Monday, 27 February 2017

Young enthusiasm

Last year, we bought our oldest granddaughter a small sewing machine for her birthday and what a pleasure it continues to be, both for her and for me. She is only 6 (almost 7, as she reminds me) and so far the projects have been very simple - small bags and a line of Christmas bunting that ended up in her school classroom. She came to stay again last week for another installment during school half-term.

These visits always begin with a stop off in Cirencester on the way to our house so she can choose new fabric. She greatly enjoys this part of the process as the shop has a good selection of the brightly coloured quality cottons she likes and which seem to work well on her machine.


I believe most strongly that children beginning a hobby (which with luck may last a life-time) should be given appropriate good quality equipment as well as being taught the necessary skills in small bites. Good scissors were bought at Christmas and the particular skills I'd planned to share this time were pinning on a pattern and cutting it out carefully. I'd hoped we might progress to pinning and perhaps tacking together but the latter didn't happen at all - except by me (far too boring - I do agree) and much help was needed pinning pieces together. Those skills will be saved for another visit.

However, there was a great deal more practice with sewing in a straight line, helped by a line ruled / drawn with an air dissolving pen. She pursued this goal with great enthusiasm and concentration and by the end of her stay was stitching independently over short seams. I was sent away to make a cup of tea!

All this resulted in a brightly coloured cushion for her bedroom, a pyramid doorstop filled with lentils, which seemed to be a particular favourite, and a pencil roll to be given as a gift.


I've learnt to be ready to step in to help when she shows frustration and to stop for regular breaks. A tin of biscuits and other diversions are kept handy!

Sharing skills with her and seeing her delight is a wonderful and unexpected pleasure. I feel very, very lucky.


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)
(reverse)

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)
(reverse)

and the front and back of her credit card:

MasterCard (front)
(reverse)

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)
(reverse)

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

Mutterpass II (front)
(reverse)

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.