Letting In The Light

I very much wanted to write a post for International Women's Day, but was at a bit of a loss until I was mentioned in a lovely tweet by my friends over at Daily Life Ltd.
This decided it for me; my International Women's Day blog post will be dedicated to the women I share the stage with at Daily Life Ltd's light box installation in the square outside Stratford Library, Letting In The Light, which is on until the end of the month if you fancy taking it in (it's worth it; these photographs don't do the scale or the luminance anywhere near justice).

I have to start with Bobby Baker, of course. Several of her diary drawings, completed between 1997 - 2008 and began while she was a day patient at a mental health centre.

This illuminated illustration particularly spoke to me. It's called The Daily Stream of Life, and features Bobby's mind as a river through which life flows, and she in life, sometimes in a rowing boat, sometimes in a canoe, sometimes in a fancier vessel altogether.

After a brief blip in my mental health due to an unfortunate series of circumstances, I feel I am bouncing back to a place where I can leisurely row along on the river of life, enjoying taking in the scenery and getting fresh air as I go.

Liz Atkin is an artist, advocate and speaker who raises awareness of, and promotes recovery from, compulsive skin picking through her art. The work featured in Letting In The Light, Lavish, transforms an illness which dominated Liz's life for more than twenty years into something really quite beautiful.


My favourite piece in the exhibition involved one of my very favourite things; word play.

By Jane McCormick, the piece has a back story that is well worth reading.
Bats in the belfry

An honorary mention goes to male artist (gasp!) Anthony Woods who created a joyous ode to fashion icon Iris Apfel:

My piece is in great company:


I couldn't resist a quick selfie with my work. It was rather wind and rain swept as you may be able to tell; apologies for the quality of all the photos.


Letting In The Light is well worth the trip to a slightly unassuming corner of East London; brighten up your evening, and discover the truth behind Groucho Marx's quip, "Blessed are the cracked, for they let in the light".


Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust

Until yesterday, the most recent exhibition I had been to see was Grayson Perry's Provincial Punk at the Turner Contemporary in Margate. On that wet Sunday afternoon, I left the gallery feeling overwhelmed and underqualified to make art. Following in the footsteps of this country's biggest art star may seem a tall order for a twenty four year old at the very beginning of her career, but I've always had impossibly high standards.

I think part of why I felt so dejected after Provincial Punk is that I can see myself doing similar things to Perry in my work; exploring the lineage of a handicraft with a healthy dose of humour and subversion, and not (at least not initially, in Perry's case) executing this handicraft particularly perfectly; perhaps that's one of the reasons why it's art, not craft? Concept over construction; the ideas are bursting at the seams, the stitches fly as quickly and messily as the thoughts.

I looked at myself and found myself lacking; I should be exhibiting more, I should be selling more work, I should be making more work.

Working almost full time and sometimes at the weekends, even before visiting the exhibition, I had been finding it difficult to locate the motivation to make work. I am still struggling with this somewhat.

Which is why the exhibition I went to yesterday was a welcome godsend. The Joseph Cornell: Wanderlust exhibition is a rather ironic choice for the Royal Academy. When the Academy was founded in 1769 its edict was that "no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shell work, or any such baubles should be admitted". In Wanderlust, cut paper and baubles of all varieties are in much evidence. Admittedly this exhibition occurs in the present day, not the 18th century, so it's reassuring to see that the RA has loosened up somewhat in the intervening two hundred plus years. It's hard not to wonder, however, what the reception of Cornell's work would have been, both now and during his lifetime, had he been a woman. Women of course, as well as the working classes, were precisely whom the Royal Academy intended to bar from their hallowed halls with their proclamation. We see Cornell as alchemist and archivist, visionary and eccentric. Had he been a she, would we have seen her as a frivolous, sentimental, dippy spinster? Certainly it is difficult to separate Cornell's formidable body of work from the aesthetic it spawned. Through the lens of nostalgia this aesthetic is now seen as sentimental, mawkish, twee. It is used to sell everything from records to expensively "shabby chic" pubs and bars.

Joseph Cornell is famed for his boxes, assemblages of bric a brac, artfully arranged but often seemingly thematically unconnected. But when viewed in this retrospective, the mysterious titles of his works begin to shed light on a labyrinthine library of a mind. Because Cornell was a voracious consumer of knowledge. He read everything; from biographies of foreign princes to zodiac charts. He collected papers, documents, photographs and prints of all sorts, from maps to Victorian etchings. These he reassembled into his works, interweaving disparate material and references, creating tangential masterpieces. Cornell's genius is in never quite giving the game away, the full extent of his meaning; he leaves you hungry, as if his hunger for life, knowledge, and even travel across space and time, is infectious.

Wanderlust reminded me to relocate my curiosity; to read for the love of learning; to make for the sake of making, for the joy of it.




Female Matters

The good people at Polyester Zine know how to throw a party. For the launch of the magazine there was a one-night nail bar, DJs, and sangria that was unlike any I have ever tasted (though not in a bad way).

Their latest exhibition-come-knees-up Female Matters was co-curated by Polyester Zine and womenswear designer Clio Peppiatt in aid of the Dahlia Project, which supports survivors of Female Genital Mutilation.

The exhibition could have been a very heavy, dark affair, considering the project it was raising money for, but the curators took a tongue-in-cheek and joyous approach to the subject of female sexual liberation in the 21st Century.

Pop feminism and grrrl power was much in evidence. The first work of art I saw when I walked through the door was my stitchin' sister Hannah Hill, wearing a crop top she had embroidered with her own fair hand. It featured one of her most popular Ghoul Guides designs, "Donut Touch Me".

This was unfortunately very appropriate as Hannah experienced some street harassment on the night. The embroidery shows her resilience and wicked sense of humour in the face of sexism.





Hannah was one of 20+ artists who exhibited customised knickers at Female Matters. Every pair was for sale. Hung on a washing line for all to see, the messages ranged from "No woman gets an orgasm from shining the kitchen floor" to "Pussy Power", which was featured on several pairs of knickers. Hannah's knickers proclaim that "My body is mine", a statement many of us could benefit from being reminded of, living as we do in a patriarchal consumer society where sex sells and our bodies and ourselves are never enough.

Photograph by Hanecdote









Hannah was also featured in a simply stunning photo series by the phenomenally talented Scarlett Shaney about the social media gaze and how we present our image to the world. Hannah is an utter femme fatale in the series, which is appropriate as Scarlett has an on-going series called Cinema Stills, riffing on Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills.

Photograph by Hanecdote
Ceramics featured heavily at Female Matters. These pondering women, comfortable inhabiting their own bodies (but not sexualised) by playful ceramicist Charlotte Mei, really appealed to me. If I had the cash, I might have bought the pair.


But my very favourite pieces of the night were also perhaps the least subtle. They reminded me of many varied references; Gustav Klimt, icon paintings, landscapes.

These bead and paint works by Melissa Eakin lavishly depict the female body as a shrine to worship at. Menstrual blood becomes a seam of rubies; the pearl clitoris reminds me of the Carol Ann Duffy poem Anne Hathaway:

The bed we loved in was a spinning world
of forests, castles, torchlight, clifftops, seas
where he would dive for pearls.


The woman's body becomes the archetypal woman's body; every skin tone is daubed on to one body, and the scale becomes as cinematic as the Grand Canyon.





More ceramics by Georgia Grace Gibson initially reminded me of Grayson Perry, with their scrawled writing and collaged images.

However, on closer inspection it became apparent that Georgia was doing something very different, and difficult. One pot was daubed with the obscenities and teasing of the girls' toilets at school and battered and borrowed text books. The second pot was an undeniably filthy and foul-mouthed diary of a gobby teenage girl who has thrust herself with gusto into sexual experimentation.

These uncomfortable examples of the young girl's gaze which is often swept under the carpet are contrasted with the third pot, in which naked, nubile young women contort into grotesque parodies of lesbianism exclusively for the male gaze.



















Female Matters was absolutely packed, and rightly so. I was so impressed that such talented and varied artists were brought together and curated so beautifully for just one night. I met a number of people in "mutual" follows on social media, and everyone was so friendly, chatty, and creating fascinating work in different remits and mediums. Here's to the next Polyester Zine event!

Softer at The Mill

I'm just back from dropping off a couple of framed embroideries at Penny Fielding's for the E17 Art Trail Summer Show (which opens on Thursday), and I thought I would finally get 'round to uploading some photographs from another little exhibition I'm participated in, which opened a couple of weeks ago.

Some of you may remember the Soft exhibition at The Mill that I blogged about around  this time last year. Well, after the success of that show, The Mill decided to reincarnate the exhibition as Softer. There's a very different feel to this year's exhibition (it's jam packed to the rafters, for one thing!), with more varieties of textile art/craft and a slightly more political slant. Everyone from established artists to infant school students are represented; it's truly reflective of the wider Walthamstow community!

Unfortunately, with all the other exhibitions I'm preparing for and submitting work to, I ran out of time to create something new for Softer. Thus my contribution was one of my early embroideries for The Cure for Love, which was exhibited in its entirety at The Mill in December 2011. 

The embroidery I submitted was my "Love is no mythical creature" narwhal (my favourite animal, don't you know; I frequently dream about them!)


He looks quite sweet nestled in amongst the crochet and quilting!



These "stained glass" crochet granny squares were one of my favourite exhibits. I love how each square is unique, yet each compliments the others. Definitely got me hankering after a granny square blanket (if only I could knit or crochet!)




Work curated and created by my old colleagues at Significant Seams was also featured; cushions spelling out "Softer" were hung up in the front window, inviting the public in. The cushions were made as part of Wood Street Welcome, a community art project for Wood Street, Walthamstow.


In addition to the Softer exhibition, there were also a number of inventive oversized animals on display (including my second-favourite animal, a downcast looking fox!)

This exhibition was entitled Wildlife Reworked, and was comprised of animal sculptures made from recycled objects by local families with the help of sculptor Michelle Reader. Although a separate exhibition, the sculptures could easily have been included in Softer as many were made with large quantities of fabric. There was obviously a lot of attention to detail given when selecting the materials to construct the animals; the texture of the fox's fur in particular was spot on.





This piece has inspired some of my hand stitching and hand quilting idea for Big Teeth. Lovely warm colours and homespun, handcrafted textures!



It wouldn't be a textile exhibition at The Mill without a few of Harriet Hammel's signature pieces. She contributed a Campbell's "PopArt" Soup can and a jar of (my favourite) Marmite. Though why these incredibly life like provisions were displayed in a wire cage, I'm not quite sure! They shared wall space with a knitted or crocheted (forgive my ignorance) faux-taxidermy moose head, which very much puts me in mind of one my housemate hung on our living room wall at university.




This cactus was one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition, and I'm very sorry to say I didn't get any better photographs of it. Just imagine how much more practical knitted house plants would be than their living counterparts!



This quilted duffel bag by Significant Seams stalwart Heidi Beach puts me in mind of William Morris's beloved leather satchels; I can certainly imagine him using this bag if he was around nowadays!


I was enthralled by the texture of the undulating seaweed in this piece; I don't know what the textile technique is, but the artist has caught their essence just right.


Unfortunately the photograph of this knitted item doesn't do it justice; it was a riot of colour and texture.


This bird reminded me of both William Morris's original designs, and Nicola Jarvis's drawings, paintings, and embroideries inspired by the famed Walthamstow-born master craftsman.


I loved the intricate volcano design of this quilt; just imagine how long it must've taken to piece it together!


Finally, an incredibly sweet addition to the exhibition was the "Needle Club" book created by young primary school children. It showcased the magic of children's imagination, and both put me in mind of my soft sculpture book On Being Soft, and inspired me to persevere with Big Teeth














The thing with feathers

As the time to begin my training at the Royal School of Needlework draws ever nearer, I grow more and more excited, but also daunted, as it seems incredible to me that human hands can produce something so exquisitely beautiful.

Visiting the most recent exhibition at the William Morris Gallery, The Art of Embroidery, has me even more daunted. Truly, Nicola Jarvis's bird and floral motifs are an exercise in impeccable technique. It didn't surprise me in the slightest that the exhibition is supported by both the Royal School of Needlework and the Embroiderers' Guild, because Jarvis's skill is clearly the result of years of training.



What she is particularly masterful at is replicating the same image in a plethora of individual techniques; from quilting to painting to canvaswork. As well as being a master craftswoman she is obviously also a master draughtswoman; her designs for embroidery are exquisite, and are shown in context alongside those by May Morris, William Morris's daughter and a key figure in the Royal School of Art Needlework as it was then known.



May became director of the embroidery department of Morris & Co. at the tender age of twenty three (clearly a prodigious talent; I'm twenty two, and thus even more daunted!) Though techniques in embroidery have become more complex and refined since her time, there is a clear mastery of the craft in her designs. I was particularly struck with her silk shading, which, though thicker in stitch than modern silk shading, has a gorgeous quality of light.



Because of this juxtaposition between old and new techniques in embroidery, the exhibition is something of a view of the evolution of the craft.

I must say, though I greatly admired the masterful technique of Nicola Jarvis's designs, some of my favourite items in the exhibit were three bags, two of which were designed by Morris and the third is a woven Middle Eastern silk evening bag.This may be because of my romantic tendencies, which are perfectly suited to accessories of the Arts and Crafts movement!







My favourite pieces of Nicola's were her richly embroidered cushions. The beading in particular is breathtaking, and works particularly well with floral motifs, adding jewel-like opulence to the flowers. From her design notes, it is evident that Nicola closely studied Morris's designs, particularly his prints for wall papers and fabrics; she cleverly echoes these in the bodies of the birds, and incorporates them seamlessly. In some cases it appears that the birds are made of lace, the embroidery is so fine.











Nicola will be working on an embroidery in situ at the exhibition on a number of days; unfortunately I've forgotten precisely when and didn't write the dates down, but I do know that they are in August!


I would urge anyone, craftsperson or otherwise, to visit this breathtaking exhibition. It is nothing if not impressive, and irrefutably proves that embroidery is not "just an idle past-time", but a true art.


Bits and Bobs

Apologies for disappearing for so long; I've been working lots, and when I haven't I've been beavering away on a fairly large scale embroidery. My last day off wasn't wasted, either; Hannah and I met up for an impromptu craft date, and further plotted our zine, Stitch Witches.

Stitch Witches Collective on Facebook is now pushing two hundred young member "witches" who make and/or appreciate textile art and craft. We've even got a summer stitchalong going (which my hopefully soon to be revealed current embroidery is for). Here are some of the contributions so far.

By Chel Panda

By Katie Rylander-Cowden
By Mel Reeve
We are aiming to bring the first issue of the print zine out by the end of the summer, but in the meantime we've opened up the Stitch Witches Tumblr by adding a "Submit" button so that fellow Stitch Witches can get involved with the content, and we plan to have more of a magazine feel to the site, with regular articles, relevant reblogs and original Stitch Witches artwork. Feel free to sign up to our Facebook or follow (or submit to!) our Tumblr.

In other news, it looks like I'm going to be in at least one more exhibition this summer/autumn, and I'm waiting to hear back on a couple more, so fingers crossed!

I leave you with my most recently completed piece of stitchery, which I have been wearing all day (my love for narwhals knows no bounds!)