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.
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, ….
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.
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,
Winter sun (2017, detail)
and in Cathedral (below) the simple stitching will I hope calm the somewhat (deliberately off register) chaotic screenprinted fused collage.
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.