The development of Quiet work

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As with most pieces, Quiet work started as a doodle destined for lino cutting.  She was printed while I was experimenting with the use of handmade papers prepared for inkjet printing.  As she has such a large empty background – necessarily so – I used a photograph with faint texture and pale colour.  (A close-up snap of the Serpentine pavilion which is now at Hauser and Wirth Somerset.)

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The print came out well, and after I had scanned it I put it up in my print kitchen.  But in order to stitch the piece I thought that more colour was needed, so I played around for a bit before printing the image onto cotton.

quiet work

The balance of visual weight had to be at the base of the image, so I decided to use a different stitch with the leaves to try to achieve that.  Also important is her hair, so more pattern detail was stitched into that.  The background, however had to be kept separate and airy, so I used a seed stitch – and I’m still not completely happy with that.  But it’s done now, and overall I’m pleased.

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The simple stitch

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Plunge (2016)

All this pondering how or whether to use the felted knitwear I have has got me thinking through the ways I make work anyway.  I know that I always have to have work to think about – I always have done.  It is what motivates my living.  I have to have mental occupation almost all of the time – for instance, I cannot often watch television or listen to the radio without also doing, making, or thinking about something else.  Creative outcomes arise from all the input; the curiosity, the pursuit of threads tugged by the curiosity, thinking, and of course seeing – paying attention.

This was also true when I was occupied with publishing, but with a large and fundamental difference from what I do now.  When I was for instance orchestrating the creation of a book other people’s work, wishes, and money were concerned.  I worked with colleagues who had various expectations of and influences on the decisions I made.  I commissioned the work: writing (although I did write a few myself if I wanted to commission a particular artist who had no particular subject in mind), artwork, production, sales – and then of course the consumers also played a huge and vital part.  With books for children the parents, librarians, and teachers comprise the first level of consumers.

When I left publishing and was thinking about being creative for myself, it was with notional consumers in mind that I started.  I thought I saw a gap in the market for a kind of knitwear – but quickly it became obvious that that was not the right path for me.  I carried the thought of consumers with me when I then combined my hobbies of painting pictures and stitching, hoping perhaps to find galleries which would carry my work.  I had sold some paintings through a gallerist friend in the USA, and a couple of galleries did take my early stitchings – but over the years I have learned that my work is an acquired taste, galleries have to make consistent money, and besides, there are now just so many makers existing and emerging whose work is more appealing, instantly attractive, or fashionable.  Perhaps my work is just not good enough.

But it is more than good for me.  It is taking years to get out of the mindset that developed a successful publishing career, to adjust to a state that is neither paid employment nor hobby, but is a kind of manifestation of being.  But as such it does not seem to fit comfortably into any labelled box.  ‘Twas ever thus: many years ago even at Oxford University Press where I began my publishing career I was labelled an administrative anomaly, in this case because my responsibilities straddled both the schools and tertiary markets.

Although for convenience I have so far put myself in the textile artist box, I do not think that wholly appropriate, despite using cloth and stitching.  Printing is at the heart of what I do, but I am not really a conventional printmaker. Collage, the gathering of divers elements is also fundamental to what I do, but somehow does not wholly describe my practice.  Everything goes towards the way I want the work to look, and the simple stitch is at the heart of it in two ways.

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First, and essential, it is my handling of the cloth.  It is a long slow process which has been with me since early childhood when I sat amongst older generations, making cross stitch cloths.  When I saw Kantha cloths I realised how powerful the simple running stich could be for me.  I have to be a-making with my hands.  It helps my mind to clarify, to digest, to make connections, ….

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The stitching might be described as a kind of colouring in, but it is so much more than that, despite being simple.  When used with wadding (batting) it creates a bas relief.  It emphasises, it provides a flow, and it presents a kind of subtle catching of the eye with colour and shape.  On my Soliloquy project I have decided to keep it muted with the first top stitching before I join the panels and then quilt the whole.

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Soliloquy (detail of work in progress)

With the couple of pieces I’ve explored with felt again the simple stitch I think works well – in Winter sun with the simple outline of the felt itself – and leaves room to appreciate the subtle pattern in that felt,

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Winter sun (2017, detail)

and in Cathedral (below) the simple stitching will I hope calm the somewhat (deliberately off register) chaotic screenprinted fused collage.

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Cathedral (detail of work in progress)

Regarding the use of the felt – you perhaps can see in the full photo of Plunge that I have used a scan of weaving (my first effort with a backstrap loom and knitting yarn!).  The actual weaving – or any felt would have been inappropriate there because of the importance of the relative flatness of the elements making up the image.

 

Fixing a flaw

For my latest quilt project I have once again chosen to put together a patchwork of individual images.  These images are printed on cotton lawn because as there is to be quite a bit of hand stitching I want to make it as easy for my arthritic fingers as possible.  The down side of cotton lawn, however, is that it is so fine that it can fold imperceptibly, causing breaks in the print.

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This happened to two of my 25 pieces – in a very minor way, but nonetheless rather obvious.  I’m lucky that the design of the pieces is visually chaotic having been derived from a lino print, and deliberately includes the lino cutaway marks – as well as a kind of ‘wallpaper’ pattern superimposed.  But I needed to fix the white jagged line as much as possible.  Annoying, but not the end of the world.

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I have found in similar situations in the past that Prismacolor coloured pencils have both the range of shade as well as the waxiness to achieve a good enough fix.  Although it can be seen still in the pic below, I hope that once the stitching has been done that the flaws will not be obvious – especially as I will give them another going over with the crayons once stitched.

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Before biting the bullet

When I first retired from publishing it was knitting which attracted me as a possible activity.  I had long been a hand knitter, but for some reason I decided to learn to use a knitting machine and designed a range of garments.  For a few years I attended craft fairs, and some people loved my work – but not enough.  I enjoyed the designing of the garments, the designing of the knit patterns, the choosing of the glorious yarns, … but I did not at all enjoy the selling, and the knitting itself was becoming boring.  So I stopped.

img_2617I gave away the many cones of beautiful Shetland wool, but have not yet been able to part with the bits of garments with which I was left.  I felted a lot of them, thinking that surely I must think of something satisfying to do with them.  I have a tub full which I look at from time to time, but have until now not thought of anything I even wanted to try.

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Then I decided to try cutting out familiar figure shapes from my work.  I took my much-loved woman with fish on a dish, and was relatively pleased with the result so far.  They also have the advantage of working in either direction – there is no fixed front or back.

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I cut out another previously used shape – and I rather liked using the rib as the base in both cases.  I also came up with a design to incorporate the felt shape(s) with cotton and hand stitching so that it much more resembles a piece of my work.  I’m going to see if I can come up with more designs like the one on the right before I decide that this is a good idea, and before I finally decide whether to ditch the felt – with a sigh.

More progress on 2016 projects

pastimeAs I described in this post last year, I have been utilising strips of knitting in current pieces.  Pleased with the first one I completed, Patched pastime (pictured above) I decided to put together another – this time using the blues.

juggler-blues-wholejuggler-blues-detailThe knitted strips hang in ways that are – let’s say idiosyncratic – and not neatly edged or cornered.  I actually like this, but ’tis true that the bottom corners of Patched pastime definitely needed something more, hence the pom-poms.  This time Juggler, blues while perhaps even more eccentric in its lack of neat outline, delights me equally.  The shape of the whole complements the feeling of the juggler, and echoes the  movement in the knitted patterns.

I wonder however whether I have in fact wandered well away from ‘quilt-ness’ with these pieces.  Can they be described as art quilts?  Almost all of the pieces I have made, and all which have been successfully juried into various exhibitions have been wholecloth, which in itself is a minority sub-set of art quilts.  The knitwear-utilising pair are pieced, but use a non-standard material.  They are made to hang on the wall, and consist of three layers of fabric stitched together, but they are not regular, neat edged rectangles.

I’m really pleased with these two pieces – delighted indeed.  I’m not going to worry about categories: I think that I shall simply say that I use quilting techniques in my work.

New year 2017

finding-the-patternHaving started this new blog a year ago in order to sort myself out, I seem still to be faced with a messy situation.  Perhaps this is how my practice is going to work; but I think I shall try to impose/develop more coherence at least to find some kind of pattern(s).

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Progress on 2016’s projects: printed wholecloth – Distant dancers, Finding the edge, and Juggler, red

I completed Distant dancers (184 x 131cm, above) in time to enter it for Quilt National ’17, but it did not pass muster.  This piece has been several years in gestation and development.  The figure on the right started life in around 2006, cut out of stiff paper in Reminder (below): what I called a brodage (essentially the same as a collage, but the only joining element being stitch rather than glue) – incidentally a form to which I would like to return*.

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viewThe figure remained in my bodies file – at the back of my mind – until I had been tremendously impressed with the work of sculptor Thomas Houseago.  The image above formed itself when I was thinking about moving forward from the past – how the distinctive cultural activities which marked folks’ origins can fade so fast.  The thought was a general one, but also linked to my own childhood experience of national dances in Greece and in Scotland.  So the figure was developed, the dancers added, and the seemingly empty space behind the hand was filled with three rows of stitching repeating the dancers.  These can only be seen in close observation – but I think the composition still works when they are invisible.

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distant-dancers-detail-3When I started working on the piece in early 2015 there was a call for entries to the Textile Museum’s  exhibition Stories of Migration (catalogue can be seen here), and I thought that at last I could possibly be working on something fitting for a theme.  Unfortunately my hand progress was slow, and in any case having seen the accepted work, I do not think Distant dancers would have been appropriate.  (I console myself in such situations with the thought that at least I’ve saved the cost of transport!)

*One of the threads tangled before me leads to brodages. It is a form which I did not explore sufficiently to become any good, and I often think about a return.  Given that I at present work mostly with time-consuming hand stitch I think that I would/will have to drop something to revisit that particular form.  Even if it not for that purpose, however, I am wondering if large printed wholecloth work might have run its course.  Although I enjoyed the making, Distant dancers took a long time to stitch, and the way my mind works it’s running ahead with more ideas and desires which I’ve increasingly less time to pursue.  Especially now also that the arthritis in my fingers is slowing me down.

finding-the-edgeOne of the problems I’ve had with trying to enter my work for quilt exhibitions is that my shapes don’t conform, such as with Finding the edge (45 x 84cm above).  This is a piece which I like tremendously – but it is far from a conventional shape.  I did enter it for QN’17, and my lack of expectation was fulfilled.

juggler-red

Only started towards the end of 2016 is Juggler, red – yes, yet another juggler with that same old figure!, which is still being stitched.  I’m enjoying the warm redness of it during the winter evenings.

 

Ending the year

sol1I’m still not sure about this blog – not sure about having enough to write.  This year has been very bitty, and increasingly so.  I lack a coherent plan; rather simply progressing from design to design.  I am hoping to sort myself out in the coming year, at least for the core of my work.

soliloquy2Meantime I have been getting on with developing print work.  I am enjoying using the Blue Boy press to work up the ingredients for the next quilt.

soliloquyI printed a pattern onto tissue prepared with soft pastel, then once they were dry I printed the figures on top.  I shall scan them before printing onto cotton – and then the stitching will begin.

Of course as occupation while watching the television or dvd during my hibernation reading I shall still continue with the odd pieces in my stitching pile – at present I have this one to hand:

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with a further handful waiting to make sure that I don’t end up with nothing to do!