Wallflower


I have read the clickbait phrase "25 is the hardest year of your life" at numerous points over the past year. I can only speak personally, but I would tend to disagree; I got my quarter life crisis out of the way early (at the age of 19).

I think I know who I am and what I want... it's just a question of how to get it.

That's not to say things haven't been, and aren't, difficult - they are. But I'm willing to do the work and I know that things will get better. Life has been busy and hard and so I haven't posted on here since July (wow), but I have been making and doing and I want to share all of it with the world more.

And so, here is a piece harking back to my eternal occupation with language around flowers and negative connotations.

To find my wallflower, I literally typed "plant that looks sad" into Google. It came up with this rather pathetic looking hydrangea. I translated it into a pen and ink sketch and then this embroidery/pencil hoop art.

If you would be interested in purchasing the piece, it is £50 posted to the UK, and is backed with black felt, and can be hung on the wall straight away. Drop me a line at katerolison@googlemail.com if you'd like a wallflower for your wall.

Next will come a fungi-themed hoop in a similar style.

After my lengthy absence (and only NINE blog posts this year compared to 78 last year, crikey) I really would love to write more often, but I don't want to put any pressure on myself, either. Attention spans, including my own, have become so much shorter in the short space of a few years, and it's so much easier to Instagram everything than be considered and exploratory and think things through. I think it might be helpful and fulfilling to begin doing so again, though.

Plans for blog posts in my inimitable old 1000 words+ style include a post considering poet and lunatic John Clare and his incarceration and escape from the asylum that is incidentally now my mother's place of work (though no longer an asylum!), and round ups of a few work shops I've run of late.

Watch this space; good things are coming. I write that as much for me as for you.


Romantic Blouses


I haven't posted for a while. Life has been busy, and I've been going with the flow a lot more. I've still been making work and been involved in arts projects, but in this age of Instagram I find it easier tp share my goings-on over there - I'm @poesiegrenadine if you fancy a follow. I imagine I will be posting here little and (slightly more) often going forward; I'm really enjoying the visual at the moment and working on lots of different things.

My current big personal project has already been a work of many months; a series of Romantic-with-a-capital-R-inspired embroidered blouses. They are inspired by the Cottingley fairies, botanical illustration, English forests and woodlands, and, as you might have guessed, the Romantic poets. I'd wanted to make them for a long time and wanted to have them finished by the summer, but I am only halfway through the second! I think this may become a project that is ready for next summer. I'm eager to get started on some smaller embroideries once blouse #2 is out of the way.

Below are the blouses so far. I am available for commissions: please email me at katerolison@googlemail.com














Abnormal Feeling of Wellbeing

I have a huge backlog of blog posts to get through, and so I thought I would begin with a new project I am undertaking. Abnormal Feeling of Wellbeing is a lighthearted body of work about serious mental illness. Consisting of lists and mantras, illustrated infamous quotations on and historical allusions to the mind and observations on the absurdity of everyday life, it takes its title from a listed possible side effect of the antipsychotic drug Olanzapine. Reading this, it struck me that an abnormal feeling of wellbeing was precisely what I was aiming for, giving that I had been feeling abnormally unwell for half my life by that point.
The resulting works expand the notion of side effects and are hand embroidered on to vintage linens, overbearingly florid, so lovely as to be abject, naive and intricate. They are comprised of skewed self portraits and acrobatic word play, always looking at the power implicit in language; how language signifies sickness without spelling it out and can at other times imprison, but ultimately, when put into the hands of the marginalised rather than decreed to them, liberates.  

The piece below is a playful allusion to the phrase "she wouldn't say boo to a goose". 


This piece, List of Possible Side Effects, explores the other, less discussed, unusual side effects of Olanzapine; the sensation of "Walking through treacle", "Reduced dreaming" and "Unexpectedly finding oneself near cake", rounded off with the very bizarre side effect I read on that Olanzapine pamphlet. I "cheated" somewhat with this piece, as a very talented embroiderer of yesteryear has worked some incredible stem and satin stitch on to the cotton. All that was left for me to do was embroider the text in variegated blue thread, and bullet point each side effect with red gems anchored with pink beads, to pick up the tones in the roses.





Freudian Slipstitch is the third in the series, and is currently under construction, ready for its protagonist to be placed in the scene. After that, perhaps a series of handkerchiefs. Onwards and upwards!


"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.






































To All A Good Night

It's the end of the 52nd week of the year. This means two things; this week heralds the final #secretsofselfpreservation potion this year (and indeed, ever, unless I do some more #secretsofselfpreservation workshops) and getting a large chunk of my Sunday back each week to make a wide variety of art or to do whatever I fancy, really. I have a new project brewing which leads on from #secretsofselfpreservation but goes off on much more tangents.

I feel like I have been floating around on a cloud of Christmas spirit the past few days. It could be having more than one day off work for the first time since April (ten whole days, I'm ecstatic!), it could be that I've spent time with all my favourite people, or it could be that, looking back on 2015, I am certain that it was one of my best yet. It may be something of a cliché to think that, but I feel I have much to be happy about; my first "proper job", taking commissions, workshops and talks, moving into a bigger room and furnishing it with fine frippery and feeling cosy and content there, four years with my sweetheart, even managing my mental health well so it doesn't interfere with my life too much. It's not been a half bad year, really, but I am also very much looking forward to all 2016 has to bring.

In this (Christmas) spirit, the final #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "Be grateful and be proud". I have been offered so many breaks this year, and been surrounded by the most wonderful people. I am also beginning to like myself a little more, and acknowledge my achievements, and yes, I am proud of one or two of them. Which is awfully self congratulatory, but for someone who has as poor self esteem as I do it's kind of a big deal.

Pip's handwritten message on the wrapping paper of one of my Christmas presents accompanies the embroidery in the potion bottle. My year has been better for having him in it, and long may that continue.

Next stop is to get my Dad, talented amateur photographer, to shoot all the potions, and create collaged illustrative labels for each one. And then I think I may just try to exhibit them somewhere...



 Remember you can get (still!) 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.


Rose-Red


I feel that to call Alice Whiting a stylist, which indeed she is, may be misleading. The word calls to mind a woman burdened with armfuls of bags, scurrying around sourcing the correct clothing, shabby chic bread boards and backdrops in just the right shade of mauve; not too pink, not too purple. Working to a creative director's specific instructions; sourcing the goods. 

Alice is a stylist by profession. She is an artist by nature. I first came across her work in Polyester Zine in the form of cakes which straddled the line between saccharine and cyanide (sample icing: "Just another sentimental crisis") and evoked the kind of abject loveliness which I am very much about.

So when I was put in touch with her about an embroidery commission, I was naturally very excited about working with such a visionary woman. As she told me what the commission would involve, my excitement grew.

Initially Alice simply wanted the words "I still believe in happy endings" embroidered on to a white silk corset. However, the garment she ended up selecting was a 1940s wedding dress. This gave us more room to play with, and Alice decided that she wanted the dress to be embroidered with the names of her ex boyfriends, showing that although the course of true love never had run smooth, she was still a romantic at heart.

I was enchanted with the Miss Haversham echoes and that tension between the sweetly feminine and the overbearing, grotesquely feminine in Alice's idea.

We had a quick email ping pong about fonts and also decided the names of the ex boyfriends would be interspersed with Disney storybook-esque roses in red and pink.

I traced the words and roses and applied these designs to the dress using the ancient pricking and pouncing technique.

I started with the most impactful text, "I still believe in happy endings". I sewed around the outlines of the words in split stitch and then filled them in using satin stitch for density and impact. This technique would be repeated for the individual names of the ex boyfriends. Once the words were filled in, another outline of split stitch was added to make the words crisp.

The roses were completed in the same way, but in analogous pinks, purples and reds.

Alice has since told me that the dress is "one of my favourite things ever", which makes me feel just wonderful! I can't wait to see her style it to perfection.



































Pine Cone Potion

Pip's correspondingly alliterative nickname for me is "Pine Cone". This is because I once sent him one in the post when I was "pining" for him... here, take this sick bag I prepared earlier. Sorry, we're unbelievably, unbearably twee.

He brought me back three tiny perfect pine cones from a family party this week, so I thought a cone was a good start for this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion. 

I have been struggling a little with self esteem and my sense of who I am this week. Initially I wanted to embroider the simple phrase "Come as you are", but I wanted to dispel any Nirvana associations. 

So I chose to stitch "You're fine as you are", which I'm sure all of us could do with being regularly reminded of. Particularly me.








There are twenty four potions now. Here they all are, clashing fabulously:


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.

Stitch For Survival: My E17 Art Trail 2015 Exhibition

Once again the yearly E17 Art Trail has rolled around. I am going to do the grand tour next weekend; I set up my exhibition earlier today; well, my "installation technician" (my mother) did most of the hard graft.

For last year's Trail I showed work as part of the Zoology exhibition at E17 Art House, which has since moved to bigger premises on Hoe Street and has some very intriguing exhibitions and events on for the Trail this year.


This time around, applying was a bit of a last minute affair, so I decided to exhibit in the bay window of my parents' house as I did in 2011 and 2012.

This year we decided to ditch the slightly "primary school" blue baize display board we'd used previously, and used white frame boards to display the embroideries on instead.







A wide variety of embroideries are on display, from pages and pocket contents from my artist's books On Being SoftBig Teeth and Milk Thistle, to embroideries from the zine I recently sold at DIY Cultures, Treasures For Your Troubles. My favourite of the #secretsofselfpreservations stitched thus far are exhibited too.







The theme this year seems to be whimsy; the exhibition is less in your face provocative than it has been in the past; more gently subversive, gently parodying the Romantic movement and its romanticisation of mental illness (particularly the Milk Thistle pages and pocket contents). I have really amassed work since 2011, and I feel the exhibition is far more cohesive and well presented than it has been in the past.














If you're local/in the area, please do pop by - the exhibition can be viewed from the front garden from today, Sunday 31st May, until Sunday 14th June, from 10am - 8pm daily.

Next Saturday 6th June I will be holding a #secretsofselfpreservation workshop stitching self care potions from 4pm in the living room; the workshop is limited to ten places, so please email katerolison@googlemail.com to book your place.

The details of my exhibition and workshop can be found here. I do hope you'll visit.





Turning My Heartbeat UP Potion


So tweeted writer Stefanie Gray on Valentine's Day last year. And for the most part, I agree. Gender is performative. There are no such things as "boys'" and "girls'" toys for example, only what we have assigned as appropriate for each gender, arbitrarily and in the mists of time. Numerous studies have been carried out where participants have been told one baby is a girl and another a boy (when quite the opposite is the case), and the disparity in their treatment of the two babies is shocking. I've written about "gender appropriate colours" and how they have changed over time before.

I'm also sure that being bombarded at this time of year with constant depictions of heterosexual couples, advertisements for engagement rings (yes, really), and a "romantic" film depicting domestic abuse and selling women their relegation back to subservient, literal punching bags as an aspirational fantasy is not going to make people whose sexuality falls outside man/woman binary pairings feel particularly normal or included in the festivities.

Besides, Valentine's Day is just a Hallmark holiday, right? Well actually, its association with romantic love dates back to the Middle Ages. 

I can't help feeling that wide-spread disdain for the day is largely because if you haven't got a significant other to shower you with/be showered with gifts, or a significant other at all, you're going to feel pretty rotten. I'm sure if I were single I would feel a little miserable and hope against hope for flowers from a non-existent secret admirer. So bah humbug-ing Feb the fourteenth becomes a defence mechanism against the societal pressure to couple up, and perhaps, if we're really honest, against loneliness.

And all that showering with gifts; a little materialistic, no? Is spending a whopper on lavish gifts really the best way of proving your love?

So I completely understand misgivings about the day.

However.

Two things which should be abundantly clear to regular readers of this blog are

1) I adore kitsch

and

2) I am a notorious romantic

A whole day dedicated to being all lovestruck with my boyfriend, in shades of pink and red, with more heart shaped foodstuff, homewares, clothing, and assorted flotsam and jetsam than you can shake a stick at?! Sign me up!

A phrase that I've been hearing a lot this week is "Valentine's Day is every day", usually accompanied by a rueful laugh to indicate that this is in fact not the case between the speaker and their partner. But it is something I try to live by.

And so, this week's Apothéké / #secretsofselfpreservation potion ingredients read "Nurture one another". On a ribbon printed with Love Hearts, several tubes of which Pip and I consumed this weekend. Accompanied in the potion bottle by red silk roses (yes, he did get me twelve, it seems we're fully paid up consumerists, time to do some hand-wringing). The label, which bears the potion's name on the reverse, is from my extensive collection of appallingly-punned 1950s Valentine's cards. Turning My Heartbeat Up is one of our favourite Northern Soul tunes to tear up the dance floor (or the kitchen tiling) to.

I feel very nurtured and loved every day in my relationship, but I think it is an ethos which could extend to all our relationships, romantic and otherwise. Even to our relationships with ourselves; how would your life change if you did the things which nurtured you? Definitely something for me to ponder.






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.

Tomorrow I will post pictures of the aformentioned #heartshapedfoodstuffs along with recipes. À bientôt!


Into My Arms

Just before Christmas I got a lovely commission to turn some Nick Cave lyrics from this song into an embroidery as a Christmas present. It's such a privilege to be able to contribute to special moments between loved ones, and, in this case, to create something with such personal significance for the two people involved. I love stitching lyrics and poetry with special meaning, so if you have a similar commission in mind don't hesitate to contact me at katerolison@googlemail.com.









Commission Me






I am now accepting embroidery commissions! Please send your ideas for your commission to katerolison@googlemail.com and I will get back to you with a quote and time frame. Above are examples of commissions, Royal School of Needlework assignments, and personal embroidery projects I have completed previously. I look forward to hearing from you!


Apothéké

 Apothéké (n.) - the place where things are laid down

I believe cure at its root means care - D.W. Winnicott

The first of my New Year's Resolutions is to produce one self care potion a week for the entire year. What do I mean by self care? Simply, the ways we take good care of ourselves - mind, body, and soul. By potion, I mean a bottle filled with hand embroidered "ingredients", such as those that have been stitched at a number of workshops I've led.

This time, as I will be stitching one potion a week, I've decided to include the essence of the week as well as elements of self care, so that the potion is both a place where the week is "laid down" or stored, and a bank of self care tips - a bank of cure/care. Indeed, the final syllable of "Apotheké" is pronounced just like "care".

 Apotheké will be an old medicine cabinet with a potent potion for each week of the year, exploring the essence of that week and elements of self care; a recipe for keeping well. It will be a diary, a testament, a confession, and a wellness tool. The potions are hand stitched, a meditative action which has its own therapeutic qualities. The Apotheké will hopefully be a travelling medicine cabinet which facilitates conversations about positive mental and holistic health, and gets people stitching. Hopefully it will engage a wide range of people, including people struggling with mental health problems, perhaps in embroidery workshops which meld craft and conversations about wellbeing.

You can get involved right now, and you needn't even pick up a needle and thread if you don't want to. You can tweet, tumble or Instagram using the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, and write about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take good care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper, I'm not fussy!) potion; I'd love to see some pictures of your potions popping up in the #secretsofselfpreservation tag.

Here is mine for the first week of 2015. This week, I've been battling chicken pox, at times impatiently; I seem to forget that illnesses of all kinds take it out of you, and that it's important to recuperate. I just want to stitch around the clock and see friends, just as I would if I were well.

So my stitch-written record of this week reads "Physical illnesses take time, too; don't fight sleep". I'm not too troubled by how perfect (or indeed not) the stitching is, as this is a personal project and is as much for my own wellbeing as artistic endeavour, if not more so. So if you want to join me, don't worry about making your stitches perfect! The message is the important thing, and it's difficult enough to embroider on ribbon or a scrap of fabric which is small enough to fit in a tiny bottle without worrying too much about how it looks. I have a stock of spice jars, lab bottles, and cocktail beakers to use in this project over the duration of the year - any small bottle with a lid of some sort will do.

For the diaristic element, I have holepunched some silvery card I used to back Pip's hand embroidered birthday present, and cut up a dotty piece of wrapping paper from another of his presents; when I uncork the bottle, I will be reminded that this week I watched Pip open his presents from the safety of Skype due to the aforementioned chicken pox, and the dozens of spots will remind me of just how itchy that chicken pox was!

Each potion needs a name; in a tribute to the protagonist of the film Waitress, who creates otherworldly pies with inventive titles inspired by her life, I have named this one Week 1: Pox Potion, scribbled on a gingham medical cross. Now I have a whole week to dream up another potion...

 

 

















Helenium: tears

The sixth and latest page of Milk Thistle is one of my favourites, possibly because it is about crying, which one could argue is my very favourite theme (see here, here, and also here).

I stitched some stanzas of Keats's Ode on Melancholy on to a handkerchief (aptly), and based the illustration to accompany the lines on this illustration from a book that I snagged from my Mum's work:



But more on that later.

The reason why tears feature prominently on this page is because it is based around a Kensitas Flowers card featuring Helenium, a flower which, in Greek mythology, grew where Helen wept.

Consequently, the text I have written and stitched for the page reads

Nobody brought me a bedside bouquet,

but everywhere I wept, flowers sprung,

until I watered a meadow




To accompany the Kensitas Flower, I stitched the following line from Keats's On Melancholy on to my handkerchief:

But when the melancholy fit shall fall

Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,

That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,

And hides the green hill in an April shroud

as I felt they were appropriate. The eye illustration that accompanies the text is the "weeping cloud" of the poem.























There are only two more pages to go now, and then I can (finally) stitch the whole thing together. It's been a long commitment but I think it will pay off.

Featured on the Craftsy blog

Just a quick post to say that a couple of my RSN pieces have been featured by the wonderful Leigh Bowser on the Craftsy blog.

Here's a wonderful introduction to blackwork by Leigh, featuring a section of my Celia Johnson blackwork portrait in progress...


...and here is the low-down on crewelwork, accompanied by a photograph of my completed Jacobean crewelwork embroidery, along with some stunning examples by other stitchers that put me to shame... tut tut, what fluffy twill.



Most glorious rose

I've taken scissors to an old dress and a hideous/glorious 70s table cloth, taught myself ribbon embroidery, couched pink sparkling thread and stitched poems; the first page of Milk Thistle is finally finished!

This page takes the rose as its central metaphor, and begins exploring the book's themes of the Romantic poets and the English national psyche, and performativity of femininity, particularly as it relates to sickliness and vulnerability.

The text reads:

"We are wilted English roses grown pallid and wan, wandering moors, moaning "Willoughby, Willoughby" at thin air for hours."

This is a line from my recorded piece Kiss The Book that I created with composer Joe Donohoe, which has appeared in many guises over the years and refers to quintessential English rose Marianne Dashwood's erstwhile lover John Willoughby in Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility.

This is stitched on to a background of brown "watercolour" roses that look suitably windswept. The calico pocket is covered in a wreath of ribbon embroidered roses with bugle bead leaves/thorns.





Within the pocket is another poem; The Sick Rose, by Blake, from Songs of Innocence and of Experience:

O Rose, thou art sick
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm

Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy

To my mind this speaks of 18th century concerns about the polluting effects of sexuality on "innocent, tender" women, and of the long-held beliefs about the fragility of "the fair sex". It could mean either sick literally, or in a perverted sense. Either way, it fits very well with my themes of sickness, recovery, and the performativity of femininity.



I've finally found a use for my Kensitas woven silk flowers in Milk Thistle; the tea rose of the set sits snug with the poem by Blake in the pocket of the first page.



The second page takes violets (shrinking or otherwise) as its theme; I'd best be getting on with it!

Dog Rose

After the Royal School of Needlework graduation yesterday, Pip and I spent some time wandering around the rose garden looking for the prettiest blooms.



I think the dog rose is still my very favourite. Which brings me to my final RSN embroidery. I had to re-do my silk shading module to get my Certificate, and I chose the humble yet beautiful dog rose.

It grew quite rapidly, and I now feel a lot more confident in creating silk shaded flowers that are smoothly blended and shiny.

Here is the rose blooming petal by petal:


















Things from the forest

I've been busy with a hundred and one different things the last couple of weeks, and thus have been neglecting Poesie Grenadine. But you can expect a whole raft of posts and updates coming over the next week.

One of the things I've been busy with is making lots of cute new brooches to put in the Etsy shop. I will be updating the shop tomorrow, but in the meantime, here are two sweet little 'shroom brooches.



Milk Thistle

I've been so busy lately that it's taken me months to finish the front cover of Milk Thistle, the artist's book I'm making. It is finally finished, however, and I can begin filling it with pages.

The book will deal sickness (and sickliness) and recovery, the subdued gloom of the English national psyche, weeds, delicate flowers, frailty, vulnerability, stereotypes of femininity, romantic literature and poetry, and thorns amongst the roses. Milk thistle is thought to be good for the liver, so the book is also about bravery; about not being lily-livered.

The milk thistle of the title is stitched in crewel wool, with a turkey rug stitch flower and stranded cotton spines. The title is couched in crewel wool to match the flower. The fabric is an amazing 60s cotton sheeting fabric I found at The Shop.











The long and short of it


My Boletus Satanas (or Devil's Mushroom, to you and I) silk shading is underway. And despite approaching silk shading with some trepidation, I am rather enjoying it. It really is like painting with needle and thread, blending all those long and short stitches together...




Such rich magentas and burgundy, blending to apricot and ghastly green tones... it really is quite a ghoulish mushroom!


The stalk is almost finished, and then I'll be moving on to the slimey, shiny cap, which may prove a challenge, although if it didn't, what would I be learning? Fingers crossed I continue to enjoy the process and am satisfied with the end result.