Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Servicing machines and embellishing a landscape

At this week's meeting of the group I stitch with, the topic for the day was sewing machines, their servicing and use. We are a very varied group so this session included a wide range of traditional sewing machines as well as overlockers and embellishers (or needle felting machines). We brought along any of the above on which we wanted advice and then took advantage of the opportunity to play and practice.

Before we began playing, Maggie Harris, chair of our group and a most experienced and knowledgeable stitcher, took us through the process of servicing our machines. Although I do (from time to time ...) service mine, I picked up two really useful general sewing tips.

The first of these was that when replacing thread on a machine, it is a good idea to cut off the thread at the reel on top of the machine and then pull the remaining end down through the mechanism rather than pulling it up and winding it all back onto the reel as I usually do. This apparently lessens loose fluff and reduces wear on the mechanism as the thread is not pulled back 'against the grain' but moves down as it is designed to do.

The second was that machines should be stored with the presser foot down onto the feed dogs which are covered by a small piece of folded fabric. The needle is then lowered into the fabric. This anchors everything and lessens the likelihood of damage to the needle and loss of the presser foot in transit. As I once lost a foot en route from home to a day course, I will certainly be adopting this practice!

Babylock embellisher

This over, we all worked on our chosen machine. I took along a Babylock embellisher that I'd bought some time ago from a friend who was down-sizing and then not used much. I knew I definitely needed to play as I'm sure the machine has great potential but, so far, I have only very limited awareness of its capabilities.

I worked a sample on wool felt, using black and red wool tops and various threads and yarns. I worked from the front and then turned the fabric over to work on the reverse, exploring some of the possible effects. As always, when I play spontaneously like this, the results rapidly became a landscape. This day reinforced how much I have to learn to get full control of the medium. However, small snippets are shown here (the piece was definitely best shown in small snippets!).

My thoughts so far are that I especially liked both the random textural effects produced on the reverse when I couldn't see what I was doing and also the way the embellisher needles split and contorted the threads I added, giving movement rather than a thin straight line.

After this, architectural explorations may follow ... but not for a while. I have my new printer to get fully familiar with first.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Unfinished business

As always,  I have several threads (if you'll forgive the pun) going at once. Recently, I've been completing one or two pieces of unfinished work and revisiting ideas that had not resolved themselves into anything meaningful. This week, I've focused on stitch and the black and white photographs I took in Australia eighteen months ago. The experiences I had while I was there and the imagery I developed following the visit continue to occupy my thoughts.

This is a larger piece that I first thought about several months ago and couldn't quite see my way through. It is 17 x 70 cm - odd dimensions which will no doubt give me framing and presentation difficulties - and it follows on from previous work snippets of which I've shown before here and towards the end of an exhibition post here. Like those pieces, it is based on photographs taken of a tented outdoor theatre space near Cairns in Queensland, Australia.

The tracing paper areas and the circles, punched holes, and 'blind' stitches (which are quite difficult to see on screen) reference the aboriginal peoples who still live in the area. Their art work, especially in painting, often features dots and circles to hide deeply personal aspects of their spiritual beliefs. Because of the difficulty in seeing these, I've added details below, though I'm not sure how much this helps!

It's interesting that, as I view this piece and the details online, I can see ways to play further with layout and perhaps to reduce the number of images by one. Maybe things would even work better as two pairs of images?

I often find this happens when I post. There is something about the process that brings more objectivity and allows me to be more self-critical ... very helpful!

Monday, 6 February 2017

Corinium Museum Gallery

This afternoon, my husband and I went to the current exhibition in the Corinium Museum Temporary Exhibitions gallery in Cirencester. This time, there was a showing of art and craftwork which the gallery describes as showcasing: ' artwork in a variety of mediums and genres inspired by Cotswold Landscape'. 

This small exhibition in this attractive gallery was being held to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the designation of the Cotswolds as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. It was open to amateur and professional artists and the work was varied and interesting. The work of two makers especially caught my eye.

The first was a pair of wonderful blown glass bottles entitled Essence 2 by Colin Hawkins. These were large and exquisitely proportioned and we both spent several minutes enjoying them - and fighting the temptation to touch and stroke the generous shapes.

More beautiful examples of Colin Hawkins' work and of that by Louise Hawkins can be found here. The two makers are based at a studio in The New Brewery Arts Centre in Cirencester. Like the Corinium Museum, this is in the centre of the town and is well worth a visit. I visit both venues regularly and made a mental note to take up the invitation on the website to go in and see the glass being made. 

The other maker whose work I enjoyed was Rebecca Connolly.  I have posted about her work before and she has been helping me recently to develop my weaving skills. It was lovely to see her length of fabric and cushions which were handwoven on her treadle loom in her studio.

We are lucky here in the North Wiltshire / South Gloucestershire area to have these two excellent venues close at hand. The work on show in The New Brewery Arts Centre is particularly varied and interesting. 

Thursday, 2 February 2017

Annegret Soltau - Stitching on Photographs

Surfing on the internet as I often do, this afternoon I came across the work of extraordinary German-born visual artist Annegret Soltau. Her work caught my eye because of her use of stitch on photographs ... but stitch with a difference.

Bilder Web

Soltau stitches into full-face portraits or into photographs of the human form. She uses simple conventional threads to play with and change the photos, often attaching other images in a thought-provoking and sometimes disturbing way. Below, in the first piece from a series of work begun in 2003 and entitled Personal Identity, she attaches a copy of her birth certificate to her own face. As in each case in this series, she allows the viewer also to see the reverse which has its own appeal, perhaps sometimes even more than the main image.

Geburtsurkunde (front)

She says of this work:

"In this series of works in progress, I examine the question of personal identity in the age of digital information. The series shows a search for biographical traces in self-portraits with sewn-in original documents, beginning with my birth certificate and continuing on to the SIM cards that are in everyday use and in which my Self is saved in digital format. 

The conclusion to this series will be a collage including my death certificate, to be put together by one of my surviving family members."

Later pieces in the series so far include parts of a shopping loyalty card,

Lindex (front)

and the front and back of her credit card:

MasterCard (front)

Some of these pieces give a particularly tantalising insight into Soltau's life. They include for instance a student pass, a medical card and, shown here, a dental card,

Zahnarzt (front)

and most beguilingly, two versions of her Mutterpass, a record of pregnancy and birth,

Mutterpass II (front)

Looking at other pieces on Soltau's website, I found much of her work intensely affecting and personal. In addition to the above there is also a series called Vatersuche (Try), shown below in installation view. This documents (literally) her long and fruitless search for her missing father who was lost or killed during or just after the Second World War. She describes this quest as 'a search in a place of emptiness'.

Portrait Annegret

However, the work is also at times most disturbing.  It even perhaps provoked revulsion and I have been careful about the images I've chosen to show here.

There are also things in her work that have set me thinking. I like the very simple way she uses stitch so that it doesn't intrude on the message of the work. I am also very taken by the thought of using one photograph / image on top of another and especially of somehow making my work more personal.

Saturday, 28 January 2017

A3 Printer

For some time, I've been dithering over whether to buy a really good printer so I can print out my many photos up to A3 in size, using archival ink so that they won't fade over time, and on art quality paper when I need it. The fade problem became particularly pertinent when I began to stitch directly into the photos and to offer the resulting pieces for sale at local exhibitions. A printer that would give really good results when printing in black and white was also high on my list!

I had investigated possibilities a couple of years ago and then put the whole thing to the back of my mind feeling I really couldn't justify the expense. I think it seemed somehow wrong to spend so much on one item for what is, in essence, a hobby.

However, just after Christmas, in the grey, cold and depressing days that are January, I had a change of heart. I gritted my teeth, made the decision and bought this beauty - an Epson A3+ SureColor P600. I managed to negotiate a really good deal that included a sample box of 8 kinds of high quality A3 Fotospeed papers, a complete box of their smooth pearl paper (290 gsm) as recommended by the supplier and a Fotospeed inkflow system with extra pigment inks which greatly reduces the cost of ink refills. The deal was only made possible by the fact that my suppliers had had the printer sitting in their store for a while after they'd prepared it for a purchaser who had then changed their mind. The slight scratches on the surface of the casing were no problem to me and somehow appealed to my puritan mind ... and even assuaged any lingering feelings of guilt a little!

I'm now trying everything out, printing onto the selection of A3 papers one by one. At the moment, I'm using very similar images in black and white for each type of paper so that I can compare the results easily. Similar colour experiments will need to follow too. Fotospeed sells a wide range of papers and I will order boxes of any additional types of papers that seem to suit the work I want to do.

This exercise is generating a large number of images to find a use for. Right now, I'm making cards ... so something useful then ... but I can see that other things will follow, even at this experimental stage, and perhaps in 3D.

The images have now been printed onto three of the papers and some interesting results have already emerged. Those above were particularly encouraging. On a matt black paper using matt black ink, they gave a dense and almost velvety surface, an intense black / white contrast, and very fine detail to the tree branches all of which I may want to exploit.

The cards below were printed onto a lustre paper which gave gave an unpleasant, slightly sparkly surface to the photos (maybe the key to that is in the name!) and also onto a semi gloss paper which was more pleasing. I include only the one set as the differences don't show up at all on-screen.

There is much to learn and exploit here, including printing onto fabric, so the hopefully not so grey days of February will be fully occupied!

Thursday, 19 January 2017

Weaving and learning and being flexible

For some time now, I've wanted to extend my weaving knowledge so that I can vary the effects in my woven pieces. I've been working with weaver friend Rebecca Conolly at her studio in the peaceful village of Calmesden in Gloucestershire - a triple pleasure then - seeing a friend, visiting a lovely place and developing my weaving skills. What more could I want?

I have always imagined I preferred to weave tapestries rather than to produce lengths of cloth that use complicated and intricate weave structures because I thought it was all too mathematical. Through talking to Rebecca about ways to increase the techniques I use in my work, I've come to realise that variety can be achieved in many ways - including some (simple versions) of those dreaded weave structures!

In tapestry weaving, the warp threads (attached to the loom and generally running vertically) are usually purely structural. All the colour and texture that creates the design comes from the weft threads that are threaded through the warp as you weave. Since you see only the weft threads in the finished piece, this sort of weaving is described as weft-faced and can be seen in the plain red stripes in the small sample above. The vertical warp threads are in yellow and can be seen in the rest of the sample.

First of all, at Rebecca's suggestion, I worked a weft-faced sample where I varied the number of warp threads I wove over, and alternated the colour I used. In the sample above, I worked (from bottom to top) a small area of plain weave; several rows taking the weft over two warps at a time; then displaced this by one warp; then a small section of twill; and finally, I worked a simple plain weave, alternating two colours with each pick (row) of weft. It was fascinating to see the different effects I could produce with such simple changes.

Rebecca then introduced me to the idea of balanced weave where both warp and weft are visible on the surface with the suggestion that it might offer interesting effects for me. This was also further developed in a one day workshop with Rebecca that I went to at the newly-opened workshop space in Cirencester called The Bothy. During this session we worked on balanced weaves through back-strap weaving (more about this in a later post). Since talking to her, I've also been exploring possible effects on my small table loom. A sample is given below.

In order from the bottom in the sample, I worked mostly balanced weave: where both warp and weft were made using the same mixed yards passed through the loom together; then the same using different colours in warp and weft; a small section of weft-faced weave for contrast; a grid produced by weaving double threads of blue alternating with a single thread of green (especially effective?); then four areas where double threads were alternated with two picks of single; and finally a section where light and dark threads were twisted together before being wound onto the shuttle which produced an interesting diagonal effect.

Throughout all this, I've been trying to exploit the elements that seem to suggest patterns found in modern high-rise architecture. I think there is much potential here ... I will post further as I work more samples.

If you're new to all this and want further explanation, this abounds on YouTube such as here or can easily be found by googling tapestry weaving.