Hysterical Woman

The charming little coffee shop where I work tonight hosted the first of its supper clubs for the Appetite Festival (a month-long festival of food in Waltham Forest for the month of June). To coincide with this, Walthamstow Dad has created a coffee-flavoured art installation, and, thanks to a kindly customer who dropped me in it/suggested Arts and Crusts exhibited my work, I have a little window installation of my embroideries.

Carol (one half of Arts and Crusts) set the embroideries off beautifully by hand-drawing a lace design based on one of my handkerchiefs.

Work old and new is featured; pieces from The Cure for Love, my Melancholy Flowers, a pop feminist piece (which will, fingers crossed, feature in another exhibition soon), two handkerchiefs from my current project Treasures For Your Troubles, and a satirical piece on the perils of hero worshipping Sylvia Plath (as Woody Allen said, Plath was an "interesting poetess whose tragic suicide was misinterpreted as romantic by the college girl mentality.")

When Carol was putting the finishing touches to the display, she asked me if I had a name for the little exhibition. As I drew a blank, she took a lead from the pop feminist embroidery featured, and dubbed the exhibition Hysterical Woman; so the display now reads Hysterical Woman Kate Elisabeth Rolison (!)





























I'm chuffed with the beautiful way in which Carol has presented my work. It seems fitting to have a little exhibition at Arts and Crusts; after all, it is an arts and crafts café, and I'm always found stitching away in between serving customers!

I'm afraid to say (according to the Arts and Crusts Twitter feed) all the spaces for the supper clubs are now sold out; I'm certainly very pleased to have made it to one. The tabbouleh, baklava, and Arabic mint tea went down particularly well (though wasn't eaten/drunk all at once!) It was a little like a dinner party but with new faces; a wonderful way to meet your neighbours and socialise, all while admiring the art on the walls (and ceiling!) and sampling Middle Eastern deliciousness. Bring on next year!

Soft Words

A few snaps from my workshop at The Mill last night, for their Soft exhibition in which On Being Soft features.



My friends Ruth and Laura joined me, as did a couple of other local ladies.




In accordance with the "soft" theme, I encouraged participants to embroider "soft words" of kindness to themselves or a loved one on to delicate doilies and handkerchiefs. One lady stitched a wedding present.








The Onion Cutters' Club

As promised, here are the first two pieces from my new project, The Onion Cutters' Club. As you may guess, this project is all about weeping; sad (or funny) stories of crying. The title is a reference to The Onion Cellar, a chapter from The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (a play based on the chapter, also named The Onion Cellar, was written by Amanda Palmer of The Dresden Dolls.)

The first embroidery is a title piece for this project; an illustration of a pair of bloodshot eyes crying over an onion accompanied by the project's title.








The first (true) story I have illustrated is a very sad, yet also rather humorous one.







The text reads "I was wandering, distraught, melancholy and alone, through the city at night. A HUGE moth ambled across the street... when a bus flattened it. I burst into tears."




"Goodbye darling, goodbye".

Here for your viewing pleasure is the final completed page of On Being Soft.


In this page, I wanted to allude back to the Lily van der Stokker quotation which I used on the very first page of the book.


I decided to explore the theme of sentimentality listed in the van der Stokker quote.


I also wanted to reference the many handkerchiefs I have used throughout the book. This choice meant that this page would have a strong relationship with the first completed page, with its handkerchief about crying.


The text about handkerchiefs embroidered on to this final page reads "They absorb tears, mucus. They could be a white flag, a token of love, a flutter accompanied by "Goodbye darling, goodbye darling, goodbye"."


The significance of the image of a tunnel embroidered on to the page's pocket becomes apparent once the viewer reads the text and looks at the image embroidered on to the handkerchief folded inside it.

The text reads "The woman standing down the platform from me waved the train all the way out of the station. It was very beautiful and very sad."

This was once texted to me by my boyfriend after he waved me off at Paddington Station. The woman's actions clearly matched his sentimental mood!

The tunnel on the pocket is thus a train tunnel down which has disappeared the train the woman was waving to.

The text is accompanied by the silhouette of a woman in Victorian garb waving a handkerchief - making this a sort of meta-handkerchief!

Tomorrow I will post photographs of the completed book.





Wouldn't Say Boo to a Lion


I've just finished the second (though not necessarily Page 2)of the pages to go inside my soft sculpture book, On Being Soft.

This page deals with timidity and bravery. I've wanted to create a work around the phrase "wouldn't say boo to a goose" for quite a while, and when I found the gorgeous African batik fabric shown above for sale in the Significant Seams Hub, I knew I had to use it.

I made a pocket from the geese-print batik for the second of my embroidered handkerchiefs to go into, and made a goose cut-out silhouette from another sheet of batik.


Inside the cut-out I hand embroidered the phrase "She wouldn't say boo to a goose" in tiny, tiny, shy little stitches; text that wouldn't say boo to a goose itself.



The outline of the goose is blanket-stitched and adorned with gold and teal beads. The page background is 1950s gold/yellow brushed cotton.

The handkerchief to be placed inside the pocket of this page is focused on a different animal; the emblem of bravery, the lion.



I recycled a self portrait from my A Levels for this handkerchief; an ultraviolet black and white film photograph of me wearing a lion mask (it was for a study of the photographer Francesa Woodman's work). Due to the use of ultraviolet film, the foliage and skin in the photograph appears incredibly white.

I used photo transfer paper to print the photograph on to a vintage handkerchief.

The fact that the subject is hiding behind a privet hedge whilst wearing a lion mask calls to mind the Cowardly Lion from The Wizard of Oz. The fact that the photograph is in black and white lends itself well to this reference, as the 1939 film of the novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz is shot in black and white until Dorothy arrives in Oz itself. To continue this theme I embroidered the shoe in the photograph in red; a ruby slipper.

The text that accompanies the embroidered photograph is "I don't see what's so brave about lions, but perhaps it'll help". This is a phrase I've wanted to illustrate for years; I'm glad I've finally got around to it. 

I feel like this handkerchief could be carried in the pocket of a garment as a talisman to bring bravery.

I've just ordered Lion by Deirdre Jackson (part of Reaktion Books' Animals series) in order to learn more about the symbolism of these magnificent beasts.






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!

On Being Soft

In anticipation of the Soft exhibition at The Mill in June, I am stitching a soft sculpture artist's book. 



  
The cover is constructed from a 1920s or '30s gold brocade curtain stuffed with wadding, to make the book, well, soft (my friend Alys mentioned that it could double up as a cushion).


The cover reads "On Being Soft - A work in progress by Kate Elisabeth Rolison". The pages inside will deal with notions of softness; of personality, of the female form, with the sense of touch, and more.


On the first page is a pocket made from blue and gold batik fabric, which bears a cross stitched quote by the artist Lily van der Stokker.








The quotation reads "Women can be sweet, sentimental, sensual, communicative, decorative, weak, emotional, and what else? They are very good at crying".


When I came across this quotation in van der Stokker's book It Doesn't Mean Anything But It Looks Good, it struck me that the qualities she was listing could be thought of as different kinds of softness. A particularly feminine softness, which was what I wished to explore in my book. 


I realise that some may see this quotation as anti-feminist, but I feel it (along with van der Stokker's work) celebrates the feminine aspect of womanhood. Indeed, van der Stokker describes herself as a "feminist conceptual pop artist"!


Below are some examples of van der Stokker's work, taken from It Doesn't Mean Anything But It Looks Good, published by Tate St Ives. The works are exuberantly, even nauseatingly, feminine and positive. In her book, van der Stokker is quoted speaking about "the strength of pink curlicues"; there is strength in this apparently "weak" feminine softness. The strength of softness is something we are aiming to explore in the Soft exhibition.










In It Doesn’t Mean Anything But It Looks Good, van der Stokker writes about how when “women refuse to hold back in their expression, we see artworks that are so different they can repulse and confuse us”. In the making of On Being Soft, I am embracing my own femininity, even those aspects of it which I have previously fought and which have nauseated me.


The pages of the book will be made to be touched, and explored; they will contain pockets which will themselves contain embroidered handkerchiefs.


I wanted the first handkerchief of the book to have a dialogue with the Lily van der Stokker quotation cross stitched on to the pocket which contains it. I focused on the last word of the quotation - crying.






The handkerchief reads ""Are you well?" (I'm welling up.)", illustrated by, yes, a wishing well, because I have a terrible weakness for appalling puns.


There are two voices in this text; the first, a polite enquirer, and the second my interior monologue, my silenced voice, bit tongue. The words (and tears) are trapped within the folded handkerchief, and the viewer has to delve into the pocket and unfold the fabric before they are released.

I've begun to think of the different things handkerchiefs can signify; nowadays they are almost invariably only the property of older people. They catch coughs and sneezes, they are witness to outpourings of emotions, they are used to dab away a furtive tear. In old films and cartoons, they wave away maiden voyages, they are waved out of rapidly departing trains at sweethearts. Moving even further (far further) back in time, they were given as “favours” to jousting knights.

On Saturday I will be visiting the Fashion and Textile Museum on Bermondsey Street, where the exhibition The Printed Square: Vintage Handkerchiefs is currently on display. I will report back later!