Stitch For Survival: My E17 Art Trail 2015 Exhibition

Once again the yearly E17 Art Trail has rolled around. I am going to do the grand tour next weekend; I set up my exhibition earlier today; well, my "installation technician" (my mother) did most of the hard graft.

For last year's Trail I showed work as part of the Zoology exhibition at E17 Art House, which has since moved to bigger premises on Hoe Street and has some very intriguing exhibitions and events on for the Trail this year.


This time around, applying was a bit of a last minute affair, so I decided to exhibit in the bay window of my parents' house as I did in 2011 and 2012.

This year we decided to ditch the slightly "primary school" blue baize display board we'd used previously, and used white frame boards to display the embroideries on instead.







A wide variety of embroideries are on display, from pages and pocket contents from my artist's books On Being SoftBig Teeth and Milk Thistle, to embroideries from the zine I recently sold at DIY Cultures, Treasures For Your Troubles. My favourite of the #secretsofselfpreservations stitched thus far are exhibited too.







The theme this year seems to be whimsy; the exhibition is less in your face provocative than it has been in the past; more gently subversive, gently parodying the Romantic movement and its romanticisation of mental illness (particularly the Milk Thistle pages and pocket contents). I have really amassed work since 2011, and I feel the exhibition is far more cohesive and well presented than it has been in the past.














If you're local/in the area, please do pop by - the exhibition can be viewed from the front garden from today, Sunday 31st May, until Sunday 14th June, from 10am - 8pm daily.

Next Saturday 6th June I will be holding a #secretsofselfpreservation workshop stitching self care potions from 4pm in the living room; the workshop is limited to ten places, so please email katerolison@googlemail.com to book your place.

The details of my exhibition and workshop can be found here. I do hope you'll visit.





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.

God's Own Junkyard

Today Pip and I visited Ravenswood Industrial Estate in good ol' E17. The name may sound somewhat unprepossessing, but the Industrial Estate is now home to some fantastic local independent businesses.

First off on our trip was God's Own Junkyard, a little bit of Las Vegas in Walthamstow; a veritable neon wonderland.

It's the kind of place that would be incongruous anywhere, but none more so than in Walthamstow; the colour and spectacle is almost too much to take in.

The Junkyard is frequently used as a location for fashion shoots, film and television, and its neon signs are sold in Selfridges and Scream Gallery.

The Junkyard houses a cafe that I'm eager to sample on another visit. I wouldn't mind doing my own photoshoot there, but as recent clients have included Vogue, I doubt I could afford it!

I'll let the photographs speak for themselves.



















We were torn between a tipple at Mother's Ruin gin palace and the Wild Card Brewery, but Pip kindly agreed to plump for gin; I'm certainly not a mother yet, but it just might be my ruin.

There is a varied and reasonably priced cocktail menu; we both went for a mulberry gin fizz, which was deliciously sharp and sweet. We'll definitely be back!


I'd recommend the businesses on the Industrial Estate to anyone; their wares would make great Christmas presents! It's always good to find new bits of your home town to explore.

Summer Dreaming

I had the dreamiest of weekends, starting on Friday night with cocktails and dim sum and night time strolls along the South Bank with two of my best pals.

Rose and lychee martini
You could say my weekend started on Thursday evening with a visit to the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, but I'll save that for another blog post... it was a very stirring trip indeed.

Saturday was spent sewing and sipping sangria in my favourite dress with good friends. I met up with two of them the next day for wanders around the Walthamstow Garden Party. I'm sorry to say I misread the festival; I had thought it would be small and somewhat provincial. I could not be more wrong; it sprawled across Lloyd Park, with mouthwatering food and drink (I spilled chimichurri sauce on my dress trying to eat a very unruly burger), and an inventive array of activities for the little ones, including neon bright den building and wood work (there's something lovely about seeing a four year old girl expertly inserting bolts into wooden pieces of a rocking horse).


Dens built by local children
Significant Seams had a lovely display of a summer garden in full bloom, created entirely from discarded plastic. I particularly liked this tree of life, which, a volunteer told me, was based on Mexican paintings.







The garlands of wishes (destined for the wishing well) for the community were very sweet, too. Look what this one says.



I just have to put the finishing touches to a big commission proposal this week, and then this weekend I'm off to Brighton with Pip to visit friends and partake of even more cocktails. It's a hard life.

Art in Awesomestow: The Summer Show at Penny Fielding


I promised my Tumblr followers a post on my latest exhibition, at Penny Fielding's, quite a few days ago, and so here, finally, is a photograph of Pip and I being smug in our sunglasses in the gallery garden.

And I did have at least one thing to be (slightly) smug about; one of my embroideries was displayed slap bang in the centre of the window! My Melancholyflowers were placed directly beneath a rather charming little crown, which I take as a sign of good fortune.




My other embroidery was ever so slightly more out of the way, but still very visible; over a doorway leading to an interesting little nook of the gallery/shop. I'm afraid these are the best photographs I could take of it; it seemed very far up from the point of view of my (brand spanking new, it's very exciting) smartphone!



Here's a better, close up photograph of the piece, entitled Plathitude:


Mine weren't the only textile pieces in the exhibition, or the only familiar ones; this exquisite machine embroidered quilt by Gilli Haqqani previously featured (alongside some of my work) at the Soft group show at The Mill last year.



This colourful illustration put me in mind of Grayson Perry's playful illustrative style. The gaudy yet down at heel carnival scene is quintessentially British.


This photograph doesn't do it justice, but this thought provoking painting by socially conscious artist Alke Schmidt. At first glance it seems obvious that the machinists are working in an Asian clothes sweatshops. But with closer inspection, more layers to the painting are discovered. The painting is overlaid with a textiles pattern, which I read in two ways; it is a traditional Asian design, or a cheap and cheerful design for the mass market. It seems to have seeped into the women's skin; they are unable to escape their cultural heritage, which now includes manufacturing cheap high street clothing for Westerners. Their face masks could be to protect them from their unhygienic working environment; it also reminds me of the hysteria, which seemed particularly concentrated in the East, following the outbreak of SARs and then bird flu, and the wearing of such masks, which I remember was common amongst Asian tourists at the time. Finally, the black mass of cloth waiting to be sewn to the right of the machinists is redolent of the drudgery of working in such a sweatshop, and the murky business practises of the multinational companies overseeing such work.


This whimsical piece put me in mind of sideshows at the carnival or circus; surely that cat shouldn't have wings?! The rough but realistic charcoal strokes give the drawing a naturalistic, endearing quality.


Similarly endearing was this piece; I couldn't decide if it was in pastels or some kind of print, but I do know that I love a good cup of tea, especially when it's served so beautifully!


I feel cruel for writing this, but this dreamlike piece by Two For Joy is very reminiscent of Rob Ryan's work. He certainly seems to have cornered the market in whimsical papercuts! This piece definitely has a charm all of its own, however; the detail on the wings/feathers is particularly gorgeous.



I assume this dramatic print is a linocut, a medium I am hoping to experiment with soon. If it is, it's certainly s masterful one; just look at the detail in that spider's abdomen.


This print of identical twins reminded me of a painting my best friend won a national art prize for when we were twelve, and it's just as sweet!


I love dioramas, but unfortunately couldn't get a better picture of this dinky little one inside an old lamp; it, too, was very sweet.


Much as I love Awesomestow, there are days when it seems a bit grey and gritty even for me! So this bright and cheerful treatment of the borough definitely put a smile on my face.


The exhibition is on until August the 25th. I urge you to get down there if you can. As well as all the wonderful art, there's plenty of beautiful homeware and jewellery on sale, and you're bound to bump into some interesting local characters!




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.

Hysterical Woman

The charming little coffee shop where I work tonight hosted the first of its supper clubs for the Appetite Festival (a month-long festival of food in Waltham Forest for the month of June). To coincide with this, Walthamstow Dad has created a coffee-flavoured art installation, and, thanks to a kindly customer who dropped me in it/suggested Arts and Crusts exhibited my work, I have a little window installation of my embroideries.

Carol (one half of Arts and Crusts) set the embroideries off beautifully by hand-drawing a lace design based on one of my handkerchiefs.

Work old and new is featured; pieces from The Cure for Love, my Melancholy Flowers, a pop feminist piece (which will, fingers crossed, feature in another exhibition soon), two handkerchiefs from my current project Treasures For Your Troubles, and a satirical piece on the perils of hero worshipping Sylvia Plath (as Woody Allen said, Plath was an "interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college girl mentality.")

When Carol was putting the finishing touches to the display, she asked me if I had a name for the little exhibition. As I drew a blank, she took a lead from the pop feminist embroidery featured, and dubbed the exhibition Hysterical Woman; so the display now reads Hysterical Woman Kate Elisabeth Rolison (!)





























I'm chuffed with the beautiful way in which Carol has presented my work. It seems fitting to have a little exhibition at Arts and Crusts; after all, it is an arts and crafts café, and I'm always found stitching away in between serving customers!

I'm afraid to say (according to the Arts and Crusts Twitter feed) all the spaces for the supper clubs are now sold out; I'm certainly very pleased to have made it to one. The tabbouleh, baklava, and Arabic mint tea went down particularly well (though wasn't eaten/drunk all at once!) It was a little like a dinner party but with new faces; a wonderful way to meet your neighbours and socialise, all while admiring the art on the walls (and ceiling!) and sampling Middle Eastern deliciousness. Bring on next year!

Sewing the seams of change, sowing the seeds of change


This Wednesday evening I shall be leading a Craftivist stitch-in for the Craftivist Collective‘s project “I’m A Piece”. The Collective are asking stitchers new and old to contribute an embroidered jigsaw piece to a giant art installation raising awareness of world hunger and injustice to support Save the Children‘s Race Against Hunger campaign.
Participants are asked to create two more jigsaw pieces; one with a personal message to remind themselves that they are part of the crafty call for change, and one embroidered with the phrase “I’m a piece”, to be passed on to their MP to urge them to use their power for good.
So far I’ve stitched up my first piece for the art installation. I decided to put a Significant Seams spin on things by embroidering the words “Sewing the seams of change, sowing the seeds of change“, and creating the puzzle piece in pinks and purples, the Significant Seams colours. The words are sewn in a sketchy stem stitch, with “Sewing the seams of change” highlighted with running stitch to represent “seams”. I’ve added a few gold bead “seeds” around “sowing the seeds of change“. To tidy up the edges and create a pretty border, I’ve finished the puzzle piece with blanket stitch:
I'm a piece 003I'm a piece 004
If you’d like to get your stitch on and add your voice to the call for change, join me this Wednesday 30th January from 6 – 8pm at 131 Wood Street, Walthamstow, E17. You can book online here, and join the event here.

Maple Leaves and Plush Punch


exterior
Last Thursday evening, Significant Seams invited E17 creatives and locals to take a tour of our new premises and hear our plans for its transformation.
We’re moving from Unit 23 – 24 Wood Street Indoor Market to 131 Wood Street; just over the road, opposite the Flowerpot pub and Brother’s Fish Bar! (Potentially a very dangerous location for Significant Seams staff!)
The premises needs a certain amount of capital work, and so we don’t yet have an exact opening date, but are planning a grand opening in March, in conjunction with a site specific textile project that is currently (rather appropriately) under wraps.
I’d fashioned a tree from our bountiful (though less so now!) supply of brown fabric earlier that day, which we hung from the rafters, and asked visitors to contribute their ideas for how the space might be used and how they would like to be involved.
Ideas weren’t just written down on forms, however; to go with our handcrafted tree for Wood Street, we’d ordered in stunningly realistic maple leaf post it notes.
image (8)
image (2)
Suggestions ranged from the practical to the downright kooky; some of our younger visitors had suggestions such as a giant birdcage for children to play in!
image (5)
What was most evident from both written and verbal feedback was how enthusiastic our supporters are about the move, as are we; it means more space, more convenient opening hours for our customers and service users, and, most excitingly, affords us the opportunity to offer the only inclusive community space in Eastern Walthamstow.
Non-alcoholic Plush Punch (which certainly still packed a punch!)

Answers for the Art Trail


Kate Elisabeth Rolison - 'The Onion Cutters' Club'

I am really intrigued by Kate's literary inspired exhibition. Kate's exhibition (no. 61) will be in bay window of 61 Somers Road, she will also have some work on display the the group exhibit 'Celebrating the Significant'. As well as having artwork on the trail, she will also be doing a number of Art Trail reviews for the blog, so keep you eyes peeled and follow this space! 

Kate tells us about her exhibition this year, her Walthamstow perspective and gives insight into her artistic method:


1. Please tell us about the work you will be showing in the 2012 E17 Art Trail?
Last year in Somers Road I showed a mixture of deeply romantic and very cynical hand embroideries  and cross stitches. Some were on the subject of love and loss, and some on the pretensions of the art world (sorry if that ruffles anyone’s feathers!)
This year is, quite literally, a much sadder state of affairs; a number of embroideries grew out of a project on tears. The exhibition is entitled 'The Onion Cutters’ Club', and is inspired by a chapter in Gunter Grass’ novel 'The Tin Drum' (brilliant book by the way, check it out), in which characters meet in a dingy cellar nightclub to cut onions, cry, and share stories of sorrow. The story captivated me, and so I began collecting true stories of sadness and tears (though it’s not all doom and gloom – some are quite funny!)

 I stitched these stories, accompanied by illustrations, on to antique handkerchiefs which I stained with different shades of onion skin. Originally I planned on completing five or six of these, but my creative juices obviously wanted to get going on something different, and I only ended up with three!
Instead of the two remaining “Onion Cutters’ Club” handkerchiefs, I embarked on an entirely different project, that on the face of it, is charmingly (or sickeningly, depending on your tastes) twee. I began appropriating chintzily hand-embroidered and appliquéd home textiles, and embroidering them with rather unsettling messages. I derived this messages from my experiences of mental illness. But it’s not all doom and gloom there either; there’s plenty of tongue in cheek humour here, aiming to disarm the viewer and make them re-consider their preconceptions of people who suffer from mental ill health.
If I get ‘round to it in time, there will also be a couple of good ol’ (and slightly cheeky!) feminist phrases stitched up and on display too. I’m quite busy at the moment, as I’m also interning at Significant Seams, who are doing several events and exhibitions in the Art Trail, so fingers crossed I can get everything done in time!
2. Is this your first time in the Trail or are you an E17 Art Trail veteran?
Last year I exhibited a collection of embroideries “Literary Stitchery”, which was reviewed on this blog. I got lots of really positive feedback and met many other talented artists. It really got my creative juices flowing and kick-started my third and final year at art college – I would recommend exhibiting in the Art Trail to anyone, even if they don’t consider themselves as particularly “arty”. For one thing, it’s a wonderful way to get talking to your local community!

3. What are the challenges of getting everything ready for your Art Trail event?
As I mentioned above, juggling my internship at Significant Seams inWood Street Indoor Market, reviewing a bunch of exhibits in the Trail, looking for paid work AND trying to set up an Etsy shop for my embroideries will be quite a challenge! It’s definitely one I’m looking forward to though, and I do like being busy.

4. Do you remember the first artist that really influenced you? Does that artist’s influence still have an impact on your work?
Writing was my first love (my degree is in Performance Writing, which basically translates to writing about art/writing as art, and vice versa). It took me a while to grow as equally passionately obsessed about art, but I must say Grayson Perry has been a pretty consistent inspiration. I love the dense layers of detail and “busyness” of his work. My work is often pretty stripped back, apart from my recent artist’s book, “On Being Soft: A work in progress”, which was exhibited in the “Soft” textiles exhibition at The Mill. I also really admire Grayson’s nack for storytelling and capturing characters and dialogue. And of course, his studio is based in Walthamstow and his “Walthamstow Tapestry” is currently on display at the William Morris Gallery, which makes him a very apt inspiration!

5. The E17 Art trail has become bigger every year. Do you think it is because more artists are calling it home?
As house prices soar and the trendy East End pushes out further and further, “starving” artists are pushed to the, shall we say, slightly less fashionable East London boroughs, such as the wonderful Walthamstow.  This is resulting in a bit of a burgeoning, buzzing hive of creativity here in the ‘Stow, as I’ve learnt from becoming more deeply involved in the crafting community. It’s slightly under the radar (but maybe that’s a good thing), and very, very exciting. It’s a good place to be as a young artist in 2012.
6. What has E17 bestowed on you?
E17 has bestowed on me a love and tolerance of all cultures (and a very deep love for the food of those cultures!) It has also bestowed a chance to explore my creativity to the full and to reach out to the local community. Walthamstow often gets a bad press, but my experience of its community has been almost invariably positive, and incredibly inspiring.  But that’s just Awesomestow for you.




(Written by Hassan Vawda, co-reviewer of this year's E17 Art Trail)

Neighbourly Patches

I taught a Neighbourly Quilt embroidery workshop earlier in the week, and yesterday a couple of my friends joined us at the Significant Seams Hub to work on their patches.


Lucy's patch is based around the sharing of cultures in Waltham Forest, with a Diwali-inspired "henna" design.

Nathan's patch features Awesome Games, his favourite shop from childhood, in Walthamstow Market.

Here's a selection of completed patches:


They're coming in thick and fast!

"Art Lasts, Life Is Short"

You may notice that the blog has a new look. This is because I'm embarking on a new project, entitled On Being Soft (which it does say, though not very clearly, on the new blog header. Still, at least it looks soft! My wonderful ex-housemate Dini de-wonkyfied the higgeldy piggeldy hand-stitched text for me.)

The germ of the idea for On Being Soft arose out of a call for artists for an exhibition titled Soft (see what I did there?) which will be shown at The Mill from the 21st June 'til the 15th July. The exhibition will be a collaborative effort between The Mill and Signficant Seams, where I am currently intern for the Neighbourly Quilt project.

In last year's E17 Art Trail, Significant Seams exhibited a Neighbourhood Quilt. E17 residents were invited to add a gold thumbprint indicating where they lived on this quilted map of Walthamstow. The quilt was then exhibited at The Mill.

The Neighbourhood Quilt


For this year's Art Trail we are asking Walthamstow residents to contribute a patch which celebrates what they love about Walthamstow, or what makes good neighbours; hence, the Neighbourly Quilt.

My patch for the Neighbourly Quilt


With my patch, I decided to celebrate both Walthamstow's green spaces and the (oft-mentioned on this blog) arts and crafts pioneer William Morris, who was born in Walthamstow.

I embroidered Morris' motto "Art lasts, life is short" on to an appliqued pollarded beech tree. In the Walthamstow woodland area of Epping Forest these ancient trees are numerous, and many are carved with graffiti stretching back over a number of years. I embroidered the motto as if it was etched into the tree's bark with a knife. This was my first go at applique and gave me a chance to try out blanket stitch and couching. The dark green hearts of the background fabric are the same colour as Waltham Forest's logo, and (I feel) add just the right amount of twee.

As completed patches come in, they are beginning to reflect the diversity of Walthamstow. Each portrays an individual narrative, which when sewn together as the quilt will tell a bigger story of our town.


My friend Lucy working on her patch

If you're a Waltham Forest based textile artist, working in any soft medium, watch this space for details of how to submit work for Soft.

A post on my new project, On Being Soft, to follow.




Work for Sale

Phew, it's been a busy couple of months! A proper update to follow, but first (although I realise it may be a little late to post this) I will be selling some of the pieces from The Cure for Love at:




Through the talented, enterprising, generally rather wonderful lady who runs Significant Seams.


That's in Wood Street Indoor Market, Walthamstow, (London), this Saturday, from 10am - 5:30pm.


Check out the Market's website; it's going to be quite the day!

The World Wide (Stitched) Web

I was in a pub a few weeks ago with a friend who was surprised to hear quite how violently the online embroidery community was flourishing! In fact, the internet is both building and revolutionising the embroidery (and wider craft) community.

The blog Mr X Stitch champions contemporary embroidery; the site's founder, Jamie Chalmers, recently published PUSH: Stitchery, a book which presents the cutting-edge needlework of thirty embroidery artists, most of whom had previously been featured on his blog.
Not only does Mr X Stitch introduce us to the length and breadth of contemporary needlework, but its Flickr group, the Phat Quarter, gives any embroiderer with a camera/scanner and internet access the chance to share their work with a community of like-minded people. In addition to this, the Phat Quarter is forging more personal links between embroiderers through its themed swaps, the most recent of which was based around the theme of food.

Death Paste by crafty and devious, for Riann's Pictures; a new take on Vegemite for the Phat Quarter food swap
The online handmade marketplace Etsy is allowing craftspeople to turn their passion into an (often thriving) business. One such needle artist is the very funny Stephanie Tillman; her What Party? embroideries feature wild animals in a variety of human predicaments. Tillman makes any one of the vast variety of her designs to order through Etsy.


Disturbed Fox Just Watched Antichrist, a What Party? embroidery by Stephanie Tillman, available to order on Etsy (and particularly relevant as I went to see the new Lars Von Trier, Melancholia, last night.)
The Embroidered Digital Commons Open Source Embroidery Project goes one step further in dispersing embroidery, virtually, through the internet; it is a series of embroideries about the internet, on the internet. The project "is based on the beautifully crafted language of the Concise Lexicon of/for the Digital Commons (Sarai, 2003) written by the Raqs Media Collective. The full lexicon is an A-Z of the interrelationship between social, digital and material space".

The Mr X Stitch community stitched the term Fractal:
Sewn by Alison Bancroft

Sewn by Renee King

The project is a perfect example of the collaborations the internet can facilitate. It was actually a post here on Blogger which led to one of my own collaborations; Emma Parker, aka Stitch Therapy, blogged about taking her hand-sewn hearts to the Pharmacy of Stories gallery. Intrigued, I went along to the private view of the exhibition Emma had sewn the hearts for, and there I met Tina, owner of the gallery. The exhibition, Here Is My Heart , fitted so perfectly with The Cure for Love it was unreal. We decided to collaborate, leading to an embroidered love potion-making workshop (and hopefully future collaborations!)

Emma has recently been involved in a swap of her own, with another stitching blogger, Annika, of All The Live Long Day. The pair have sent each other motivational, hand-stitched postcards:

Emma's postcard to Annika

Annika's postcard to Emma
In addition to leading to collaborations, the internet has also allowed me to contact textile artists whose work I particularly admire; both Iviva Olenick and Joetta Maue were kind enough to write insightful answers to the interview questions I sent them via email. I also conducted an email interview with Debbie of the East London Craft Guerilla on the relationship between Walthamstow and arts and crafts.

I hope that the internet will long continue to foster links and collaboration between needlework artists. Now, back to admiring the magnificent narwhals in Frozen Planet; I may or may not be stitching one up for my next piece!

Fortunate Cookie Predicts Pavement Proposal

Sorry about the long hiatus. I spent the weekend visiting the V&A and throwing a Halloween dinner party, and aside from that have been working on this monster of an embroidery:




It's an imagined letter from a Mystic Meg-type to a jaded cynic, informing them that "love lurks for you behind the bushes". Illustrated with a broken fortune cookie and "fortune" as the title of the piece. Like The Beast and Me, the letter mentions Walthamstow in the line "waiting to pounce as you take your beagle for a walk through Walthamstow marshes". The text reads:

Fortunate Cookie Predicts Pavement Proposal

Dearest Realist,

So, you think you have it sussed. Little do you know that love lurks for you behind the bushes, waiting to pounce as you take your beagle for a walk through Walthamstow marshes.

Like a child abductor. Like the lottery roll-over.

Tomorrow a man will propose to you on the highstreet. A down-on-one-knee ambush interceptng your meander to Asdaf or four pints of milk. Will you step over him like dog shit? Or not? (Four pints of milk and a bottle of Brut in your shopping basket.)




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!