Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Fairy Ring

Remember the fairy ring I stitched all the way back in November? Well, I thought I'd reinterpret the design in lino print. Sadly though, the prints have been languishing in a folder rather than being shared here, due to my being at School five days a week and general laziness. Today, however, I have a new lease of inspiration, and so am finally sharing the fairy ring here. I'm raring to go on Milk Thistle (the third artist's book in the series I'm creating), and once my studio paperwork is out of the way over Easter, I have plans for crewel work fuzzy thistles, 60s floral prints and beaded violets and pansies. Speaking of which, I'll go and get on with my Victorian beadwork violets in front of some Mad Men.


My Away With The Fairies lino print is available to purchase on Etsy right now.

Monday, 31 March 2014

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.







Friday, 14 March 2014

The Illustrated Embroiderer

If you know me, you'll know I'm fond of a frock (or seven). My room is currently groaning under the weight of 60s dresses, and the surplus has started seeping out into other rooms too. But when it comes to dresses, I firmly don't believe in too much of a good thing. Particularly when it comes to the gorgeous details of my two most recent acquisitions.

Both are not only lovingly hand-crafted, but also feature illustrations by the designers themselves. 



First up is a delightfully atomic-era-esque number by Supayana. I've followed Supayana(aka Yana Gorbulsky)'s work ever since my teens, when I had misguided dreams of becoming an indie fashion designer. Back in the day, Yana spliced and recycled cute thrifted tops to make her own creations. Her green fashion credentials continue to this day, when she makes use of old and unwanted vintage fabrics, and eco-friendly materials in her designs. Her pieces are now much more refined and elegant than they were at the beginning of her career, when the mishmash of her designs could be said to be an acquired taste (it's certainly one I like, though!)

In recent years, Yana has collaborated with artist Olivia Mew, incorporating Olivia's illustrations into her Spring/Summer 2012 collection of children's clothing and womenswear. I couldn't pass up on one of her illustrated fox tops back then, and I couldn't pass up on a foxy dress now, with a sweet illustration designed by Yana herself, of leaping foxes and bunting.



I've followed Caitlin Shearer's work since my teens too (though I suspect initially that had something to do with us both being mildly obsessed with Patrick Wolf!) Over the years I've seen Caitlin's paintings and illustrations mature into an utterly idiosyncratic and instantly recognisable dreamy aesthetic, echoed in her gorgeous Instagram snaps of bouquets of flowers and her own enviable collection of mid-century dresses. If you've never encountered Caitlin Shearer's work before, I urge you to go check out her Etsy shop. Go now.

In 2012, Caitlin began to introduce a line of dresses and textiles illustrated with her original watercolour paintings to her Etsy shop. A delectably tempting plethora of sweet, slightly puff-sleeved, 50s inspired sundresses are available, with illustrations ranging from pastel biscuits to girl scout badges. The Mermaid dress, however, is the one I've had my eye on since then, and after many months of saving pennies, it recently landed in my letter box.

It's even more dreamy in person; though perhaps a little risqué to wear to School! These mermaids are certainly sirens.




Both these dresses are perfect for the sudden Spring weather we're having (I spent my lunchtime today on a picnic blanket in the gardens of Hampton Court Palace, soaking up the sunshine). I'm certainly feeling much sunnier, too.

Friday, 28 February 2014

Cottoning On




As my training at the Royal School of Needlework progresses, I'm finding that some embroidery techniques take a little longer to get the hang of than others. Right from the offset of my blackwork, I felt completely at ease and enraptured by the medium. Silk shading has been a little more counter-intuitive, and it took 'til at least halfway through the project for me to get to grips with the smooth shading required. So the final result isn't perfect, but I am still pretty happy with it, and I'm raring to do another! I think I'd like to do a silk shaded milk thistle for artist's book #3...

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

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.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

A Poesie Grenadine interview in Cross Stitcher Magazine


After months of waiting, I can finally share with you all something I've been longing to; an interview in Cross Stitcher Magazine's February issue on my work.

Isn't it funny how these things come along at just the right time? When I was contacted by Cross Stitcher, I was feeling down in the dumps about my life as an artist and my future. The interview really bolstered my confidence and helped me take stock of all the wonderful things happening in my life. It even helped me articulate why I make art; to reach out to others, to spin yarns rich with living history, to connect myself to a lineage of needlewomen across the ages. It was a real blessing, and I'm very grateful to the good people at Cross Stitcher for getting in touch. ♥  



Thursday, 20 February 2014

Satan's Mushroom in progress

My Boletus Satanas silk shaded mushroom is a few days away from finished. I'm not quite as enamoured with silk shading as I was with my blackwork; I don't feel I've "got" the technique yet, but I suppose it's very difficult to in such a short space of time. I do love the subject and colours though, I just wish they were a bit, well, silkier! All silk shaded RSN Certificate pieces must include a turnover in a flower petal or leaf, so I've included a vivid green oak leaf at the base of the mushroom, and that certainly has quite a sheen so far.












After my silk shading is complete, I'll be doing a six week module in the RSN studio. During that time, I'll be sampling beadwork techniques, which I will share here. Then it's on to gold work, the design for which is forming in my mind, and involves, er, crying... as so much of my previous work has done!