Winter Stitching

So, what's new? Not a lot, I'm still soldiering away, battling the winter blues and a hefty Canvas Work design. However, I think I am beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel; I would say more than half of my Canvas Stitches piece is finished at this point! It has seemed at points as if it would never end, but now I feel one final push should do it.

The coral garden last week

The coral garden earlier today

A close up of Upright Cross coral (green), Romanian Couching waves (purple and brown), Victorian Step water (purple and light green)
I'm not entirely sure about my choice of colours; I fear the piece is too busy, but the main thing is that I am enjoying it, and learning so, so much.

Other diversions that have been cheering me up during these short dark days include plastering every square inch of wall in my room with art (and bunting, but of course)...




It certainly helps to have a cosy hideaway to hibernate in during the winter months!
... a stack of "What To Look For In..." Ladybird four seasons books to be stitched into someday to accompany last year's What To Look For In Winter...



...and all my Christmases coming early in the form of not one, not two, but three Santa stacks filled with vintage satins, printed cottons, and yards and yards of lace trimmings. I don't think I've ever been so grateful to receive old cast-offs!

Some purchased fripperies which are destined for brooches and artist's book #3

I'm already sketching up designs for my Black Work piece (it might just be Polly Kettle themed!), and have availed myself of some evenweave to practise the stitches on. It's going to be a busy stitchy Christmas!


At a snail's pace


"Slow and steady wins the race" is an adage my mother is fond of quoting to me when I am bemoaning just how long it is taking to move things forward. Never is this more apt than with needlework; as a family we recently got 'round to watching Fabric of Britain, and in the embroidery edition of the series (which featured a certain Royal School) learned that it can take six hours to embroider just two tiny cheeks of a face in split stitch. This makes my progress with my Canvas Stitches coral garden look positively speedy!

Jacquard Stitch on my Canvas Stitches coral garden piece


I have never been good at sharing works in progress, whether in the contexts of work, academia, or on this blog. It must be the perfectionist in me. Right now, though, I only have works in progress to show. This feels fitting; it seems like my life is a work in progress right now, moving forward, though in no way speedily. Slowly, slowly, at a snail's pace, I am learning technique, and I am learning so much about myself. Learning what makes me happy and keeps me healthy. This new experience is an education, in every sense of the word.






Although it's tough, sometimes even mentally and physically exhausting, I am enjoying every stitch.

Perhaps all this is why snails have appeared so often in my artwork over the years; from my oh-so-"conceptual" GCSE art project in which a colourful character hid their light under a bushel (or more accurately, inside a box covered with snail shells) within a colourful inner sanctum that was literally bubblewrapped from the outside world;













...to Dale the Snail (not my choice of name!) who takes pride of place in the Jacobean Crewel Work I (finally!) completed for my RSN course (still needs to be mounted, though).



Or perhaps I simply like snails... the way they carry their homes around with them, their dual timidity and curiosity at the world, and if you want to get really "Dartington", how they leave a trace of their existence behind wherever they go.

I'm learning other ways of taking better care of myself in addition to endless meditative stitching; learning to be thankful for all the wonderful people and experiences in my life, reading the work of my favourite writers, surrounding myself with art that makes me feel good. That includes the art of my contemporaries, for example the wonderful Hannah Hill, a young artist and good friend of whom I expect great things (and who is already making great things happen!) This piece in particular has been a great comfort of late; the text is taken from a piece by another young Tumblr artist, Eryn (of the blog "botanicalmovement"):

Hannah has really made Eryn's words come alive

I am, as ever at this time of year, trying to look for the little things that make winter wonderful, when it is such a difficult time for people like me, who have a tendency towards depression. So I felt I'd stumbled on a literary, stitchery, wintry goldmine when I came across this cross stitched Annie Dillard quotation by Jessica Kelly on Flickr:


Dillard is definitely a writer I'll have to do some investigating into pretty imminently.

All these wise stitched words have spurned me into stitching some of my own; I've written a wry little manifesto for myself moving forward:
  • Being a damsel in distress went out with wimples; be your own hero
  • Red lipstick wasn't rationed for a reason; it's a shell to fling at the world, a suit of armour
  • Playing the invalid invalidates you; heal yourself
  • What to look for in winter; fungus, ferns, frost; two bodies under a blanket; a warm dog sat in your lap
  • Remember you're a milk thistle; unlily your liver
  • Shout boo at every hissing goose to cross your path
I am picking away at embroidering the manifesto (tentatively titled "The Tentative Manifesto of a Big Girl's Blouse"... I wonder why?) and practising my split stitch while I'm at it. Picking it up after a hard day's stitching homework and returning to sewing as a form of therapy, which is so important for me.




I've also made the decision to re-open my Etsy shop. The time feels right, when I am so full of enthusiasm for the future. When these two little fellas have been transformed into rosettes, I will be putting them up for sale alongside framed embroidered art from The Cure for Love and other projects, and a few vintage garments I'm very excited to share with you all.


When the time comes I will post all the pertinent information and links here on the Poesie Grenadine blog. Until then, I'll be stitching!


Putting one stitch in front of another

Hello all. Where oh where have I been for the past month and a half? Well, I've been feeling under the weather, in many ways quite literally; the storm that huffed and puffed and blew our neighbour opposite's fence down didn't help. This time of year hits me hard, but at long last I seem to be emerging from the big black maelstrom that was gathering above my head.

In the winter months I find solace in posting loved ones little treats, in an effort to raise our collective spirits as the nights draw in and the days grow shorter.


I have also been spring cleaning (so appropriate for November, I know), and my bedroom is finally an approximation of what I've been wishing it to be for years (though there's still bunting to be put up; one can never have too much bunting...). More importantly, however, my room is clean and tidy, which I must say is something of a revelation to me. Who knew this would lead to me actually knowing where things are?! The plan now is to apply my (somewhat idiosyncratic) organisational methods (business cards go in a box with embroidered patches, obviously) to the makeshift "studio" in the loft, which is currently crammed to bursting with fabric, thread and other gubbins.

Noelle the narwhal "helping" me get organised
And yet more gubbins are pouring in; I seem to be becoming a receptacle for all the unloved fabric and needlecraft equipment that has been languishing in the attics of loved ones and acquaintances; not that I'm complaining in the slightest! I've had a surfeit of gorgeous '60s and '70s quilting cottons of late, and other bits and bobs which aren't quite to my taste are taking a little trip to Significant Seams to be turned into all manner of exciting textile-y goodness.

A little peg lady who sat atop a swag bag of fabrics donated to me; I think she looks like a little mini-me, don't you?

Besides gathering a snowball of beautiful fabrics, there is so much else to look forward to right now; mine and Pip's two year (really??) anniversary is coming up on December 1st; Christmas holed up in the Highlands with my family and an almost obscene amount of delicious food; returning to Hampton Court in January invigorated and ready to give my training in the ancient art of hand embroidery my all. Until then, I shall be taking time to look after myself and enjoy the season, and above all simply putting one stitch in front of another.

A rainbow on my window one recent morning reminded me to be grateful for the little things in life



"Working towards normality": the story of my life

Tea, comforting films, Pip, and the spirit of the Suffragettes are helping me power through


Colours of the deep blue (and green and purple and pink and orange and grey) sea

The beginnings of a coral garden


                                   
Tarnished jewel-toned seawater cottons and metallics



Jacquard Stitch (Please try to ignore the surrounding spaghetti junction; Canvas Work is like sausages; it's delicious, but you don't want to see how it was made)


William Morris: Story, Memory, Myth

I popped along to the William Morris: Story, Memory, Myth exhibition at the newly opened Two Temple Place gallery today, to have a gander at more Morris textiles, tapestries and embroideries (having previously visited Morris' Red House in Kent)!

The exhibition catalogue describes the "close relationship" between the arts of storytelling and craft; Dr Esmé Whittaker explains how, traditionally, "the craftsman's workshop was the place where stories from the past and from faraway places were exchanged between the resident master craftsman and travelling journeymen", and that "Morris also believed that storytelling belonged within the craftsman's workshop". This makes perfect sense when we consider that Morris was not only a designer but also a poet, and (as I will go on to explain), combined both facets of his creativity. This is particularly interesting for me, being both a writer and crafter.

Unfortunately cameras were not allowed in the exhibition, but I will include photographs from the exhibition catalogue.

The exhibition was centred around four tapestry panels from the Morris and Burne-Jones designed frieze The Romance of the Rose. Le Roman de la Rose was one of the most influential texts of the Middle Ages. The first part of the poem was written by Guillaume de Lorris in 1230, and the second part around 1275, after Lorris' death, by Jean de Meun, but the version Morris and Burne-Jones would have read was a translation by Chaucer, The Romaunt of the Rose.

The poem recounts a dream in which the pilgrim-narrator encounters a beautiful garden, in which he has a vision of a rosebud, symbolising ideal love. A personified Love strikes him with an arrow, and thus the pilgrim is determined to reach the rosebud. He is aided (and hindered) in his quest by a number of allegorical figures.

The tapestry panels, like the Bayeux Tapestry, are in fact not tapestry at all, but an incredibly detailed, large-scale embroidery. The five panels of The Romance of the Rose took  Lowthian Bell's wife Margaret and daughter Florence eight years to complete (from 1874-82), and no wonder; the detail and texture is astounding. The embroidered wall hanging I saw in the Red House pales by comparison! The Romance of the Rose is comprised of silks, wools, and gold thread on linen; unfortunately the photographs in the exhibition catalogue don't do it justice, but here they are:

The Pilgrim Studying Images of the Vices on the exterior of the Garden of Idleness

The Pilgrim Greeted by Idleness at the Gate of the Garden

The Pilgrim in the Garden of Idleness


Love Leading the Pilgrim Through the Briars

The Pilgrim at the Heart of the Rose
A genuine tapestry in the exhibition which was of particular interest to me was The Woodpecker tapestry. This tapestry is "an example of Morris working simultaneously as a poet and a decorative designer." It is one of a series of tapestries for which Morris composed lines of verse (which were later published in his book Poems by the Way in 1891). The tapestry is around 12 feet high (so is no small feat!) and depicts a woodpecker sitting in a tree heavy with fruit. The text, "I once a King and chief/Now am the tree-bark's thief,/Ever 'twixt trunk and leaf/Chasing the prey" refers to the Ovid story of Picus, King of Ausonia, who was transformed into a woodpecker by the goddess Circe because he did not reciprocate her love.

It's good to see that I follow in a rich tradition of combining poetry with illustrative textile art.

The Woodpecker tapestry
The most breathtaking piece of the exhibition was an embroidered wall hanging depicting Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit trees. Also around 12 feet high, the wall hanging is rendered in silk thread which reflects the light, giving a fluid motion to the folds of Pomona's robes. The design the embroidery is based on was actually originally a design for tapestry, from the same series of illustrated poetry as The Woodpecker tapestry. The verse of the embroidery reads "I am the ancient apple queen/As once I was so am I now/For evermore a hope unseen/Betwixt the blossom and the bough/Ah where's the river's hidden gold/And where the windy grave of Troy/Yet come I as I came of old/From out the heart of summer's joy". The embroidery was completed around 1885 by the Royal School of Art Needlework in floss silks on linen.

Pomona
 The final piece of embroidery on display was a frieze by Morris' daughter, May, following in the tradition of her father by illustrating one of his poems. The frieze included quotations from Morris' poem June, from the book The Earthly Paradise. The frieze put me in mind of a giant sampler, with its verse surrounded by a floral border. I will have to do some more research into samplers, particularly since Joetta Maue describes my work as "samplers" in this post.

The Walthamstow Tapestry


Detail from The Walthamstow Tapestry, 2009

Grayson Perry's 15x3 metres wall hanging refers to The Bayeux Tapestry, but also to my hometown of Walthamstow, where William Morris (who designed many tapestries of his own) was born. In interview, Perry wondered if Morris would "be spinning in his grave thinking about a digital tapestry", "with all his love of fine craftmanship".


Woodpecker Tapestry, a William Morris design

The Bayeux Tapestry, for example, took around ten years to be embroidered (thus making it technically not a tapestry but an embroidery). The Walthamstow Tapestry, by contrast, was machine-woven in a matter of days.

Perry's tapestry, like Morris', harks back to the tapestry designs of the Middle Ages, as does Perry's embroidered sampler Recipe for Humanity. However, Perry has said that the tapestry's design owes more to antique Malaysian batiks and Eastern European folk art.

Recipe for Humanity, 2005

Like much of Perry's work, The Walthamstow Tapestry can be read as a satirical homage to the modern "religion" of consumerism. Brand names appear all over the tapestry, divorced from their logos and imagery, ranging from high-end fashion labels to the high street chains found in Walthamstow's Selbourne Walk mall.

The tapestry also depicts the Ages of Man, from a bloody birth to passage into a "demonic mouth". It even acknowledges Walthamstow's knife crime problem by depiciting a haloed youth holding a glinting dagger.

In amongst these dramatic scenes are more mudane images of people going about their everyday lives; hoovering, walking the dog, and (crucially) shopping.

Perry's studio is in Walthamstow and some of his previous ceramic work has featured scenes from the town. With his beautifully realised hand-thrown and decorated pots Perry follows in the tradition of Walthamstow's most famous son, craftsman William Morris.

Golden Ghosts, 2001