Friday, 7 August 2020

Navigating through life's complications

In the previous blog on our Lockdown Life, I mentioned how the strangeness of the situation had led sometimes to a feeling of being 'stuck' creatively as well as literally, and how inspiration can come unexpectedly - but what do you do if you hit a creative block?

In her introductory Q & A session here on the blog, Vicki gave us a few clues to her approach with these words: 'Usually, when I'm in a creative fug or bored with what I'm working on, I'll find something else to do and experiment a bit'. Describing her style as 'haphazard, intuitive and organic', she said she was 'trying to navigate through life's complications', dipping into 'years worth of materials to make things'.

The following recent images show her further exploring process. With a love of the rhythm and repetition of stitch and the history around different techniques, she has been taking inspiration from traditional crafts and the rhythms that distract and comfort - but combining them with materials that render them impractical.

In my introduction, I didn't mention that the other word Vicki used to describe her style was 'lazy' and, looking at all this work, I have to politely disagree! I love all these explorations and I'm fascinated by the ideas behind them. I look forward to seeing how they develop over the coming weeks and months and will keep you all posted ...

"Creative people are curious, flexible, persistent and independent with a tremendous spirit of adventure and a love of play"
Henri Matisse


Sunday, 19 July 2020

Lockdown Life

These have been strange and paradoxical times: what began with turbulent change that turned my world upside down has now evolved into a strange feeling that every day is somehow the same and nothing ever changes. We are shielding and my life of singing, performing, exhibiting and textile art group meetings looks like it won't be returning to normal for the foreseeable future.

At Traverse, we have been keeping in touch with Zoom meetings, sharing our works in progress and wondering when we will be able to meet again. We have had confirmation that the Quilt and Stitch Village in Uttoxeter, who had re-scheduled for September, have now cancelled for 2020 altogether and the show will now be on April 16th - 18th, 2021. We have also heard on the grapevine just recently that the West Country Quilt & Textile Show in August has now been cancelled, although we still have no official confirmation of any new dates.  We are awaiting news from Leicester's Big Textile Show in October but although lockdown is easing in general, it remains very unclear when it will be safe for such shows to re-open and we have assumed that it is unlikely.

However, we've continued our creative life in Lockdown in various ways, as would be expected as our diversity as a group is something we value as a strength. At times, the strangeness of the situation has led to a lack of creativity and a feeling of being 'stuck', creatively as well as literally. Then suddenly, a burst of energy or inspiration can come 'out of the blue' and lead you off down different paths to pastures new.

After putting the finishing touches to her stunning needle-felted 'Eye' ...

... Dia was led down a very different path by her granddaughter, who put in a special request early on for 'Luna Lapin' - who obviously needed a custom made, upholstered chair ...


... and some clothes!

Final touch, for when the weather changed, was a rather fabulous pink coat and scarf!

On the subject of making clothes, any of you who have read personal statements on our individual pages will have seen Deb describe herself as 'Dressmaker by day and Textile Artist by night'. Indeed, she has spent many months of hard work building up a business, DebDay Sewing Room, sharing her considerable sewing and dressmaking skills by running classes for enthusiastic beginners, looking to gain knowledge and confidence in using a sewing machine. Lockdown inevitably had a serious effect on that and all workshops had to cease, so Deb was forced to take a different path, very much led by the pandemic and the effect it has had on our lives ... beginning with making face covers.

She has lost count of how many she has made, using a huge variety of beautiful, patterned fabrics ...

... and together with Vicki, she has been giving up her time and putting her dressmaking skills to excellent use by making scrubs for the local Scrub Hub, a voluntary community group, making scrubs to order for NHS staff.

Deb's personal statement also refers to her particular interest in using Textile Art to make 'unwearable' dresses, which have been a popular feature of all our exhibitions so far, leading to many comments along the lines of 'I'd love to wear that!' Her latest beautiful creation is continuing to take  shape in the studio and I can't wait to see it finished.

Deb's also found time to add some more to this gorgeous piece of hand-dyed fabric with embroidered silk embellishments ...

... but she did make us all laugh by rotating it and saying 'I made Roz from Monsters, Inc!!' 😂

Alongside her volunteering making scrubs and helping Deb with the masks, Vicki has continued with this powerful mixed media work, investigating process as part of grief and self.

For my part, I returned to holiday memories of visiting Fondation Vasarely in Aix-en-Provence and also went back down an old path - weaving with metal, which I'd not done for years. Inspired by Vasarely, I particularly wanted to attempt weaving an optical illusion for our Senses theme and remembering one particular night on the same holiday, when the moon rose spectacularly over the hills, I decided to weave the moon, using stainless steel fabric, which I'd coloured with heat, paint and angelina.

I was then further inspired by the sun to weave a companion piece out of copper fabric and shim, embossed and also coloured with heat.

Changing direction completely, I took up Dionne Swift's challenge to make a log cabin square for a virtual quilt, which she organised in collaboration with Janice Gunner and The African Fabric Shop and is hoping to display in some way at next year's Festival of Quilts. I enjoyed using up some of my stash in a different colour palette and getting back to my machine again!

Continuing to explore the possibilities of using fabric rather than my usual wool, felt, needle-felting techniques, I happened to see that Isobel Moore was looking for people to do a trial run of an online course, called 'Swirls of Colour' and was lucky enough to get a place. I'm really enjoying the challenge of using different techniques and the course is very well executed with lots of online support. I continued with my self-imposed challenge of trying to use more yellows and greens and so far have managed to avoid spirals, which was a little extra one I set myself! This is a work in progress shot ...

... and I'm working on adding a lot more hand and machine embroidery.

So, after that little peep into what we have been up to in Lockdown, I'll finish with the happy news that, as of 17th July, Deb has been able to re-open her Sewing Room and, as it's a very large studio in The Old Print Works,  she can continue her classes in a safe, socially distanced way, including a new one on Creative Embroidery.

It will be some time yet before Traverse can fully return to normal but I'm taking heart from this and seeing it as a sign that change will come - it may take a little longer for some of us but it will come.

'This too shall pass'


Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Did I say 'Winds of Change'?

My previous blog referred to winds of change blowing around Traverse and we really had no idea of what was coming or how far those winds would spread! Along with so many people all around the world, our day-to-day lives have changed dramatically - and we are still not sure of the true implications for Traverse's activities. So far, we have only had one show affected - the Quilt & Stitch Village, 17th - 19th April, at Uttoxeter Racecourse has been re-scheduled for 18th - 20th September, in the first instance. We don't know what is happening for the rest of our planned shows and we will wait to hear from them. As I write this, lockdown is slowly being loosened but there are still big questions regarding many aspects of 'normal' life.

I am just grateful not to have lost anyone to the pandemic and have tried to accept the changes with good grace - a life full of virtual choirs, gardening in the sun and possibly a bit too much baking, alongside my creative activities. I've been meaning to write about a piece I actually finished just before everything changed and have decided now is the time! It was conceived as part of our work on the theme of 'Senses', where I have focused on how sight and sound contribute to a sense of place.

Some of you may remember this:

Round and Round the Garden

It was inspired by the gardens of  the South of France, and in particular one in Menton, where we spent a glorious afternoon exploring. We particularly wanted to see the waterlilies and seemed to go round and round through all the other areas, spiralling in towards the pool - the jewel in the centre.

I actually began work on it last October at a workshop with Alysn Midgelow-Marsden but I had prepared the fabric beforehand - kunin felt, transfer printed with a heat press. The design was another link back to the art of Southern France - a homage to Matisse's collage, 'The Snail'. I transfer-painted  computer printer paper in a random way, remembering to note the colour as it always amazes me how they change when heated. The torn painted papers were arranged in a spiral and printed with the heat press, in several different layers, filling in the gaps with consecutive prints.


I intended to use my embellisher at the workshop to add loads of texture and also metal, wire and beads - but I came up against a problem with the embellisher. Although it has 12 needles, it proved very difficult to use on my prepared surface. I've successfully embellished kunin felt many times before so it seemed to be something to do with the heat process - the surface seemed to have melted slightly. I was a bit thrown by this but with perseverance, I found I could use a hand needle felting tool to add some yarn, wool and silk fibres.

Alysn showed us how to use shrink plastic to achieve some interesting effects and I decided to use one sample as the centre of my spiral, adding a little hand stitching and beads. I also found french knots very useful to anchor down some of my scrim and fibres that were rather precariously needle felted in,


In a classic example of 'design through process', my ideas changed significantly as I slowly worked my way outwards. I decided to keep much of the printed felt visible, rather than cover it up with texture as I'd originally planned. I decided against any more beads and wire, using only a few crescent shapes cut from metal coffee pods to give a different texture. I had a circle canvas, which I needed to use for my planned concept, so I outlined the exact size in a variegated running stitch before following the spiral and outlining some of the printed shapes with free motion stitch.

I wrapped the circular canvas and then added more running stitch through the canvas in selected shapes, which served to anchor the work securely. See wrapped canvas and close up of stitch details below (apologies for slightly out of focus image on the left).


When I posted this on social media, I said that it was still not finished and some people wondered where I would take it from here ... and now I'll show you what happened next. My plan all along was to make an ocean drum - it seemed like the perfect evocation of beach walks, with the sound of the ocean and also the amazing shades of turquoise in the sea. One side would be a walk round the garden and the reverse would be a walk by the sea.

During the second half of Alysn's workshop, I began preparing how to show those colours and the translucence of the water.  I made my own printing blocks based on a drawing of the shapes of the ripples in some of my photos of the sea on my holiday and then printed papers and also various stainless steel and copper fabrics with a variety of shades of blue and turquoise. Using soluble plastic film for stability, I cut some of the fabric and began stitching it together in wavy lines.

Back at home, after finishing the garden side, I used the printed paper to line the central well of the canvas, conveniently hiding the running stitches I'd used to anchor the felt and also giving a wonderful splash (!) of colour, especially after a few coats of acrylic wax.

After trialling the metal fabric to see how translucent it was, I decided to change the  scrunched line of copper (towards top of left hand picture) to make it easier to see through to the painted paper beneath.


 It was very difficult to photograph but this close up gives you some idea.

Feeling very pleased with the effect, I explored different sized beads to see which would roll easily and make the best sound. Trials in the open well of the canvas produced many spills and some interesting patterns on the kitchen floor as they bounced out and around! Then I stapled the metal fabric into place and turned my mind to how to hide the staples. I decided to make an embellished border, using yarns and stitch on bright turquoise felt.

I used double-sided extra strong carpet tape to stick it into position and slip stitched it invisibly to the kunin felt covering the edge of the canvas.

Finished at last ...

La Mer

... and it worked!

(Sound doesn't carry brilliantly in this but you should get some idea.)

Well, I've made up for the lack of blog posts recently by writing a mammoth one!

Hope you all stay safe and well,