Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Mr X Stitch at the NEC

I had a fabulous day on Friday at the Fashion, Embroidery & Stitch show at the NEC.  Met lots of textile artists and people connected to the great medium of stitch.  I met up again with the great Mr X Stitch who I had met before at the MAC Birmingham back in January at  Boys Who Sew.  Mr X Stitch calls himself a 'Manbroiderer' and creates intricate subversive cross-stitch but he champions contemporary embroidery and textile arts elevating them into the fine art arena.   I bought Jamie's new book Push Stitchery showcasing the work of 30 textile artists who are all pushing the boundary between fine art and craft.  Here is just a sample of some of the work included in his book:

Cayce Zavaglia - crewel embroidery with wool
Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene - embroidered cars

Robert Forman - string with glue

Diem Chau - Embroidered Ceramics 

Rosie James - draws with thread

Gillian Bates- canvas and thread

Saturday, 17 March 2012

The Hours #3

Work on my Degree Show final piece The Hours is coming along slowly but I'm excited by the acquisition of two old books that I intend to use alongside my quilt of embroideries.  One of the books is Mary Thomas's Embroidery Book which she originally wrote in 1936 - this version was printed in 1941. She says that:

"Embroidery, like every other art needs to be understood to be enjoyed. We are enjoying a revival in all arts and crafts - it is fashionable to be dextrous.  There is always infinitely more joy and satisfaction  derived from the simplest tray-mat evolved by one's brain and fingers than from twenty ready-made articles of more elaborate conception. Embroidery has been woman's art through innumerable ages." 

What she has written here could so easily apply to what's going on today with the great revival in the handmade and artisan crafts and I can't help but agree with her that there is more to be gained from using one's own skill in creating something unique out of love and enthusiasm for one's craft than buying mass-produced items churned out by a computer programmed machine somewhere in China. The book is full of every embroidery technique you would want to know from Applique and Cross Stitch to the more exotic sounding Florentine Embroidery, Hardanger and  Jacobean Embroidery.  

What really caught my eye was Mary Thomas's dedication which really expresses exactly what I think about embroidery and is the concept behind my work; the idea that embroidery is a precious skill that should be preserved and the many hours of dedication invested in their needlework by women is to be celebrated.  

The second book is Elizabeth Craig's book on Needlecraft published in 1947.  Again another book that was written to teach and preserve the art of sewing and needlecraft.  Everything from first steps in embroidery, the art of knitting,  the home launderer's ABC to the art of renovating: 
"Never throw away a frock, coat, blouse, skirt , jumper or any other garment that shows signs of wear and tear without first examining it carefully to see if it cannot be renovated"

"A stitch in time saves nine is a saying no housewife can afford to ignore if she wants every memeber of her household to look well groomed and her home to look always tidy."

 These are two books that even though look quite dated and some of the projects a little out moded like for example making layettes for babies and making your own cami-knickers, the techniques and processes still apply today.  They are also a slice of history to be treasured. 

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Bearwood Handmade

Had a fabulous time yesterday at Bearwood Handmade, a craft event at St Mary's Church, Bearwood run by the Crafty Muthas who are a group of Bearwood mums who meet regularly to share their love of craft and the handmade.  This love and enthusiasm has launched The Bearwood Tapestry where once a month they and other like minded lovers of all things crafty meet at The Bear Tavern in Bearwood to share their creative ideas and inspire each other. 
Bearwood seems to be the place to be as in nearby Harborne another group of women called The Crafty Cocktail  meet once a month at The Proverbial Pub on Harborne High Street for a natter over their knitting bags, patchwork, crochet, etc. and a glass of wine as well.  What could be better than that?   Don't forget too Stitches and Hos knitting group as mentioned in my previous post Stitches and Hos at the Ikon,  meet up once a month at The Hare and Hounds in Kings Heath. I am a member of the Solihull Branch of the Embroiderers' Guild who meet on the first Tuesday of each month at Solihull Methodist Church and the Birmingham Embroiderers' Guild meet on the second Monday of each month at Friends Meeting House, Watford Road, Cotteridge.  I'm all for this collective creative spirit to promote and celebrate the love of stitch.
I principally went along to support two friends of mine - Ita McKenna and Shirley Foster who were sharing a stall together to sell an array of things including lovely bags, cushions, cards, jams and some gorgeous  pincushions in china cups and saucers. They have both worked really hard  and I wish them well in their new venture.

The White Flamingo are a mother and daughter who make 'Corkies' - cute little hand painted champagne cork characters.  

I love to collect brooches so I bought two of their lovely cat brooches who come complete with their own names, pedigrees and and histories.  Meet Sapphire and Shadrach.

There were lots of hand-crafted jewellery makers and I bought two beautiful pendants from Pink Butterfly Jewellery.  The one is called 'A Good Wife' which really appealed to me as it was made using an image from a Victorian women's magazine so is relevant to my work on feminism.  The other contains a piece from an   old Birmingham A-Z of Harborne which means a lot to me as I was born and brought up in Harborne.

This week I lost my purse so it was quite serendipitous that I came across Gosia Weber's handmade purses and bags so I treated myself to a lovely leather purse and credit card holder too.

Another stall that caught my eye was the work of Madeline Norris who trades as Meeni. 
Madeline uses a mixture of embroidery, collage and knitting to create her handmade trinkets and treasures. 

Two interesting ladies I got talking to were textile artist Amanda Peach and jewellery designer Helena Moss who were sharing a stall together. I bought a beautiful hand made tote bag off Amanda and a rather unusual brooch made out of a tape measure which again I thought rather appropriate to my own work and it was they who told me about the aforementioned Crafty Cocktail group who meet in Harborne.


And because I'm never very far away from my next meal I also bought some tasty homemade chutneys from Beki's Precious Preserves. 

Here are just some of the other Crafty Muthas and Handmadens I chatted to.

I only intended popping in for an hour to support my friends Ita and Shirley and ended up staying all afternoon.  This was testament to the quality and choice here at Bearwood Handmade.  I chatted to lots of craft makers, artists and designers about their work and bought some very lovely treats for myself and gifts for friends.  I challenge anyone to find better made goods than this on the high street and why would anyone want to buy mass-produced goods anyway when you can buy really unique and well made gifts from fantastic fairs like this. You can check out where your nearest events and sellers are by visiting  so instead of lining the pockets of the big high street retailers lets support our local handmadens instead.

Long Live the Handmade!

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hamish Fulton @ The Ikon - 'A Walking Artist'

Anyone who is a keen walker would be interested in the art of British artish Hamish Fulton.  Fulton makes art out of walking and has an exhibition on at the Ikon at the moment till 22nd April called Walking in Relation to Everything.  

This is a very visual exhibition and the words and text of his huge wall pieces really hit you when you walk into the 2nd Floor galleries and makes full use of the white walls of the Ikon. Fulton makes art about the walks he had completed not only here in the UK but also in China, Tibet and a 'short walk' on Everest.  His works are often responses to political and economic struggles within the countries he visits.

"If I do not walk, I cannot make a work of art"
                                                                 Hamish Fulton

You can meet and take part in a walk with Hamish Fulton on 8th April when he will be leading a city-centre walk - walk and become part of the artwork. 

"Walking is an art form in its own right"
                                                               Hamish Fulton

Friday, 2 March 2012

Stitches and Hos at the Ikon

Had a fabulous afternoon yesterday at a workshop at the Ikon Gallery hosted by Sara Fowles from the now famous Kings Heath knitting group Stitches and Hos which was held as a response to Ikon's current exhibition How to Use Fool's Gold by Irish artist Sarah Browne.   Browne explores redundant technology,declining economies and leftover industries in communities such as in  A Model Society (2007) where she focuses on the traditional handknitted lopi sweaters of Iceland. Before the current financial crisis Iceland was declared the happiest nation on earth.   Browne advertised for knitwear models in Reykjavik newspapers and then surveyed respondents about the quality of life in Iceland. The sweaters have been knitted with their comments and phrases as part of the design  such as ‘no war’ and ‘rotten politics.’
A Model Society (2007)
No War

Minority Complex

Unfortunately there was not enough time to do any knitting at the workshop so after looking round the exhibition we embroidered postcards with our own comments on 'What makes us happy about Birmingham'.  I am a Brummie and feel proud of the city I was born in. What makes me happy is the wonderful canal system that wends its way through the city.  We have a lot to celebrate about our beautiful city (and anyone that knocks it should visit first) especially since the regeneration of the canal basin so my postcard was a response to that. The finished postcards will be posted to Sarah at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver where her exhibition will transfer to after finishing at Ikon.

In Browne's Carpet for the Irish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale (2009) is a carpet made from surplus wool stocks from the Donegal Carpets factory in Ireland. Donegal now produces carpets by machine or outsourced labour. It was hand-knotted by two of the factory's previous female employees. A film in the exhibiton shows the two women knotting ferociously at a rate of about 500 knots per hour.
Browne's other exhibits include her response to the demise of the French Franc showing film of a  ticker-tape countdown clock  which is counting down the hours, minutes and seconds to the last francs to be exchanged on 17 February 2012.

This is a great exhibition which in the case of the Icelandic Lopi sweaters and the Donegal Carpet is particularly relevant to my own art practice on embroidery. Sarah Browne exposes how craftsmanship is being destroyed both by the economy and technology.   Outsourcing and machine processes are deskilling people and its a great waste of resource, craft and tradition.

If you are a fan of walking there is another exhibition at Ikon well worth seeing, by British artist Hamish Fulton who describes himself as a 'walking artist' but I will tell you more about that in my next post.