"Hypnoid States"

My favourite quotation happens to be by one of my least favourite historical figures. Sigmund Freud wrote that "Hypnoid states often grow out of the day-dreams which are so common even in healthy people and to which needlework and similar occupations render women especially prone." I am a woman, a daydreamer, and an embroiderer; I must be more "prone" to "hypnoid states" than most!

"Hypnoid states", but of course, lead to symptoms of hysteria, that peculiarly female malady.

Compare Freud's quote with this one, by a contemporary female, the writer, editor and publisher Flora Klickmann; "And after the breakdown, when I couldn't bear the sight of books or the sound of music, I found myself actually doing needlework, and liking it too; and the fascination of it grew upon me very rapidly, till now - I really don't know what I should do if I hadn't needlework to fall back upon, as a recreation, when I get over-done with the wear and tear and strain of work in our great city.

I would tend to agree with Klickmann that the meditative, contemplative act of embroidery can help suture and sooth; we can stitch our shattered psyches back together again.

As an act of (hysterical) anti-patriarchal rebellion I am hand stitching a meticulous illustration of Freud's quote, using embroidery techniques which Flora Klickmann, and possibly even Freud would have been familiar with. Here is my progress so far.






































DIY Cultures the Third


I'm currently experiencing a bit of a come-down from the weekend. Not for any chemical reasons, but because on Sunday DIY Cultures happened. It was the third DIY Cultures at Rich Mix and my third year there, but it was my first time with my own table, although I was the next door neighbour of the radiant Hanecdote. Here we are all set up:





This year was particularly frenetic, with over four thousand people attending. Unfortunately the busyness made it difficult to focus on the talks, which were on everything from arts education cuts to gender and technology. But the conversations I had with passersby, customers, and interested parties were equally as fascinating.

I spoke to the founder of an online publishing house and to a woman who hand stitches protest banners, to name but a few. And I sold out of Treasures For Your Troubles zine! I will be making it available to print-by-order online in the next few weeks.

There was a wonderful atmosphere at DIY Cultures; relaxed, and genuinely friendly, with none of the reserve one typically associates with the British. It was a summery day, and visitors had dressed accordingly; Hannah and I kept commenting to each other how gorgeous everyone looked.

I spoke to the lady presiding over Alternative Press's stall, where their project A Room of One's Own was features. AROOO, as it is abbreviated, focuses on "social housing, not social cleansing", and the effects of gentrification and "regeneration" on local working class and low income families and single parents. On the importance, which Virginia Woolf recognised, of having your own space for creativity. I will be following the project's development with interest.


A lovely woman bought my last fox brooch and immediately pinned it to her bag. We had quite a chat about the beauty of foxes.


Last but not least we met the man we referred to simply as Zine Man. He was, as you might have guessed, covered in zines; he swapped his own for ones for sale at the fair, and pinned them to his clothes and hat.


I couldn't stop smiling all day; here's to another three years of DIY Cultures. Long may it live.



Cadbury Purple Mantra Potion

This week, as a reward for getting through a particularly dreaded day, I promised myself a small reward; a bar of Cadbury's Dairy Milk. 

It was my childhood favourite chocolate bar, and hence there is something deeply comforting about that familiar sweet, rich and creamy flavour and texture. And the colour; Willy Wonka purple;  could anything be more nostalgic?
 


So (small amounts of) chocolate (like glitter) are a coping mechanism. My visual diary has been a help, too; every day this week I have been scribbling the mantra "It will be ok" in it in a hypnotising array of colours, behind which the ghost of a potion sketch from the previous page looms. However bad I feel when I start writing this phrase, by the time I have finished I invariably feel better. The simple act of choosing which colour to use next is calming and gently stimulating. The phrase itself, like Dairy Milk, is deeply comforting. It may not be wonderful; it may not be spectacular; but it will be ok.


 I combined the two in this week's Apotheké #secretsofselfpreservation potion. Cadbury purple ribbon is the backdrop to a ragged, battered, yet cheerfully coloured cross stitched "It will be ok" and accompanied in its equally bright bottle by two tiny bars of Dairy Milk, in case of emergencies.









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.

Hell hath no fury like a woman subjugated

I stitched up this piece for a little feminist exhibition I'm hoping to have as part of a wider event (more information to follow if all goes well!)

I put a feminist twist on the famous William Congreve quote (which is, of course, always misattributed to Shakespeare), so I suppose it's literary stitchery too!



The real credit for this piece has to go to the original needlewoman (I'm assuming it was a needlewoman, not a man, and that's incredibly presumptive of me) who cross stitched this ornate floral and fruit, Grecian inspired design. It's an even more incredible feat when you consider that it was rendered on plain cotton rather than cross stitch aida; all those neat, tiny stitches! And without the aid of a drawn-on design, too! I'm in awe of my predecessors, sometimes.


I felt the rather chintzy "surroundings" of the phrase lent a nicely ironic air. A satisfying little stitch to produce while I'm working on bigger things.

Life! Death! Prizes!


“Life! Death! Prizes!” (complete with exclamation marks) is the rather incongruous strapline of Chat magazine, “your smart real-life read”, aka one of the recent spate of pulp magazines, that, as one reviewer of a book named for the strapline puts it, trade “in human misery by revelling in real-life traumas”.
On a lighter note, I was tickled by the phrase and cross stitched it during my second year at university.
lifedeathprizes2
I chose green as the colour for “life!” due to its association with nature and new life, red for “death!” due to the obvious connotations of blood (alternatively red could have been used for “life!” for the same reason), and a variety of bright colours for “prizes!”, analogous with a flashing neon sign that would be found in an amusement arcade or fairground.
The phrase stuck in my head as I began to plan The Constellation Quilt, and the idea that it could be a neon sign hanging in a fairground made me think that it would make the perfect companion piece to my “fortune telling” patch, with a wheel of fortune or fairground fortune slot vibe.
fortuneteller
When translating the phrase into a patch for The Constellation Quilt, I kept the colours of the text the same (adding purple flowers growing out of the “life!” line), but chose a different font for each word. I think the font of “prizes!” is particularly akin to a neon sign. To add to this effect, I stitched star sequins and purple beads, to tone in with the rest of the quilt, issuing out in rays of “neon light”.
lifedeathprizes1

This was my first time using water soluble cross stitch aida, and I’m largely happy with the results, although as the plastic  texture of the aida makes it difficult to use an embroidery hoop, there is some puckering between the words.
Here is the patch alongside its companion piece. Only three more patches to go, and then it’s the scary part; piecing together the quilt by hand.
011

Don't interrupt me, the stars are tessellating


Another week, another patch of The Constellation Quilt completed.
scan0127
This phrase, “Don’t interrupt me, the stars are tessellating” could be spoken by the hero to the heroine in a clichéd romantic scene in a musical or melodrama. The stars are often associated with romance, and this is something I wanted to pick up on in the quilt.
This phrase is one which I cross stitched when I first began embroidering, one of those phrases that comes to you and persists, nonsensical though it may be.
don't interrupt me the stars are tessellating
Of course, the stars can’t really tessellate; that is, unless they appear in a quilt, for which there are many tessellating stars patterns, one of which I based the motif of this patch on. As I’m keeping the quilt’s construction very simple, I wanted to make reference to the more complicated star patterns here.
The patch is something of a stitch sampler, with back stitch, running stitch, stem stitch and chain stitch all featuring. You can’t tell from the scan, but the thread of the text is in two different shades of gold; I picked it up on a bountiful recent visit to Wroxham.

Oh, to be young and insane.





Yesterday I stitched this play on the phrase "Oh, to be young and in love" on to an antique linen cross-stitched with a floral design my mum's colleague gave me... apparently it belonged to her mother (I'm not sure she'd be too impressed with my subversion of its glorious twee-ness!)


This may wind up becoming a part of my planned collaboration with my friend Jess, who has just joined the cool kids on Blogger.

Here's Jess enjoying the present I made her for her birthday. That's right, it is a chintzy floral tank.


Soon I'll post about my final university showing, but first here are some photographs of what Pip and I did today; messed around in the garden with my Polaroid cameras. I haven't got these babies out for years and years, I'm surprised the long-expired film worked so beautifully.

Here we are in all our soft-focus, light-leaky glory.

Taken by Pip on my Spectra



Taken by me with my Land 420
Pip again (there he is in the window) with the 420
And finally one my brother attempted to take of the pair of us, from which we are mysteriously absent. I still quite like it, though.


It was our six-month anniversary on Friday, and amongst other sickening gifts, I stitched Pip a letter on to a page from a Ladybird book of ducks and swans which Mark bought me.




I think I like the back better than the front.

(Pip calls me Pine Cone because I once sent him a pine cone in the post when I was pining for him... we share a weakness for awful puns.)

Melancholyflowers

If you follow my work on Flickr, you may remember this silly, play-on-words piece:





Well, the dreadful pun has resurfaced on the latest page of On Being Soft, albeit with an alternate spelling.




In this page, I am exploring "being soft" as perceived as a negative quality. "S/he's a bit soft" is a synonym for "wet", "drippy", ineffectual.

I'd been given a couple of linen scraps on which were stitched gorgeous studies of flowers by my ever-generous Granny, and began to think of how many flower-related idioms amount to meaning the same thing as "a bit soft".

I began listing these: delicate flower, pansy, shrinking violet, lily-livered, weed.

I decided to present a series of embroidered flowers on the page as if they were botanical studies, accompanied by these rather derogatory terms instead of their Latin names. And what could serve as a title for the page? "Melancholyflowers"!

(In a happy coincidence, I recently learnt from Andrew Solomon's book The Noonday Demon: An Anatomy of Depression that the ancient Greeks believed cauliflower to be a cure for melancholy;"Chrysippus of Cnidus believed that the answer to depression was the consumption of more cauliflower".)



For the "delicate flower", I chose one of the samplers completed by my Granny's friend. The remainder of the flowers are hand-embroidered by me.



This isn't the best photograph, but it's "pansy" (in simpering pink, of course) illustrated by, well, a pansy. Interestingly, as well as being homophobic, the term pansy can also mean a "weak, effeminate, and often cowardly man", similarly to "lily-livered". However, I've also heard it used to refer to women, for example, er, myself. Apparently a couple of years back a highstreet men's fashion chain was selling a t-shirt emblazoned with the word "pansy", reclaiming the word as a badge of honour!



In Why Do Violets Shrink?: Answers to 280 Thorny Questions on the World of Plants by Caroline Holmes, we learn that the Sweet Violet shrinks away from insects which try to access its pollen. A "shrinking violet" is of course an incredibly timid person.





In the Middle Ages, the liver was believed to be the seat of courage. A pale, "lily-coloured" liver would be one with no blood, and thus courage, in it; thus, lily-livered.


This is one of my favourite pages so far, and a little self-deprecating dig at myself for being all of the above!


Texere

And now for a little light etymology: the words text, textile and texture all derive from the same Latin verb, texere, which means to weave, to plait, or to construct with elaborate care.


I am attempting to construct On Being Soft with elaborate care
(in broken Google Translate Latin, Ego conantur texere libro cum cura); "weaving" together snippets of text and textile, embellishing with embroidery, tall tales, buttons, and beads.


The most recently completed page of the book plays on the shared root of text and texture, texere.






I have cross-stitched the tongue-in-cheek phrases "textually active" and "texturally active" (for which I must give credit to my housemate Mark, as he suggested I stitch up the former of the phrases) on miniscule aida fabric in a plethora of cheap and cheerful colours. The words are surrounded by different textures; light-reflecting orange velvet, a coarse checker-board fabric, thick, fleecy patterned carpet (the remainder of which will make a marvellous appliqued owl one day), antique lace, and plastic buttons.

The book will be both textually and texturally active; made to be read, but also touched.




On Being Soft

In anticipation of the Soft exhibition at The Mill in June, I am stitching a soft sculpture artist's book. 



  
The cover is constructed from a 1920s or '30s gold brocade curtain stuffed with wadding, to make the book, well, soft (my friend Alys mentioned that it could double up as a cushion).


The cover reads "On Being Soft - A work in progress by Kate Elisabeth Rolison". The pages inside will deal with notions of softness; of personality, of the female form, with the sense of touch, and more.


On the first page is a pocket made from blue and gold batik fabric, which bears a cross stitched quote by the artist Lily van der Stokker.








The quotation reads "Women can be sweet, sentimental, sensual, communicative, decorative, weak, emotional, and what else? They are very good at crying".


When I came across this quotation in van der Stokker's book It Doesn't Mean Anything But It Looks Good, it struck me that the qualities she was listing could be thought of as different kinds of softness. A particularly feminine softness, which was what I wished to explore in my book. 


I realise that some may see this quotation as anti-feminist, but I feel it (along with van der Stokker's work) celebrates the feminine aspect of womanhood. Indeed, van der Stokker describes herself as a "feminist conceptual pop artist"!


Below are some examples of van der Stokker's work, taken from It Doesn't Mean Anything But It Looks Good, published by Tate St Ives. The works are exuberantly, even nauseatingly, feminine and positive. In her book, van der Stokker is quoted speaking about "the strength of pink curlicues"; there is strength in this apparently "weak" feminine softness. The strength of softness is something we are aiming to explore in the Soft exhibition.










In It Doesn’t Mean Anything But It Looks Good, van der Stokker writes about how when “women refuse to hold back in their expression, we see artworks that are so different they can repulse and confuse us”. In the making of On Being Soft, I am embracing my own femininity, even those aspects of it which I have previously fought and which have nauseated me.


The pages of the book will be made to be touched, and explored; they will contain pockets which will themselves contain embroidered handkerchiefs.


I wanted the first handkerchief of the book to have a dialogue with the Lily van der Stokker quotation cross stitched on to the pocket which contains it. I focused on the last word of the quotation - crying.






The handkerchief reads ""Are you well?" (I'm welling up.)", illustrated by, yes, a wishing well, because I have a terrible weakness for appalling puns.


There are two voices in this text; the first, a polite enquirer, and the second my interior monologue, my silenced voice, bit tongue. The words (and tears) are trapped within the folded handkerchief, and the viewer has to delve into the pocket and unfold the fabric before they are released.

I've begun to think of the different things handkerchiefs can signify; nowadays they are almost invariably only the property of older people. They catch coughs and sneezes, they are witness to outpourings of emotions, they are used to dab away a furtive tear. In old films and cartoons, they wave away maiden voyages, they are waved out of rapidly departing trains at sweethearts. Moving even further (far further) back in time, they were given as “favours” to jousting knights.

On Saturday I will be visiting the Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street, where the exhibition The Printed Square: Vintage Handkerchiefs is currently on display. I will report back later!



Love Exists

Love Exists is an online project envisaged by the artist Scarlett Barry, conducted through the social networking site LiveJournal, beginning in July of 2005. Barry encourages members of the Love Exists LiveJournal community to write the phrase "on walls. Carve it in trees. Paint it on our bodies and scream it out loud."


A photograph by Barry to accompany the LiveJournal community
 LiveJournal may since have fallen out of favour with bloggers, but the idea of Love Exists lives on in Flickr and Facebook groups.

I really like the idea of spreading a simple message of love and hope globally.



For example, the above photograph was taken by LiveJournal user darkestblue22 in the Sahara Desert.

Love Exists bears a close resemblance to You Are Beautiful,a street art project operating out of Chicago, which attempts to spread this simple, positive message globally "by any means necessary except through commercial use".

Here's what the project's creators have to say about it:

"You are Beautiful is a simple, powerful statement which is incorporated into the over absorption of mass media and lifestyles that are wrapped up in consumer culture.

The intention behind this project is to reach beyond ourselves as individuals to make a difference by creating moments of positive self realization. We're just attempting to make the world a little better."

You Are Beautiful has truly become a global project, as evidenced by the photographs below; the first was taken in Bailey's Head, Antarctica, and the second in Cape Town, South Africa.




I decided to contribute to the Love Exists project through the most global of networks; the internet.


I took this Polaroid several years ago when I first became aware of the Love Exists project; in fact, when I still had a LiveJournal account. I shared the photograph on LiveJournal through the group the-polaroids, and of course the Love Exists group. I have since uploaded it to Flickr, to share the message with a wider audience.

The message fits seamlessly into the Cure for Love project, and thus I decided to render it in stitch. I chose cross stitch for a bit of variation from all the straight embroidery I've been doing lately, and also because cross stitch gives such a regular and crisp appearance to text, and so works perfectly with the scrabble tiles. The design is based loosely on the Polaroid. I really like the simplicity of the piece. I've also shared it on Flickr and submitted it to the Love Exists Flickr group.


A Tangent


This cross stitch is a little something I've made for an upcoming collaboration with Jessica Anne Johnson; a top-secret project for now, but expect (literally) crazy goings on come January.

In other news, my embroidery/love potion making workshop is on Wednesday, and the ever-wonderful Emma Parker, aka Miss Stitch Therapy has sewn this love potion into her "stitchtionary".





I'm touched that this beautiful piece of work has been inspired by my workshop; such a clever reappropriation of an old dictionary!

Now I shall get back to stitching a "nefarious sea creature", as my friend Mark calls them...

More on the E17 Art Trail

My work has been featured on the E17 Art Trail blog:

DAY THREE, "Don't be an artschool arsehole"



"I have always associated cross stitch with pricked fingers and a feeling of frustration from knotted thread that won't go through the eye of the needle. However, Kate Rolison's exhibit Literary Stitchery made me forget these memories and my prejudiced view that an embroidery exhibition would be annoyingly twee. Kate, who hails from the 'Stow and is a student at University College Falmouth, has stitched wryly amusing phrases that play with the idea of the tortured artist/writer and the pretentious art school student. "Don't be an artschool arsehole" is beautifully stitched and illustrated. Here are a few pictures, but you can see more and follow the progress of her project here. Literary Stitchery is on show in the window of 61 Somers Road so do peer in."


Some more feedback on my exhibition from the wonderful people of Walthamstow:

"Loved the mix of contemporary ideas with vintage lace/crochet and embroidery. I dabble a bit in embroidery but you've inspired me to add some "wordage" next time. Cheers!"

"Loved the humour - especially "He's just at artschool."

"Loved these a lot - great to see textile art on the trail. Well done."

"Loved it - beautifully executed, but also subversive and laugh-out-loud funny!"

"Kate - your work is amazing - both technically and creatively."

"I love the use of old table cloths, doilies, laces etc and I love the embroidery work. Not so sure about the text. Not sure if the words add anything good to the piece. Do keep using text but see if it is necessary."

"Charming combination of modern sentiment and old-world material."

"I really enjoyed your work, it's clever and skilful. I like the use of old place mats and needlework. Thank you for showing it. Please let me know of future projects."

"Love your wit, skill and craft! Congratulations, do add me to your mailing list - good luck with your show and thanks for letting us see your work."

And lastly some comments from my granddad to go alongside those from my grandma:

"You should get "A's" for all your "D's" - design, delicate needlework and drive to get your thoughts translated into your display. Very well done."

E17 Art Trail Exhibition



Literary Stitchery

"Literary Stitchery is a selection of modern text-based stitched works in cross stitch and hand embroidery sewn by Kate Rolison, a student at University College Falmouth but hailing from 'The Stow'.

Subverting the twee tradition of the medium, Literary Stitchery utilises punning and play on words, together with images rendered in stitch, to create a playful collection of embroidery.

Kate studies Performance Writing at University College Falmouth. Thus far, the course has involved spending considerable lengths of time inside a tree, amongst other things."


Today was the opening of my front-window exhibition as part of the E17 Art Trail, "Literary Stitchery", showcasing previous stitched works and a few pieces from The Cure For Love project. To celebrate I had a small tea party with family and friends.



We had goat's cheese and watercress and red onion and cheddar sandwiches, as well as asparagus and mayonnaise and home-made smoked salmon paté rolls, followed by four-nut chocolate brownies, vegan chocolate chip cookies, and clotted cream and strawberry jam scones, washed down with white wine and tea. It was the perfect excuse for me to wear a new tea dress!


Some visitors left comments about the exhibition:

"These are brilliant - love the way the "new" embroidery and the found pieces come together. Good luck with your degree!"

"Love all the birds in your embroidery - really intricate and lovely and strong messages."

"The detail in all your work is amazing! My favourite piece is "Stopper Your Heart" because of the intricacy. Well done!"

"I am in love with the embroidery work you have created. The themes of love and loss and the concept of the tortured artist really relates to my current work and is inspiring. Being able to convey these themes in such an elaborate way is also inspiring. I especially love the embroidery work for "Brief Encounter" and the embroidery work for "You had dishwater eyes..." Can't wait for you to produce more."

"Really lovely detail on each piece. Especially liked "Don't be an art school arsehole" and the owl, it's lovely! Detail on "Brief Encounter" is amazing too. Very impressed!"

 And finally one from my Grandma:

"A lovely surprise when we arrived to see the professional display of your embroidery. Your work has really improved and is so intricate. I especially like the "Brief Encounter" one. I'm sure you will go on improving and I feel very proud of you."




A Trail of Thread













Last year my housemates were very amused by the fact that wherever I went in the house, a trail of embroidery thread followed.

Aside from a brief stint during GCSE Textiles, I began embroidering in earnest whilst recovering from a period of illness. This afforded me a lot of time to fill, and to occupy me my dad bought me a couple of craft kits, one of which was a set of make-your-own hand puppets. Sewing the simple tiger template together re-introduced me to the methodical, repetitive and (helpfully) time-consuming process of embroidery.

Encouraged by the simple yet impactful cross-stitched confessional texts of Scarlett Barry, I began cross-stitching my own writing. As a writer, text is obviously my most important medium, and I was pleased with the crisp, regular appearance of cross stitched text. Cross stitch is a craft which both my grandmothers engage in, and so I feel it has been handed down to me.



Scarlett Barry's confessional cross stitch


My own cross-stitched writing

I also began experimenting with standard hand embroidery, coupling one-liners, misheard phrases and puns, with detailed hand-stitched illustrations. This embroidery followed in the tradition of samplers with their combination of image and text. The naivety of my first attempts at hand embroidery is also reminiscent of these samplers, which were often undertaken by very young children.


One of my first attempts at hand embroidery

For this project I will be using the medium of embroidery to explore themes of love and loss. I will embroider onto linens handed down to me from my grandmother, in turn handed down to her from my great grandmother, to emphasise the domestic and feminine associations of the craft, as well as the notion that it is a craft handed down from mother to daughter.

Poesie Grenadine/The Cure for Love

Poesie Grenadine
I first encountered the phrase “poésie grenadine” in a French text book. In fact the full phrase was “la poésie du coleur grenadine”. From what I can recall it pertained to the cloyingly saccharine writing which can arise from teenage romance; the poetic equivalent of purple prose.
It has since become my online alias. This is apt as I write primarily about love and loss (and other “little l’s”); knowingly, willingly or not, I’m sure I often stumble into “poésie grenadine”.


The Cure for Love
The Cure for Love was originally the title of a community arts project to be run by the Plymouth based social arts company Effervescent. The project would culminate in an artwork made in collaboration with young and older members of the Plymouth community, on the subject of “love and loss, the things you want to forget, and how to get over a broken heart”. The plan was for me to join Effervescent in devising and running the project as part of my Contextual Enquiry Project (CEP). Sadly the project fell through, but the title stuck with me. Now that my writing practise had expanded to include embroidery, I had begun to consider ways in which I could assimilate The Cure for Love into this practise. I decided on embroidering shortened passages from my longer writings on love, complete poems, and found phrases, together with sewn illustrations. Instead of “Knitting a Love Song”, as the 2004 short film suggests, I will sew love poems, labouring (with love) over each stitch.
Originally the embroidery aspect of my CEP was conceived as merely a supplement to the community arts project. Now, however, it can expand into a much wider undertaking.
 When I met with Ellie, the founder of Effervescent, to discuss my involvement with the project, she told me that she was “obsessed with love”. A housemate who writes a column for a gay magazine refers to me in it as “The Hopeless Romantic”; love, therefore, is an obsession I share with Ellie, and with you for the next few months.