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.
scan0098
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.
scan0099
scan0100
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!
scan0101

The wild blue yonder looms


I had a dream a month or so ago that I wrote a song about betrayal, cold hearts, and melancholy, the central metaphor of which was goose eggs.
This struck me as exactly the sort of song harpist and singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom would write, and I only wish I could.
Why do I mention this? Because whilst stitching the next altered page of What To Look For In Winter, a few lines from one of my favourite Joanna Newsom songs kept popping into my head:
And yonder, wild and blue,
The wild blue yonder looms
‘Til we are wracked with rheum
By roads, by songs entombed
~ from Swansea by Joanna Newsom


As the winter months roll on, and the nights draw in, I grow less and less inclined to venture out into the “wild blue yonder”. The world outside can seem very dark and lonely at this time of year; much better to curl up with your family (and Border Terrier!) in front of a fire or boxset.
As I mentioned in my previous post on What To Look For In Winter, the colder months can bring with them common-or-garden blues. However, as I am all too aware, for anyone with an underlying mental illness, it can be a much more trying time of year, bringing very real fears of the outside world. Thankfully so far this year my blues have been of that common-or-garden variety, although it can be something of a battle to keep anxieties on an even keel (aided by listening to lots of empowering Destiny’s Child, and, I’m even more ashamed to say, Cher’s “Believe“!) at times. I am incredibly grateful to be in such a good place, with such a good support network around me, this winter.
What To Look For In Winter will take the reader on a journey through the emotional highs and lows of winter, set in context with the changing winter landscape, and culminate in a spring unfurling, both literal and metaphorical.
yonder
In the most recently completed pages of What To Look For In Winter, there is a juxtaposition between the loneliness felt by the speaker when confronted with the wide open “wild blue yonder”, and the waterbirds who “gather together in flocks”. It was somewhat serendipitous that this page happened to be so very blue!
scan0086
The prose of the original Ladybird text is almost magical, and charms me, as an (ever-so-slightly) whimsical adult, as much as I imagine it charmed its original readership of children in the early ’60s. Surely only the most hardened cynic could fail to be beguiled by a description of the half-decayed veins of leaves “remaining like delicate fairy skeletons“? Or perhaps I’m just a little too romantic for my own good? (It’s been suggested.

No-vember


No sun – no moon! No morn – no noon - No dawn – no dusk – no proper time of day. No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease, No comfortable feel in any member - No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees, No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! - November!
This (abridged) poem by Thomas Hood seems to encapsulate the way many people feel about the penultimate month of the year. I’ve been having some conversations with friends and customers recently which would certainly seem to suggest so! Some friends have suggested that everything always goes wrong in November, and one customer in the café where I work wondered if it was in human’s mammalian nature to want to hibernate through the winter months; if perhaps the human race collectively has a mild form of Seasonal Affective Disorder.
In (dis)honour of this miserable time of year, I am currently working on an altered book. What To Look For InWinter, written by E.L. Grant-Watson and illustrated by C.F. Tunnicliffe, was first published in 1959 by Ladybird Books. It invites young people into the wintry natural world and reveals for them the surprising activity and vivacity of the winter months, beginning with the end of autumn and ending with the very onset of spring.
By today’s standards the book is rather quaint, but nevertheless utterly enchanting. It’s made me stop and consider the wonders of winter as well as the hardships.
Therefore, I am embroidering my own texts on winter on to some of the illustrative pages, taking care that these have an interplay with the images, and with the words which go alongside them. I see this as a collaborative effort between the original writer and illustrator and myself, to create a work which is almostpsychogeographical.
The book itself has been weathered (and indeed, looks wintered) over the years; one side of the front cover has been chewed up (whether by mould or an animal I’m not sure).
I feel as if there is a real dialogue opened up for me, and hopefully for readers and viewers, by this book; is “what to look for in winter” what to look out for in winter – sickness, depression, and doldrums, or is it what to look hard for in winter, in spite of this – the strange beauty in all its sparse desolation, and the promise of spring?

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.

Sob Stories and Stitching

After a hectic week of socialising, stitching, "arting" and performing, I have thoroughly enjoyed having a lazy Sunday.

However, although I haven't been darting about all over the place today, it has still been very productive; artist and designer-maker Hannah Hill came over and we brainstormed our upcoming collaboration, the Stitch Witches zine. We've planned out the first (bumper!) issue and I now have quite a bit of (very pleasurable) work to do.




I mentioned that I'd performed this week; well, this Thursday, Hannah (and my friend Nathan) joined me at Cella Salon in Newington Green for an evening of performance.

My friend Seb runs a monthly performance art night there, and at the very last minute asked me if I'd like to have a go. 


This was my set-up; I invited participants to chop onions and see what memories and emotions this evoked. After a chat about this, I shared a story I had collected (or experienced) about crying, and encouraged the participants to do the same (luckily for me, everyone was pretty forthcoming!)

Once we'd shared our (literal) sob stories and had a little giggle, the participants embroidered a short phrase from their story on to ribbon or a handkerchief. The ribbons were then kept in a glass jar to make a "jar of tears". I will do something with this jar full of ribbons at a later date, and will certainly be looking to perform at Cella Salon in the future.

















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.