Thursday, 14 September 2017

Well restored

Many moons ago some strong men built a well so that they and the people living nearby had access to fresh water. The well was marked on the local map, along with one just a little bit down the road, and for a long time that was the only water they had to use – for drinking; for washing; for laundry unless they had a means of storing rainwater; for all those things that water gives to us. 

Time passed, technology improved, we got mains water supply in our houses and the need for a well passed. Some were covered over completely, buried under gardens or house extensions. Ours was given a lovely wellhead and then, at some stage, capped with concrete. It sits at the top of the garden, near the house, just where I can see it as I sit in the sitting room. When we moved in my first thought was to know how deep the well was, and what would be involved in opening it up again. It felt wrong to have it covered. 

In the past people believed that all things were animated by some sort of spirit; water, the earth, thunder, wind, trees, all life was part of a whole that vibrated with unseen energies. All across the world, myths and legends grew up around the powers associated with water. Terri Windling has written a beautiful post about this; as with all of her posts, illustrated with the loveliest images.

I’m not sure about the presence of spirits, I am sure that we have lost that element of respect and reverence for this earth who sustains us and, if there are spirits of land and water, then they should be free. So, this week a nice man called Jo, who comes from the same county where my grandmother was born, brought his tools, strength and expertise and opened up the well again for us, straightening up well head which was going a bit awry, and creating a temporary cover, until such time as a proper one with steel mesh can be fabricated to leave the well open for us to gaze down in wonderment, and for those spirits, if they are there, to rise and fall freely with the rising and falling of the water.

In the meantime, the well guardians are still doing their job. The old stone ones take their ease,

and the furry ones will still be able to perch there, out of the way of the badgers, who come bumbling up in the Autumn to inspect the hazelnuts, from the tree by the well, for ripeness; food to increase their wisdom.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Alice Fox at Studio 11

We had the pleasure of Alice Fox teaching at Studio 11 last weekend at one of the studio's "Re-Treats". It was the hottest weekend of the year, but that didn't stop us from enjoying ourselves.

We were 8 students plus Alice, and Christine was there to greet us, and to provide us with a lovely lunch each day. The participants ranged widely in experience and practice from my still very novice, to artists who exhibit nationally and internationally. We were asked to talk about ourselves and what "our thing" was to start with. It was really interesting to hear different people's paths to textiles, though I had to confess that I was still trying to find my "thing". Alice talked to us about the way she looks on using found materials as deeply bound up with her desire to tread lightly on the earth and work with the places and things that life brings her.

We spent some time on each of the first three days wandering by the seaside picking up items that could be used for rust printing, eco printing or monoprinting, hence the title of the workshop "Printing the Coast". The first day was spent on Eastbourne beach, on day two it was off to Cuckmere Haven, and day three was foraging at Birling Gap - where I inadvertently discovered the nudist part of the beach. I felt very overdressed! The weather each day was wonderful, the sky pure blue and the sea gentle on the shoreline.

Each trip involved collecting; collecting objects, impressions, marks, feelings, sensations. Alice encouraged us to just sit and be with the place we were exploring, and it was such a delight to do this; to walk and absorb the locality, looking closely, asking ourselves how this place feels, and collecting things to work with later. We took little folded books, which Alice showed us how to make, and used these to record thoughts and impressions; using local materials to colour the paper, making quick sketches, noting down marks on the landscape.

These, along with the things we collected, and other papers and fabrics we had brought, were what we worked with back in the studio. A period of each day was spent with a different process, and with preparing materials for the following day's foraging.

On the first day we explored rust dyeing. Alice noted that although lots of instructions online suggest using vinegar for this, you can also use tea of all sorts - the tannic acid being a more sympathetic catalyst on the collected metals. Vinegar tends to just give you tones of orange, whereas tea will bring all sorts of other greys and deep tones to the mix.

An important element is serendipity - different fabrics will take the marks differently - here a slik noil above, and a dupion silk below show quite a variation in the type and colour in the impression from rusty nails and "stuff"

On the second day we were taught eco printing, using the plant materials we had collected, bundled with fabrics, pressed between the leaves of our books, and placed in the steamer to do its magic. I experimented a bit more this at home. The colours here slightly more subtle than in real life, on a fine weave silk cotton mix whihc really shows the detail from maple and hawthorn

and silk noil again with ash leaves from the Cuckmere walk over rust prints from the beach

The third day was spent monoprinting with the objects we had collected. Mine were mostly made using plant materials and feathers. Other used the printing press in the studio to create collagraphs.

On day four we brought all these things together, using our fabrics, booklets and printed materials to create slightly bigger books. In my case one of them turned into a bit of a monster, albeit a small monster, since each signature is only 7.5x10 cm, but there are twelve of them bound together.

You can see pictures of all our work here, though you may have to scroll down a bit if it's been a while since the course.

As with all previous courses I've been on, along with the teaching, one of the great pleasures is meeting others, seeing what inspires them and enjoying the company of like minded souls. One of the things we commented on during one lunch break was the prevalence of women on this sort of course. Alice said she'd only had a couple of male participants on her previous courses. Something to ponder I think - are we women more willing to integrate creativity into our "ordinary" lives, rather than needing the kudos of being part of a bigger commercial artistic (or sporting) movement? Do we enjoy the participatory and non competitive nature of this sort of artistic expression, or are we simply a self-selected group whose minds and lives move with and are moved by this sort of making? I think a long conversation could ensue - perhaps I'll suggest it to Christine for one of our studio discussions.

So, a wonderful four days, some great fun, many new ideas to absorb and work with, all mediated by Alice's generous teaching and willingness to share. If you want to know more, I recommend her book Natural Processes in Textile Art. It is one of those books I will read and re-read to glean ideas and inspiration.

Thank you Alice and Christine for such a lovely Re-Treat.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

A new rose bed

We've had a flower bed in front of our dilapidated shed for some years now. When we first moved here in 2010 there was nothing, just grass, weeds and muddle.

So, in 2012, having painted the shed, and wired it up to give the roses more support, we dug out the grass weeds and muddle and planted it up with irises, which started life in our old garden in 2008

These were beautiful for a couple of years,

but gradually we got less and less flower and more and more weeds - the lack of flower I think because the soil was poor and tended to be very waterlogged in the winter - the weeds due to my not having the energy or is that diligence, to keep on top of things.

So this year, taking our cue from the two rather beautiful roses which thrive and were here when we arrived,

my Good Soul dug up the remaining irises, still quite a collection I might add, and will take them off and nurture them until we decide where to try next. They have been very forgiving so far, so I hope they do well once we move them to their new place - probably in the front garden where they will get lots of sunshine to bake their rhizomes.

I then spent about six days, on and off, taking it mindfully, pacing myself to avoid too many aches and pains, and dug through the whole bed. I pulled out all the weeds and as much suspicious root as I could, then turned in a generous quantity of composted manure and mulch and mix to feed the soil. The process reminds me in an odd way of making pastry or mixing up a cake - not that I do much baking, but it's a similar thing, just on a much larger and more exhausting scale and the heat comes from the sun rather than an oven!

Having done all that I have planted it up with three more roses; deep plum, stripy pink and dusky peach, in the hope that, like those already there, they too will thrive. I've tucked in some annuals; blue pansies and some pinks,

and rich rusty magenta petunias,

Also a few perennials; columbine, my very favourites, to join the self seeded one that was there already,

don't you just love their little curly topped seedheads?

really, you can't have too many

Also some speedwell, a couple of sedums from another much loved Aunt's garden and a some geraniums (not pelargonioums) which will bush up and give us more blue and pink. Oh, and added some edging to the bed - a slightly obtrusive plastic one that I hope will tone down a bit as the years go by. It should prevent the grass from taking over again.

Now to sit back and look forward to seeing what the summer will bring.

Qute a change from the picture up top eh? Look how those roses have grown.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Holiday dyeing

I've been doing some holiday dyeing - which of course means the laundry and houswork are way overdue! I had some left over dye from a previous experiment, and wanted to see if it really was spent. So, a torn off bit of one of the endless "Connie and Harry sheets", soda soaked, folded and wrapped, the dye applied from the bottles it has been sitting in since I last used it - it all looked rather promising; lovely vivid shades, couldn't wait to unwrap

However, the dye really was spent, and most of it washed out - very pretty, but definitely not vivid; more delicately faded.

Christine's mantra is, "you can always stick it in a bucket of black" so, treating this as a test piece, out came the plumbers pipe and string and a bit of "sort of" arashi shibori. I'm not sure if I can really call it this, since arashi normally involves wrapping the fabric diagonally along the length of the pole. In this case I've placed it so the centre of the piece is over the end of the pole, folded it carefully down the sides, then spiral bound with thread. Into the dye vat it went - a mixture of turquiose, a touch of royal blue and black. I had hoped that the plastic bag on the end, firmly tied and elastic banded, would work as a cap to preserve the yellow centre but I may not have tied it tightly enough because the dye managed to soak through.

This is where I got to with stage two - notice how much more of the first layer of colour washed out with this second process. An interesting pattern though, and I'm learning all the time, but the delicacy of the inital image has been lost, both because of the first colour fading and because the second process has produced a much more definite pattern

I thought this looked a bit neither one thing or the other, in fact, a bit "meh" as my daughter would say so, back in the soda solution and on to stage three, and a stage one for a second piece of sheet - just to use up the second batch of dye

Refolded and bound in a similar way to the first process but this time with elastic bands rather than thread - they were harder to tie tightly, but I'm a bit wary of elastic bands!! Again, Christine's advice is; for multiple layers, using the same or a similar process allows the layers of colour to have some relationship with each other.

And the second piece of cotton, pulled out along its diagonal from corner to corner, roughly pleated and bound with thread, closely, criss crossed and more loosely as I worked along the length.

More dye applied, this time freshly brewed - and then the wait .....

Well, vivid has returned, and I think has integrated the arashi pattern better, it has more balance now - and the second piece makes me think of summer sunbursts and ice cream - I rather like it, and can see where the binding, tight or loose, has affected the pattern of the dye - more white where it was tightly bound - more learning

but what on earth to do with them both now?

I'm off to Studio11 tomorrow, so a bit of show and tell discussion might help.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

I've been mulching

Which makes me sound like a ruminant in a field. Actually, it's just spreading stuff on the ground to feed the soil and suppress the weeds. Should be done in Spring and Autumn. 

I garden in little bits, it suits my state of health to do, say half and hour, then stop and rest, then go back and do a little more. I've had this on the go for the past two weeks I think; I dig a little bit, pull out as much weed as possible, on hands and knees, working bare hand if necessary, round those delicate things you find when you are close to the ground, self seeded thises and thats, which need careful fingers about them to ensure that encroaching grass doesn't grab them too, as you pull it out.

The mulch is a mixture or garden centre bought stuff, dark rich brown and very most; then some leaf mould collected a couple of years ago, stored in a plastic bag to rot down until ready; add some ground up prunings that have been sitting in a black bin for a couple of years; stir in some birdsong and fresh air and there you are, a lovely soft brown blanket to snuggle around the plants and keep the moisture in.

In this area I haven't even finished the weeding, 

but I've cleared round Mum's tree and the azaleas and given each a good spread of the brown stuff. I'll tackle the weeds again tomorrow