows too slowly and some is endangered. I am not expert enough to know which is prolific and which is rare so I leave it all and take only photos. But these small wisps were blowing free, completely dead and dried. Little openings in the threads invited holes. That is what I am working on at the moment, the holes. There will doubtless be seeding in the future. Possibly French knots. We will see. This is a Make-It-Up-As-I-Go-Along Cloth. I am enjoying stitching it.
This is my Going in Circles Cloth and with it, some Nine Patches from salvaged denim. For now, they sit together in a basket as if they may belong but they haven't yet been joined by stitch. They are living together first to see if it works out, before they tie the knot. Or not.
The cloth itself needs more work. There are many more ways to make a circle with cloth and stitch to be explored.
My Fallen Leaves Cloth, begun in a day's stitching session with Caroline Bell, who showed me how to make the holes. I examine this daily, it sits over my office chair. I often feel the urge to stitch it but the spaces are nearly all filled and I am not yet ready for the Finish. I am saving it for One Day...
Some Sixteen Patches made from a selection of natural dyed cloths. Just Because Cloths. There are four, there may be more, or not. They may be joined into one big Sixty Four Patch and stitched some more. They are deliciously multi-textured, due to the different weights of cloth (linen, silk noil, old flannel sheet, Osnaburg, wool, recycled cotton shirting). They are also invitingly flat. Hand stitched seams, finger pressed open then stitched down. They create a new checkerboard cloth that invites a second layer for substance and then some more stitch. They are simple things, these four squares of squares, but they hold such Promise. While they wait, and tempt, they are Cuddle Cloths.
These cloths are from my Beach Bundle last February - Ten Turns of the Tide. I want them to become A Piece. To have Importance. Especially since I have recently been alerted to a suitable call to entry with a looming Deadline. But these cloths are mute. They tell me nothing of what they should be. I keep thinking of the ripples the tide makes in the sand. The relentless in and out, twice a day, without fail. But these thoughts won't translate into action. Yet.
If the Deadline is missed, there will be another.
Tuesday, 11 April 2017
Some random thoughts on edges.. A raw edge has possibilities. It can soften, give a little of itself, fray. Its limits are blurred and yielding. Interesting how different cloths handle being torn. Some part easily, without regret and leave a neat row of even fringing. Others fight the rending and scar across the cloth where threads cling on to the last. Then leave long and short jagged thread tails.
How to unite two strips of cloth so they become one, seam-lessly? An overlapped edge creates a flatter cloth for stitching later. No seam-bump. No ditch to fall into. Just a gentle gradient to stroll up and slide down. Because the joining is only the beginning. Later comes the embellishing. Plying the needle over the edges, to and fro and around in circles. Uniting the torn parts into a whole-cloth again. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. 😊 xx
Thursday, 6 April 2017
Running stitch -
In parallel lines
In staggered lines
Tuesday, 4 April 2017
So as it's roughly a year since I turned at a crossroads (perhaps it was more a T junction, or a fork in the road), it seems like a good time to review 'where I'm to' as they say here in Somerset. So the article came along at the right time. Funny how that happens. After reading it,I made a list of the concepts I find important.
Fluidity of practice
Being true to myself
But first let me back up a bit.
Around two years ago, I finished a series called Evolution - a Brief History of the Universe from the Big Bang to the Present Day. You can see the pieces here. The techniques I used, mostly with commercial fabrics and some of my own procion hand dyes were stitch and flip, fabric collage, confetti, a LOT of machine top stitching and free machine quilting, some hand stitch, lots of surface embellishment with silk waste, angelina fibres, sheer overlays, fabric confetti, beads etc, all designed and assembled using a technique I developed based on quilt as you go. That's a long list and the pieces reflect that. They are rich and vibrant and they tell a story. Whenever I exhibit them or give my talk based upon them, they are admired. I still take bookings for the workshop teaching people to make their own version. I am proud of them, I feel they are an impressive body of work.
|Supernova from the series Evolution - A Brief History of the Universe from the Big Bang to the Present Day|
|Pahoehoe - touring with the On The Edge exhibition |
with the Contemporary Quilt Group of the
Quilters Guild of the British Isles
But I wanted a change. My home is full of my work. It covers the walls in all the rooms. There is older work rolled up under the bed. I have been very prolific. I wanted to take a more process-focused, considered approach. I wanted to return to my first love, hand stitching. Years ago, all my traditional quilts were hand pieced and hand quilted. Before I was lured by the possibilities of the sewing machine. I used to hand embroider, do English Paper Piecing and crazy patchwork. Now there is nothing wrong with the sewing machine or the work it produces. Teaching myself to do freehand machine quilting gave me a huge boost creatively. I didn't believe I was artistic, didn't think I could draw until I learned to 'draw' with the sewing machine needle. It is a great skill to have and has given me countless hours of pleasure. But over the past year or so, I have felt the need to slow down. Perhaps it's since I reached my half century? Who knows!
Anyway, to review I thought it would be good to itemise the things I wish to focus on, so I don't get distracted or diverted, so here goes. These are the practical how and whats. I don't think it suits me to specify a style or voice. Hopefully that will come through. I plan to review later, in the light of my list at the top.
Repurposed or vintage cloth wherever possible
Vintage threads ditto
Vintage lace ditto
All the above to be natural fibres
Modify my exisiting commercial fabrics and threads by overdyeing or 'ageing' with tea
Found objects, rust, plant materials for printing and dyeing
NB carefully consider purchases and consumption of new materials
|Vintage cotton and linen - charity shop finds|
|Selection of vintage and naturally dyed threads|
Eco printing and natural dyeing with rust, kitchen waste and plant materials.
Hand stitching (more below)
Working with nature eg the Cloth Cache project (see earlier posts)
Making 'useful' items as well as art pieces
|Recycled cloth dyed with brown onion skins|
That's a short list of techniques with some broad categories on it. I need to give more thought to how I want to work within those parameters.
It is a perpetual temptation to try new things and I have fallen foul of this in the past. But referring back to the article mentioned at the beginning, it can be a block to creativity I think. So I am going to make another list of the things I am currently doing and be ruthless about what I want to keep and what will side-lined for now. I'll come back to that. xx
|Rust printed scrap of old linen stitched into a piece of wool blanket|
|Eco prints on silk and wool|
|Japanese boro inspired sample from recycled denim|
|Commercial fabrics 'aged' with walnut ink (thanks Nikki!)|
Tuesday, 21 March 2017
|Red onion skins simmering in a slow cooker|
I do not claim to be an expert, I have been playing with natural dyeing for a little over a year so I am still very much a novice. I read a lot, research, follow other natural and eco dyers on social media but above all, I experiment. I did some dyeing with onion skins right at the beginning of my natural dyeing career early last year and unsurprisingly, I got a reddish brown colour from red onion and a golden brown colour from brown onions on silk habotai and noil. (Silk habotai is a fine silk and is what most people think of as 'silk' whereas noil is a coarse, slubby fabric woven from the shorter fibres left after the longer fibres have been removed to make the fine silk. I discovered silk noil in a sample pack I bought to try different kinds and loved it. It is reminiscent of linen but is great for natural dyeing as it is a protein fibre. Protein or 'animal' fibres such as silk and wool take natural dyes in general without the need for an additive or 'mordant'. Cellulose or plant-based fibres such as cotton, linen or hemp in general do need a mordant such as soy or alum to enable the dye to 'bite' into the fabric and be fixed. But as I said, I am no expert and I would refer you to Wild Colours UK or the Maiwa website for comprehensive information).
Anyway, huge digression, back to the matter in hand, my onion dyed and printed silk, gold and reddish brown colours, as you would expect. Silk noil on the left. habotai on the right.
After that I became so wrapped up (pun intended!) in eco printing that I left the humble onion skin behind, except for occasionally throwing a few torn up bits of skin into a bundle to enhance the leaf prints.
Then a few weeks ago, I went to visit a friend who has also recently been seduced by natural dyeing and she was showing me her collection of natural dyed samples. She is aiming to dye a range of greens and browns for a series of landscape inspired work and I was particularly struck by a little stack of olive green cotton and linen pieces. They had been mordanted in alum then dyed in red onion. No other additives. So I went home, went foraging in my local supermarket and set to. I alum mordanted some linen and cotton scraps. I simmered my onions to extract the dye. I added my pre-mordanted cloth as well as some noil and some old wool blanket.
So I messaged my friend, perhaps she had added iron or something else to the dye bath? No she hadn't. So I did some research and read that the chemicals in onion skins are very complex and can yield all colours from dark red through browns, oranges and terracottas to golds and the elusive olive green. What colours they decide to give you and when depends on a whole range of factors, relating to the onions themselves such as how and where they were grown, and lots of other factors depending on your dyeing conditions, acidity or alkalinity of the water, temperature and duration of simmering and so on. Fascinating, I hope you will agree. I read a paper by Jenny Dean which seemed to suggest that alkalinity would more likely result in greens.
So yesterday, I went back to the same supermarket and tidied up the red onion basket for them again. (They love me!) I had some left over alum mordanted cotton sheet and also some noil and some old wool blanket so I repeated the exercise. Only this time, I ground up a few indigestion tablets (calcium carbonate = alkali) in my pestle and mortar and added them to the dye bath. I had read somewhere (not sure where) that doing this, the dye bath turned green before your eyes. Mine stayed defiantly red. A very experienced natural dyer had told me on Instagram that adding iron to the dye bath gave olive green. Now I know this isn't how my friend got that colour. But I wanted insurance. So I divided my dye bath in two pans and to one half, I added a good slosh (natural dyer's standard measure) of my 'clean' iron water. I have two kinds of iron water. The 'dirty' kind is simply rusty rain water bailed out of one of the buckets in the garden that house my rust collection (such as the one in my previous post). The 'clean' kind is made by putting a fist sized piece of steel wool into a large jar and topping up with a third white vinegar to two thirds water (ish). When the liquid turns brown it is iron water. Here are the two pans.
The ironed one - much more promising, though at this stage it looked almost black and I was wondering if I had overdone my slosh of iron water. It has that lovely iron bloom on the top of it.
So I simmered both for around an hour I think. I am not very accurate in my time keeping but it was about that. Usually, I would leave dyebaths to cool overnight but I couldn't wait, so I fished the cloths out with tongs into the sink until they were cool enough to touch then I squeezed the excess dye back into the pots. I did the unironed cloths first, then the ironed ones.
The unironed ones were much the same colours as my previous efforts without the indigestion tablets, except the gold on the wool and silk is darker. I also got a lovely gold on a piece of alum mordanted cotton sheet.
I didn't take a photo of the other pieces but they were all that same reddish brown in various shades. When I squeezed out the ironed cloths, I could see straight away that I had olive green. Yeaayyy! So I mixed both left over dye baths together and chucked in all the disappointing reddish brown cloths and simmered them for another half hour. I know! Reasonably sccientific up to that point (well, perhaps not!) and at the end, I revert to type, mix things up and chuck things in. But..... look at all the lovely olive greens! The darker pieces are from the first ironed dye bath and the lighter pieces are from the 'chucking it in' stage of the proceedings. I also chucked in some other scraps that were hanging about, the bottom two scraps are bits of flannel that had been tea dyed but not mordanted with alum (as far as I remember). I love doing this, especially with repurposed cloth because I often get lovely marks appearing as you can see here. I also deliberately don't spin my mordanted cloth or rinse it very thoroughly or wring it out properly because I actually prefer patchy results. Neither do I scour anything which means prewashing it on hot in a special detergent to ensure even take up of the dye. I like things uneven. And I don't like to use lots of heat and water if I don't have to.
|Green from red - finally! With the help of a little iron.|
Thursday, 16 March 2017
|One woman's trash is another's treasure|
My Instagram feed is littered with photos taken by other like-minded souls of rusty pieces found on the beach, in the street, in the fields and we drool and make envious comments. We also share photos of rusty things that we can't take home. Here is an old manhole cover seen on a beach in Wales. It was no longer serving any purpose so was junk. But was way too heavy for me to take. Sadly. So I just took a photo to remind me of its beauty.
|If I had been staying longer, I would have wrapped it in cloth and left it a few days|
to take a print but I only found it on our last day
|Rusty panel on a beach - too large to carry|
|Rusty chain and ring at Stackpole Quay, Pembrokeshire|
Recently on Instagram, a fellow artist posted a photo of an elaborate rusty drain cover and stated that she had been tempted to lay down on it in her cream wool jumper. Many of us posted that we would have too. She was heartened by our understanding. 'I KNEW you all would get it!' she said.
I was first awakened to the beauty of rust by an exhibition at the Festival of Quilts a few years ago by the artist Regina Benson. Beautiful expansive cloths draped, hung and folded in pleats that you could walk among and experience the play of light and shadows through the rust dyed glow. Now I collect it like a magpie collects shiny things. I walk the pavement alert to the telltale browny-orange colour of a bottle top or a nail. I swoop and in my pocket it goes.
I know it doesn't do it for everyone so what is the appeal to those of us who acquire the obsession? Is it merely the beauty of the colours and the textures in the rusty things themselves?
|Rusty old plough half-hidden by nettles. |
I wrapped a metre of silk around this for a few weeks last summer.
|Ploughshares - the piece of silk dyed by the plough|
Backed with rust-printed linen and hand stitched
|Details of rust-printed silk|
|Rusty bits on paper|
|The resulting prints|
Whatever the reasons, I find it beautiful and endlessly fascinating. Just let me rust....
|Rust printed fragment of old linen stitched into a scrap of vintage woolen blanket|
Monday, 13 March 2017
|Fagus sylvatica - cigar shaped buds|
So beech trees always remind me of plant idents at college, and 'the other Catherine'. And the day she missed an 'i' in 'drummondii' and lost half a percent. Leaving me plant ident champion with my 100% record intact. I think I am perhaps a little prouder of that than I should be.
On my walk today, I made a bundle.Two rusty nails from the pavement on my way to the fields. A handful of buckthorn berries picked up from the path. I trampled my cloth in some patches of green algae on the way across a muddy field.
When I reached the top of the hill, some primroses caught my eye, growing among the brambles.
Of course I wouldn't pick the primroses, but I gathered a few of the deep purple bramble leaves for my bundle.
|Bundle ready to roll|
|Can you see the bundle?|
This bundle is the latest in my ClothCache project. This is the footpath running along the top of Pretwood Hill just outside Ilminster, Somerset. If you are passing and you spot it and have an urge to take it, you are welcome. Leave me something in return if the spirit moves you. Tell me on this blog or via Instagram with the #clothcache if you will.
Friday, 10 March 2017
The second Friday morning of every month, I lead a slow stitching session at my local Arts Centre in Ilminster. So rewarding, so inspiring and so convivial. I feel the threads unraveling back through the ages, binding us together with unknown and countless groups of women who have sat together and stitched.
|such different styles|
|don't press out the creases, they are part of the story|
|sometimes no colour is necessary|
|My pojagi in natural dyed repurposed linen|
Thank you to all my slow stitchers, for your enthusiasm, your company and your willingness to go with the flow.