Come up and see my stitchings

Sometimes I feel like my creative streak is one of those joke "can of worms" where a bouncy snake pops out. Only in this case the snake is constantly methodically working at the lid and cackling deviously to itself. I like to think that's where the figurative meaning of "unhinged" originates, but perhaps I should digress.

In any case, what I'm erratically trying to say is, I think artists are a little more unhinged than your Average Joe. Our brains are more porous, and this porosity works both ways, or at least it does in my case; art goes in, art comes out (or perhaps more accurately, everything goes in, everything comes out; not always a good thing).

It makes me think of my favourite French word: entrouvert/e, meaning "ajar" or "half open".

It has vert in it, too, green; the colour of new life, new hope.


Now I am training to be a tutor at the Royal School of Needlework (unimaginably far-off though the intended end result may currently seem), I'm having to keep a lid on my creative can of worms for a little while. It's a wise person who said that one has to learn the rules to break them, and that's what I am slowly, falteringly doing; learning stitches at a staggering rate, learning history and composition and my way around the Palace, and just about keeping my head above water (though my legs are working frantically beneath).


And my days working from home are spent up in the loft wedged between computers and their entrails, plonked in front of The West Wing, stitching until the light gives out. 

I like that dependence on the light; I like that it roots me within nature's rhythms, and connects me to needlewomen of the past, who stitched by the guttering of candles until their eyes were ruined.


And I like that endurance and dedication too, that almost obsessional dedication. That refusal to settle for "almost good enough", that tiny, painstaking delicacy.

"Passitivity and obedience, moreover, are the very opposite of the qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in needlework. What's required are physical and mental skills, fine aesthetic judgement in colour, texture and composition; patience during long training; and assertive individuality of design (and consequent disobedience of aesthetic convention). Quiet strength need not be mistaken for useless vulnerability." - Kate Walker (feminist embroidery artist)

I am all too aware of how vulnerable I am now, at the start of my journey; I'm like Bambi in the snow, wide-eyed and open mouthed wonderment at drawers filled with thread every colour of the sun, archival boxes of ancient textiles, the living history of Hampton Court and above all the inestimable knowledge that pours from those around me.


But I intend to soak it all up, like a sponge, like a door flung not half, but fully open. And I've begun my own efforts, paltry though they may be... slowly, slowly... stitch by stitch...







Doing It Ourselves


Yesterday I went to support my friend and fellow founder of  Stitch Witches Collective Hanecdote at the DIY Cultures Fair at Rich Mix in Bethnal Green.
I’d been to Rich Mix once before, to hear some poetry at their Jawdance open mic night, an evening that really did reflect the cultural diversity of East London, in all its myriad forms (as the Rich Mix aims to with all its programmes). I found myself back there yesterday for a celebration of “all things independent, autonomous and alternative“.
After bumping into everyone from ex-Dartington students to the founder of the Craftivist Collective, I got down to doing what I do best; stitching at a Girls Get Busy X Hanecdote embroidery workshop.
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As you can see, plenty of girls got busy creating their own version of the Girls Get Busy/feminist/Venus symbol. One guy got busy too; my boyfriend Pip made a very valiant attempt at stitching a sunshine yellow symbol.
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I think you can see from the pictures how engrossed everyone was with their DIYing. Hannah’s friend Mollie, a first time embroiderer, made this incredibly cute Venus symbol. I hope she’s proud of her newfound embroidery skills!
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As Pip and I arrived a little late to the fair, I had to finish my patch at home. Inspired by Mollie’s design, I added gold star sequins to my yellow stem stitch symbol:
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I’d love to send the patch to a fellow feminist of a crafty persuasion; if you’d like it, let me know and I’ll send it along in the post free of charge.
OOMK Zine, whose first issue features an article about my experiences of exhibiting in the E17 Art Trail, tabled at the event, and DIY Cultures was co-curated by OOMK founder Sofia Niazi.
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I bitterly regret having run out of money and so not being able to pick up a copy of Sofia’s wonderfully witty and engaging zine Talk To The Scarf, a tribute to her hijab. However, for those of you who are similarly skint, Talk To The Scarf can be seen and read in full over at Sofia’s website.
My favourite new zine I encountered at the event was one which broke free from the normal constraints of the zine format; Indestructible Energy is produced in a print run of one hundred, and is comprised both of original artworks and reproductions. For each run, one hundred copies or one hundred original artworks are produced by the contributing artists for inclusion in the zine. Indestructible Energy is not unique only in being comprised partially of original artworks; it is also an unbound zine which comes wrapped in a screenprinted cloth, lending it the flavour of an archive rather than a publication. Indestructible Energy is also a digital art zine, and some of the reproductions which comprise issue 1 are screenshots from films featured on the zine’s website.
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Shots of Indestructible Energy’s table at the fair
The idea of a zine or archive which allows people to own potentially hundreds of pieces of affordable original artwork really intrigues me, and I will certainly be contributing to issue 2. I don’t think I’ll be completing one hundred embroideries, though! (Well, maybe for issue 3!)
Pip and I stuck around for a talk on DIY Artist Communities, during which Sarah Corbett of the Craftivist Collective spoke passionately and inspirationally about the power of craft as a tool for social change, and the founder of FoodFace, an artist run space in Peckham, reminded us that you actually can’t “do it yourself”; as artists we all need to support one another and come together to make change, and share our work with the world. I am so grateful for the many people present at DIY Cultures yesterday who have accepted me and my work, and helped to share it with a wider audience. Both Hannah and myself were so inspired by what we saw and heard, and can’t wait to turn Stitch Witches zine into a print reality. Watch this space.

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"!