A Busy Old Year and a Happy New One

It would be easy to focus on the negative in 2016, so I'm going to focus on the positive instead.

Highlights of the year for me have included (in no particular order):

Being An Associate Artist of Daily Life Ltd

Leading workshops/performing/diagnosing diagnosis at The Walthamstow Garden Party, The William Morris Gallery, and The Wellcome Collection.










Teaching Women To Make Mini Protest Banners


Teaching Myself DIY Screen Printing




Learning To Use A Sewing Machine (And Almost Finishing My First Handmade Dress!)




Finally Getting You Didn't Cry Trophy Pins Made (And Selling A Few!)





Many Art Dates With My Lovelies, Making Some Wonderful New Friends, And Doing The First Drawing I'm Actually Proud Of



Being Welcomed Aboard The Good Ship Object Book And Securing Studio Space Starting January





Dressing My Muse In Hand Embroidered Blouses And Getting Back Into Photography (More To Follow)






Getting To Make Things With Young People All Day For Money




I could go on but I'd best leave it there; there are canapes to roll, cocktails to shake, and my face to paint (just putting this together and looking back at everything I've done this year has made me feel tired; and I left a lot out!)

Suffice to say I hope anyone who finds their way to this post has had a wonderful year; I wish you an even better new one, and if you've been a part of my 2016, thank you for making it so special. 

Owning Your Okness Potion

Perhaps my biggest flaw is my lack of willingness to compromise. I like things the way I like them, and I have a tendency to be all or nothing; if things are almost perfect, but not quite, I'm prone to pack it all in. At my worst I remind myself of the titular character from Kissing Jessica Stein; so terrified of things not being Perfect that she misses out on things being Quite Good.

I have particularly been feeling this way lately, but if I think about it I must concede that things actually are Quite Good. "Perfection is unattainable", as I embroidered on to ribbon for this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion. I really want to remember that, and not judge myself so harshly, or at all, for not reaching the impossible.

As the ingredients to go alongside this mantra, I have included 25p, simply because after our date yesterday my lovely boyfriend treated me to a rabbit themed mug for that price when we wandered into the local Sally Army. I'm nuts for bunnies, my favourite mug he got me some years ago tragically broke, and it was the kind of tiny gesture which makes me very happy.

Our date was a trip to the Bob and Roberta Smith exhibition at the William Morris Gallery followed by coffee and cake. I have borrowed from Bob and Roberta's visual vocabulary, using a colour combination and font for the mantra which he frequently uses in his signs and placards.

The potion's title is Owning Your Okness Potion, a reference to a Simpsons episode in which Homer reads a pamphlet by that name.






 Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.





Move On Up Potion

This week brought some bad news. But if there's one thing I've learned, it's to bounce back from disappointments. 

So this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and start again"; which is exactly what I've done, although I haven't had to start from the very beginning, just to think a bit more creatively. 

On the plus side (hopefully), this week I have also been applying for this year's William Morris Gallery artist's residency. Thus, to accompany the text in the potion is a snippet of possibly Morris's most famous print, "Strawberry Thief".













In the words of Fred and Ginger:


Tangled Yarns: Alke Schmidt at the William Morris Gallery (Part 2)

Earlier I explained that, through Tangled Yarns, Alke Schmidt reminds us of the obscure and murky chain of supply in the textile industry. But it was ever thus; Tangled Yarns explores the (dirty) politics and morality of the textiles industry from the 1700s to the present day. And seemingly, little has changed. Though the chain of supply today may often be a mystery, in her work Stained Alke traces the mid-1800s supply chain from cotton plant to dress. She illustrates how a garment's origins, even then, could leave an invisible smear unbeknownst to the wearer. 


A wealthy woman in an elegant, delicate ball-gown peers through a barrier of columns of an 1840s cotton print which separate her from the women who clothed her. As with many of the works in the exhibition, cloth, stitch and paint weave in and out of each other, and composition says just as much as content.



The women the elegant lady peers at are a plantation slave, a Lancashire mill worker and a cottage industry dressmaker. Each category of exploited worker became the focus of a moral outrage in the 1800s, just as the treatment of Bengali textile workers is now, and rightly so. Even the self-employed dressmaker working from home lived a meagre and often starving existence; there are accounts of cottage industry stitchers losing their eyesight by candlelight in the seminal text The Subversive Stitch.

Alke's dressmaker has dark circles under her eyes and stitches by a guttering candle; perhaps her eyesight, too, will soon falter.


As Alke’s exhibition demonstrates, structural violence towards women permeates and has always permeated the textile industry. In around 1719, this violence become more overt, when, as Alke rather brilliantly puts it, some women became literal "fashion victims". British weavers were feeling increasingly threatened by the popularity of patterned Indian and Indian-imitation cottons. Rather than directing their resentment at the producers of such cottons, wool and worsted weavers took to the streets and began attacking women wearing garments made from the printed cottons. The attacks included ripping and cutting the cloth, setting it on fire, and throwing acid at the women to burn their skin. It quickly became a witch-hunt in which the recipient of the violence was not the clothes but the women wearing them. They were branded Calico Madams, the title of the piece in which Alke brings all these rich and subtle threads of research (or tangled yarns, if you like) together.


As her base Alke has chosen a calico in the style of early 18th century Indian designs. The next layer is a reproduction of an illustration from the period celebrating the passing of the ban on Indian cottons. Finally she has painted the "calico madams" themselves, fighting off their attackers and lying defeated on the floor, where the rump of a woman becomes the site of the cottons being "burnt at the stake", with flames flickering around and leaping up to assault the fleeing women. Of course, the phrase "calico madams" was a way of attacking women for their sexuality, and conflating this sexuality with the way they were dressed. Therefore the flaming pyre appears on one of the most sexualised parts of a woman's anatomy.


Calico Madams is one of the most technically accomplished and conceptually rich works in the exhibition. It is multi-layered both literally, with pattern, print and paint interlacing seamlessly in and out of each other, and figuratively, with countless threads of research woven together without over-burdening the whole.



It gives me courage as an artist who sometimes worries that there's "too much going on" in her own work. 

Tangled Yarns is an eminently apt title for this exhibition; it would be impossible to separate out the strands of race and gender, exploitation and violence with which the textiles industry is intertwined, and Alke doesn't attempt to. Instead, she explores how these strands relate to one another, in a triumph of intersectionality.

I have written about a handful of the works in the exhibition, and have spent almost two thousand words doing so. I hope this is some indication of how thought-provoking, conscience-pricking, and technically astute Tangled Yarns is. As a result of visiting the exhibition, I have chosen to make a real commitment to being an ethical fashion consumer. How many exhibitions cause us to transform our lives (and the lives of others) for the better? I would hazard a guess that it's not that many.

Tangled Yarns is exhibited at the William Morris Gallery until the 25th January 2015.

Tangled Yarns: Alke Schmidt at the William Morris Gallery (Part 1)


The William Morris Gallery is very canny at showing contemporary artists whose output would have been looked upon most favourably by Morris himself. None more so than the latest exhibition by Alke Schmidt, Tangled Yarns. If Morris was alive today I'm sure he would have felt as passionately about Alke's call for social justice through her exposure of the murky world of the textile industry as about her highly skilled handicraft.

Alke plays up this dichotomy between Morris the socialist and Morris the designer in her exhibition. One of the first works which the audience is confronted with as they ascend the stairs to the main exhibition space is entitled Morris's Dilemma. "Confronted" is perhaps an apt word; rising like steam from the two arms of a mill engine, Morris's Honeysuckle and Tulip pattern, repeated on a grand scale, weaves like a mirage in and out of the engine painted over it. I'm not sure whether the work should be classified as a painting or as a collaboration with a bygone craftsman. It could easily be an assault on the senses, but Alke blends pattern and painting so seamlessly, confronting Morris's romantic longing for a pre-industrial, hand-crafted age with the means of production that made his career possible.






One cylinder of the mill engine is entitled "CAPITAL"; the other, "LABOUR". On Alke's blog we learn that this is not her own invention intended to "illustrate the complex and conflicted relationship between Morris the entrepreneur-designer and Morris the socialist", but an unbelievably fortuitous discovery on her part; such an Orwellian mill engine may genuinely have existed. At the very least, it did as a Victorian illustration.

The composition and colouring of Alke's piece is redolent of both right and left wing propaganda for me, but particularly trade union, socialist, and suffrage banners.



In the very last piece completed for Tangled Yarns, Alke pays direct homage to these suffrage banners, appliquéing an early 20th century patchwork (which would have been a "contemporary" of the Suffragettes) with the Suffragette rallying cry and banner proclamation Deeds Not Words.

Though the work harks back to the 1900s and the suffrage movement, and is in part a collaboration with a needlewoman of the past, it feels decidedly modern. It could be the jumble of colours, which are warm, inviting, even cosy; in marked contrast to the rest of the exhibition there is a sense of the handcrafted here that is perhaps not entirely polished; this is highlighted by the unfinished, raw edges of the patchwork. Alke posits on her blog that the woman who created the patchwork may have been a professional machinist making this piece at home for personal pleasure; she was certainly a skilled stitcher. 



Alke's choice to leave the patchwork unfinished signifies the never-ending nature of "women's work", and lends the piece a vulnerable air. The domestic furnishing and dressmaking cottons used for the lettering, the shirting stripes of the patchwork, show that craft is for everyone, and can be (and certainly was in the past) a part of everyday life. Just as Morris would have wanted. 

The phrase which keeps repeating in my head as I look at this work is the old rallying cry of Second-wave feminism, "The Personal Is Political". Its execution puts me in mind of Craftivism, as does its simple, yet impactful and perennial message. It has readopted the Suffragette call to arms, but divorced it from its austerity. As with the campaigns of the Craftivist Collective, "unlike some of the more traditional, extrovert forms of activism", Deeds Not Words is quietly beautiful. 

Alke created her text from fabrics used in the other works in the exhibition - thereby tying up the loose ends of her Tangled Yarns. A fitting conclusion to Alke's exhibition, calling us to bring about real change in the textile industry, whilst honouring the women who intersect with it.

A group of women whose lives were utterly transformed - for worse - by the textile industry were the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. Disaster makes it sound like an accident; textiles workers in the Rana Plaza building were literally told "If you die here, so be it. But you can't leave, get to work". 

The building collapse is considered the deadliest structural failure in modern human history, leaving behind countless unanswered questions. Due to failures at every level, from highstreet brands whose clothes were manufactured in the building neglecting to take responsibility towards their workers, to local government turning a blind eye to the lack of planning permission, to managers at one of the factories in the building threatening to withhold a month's pay if workers refused to come to work following structural cracks appearing, 1138 (and counting) people have died. The majority of these workers were women, and a number of their children were also killed in the collapse.

Just writing these words makes me angry. It is incredible, therefore, that Alke has created such touching, peaceful, and appropriate memorials to these women in her exhibition, restoring them the dignity that they were so brutally robbed of.




In each of her two works commemorating the workers who were killed, she uses 1138 pearlescent-tipped sewing pins - one for each victim who died. Alke therefore honours the work that they did as seamstresses, though it was not respected during their lifetimes.

1138 and Counting presents the pins on a scroll of cotton and muslin, grouped together like a tally. The pure yet warm off-white is peaceful and spiritual, and together with the ethereal muslin is reminiscent of ghosts and angels.


Memorial presents us with a shroud-like length of cotton (the fabric which ties the entire exhibition together) on which pins delineate the shape of a woman's body. Although the pins pierce the fabric, the body appears to be resting on it; this calls to mind the stories of volunteer rescuers bringing victims out of the wreckage of Rana Plaza on bolts of fabric.



Alke has incorporated the survivors' testimony into both pieces:

They would not pay us if we didn't work that day.

One supervisor forced us to go inside.

We tried to get out but they wouldn't let us.

Our managers said, 'We will all die some day'.

If you die here, so be it. But you can't leave, get to work.

My hand got stuck when the roof came down. So I tried to cut off my hand but I couldn't.

I was buried alive. I never thought I'd see sunlight again.

I can't work anymore. I can't support my family, can't afford my treatment.

They didn't even pay my kids' due salaries. They said there is no salary for the dead.



Alke's neighbours transcribed this testimony from videos published by Labour Behind the Label into Bengali script, a further example of her collaborative process. Alke transferred the script on to the cotton of the works. In 1138 and Counting, the script rises from behind a haze of muslin, reminding us, like Morris's Dilemma, that the chain of supply in the textile industry is obscure and murky.

The thing with feathers

As the time to begin my training at the Royal School of Needlework draws ever nearer, I grow more and more excited, but also daunted, as it seems incredible to me that human hands can produce something so exquisitely beautiful.

Visiting the most recent exhibition at the William Morris Gallery, The Art of Embroidery, has me even more daunted. Truly, Nicola Jarvis's bird and floral motifs are an exercise in impeccable technique. It didn't surprise me in the slightest that the exhibition is supported by both the Royal School of Needlework and the Embroiderers' Guild, because Jarvis's skill is clearly the result of years of training.



What she is particularly masterful at is replicating the same image in a plethora of individual techniques; from quilting to painting to canvaswork. As well as being a master craftswoman she is obviously also a master draughtswoman; her designs for embroidery are exquisite, and are shown in context alongside those by May Morris, William Morris's daughter and a key figure in the Royal School of Art Needlework as it was then known.



May became director of the embroidery department of Morris & Co. at the tender age of twenty three (clearly a prodigious talent; I'm twenty two, and thus even more daunted!) Though techniques in embroidery have become more complex and refined since her time, there is a clear mastery of the craft in her designs. I was particularly struck with her silk shading, which, though thicker in stitch than modern silk shading, has a gorgeous quality of light.



Because of this juxtaposition between old and new techniques in embroidery, the exhibition is something of a view of the evolution of the craft.

I must say, though I greatly admired the masterful technique of Nicola Jarvis's designs, some of my favourite items in the exhibit were three bags, two of which were designed by Morris and the third is a woven Middle Eastern silk evening bag.This may be because of my romantic tendencies, which are perfectly suited to accessories of the Arts and Crafts movement!







My favourite pieces of Nicola's were her richly embroidered cushions. The beading in particular is breathtaking, and works particularly well with floral motifs, adding jewel-like opulence to the flowers. From her design notes, it is evident that Nicola closely studied Morris's designs, particularly his prints for wall papers and fabrics; she cleverly echoes these in the bodies of the birds, and incorporates them seamlessly. In some cases it appears that the birds are made of lace, the embroidery is so fine.











Nicola will be working on an embroidery in situ at the exhibition on a number of days; unfortunately I've forgotten precisely when and didn't write the dates down, but I do know that they are in August!


I would urge anyone, craftsperson or otherwise, to visit this breathtaking exhibition. It is nothing if not impressive, and irrefutably proves that embroidery is not "just an idle past-time", but a true art.


Afternoon Twee

I'm afraid this post is very text and image-heavy, but it's well worth a read/glance, I promise!

The past week was amazing. I honestly can't remember when I've been happier. I love my "job" (and my workmates), I've met new and very interesting people, spent plenty of time with loved ones, and I'm feeling hyper-creative (with an emphasis on the hyper!)

Saturday was a packed day - I took my cousin Emily in to Significant Seams with me, with the intention of us "holding down the fort"; perhaps fortunately, there was no fort to hold down, as Wood Street Plaza got all the foot traffic, and I didn't have any major disasters.


Emily the Entrepreneur

Slow day at work = sneaky photograph of my outfit
I had it far, far easier than my colleagues, in fact; Mark and Debs were busy demonstrating extreme knitting under a gazebo on the Plaza.






They had a captive audience of small children, but unfortunately I missed the younger knitters' efforts!

Em and I were then dismissed from our duties for the day, and after scoffing a venison sausage each and trying on dresses at Gigi's (me as potential outfits for graduation, Emily for shits and giggles - both equally dangerous, the owner is the most accomplished saleswoman I've ever met!), we proceeded to Lady V's for a cream tea.










As you can see, Lady V's is a veritable tiny, twee, chintzed-to-the-rafters paradise. It was even set off by menus bound in antique book covers and a gently tinkling toy piano track. It's well worth a visit if you're ever down Walthamstow way (it's located in Wood Street Indoor Market, as is Significant Seams). Lady V herself also hires out her bone china for films and parties. I may have to look on putting on a performance of some kind there with a few of my arty friends...

Having suitably lined our stomachs, Em and I nipped over to neighbouring Hackney to the Girls Get Busy zine festival. This was my first Girls Get Busy event, and it was absolutely fantastic. Although I was always very keen to go along to a GGB do, the main purpose of my visit was to meet the artist Hannah Hill, who I wrote about in my previous blog post.

With Girls Get Busy's founder, Beth Siveyer, and Hannah. I was a bit tipsy and nervous and made a bit of a tit of myself in front of Beth. Ah well. (Photograph courtesy of Roxanne Werter).


Hannah and I have decided to start a collaborative project together, which will most probably take the form of a zine. And that's all I'm willing to betray about the matter at the mo!

I picked up one of Hannah's cute-as-a-barrel-of-puppies Girls Get Busy t shirts, and a handful of zines. Here's my swag:


Photograph courtesy of Hannah Hill


It was so inspiring talking to the girls at the event; young women truly doing it for themselves, making things happen, and reaching out to (and supporting) one another. Definitely something I would love to get involved with, and will be going along to again in the future.

Yesterday was more family-orientated. I took Emily and family along to the newly re-opened William Morris Gallery, where Grayson Perry's Walthamstow Tapestry is currently being exhibited. It's so much bigger and richer in detail than I ever expected. I love Perry's subtle but biting sense of humour, and the busy-ness of his work.

Unfortunately I forgot to take along a camera, but I'm sure I'll be back soon. Fingers and toes crossed, Significant Seams will soon be working on a project in conjunction with the gallery, and crossed even harder, possibly I will too...

The rest of yesterday was dedicated to chatting, eating, drinking, making merry, and sewing, all taking place in our back garden. A large contingent of the Rolison (well, Swift; my mother's side) extended family was present, all having a jolly good time.

Some of my younger, more distant cousins became acquainted with my final university piece, On Being Soft:



The award for Cutest Moment of the Day goes to my little cousin Louis, who fell asleep wrapped up in the picnic blanket next to our dog, Rosie. She kept edging closer and closer to him for comfort!


And the award for Least Sociable Cousin goes to... me! For sewing/blogging/working through the entire gathering.


I'll post the fruits of my stitchy labour up soon. Until then,

Take care

K x