Conductive Cushions

Conductive cushions - mixing crafting with tech from Share UK on Vimeo.


On Tuesday it was Ada Lovelace Day. Ada Lovelace would be a remarkable woman in any age, but in the 1800s she was a true trail blazer. The only legitimate daughter of Lord Byron, Ada's puritanical mother, Anne Isabella Noel Byron, thought that instructing her daughter in the sciences would quell any dangerously poetic genetic pre-disposition in Ada. What she didn't quell was Ada's brilliance. She was a gifted mathematician, far more forward-thinking than her male contemporaries, and credited as having written the world's first computer program. Ada's most famous quote is "That brain of mine is more than merely mortal, as time will show." The computer programs which add so much ease, convenience, and support in our daily lives are proof of that.

In this spirit, in the run up to Ada Lovelace Day, Share UK, "a community based organisation that uses digital technology to share stories, ideas and skills", ran a two day coding and crafting workshop for pairs of mothers and daughters at Gnome House in Blackhorse Road, Walthamstow, led by Esther Freeman, with ingenious Carolyn Abbott of Walthamstow institution E17 Designers manning the sewing machines and Bronwyn Goodwin providing techy know-how. And I taught a wee bit of embroidery and threaded a lot of needles.

The truly thrilling (at least to me) part of the project was incorporating hand embroidered circuits into textile craft. It was so exciting, in fact, that it has to be written in italics. The theme was inspiring women, and so in my sample I prepared earlier to give the mothers and daughters some ideas, I paid homage to my heritage with the phrase "This thread connects me to a lineage of needlewomen across the ages." I stitched a sort of "family tree" of sewing kit essentials, with scissors, a pin cushion, a thimble and a skein of thread all represented. As the latest member of the "family tree" I stitched a light bulb, in the centre of which was a tiny blue LED connected up to a battery holder. I think I audibly gasped when I put a battery in and it worked first time.



The participants in the workshop had much better ideas than my rather scrappy one. The little girl in the duo who created the cushion below was named Aphra, after Aphra Benn, the first woman in this country acknowledged with earning her living from her writing (she was also a spy for Charles II, but it's the other fact I find more inspiring). Behn was a playwrite, and so modern-day Aphra and her mother appliqued and embroidered Comedy and Tragedy masks on to the cushion, along with a spyglass, and most cleverly of all, a "quill" fashioned from a feather and an embroidery needle, which, when touched to an inkwell, completed the circuit and made the cushion light up.




Taylor Swift was a popular choice of inspiring woman, with two cushions featuring gleaming guitars being created in her honour.



The creator of the cushion below wasn't so keen on hand sewing but took to the sewing machine instantly, and very cleverly replicated the glowing light of the XBox controller with her circuit.


With this cushion, it was one of the mum's turn to shine; I showed her how to couch, and she produced the most beautiful lettering in a variety of colours. I think the choice of Beyoncé song may have been her daughter's, though, and I thoroughly approve!






A very sweet mother-daughter team worked really hard to make the cushion below, based around a true female role model (or at least I think so!), JK Rowling, appliqueing the magic word for the light-giving spell, "Lumos!" and surrounding it with other words for light, and LEDs refracting beneath crystal glass beads.


A number of my female friends will be very happy to see their alma mater paid respects; this cushion is dedicated to the teachers of Walthamstow School For Girls, hand appliqued and embroidered with its crest and motto "Neglect not the gift in thee"; good advice for every girl and woman, I think. The centre of each of the flowers on the crest light up.


This impressive cushion was produced by a pair of friends rather than a mother-daughter duo; it features the Suffragette colours of purple, white and green (which reminds me I must book tickets to the cinema to see Suffragette soon), reminding us of the struggle and sacrifice so many women made for us to have the vote. The circuitry is all hidden behind the flower and its centre glows a warm yellow.


The mother of the pair who made this cushion owns a vintage company, and had excellent colour sense when putting together this tribute to Sonia Delaunay with her daughter. There's some gorgeous, joyfully colourful long and short stitch in there, but unfortunately when I took this photograph it was dark (to show off the LED lights to best effect) and so it doesn't show up. Which is all the more reason to get down there and see the cushions exhibited for yourself! They're up in the windows of the café at Gnome House until the end of this month. Here are directions and a map.



Bedding In Potion




Properly moving into my brother's old room last week brightened my mood of the previous couple of weeks significantly. I spent far too many hours scouring eBay for precisely the soft furnishings and knick knacks (including this crochet blanket) I wanted and now I am very happily installed in there.

Because colour is so important to me (I could never be a minimalist) and I am determined that I will not feel gloomy because of my environment in this room, this week's #secretsofselfpreservation potion reads "Build a bowerbird nest". Male bowerbirds build structures decorated with brightly coloured flotsam and jetsam to attract a mate. I doubt kitsch mid century paraphernalia will attract my mate, but he was kind enough to provide the potion's name: "Bedding In Potion". I truly think it is so important to be happy where you sleep. 

Rather wonderfully, the label paper is embossed with little birds, although my camera couldn't capture those.

The embroidery above is a sample I am working on for a two day workshop next weekend. Very serendipitous colour coordination! The off cuts of thread I collected as I worked on the embroidery over the course of the week, and I thought they represented a bowerbird nest rather well.

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.



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.









Tangled Yarns: Alke Schmidt at the William Morris Gallery (Part 2)

Earlier I explained that, through Tangled Yarns, Alke Schmidt reminds us of the obscure and murky chain of supply in the textile industry. But it was ever thus; Tangled Yarns explores the (dirty) politics and morality of the textiles industry from the 1700s to the present day. And seemingly, little has changed. Though the chain of supply today may often be a mystery, in her work Stained Alke traces the mid-1800s supply chain from cotton plant to dress. She illustrates how a garment's origins, even then, could leave an invisible smear unbeknownst to the wearer. 


A wealthy woman in an elegant, delicate ball-gown peers through a barrier of columns of an 1840s cotton print which separate her from the women who clothed her. As with many of the works in the exhibition, cloth, stitch and paint weave in and out of each other, and composition says just as much as content.



The women the elegant lady peers at are a plantation slave, a Lancashire mill worker and a cottage industry dressmaker. Each category of exploited worker became the focus of a moral outrage in the 1800s, just as the treatment of Bengali textile workers is now, and rightly so. Even the self-employed dressmaker working from home lived a meagre and often starving existence; there are accounts of cottage industry stitchers losing their eyesight by candlelight in the seminal text The Subversive Stitch.

Alke's dressmaker has dark circles under her eyes and stitches by a guttering candle; perhaps her eyesight, too, will soon falter.


As Alke’s exhibition demonstrates, structural violence towards women permeates and has always permeated the textile industry. In around 1719, this violence become more overt, when, as Alke rather brilliantly puts it, some women became literal "fashion victims". British weavers were feeling increasingly threatened by the popularity of patterned Indian and Indian-imitation cottons. Rather than directing their resentment at the producers of such cottons, wool and worsted weavers took to the streets and began attacking women wearing garments made from the printed cottons. The attacks included ripping and cutting the cloth, setting it on fire, and throwing acid at the women to burn their skin. It quickly became a witch-hunt in which the recipient of the violence was not the clothes but the women wearing them. They were branded Calico Madams, the title of the piece in which Alke brings all these rich and subtle threads of research (or tangled yarns, if you like) together.


As her base Alke has chosen a calico in the style of early 18th century Indian designs. The next layer is a reproduction of an illustration from the period celebrating the passing of the ban on Indian cottons. Finally she has painted the "calico madams" themselves, fighting off their attackers and lying defeated on the floor, where the rump of a woman becomes the site of the cottons being "burnt at the stake", with flames flickering around and leaping up to assault the fleeing women. Of course, the phrase "calico madams" was a way of attacking women for their sexuality, and conflating this sexuality with the way they were dressed. Therefore the flaming pyre appears on one of the most sexualised parts of a woman's anatomy.


Calico Madams is one of the most technically accomplished and conceptually rich works in the exhibition. It is multi-layered both literally, with pattern, print and paint interlacing seamlessly in and out of each other, and figuratively, with countless threads of research woven together without over-burdening the whole.



It gives me courage as an artist who sometimes worries that there's "too much going on" in her own work. 

Tangled Yarns is an eminently apt title for this exhibition; it would be impossible to separate out the strands of race and gender, exploitation and violence with which the textiles industry is intertwined, and Alke doesn't attempt to. Instead, she explores how these strands relate to one another, in a triumph of intersectionality.

I have written about a handful of the works in the exhibition, and have spent almost two thousand words doing so. I hope this is some indication of how thought-provoking, conscience-pricking, and technically astute Tangled Yarns is. As a result of visiting the exhibition, I have chosen to make a real commitment to being an ethical fashion consumer. How many exhibitions cause us to transform our lives (and the lives of others) for the better? I would hazard a guess that it's not that many.

Tangled Yarns is exhibited at the William Morris Gallery until the 25th January 2015.

Tangled Yarns: Alke Schmidt at the William Morris Gallery (Part 1)


The William Morris Gallery is very canny at showing contemporary artists whose output would have been looked upon most favourably by Morris himself. None more so than the latest exhibition by Alke Schmidt, Tangled Yarns. If Morris was alive today I'm sure he would have felt as passionately about Alke's call for social justice through her exposure of the murky world of the textile industry as about her highly skilled handicraft.

Alke plays up this dichotomy between Morris the socialist and Morris the designer in her exhibition. One of the first works which the audience is confronted with as they ascend the stairs to the main exhibition space is entitled Morris's Dilemma. "Confronted" is perhaps an apt word; rising like steam from the two arms of a mill engine, Morris's Honeysuckle and Tulip pattern, repeated on a grand scale, weaves like a mirage in and out of the engine painted over it. I'm not sure whether the work should be classified as a painting or as a collaboration with a bygone craftsman. It could easily be an assault on the senses, but Alke blends pattern and painting so seamlessly, confronting Morris's romantic longing for a pre-industrial, hand-crafted age with the means of production that made his career possible.






One cylinder of the mill engine is entitled "CAPITAL"; the other, "LABOUR". On Alke's blog we learn that this is not her own invention intended to "illustrate the complex and conflicted relationship between Morris the entrepreneur-designer and Morris the socialist", but an unbelievably fortuitous discovery on her part; such an Orwellian mill engine may genuinely have existed. At the very least, it did as a Victorian illustration.

The composition and colouring of Alke's piece is redolent of both right and left wing propaganda for me, but particularly trade union, socialist, and suffrage banners.



In the very last piece completed for Tangled Yarns, Alke pays direct homage to these suffrage banners, appliquéing an early 20th century patchwork (which would have been a "contemporary" of the Suffragettes) with the Suffragette rallying cry and banner proclamation Deeds Not Words.

Though the work harks back to the 1900s and the suffrage movement, and is in part a collaboration with a needlewoman of the past, it feels decidedly modern. It could be the jumble of colours, which are warm, inviting, even cosy; in marked contrast to the rest of the exhibition there is a sense of the handcrafted here that is perhaps not entirely polished; this is highlighted by the unfinished, raw edges of the patchwork. Alke posits on her blog that the woman who created the patchwork may have been a professional machinist making this piece at home for personal pleasure; she was certainly a skilled stitcher. 



Alke's choice to leave the patchwork unfinished signifies the never-ending nature of "women's work", and lends the piece a vulnerable air. The domestic furnishing and dressmaking cottons used for the lettering, the shirting stripes of the patchwork, show that craft is for everyone, and can be (and certainly was in the past) a part of everyday life. Just as Morris would have wanted. 

The phrase which keeps repeating in my head as I look at this work is the old rallying cry of Second-wave feminism, "The Personal Is Political". Its execution puts me in mind of Craftivism, as does its simple, yet impactful and perennial message. It has readopted the Suffragette call to arms, but divorced it from its austerity. As with the campaigns of the Craftivist Collective, "unlike some of the more traditional, extrovert forms of activism", Deeds Not Words is quietly beautiful. 

Alke created her text from fabrics used in the other works in the exhibition - thereby tying up the loose ends of her Tangled Yarns. A fitting conclusion to Alke's exhibition, calling us to bring about real change in the textile industry, whilst honouring the women who intersect with it.

A group of women whose lives were utterly transformed - for worse - by the textile industry were the victims of the Rana Plaza disaster in Bangladesh. Disaster makes it sound like an accident; textiles workers in the Rana Plaza building were literally told "If you die here, so be it. But you can't leave, get to work". 

The building collapse is considered the deadliest structural failure in modern human history, leaving behind countless unanswered questions. Due to failures at every level, from highstreet brands whose clothes were manufactured in the building neglecting to take responsibility towards their workers, to local government turning a blind eye to the lack of planning permission, to managers at one of the factories in the building threatening to withhold a month's pay if workers refused to come to work following structural cracks appearing, 1138 (and counting) people have died. The majority of these workers were women, and a number of their children were also killed in the collapse.

Just writing these words makes me angry. It is incredible, therefore, that Alke has created such touching, peaceful, and appropriate memorials to these women in her exhibition, restoring them the dignity that they were so brutally robbed of.




In each of her two works commemorating the workers who were killed, she uses 1138 pearlescent-tipped sewing pins - one for each victim who died. Alke therefore honours the work that they did as seamstresses, though it was not respected during their lifetimes.

1138 and Counting presents the pins on a scroll of cotton and muslin, grouped together like a tally. The pure yet warm off-white is peaceful and spiritual, and together with the ethereal muslin is reminiscent of ghosts and angels.


Memorial presents us with a shroud-like length of cotton (the fabric which ties the entire exhibition together) on which pins delineate the shape of a woman's body. Although the pins pierce the fabric, the body appears to be resting on it; this calls to mind the stories of volunteer rescuers bringing victims out of the wreckage of Rana Plaza on bolts of fabric.



Alke has incorporated the survivors' testimony into both pieces:

They would not pay us if we didn't work that day.

One supervisor forced us to go inside.

We tried to get out but they wouldn't let us.

Our managers said, 'We will all die some day'.

If you die here, so be it. But you can't leave, get to work.

My hand got stuck when the roof came down. So I tried to cut off my hand but I couldn't.

I was buried alive. I never thought I'd see sunlight again.

I can't work anymore. I can't support my family, can't afford my treatment.

They didn't even pay my kids' due salaries. They said there is no salary for the dead.



Alke's neighbours transcribed this testimony from videos published by Labour Behind the Label into Bengali script, a further example of her collaborative process. Alke transferred the script on to the cotton of the works. In 1138 and Counting, the script rises from behind a haze of muslin, reminding us, like Morris's Dilemma, that the chain of supply in the textile industry is obscure and murky.

Now I'm a Milk Thistle

I've had a bit of a lonely half term; my family were away, most of my friends were working, and Pip has been very busy with work and being a new home owner. I did manage to host a small gathering yesterday, with home-baked brownies and pumpkin pie, though; there are far too many sweet treats left lying around the house!

I may have spent a lot of time with Mad Men boxsets, but I did try to use the time semi-productively; whilst slobbing I was stitching, too. In fact, Milk Thistle is finally finished.

The book deals with sickness (and sickliness) and recovery, the subdued gloom of the English national psyche, weeds, delicate flowers, frailty, vulnerability, stereotypes and performativity 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.

Conceptually I think it's the most cohesive of my three artist's books; however, due to the thin fashion and quilting cottons I used for its cover and pages, it doesn't feel quite as "structurally sound". But I did get a chance to experiment with a few techniques learnt during my time at the RSN, as well as some new ones; Turkey rug stitch, Victorian cross stitch beading, and ribbon embroidery all make an appearance.

So here it is, the completed Milk Thistle, an idea it has only taken me two years to realise:


































The text of the book:

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

I'll twist my ankle attempting to commune with nature, and fall deep in the shaded wood, become a shrinking violet, growing smaller and smaller until one day I simply vanish.

Down in the thicket, the bright fairy bower, I am sickly and fey, I'm a delicate flower.

Up in my garret, my ivory tower, I wax and I wane, I pale by hour.

Laid up in bed with the curtains drawn, lily livered and lovely eyed, stitching petals between pages, paper thin Honesty skin - quick! Sew up the gaps! Don't let the light in.

In the darkness thorny thoughts crowded my head and I thrashed in my flower bed so ineffectually, a delicate flower choked by creepers, bound up by pansy sickness.

Nobody brought me a bedside bouquet, but everywhere I wept, petals sprung, until I watered a meadow.

The White Lady came to me. She told me "Dab tincture of milk thistle under your weeping eyes. It's good for the liver and you need all the unlilying you can get. Remember you're a milk thistle; a tenacious weed."

I was an English Rose.

Then I was Rose Madder.

Now I'm a Milk Thistle.

I'm looking for somewhere to exhibit Milk Thistle, alongside my other two artist's books, if at all possible. If you're interested, please don't hesitate to get in touch!


Tincture of Milk Thistle

I am imminently to be employed (finally!) so won't have quite as much time for making and blogging, at least for the next couple of weeks.
 
 At some point during that time I'm hoping to squeeze in getting the eighth and final page of Milk Thistle done, because, as of today, page seven is finished!
 
 
 
This page is based around a wise old crone; a white witch called the White Lady, who has some advice on bravery to impart to the young Milk Thistle.
 
The text reads:
 
The White Lady came to me. She told me
 
"Dab tincture of milk thistle under your weeping eyes.
 
It's good for the liver
 
and you need all the unlilying you can get.
 
Remember you're a milk thistle;
 
a tenacious weed"
 


 
The page is illustrated with the very tincture the witch describes. Milk Thistle is indeed used to treat liver problems (although in this case is used metaphorically, to treat a "lily liver"; to treat cowardice).







 
I'm quite pleased with the way the page has come together, particularly the tincture. I've got some puzzling over how best to portray the final page, though!



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!

No Baubles - British Folk Art at Tate Britain

When the Royal Academy was established in 1769, it emphatically stated that "no needlework, artificial flowers, cut paper, shell work, or any such baubles should be admitted". Baubles were all very well for the drawing room; just don’t bring them into the gallery. 

One might well assume that this measure was intended to bar women from exhibiting; this a mere twenty three years before A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was published. Art by women has long been devalued and placed firmly in the camp of craft, differentiating it from "masculine" high art; as art historian Roszika Parker noted "historians devalued it ("women's work") in the eyes of society which equated great art with masculinity, the public sphere and professional practice”. Professional practice, of course, was historically barred to the vast majority of women, and even today, the exposés of Guerrilla Girls indicate the extent of the glass ceiling which still exists in the art world. Work by female artists is often couched as female first, and art second, or simply and derisively as "decorative".



But it is not only women that the Royal Academy's proclamation barred; rejection of these "baubles" is in part a question of class. Many male and female artists could only dream of the Royal Academy, with its members wealthy enough to "drop out" in order to turn to a life of painting. Working class artists instead turned to whatever they had to hand for their materials; bone, scraps of fabric, letters and newspapers, pins and beads. Art made from the collections of the rag and bone man.



It is this patchwork art, made from scraps, from snippets of this and that, that we see at British Folk Art at Tate Britain. Literal patchworks are paper pieced with scraps of letters and newspapers. In a time when paper was scarce and expensive, this was the most economical means of hand quilting, even if sacrificing cherished letters was heart-wrenching. Throughout the exhibition we see thrift as evidence of survival and adaptation to trying circumstances, rather than it is often employed today, as guilty afterthought or proof of green credentials. This is make do and mend before the term came into use. The centrepiece is a cockerel painstakingly hand-carved from mutton bone by French POWs during the Napoleonic Wars. The intricacy of this sculpture repudiates the rulings of the Royal Academy almost half a century earlier. It is an astonishing work not simply for the delicacy of the carving, but for the sheer quantity of bones the POWs siphoned off; for the coral wattle and comb which presumably is dyed bone; for the hours it doubtless took to whittle and carve down the bone into individual feathers. The cockerel demonstrates the tenacity of the human spirit; the irrepressibility of imagination.



Time and again walking through the exhibition, the audience encounters art made during hardship. Folk artists have created when incarcerated; when recuperating from illness; when pining for loved ones across the seas.

Whereas needlework and textile craft was thought to be the preserve of middle and upper class ladies in recent centuries (and we do see examples of samplers in this vein), here we see men turning to the medium also, often when convalescing.



Injured sailors and fishermen created woolwork keepsake representations of their ships. Recuperating soldiers in the 19th and early 20th centuries were encouraged to create bright patchworks from their old uniforms. Some might think this emasculating; however, when one takes into account just how heavy duty the serge and twill fabric is, any feminine associations of needlework evaporate.

 An even more macho application of needlecraft is evident in a
frankly terrifying Jolly Roger which flew atop HMS Trenchant in the Second World War. In a gross understatement, the exhibition notes inform us that Jolly Rogers like this one featured "symbols referring to the vessel's various engagements". The "various engagements" are the sinking and capturing of German ships. Appliqué, as employed here, and other textile crafts, have become the site of subversion over the course of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty first century; we see an early subversive, piratical use here. This is textiles divorced from the drawing room and any shred of domesticity; made entirely masculine.  



Alongside the woolwork depictions of ships and “sailors’ valentines” are works of art of a more traditional nature; almost good enough for the Royal Academy.  Appropriately given the flavour of the exhibition, these paintings are by a rag and bone man; Alfred Wallis of St Ives. His naive paintings recall his youth at sea. Unlike the artists who neighbour his paintings, Wallis had some art world success with his work, mostly due to his friendships with the St Ives artists’ colony.

Another folk artist who had success during her lifetime was Mary Linwood, an embroidery copyist of Old Masters. She was not accepted into the patriarchal art establishment, doubtless because her naturalistic, immense silk shadings posed too much of a “bauble”, but nevertheless enjoyed considerable success. However, she fell from grace with the advent of “art needlework”, when, ironically, embroidery artists and designers aped a folk art, pre-industrial style.



As with all that is fashionable, art is cyclical; the Royal Academy may once have been up in arms about the daintily hand crafted, but contemporary artists such as Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry have made careers from borrowing from craft. Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller celebrates folk art in his work, and creates new folk heroes. Doubtless the time will come again when folk art falls out of favour. This would make it all the more vital to celebrate it for what it is; art by the people, for the people.

Prints Charming

Apologies for my lack of posting the past few weeks, I've been beading frantically to make a deadline (and caught the beading bug; I'm still beading! Hopefully I will soon be able to share an example of Victorian cross stitch beading here).

But by the weekend, all the beading had been taken care of, and it was a glorious Saturday. Pip and I took a trip down to Borough Market to sample veggie pie and mash and posh ice cream in the spring sunshine, en route to the Fashion and Textiles Museum to visit the exhibition Artist Textiles. Artist illustrated fashion is another bug I've caught lately (see my last post for proof!), and so I was keen to catch this exhibition, which encompassed artists from Picasso to Warhol. I hoped I would find inspiration for my summer dream project; creating frocks from textiles I've designed myself. And I wasn't disappointed, although I can't say I think much of Picasso as a textiles designer; his designs were too cluttered, clashing, and indistinct for my tastes, with slightly bizarre subject matter (or maybe it's just me who doesn't fancy being bedecked in chickens and plates of fish!)

A contemporary of Picasso's who had rather more success as a textiles designer in my eyes (though is still a little hit and miss) is Dali. His famous melted clocks work rather well as a necktie, his similarly melting telephones create a strikingly modern, hallucinatory silk headscarf, and a simple dress covered in a "flower ballet" is one I would love to slip on.




Marcel Vertes, a Hungarian costume designer and therefore perhaps well suited to designing fashion fabrics, produced some gorgeous, similarly flora-related prints in the 1940s, though I can't help but feel their beauty was somewhat wasted as they were made up into silk headscarfs, which would be worn folded, obscuring the design. That's not to say I wouldn't like to add them to my burgeoning headscarf collection! The smiley sleepy radishes in particular are adorable. 





An artist who had rather more success as a textile designer than Picasso and Dali in my view was Andy Warhol. This is perhaps not surprising, as his better-known paintings and screen prints were practically textile designs, produced on a large scale in multiple colourways using popular subject matter. Textile design is perhaps the perfect medium for Warhol's art for mass public consumption. And his designs are simply fun; gloriously 60s colour schemed ice cream sundaes, tumbling watermelons and apples, bugs and butterflies flying all over skirts, trapeze artists leaping over horses; his designs have me wishing textile prints were this whimsical today! They certainly illustrate that the simplest idea is often the best, when executed well. Food for thought for me, if you'll pardon the dreadful pun.









Zandra Rhodes founded the Fashion and Textile Museum in 2003, and so it's fitting that some of her textiles designs are featured in the exhibition, though not merely because of this fact; it would be an oversight to leave Zandra Rhodes out of an exhibition of printed textiles. Rhodes's dress which features in Artists' Textiles was the exhibit that put the biggest smile on my face; a classic late '60s/early '70s Peter Pan collar shift, with a difference; the torso is printed with a luscious pair of lips being touched with a line of lipsticks fanning out into a hand. I considered slipping this little number into my bag for maybe a moment or two.





 In the 1950s, the label Horrocks was synonymous with the English summer frock; the dress for an English Rose. Horrocks's success was partially due to their commissioning the painters Alastair Morton and Graham Sutherland to supply textile designs for the company, which were then turned in gowns by the couturier John Tullis. Clients even included the Queen, but the dresses were affordable for the woman in the street, too. Unfortunately the same isn't true of these beauties today, much to my dismay.






I felt the piece that made the best use of the repeat quality of print was a textile featuring hundreds of gossips spreading salacious secrets by Virginia Lee Burton. A simple but witty pattern that really explores the possibilities of print. And that's what I intend to do come summertime.







Frayed: Textiles on the Edge at the Time and Tide Museum




An excerpt from Lorina Bulwer's stitched letters

Every now and then, you go to an exhibition that speaks to you on such a personal level it seems tailor made for you. It was that way for me with an exhibition of feminist art at the Ben Uri Gallery in 2012, and it was that way with the Frayed exhibition I went to see at the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth last Saturday.

The exhibition centred around how stitched artworks could act as personal testament, salvation, or therapy. Large swathes of the text accompanying the exhibition could have been lifted directly from my dissertation.

Stitching began as therapy for me; a way of busying my hands so my mind could work things out, and heal. Consequently, many of the art works in the exhibition were very relatable, a couple almost painfully so.

Elizabeth Parker's sampler

I got to see one of my favourite pieces of stitch ever (which I'd studied during my degree) up close, and read every word of it. This huge sampler of blood red text sewn on to minuscule canvas was stitched by Elizabeth Parker, a young woman who lived in the 19th Century. Elizabeth begins her stitched text with the paradoxical phrase "As I cannot write"; she hoped that she would learn to write with a pen, but for the time being she could only stitch her story. And what a story; born into an impoverished family who gave her everything allowed by their limited means, abused (and even thrown down the stairs) by her former employers, Elizabeth wrangled with suicidal urges and their impact on her immortal soul. As the part-confession, part-testament continues, it moves from autobiography to prayer to desperate, uncertain plea to God, to anybody who can save her from herself and her "sins". Hauntingly, Elizabeth's sampler ends with the words "What will become of my soul?"

 Elizabeth's story ends happily, however; the blurb that accompanied the sampler told us that she lived to the grand old age of 76, and presumably accomplished her dream of learning to write, as she became a teacher in a village school. I found it heartening that Elizabeth's story reaffirms that people who struggle with mental health issues can live full, long, productive lives; that there is redemption, and that the meditative, contemplative, suturing act of embroidery can help lead to this; we can stitch ourselves back together again.


Quilts created by prisoners, in the 1800s and now
A section from one of Lorina Bulwer's stitched letters

The exhibition included examples of textiles created by individuals who had suffered many different forms of psychic blows; from kits worked by soldiers convalescing in the wake of the Second World War, to a quilt created by female prisoners under the guidance of Elizabeth Fry, to pieces created as part of a mourning process, to perhaps the most startling items in the exhibition, a series of embroidered letters painstakingly pieced together out of scraps and rags by a resident of a lunatic ward (as it was then known) of Great Yarmouth Workhouse at the turn of the 20th century. It is not clear whether this woman, Lorina Bulwer, came to the workhouse because of her mental health problems, or developed mental health problems through coming to the workhouse. Either way, I doubt her environment could have helped, and she was certainly not a well woman; in one of her extraordinary, cathartic, stream of consciousness, unsettling letters, she announces that she is the illegitimate daughter of Queen Victoria; in another she is obsessively preoccupied with hermaphrodites and Socialists, and the "ills" they have supposedly brought her.


Further excerpts from Lorina Bulwer's densely stitched letters
Her letters and her story make me glad to be alive now, when mental health issues are so much better understood and sympathised with. However, despite the hardships Lorina endured, whether at the hands of the state or her own mind turning against her, her letters have survived, and once seen, cannot be forgotten. However fragile and irrational Lorina was, I wager she was quite a tough woman, and disturbing as her stitched letters may be, they are a testament to her irrepressible spirit.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fascinating blog which can be read here.

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!

"Will you take the path of pins, or the path of needles?"


In some of the earliest surviving texts of Little Red Riding Hood, when the girl is met by the wolf in the wood, he asks her if she will take the path of pins, or the path of needles. It is of little consequence which path the girl chooses; whichever she does, the wolf chooses the other path and begins a race to get there first.

What is of significance, however, is the objects chosen to name these two paths. One may think that they are appropriate names for paths taken in a cautionary tale, which is precisely what Little Red Riding Hood is thought of as being today; warning girls against talking to strangers and sexual "immorality".

But the tale has roots, like many of the old tales, as a story of female cunning, strength, and coming of age (don't forget in many of the earlier versions of the tale it is Little Red, not the woodsman, who cuts her grandmother out of the wolf's belly).

So, why are the needles and pins of such significance in this coming of age story? Well, according to this (far superior) article, in the French villages where the European version of the fairytale was originally collected, young girls symbolically passed over into womanhood by going to spend one winter apprenticed to a seamstress.

Therefore, Little Redcap's journey up the path of pins/needles possibly symbolises her (potentially dangerous, as evidenced by the wolf) journey into womanhood.

There may be a slightly more arbitrary reason for the pins and needles; fairy tales, or, quite literally, "old wive's tales" were normally shared by groups of women, who gathered to sew, spin, weave and knit. Telling old stories would make these sometimes onerous tasks more enjoyable, and weaving references to their handiwork into the tales was a way of personalising them; of making them relatable.

I've always been intrigued by the tale of Little Red Riding Hood; aged fifteen I completed an embarrassingly shoddy project based on the story for my Art GCSE, and "She whipped a pistol from her knickers" from Roald Dahl's anarchic take on the tale is one of my favourite lines of literature of all time.

It seems that mine and the tale's paths have crossed yet again in the making of the contents of the pocket on the second page of Big Teeth (and the title of the project itself, of course, is partially a reference to "My, what big teeth you have!")

Each of the pockets contains an embroidery alluding to the references to textiles techniques which are commonly found in fairy tales (for the precise reasons I gave above). For this one, I decided to create the clearing in the woodland where the path of pins and the path of needles begin.

By embroidering literal pins and needles along the paths, I am alluding to the dangers the heroines of fairy tales face along their journeys, and perhaps afterwards (I don't believe in happily ever after, particularly not with a "Prince Charming"!)



I decided to stick with black thread to give a flat, story book illustrative style, and I am quite pleased with the results (even if the trees do look like broccoli as a result!)

With the contents of the first page, I was alluding to the ball of string used to escape the maze in the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur, and to the "thread" of bread or pebbles Hansel and Gretel leave in the woods to find their way home by. I indicated this by carving two tiny trees from birch bark and stringing a red thread between them (another allusion to Little Red Riding Hood?)


The text I chose for this piece was "the narrative thread"; the thread which runs through all our lives, and our oldest stories; our myths and fairy tales, which make up so much of our history and culture.



I have but two more little embroideries to complete for Big Teeth, and then I can stitch the whole thing together; I'm actually going to make my deadline for the exhibition at this rate!


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














Pop to The Shop


It was about time to stock up on hankies, doilies, and antimacassars for my embroideries, and so I made a little trip down to Cheshire Street just off Brick Lane today, to my very favourite shop in all the world; the eponymous The Shop.


The Shop is crammed from floor to ceiling with vintage textiles and haberdashery, from silk scarves to lace and crochet. It's part Aladdin's Cave and part granny's attic, and entirely a wonderland for a textiles addict like me!


I could spend hours rifling through the old tailor's draws filled with embroidered linens; it's incredible that so much delicate, intricate needlework is stockpiled in such a tiny space, and sold for tuppence! The prices are so reasonable I always come away with a stack of linens for future projects.




If I get around to making up some of my vintage dress patterns this summer, I shall have to return for some gorgeous 50s or 60s fabric (of which there is plenty!)


Not only is The Shop stacked with vintage textiles, it also boasts a considerable selection of vintage clothing, at equally reasonable prices. Particularly gorgeous is the choice of lingerie and night wear; today I fell in love with a beautiful hand embroidered peach 1920s pyjama set (and demonstrated tremendous self-restraint in not buying it, considering how gorgeous it was!)


The Shop opens Monday to Sunday, and I implore you to get down there if you're as much of a textiles nerd as me, if only for a feast for your eyes.

Here's my haul from today:


It should keep me busy for the next month or so!

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!


"To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world"

Liz Whitehouse introduced me to this gorgeous poem by Cecilia Vicuña (translated by Rosa Alcalá). Thanks Liz!


Word & Thread

Word is thread and the thread is language.
Non-linear body.
A line associated to other lines.
A word once written risks becoming linear,
but word and thread exist on another dimensional plane.
Vibratory forms in space and in time.
Acts of union and separation.
*

The word is silence and sound.
The thread, fullness and emptiness.

*

The weaver sees her fiber as the poet see her word.
The thread feels the hand, as the word feels the tongue.
Structures of feeling in the double sense
of sensing and signifying,
the word and the thread feel our passing.

*
Is the word the conducting thread, or does thread conduct the word-
making?
Both lead to the centre of memory, a way of uniting and connecting.
A word carries another word as thread searches for thread.
A word is pregnant with other words and a thread contains
other threads within its interior.
Metaphors in tension, the word and the thread carry us beyond
threading and speaking, to what unites us, the immortal fiber.
*
To speak is to thread and the thread weaves the world.

*
In the Andes, the language itself, Quechua, is a cord of twisted straw,
two people making love, different fibers united.
To weave a design is pallay, to raise the fibers, to pick them up.
To read in Latin is legere, to pick up.
The weaver is both weaving and writing a text
that the community can read.
An ancient textile is an alphabet of knots, colors and directions
that we can no longer read.
Today the weaving no only "represent," they themselves are
one of the being of the Andean cosmogony. (E. Zorn)
*
Ponchos, llijllas, aksus, winchas, chuspas and chumpis are beings
who feel

and every being who feels walks covered in signs.
"The body given entirely to the function of signifying."
René Daumal
A textile is "in the state of being textile": awaska.
And one word, acnanacuna designates the clothing, the language
and the instruments for sacrifice (for signifying, I would say).
*

And the energy of the movement has a name and a direction: lluq'i,to the left, paña, to the right.
A direction is a meaning and the twisting of the thread
transmits knowledge and information.
The last two movements of a fiber should be in opposition:
a fiber is made of two strands lluq'i and paña.A word is both root and suffix : two antithetical meanings in one.
The word and the thread behave as processes in the cosmos.

The process is a language and a woven design is a process re-
presenting itself.
"An axis of reflection," says Mary Frame:
"the serpentine
attributes are images of the fabric structure,"
The twisted strands become serpents
and the crossing of darkness and light, a diamond star.
"Sprang is a weftless technique, a reciprocal action whereby the
interworking of adjacent elements with the fingers duplicates itself
above and below the working area."

The fingers entering the weave produce in the fibres
a mirror image of its movement, a symmetry that reiterates "the concept
of complementarity that imbues Andean thought."
*
The thread dies when it is released, but comes alive in the
loom:
the tension gives it a heart.
Soncco,
judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central
fiber.
The word and the thread are the heart of the community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.
is heart and guts, stomach and conscience, memory, judgement and reason, the wood's core, the stem's central
fiber.
The word and the thread are the heart of the community.
In order to dream, the diviner sleeps on fabric made of wik'uña.

"As I cannot write"

I received a very interesting email yesterday from Liz Whitehouse, a graduate and fellow ex-student of Dartington College of Arts. My tutor put me in touch with her as she had explored embroidery as a medium and context for the final project of her final year.

Her research initially focused on the etymological roots of the words "text" and "textile"; both derive from the Latin "texere", "to weave". Clearly there is an ancient relationship between writing and textile art even before one begins to embroider words!

(When researching the etymology of the two terms myself I stumbled across the blog Text, Textile, Exile, which I must return to at some point.)

For her final piece, Liz took as a starting point an extraordinarily moving sampler completed by a young woman named Elizabeth Parker in the 19th Century, which is in the collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.


The sampler is worked in miniscule red cross stitch, forming tiny letters which make up the story of Elizabeth's (rather traumatic) life up to the present; there are details of employers treating her "with cruelty too horrible to mention", and of her thoughts of suicide. The piece ends abruptly and hauntingly with the phrase "what will become of my soul"; it is unfinished, and this only serves to make the sampler all the more poignant and heartbreaking. Whereas a sampler would generally be comprised of an alphabet and decorative floral design, Elizabeth's is midway between cathartic diary entry and soulful prayer. Its opening phrase, "As I cannot write" is immediately contradicted by the uniformly perfect stream of words which issue from her needle.

The text that Liz wrote and then embroidered as a "sampler" of her own echoes this opening line of Elizabeth Parker's sampler in its first line ("though I cannot stitch or write/With your patience"):

 Blood Lines

These are my blood lines; though I cannot stitch or write
With your patience
Spoilt by the freedoms of my generation, I try to summon your strength
Recall your nimble hands. I find myself beside you
In those quiet moments of my childhood. I listen to your words.
****random stitches here****
So that I can write my veins in thread and not be orphaned by my pen.
I am undone. To be a woman is to sit with you.
T know my place, my point;
To stitch myself ... a patch ... on to our maternal quilt;
So that I can carry your words and share them with our daughters
You wield a power that I cannot muster from my pen.
I am gender-illiterate, but I write.
Thus I dedicate my every effort as a woman
to yours.

Fittingly, Liz embroidered this text with red thread, symbolising these "blood lines".


The text was embroidered on to images of groups of women sewing, which Liz transferred on to fabric and then quilted together, referencing, through making, the following quotation from Géraldine Chouard's essay Sew to Speak: Text and Textile in Eudora Welty:

"Writing, as piecing, is the art of arranging disparate scraps of material into a unique and distinctive design. A text is always a second-hand piece, made of words which have had a life of their own in previous arrangements, as are the fragments of fabrics of a patchwork quilt which have served other purposes and which, stitched together in a particular fashion, form new patterns."

Liz's sampler is also a touching tribute to her grandmother.

As Liz pointed out to me in her email, it's very fitting that she should have shared her work and research with me via the internet; after all, one of my main contexts of this project is the dissemination of embroidery via the web, which is itself an interwoven network of threads. Similarly, it's appropriate that the interviews I conducted with Iviva Olenick, Joetta Maue, and Debbie of the East London Craft Guerrilla were online.