The Red House

Today Mum and I made a mother-daughter pilgrimage to The Red House in Bexleyheath, Kent. The house was commissioned, designed and lived in by William Morris, and completed in 1860. It is one of the foremost examples of architecture of the Arts and Crafts Movement, but the main reason for our visit was that The William Morris Gallery here in Walthamstow is closed, and thus this was my only real chance to have a look at some original Morris textiles.

As soon as we entered the house we were met by an early example of Arts and Crafts work; stained glass windows with birds by Phillip Webb, figures by Morris' friend Edward Burne-Jones, and floral designs by Morris himself. Two of the figures depicted by Burne-Jones represented Love and a blindfolded Fate, holding the wheel of fortune.
Stained glass window in entrance hallway of The Red House; photograph shows detail with floral designs by Morris and bird designs by Phillip Webb

Just inside the hallway are Morris' first two wallpaper designs, Daisy and Trellis, which he produced with Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Trellis (Morris' furnishing company) was inspired by the garden at Red House.




In the first room of the house we came across the first set of textiles. A wooden printing block (which would have been used to print wallpapers and fabric) is displayed alongside samples of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.'s wallpapers and textiles.
Wooden printing block displayed with printed fabric

The dining room contained the exhibit of greatest interest to me; an unfinished wall-hanging depicting Aphrodite worked in embroidery. The craftsmanship of the needlework and scale of the piece, though unfinished, staggered me. It is a beautifully realised piece, painterly, with exquisitely subtle shading and life-like texture. I hope to one day have the time to work on such a large scale (and with such skill)! The wall hanging is thought to have been embroidered by Bessie, the sister of Morris' wife, Jane.

The house was filled with Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. designs; in the dining room stood a table by Phillip Webb, and three chairs designed and made by the company.



There is more needlework on display in Morris and Jane's bedroom; two tapestries, one a daisy design by Morris, originally completed by Bessie (but this reproduction sewn by The William Morris US Society) in couching (a technique in which wool is laid across the fabric and fastened to it with small stitches), and the other an elaborate embroidery in close stitch bearing Morris' favourite Chaucher proverb: He who loves best remember longest. This embroidery has been analysed and found to have been completed by one highly skilled needleperson and two apprentices.

Detail from the embroidered tapestry
We learnt from a tour guide that Morris was taught to embroider by "Red Lion Mary", the housekeeper of Morris and Burne-Jones' bachelor pad/student digs in Red Lion Square, London (of course, when Morris had mastered the craft he then delegated it to the women of the family! Embroidery has long been considered a "woman's craft"!)

A portrait of the man himself (looking rather sheepish)

"Is There A Cure For Love?" Embroidery Workshop @ The Mill

Tonight was mine and Tina's embroidery/love potion making workshop at The Mill community centre in Walthamstow. There wasn't a huge turn-out, but to be honest, considering it was an introductory session I was glad anyone turned up at all!

We took ingredients, negative and positive, from failed relationships, and stitched them on to ribbon, adding them to bottles to make "broken" potions. We then stitched ingredients to positively re-balance the potions, to find a "cure for love". The workshop was very therapeutic, both in its subject matter of taking something broken and making it beautiful again, and in that sewing itself is a therapeutic action (something Joetta Maue mentioned in my interview with her).









Interview with Debbie of the East London Craft Guerrilla

I promised more on Walthamstow's arts and crafts scene, so here's an interview with Debbie, founder of Walthamstow's East London Craft Guerrilla. Thanks Debbie!

Founders of the East London Craft Guerrilla

Do you feel there's something of a craft revival in Walthamstow, and the wider world, at present?
Definitely, it's been going on for quite a few years now.

Do you feel any connection with Walthamstow's craft history? (I'm thinking of William Morris in particular)
Very much so. I tend to think that if William Morris were around that he'd very much like and agree with our principals as we have based our manifesto on his campaign of making craft accessible to the masses. I think he'd fit in very well and be happy to associate with us....I'm sure he would have been one of the Craft Guerrilla founding members!

Walthamstow isn't exactly as hip as Hoxton or Shoreditch! Do you feel this is a hindrance or a help to your cause?

In a way it's a help as we get a captive audience.... there's not much to do out in the suburbs!

Crafters at a Craft Guerrilla night
 Although he is a very different craftsman to you, Grayson Perry's studio is in Walthamstow. Do you admire his work/is he an influence on you?
Actually we do have lots in common as I also am a ceramicist. I absolutely love his work....though I can't say it has influenced me.

Are you involved in the E17 Art Trail?
Usually yes. I have participated in pretty much all trails since the beginning as both an individual artist and/or under the Craft Guerrilla collective banner. The Art Trail is one of the events we look forward to participating in as we can organize larger scale events and really get the community involved.

Walthamstow is "sandwiched" between the two natural spaces of Epping Forest and the Lee Valley; does this influence show at all in your own work and/or that of the Craft Guerilla?

Though I love nature I'm pretty much a "city girl". My main influences come from the city, life in the capital and its people. I love nature but I find the hub bub and energy of the city more inspiring and relevant to my work with Craft Guerrilla as we work mainly with urban dwellers and the intention is to get them making so we need to offer projects/work which they can understand and relate to.
A finished cross stitch button brooch, one of the kits which was offered at a Craft Guerrilla night

What is your particular practise as part of the Craft Guerrilla?
I'm a dab hand at all sorts of craft disciplines, though my weaknesses are knitting and crocheting, but I'm willing and wanting to learn everything I can. I would say that my favourite craft disciplines are anything stitched based so cross stitching, embroidery, sewing and anything with fabrics. I am also the founding member and the main organizer so a lot of my time is spent doing the bulk of the work which can be anything from planning an event, doing the PR, making the craft kits to chosing the play list for our market event. But the main intention is to have Craft Guerrilla as not only a platform for designer makers to sell their wares but also to serve as an educator and to create a wider creative community.

A participant knitting at a Craft Guerrilla night

0Why did you set up the Craft Guerrilla?
To begin with it started as a back lash to not having adequate craft events in the area. I had participated in other fairs in Walthamstow, and all over London, and it always left me feeling that the organizers weren't really into this because they loved craft but were involved solely because they wanted either to make money off designer makers by renting over priced stalls or to massage their own ego. Also they were very poorly subscribed to as the majority of makers were of very low quality. There's nothing wrong with having plastic beads on a string but it's not craft! Having quality, well made, well designed products is really important as if you are offering people an alternative it needs to be as good or better then what is available on the High Street.

Even though there is a huge artistic and craft community in Walthamstow it's very insular and elitist so having participative craft events like our DIY craft nights which are open to the public is our way of bringing awareness to the importance and value of hand made goods. It's also a good excuse to socialise!


My friend Kat and myself at a Craft Guerrilla night
The word "Guerrilla" might imply that you are fighting against something; is there a political side to the Craft Guerrilla?
It's basically a tongue and cheek name and the "fighting" aspect is simply the call to arms against the inadequacies, unfairness and high price in terms of environment and human costs of mass production. We just wanted to show people that there is an alternative. Craft doesn't have to equal macaroni, glitter and glue! We're very aware of consumerism and so not to just offer more products to the market we also offer craft workshops were we share our skills and teach people to be more self sufficient. It's no good just selling products it's also important to educate people too.

Also we try to serve as a resource to our design makers and try to help them in finding their way to making their business a viable one.
A very elaborate piece of craft being sewn by a member of the Craft Guerrilla

I've been to several of your craft nights at the Rose and Crown, and must admit I've only seen women crafting; do you think more men should be encouraged to craft?
We offer so many different events that we hope men will want to come along! Not just dragged along by wives and girlfriends but also to come and make. I think it's something which should be embraced by all regardless of age, sex, colour, nationality, etc. Having the chance to sit down, create something with your hands should be part of people's lives as I strongly believe craft and making is both healing and an important vehicle in getting us in touch with our humanity.


A few of that elusive crafting breed, "men", at a Craft Guerrilla night!


Working with tools and your hands is something which sets humans apart from other animals and I think it's pretty important to be in touch with that basic creative side as most of us never get the chance to do so. With today's modern technologies and busy working life styles it's easy to lose that side of our nature! We do get the occassional man at our craft nights but it is a mostly female pursuit.
The next Craft Guerrilla night will be on Thursday 10th November at Ye Olde Rose and Crown. See you there!

The Beast & Me

The Beast and Me

It’s grey here I’d say 95% of the year, except from the odd stretch of summer when that cruelest London sun beats the tarmac bleached, a slightly lighter shade of grey on the Dulux scale. You can walk the long mecca of the market and hear a different tongue at every turn. You’re the only white girl on the bus. You’re the only one in colour who isn’t a construction worker. People work hard here. Hard. Know the meaning of money and you’re just a monied interloper choking on fishbones and white guilt in a Turkish restaurant.
Better watch out ‘cos here be dragons. Peeling off the bridge but beasts all the same.You’re comforted by hooded figures and their choke-chained hideous dogs as you walk the pigeon grey streets after hours. You ashamedly lick the slithery chicken off your fingers, not quite another tourist sent astray by Dickens. Sometimes you’re naked in your shiny doll clothes, all-too-often checking out, on the way to Hampstead Soho Greenwich Camden the South Bank Spitalfields. A  tourist in your own town, but The Stow’s home. It’ll grow on you, wait and see, it’ll absorb the you into me, become a simmering lazy primordial molasses ooze of far-flung spices and words words words. Sticky sticky sticky it’ll stick to your shoes and you won’t ever stamp it out.
Victoria Line, that’s my name, I write it down for you straight on the jerky trains of my name-sake in tiny cursive or tiny print, neat black always. I’m an auditor, an observationalist. I’m invisible and omnipresent, and I know what’s in your heart. It beats for this place, for “Perfect” Fried Chicken and all the 99p shops, for gum-spattered streets and the ancient house in the Village. You were born of the beast of east, spat out like gum on the pavement.






This is the first piece of writing/embroidery specifically about Walthamstow; the "loveletter" to "The Stow" which I promised.
And what better to illustrate a piece on Walthamstow with than a pigeon, "the rat of the sky"? Huge flocks gather around the market every day in the hope of some left-over produce; in my mind they really seem to symbolise The Stow.
More on Walthamstow's arts and crafts scene, past and present, to come!

Interview by Olisa Corcoran (cocoaeyesthestitcher) Part One

Olisa Corcoran(cocoaeyesthestitcher on Blogger and cocoaeyes on Flickr) asked me to do a mini interview for her new series on young artists. I was only too happy to oblige! Here's Part One:

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman: A New Feature

Happy discoveries are made in the online stitching community!

Drink Me In

I stumbled across the work of a young British artist named Kate Elisabeth Rolison in the Phat Quarter group pool on flickr. I was immediately entranced with the stitching and energy of this piece and, like any curious stitcher, followed the links to her blog, poesie grenadine, where she documents her work embroidering modern love poetry onto vintage fabrics.

The work is beautiful and inventive. I just adore the way her drawing and stitching look like the caffeinated images one might concoct in a Viennese coffee den.

Dishwater Eyes

What follows is Part One of a mini-interview with Rolison. I was very curious about her life and her East London routes… especially how the two interact to create a talented young textile artist. How does a woman who is so comparatively young, living in the U.K. create pieces that so resonate with me?

I started the interview with finding out more about her geographic source, education and her artistic communities, both online and in “meat space.”

A portrait of the artist as a tortured artist

Part Two will focus on her current work with poesie grenadine and other projects.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Walthamstow (also known as "The Stow" or "E17"), a literal end-of-the-line town in North East London, on the end of London Underground's Victoria Line. It's an incredibly culturally diverse place, with everything from 99p and fried chicken shops to a gallery dedicated to the arts and crafts pioneer William Morris and swanky restaurants. It was also the scene of some of the recent London riots, and consequently has a bit of a reputation! My relationship with Walthamstow has changed over the years from “love-to-hate” to a true appreciation of its diversity and vibrancy, particularly since I've become aware of its thriving art scene.

The Stow
Walthamstow is home during the holidays, and also for the next three months as I complete a project independently of university. I hope to move back after graduating to attend the Art Writing MA at Goldsmiths College. I just hope I have enough experience!

Tell us a little about how you started stitching?
When I was 15 – 16, I studied GCSE Textiles at school and designed a dress based on the Amazon rainforest. I hand printed the bodice with a fern pattern, and then hand-embroidered unfurling designs onto the ferns. This first attempt was very amateurish and I took a long hiatus before picking up a needle again! Then, last summer, whilst I was recovering from an illness, my father bought me some very simple hand puppet kits to make for my little cousins. Sewing the simple tiger together was incredibly therapeutic, and soon I was hooked. I experimented with cross stitch and (again, very amateurish) hand
embroidery.

What are you studying in school?
The official title of my degree is "Writing (Contemporary Practises)"; the course as a whole is known as "Performance Writing". In my first year I was based at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, an internationally renowned, avant guard arts and performing arts school. Last year the college relocated to University College Falmouth in Cornwall, due to financial difficulties (however, Falmouth is acclaimed in its own right). My class is tiny; there are only ten of us!

Performance Writing doesn't necessarily refer to performance, per se, but to the fact that the act of writing itself is a performance. This can mean different things for different artists, but my practice mostly focuses on sound art and embroidery.

The Cure for Love

Studying Performance Writing has allowed me to push the medium of writing as far as it can go, and to blur the boundaries between writing and other arts.

I’ve noticed a lot of photos on your blog of you stitching with other artists. Tell us a little about your arts community? Are there any online communities that you’re involved in relating to your creativity?

The arts community in Walthamstow is very much alive and kicking (some would say surprisingly!) We are the home of the East London Craft Guerilla (http://eastlondoncraftguerrilla.blogspot.com/), who put on a monthly craft night, which I attend, as well as the E17 Designers (http://www.e17designers.co.uk/).


I've become more aware of Walthamstow's arts scene since exhibiting in the E17 Art Trail (http://www.e17arttrail.co.uk/). Going around the trail I met many other enthusiastic and inspiring artists. The trail even brought me my first commission!

Rolison's first commission

The online embroidery community, on Blogger, on flickr, and on the needlework blog MrXStitch has been incredibly supportive of my journey in sewing. It's encouraging to see such a thriving contemporary embroidery community.
 
 
Rolison in front of exhibition space


Exhibition Venues/Here Is My Heart

Today I visited two possible venues in which to exhibit The Cure for Love; the 491 Gallery on Grove Green Road in Leytonstone,and The Mill in Coppermill Lane, Walthamstow.

The 491 Gallery was once a factory but is now an art squat; a home for squatters (or not technically squatters, as they pay a peppercorn rent to the building's owners, Transport for London) and an exhibition space for artists, including students from Central Saint Martins.


The Mill is a slightly different organisation (though I suppose both venues operate on similar community-based principals). Orginally the building that houses The Mill was Coppermill Lane Library. This was closed by the council and the plan was to turn it into a drug rehabilitation centre. However, local campaining meant that it eventually became what it is today; a community centre for local people.

Tomorrow I will be travelling to the Pharmacy of Stories gallery in Hackney, to participate in their show Here Is My Heart, in which hearts are given and recieved in "heart transplants"; very fitting for The Cure for Love!


This is the heart I will be taking along.

I find it interesting that it was originally the liver that was the symbol of love, and believed to be the seat of the passions in the body. The heart itself was believed to be the seat of the mind, and thus is (still) poetically linked to the soul.

And Then We Came to the End

Alas, today was the last day of my exhibition in the E17 Art Trail. It's been a great experience and I'll definitely be doing it again next year. I've had some lovely feedback, it's brought me my first commission, and it was the perfect excuse for a tea party.


Final feedback:

"Lovely work - hours of work, wish I had the time. Make the most of it, good luck in your degree."

"I love your subversive stitchery. Brilliant. Could I commission something?"

"Made me laugh - and so well executed too (as all artists should be!)"

"Very glad we made it to your venue. Great idea for a body of work."

"Lovely idea. Where are all the snippets from? I'll be racking my brains trying to work them out tonight. Well executed."

"Really impressive and thought provoking (for me anyway)."

"It was amazing. I love the "stopper your heart" stitching. I think you are really talented and the WI are missing out on your talents."

"I love the details of the bottles and am amazed at the accuracy of the human heart stitching! I want one!"

William, It Was Really Something

Ah yes, the obligatory referencing of a Smiths song. My indie stock just went up by several hundred points. I digress.

Inspired by Walthamstow's greatest export, William Morris (or as I like to call him, "Willie Mozza"), I will be writing a love letter to "The Stow" and then translating it into stitch. I wrote a piece in this vein for Dartington at the end of my time there. I suspect this piece will be slightly less gushing however, as my relationship with Walthamstow is rather more complicated than my girlish crush on Dartington ever was.

William Morris

Crafternoon



Last night Kat and I went along to an East London Craft Guerilla night at the Ye Olde Rose and Crown pub in Walthamstow. There's a burgeoning arts and crafts scene in Walthamstow, as evidenced by several exhibits in this year's E17 Art Trail, including tapestry weaving and fibre craft, Knit A Year, and Dr Knit and the Knitting Laboratory!

Of course, Walthamstow has a long tradition of arts and crafts, being the birthplace of William Morris, leader of the Arts and Crafts Movement. Unfortunately the William Morris Gallery in Lloyd Park is currently closed for renovation, but I have had the pleasure of visiting it in the past. On my last visit there was a large selection of original Arts and Crafts pieces including textiles and tapestries, as well as fibre-based art created in local community art projects and by local artists.

A typical William Morris textile design


The William Morris Gallery

In fact it could be said that Morris is Walthamstow's most famous son. His textiles are still popular today; my parents' kitchen blinds are made of one of his prints. Morris' "Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful" is one of my favourite adages. In addition to being a designer and artist, Morris was also a Romantic writer and founded the Socialist League. Morris (like me!) taught himself embroidery, learning to sew with wool on a wooden frame. Interestingly, once he had mastered the craft, the responsibility for carrying out trade orders was delegated to the women of the family, his wife Jane and her sister Bessie.

Evidently embroidery has a long tradition of being thought of as "woman's work", which to some extent, despite the advent of "manbroiderers" such as Mr X Stitch, is an attitude which still prevails. At the craft night, for example, I didn't spot any men trying their hand at making a cross-stitched badge or bunting necklace.


Being impoverished art students, Kat and I forgoed the craft kits and instead brought our own arts and crafts projects along, Kat her paintings on old photographs, and myself one of my in-progress embroideries on a handkerchief.



It was lovely to have a few glasses of wine, some Korean spicy chicken wings and a proper catch-up. We've been to the craft nights at the Rose and Crown before, and I'm sure we'll return again. Now, to look for a Walthamstow-based sewing circle...

Arting Around



Today my dear friend Kat (a talented artist in her own right) and I braved the wind and rain to take in some local culture on the E17 Art Trail. I'd had a brief wander round the Trail with family on Saturday and yesterday, and bought this upcycled dress from an eco pop-up shop on Forest Road:



I also took in painting, photography and illustration in the Ye Olde Rose and Crown pub on Hoe Street. Several illustrative pieces were based on films, including one on a speech from Brief Encounter, a favourite of mine and the basis for some soon-to-be-posted embroideries. The Mitre Art Studio was filled with beautiful lino prints and a couple of amusing pieces, a 50s dress printed with trashy images of lowbrow culture...


and a tiny diorama containing a toy zebra and "far-away" zebras, bearing the legend "This is very small... those are far away", borrowed from Father Ted!



Today we started off in Walthamstow Village on Orford Road, in Desire hair salon, where there was a selection of Modernist/Futurist-inspired leather works depicting Olympic sports by the Mon Seedin collective. The collective had really taken the "On Your Marks" Olympic theme of the Trail as their starting point.


Next on our trip was a collection of abstract paintings named The Journey, by artist Wendy Coley, displayed in the windows of the old Town Hall. Our favourite was the red and gold triptych:


After seeing all that Orford Road had to offer (unfortunately several exhibiting venues were shut) we wandered down to the Market, stopping off at Walthamstow Library to see London... Its People and Places, an exhibition of watercolours by Ron Bowman:


Watercolour of the Ancient House, Walthamstow, by Ron Bowman

Next on our list was Waterstones, which had several prints and a photographic essay on Morocco.

After all that art it was back to mine for a well-earned bacon sarnie. There's still a couple of exhibits I'd like to squeeze in seeing, including Dr. Knit and the Knitting Laboratory...


...Paintings in Tea, Alcohol and Ink by Carne Griffiths, and the most bizarre and disturbing listing of this year, Tears of Blood, in which, apparently, "tears of blood run down the faces of cats as they emerge from beautiful or dramatic scenery"!