Big Teeth: The Storybook Opens

As an artist, it isn't often that everything comes together in a perfect configuration (ignoring for a moment the fact that perfection doesn't exist). So it is with my most recent project, Big Teeth (though it came pretty damn close!)

Just as I was stitching the third to last button hole through which to lace ribbon tying the pages of the book into its codex, I realised that I had cut the button holes on the wrong side of the page. Luckily this page flowed almost as well with the text the wrong way round; both sides fit in with their neighbouring pages almost seamlessly, though my mistake was disastrous enough and for a few minutes it looked like an all out temper tantrum was imminent.

I present to you the almost-exactly-as-I-envisioned-it soft sculpture fairy tale artist's book, Big Teeth:

















This book has been brewing in my head for years. When I originally wrote the first version of the text, I was around fifteen or sixteen, and envisioned the book in paper, collage style. I subsequently lost all copies of the text and had to re-write it (and hopefully improve on it slightly) from memory.

Now that I am a needlewoman, it seemed appropriate to weave references to cloth and textile techniques into the pockets of the book.

The text as I intended it to read:

Big Teeth

Please  have a heart, my dear
Mine's a glass slipper
At a stroke it'll fall apart
My pulse beats quicker
Than paws on soil of some sauteed savannah
So make haste, my sweet
See if the shoe fits before
Lions and tigers and bears
Pour out of the rafters

The narrative thread

Trust me, my love
A love like this looks better
From far, far, far away
Up close the most I'll offer
(A special offer to you,
My flavour of the day)
Is a quick kiss
Quicker kick in the teeth
And a hasty getaway
Over the hills and dales and
Away to never ever land.

By the path of pins and needles

So please let's hold the Cinderella
You see
There comes a time when the stretchmarks show
And the glass slipper
Off it slips
And burrows under
Laundry piles and candelabras 
And lions and tigers and bears
Descend from the rafters

Heavily embroidered

So trust me, my love, a love like this looks far better
From far far away
When it has quite such big teeth big cat full fat feelings
Caresses, distress and all the rest, it leaves me reeling
(Soon the lions and tigers and bears
Will descend from the ceiling)

Girl afrayed

You may very well say, my charming fella
"Whatever the weather we'll weather it together"
But don't make it oh so Cinderella
Said I don't see what's so brave about lions, 
But perhaps it'll help
Although I'm trying
 I'm big cat, small claws
Big cat wound up now
Tin can alley cat, canned meow
And despite my best intentions
I shall go to the ball
I shall have it all
But what then?

 
I am worn to a ravelling

Well, mistakes happen, and now Big Teeth is safely off to the gallery and, unless they follow this blog, visitors to the exhibition will be none the wiser! I do hope they interact with the book's pages, though...

Button Holes and Weekend Breaks

I have but six button holes to sew of Big Teeth left, and the deadline is on Wednesday (see, I really am the Tailor of Gloucester!), so I'm whisking the project away with me for a long weekend (Pip and I are off to the South West tomorrow; first Devon, then Bristol, then Bath, visiting friends and old university haunts and generally pretending we're in Jane Austen).

In the mean time, here are some phone snaps of Big Teeth in progress:





My dear friend Katrina came over yesterday for an arts and crafts date; she painted all day, and I stitched (and we squeezed in a little Adventure Time viewing; I think my outfit was very Princess Bubblegum inspired).






Today I put the finishing touches to the contents of the third pocket of the book; based on the tale of the Princess and the Pea, and ideas of spinning yarns and old wives' tales, it's stacked with many mattresses and proclaims that the story is "Heavily embroidered".



I will return with lots of photographs to share, both digital and Polaroids, and, I would imagine, pining for my old Dartington home!

Feel Better: An interview with artist Chelsea Dirck


I've followed Chelsea Dirck's work for years; as an angsty adolescent I was comforted by her confessional, diaristic drawings, and now that I am an adult (ha) I deeply appreciate her lo fi, compassionate, analogue art.

I feel like I have somewhat grown up with Chelsea's work (and seen her mature as an artist in turn), and it's possible that her creations have had as much influence on me as, say, Louise Bourgeois.

I hope that my enthusiasm for Chelsea's work translates in the questions I have posed in this interview, which Chelsea has so kindly and thoroughly answered here.

 A great deal of your work seems, at least from an outsider’s perspective, to be an attempt to ameliorate, to console oneself after/during a bad situation and make the best of things. Would you say this has always been/is a constant in your work? 



All of my work comes from a personal viewpoint and I guess, at some point (which could have been very early on) it became very much about trying to make myself and/or other people feel better in some way.I was just writing and drawing for myself and at the time I probably didn't realize that I was as sad or confused as I was. I was just writing about what I knew. 



The diaristic tone of your drawings, celebrating both the good, but not flinching from the bad, the sheer honesty, is encouraging to me. From your LiveJournal days when you shared what seemed to be your innermost private thoughts, to cataloguing those thoughts in zines for public consumption, you seem very willing to lay bare your soul; do you feel this does help to make one “feel better”?

It can be very scary to "put it all out there," but I feel like it is important. It is what is most interesting to me about art and being an artist. I want to be as honest as I can and in that honesty connect with other people. I think that in creating the work it does make me feel better  in some sense. It is cathartic to sit down and make something out of nothing. 



Sharing is a word I often think of when viewing your work, and a mode of operating which seems essential to your practice; sharing hurt, whether personal or public grief (as with the “Feel Better” banners you made to commemorate and ameliorate in the aftermath of the Boston bombings), sharing new artists and music, sharing your gallery space in informal get-togethers, sharing a space similar to your living environment in gallery installations. This may be a trite question, but why is sharing so important to you?



I'm really happy to hear this, because it is exactly the word I want you to think of. Sharing is important to me for so many reasons.



I spent my formative years in a punk community with "do it yourself" ideals that formed the way I lived my life then and now. I think that being a part of punk made me very aware of my community. I was (and still am) always surrounded by very supportive people who encouraged me to make art. It feels very natural to turn around and share that art with those very same people. I don't think that art should exists merely to be bought and sold, to hang on a wall or exist in a museum. I believe that art, like most things, should be made to share with the people who love it or need it. I am a strong believer that if you are interested in something than it is likely many other people will be interested in it- you just have to show them. Similarly- if you feel something, it's likely that other people feel it too. 



Recently there seems to be more of a community feel to your work. Is public art and community engagement something you wish to develop?



To me the idea of community is an extension of the idea of sharing. I am interested in public art to the extent that it reaches a broader audience. I am currently working on "The Feel Good Project" with a friend at work. This project is an effort to use the company's resources to create public art projects that make people feel good. I like the idea of posting things online and how many people can relate and re-blog and add their own commentary, but it feels equally important to go out in to the community I am a part of and actually hand someone an object that they can keep

I've been thinking a lot about gifts. I think that is where I am headed with my work. Giving vs. Selling



When and why did you turn to fibre as a medium? How do you construct your quilts and banners? Do they start as drawings, scribbled words? Could you describe for us your creative process (in as little or as much detail as you like)?



I have always been really interested in fabric and sewing, but I never knew how to do it. I was just drawn to it for some reason so I started taking some classes while I was in school and ended up landing in the fibers department. I liked how at home I felt there. (I have since realized that a lot of my work references the idea of home and comfort, which fiber somehow naturally lends itself to). 



Most of my work starts in my notebook and then becomes something else (or just stays there forever). So, in the beginning I was doing a lot of drawings with the idea of turning them into embroideries. As time went on the embroideries (still coming from journals) turned into just text, much larger scale than anything else I had been making. I use a simple satin stitch (in and out like regular sewing, nothing fancy) to follow the shape of some text I've written across a large piece of  fabric. It takes forever. I like that about it. When I draw it is quick, there is this immediate satisfaction that sometimes I really need. Embroidery, on the other hand, allows me to slow down and spend a long time with just a few words. It makes the text somewhat like a mantra or something that I live with for as long as I am working on it and then, at the end, it has become monumental in some way. 


I have toyed around with painting large text, but it loses something. With the embroidery you are faced with the scale and it becomes much louder than a small drawing- but it is still soft. It is still quiet and sincere and honest.

(I have also made quilts and banners with appliqued text, but most of the time I am just using the simple satin stitch). 

How does music influence your creative output? Do you see your band, Fleabite, as another artistic medium, another string to your bow?

I don't really think about playing music like I think about making my visual art. I think that it is very similar for some people, but for me playing music has been much more about learning a new skill and connecting with friends in a new way. I don't actually write the music (my other band mates usually do) so it isn't as much of an artistic expression for me. It's just a fun way to spend my time. 



Do you set aside time to work on your observational drawing skills? I ask because a lot of your drawings pair wry or humorous text alongside rather mundane (and I don’t mean that in a negative sense) drawings of interiors or household objects. Do you feel this makes the work more grounded or relatable?

I don't really practice my drawing, but I should. I often draw mundane or household objects because that is what is in front of me. I can't make up something and draw it, I'm terrible at it. I have to look at something so if I feel like drawing I am usually limited to what is in front of me. The drawings with an object and text are usually a result of whatever I am thinking at that moment and whatever is sitting in front of me. To me, it is a record of the moment and the pair makes sense to me, for others it may be more confusing. So, I don't really know if it makes it more grounded, but for me I suppose it does.


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














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."




Joetta Maue

Joetta Maue explores familial love through her textile art. She embroiders intimate scenes of herself, her husband and infant son sleeping together. She posits the bed as the site of love, between husband and wife, and mother and son. These pieces are large in scale (life size) but simultaneously incredibly intimate; insights into a private life lived together.

With My Boys

My Love

Him and You

In her project Waking With You, Maue documented daily her emotions on waking, as well as the bed itself in photographic format. The "You" of the project's title refers to her husband; the posts on the project's blog concerning him are incredibly touching. In one, she writes "I thought how unbelievable it was that I woke with you everyday of my life and have been for 10 years... and you still take my breath away". The project culminated in an exhibition at the Elizabeth A Beland Gallery in Massachusetts, the centre piece of which was a hand stitched self portrait bed installation, shown below.


Waking With You

In addition to her figurative pieces, Maue also creates text-based works on found antique linens. Many of these also focus on love; familial love (once again), romantic love, and the loss of love.

Breaks My Heart
A Fragile Heart


Skin

Together

Maue has said of her work that "By using found, used linens that have been hand made by women of the past I am able to connect my everyday experience with that of my heritage. I pay homage to the women that have come before me and connect to the lineage that I have with them in the domestic, everyday sphere of life." Through embroidering onto found linens and those handed down to me by my grandmother, I also hope to connect to this lineage.

Interview With Iviva Olenick

Iviva Olenick is a Brooklyn-based artist who refers to her work as "narrative embroidery". She works on a small scale, juxtaposing image and text. In her project Were I So Besotted, Olenick hand-embroiders anecdotes from her experiences of dating in the 21st Century. Her small-scale embroideries form a hand-stitched blog. This embroidered blog is accompanied and documented by the Were I So Besotted weblog. Here she offers an insight into her creative process, and muses on "finding love in a chaotic, distracting urban environment".


Embroideries from Were I So Besotted




Pieced Together


Love Fire


Play


Iviva's other project is The Brooklyn Love Exchange. Rather than telling her own personal tales of love, in The Brooklyn Love Exchange Iviva collects love stories from Brooklynite friends, acquaintances and strangers, in an attempt to map love in the borough.


Embroideries from The Brooklyn Love Exchange




Prospect Heights - "It Wasn't Love At First Sight"


Cobble Hill

Brooklyn is "that" girl...



Iviva kindly agreed to answer some questions on her practise for me.


Why and when did you begin embroidering?
I began embroidering in 2002-2003. At that time, there was an amazing quilt exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art, "The Quilts of Gee's Bend, Alabama." I had also recently broken up with a boyfriend, and possibly for comfort, started stitching on things I had at home. The third influence was a quilt-making class: I took a 3-hour workshop at the Brooklyn Museum, and finished a very small quilt completely by hand. After that, I was more or less hooked on hand sewing.

Could you tell me a little bit about what drew you to map Brooklyn’s lovelife?
One night about a year ago, I was walking home from an art opening in Brooklyn featuring the paintings of my then love interest. On the way, I passed a number of spots, bars and restaurants, where I had been on dates with other men. I also walked past the apartment of a former boyfriend. That's when it occurred to me that the borough itself was a map of my romantic life, and quite possibly could be for others, too.


I find it interesting that the name of your current project is The Brooklyn Love Exchange. What do you feel is being exchanged in this process?
When people are in love, they exchange all kinds of information and energy through touch, through speech, gestures, behavior. More specifically for this project, I receive stories, and in exchange, I embroider them. The stories are a gift, in my opinion, as is the freedom to reinterpret them.


You call your work “narrative embroidery”. Why do you choose to render the stories you collect in stitch rather than another medium?
Sometimes, I feel as though I draw with thread. Occasionally, I feel as though I paint with thread. Intuitively, this medium feels right to me. I now think with my needle and thread. I was at a friend's studio once, and she had built an installation of a tree from paper and cardboard. She asked visitors to draw on a leaf of the tree. She handed me a pencil, and it felt like a foreign object. I was momentarily lost without my needle and thread.


Do you think there is a similarity between writing and embroidery? Do you think writing translates particularly well to stitch, and why?
I think writing and embroidery compliment each other, but I don't think they are necessarily similar. Embroidery is a physical act; writing is more of an intellectual act. I like the tenderness and intimacy in prose stitched by hand. It's emotive and immediate.


Do you have a background in writing as well as fibre art?
My formal training is in French Literature and Psychology. I went back to school 6 years ago to study textile design. Embroidery was not included. Weaving and designing prints for fashion were the focus. I found embroidery on my own.


I’ve read that you refer to the text in your pieces as “post its”. Are these extracts from longer pieces of writing?
I call some of my pieces "post-its" because of the size of the final piece. They are not formal excerpts of longer pieces of writing. I sometimes think in catch phrases. We do live in a digital world, where speed is valued. I like the idea of packing a lot of punch in a few sentences or a single sentence or phrase. It seems appropriate for our shortened attention spans.


Do the fabrics you use to sew on have any sentimental value?
The fabrics I sew on gain more sentimental value through making the embroidery. Like you, I have a fair amount of my grandmother's linens. I have not been able to sew on them because I want to try to preserve them as she last used them. It's in fact harder for me to sew on items that already have sentimental value. Those tend to be tucked safely away in a drawer.