Monday, 30 January 2012

The Wonder of Wool

This is curator Trevor Pitt's latest exhibition of works called WOW - The contemporary art of knit & stitch. What a fabulous exhibition it looks.  Too bad it's all the way up the M6 at the Rheged Gallery, Penrith.  It looks like Trevor has put together a great selection of artists and designers who have all been inspired by the Wonder of Wool.  My kind of thing and I just get so excited when I see work like this.
Sweater Companion - Celia Pym

Celia Pym is an artist working with stitch and embroidery.   She likes taking old and forgotten items like this moth eaten sweater and breathing new life into it. She says: 

"To get me settled in my studio I would knit to ready my fingers and get thinking. I soon discovered that I would knit for whole afternoons."    

She sounds like my kind of girl!  Oh how I would love the chance to sit and knit for whole afternoons. Luxury lad, luxury! 

"Now I darn and am looking for holes in people’s clothes and the stories that accompany them; repairing these holes and returning the mended garments. It is a way to briefly make contact with strangers. I am interested in the spaces the body occupies, the tenderness of touch and the ways in which we go about day to day life."       
Celia Pym

Craft Kills - Freddie Robbins
Freddie Robbins uses knitting to explore pertinent contemporary issues of the domestic, gender and the human condition.
Knitted Homes of Crime - Freddie Robbins

 Here Freddie Robbins has knitted the homes of female killers or the houses where they committed their crimes.  A really creepy concept.
Gin Socks - Deirdre Nelson
Here Deirdre Nelson's Gin Socks - in Shetland in the 1700s women knitted socks in winter and when the dutch fishing boats came in they would barter their knitted socks for gin.  3 socks = 1 pint of gin.
I like the history behind this; the idea that women used their craft skills to survive.  Its another matter whether they drank the gin or perhaps were even more enterprising and sold the gin to make a profit. I definitely  would have drunk it. 


Saturday, 28 January 2012

Don'ts for Wives (1913)

Don't for Wives- typing on calico, antique lace
Some of my recent art work from my last module at college.  I used my old Olivetti to type words onto calico and then sewed them on to a piece of vintage lace. The Don'ts are taken from a book written in 1913 by Blanche Ebbutt called Don'ts for Wives which are tips for a happy marriage.  It all harks back to the days when I'm afraid the husband was definitely considered the head of the household and the wife was simply  there to pander to his every need and whim. Fear not though ladies because the author also wrote a companion version called  Don'ts for Husbands so we were able to get our own back a little such as:

                     " Don't drop cigarette ash all over the drawing room carpet.
                       Some people will tell you that it improves the colours
                       but your wife won't care to try that recipe."  

Friday, 27 January 2012

Great Jumpers of our Time #4 - Tom & Barbara Good

Good old Tom and Barbara Good from The Good Life.  I remember my Dad had a jumper just like this one. They were knitted in a stitch called Fisherman's Rib making them very chunky.  In those days men didn't seem to own many jumpers at all - they probably had one big thick jumper for the winter which had more often than not been knitted by their wives and a couple of the lightweight Pringle type V-necked jumpers (good old St Michael's in 100% lambswool) to slip over a shirt for cooler days and sometimes the V-Neck would be sleeveless a la Tank Top.

Monday, 23 January 2012

George Shaw & Michala Gyetvai @ The Herbert

Had a fabulous day here last Friday.  Two great exhibitions under one roof.
It was good to get away from my PC and have a day out to enjoy art instead of battling it.  Bumped into Nadine from my Foundation Year at Solihull which was a bonus as we then went round the exhibitions together and then had lunch and shared a bottle of wine next door at Browns chatting about old times at Solihull College. 
Back to Coventry born artist George Shaw - its satisfying to think that he is at last getting the recognition he so desrves.  Too bad he didn't win the Turner Prize last year. I expect that was because he was a painter! Its about time a painter won the TP.  Have had enough of installations and film.  Often wonder if embroidery would ever be shortlisted for the Turner Prize. Think not perhaps.

What I really liked about I Woz Ere was how accessable the artist seemed to be.  Even though I don't know Coventry it was good to see an artist who can make a bland, urban landscape look almost attractive. His paintings looked so sharp and vibrant 'in the flesh' as I had only ever seen his painting in books before.
I thought how much of the 'ordinary boy done good' seemed to come through and maybe that was because he was on his home turf but what really made it for me was a little room off the main gallery where the walls were lined with all of his sketches and paintings from school and that he'd done as a boy before he started his formal art training.  To me that what makes him seem so like us and so ordinary.  Just an ordinary boy from Coventry done good.

 Next, upstairs to Gallery 4 to see the textiles and paintings of Michala Gyetvai in her exhibition 'Seas of Grass'  (only on now till the 24th Jan). The room is filled with richly embroidered and felted pictures and wall hangings which are simply stunning. They just make you want to reach out and touch them. This exhibition runs alongside George Shaw's quite fittingly because she is also another local-ish artist done good (Northants).  Like Shaw she also takes her inspiritation from her local surroundings.

Mostly landscapes which feature trees she paints and sculpts with threads, layering and stitching until they take on quite three dimensional qualities. She twists fibres and felts and stitches thick wool, crocheted cotton and fine silks onto felted woollen blanket and because of the amount of stitching this distorts the surface making it undulating, turning it into a hanging sculpture almost.

The afternoon was finished off by a quick blast around IKEA. The perfect end to a perfect day.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Boys Who Sew

l to r Trevor Pitt, David Littler, Stewart Easton, Twiggy and Mr X Stitch
Great evening last night at the MAC attending In Conversation with Boys Who Sew hosted by Birmingham based artist and curator Trevor Pitt of The Knitting Salon and the famed knitted benches and who posed questions to the four unlikely lad stitchers.

First up was Coventry born artist Stewart Easton who currently has an exhibition of embroidered folk art at the MAC called Four Tragic Tales, again curated by Trevor Pitt.  Stewart only started sewing 2 1/2 years ago while researching Folk Art as part of his MA in Illustration and Animation. Inspired by the books of Oliver Postgate and the poetry of Sir John Betjeman instead of drawing images for his animation module he began embroidering.  Stewart embroiders fairy story based narratives often in a long horizontal panel giving the feeling of movement and time of one long image.   He says of stitching that it is very contemplative and slows things down instead of the fast moving pace of traditional animation.
 Next boy stitcher was Twiggy Birmingham a drag artist who for the last 20 years has designed and stitched all his own costumes with fabics sourced entirely from the Birmingham Rag Market and using only 3 basic patterns. 

Mr X Stitch aka Jamie Chalmers has been stitching for 10 years and his interest in stitching began after buying a cross stitch kit for something to do on a long flight to Canada.  He liked the idea that somebody as large as himself, with a bald head and beard was capable of creating something so delicate. He creates the designs himself from a piece of software that converts pictures into Cross-Stitch charts as he found the traditional kits available of cottages and churches just a bit too twee.  Speaking of the popular trend at the moment of subversive cross-stitching he describes his own work as "less sweary and with more wit." He finds stitching meditative, creative, has the power of making and above all soothes the soul. 

Then finally David Littler artist, curator and DJ whose inspiration for stitching started in the Northern Soul clubs of Blackpool.  David got into stitching when after visiting the  V & A Museum he bought a book on Samplers. He is founder of artists' collective Sampler Culture Clash which brings together embroiderers aged from 60 - 85, poets, musicians and DJs and explores the connection between sound and embroidery emerging as performance art.

A really fabulous evening which only goes to demonstrate how absorbing and popular stitching and embroidery has become.  I felt a strong message radiating around the auditorium from both artists and audience that stitching is indeed an artform and that at last it is getting the recognition it so justly deserves.   Power to the needle!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

The Second Sex - Simone de Beauvoir

Attempting to plough my way through this tome in a bid to help me write my dissertation on feminism and the female stereotype.  Hard going believe me.  Its about 2 inches thick and nearly 800 pages. Its so heavy it would make a great door stop and would be useful to stand on to reach the top of my kitchen cupboards.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

The Ring Cushion - Katie & Patrick's Wedding

After all the frenzy of producing a body of work for The Pre-Degree Show it was nice to get back to concentrating on making the Ring Cushion for my niece Katie's wedding.  I had bought a piece of antique lace back in the summer with a view to utilising it either in my artwork or as a possible ring custion for Katie and Patrick's wedding rings at the ceremony.  I bought a 30cm x 30cm cushion pad from John Lewis and a length of stretch satin to match the bride's ivory dress to make the cushion cover. The square of lace was then sewn over the satin cover.  Originally there was a linen centre to it - I suppose it was originally a lace handkerchief.  Like any of these projects it didn't quite go according to plan and I ended up having to discard the linen centre as it was stretching and didn't quite look right.  Happily it worked out better with the satin centre and I then free machine embroidered their names and the date finishing off with sewing on the 2 ribbons which would be tied to carry the rings.
Had another problem with the cushion pad being a bit too knobbly because it was stuffed with duck feather and down - on the back (plain side) looked like it was filled full of spanners.  To make it look smooth and soft I inserted a square piece of Heirloom wadding between the pad and the cushion cover which fortunately did the trick.    Finished off with dotting the i in both Katie & Patrick's names with pearl beads.  Anyway all went well fabulously on the day and here is the result.

Patrick holding the cushion with rings in situ

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Hogmanay in Edinburgh

Happy New Year!  Spent Hogmanay in Edinburgh with family and friends. Had every intention of visiting the Sculpture Show at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art but curiously on our way there we found ourselves at our fave pub instead - The Bow Bar  in Victoria Street to sample some of their great ale including Chipotle Spiced Extra Porter - a spicy little number which catches the back of your throat with a welcoming heat to keep out the cold night air. Brewed by Tempest Brewery in Kelso its described as 'a smooth, complex dark ale infused with Mexican smoke dried jalapenos and cacao beans'.  Then nipped round the corner to another fave haunt Le Sept in Hunters' Square just off the Royal Mile for some of their fabulous French Onion Soup followed by crepes and chocolate terrine so we never did make it to the Sculpture Show. Tant pis.