The Soft Corner Shop

This month, my Instagram has been awash with images of a brilliant, seemingly simple idea; Lucy Sparrow's soft sculpture corner shop.

Deceptively simple though Lucy's concept may be - to fill a disused corner shop with hand stitched produce - don't be fooled. That hand stitching took eight months of fourteen hour shifts; as I well know, hand sewing is a very labour intensive process, particularly when, as in this case, one is attempting to faithfully replicate, in fabric, items which existed first in an entirely different medium.




When we arrived at the Corner Shop, in spite of today's dreadful wet weather, the place was buzzing. The other visitors had clearly made the same pilgrimage through the rain we had, and there were squeals of delight as they recognised much loved family favourites.




This nostalgia is partially engendered by the era that the Corner Shop is set in. Lucy has chosen to create products from the mid 90s, when she had her first job in, you guessed it, a corner shop. I barely remember Funny Feet, for example, though they were more familiar to Pip, who is a couple of years older.

Therefore this is a true labour of love on Lucy's part, and an affectionate look back at her coming of age. Over four thousand hand stitched items is no mean feat, and I take my hat off to Lucy for her sheer perseverance and vision. I can't wait for my stitched Chipsticks (how's that for 90s nostalgia?!) to arrive in the post.

















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!

Answers for the Art Trail


Kate Elisabeth Rolison - 'The Onion Cutters' Club'

I am really intrigued by Kate's literary inspired exhibition. Kate's exhibition (no. 61) will be in bay window of 61 Somers Road, she will also have some work on display the the group exhibit 'Celebrating the Significant'. As well as having artwork on the trail, she will also be doing a number of Art Trail reviews for the blog, so keep you eyes peeled and follow this space! 

Kate tells us about her exhibition this year, her Walthamstow perspective and gives insight into her artistic method:


1. Please tell us about the work you will be showing in the 2012 E17 Art Trail?
Last year in Somers Road I showed a mixture of deeply romantic and very cynical hand embroideries  and cross stitches. Some were on the subject of love and loss, and some on the pretensions of the art world (sorry if that ruffles anyone’s feathers!)
This year is, quite literally, a much sadder state of affairs; a number of embroideries grew out of a project on tears. The exhibition is entitled 'The Onion Cutters’ Club', and is inspired by a chapter in Gunter Grass’ novel 'The Tin Drum' (brilliant book by the way, check it out), in which characters meet in a dingy cellar nightclub to cut onions, cry, and share stories of sorrow. The story captivated me, and so I began collecting true stories of sadness and tears (though it’s not all doom and gloom – some are quite funny!)

 I stitched these stories, accompanied by illustrations, on to antique handkerchiefs which I stained with different shades of onion skin. Originally I planned on completing five or six of these, but my creative juices obviously wanted to get going on something different, and I only ended up with three!
Instead of the two remaining “Onion Cutters’ Club” handkerchiefs, I embarked on an entirely different project, that on the face of it, is charmingly (or sickeningly, depending on your tastes) twee. I began appropriating chintzily hand-embroidered and appliquéd home textiles, and embroidering them with rather unsettling messages. I derived this messages from my experiences of mental illness. But it’s not all doom and gloom there either; there’s plenty of tongue in cheek humour here, aiming to disarm the viewer and make them re-consider their preconceptions of people who suffer from mental ill health.
If I get ‘round to it in time, there will also be a couple of good ol’ (and slightly cheeky!) feminist phrases stitched up and on display too. I’m quite busy at the moment, as I’m also interning at Significant Seams, who are doing several events and exhibitions in the Art Trail, so fingers crossed I can get everything done in time!
2. Is this your first time in the Trail or are you an E17 Art Trail veteran?
Last year I exhibited a collection of embroideries “Literary Stitchery”, which was reviewed on this blog. I got lots of really positive feedback and met many other talented artists. It really got my creative juices flowing and kick-started my third and final year at art college – I would recommend exhibiting in the Art Trail to anyone, even if they don’t consider themselves as particularly “arty”. For one thing, it’s a wonderful way to get talking to your local community!

3. What are the challenges of getting everything ready for your Art Trail event?
As I mentioned above, juggling my internship at Significant Seams inWood Street Indoor Market, reviewing a bunch of exhibits in the Trail, looking for paid work AND trying to set up an Etsy shop for my embroideries will be quite a challenge! It’s definitely one I’m looking forward to though, and I do like being busy.

4. Do you remember the first artist that really influenced you? Does that artist’s influence still have an impact on your work?
Writing was my first love (my degree is in Performance Writing, which basically translates to writing about art/writing as art, and vice versa). It took me a while to grow as equally passionately obsessed about art, but I must say Grayson Perry has been a pretty consistent inspiration. I love the dense layers of detail and “busyness” of his work. My work is often pretty stripped back, apart from my recent artist’s book, “On Being Soft: A work in progress”, which was exhibited in the “Soft” textiles exhibition at The Mill. I also really admire Grayson’s nack for storytelling and capturing characters and dialogue. And of course, his studio is based in Walthamstow and his “Walthamstow Tapestry” is currently on display at the William Morris Gallery, which makes him a very apt inspiration!

5. The E17 Art trail has become bigger every year. Do you think it is because more artists are calling it home?
As house prices soar and the trendy East End pushes out further and further, “starving” artists are pushed to the, shall we say, slightly less fashionable East London boroughs, such as the wonderful Walthamstow.  This is resulting in a bit of a burgeoning, buzzing hive of creativity here in the ‘Stow, as I’ve learnt from becoming more deeply involved in the crafting community. It’s slightly under the radar (but maybe that’s a good thing), and very, very exciting. It’s a good place to be as a young artist in 2012.
6. What has E17 bestowed on you?
E17 has bestowed on me a love and tolerance of all cultures (and a very deep love for the food of those cultures!) It has also bestowed a chance to explore my creativity to the full and to reach out to the local community. Walthamstow often gets a bad press, but my experience of its community has been almost invariably positive, and incredibly inspiring.  But that’s just Awesomestow for you.




(Written by Hassan Vawda, co-reviewer of this year's E17 Art Trail)

Soft: group show at The Mill

Tonight my parents and I paid a visit to the newly installed exhibition at The Mill, Soft, in which my soft sculpture book, On Being Soft, features (that's a lot of "softs"!)


There really is something for everyone at the exhibition; knitted wall hangings, silk Devoré, soft sculpture, even a cross stitched  QR code! In fact, almost every imaginable type of textile craft/art was featured.




This gorgeous quilted wall hanging by Gilli Haqqani, titled Easter at Kew, is an incredibly intricate (and large!)example of free machine embroidery. It was one of my favourite pieces in the exhibition.



Another large piece, Bambooed by Sba Shaikh, showcased silk Devoré, a technique in which a chemical gel is applied to silk, dissolving it and leaving burnt-out sections. Sba used the gel to create bamboo patterns.


This is a working, cross stitched QR code by Kelly Duggan.




This colourful, hugely touchable piece was created by Debs French and Morwenna Brewitt from hundreds of pompoms.


Another colourful piece, a naive elephant  appliqué  constructed from recycled textiles by Gillian Lawrence.




This series was another one of my favourites from the exhibition; stunningly realistic soft sculpture kitchen appliances by the formidably talented Harriet Hammel.



A Grand Lady appliquéd and framed in velvet by Sheila Aslan.


This quilted wall-hanging by Fatima Ahkrah-kha is a little too traditional for my taste, but beautifully executed.





Having a chat with some ladies who were admiring my book!


Interview With Joetta Maue

I wrote this blog post on Joetta's practise back in late August, and now she has very thoughtfully and (hugely) thoroughly answered some questions on her work for me. Thank you so much Joetta! Your interview makes for an engrossing read.

Why and when did you begin embroidering?
I began embroidering about 5 years ago while in graduate school. I was working to finish a previous body of work that I had been doing for a long time and wanted to do one FINAL piece freeing me to move on.

At the time I was experimenting a lot with medium and being quite conceptual about my medium choice. This previous work was based on an experience of trauma and I liked that embroidery could be a metaphor for healing both in the literal suturing act of the stitch but also the quiet meditative act of the process. I assumed that this would be a one-off piece, I had never embroidered before, but I ended up totally loving the process and got addicted. From then on I kept making excuses to keep working in embroidery. My background is as a photographer and I have no formal training in embroidery at all.


Comforts, 2008, yarn; an example of Joetta's earlier textile art


Why do you work in embroidery rather than another medium? How do your photographic and textile practises fit together?
I love the history that embroidery brings to the table. It is often considered a female practice and my work is very much steeped in the female experience and the domestic space, so conceptually the medium brings a lot.

I am also attracted to the fact that it is essentially a "useless" craft; something done for purely decorative reasons(rather then a practice like quilting or knitting where you can make something utilitarian). The decorative nature of it places it in a category of leisure and pleasure that attracts me. To me being an artist is this; it is the privilege of being alone with your thoughts and then communicating them through your medium, leisure and pleasure. It also gives the embroidery the special place of being done simply for the joy of doing it.

Technically speaking I love how it is "hand made" and therefore the hand of the maker is so present in the work, i.e do they do neat careful stitches, or messy large stitches. I love how the hand made embraces the natural flaws that exist.

I utilise my photography as the inspiration and source for my image based work but when I was asked this once before this was my answer: I fell into embroidery as an artist. In graduate school I decided to make a piece with embroidered text, because I liked the idea of embroidery as a metaphor for healing.

Unexpectedly I fell in love with the process and medium; while trying to figure out the next direction for my studio practice and work I began to explore embroidery as a medium of expression.

The medium felt very natural to me as I grew up around fabric and crafts, through my mother and grandmother, and my work had always been made from an overtly feminine point of view.

As my new work began to grow and my love towards the process of embroidery deepened I began to enjoy the subversive quality of the medium, how what was expected from a hand made embroidered piece could be so easily manipulated and yet the viewer always comes to it with the same expectation. I began to utilise the expectation of embroidered works and domestically placed linens to further my concept of exploring the roles of the home and intimacy within the identity of the modern female.


This Is Bullshit, date unknown

I was particularly drawn to how traditionally embroidery was thought to be a very passive form of expression done simply for decorative purposes but through my hands I could use the medium to give a voice to women. Instead of subverting that voice by keeping idle hands busy and docile, I used my hands and the medium to celebrate the vulnerability and strength of the female experience.

As a photographer, I mostly spent my time thinking about what I wanted to capture, and then, since I work mostly through a form of documentation, having the patience and awareness to capture that moment as it arrived. My camera was always loaded and ready to still the moment of light and life that stopped my eye. Embroidery has completely transformed my studio practice. I now spend hours and hours in my studio slowly building my work upon a linen, surrounded by thread and piles of linens and fabrics, working in a very tactile way where as when I do photography my tactile senses are not as satisfied.

Even though photography is a very fast medium, taking only a 1/15 of a second to capture your image and less then 5 minutes to print it, and embroidery is a very slow and labor intensive practice, I do not find them as different as you may expect. They both require immense patience; in embroidery the patience is in the labour intensive practice and in photography it is the waiting for the light or the right expression. They both allow for a significant amount of quiet, contemplative time. As a photographer you spend hours in a dark quiet room all by yourself waiting for your paper or film to develop, going through the same simple repetitive steps to get your print, and in embroidery you repetitively make the stitch, working hour upon hour, lost in your thoughts and quiet as your work slowly builds.


I love that both mediums leave me so much time to meditate upon the images that I create. Though the mediums seem quite dissimilar in practice, they actually share quite a bit.

After They Left, 2008, C-print; an example of Joetta's photographic practise


Why do you work on such a large scale?
I have always liked working on a larger scale- I like how one can enter the work and physically relate to it more this way. I also enjoy how one can experience the work in a different way from far away and then up close.

What leads you to choose a particular word to embroider in your text pieces?
My emotional space. Initially my text works were diaristic statements; as a life-long diary keeper I just started to embroider my statements instead of write them. Then I went through a process of writing cathartic statements, things I felt like I needed to say out loud and make tangible. Now I am interested in honoring experiences and moments. But in general they are statements that come to me in my daily life and I catch them and put them into a work.
Be Strong, 2009, one of Joetta's text pieces
Do the fabrics you use to sew on have any sentimental value?
They are all found fabrics. I have worked with inherited fabrics but since I sell my work I do not feel comfortable doing this anymore. But to me the fabrics still have sentimental value in the sense that someonemade them, someone took the time to embroider lovingly onto them, or add tatting to their edges, and they lived a life in someone's home. I love the stories they tell; are they pristine and preserved, are they stained and used, are they rotting and disregarded, are they unfinished... All stories can relate to our relationships and homes and I try to make the linens make sense with the final work that is stitched onto them.


Why do you choose to embroider on found, vintage linens?
As I have said before, they bring their own history of women's voices and hands as well as the history of the homes they have lived in. I feel like I am giving voice to this.


Some feminists would be disparaging about celebrating the domestic role, whereas you say you wish to connect with a domestic lineage. Do you think the domestic is solely the prerogative of women, or do you think a man could produce work like this?
I do not think that a man and could produce work exactly like this but do think a man could produce work about the same subject from a different point of view. When I exhibit my work it is often the male viewer that is most moved and touched by my work. Historically speaking the domestic is the domain of the woman and therefore my relationship to it as an identity, place, and role is different then a man's.


I do not know that I am "celebrating" the domestic "role"; I am more investigating what occurs within the confines of the home and the relationships, moments, and emotions that are held here.I am interested in the complicated roles that contemporary women must play.

I do get frustrated at how the roles of being a homemaker and mother are looked at as not enough and not feminist. To me the idea of feminism was to give women the option of choice, giving them the opportunity to do whatever they wish. It was not to force women to feel like they must do it all and succeed at it all and judge themselves on if they are being "feminist" enough. I also do not think that being feminist means that you cannot embrace and choose to be feminine. I do think that in general men and woman are different and think that celebrating our differences and embracing all of our sexuality is a good thing. I am a very strong and independent woman but I also love nurturing my son and honouring my husband and do not in any way think that these things need to be mutually exclusive.

The domestic space is not a space for only women but it is the space of the family and intimacy; this is what my work is about.I simply embrace the history of that space and the fact that my point of view comes from being a woman.

Eight Months, 2011


 Why do you choose to focus on yourself and your family as the subject of your work? Some might argue that this is rather introspective!
I have always worked autobiographically and have always been drawn to other artists that do this. I once heard a writer talk about writing and they said that "you have to write about what you know". What I know is my life and my experience so this is what I make art about. I like art that has a raw honesty to it so the only things that I can be truly honest about is me.

With that said I do no think my work is so specific; what I actually makework about is universal experiences of love, loss, joy, doubt, etc... I think that often the more personal you let yourself become the more accessible the work becomes.
And I would never take being
introspective as a criticism. I think that many could benefit from being a little more of this.

In addition I think art in general is a somewhat narcissistic act no matter what you make. You are making something to express your point of view on something and communicate it. Being this is part of being an artist.

Have you considered combining text and image together more often?I have. This is something I have been wanting to do more of for a long time. But I work very intuitively and so far the work has for the most part stayed separate- though it is always exhibited together.Generally my image based work is about one side of intimacy and love and my text work is about the other so often they need to exist as separate works that have a conversation within the gallery. But I imagine more combining of these will come as I continue to make work.

Waking With You, 2010, a piece in which Joetta combined text and image

 



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

More on the E17 Art Trail

My work has been featured on the E17 Art Trail blog:

DAY THREE, "Don't be an artschool arsehole"



"I have always associated cross stitch with pricked fingers and a feeling of frustration from knotted thread that won't go through the eye of the needle. However, Kate Rolison's exhibit Literary Stitchery made me forget these memories and my prejudiced view that an embroidery exhibition would be annoyingly twee. Kate, who hails from the 'Stow and is a student at University College Falmouth, has stitched wryly amusing phrases that play with the idea of the tortured artist/writer and the pretentious art school student. "Don't be an artschool arsehole" is beautifully stitched and illustrated. Here are a few pictures, but you can see more and follow the progress of her project here. Literary Stitchery is on show in the window of 61 Somers Road so do peer in."


Some more feedback on my exhibition from the wonderful people of Walthamstow:

"Loved the mix of contemporary ideas with vintage lace/crochet and embroidery. I dabble a bit in embroidery but you've inspired me to add some "wordage" next time. Cheers!"

"Loved the humour - especially "He's just at artschool."

"Loved these a lot - great to see textile art on the trail. Well done."

"Loved it - beautifully executed, but also subversive and laugh-out-loud funny!"

"Kate - your work is amazing - both technically and creatively."

"I love the use of old table cloths, doilies, laces etc and I love the embroidery work. Not so sure about the text. Not sure if the words add anything good to the piece. Do keep using text but see if it is necessary."

"Charming combination of modern sentiment and old-world material."

"I really enjoyed your work, it's clever and skilful. I like the use of old place mats and needlework. Thank you for showing it. Please let me know of future projects."

"Love your wit, skill and craft! Congratulations, do add me to your mailing list - good luck with your show and thanks for letting us see your work."

And lastly some comments from my granddad to go alongside those from my grandma:

"You should get "A's" for all your "D's" - design, delicate needlework and drive to get your thoughts translated into your display. Very well done."

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.