Friday, 19 July 2013

Hanging on

As you may know already we've been staying with my elderly mother-in-law for a few days.  The purpose of the visit was to collect her car -- she's given up driving -- and help accustom her to using her mobility scooter.  It's been a somewhat hair raising experience reminiscent of my children learning to ride without stabilisers.  I was going to add that this recent experience lacked the optimism of that earlier one, however, judging by the look of excitement on her face when getting to the post office proved much less problematic than she imagined, it would be a mistake to think that way.

Our most epic journey took us beyond the post office, past the church and round the corner to visit an elderly friend.  The plan was to stay ten minutes; we were there nearly two hours!  The conversation we had was rivetting.  D. is German, ninety next year, delighted to have company and offered us wine.  She told us her history: the war, her marriages, leaving a child behind to be looked after by her mother, escaping Berlin and her gratefulness when she found acceptance in England.  She told us the most intimate and painful details.  And she showed us photographs too, one of her wedding day, describing her dress as golden.  I must have looked puzzled.  She asked would I like to see it.  Of course.  And folded in a chest, made by a friend who had worked in the theatre, was the golden dress made of what she had had -- fabric for cleaning silver. All hand-stitched,  the fabric crossed over her bosom and was shaped with rows of gathering. The hem and neck edge rolled., brown lacing as a decorative accent at the hip.  The glow on her face said it all.

That conversation will stay in my mind for a long time and I hope we visit again.  What D. told us chimed with books I've read recently, how life's hard times and its precious moments become woven in to all the rest.  Strange how they re-emerge to be shared with virtual strangers.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Chapter 13: Artist Study

HANS HOLBEIN (1497/8 - 1543) was born in Germany and worked in Switzerland before religious turmoil caused him to leave for England, which he visited twice.  His first visit was spent with Sir Thomas Moore, later he was drawn into the employ of Thomas Cromwell.  He was not only a very gifted painter, but also worked as an book illustrator who was in touch with Basel's humanist circle, including Erasmus.  He was influenced by the humanists and his work reflects a knowledge of classical literature and philosophy.  His work shows the influence of Renaissance painters and his work, in addition to portraits includes designs for altarpieces, stained glass, jewellery, plate and other precious objects.

The Ambassadors
This painting of The Ambassadors is not only startlingly realistic in terms of the two men portrayed (Jean de Dinteville and Bishop George de Selve) but shows a wonderful array of sumptuous textiles: silk, velvet, fur and the room's firnishings layered with carpets and tapestry curtains.

Henry VIII, c 1536
Henry VIII's portrait manages to capture something of his personality, his strength and power, much of which is conveyed by the gold and jewels with which he is adorned, the richness of the fabrics he wears and the way that that fabric is embellished.  Both his doublet and sleeves are covered with blackwork and these intricate patterns were finely executed by hand in flowing and repeating designs.

Detail from Henry VIII's doublet

Blackwork is a type of counted thread embroidery worked in black (though silver and gold, even red was added) on even weave fabric and was very popular during the Tudor period.  Designs were so intricate and finely stitched that they resembled lace.  Many experts attribute blackwork's arrival in England to Catherine of Aragon, however this form of embroidery was known here before this time.  Catherine was an accomplished needlewoman and she was instrumental in making blackwork extremely popular.  The stitching on collar and cuffs were worked with a reversible stitch because both sides could be on display.  This form of stitching also acted as a form of reinforcement.  The designs are stylized and based on repetitive geometric patterns and plant forms possibly indicating Islamic influence.  Archaeologists have found some evidence of this type of work in North Africa.  Sadly little actual samples survive in England making Holbein's paintings all the more important, a fitting tribute then that blackwork is also known as Holbein stitch.

Sheep by Jenny Chippindale

In my recent times blackwork has been used to interpret a range of subjects: the natural world, buildings, people and things.  As can be seen in the above image worked in 1984 blackwork can produce subtle and very lovely effects.

BRIDGET RILEY (born 1931) has for fifty years been one of the world's leading abstract painters: time, colour and our perception of its fleeting nature lie at the heart of her work.  Though abstract Bridget Riley's paintings are rooted in a childhood of looking at nature.  Art School training in life drawing instilled a sense of structure and since this time she has continued to study the past and this has stimulated and informed her work.

After her time at Hornsey College of Art and until 1966 all Bridget Riley's work was based on a black and white monochrome palette, which she used to investigate many areas of perception, both practical and aesthetic.  These Op Art works have a dazzling quality, full of visual energy.

Study for Shuttle, 1964
 In Study for Shuttle Bridget Riley uses the repeating band which is her most important formal device.  It may be straight or curved, vertical or horizontal.  In this crisp image the repeating band appears to be fragmented by curved tapering lines, the shapes then seemingly reassembled, the black and white lines reconnecting.  The vertical curved columns create a surface which undulates almost like a mountain range, the v-shapes squeezed together in diagonally opposite corners of the painting.

Movement in Squares, 1961
 Movement in Squares is one of Bridget Riley's best known early works.  In the painstakingly drawn alternating black and white shapes she created a sense of movement. It is as if the paper undulates, tension exists between the right and left sides of the painting appearing to squeeze the squares little by little reducing them to no more than columns of narrow rectangles placed on the golden mean .

Where, 1964
In Where a further element comes in to play, that of tone.  Although the circles are being compressed at a constant rate, the tonal sequences change at a different rate.  This sets up vertical forces which carry the eye out only to be drawn in again by an inward movement.

By 1966 Bridget Riley began to broaden her palette, including first grey then red and blue.  She talked about the need to start with simple basic elements in order to have a firm foundation on which to build the complexity and richness of her work.  By her early thirties she was achieving critical acclaim.

Bridget Riley's paintings in the late 1960s and 70s were concerned principally with the visual and emotional response to colour taking her inspiration from a trip to Egypt.  The colours she found there provided her with infinite flexibility which allowed her to explore the potential of vertical stripes.  Later, through a study of Cezanne she became immersed in intersecting verticals and diagonals, colours and contrasts.  With the addition of curves and working with larger areas she created paintings where "flat planes of colour appear to weave in space in compositions of lyrical and exuberant rhythms."  Most recently she has returned to stripes using close harmony of tones and hues spiked with strong contrasts.

Bridget Riley has also created a decorative scheme for the Royal Liverpool Hospital and set designs for Ballet Rambert.

MATTHEW HARRIS is a graduate of the textile course at Goldsmith College and has been working with textiles since 2000.  During the previous ten years he made and exhibited drawings and works on paper.  He uses dyeing, cutting and hand stitching in his work.

Lantern Cloth III (detail)
Above is a detail from one of Mathew Harris' constructed cloths, one of a series of three and inspired by his experiences in Japan where he became interested in printed decorative motifs on kimonos.  There is a further link with Japan through the medium of oriental penmanship and elements of this make their appearance in his work. This piece was exhibited in 2007/8 as part of the Trace Elements body of work and executed in white, grey and black with a range of pink red tones.

Matthew Harris finds the construction of such pieces engrossing: detailed cutting, stitching and dyeing result in a complex arrangement of shapes of varying colours.  These include tones of a beige, ecru, putty spectrum.  Shades can be smudged and faded or brought into prominence, each patched in place with hand stitching showing the careful construction of the piece.  For this same exhibition Matthew Harris include Cartoons for Cloth in which he also used varnished paper which gave an off-white translucency akin to tracing paper.

In his work Matthew Harris aims " to create pieces that explore repetition, pattern and the disrupted or dissonant journey of line and image across and through the surface of cloth."

Health and Safety

Costing Materials and Recording Time

Date design work began : 09.08.12.               Completed approx : 17.05.13.          80 hours in total.
Date embroidered item was started : 01.06.13            Completed : 23.06.13.         30 hours in total.

And finally ....

It's a strange feeling to be coming to the end of a project, that longed-for yet undesired goal,  the moment when you confront the success or failure of your work.  I've been reminded that I am not alone in this when I started to reread the chapter on evaluation in "how to be better at .... creativity" by Geoffrey Petty.  This book was suggested to us in a workshop group at Urchfont by Janet Edmonds and there is much in it to be recommended, particularly the discussion about what sort of judge or evaluator you are. So, am I the 80%/20% critic whose positive comments by far outweigh the negative, the one I remember so much from my teaching days and so successfully encouraged the young to try again?  Or am I the 60%/40% kind an adult might have more trust in?  Here goes.

Collar in Silk Organza

On the whole I am pleased with the end result.  I feel it meets the remit of being functional, and three dimensional and embroidered.  Although I have been working on this project for a long time it still manages to capture that essence of  "fishiness" from the early Module 2 exercises.  This "fishiness" is apparent especially in its shape and construction.  And this is where spending a long time has had its advantages; it's enabled me  to develop ideas (the two types of fin and others), and respond and test out those given to me by Sian (one example is stuffing the insert fins).   Sian's nudges have helped me produce a piece more complex in structure than I would have done alone; my inclination would be for simplicity, but then this can be an excuse for not exploring further and finding better solutions to issues than arise.  Whilst there are ideas that I might not have reached myself there are those I had to relinquish.  The one I let go most reluctantly was having text on the collar.  When I tried the words were indecipherable, even an attempt using Trick Film to stabilise the organza left a crunchy deposit round the stitching when heat was applied.

Tonally, the piece is less successful.  Although I do like the randomness of the shibori the tones do not change from light at the collar's inside edge through to dark at the outer edge, as I imagined I might have been able to achieve.  The embroidery aims to emphasise lightness at that inner edge.  I applied three different threads: one variegated (blue-grey to white), one Gutermann's 111 (softer than white) and a thicker polyester thread, again in 111 and by Gutermann, to achieve this.  In an earlier trial I had added an even thicker crochet thread, but this was too thick and dominated the collar, not only because of its thickness but also because it was not available in off-white.  The stitch I chose for this embellishment was a double zigzag which became longer along the line's length.  Much finer stitching of the same sort was applied in fine dark petrol blue thread with a soft grey in the bobbin.  In choosing the double zigzag stitch I hope to give a sense of movement as well as replicating the collar's jagged edge.

The silk organza produces a light and elegant look exactly as I had hoped and as the original design portrays. The fabric takes dye beautifully and its translucent property means that even when layered or pleated it still appears light.  Its crispness means that it is possible to pleat and roll it successfully. Following Sian's suggestion I inserted tubes of Stitch and Tear in the top of the insert fins and then stuffed them with polyester wadding.  These tubes partially show when viewed close up.  Attempts to disguise them proved unsuccessful as an extra layer of dyed organza wrapped round them does a poor job of disguising the tube and adds to the bulk which needs to be stitched into the neck edge.

In spite of its many lovely qualities silk organza has one main failing as regards this project: too much handling results in the edges becoming frayed, a problem when seams need unpicking or the collar is attached to a garment.  I have fitted the collar to a v-necked cardigan, not my preferred solution which would have been a light tweed v-neck dress.  The cardigan has had the disadvantage of being stretchy whereas tweed fabric would have been more stable.  To finish the collar neck I finally applied inch wide grosgrain ribbon and this works.  My original plan was to cut a strip of silk organza on the cross, however this also was stretchy and impossible to make its length stable.  It also meant that the binding and fins both sat on top of the cardigan neckline.  Although at present the collar is simply tacked on the grosgrain ribbon is under the cardigan neckline and the collar as a result curls over the edge sitting above the neckline emphasising its three dimensional quality.  Tacking the collar on in this way may not be the final solution as handling the collar too much causes fraying.

Finish is such an important part of any item.  I've already talked about the problem of silk organza fraying, where I would also criticise the collar's finish is with regard to the embroidery.  At the end of every line of machine stitching I put the machine into reverse and then cut the thread close to.  Mostly this proved successful, however there are quite a number of loose threads remaining.  This could be viewed as complementing the collar's ragged edge:a matter of opinion.

Is it nice to wear? It's beautifully soft next to skin and it enhances the neckline well, though I think it will require quite an occasion to wear such a dramatic-looking piece!