Book Marks

A wealth of wit, literary references and life's big themes are on show in the current exhibition at E17 Art House. Those literary references are particularly apt as the exhibition is entitled Book Marks, and is part of Walthamstow's inaugural literary festival, Words Over Waltham Forest.

Paens to literature, reading and writing in the exhibition include quick-witted visual puns (an orange with a piece of clockwork inserted where its stem should be), conceptual riffs on the sanctity of literature (a Bible which warns that God is watching you via a security camera in the front cover, another with legislature scrawled over chapter and verse), and the more straightforward, though no less charming (sculptures and photographs of readers enjoying a quiet moment with a good book).

From the moment of glancing at the title of How To Deal With Problematic Neighbours, the reader's mind is set racing guessing what the solution may be. Its contents are almost predictable, though still tickle the funny bone; a pistol conveniently concealed inside for dispatching with annoying acquaintances.




J. Thomas's artist's book was one of a number of offerings lining what I affectionately refer to as 'Conceptual Corner' in the exhibition, and is the next door neighbour of my contribution. Big Teeth, the artist's book which consumed me for around a month and a half, is a hand sewn exploration of the women's language of cloth in fairytales, and of what happens after happily ever after.




To the right hand side of Big Teeth was another artist's book, this time for sale in an edition. Subtitles (of Life and Death) by David Barette also happened to be my favourite piece in the show.

It's a simple idea; collate quotations on life and death in the form of screenshots and subtitles from a variety of classic films. But it works. 


The screenshots take the form of postcards that one could "cut (or rather, pull) out and keep", or keep as a complete work of art. Perhaps it appeals particularly to me as part of an image, iconography, pop culture obsessed generation; the Tumblr generation, if you will. It's certainly very accessible and instantly gratifying.




Between the Lines by Wendy McMillan, UK Law transcribed over Biblical Text

1984 by Francis Long



Insect Travellers Author/artist unknown. This artist's book disperses advice and adages alongside scientific illustrations of insects.



Bible Cam - God is watching YOU by Pure Evil


Genre - Mystery by Hannah Battershell. What tales could this abandoned typewriter tell?

A Soul of a New Machine by Jonathan Thomas
The artist E. J. England uses  book covers as their canvases; of course, one would need to read the words enclosed within to know whether these paintings are illustrative, or what is suggested to the artist by the books' titles.

The Stars Look Down by E. J. England. Gouache paint on vintage book.

The Lion by E. J. England. Gouache paint on vintage book


Of Love and Other Demons by Divya Venkatesh
I've been in a number of exhibitions with soft sculpture and embroidery artist Harriet Hammel, but the attention to detail and accuracy of her illustrative comic book embroideries exhibited at Book Marks never fails to astonish me.


Beano Embroidery by Harriet Hammel

Dandy Embroidery Fragment by Harriet Hammel
Another favourite piece was Jonathan O'Dea's book-sculpture Burning Back the Layers. Created as a tangible embodiment of the artist's struggles with reading as a dyslexic, the work also reminds the viewer that books come from trees; it reminds us of the lengthy process the materials have undergone in order for a book, perfect and complete, to be placed in our hands. The longer I spent with this piece, the more of its layers I unpeeled; a very appropriately titled work.

Burning Back the Layers by Jonathan O'Dea

Reading by Esther Neslen
This exhibition is rich and beautifully curated, many of the pieces situated in such a way that they have a profound dialogue with one another. I am sure book based art is a genre I will return to time and time again over the course of my career; books are my first love, after all (and what better first love to have?) As one of the art works in the exhibition mused, in the immortal words of Morrissey: "There's more to life than books you know, but not much more." Quite.

Big Teeth: The Storybook Opens

As an artist, it isn't often that everything comes together in a perfect configuration (ignoring for a moment the fact that perfection doesn't exist). So it is with my most recent project, Big Teeth (though it came pretty damn close!)

Just as I was stitching the third to last button hole through which to lace ribbon tying the pages of the book into its codex, I realised that I had cut the button holes on the wrong side of the page. Luckily this page flowed almost as well with the text the wrong way round; both sides fit in with their neighbouring pages almost seamlessly, though my mistake was disastrous enough and for a few minutes it looked like an all out temper tantrum was imminent.

I present to you the almost-exactly-as-I-envisioned-it soft sculpture fairy tale artist's book, Big Teeth:

















This book has been brewing in my head for years. When I originally wrote the first version of the text, I was around fifteen or sixteen, and envisioned the book in paper, collage style. I subsequently lost all copies of the text and had to re-write it (and hopefully improve on it slightly) from memory.

Now that I am a needlewoman, it seemed appropriate to weave references to cloth and textile techniques into the pockets of the book.

The text as I intended it to read:

Big Teeth

Please  have a heart, my dear
Mine's a glass slipper
At a stroke it'll fall apart
My pulse beats quicker
Than paws on soil of some sauteed savannah
So make haste, my sweet
See if the shoe fits before
Lions and tigers and bears
Pour out of the rafters

The narrative thread

Trust me, my love
A love like this looks better
From far, far, far away
Up close the most I'll offer
(A special offer to you,
My flavour of the day)
Is a quick kiss
Quicker kick in the teeth
And a hasty getaway
Over the hills and dales and
Away to never ever land.

By the path of pins and needles

So please let's hold the Cinderella
You see
There comes a time when the stretchmarks show
And the glass slipper
Off it slips
And burrows under
Laundry piles and candelabras 
And lions and tigers and bears
Descend from the rafters

Heavily embroidered

So trust me, my love, a love like this looks far better
From far far away
When it has quite such big teeth big cat full fat feelings
Caresses, distress and all the rest, it leaves me reeling
(Soon the lions and tigers and bears
Will descend from the ceiling)

Girl afrayed

You may very well say, my charming fella
"Whatever the weather we'll weather it together"
But don't make it oh so Cinderella
Said I don't see what's so brave about lions, 
But perhaps it'll help
Although I'm trying
 I'm big cat, small claws
Big cat wound up now
Tin can alley cat, canned meow
And despite my best intentions
I shall go to the ball
I shall have it all
But what then?

 
I am worn to a ravelling

Well, mistakes happen, and now Big Teeth is safely off to the gallery and, unless they follow this blog, visitors to the exhibition will be none the wiser! I do hope they interact with the book's pages, though...

Button Holes and Weekend Breaks

I have but six button holes to sew of Big Teeth left, and the deadline is on Wednesday (see, I really am the Tailor of Gloucester!), so I'm whisking the project away with me for a long weekend (Pip and I are off to the South West tomorrow; first Devon, then Bristol, then Bath, visiting friends and old university haunts and generally pretending we're in Jane Austen).

In the mean time, here are some phone snaps of Big Teeth in progress:





My dear friend Katrina came over yesterday for an arts and crafts date; she painted all day, and I stitched (and we squeezed in a little Adventure Time viewing; I think my outfit was very Princess Bubblegum inspired).






Today I put the finishing touches to the contents of the third pocket of the book; based on the tale of the Princess and the Pea, and ideas of spinning yarns and old wives' tales, it's stacked with many mattresses and proclaims that the story is "Heavily embroidered".



I will return with lots of photographs to share, both digital and Polaroids, and, I would imagine, pining for my old Dartington home!

"I am worn to a ravelling"


My favourite of Beatrix Potter's tales has always been The Tailor of Gloucester. As a small child I imagine the appeal was the cavorting, singing animals and the sumptuous snowy Christmas setting. Now that I'm grown, I am enthralled by the needlework and the tailoring itself, and the industrious little tailor mouse and his helpers above all.

Whilst I was in Scotland my best friend popped a little card with the tailor mouse printed on the front through the letterbox.


The mice must complete the coat and waistcoat for the Lord Mayor's wedding, for the tailor has no more twist; no more cherry coloured embroidery thread!


Last Christmas time I spent an entire day watching the BBC's Beatrix Potter adaptations and embroidering (what else), only leaving the house to fetch some red ribbon. It was bitterly cold and snowing outside, and I felt exactly like the Tailor of Gloucester!

I knew that I had to use the tailor's deliciously sewing-specific phrase, "I am worn to a ravelling" in an embroidery somewhere down the line, and with the Big Teeth project the chance has finally come.

As you may remember from my earlier post, the heroine of Big Teeth, conversely to many fairy tale protagonists, is afraid of being tied down by love. Therefore I wanted to express her frustration at being finally "caught" with the tailor's phrase (particularly since all the contents of the pockets relate, in some way or another, to textiles).

For that embroidery's "sister", I used an equally delicious terrible pun, "Girl Afrayed" (I just couldn't help myself; it marries two of my favourite things, needlework and a Smiths song!)

These two little doilies will fill the penultimate and final pockets of Big Teeth.





"Will you take the path of pins, or the path of needles?"


In some of the earliest surviving texts of Little Red Riding Hood, when the girl is met by the wolf in the wood, he asks her if she will take the path of pins, or the path of needles. It is of little consequence which path the girl chooses; whichever she does, the wolf chooses the other path and begins a race to get there first.

What is of significance, however, is the objects chosen to name these two paths. One may think that they are appropriate names for paths taken in a cautionary tale, which is precisely what Little Red Riding Hood is thought of as being today; warning girls against talking to strangers and sexual "immorality".

But the tale has roots, like many of the old tales, as a story of female cunning, strength, and coming of age (don't forget in many of the earlier versions of the tale it is Little Red, not the woodsman, who cuts her grandmother out of the wolf's belly).

So, why are the needles and pins of such significance in this coming of age story? Well, according to this (far superior) article, in the French villages where the European version of the fairytale was originally collected, young girls symbolically passed over into womanhood by going to spend one winter apprenticed to a seamstress.

Therefore, Little Redcap's journey up the path of pins/needles possibly symbolises her (potentially dangerous, as evidenced by the wolf) journey into womanhood.

There may be a slightly more arbitrary reason for the pins and needles; fairy tales, or, quite literally, "old wive's tales" were normally shared by groups of women, who gathered to sew, spin, weave and knit. Telling old stories would make these sometimes onerous tasks more enjoyable, and weaving references to their handiwork into the tales was a way of personalising them; of making them relatable.

I've always been intrigued by the tale of Little Red Riding Hood; aged fifteen I completed an embarrassingly shoddy project based on the story for my Art GCSE, and "She whipped a pistol from her knickers" from Roald Dahl's anarchic take on the tale is one of my favourite lines of literature of all time.

It seems that mine and the tale's paths have crossed yet again in the making of the contents of the pocket on the second page of Big Teeth (and the title of the project itself, of course, is partially a reference to "My, what big teeth you have!")

Each of the pockets contains an embroidery alluding to the references to textiles techniques which are commonly found in fairy tales (for the precise reasons I gave above). For this one, I decided to create the clearing in the woodland where the path of pins and the path of needles begin.

By embroidering literal pins and needles along the paths, I am alluding to the dangers the heroines of fairy tales face along their journeys, and perhaps afterwards (I don't believe in happily ever after, particularly not with a "Prince Charming"!)



I decided to stick with black thread to give a flat, story book illustrative style, and I am quite pleased with the results (even if the trees do look like broccoli as a result!)

With the contents of the first page, I was alluding to the ball of string used to escape the maze in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, and to the "thread" of bread or pebbles Hansel and Gretel leave in the woods to find their way home by. I indicated this by carving two tiny trees from birch bark and stringing a red thread between them (another allusion to Little Red Riding Hood?)


The text I chose for this piece was "the narrative thread"; the thread which runs through all our lives, and our oldest stories; our myths and fairy tales, which make up so much of our history and culture.



I have but two more little embroideries to complete for Big Teeth, and then I can stitch the whole thing together; I'm actually going to make my deadline for the exhibition at this rate!


Rest Cure


As much as I do love London, occasionally I need to escape it for a little while. I've been feeling a little disenchanted recently; I think from constantly working so hard on projects, from the long summer which I've been failing to fill effectively, and from spending too much time staring at screens (she says, staring at one!)

So a two week rest cure at my parents' house in the North West Highlands was just what the doctor ordered. I brought my current project, Big Teeth, along with me (and got a surprising amount sewn on the train!) My aim for the holiday was to sit and sew and look out at the sea.

So far it has also included rather a lot of staring at screens (surprise surprise), fine food (and wine!), and the odd walk around the hills and down to the beach. The wild landscape is the perfect setting for constructing a book about fairytales (many of which, of course, had fairly savage beginnings).

First of all, here are some holiday snaps:



An old friend adorning a stone shed on the walk down to the beach (painted by a family friend).

Giant daisies growing against the shed in my parents' garden.

The first bushel of gooseberries grown in the garden; there's almost enough for a crumble!

An entirely unintentional shot of me wandering around in the garden in a lovely dress.
Of course, most of my time has been given over to sewing, and this current project isn't an easy one (but then I'm always one to bite off more than I can chew!)

Someone else who hasn't been finding my sewing easy is our dog, Rosie. A few days ago, the phone started ringing whilst I was mid-stitch; thinking it might be my boyfriend, I got up in a rush, thrusting the embroidery aside. It landed on the dog.





Poor pet!

My reading material for the holiday has been fairly light; I desperately wanted to read The Little White Horse, but couldn't find it at home or at my Grannie's (hers is the house next door to my parents'). Instead, Grannie lent me Linnets and Valerians, also by Elizabeth Goudge. I must admit, so far I haven't touched it; I've been too engrossed in Issue Five of Magpie Magazine, which, as well as being full of beautiful photographs and articles, has quite a number of the best poems I've read in recent years. They've inspired me to write some of my own (not quite ready to share yet, though). My final "reading material" is my previous artist's book, On Being Soft, which is sob-inducingly superior to my current efforts, but acts as a good source of inspiration nonetheless.


And on to those poor efforts! I think my real problem is that the story/poem that runs through the book is rather text-heavy, and my pages are rather tiny!


The first few pages are charmingly off-kilter, but the last couple are so dense the text is almost illegible! The second to last page in particular is just not gelling for me; I think the blanket stitch around the text is too bright. I may unpick it and start again. Also, the last line of the first page is missing and I can't for the life of me find where it's gone! Typical me!







I do like the soft tones of the scanned and cloth-printed Polaroids against the clumsy blanket stitch and the hand sewn text, though, and I am (more or less) happy with every page other than that pesky second to last one. Perhaps I should have stuck to using the same fabric for each page, as I did with On Being Soft. Oh well, I'm sure the contents of the Polaroid pockets will be more impressive. And speaking of, I'd better crack on with them. No rest for the wicked!


Softer at The Mill

I'm just back from dropping off a couple of framed embroideries at Penny Fielding's for the E17 Art Trail Summer Show (which opens on Thursday), and I thought I would finally get 'round to uploading some photographs from another little exhibition I'm participated in, which opened a couple of weeks ago.

Some of you may remember the Soft exhibition at The Mill that I blogged about around  this time last year. Well, after the success of that show, The Mill decided to reincarnate the exhibition as Softer. There's a very different feel to this year's exhibition (it's jam packed to the rafters, for one thing!), with more varieties of textile art/craft and a slightly more political slant. Everyone from established artists to infant school students are represented; it's truly reflective of the wider Walthamstow community!

Unfortunately, with all the other exhibitions I'm preparing for and submitting work to, I ran out of time to create something new for Softer. Thus my contribution was one of my early embroideries for The Cure for Love, which was exhibited in its entirety at The Mill in December 2011. 

The embroidery I submitted was my "Love is no mythical creature" narwhal (my favourite animal, don't you know; I frequently dream about them!)


He looks quite sweet nestled in amongst the crochet and quilting!



These "stained glass" crochet granny squares were one of my favourite exhibits. I love how each square is unique, yet each compliments the others. Definitely got me hankering after a granny square blanket (if only I could knit or crochet!)




Work curated and created by my old colleagues at Significant Seams was also featured; cushions spelling out "Softer" were hung up in the front window, inviting the public in. The cushions were made as part of Wood Street Welcome, a community art project for Wood Street, Walthamstow.


In addition to the Softer exhibition, there were also a number of inventive oversized animals on display (including my second-favourite animal, a downcast looking fox!)

This exhibition was entitled Wildlife Reworked, and was comprised of animal sculptures made from recycled objects by local families with the help of sculptor Michelle Reader. Although a separate exhibition, the sculptures could easily have been included in Softer as many were made with large quantities of fabric. There was obviously a lot of attention to detail given when selecting the materials to construct the animals; the texture of the fox's fur in particular was spot on.





This piece has inspired some of my hand stitching and hand quilting idea for Big Teeth. Lovely warm colours and homespun, handcrafted textures!



It wouldn't be a textile exhibition at The Mill without a few of Harriet Hammel's signature pieces. She contributed a Campbell's "PopArt" Soup can and a jar of (my favourite) Marmite. Though why these incredibly life like provisions were displayed in a wire cage, I'm not quite sure! They shared wall space with a knitted or crocheted (forgive my ignorance) faux-taxidermy moose head, which very much puts me in mind of one my housemate hung on our living room wall at university.




This cactus was one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition, and I'm very sorry to say I didn't get any better photographs of it. Just imagine how much more practical knitted house plants would be than their living counterparts!



This quilted duffel bag by Significant Seams stalwart Heidi Beach puts me in mind of William Morris's beloved leather satchels; I can certainly imagine him using this bag if he was around nowadays!


I was enthralled by the texture of the undulating seaweed in this piece; I don't know what the textile technique is, but the artist has caught their essence just right.


Unfortunately the photograph of this knitted item doesn't do it justice; it was a riot of colour and texture.


This bird reminded me of both William Morris's original designs, and Nicola Jarvis's drawings, paintings, and embroideries inspired by the famed Walthamstow-born master craftsman.


I loved the intricate volcano design of this quilt; just imagine how long it must've taken to piece it together!


Finally, an incredibly sweet addition to the exhibition was the "Needle Club" book created by young primary school children. It showcased the magic of children's imagination, and both put me in mind of my soft sculpture book On Being Soft, and inspired me to persevere with Big Teeth














"You'll turn into a pumpkin"

"You'll turn into a pumpkin" is still a phrase my mother is fond of saying to me when she fears I'm staying up too late. It's a reference, of course, to the fairytale Cinderella, in which the Fairy Godmother transforms a pumpkin into a carriage to transport Cinderella to the ball.

I too like to recycle and transform things in unexpected ways. Some old Polaroids I took during my A Level Photography course will make an appearance in my new artist's book, Big Teeth

The shoot was inspired in part by enigmatic symbolic/surrealist photographer Francesca Woodman, and in part by, you guessed it, Cinderella.

I've recently got back into taking Polaroids, and do seem to gravitate towards the colour gold (whether it's spray painting golden pumpkins or covering my face with gold reward stars); perhaps it's the warmth of Polaroid film which suits golden tones.
.









I've just ordered some printable fabric, and plan on incorporating the Polaroids into the book as pockets which will hold embroidered handkerchiefs. For now though, it's back to stitching up the poem which runs through the book.

Cover to Cover

I'm making good progress with Big Teeth, the new artist's book I'm working on. Yesterday I finished hand stitching the front cover, and today I've cut out all the pages and will start on the text of the book after this blog post.

That's not to say it hasn't been a difficult process so far; choosing to render the entire book in hand stitching meant lots of unpicking and re-stitching! But I'm sure the end result will be worth it. Hand stitching a piece just gives it so much more soul.

I chose blue and white faded striped fabric, and sewed the cover with the stripes going vertically, so that the pattern was akin to a tube of toothpaste (such big teeth need a lot of brushing, after all!)








I'm happy with the book thus far, even with its imperfections (which is quite something for me!) I think I'm going to very much enjoy this little project undertaken for the Book Marks exhibition.

Big Teeth

Possibly thanks to my little exhibition at Arts and Crusts, I was recently contacted by E17 Art House, a local picture framers and gallery, and asked to participate in a new exhibition there to coincide with Waltham Forest's literary festival in October.

Words Over Waltham Forest aims to incite participants and the public to "tell tales, spin stories, recite rhymes, loosen tongues as Words over Waltham Forest celebrates creative writing, literary inspired art, reading, freedom of expression, language and literature across Waltham Forest."

I have a couple of plans for "literary inspired art" afoot, but first I must create a piece for the Book Marks exhibition at E17 Art House. And, always being one to bite off more than I can chew, I've decided to create a follow up to On Being Soft, my first soft sculpture artist's book.

This new book will be titled Big Teeth, and in keeping with the literary theme, will focus on fairytales and all the allusions to textiles therein, and how there is no such thing as a happy ending. It will have more than a whiff of Hounds of Love about it, being narrated by a heroine who is unwilling to give into love and its trappings.

Here is the design for the book's front cover.


Big Teeth refers both to the wolf in grandmother's clothing ("My, what big teeth you have") and to being afraid of the unruly emotions of life and love (life's "big teeth").

I picked up all the fabric to construct the book from fabric donations at Significant Seams for a very reasonable price; I love the slightly worn, pre-loved look of donated fabric. The fabric this embroidery will be stitched to make up the front cover is a faded "toothpaste stripe", which I felt very appropriate.