Sunday, 17 August 2014

Lily livered

I'm not at all sure about the latest page of Milk Thistle (although I am halfway there now). A few things went wrong in its making, and I almost wished I'd used a brighter, more minimalist background fabric.


One thing I am happy with is the sprig of Honesty I scanned and used as the page's pocket; it is ethereal, almost ghostly; a fellow artist on Instagram described it as "fairy money". It's the perfect holding place for the red lily Kensita's woven silk flower card.







The text of this page reads

Laid up in bed with the curtains drawn, lily livered and lovely eyed

Stitching petals between pages - quick! 

Sew up the gaps! Don't let the light in

There is a separate text sewn on to white work fabric which reads

I thread my needle by the sun's light

I lose eyesight by candle light

This is based on a passage in The Subversive Stitch which describes how cottage industry embroiderers ruined their eyes through sewing by candle light.

This page is based around how invalidism, together with embroidery, became a part of the inculcation of the feminine in the nineteenth century.

Thursday, 14 August 2014

A tale by mail

Sylvia Linsteadt is a writer unlike any other. For one thing, her writing is almost organic; it springs from the brush and the creeks of the Bay Area in San Francisco, smelling of fennel and juniper. Sylvia spins yarns both figuratively and literally, wrapping her tales in skeins of hand-spun and dyed thread, creating story cases from hand dyed and felted fabric. And when she's done, these cases, along with beautifully wrapped, thoughtful packages of tales are sent out to the world. One of these found its way to me; the story Our Lady of Nettles wended its way here earlier this week.


 

 
To call Sylvia's work mere mail order stories would be doing her a great disservice. So much love and care was put into my little envelope; stamped with images from her tales, sealed with a dove wax stamp, the tale bound with a hand spun and nettle dyed thread.
 
The tale itself is a curious thing, partially narrated by nameless nettles. I am taking my time to soak it up, hoping it will inspire me in the writing of a tale of my own.
 
Sylvia's stories and felted story cases can be purchased at Wild Talewort. Her rather excellent blog can be read here.

 
 



Tuesday, 12 August 2014

The bright fairy bower


 
The third page of Milk Thistle deals with Romantic (with a capital R) preoccupations with sickliness, and the cult of the (myth of the?) tortured artist.

 


 
 
The text reads:
 
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
 
 
I've surrounded the words with a garland of ribbon roses and tiny beaded blooms, and a thicket of wild flowers springs from the page.

Thursday, 31 July 2014

Star-like





These are sketchings and stitchings for a project I'm really hoping I'll get the opportunity (and funding) to do. More will hopefully be revealed over the next couple of weeks... for now I'll just say that I would be returning to the themes of the Constellation Quilt; and about time, too!

I'm off to Brighton for the weekend tomorrow, hoping to swim in the sea and peruse the (rather excellent, so I'm told) vintage shops. See you on the other side.


Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Summer Dreaming

I had the dreamiest of weekends, starting on Friday night with cocktails and dim sum and night time strolls along the South Bank with two of my best pals.

Rose and lychee martini
You could say my weekend started on Thursday evening with a visit to the Virginia Woolf exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, but I'll save that for another blog post... it was a very stirring trip indeed.

Saturday was spent sewing and sipping sangria in my favourite dress with good friends. I met up with two of them the next day for wanders around the Walthamstow Garden Party. I'm sorry to say I misread the festival; I had thought it would be small and somewhat provincial. I could not be more wrong; it sprawled across Lloyd Park, with mouthwatering food and drink (I spilled chimichurri sauce on my dress trying to eat a very unruly burger), and an inventive array of activities for the little ones, including neon bright den building and wood work (there's something lovely about seeing a four year old girl expertly inserting bolts into wooden pieces of a rocking horse).


Dens built by local children
Significant Seams had a lovely display of a summer garden in full bloom, created entirely from discarded plastic. I particularly liked this tree of life, which, a volunteer told me, was based on Mexican paintings.







The garlands of wishes (destined for the wishing well) for the community were very sweet, too. Look what this one says.



I just have to put the finishing touches to a big commission proposal this week, and then this weekend I'm off to Brighton with Pip to visit friends and partake of even more cocktails. It's a hard life.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Shrinking Violet





This second page of Milk Thistle deals with the preoccupation with weak and feeble females in 18th and 19th Century literature, and with the tendency of women to be self-effacing and apologetic for taking up space in a patriarchal society.

The text reads:

"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".

The words themselves grow smaller and smaller almost to the point of vanishing. The page's pocket is a Valentine's card from the 50s which proclaims "Don't Be A Shrinking Violet" "Come right out and say it", throwing up the hypocrisy of a world which tells women to keep their mouths shut and then characterises them as weak. Inside is the Victorian beadwork depicting a pair of violets which I stitched way back in April.

This is stitched on to a background fabric of a typical mid-century ditzy print quilting cotton in shades of violet.



The next page will deal with Romantic preoccupations with sickliness.

Friday, 18 July 2014

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!