Thursday, 28 February 2019

Signs of Spring

I took advantage of the wonderful warm weather to catch up on a bit of gardening in the front garden yesterday. There really are some glorious signs of spring out there - being south facing everything is bathed in sunlight, even at this time of year, and the flowers hold their faces up to the sun and catch all that light, transforming it into beautiful colour and pattern.

the daffs and crocuses glimmering in one corner

candytuft flowers just beginning to swell and peek out from their tight little buds

lots of wonderful green from other bulbs gathering energy for their later flowering - although con one have an excess of bluebells? I feel not, but when they pop up just everywhere and you've got more things to fit in the space it's a bit perplexing

a warm cat soaking up the sun behind the buds and wondering why his 'ooman has cut back all that lovely nesty grass

stonecrop and tulip leaves forming a harmony of colour close to the soil

the brilliant winter jasmine, glowing against terracotta

yet more crocus

last year's osetospermum tucked under the window, complementing the colours of the euphorbia behind

and a little cluster of snowdrops at the base of the weeping birch, just beginning to clump up after five years in the ground (you see why I have snowdrop envy Els)

Hope they cope with the coming change in the weather

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Seven down

We had our monthly patchwork meeting today, and I'm glad to say I was all caught up with myself. We have completed seven of our nine blocks now, so are romping towards the finish line. I am really happy with where I am with these blocks. I have enjoyed each one - all different in terms of techniques, all challenging in their own way, but terrific fun nonetheless.

Here they are all laid out on the sewing room floor - the wonderful stripes in the middle are the handstitched rug that sits in there, created by a 90 year old lady who knew Cecil "in the dim distant past" to use one of her favourite sayings. 

The blocks seems to be balancing well in terms of colour and design (the design all being Naomi's of course, as she is the one teaching us) and I'm hoping the final two blocks will fit in, once they are made.

The bottom line includes the most recent block, my version of the drunkard's path block.

So what was on offer today? Well the usual delightful teaching by Naomi - who is always so good at explaining how we should construct the current block, and who always brings both interesting books,  relevant to the technique and delicious home baked biscuits for us to nibble with our mid morning coffee. And the block we are to do this month? Snail Trail, a block which seems to have several differing construction techniques. We will be foundation piecing, which means using a base fabric and stitching each scrap down onto this. Each bit of fabric overlaps the previous one, and is placed right sides together across it and stitched before being folded flat so that the seam you have stitched covers up the raw edge of the previous piece. I am looking forward to using up some scraps and probably creating more!

If only all learning was this much fun!

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

The impromptu design wall

I have mentioned Mesopotamia a couple of times - my Studio 11 focus for this year, to understand what it is to follow a theme and explore its possibilities. It is a project that is taking shape slowly and is often in the back of my mind, rumbling about while I'm reading or doing ether stuff.

When I am at home I have no access to a design wall as we do at Studio 11, so I improvise with shelves full of books. I have many of those and a random title pulled forward makes an excellent support for a hanger, and this type of hanger makes an excellent support for a piece of cloth. Wide pieces, like the ones on the right can be clipped to bit of suitable sized card, but Mesopotamia fits.

Below it is clipped together with a piece of soft blue design cloth which I am using to try out techniques, You might recognise the buff and turquoise fabric - in an earlier incarnation it too was a trial piece for "her ladyships trousers" I used it to develop the dyeing technique for the bottom of the legs.

It is a vintage linen - previously sheets (see the trousers story), and very soft and fine. I'm sure it was lovely to sleep on when used for it's former purpose, but now it stands in for Mesopotamia; layers of linen and layers of time blending together.

There is a moon peering up out of the darkness, and sandy soil rippling ripe for cultivation.

There is the outline of two rivers - the Tigris and Euphrates of course, tacked onto the cloth ready to be couched

The colour ripples in the fabric have an estuarine feel to them, suitable for an environment where water and ground were intermingled. I have stitched across the entire piece with running stitch to hold things all together and create one cloth out of two, backed, of course with a fine muslin.

and at the very bottom, the deep dark water that is "Abzu", home of Enki, and source of the sweet water which is the basis of all life.

I plan to embroider the cuneiform script for Abzu here. 

And this soft blue? Another piece of the same linen, where I am finding out what happens when you couch down a variety of threads, all bundled together. They can turn and twist around each other; separate and rejoin, and even flow off the main course completely and create space for a town or city.

The first city, according to myth, was Eridu, where the sweet water of the Abzu bubbled up out of the ground. I have bought some little chippings of lapis lazuli and carnelian to stitch where the main towns are cities are - and of course I can take the "water" away from the main course to create a surrounding liquidity and space for the soil to be brought together around the city, to build and to grow.

I think the ideas are beginning to coalesce, and I understand where I could go with this. There is much to explore, and perhaps several pieces of cloth to express several ideas and themes. I'm looking forward to the journey, and to the learning.

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Ring of light

Our garden is, we hope, a haven for wildlife. We have a big tree near the house which is festooned with bird feeders of all shapes and sizes. My Dear Soul fills up everything every morning without fail,  almost always before he has his own breakfast; often before his first cup of tea of the day. He has a tender heart when it comes to wild things (and cat chaps).

Nearer the house is a bird bath cum water bowl. Just now we are having a very cold snap - frost on the rooves, even some snow on the grass, though not enough to trouble us. But of course the birds are used to having access to water, and this morning, having watched a tiny little blue tit try, and fail to take a drink, I realised that the flowing waterfall in our new pond is too brisk for a little bird, though the bigger ones are very grateful for it. So I filled the kettle, boiled it up and poured the hot water into the bird bath to free the liquid. Popping my hand in to remove some debris at the bottom I found it surrounded by a ring of ice, which I pulled out and put to one side so that it didn't encourage the water to freeze again before the birds had their chance.

Later, as the sun moved round the garden, I noticed that nature had created something rather wonderful - a circle of light.

It will of course, disappear now, as the warmth in the sun melts that icy rim

Beauty in small things

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

weaving inspiration

My weaving is really taking over my creative time at the moment. Not completely dominating it, but I have been weaving pretty much every day since my last post. This is the result, hanging on the line to dry after being washed - I didn't even know you were supposed to wash things when they come off the loom, but it helps the warp and weft to meld together into a fabric. This was an experiment in colour and a practice piece to improve my understanding of weaving evenly, getting those edges straight and not loopy and finding out what happens when you weave colours together. I'm really pleased with the outcome, and have learnt all sorts of things. In particular, I was hoping for a more thorough blend of colours in warp and weft, but I've used too wide a sett on the warp, which means that my weft colours are dominating, though you do get a hint of the warp stripes running through.

I did have two days of not weaving though, travelling up to the big city to see two exhibitions. The first was the Anni Albers show at Tate Modern. A friend Steph and I had been looking forward to this for some time, she also being a stitcher and part of our little breakaway tapestry weaving group. We almost ran out of time, as it closed last weekend, but a quick bit of planning meant that we were able to get there on Thursday. The works on show were incredibly inspiring for a new weaver; each piece repaying close observation. For me that means pulling my glasses half way down my nose and getting it as close as possible to what I'm looking at - always a bit unnerving as I keep expecting a solicitous museum attendant to leap up and banish me for getting too close!

Her combination of colour, texture and technique was a real lesson in how to create beauty on the loom and, even more inspiring, many of her experimental pieces were woven on small simple looms, rather than the beautiful piece of equipment that greeted visitors as we entered the gallery.

Here, in La Luz (The Light), she has used a combination of linen and metallic thread to create a shimmering plane of colour and light - the central cross moving in and out of view as you change your position in relation to the weaving

Anni Albers. La Luz. 1947

In the detail here you can see how she carries the metallic thread across the piece so that it appears to be couched on the surface, rather than woven. The subtle colours and the way she uses differing weights and shades of thread enhances the sense of layers of light moving in and out of view

Anni Albers. La Luz. 1947 (detail)

This detail of "Two", which is woven from Linen, cotton and rayon, encapsulates the complexity of her weaving - I kept finding myself thinking "how on earth has she done that?" and wanting to look at the back.

Anni Albers. Two. 1952. Detail

Pasture, felt joyous - the wonderful play of green and orange, with little sparkles of white in counterpoint to the black thread beckoned me to close my eyes and imagine walking through fields of summer flowers.

Anni Albers. Pasture. 1958
Six Prayers, below, was a commission from the Jewish Museum in New York for a memorial to the Jews who had died in the Holocaust. They were beautiful to sit in front of, luminous, meditative, those wandering lines evoking lost journeys but also perhaps, curling plumes of smoke rising into the receiving sky.

Anni Albers. Six Prayers. 1966-7

By the time we had reached these weavings we had both come to the end of our museum feet, so parted ways, Steph going back to the station to catch a train home, and me walking down to the tube station to get a tube to my next destination, Russell Square, where I had booked into a hotel for the night (how very grown up!). This got me close to the British Museum for my exhibition visit the following day, I Am Ashurbanipal. I won't go into detail here; suffice to say it was marvellous, and fed my interest in all things Mesopotamian. But I was, of course, in one of the great museums of the world, and had been looking at weaving, so felt an quick visit to see the Coptic weavings would be a lovely counterpoint to what I had seen the day before. And they were, little snippets of colour and imagery, so fine you could hardly imagine a human hand creating them; so fresh and vibrant and full of delightful detail.

Having marvelled at these, I wandered through to the Mesopotamian and Ancient Levant Galleries, for some sketching and browsing. They are full of marvellous objects, including these curious half human half something entirely other figurines dating from the Middle Bronze Age (2400-2000 BC)

Weary at last with my wanderings, it was time to come home, but not before visiting my favourite image in the downstairs display from Nineveh. This relief of a captive woman bending down to give her child water is such a tender moment amidst all the killing and pillaging. I pay her my respects every time I visit.

You can see more of Anni Albers' weaving here, on the website of the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation

Sunday, 13 January 2019

first "proper" weaving done

Se here are the three little mats I've just cut from the loom. They are all slightly different and by no means perfect, but I'm really happy with them. They all have a plain weave background with trees and snow in the "Branoe" or "Overshot" technique. The first, on the right just has a little row of white trees; the middle one uses a thicker, slightly crinkly yarn with a lovely sheen for the trees and snow, while the one on the left uses two strands of the same white that I used in the first one. All three have a dark blue warp; the first one uses a lighter blue for the weft, but the second two mix the lighter blue with the dark warp thread to try and suggest the darker sky. These two also have a border in a different technique using a pickup stick behind the heddle. 

I've learnt all sorts from these; how to carry more than one strand of yarn up the side (very untidily it must be said); that I needed to leave more warp between each mat to have a hope of creating a fringe (or grow mouse fingers); that I should have found out how to calculate the amount of warp you need before starting, rather than guestimating, hence there are only three rather than four; and what fun weaving is.

So now, instead of little fringes on each one I shall do my best to fold the fringe under and back each with some appropriate fabric, fused and then stitched on, which will be fun. Then on to my next learning project; the scarf of many colours. I'm really looking forward to seeing how these blend in the loom and to the more simple process of plain weave, but I may need to buy some more shuttles so that I have enough for each colour I'm using - I used bits of card for the shuttles on this as each used only a small amount of yarn. I'll also make sure to calculate the right amount of warp - which will involve maths; never my strong point!

So thank you to Kelly Casanova for her very fine tutorial, and for a very helpful post on good books to buy on her lovely blog. Did I need any more books in the house? Really? Of course I did, but I only bought two of her recommendations. I should confess, though, to a third book, very necessary as I and the good friend who sold me her loom are visiting London next week; first for this, and then, just for me as I'm staying in London overnight, this. So the catalogue on Ashurbanipal was a must, especially as I'm still musing and stitching on my Studio 11 theme of Mesopotamia. I will post on this when there's something worth seeing - honest! There's more musing than stitching happening at the moment.