Cloth & Memory

Cloth and fibre hold all sorts of memories for me, having a Scottish mother who knitted and stitched all my clothes during childhood, including a matching summer dress for my precious doll, Mary, every time she made one for me.  Favourite quilts from various stages of life will never be ousted when clutter-clearing as they act as visual triggers of past events, and I have kept particularly treasured articles of my childrens’ clothing which will always remind me of significant moments in their childhoods.  I was, of course, drawn to the title of this exhibition immediately and made sure I got to visit soon after it opened at Saltsmill in Yorkshire.

It is set in the disused Spinning Room up in the roof of the immense building, which is unrestored and still has the original flaking wall finishes and rusting steel fittings.  The room is longer than a football pitch and originally contained 16,380 cap spindles for spinning yarn.  Raw alpaca fleece, imported by Titus Salt from Peru, arrived at the top of the building and was processed down through each floor to emerge as finished cloth at the bottom.  The space is incredibly atmospheric and holds the feeling that the the workers have just left, but are still there in spirit.

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23 textile artists from the UK, Germany, Norway and Japan have installed works in the eerie space, capturing the memories of the former toil which took place there for so many years.  Jeanette Appleton, one of my former tutors at West Dean, uses the ‘silencing’ context of felt as a metaphor for the absorption of sound and memory.  She has made feltworks based on the mill’s ledgers and sample books and placed them in the wall recesesses which originally held bobbins.

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Caren Garfen’s installation uses vintage wooden reels , each with its own ‘memory plaque’ to commemorate women who worked in the mill and lived in the neighbouring workers’ cottages built by Titus Salt to house his workforce.  Caren has attached hand-embroidered names and addresses on tape drawn from the 1891 census, along with familiar cloth-related sayings such as ‘Tied to her Apron Strings’.  Seeing this installation makes a walk around the surrounding streets all the more poignant.

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Yoriko Yoneyama has suspended from the ceiling a web of fine cotton threads onto which are pressed thousands of individual grains of rice  representing the elements which are essential to our survival and cultural heritage :  food & clothing – rice & fibre.  Kari Steihaug’s unravelling knitted jumper represents a dialogue between the body and the room, stretching from floor to ceiling.  Reminded me of all the jumpers I have knitted for loved-ones over the years, as well as the ones which are waiting to be finished in my work room!

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Koji Takaki has made a diptych which brings together memory of past textile works in Japan and Manchester with the beauty of the passage of time (wabi sabi) and a materialisation of cloth and memory.  This work particularly highlighted the beauty of the setting, with the play of light on its different elements throwing haunting shadows across the space.

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I loved Masae Bamba’s large-scale ‘sea’ of cloth dyed with indigo and printed with the first attempts at writing made by her daughter as a means of capturing the moment before it becomes memory for both mother and daughter.  This work was influenced by the recent tsunami in which so many mothers, daughters and others became just memories.  Incredibly moving piece of work.

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I can’t do justice to all 23 artists’ work here, although I could just go on and on with my memories of Cloth and Memory

Such a moving and inspiring exhbition – You’ll just have to go and visit yourselves – it’s on until early November and a MUST see for textile lovers everywhere.

A summer of Workshop Fun!

This summer has been full of workshops – Indian embroidery, in my home studio and at Serendipity Tea Rooms , always sets people a challenge.  We have concluded that it takes an average of three tries before the technique of sewing on a shisha mirror actually sinks in, then the fun can begin.  Embellishing with beads, coloured threads, buttons and sequins – it’s all very absorbing.  Time flies …

Choosing colours & eating biscuits!

Choosing colours & eating biscuits!

Then there was a felt fish workshop at Streatham Festival’s Make your own Fete at the Railway Pub, with Crafty Pint and Flaming Nora  organising such a brilliantly creative day for what seemed like millions of local kids on a hot sunny day!

Kids' felt fish drying in the trees, Make yr own Fete @TheRailwaySW16

Kids’ felt fish drying in the trees, Make yr own Fete @TheRailwaySW16

Needlefelted garden birds is always a popular workshop and this summer has been no exception with workshops at the Railway Pub and another two coming up NEXT WEEK at Serendipity Tea Rooms on 22nd August and then with Makerhood at the Southbank Centre’s Village Fair on 24th Aug

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A flock of happy needlefelters and their birds

I even got to take part in a workshop myself learning Willow Weaving with Crafty Pint tutor Geraldine.  I absolutely loved it and took home four different finished items, all set to experiment with incorporating willow weaving into my feltmaking or vice-versa.  Can’t wait to have some time to do that- I think my needlefelted birds are going to like the willow bird feeder!

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Willow bird feeder

In between workshops, Kim Winter of WordPress blog Flextiles and I joined forces as Women of the Cloth for the Lambeth Garden Museum Summer Tumblr, which was a treat of a day spend in the knot garden in brilliant sunshine with lots of other artists/makers demonstrating our crafts and selling our wares.  What a relaxing day we had in a beautiful place chatting with like-minded souls and interested visitors.

Women of the Cloth, Kim & Carol, @GardenMuseumLDN Summer Tumblr

Women of the Cloth, Kim & Carol, @GardenMuseumLDN Summer Tumblr

When the summer of workshop fun is over, we Women of the Cloth will be taking part in the Lambeth Open studios weekend on 5th’6th October when we’ll be joined by several other textile makers for a housefull of colourful cloth activity.  Watch this space for more details to come.

Shetland, a knitters’ paradise!

Last week I was lucky enough to visit the Shetland islands with some of my regular knitting group.  We loved every minute and were very lucky with the weather – only one day of blustery rain and wind while we hung over the edge of a cliff watching mating Puffins!  We really enjoyed the Shetland Textile Museum in its lovely old building  (Bod of Gremista) full of Fair-isle and knitted lace, watched a very fast and efficient demonstration of fair-isle knitting with colours worked from both hands at once and discovered the stockings presented to Queen Victoria which ignited a renewed interest in Shetland knitwear.  We visited the fastest knitter in the world Hazel Tindall with whom we talked for ages about developing the right rhythm to make this possible!  Hazel’s workshops fill up the minute they are posted, so we’ll have to be super quick if we want some tuition.  Maybe Wool Week 2014 if we’re fast enough!

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Shetland lace shawls at Unst Heritage Centre

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A corner of lovely fleece at Textile Museum

On the most northerly isle,Unst, we saw more  beautiful lace-knitted shawls and a bus stop full of wool-related artefacts, had lunch at the last pit-stop before the vast expanse of sea begins, & saw a large male otter swimming through the shallows & diving for fish.  We had a beautiful day for our walk around St Ninian’s Isle and collected bags full of fleece shed by the roaming herds of sheep which we will later attempt to spin into a useable yarn.   There are so many fabulous white, sandy beaches around the islands, but we found our feet almost froze after 2 minutes of paddling, so definitely no swimming took place!  One of our favourite places was the Croft House Museum, housed in a Croft which was inhabited in it’s present state until the late 1960s.

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Needlefelting sheeps fleece from St Ninian’s
keeping warm in new Fair-isle gloves!

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Mini-knitting table inset @ Shetland museum

Following a fabulous lunch of seafood chowder and locally baked bread at the Shetland Museum & Archive in Lerwick, where we enjoyed more vintage fair-isle knitwear and lovely textile-related table insets in the restaurant,  we took in an evening of fiddle music & dancing at the Mareel arts centre before heading back off home to the Big Smoke.  We will definitely visit the Shetlands again, most definitely during Wool Week which is a must for knitters & wool lovers everywhere.

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Croft House Museum

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Rolling mist on St Ninian’s Isle

Indian Applique

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Last weekend I trundled down by train to Dorset and got together with some women I met on my recent trip across Gujarat and we had a lovely time experimenting with Indian applique techniques.  On our travels we had seen many fine examples of applique, often white on white for long window panels, but mainly in beautiful strong colour combinations such as this:

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Hemmed applique is the simplest form of applique.  Motifs are simply cut out of fabric and tacked onto the background.  Edges are then turned in and hemmed or slip-stitched, leaving the background fabric visible between the applied pieces.  Simple it may be in theory, but in practise very fiddly!

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In Rajasthan & Gujarat, western India, appliqued cloths are used to decorate bridal carts pulled by oxon, creating tent-like structures to shield the bride from prying eyes.  In Uttar Pradesh appliqued cloths, decorated with scenes from Indian mythology, are left as offerings at shrines on Krishna’s birthday in places of reverence for both Hindu and Muslim pilgrims.

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This form of applique also has a variation known as Reverse Applique.  A layer of fabric is tacked onto a base layer of a contrasting colour.  Cuts are then made into the top layer and the edges are turned back under and sewn down with small stitches.  Thread that matches the colour of the top layer is used so that the stitches will be invisible (or nearly!).  The main pattern is created by exposing the bottom layer.  Subtle or bold effects can be achieved by varying the colour/design of the fabrics used.  If you would like to have some fun learning this technique yourself, sign up for one of my Indian Applique workshops. New dates added regularly.