Sketching For Stitching

Remember Nicola Jarvis's incredible exhibition at the William Morris Gallery? Well, last week, the other Future Tutors students at the RSN and myself were lucky enough to have her teach us the principles of embroidery design over two days.

Now, I haven't drawn in over three years, beyond very basic line sketches (mostly traced from photographs, I am ashamed to say!) for my embroideries. But two days of drawing with Nikki, and I was in love with the medium all over again!

I'm enjoying following my instincts about colour, and just choosing tones which seem to fit together. I'm really attracted to jewel-like tones of magenta, purple, lime, coral and sapphire at the moment, partially due to a 1920s flapper dress from the Royal School's collection which put me in mind of a coral reef; inspired by this, my design for Canvas Work (a technique I'll be embarking on learning in a month), is an underwater scene.



From looking at and handling the collection and listening to the experiences and advice of my peers and tutors, I'm beginning to learn more about which stitches and techniques are appropriate for different designs. I can't wait to try out Turkey rug, feather stitch, stumpwork and trellis stitch... so much texture!

My design for Jacobean Crewel Work is in rich purples and blues, chosen from three crewel wools I snatched almost as soon as they were put on the table; they're simply sumptuous! Jacobean Crewel Work traditionally depicts a tree of life laden with fantastical, oversized flora and fauna. I've chosen an oak leaf, acorn, thistle, a sprig of berries, and a snail crawling up the Tree of Life's trunk. To balance the right hand side of the Tree, I've drawn a spiralling branch on the left which echoes the snail's shell. The three hillocks are also a traditional feature of Jacobean Crewel Work.




 I've definitely caught the drawing bug, but I can't wait to get back to my real love; tomorrow is my first day of stitching! I'll share the results here very soon.

Ah, winters!


The hacking cough which I’ve had since before Christmas seems to finally be abating, and just in the nick of time; I’m off to far colder climes next week. The boyfriend and I are escaping to sub-zero Berlin, taking in cabaret, an abandoned Soviet amusement park, and German wine (gulp? Quite literally…) My excitement is mounting, particularly since I haven’t been out of the UK for four years, and is reaching a slightly worrying fever pitch (or maybe that’s just my cold). I will return on the 22nd with reams of photographs and stories to share here, I’m sure.
It may be a little late to be getting into the wintry spirit, but a recent visit to the Serpentine gallery has got me dreaming of a white Berlin even more; my friend Rohanne and I visited an exhibition of video artist Jonas Mekas there, which was filled with joyous imagery and poetry of the snowy season, including the typewritten proclamation “Ah, winters!”
Perhaps it’s all this dreamy imagery and dreamier day dreaming which has led to What To Look For In Winter turning into something of a frosty fairy tale.
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Winter has become personified as a man so cold he sets the world on permafrost when the heroine of the fairytale marries him.
I’m not sure if I can get away with blaming it on my cold, but I’ve made a couple of mistakes with these latest two pages; I got a bit too needle-happy with the “When I married Winter, the world was put on permafrost” page, and tore straight through the paper! However, a mistake can soon become a happy accident, and I patched up the hole with a teeny tiny pine cone embroidery which ties in with the narrative and illustration on the reverse of the stitched page.
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I accidentally omitted a comma after “kiss” on this page, and ran out of the right shade of blue thread just at the last minute of stitching! Here’s hoping my holiday will revivify me so I won’t make any more rookie mistakes!
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A Christmas Message from Stitch Witches


(Or one half of them at least.)
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A very Merry Christmas to you from the moveable feast that is Stitch Witches headquarters. As I sit, stuffed as the turkey I’m stuffed with, glass of red in hand, I ponder how to make the glitter-covered (a Stitch Witches must) festive season just a touch more… ghoulish.
Possibly with the addition of a Stitch Witches rosette, printed with an illustration by Hanecdote and adorned with spiders, scaredy cats, or spluttering slime green candles?
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Or an otherworldy Stitch Witches loveheart brooch, decorated with ghostly green and lavender gems and sequins?
These and more will be available to buy (or perhaps even win) in the run up to the release of Stitch Witches zine #1. The zine is coming on apace; here is my most recently completed page for it; I won’t give anything else away apart from to say that Polly Kettle is an artistic alter-ego of mine, and certainly lives up to her “mystifying” tag line.
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Hannah is something of a one-woman stitching machine, constantly churning out occult-themed t shirts and accessories (but only of the highest quality), many of which are inspired by Stitch Witches, or will appear in its pages or in other merchandise.
We’ve both been featured (or are about to be featured!) in other zines over the past couple of months. Hannah’s “CREEP” patch above will appear in OOMK zine, along with (fingers crossed) a piece by me on putting on an exhibition in my parents’ bay window this summer.
We’ve also both had art featured in the most recent issue of Girls Get Busy zine. Girls Get Busy is “a non-profit feminist collective supporting female writers, musicians and artists with a monthly zine. Based in London, UK and curated by Beth Siveyer“. My piece, “Hysterical Woman“, is on the very first page (I can’t pretend not to be a little bit proud and smug about that):
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I made my fellow Stitch Witch a little Christmas package of witchy goodies, which arrived at the same time as her copy of Girls Get Busy. Hannah took some great photographs of her swag, and I’m glad she liked my silly little gifts so much (and that they, and the zine, coordinate with her nail polish!):
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One thing’s for sure this Christmas; Stitch Witches are certainly on the up. I’m looking forward to 2013, and all the creativity it will bring, immensely. All that remains to be said is, once again, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good ghoulish night.
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Commission Pt. II




Here is the second half of the embroidery commission I have been working on, finished this very night.
This second illustration accompanies the 1930s children’s story The Dawn Shops, in which Jessy takes a dose of soaring pills:
I’m very happy with the figure and the left hand side of the image, but less pleased with the cat; in fact, cats seem to have been intent on giving me trouble today; a big fat fluffy ginger puss kept sneaking into my garden when I wasn’t looking this morning.
Still, this has been a good learning process and the customers seem very satisfied with the result! I’ve really enjoyed stitching these gorgeous, delicate images, too.

Commission Pt. I


I’m very lucky to currently be working on an exciting commission, translating a couple of treasured children’s illustrations into stitch on gorgeous French lace handkerchiefs.
It’s remarkable how much the illustrative style suits my style of embroidery; it’s been a real pleasure to work on, and I’m sure its sister piece will be much the same.
The stories themselves are fantastical, charming, and rather hallucinogenic; rather more 60s than 30s (when they were actually written!)
During my project The Cure for Love, I adapted a similar children’s book illustration into a piece based on the 1945 film Brief Encounter:
I’ll have to keep an eye out for 1930s children’s picture books in my trips to second hand book shops from now on!
If you’d like to commission me to work on a piece for you, just drop me a line at katerolison@googlemail.com, and I’ll work with you to create your own special embroidered art work, for you or a loved one.

Stitching, Witching, and Bitchin': Stitch Witches zine progress


Last Tuesday, Hannah and I regrouped to share where we’d gotten up to in creating our zineStitch Witches. More importantly, we met up to CRAFT (and eat junk food).
And craft we did! I created a new and improved version of my homage to Destiny’s Child to feature on a special page of the zine:
Much sweeter (pardon the pun) than the previous design, wouldn’t you agree?
Hannah, however, has been working much, much harder than me, creating patches and t shirts a-plenty:
Hannah gave me this fab Stitch Witches insignia to sew on to the back of my camo jacket!
The design on this t shirt will play a very special role in the revamped version of our Tumblr, which will allowStitch Witches everywhere to join in with our Textiles Worshipping Cult.
Hannah even turned a throwaway comment of mine on our day of crafting and cackling into a pretty rad patch:
now available for purchase here
I love the creepy font; almost reminds me of Chiller, which was everyone’s favourite gruesome typeface when I was at primary school! Was anyone else a fan in their misspent youth?
Next on my to-do list is making some special rosettes for our future stitchy witchy sisters!

Getting my stitch (and jelly) on


I’ve been in a bit of a creative rut this month just past. Whatever I’ve made (or haven’t made), I’ve never quite been satisfied with it. I’ve had an awful lot of ideas and projects on the go, but bringing them to fruition has been another matter.
I can attribute some of this to the weather; it seemed like one minute I was walking into work in summer dresses and cardigans, and the next was seriously considering investing in some thermals. The days got shorter and gloomier (in every sense!), which always seems to bring me down somewhat.
I feel that some of my lack of mojo, however, is to do with the predicament of every recent graduate; whither now? Will I ever “make it” to some extent as an artist? Will I ever have a steady job? Will I ever move out of my parents’ house?
Lastly, for the past week I’ve been battling with a horrific tummy bug. It’s been so long since I’ve had any physical ailment that I’d actually forgotten how paralysing it could be. Consequently, I’ve been off work, and getting down to work on creative projects has been equally difficult.
Today, however, the fog of ickyness seems to be lifting; I’ve been working on a commission for a colleague, doing very detailed, fine stitching. Hannah of Hanecdote is back from her holiday, and we have Stitch Witches plotting afoot. Speaking of, I may go and work on a little something for Stitch Witches right now…
But first let me leave you with a very silly (not to mention cack-handed) recent mock-up creation for a page inStitch Witches zine:
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We are Stitch Witches


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Stitch Witches is a collaborative project that has been brewing for a couple of months now.
It all started when I went along to the Girls Get Busy Zine Festival in August. There I met artist and designer Hannah Hill, whose work I had admired online, and Beth Siveyer, founder of Girls Get Busy.
Me on the left, Beth in the middle, and Hannah on the right
Despite my slightly tipsy state, Hannah and I really hit it off, and immediately started considering working together on a project. A few days and emails later, we had begun to outline what Stitch Witches would look and feel like.
We were both intrigued by girl gangs, slightly occult themes, the few remaining taboos of modern society, and, most importantly, stitching!
Both being quite heavily involved in the young feminist art scene, and given where we met, we decided that our medium would be a zine, and thus Stitch Witches was born.
We plan on making the zine available to purchase in November, and will be doing a post-Halloween giveaway to get people in a suitably ghoulish mood!
Hannah has already produced reams of art and design for the zine, and I’ve written some of the text and designed a membership certificate (my next task is to make Stitch Witches rosettes!)
Here are some photographs from one of our (very high level business) planning meetings:

Ah-tisshoo!

Today I visited the Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street to take in their exhibition of handkerchiefs, The Printed Square



The handkerchiefs on display differed from my embroidered vintage handkerchiefs in that they were examples of early - mid twentieth century design rather than handicraft/art.






I didn't visit the exhibition so much for the handkerchiefs on display, however, as for their history.

In The Printed Square, the book published to coincide with the exhibition, the textile and costume designer Nicky Albrechtsen explains how handkerchiefs have played a role in courtship and romance rituals over the centuries.

As far as in known, this began in the Middle Ages when jousting knights would pin a lady's handkerchief - her "favour" - to their sleeve to show for which lady they were riding. 

The word "handkerchief" derives from the French "couvrechef", meaning "head cover". In the Tudor period English women would bestow elaborate "handkerchers" upon their preferred suitors, who wore them on their hats.

In the Victorian era there was even a "language" of handkerchiefs in a similar manner to the language of fans, as Albrechtsen explains; "letting" one's handkerchief "drop to the ground ... was an invitation for friendship; twirling it in both hands indicated indifference; the gentle mopping of one's forehead was a sign of being watched; and drawing a handkerchief across one's cheek signified love".


This may sound fanciful, but would have been an invaluable secret code for strictly chaperoned young women who could not freely express their feelings.


Of course, in the twentieth century, an entirely different handkerchief code came into being; the colour-coded system used by members of BDSM and gay subcultures. A coloured handkerchief or bandana is typically worn in the back pocket to indicate a particular fetish or sexual preference. A handkerchief worn on the left side of the body indicates a "dominant" type, and a handkerchief worn on the right side a "submissive".


Obviously this casual sex handkerchief code is strikingly different from the romantic and rather innocent Victorian one!


On a more romantic note, during the Second World War, soldiers serving overseas sent handkerchiefs hand-embroidered with messages of love back to their sweethearts at home. When I met Carolyn Abbott, founder of E17 Designers,she commented that my Cure for Love embroideries were reminiscent of these war-time embroidered tokens.




Bearing all that history in mind, it's time for me to get back to embroidering my own 'kerchief!