Christmas Sale and Workshops with Women of the Cloth & Guests

This is the fourth year in a row that I’ve taken part in the Women of the Cloth pre-Christmas event at Sprout Community Arts in the Furzedown area of Streatham.  This year, as usual, we have invited a new and different set of guest artists & makers to join us and provide variety, new interest and different workshops for our regular visitors.  Take a look at the Women of the Cloth website News & Events page for all the details, but below is a taster and brief guide to workshops on offer:-

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Community Feltmaking

I’ve had a wonderful time lately making felt with various community groups around south London.  Feltmaking is  such an ideal communal activity because it enables just about anyone to take part in a productive, creative session and go home with something colourful and beautiful made with their own hands.  No particular artistic ability is required for success, and it’s great fun watching everyone around you produce such different creations, starting off with the same tactile materials at their disposal.  Conversation and laughter flow freely as people experiment with skills they didn’t know they had!  In some cases SONG too …

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I made my way to Plumstead in south London last week to make felt balls and cords for necklaces and bracelets with a group of women from Nepal and Brazil as part of the Cultivating Communities project run by Groundwork London.  This project forms part of Groundwork’s Women in Migration Oral Histories initiative aimed at improving social cohesion, with the workshops providing participation in a communal activity of making whilst singing traditional songs as we worked.  Pretty much all cultures have a bank of historical songs associated with textile activity, from the Ikat weavers of India to the wool spinners of Yorkshire and Lancashire.  Before reading and writing became widespread abilities, knitting and weaving patterns were conveyed through rythmic songs which helped the counting process so that traditional patterns could be reproduced accurately, and people just generally sang songs as they worked.  Keeping these traditions alive is important to our cultural heritage, and we had a great afternoon of spontaneous singing and feltmaking together in Plumstead.  Next workshop will incorporate knitting & crochet too.

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At the London Wildlife Trust’s Centre for Wildlife Gardening in Peckham I have had the pleasure of offering feltmaking workshops to visitors at their spring Open Day, as well as working with Alzheimers sufferers as part of the centre’s Potted History project which makes use of reminiscence and horticultural therapy to improve the self-confidence and wellbeing of socially isolated older people in the London boroughs of Lambeth, Lewisham and Southwark.  My morning of feltmaking with the group, who attend weekly sessions, was a great success as everyone was enticed by the tactile materials and all were able to focus on a pleasurable, creative activity using colours inspired by the wildlife garden.  Everyone produced a beautiful, complete piece of felt – one man incorporated some deceased beetles in his piece to remind him of where he had made the felt.  He had to be discouraged from felting around his glasses and his bus pass, he got so carried away!

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At Brockwell Park Community Greenhouses in Lambeth I spent a day in the school holidays sloshing about with soap and water making sheeps’ fleece into felt with a range of families as part of their education programme which provides seasonally-themed sessions designed to broaden understanding of the natural world through play. What fun we had playing with colour in the beautiful setting of the greenhouse and its gardens, with food and flowers growing all around us.  It was a hot, sunny day and being in the greenhouse might be better for the plants than we humans after a few hours …

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Lambeth’s Lady Margaret Settlement charity hosts the All Sewn Up Project which provides local women with marketable skills in textile techniques through City & Guilds accredited courses, which rely on the ongoing fundraising initiatives of the wonderful Project Manager Pascaline Lambert for support.  I have run two feltmaking workshops at the project now and what a range of enthusiastic motivated women I’ve had the pleasure of working with!  We started by making flat pieces of felt to use as table mats, or to be sewn into useful items such as spectacle or phone cases, then in the afternoons we made decorative bowls or felt beads & cords.  Everyone thoroughly enjoyed the sessions and were keen to learn more techniques.

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Next stop will be Southmead Primary School in the London borough of Wandsworth, where I’ll be joining art teacher Lucy Ruxton for a day of textile activity – felting, weaving, dyeing, stitching, glueing – with kids working around a medieval theme,  then back to Brockwell Park Greenhouses for some needlefelting of snails, ladybirds, beetles and other bugs, outside in the garden if the weather allows us.  If not, in the hothouse conditions of the greenhouse!! Fans at the ready …

Yan Tan Tethera (one, two, three)

One evening last week, as part of the Museums at Night season,  I went along with some friends to Cecil Sharp House in Camden, London – home of the English Folk Dance & Song Society to see this event exploring the connection between the making of textiles and song.  Yan Tan Tethera (one, two, three) – a traditional method used by shepherds in the north of England to count sheep, as well as a method used by knitters to count stitches.

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Tables were set out around the edge of the great hall, adorned with baskets of yarn, knitting needles and crochet hooks,  so that everyone could take part in the event by knitting charms and keepsakes to be added to the Mandala made by textile collective & gallery Prick Your Finger, celebrating the communal activity of making.

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Meanwhile the floor was filled with folk singers and dancers.  One of my old schoolfriends sings with the Dulwich Folk Choir so a little group of we ‘girls’ went along to enjoy seeing her take part in the song and dance.  We had a bit of a lark with our knitted ‘charms’ one of which was a short strip of cable stitch, which one bawdy onlooker thought resembled a certain bit of the female anatomy!  Not sure I’d agree ….

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T’ sang was — “‘Sally an’ I, Sally an’ I, For a good pudding pye, Taa hoaf wheat, an’ tudder hoaf rye, Sally an’ I, for a good pudding pye.’ ” We sang this (altering t’ neams) at every needle : and when we com at t’ end cried ’ off,’ an’ began again, an’ sae we strave on o’ t’ day through.”  This extract gives a good idea of what is meant by ” a Knitting Song.”

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Here’s a glimpse of friend Alison, and all her singing buddies, getting stuck into one of a number of songs, such as the Cotton Breeches song

“Oh father, father I am married
Oh that I had longer tarried
For the women they do swear
That the breeches they will wear”
(from the song, Will the Weaver, collected from John Burton, Clacton-on-Sea, Essex), and

the Cotton Breeches dance. Danced by a woman on a table with skirts tucked in
(Dance collected by Clive Carey from Alfred Bishop, Thaxted, Essex)

Other delights of the evening were Dancing of the Bobbin, partaking of the ale, admiring the textile artworks by Freddie Robins,  Basket weaver Shane Waltener, Folk artist Stewart Easton, and the East London Textiles  McGrath Makers Group and just generally being in amongst a huge session of good-natured communal making.   Knitting along at the next table was  Julie Arkell – a well-known textile folk artist who runs her quirky creatures workshops in knitting shop Loop, in Islington, London.

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An interesting event forming part of an exhibition running in and around Cecil Sharp House until 25th September.

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.

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