Thursday, 25 November 2010

winter beach combing

Here are a few more pictures from last weekend's trip to Runswick Bay in North Yorkshire.

I did bring home with me the seaweed that I'd stitched into on the beach. The plastic wire-like thread that I used was attached by entanglement to a bundle at one end of the weed, the bit where the weed would be rooted onto a rock or something. This bundle was an incredible jumble of man-made fibres and natural material all mixed up. The red plastic thread was emerging from this mass and just crying out to be manipulated: first wound and tied and then stitched through the stalk of the weed. I thought it would be too tough to sew into but it worked beautifully as the weed was fresh and supple. Not so after a day or two sitting in my studio and I had to throw it away once I realised that there were living things (little maggoty things!) emerging from it.

I did various mark making experiments with sand and rocks and charred wood. The most successful was a rubbing made from a large piece of charred wood, using a rock to get good pressure.

I made a bundle with a piece of cottonmuslin I took with me, including sea weed an various other bits and pieces around me at the time. I've yet to undo it...

Monday, 22 November 2010

winter beach

A week without a computer has been both frustrating and refreshing. I'm slowly getting my head round a borrowed one but it is time that could be better spent elsewhere.

Last week was difficult. I felt stuck with both my projects and found tutorials presented more confusion than resollution. I find this is often the case - questions are raised or I'm challenged (don't get me wrong - this is absolutely what I'm at college for!) and at first I'm confused but given a day or two for things to sink in and for my little head to process things I can move forward again.

To help with that processing of thoughts: a windswept day by the sea on a beach with plenty of beach-combing potential (Runswick Bay, North Yorkshire
- listed as one of the top 10 beaches in the UK for beach combing); a birthday; a day with my lovely family, including calls from those that are a long way away (in this country and another hemisphere) and I'm ready for a new week.

A night spent in earshot of the rumbling waves turned to a grey, damp November day with the beach slowly revealed in colour. I doubted the top 10 status at first - there didn't seem to be much of interest littering the wide sand, but soon pockets of stranded items were revealed and a bag of collected bits grew heavy.

Excitement of mixed up materials: organic and synthetic fused; one mimicks the other; boundaries are blurred; synthetic constrains, invades and interferes.

Natural material reclaims, mingles.

Cold fingers manipulate, explore, collect.

The rumble of the waves stays in my ears long after leaving the coast.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

fishing for something

I'm trying to get hold of some biodegradable fishing line. There is a product called Bioline but it only seems to be available in America. Any thoughts on how I can get hold of some without paying postage from USA would be appreciated!

Saturday, 13 November 2010


This afternoon I visited Undone: Making and Unmaking in Contemporary Sculpture at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds. This exhibition was challenging, amusing and puzzling all at the same time.

Some of the work intrigued me and a couple of items were really quite beautiful. The two items that I found most interesting were by Jim Lambie, an artist I hadn't come across before.

Some of it I found very difficult to engage with. There are times when you're in a gallery and you feel you have to look at something in a serious 'gallery' kind of way, just because of the setting and these are items that in any other situation you wouldn't give a second glance to. There is something fairly surreal about trying to take seriously something that looks like a child has been having unbridled fun with a roll of selotape. It's all about pushing the boundaries, I suppose, and this really felt like some boundaries were being given a good pounding.

What I did love, though, was the way these objects were made from the simplest and commonest of everyday bits and pieces. There is a real magic to something that is made from a material so everyday that you couldn't imagine it could be given a new life as art and yet through someone's meticulous application and skill is made into something beautiful. I know an exhibition like this isn't all about beauty, but it certainly helps me to engage with a piece if I find it so.

I think this stuff will take a while to process but it certainly gave me some food for thought, especially in relation to my approach to the collected items I'm dealing with in my beach combing project.

time flies

Where did the last week go to? Time is just flying past - I must be having fun! I've really started to try to concentrate on materials this week (a pile of collected materials sitting on my studio desk above - desk looked like a bomb had hit it this week) and move on from the sketchbook work that I've so enjoyed. I need to focus things down.

I spent Monday reading for my dissertation - bits and pieces on creativity and trying to get my head round 'chapter 1'. Tuesday disappeared in a flurry of straining fruit that I'd left soaking and infusing for natural dye experiments... more on this another time. Wednesday I got stuck into more of the sketchbook stuff that I really need to tear myself away from in order to move into textile processes. On Thursday I got a bit lost, had a bit of a crisis of confidence in what I'm doing, couldn't quite see where things were going, had a challenging talk with Hannah (my tutor) - challenging because she was asking me questions I found difficult to answer but were absolutely necessary and I needed them to be asked. Once I'd got my head straight again I realised that I really do need to focus on textile sampling now and put the sketchbooks aside, even if I haven't worked through all the ideas I wanted to. There will always be thing to come back to...

Friday was a really quiet day in the studio. I did some fairly unsuccessful embossing in the printmaking department, but I think I know what the problem was! I then spent all afternoon sitting at my desk weaving. I have a few frames on the go at the moment. One has things that I started in Edinburgh in Fiona Hutchinson's workshop. I had started experimenting with mono-filament (fishing line) and have some ideas for trapping things within weave that need some more work. It was really useful to talk these ideas through with Fiona and get some technical pointers. The only trouble is that the mono-filament I was using is so fine and fiddly and it is hard to see what is going on, so I'm going to source some thicker stuff before I take those ideas any further.

I made three warps with bits from my beach-combing box. The first was from a piece of light green synthetic rope that I unravelled into the bunches of fibres that had been twisted together to make the rope. The bunches of fibre were used as they were to make a sturdy warp:

One bunch was divided up into the individual fibres and these made the next warp, less sturdy, a bit more delicate. Both of these tied on to the frame OK but kept some of their kinks from being tightly wrapped as a rope - they have personality! Not quite as much as the thick translucent plastic I used a couple of weeks ago, though. This stuff is more malleable. It's only in this detailed analysis through using and experimenting with each type of fibre or collected item that I can really get to know them. It feels quite scientific. Of course it isn't really but there is a methodical nature to the approach I'm taking with these gathered materials.

The third warp I made was with the plastic tapes that had been woven into a wider tape for some sort of use in securing packaging I guess.



to this.

These flat strips sit nicely together and weave together well but their flatness makes them knot un-evenly and they don't pack down to hide the warp like the previous fibre.

The first two warps were filled with weft of varying width and fibre, all from the box, by the end of the afternoon.

Studio listening: Britten string quartets, Kate Rusby, Julie Feeney.

Monday, 8 November 2010

weaving in edinburgh

I'm just back from a really good weekend in Edinburgh, spent largely in the studio of Fiona Hutchinson, Tapestry Weaver.

I was on one of Fiona's two day workshops, and I was there really to get a bit of technical help with ideas that I might use in my college work. I've done various experiments in tapestry weave and have spent quite a time in Sue Lawty's studio last year, seeing her working and helping with various things, but haven't actually done that much of it and certainly haven't had much instruction in technique. Tapestry isn't really included in the weave that is generally done at Bradford College. Although I've loved the floor loom weaving I have done at college and played with a little on my loom at home, it is the experimental possibilities of tapestry that really appeal to me. Although there is still a fair amount of preparation and thought that can go into tapestry weaving it does feel a bit more immediate than setting up a floor loom, which can take a whole day to prepare. I guess I'm just impatient! Of course if you're weaving on a big scale it can be a very slow process but there are so many possibilities using just a simple wooden frame.

Getting hold of a copy of Shiela Hicks' book Weaving as Metaphor (this book is unbelievably beautiful!) kind of sealed it for me. She weaves these small pieces on a simple frame with whatever materials are available to her - she has travelled extensively with this simple bit of kit and produced some really stunning, playful and subtle pieces. I turn the pages of this book and each image becomes a new favourite.

So, under Fiona's ever-attentive and patient tutelage I spent the first day of the workshop weaving a technical sample. It looks pretty straight forward stuff but there is a lot of detail involved in warping up properly, keeping your edges straight, starting and ending threads, blending colours and fibres, creating splits... I only just brushed the surface in a few hours but it did confirm some technical basics for me that were really useful.

On the second day I started to work with some of the ideas I'd had for my beach-combing project. I wanted to investigate ways of trapping items in the weave and also get the benefit of Fiona's experience over using different materials. We talked through my ideas and she had some really useful suggestions as well as a wonderful pile of books pulled from the shelf with examples of other people's work to look at.

Being surrounded by Fiona's beautiful work and her many samples was very inspiring and to be able to ask questions about their construction was so useful.

And apart from the learning there was a little time to see a bit of the city, which I love, and (despite the dismal rain for part of the time) never fails to be a vibrant and beautiful place to be. No romantic shots of the castle for me this time though as my mind was firmly on architectural detail that relates to my project.

Edinburgh listening: some rather unusual sound scapes


I managed to make some good progress last week on both of my college projects. The previous week (half term) had felt a bit barren on the getting-things-done front but actually was very useful in terms of thinking (as evidenced in my last few posts). So once I did get in the studio at college I had lots of things to be getting on with.

I sometimes find it difficult to photograph things well in the studio as the light isn't great, particularly at my desk - I'm a bit tucked away in a corner. This weave sample with some of my beach-combed material hasn't come out well but the colour is great and, although the stiff translucent stuff was a nightmare to set up as a warp, it has a lot of character to it because of the kinks that have stayed in it after I unravelled it from it's found state.

I've started to take some of my architectural experimentation more 3-dimensional

and into a larger scale.

studio listening: Aqualung & Fleet Foxes,

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

world beach again

I finally managed to get Joe's World Beach Project entry from the summer uploaded to the V&A website. I think the problems I'd had were down to me not re-sizing the photos correctly (oops) but I had a very helpful email from the webmaster there explaining what I needed to do. Anyway, its here now.

Monday, 1 November 2010


this book could seriously change your life

India Flint's beautiful book has been sitting on my bookshelf for a number of months. I bought it on the recommendation of various friends, knowing it was a must have, but hadn't found the time to look at it properly. . . Until I spent a morning with Hannah Lamb collecting items for dyeing using some of the methods that India describes. As a result I was prompted to actually pull the book off the shelf and start to read it properly. Apart from the fact that it is absolutely beautiful to look at it has just what I needed to get me going on some dyeing adventures.

I've been interested in natural dyeing for a long time and have dabbled with bits and pieces in the past, mostly with indigo. I have a couple of books already on the subject but somehow the scientific nature of them was quite daunting - alum, mordanting, specific temperatures... all a bit unapproachable somehow. So, although the idea of natural dyeing appealed the practicality meant I hadn't quite got round to it yet.

We have to get to grips with procion dyes at college - really exciting and useful - but I've always had this nagging discomfort with some of the processes because of the use of chemicals and the amount of water that is required. If I make ethical choices in certain parts of my life (the washing powder I use, the printer paper I buy and the vegetables I feed my family) then really I should be making my choices to do with work based on the same principles and ethics. But of course the practicalities so often get in the way.

On the final year of my degree we are required to write our own briefs and make more choices for ourselves. I had previously thought that I could investigate some of the changes I would like to make to my practice after I finish, but actually I've realised that now is the time to be making them.

Now I've started to digest India's processes and understand a little more about the methods (thanks to Hannah) I realise that a lot of it is actually very simple. India encourages an experimental approach (more Nigel Slater than Delia Smith!) so she makes all sorts of suggestions based on her extensive experience but really emphasises that on top of the basic principles so much is up to the individual and the different elements you put into the dyeing alongside the numerous variables to do with location and the time things are left to process.

So, hoping to be able to use natural dyes in my project work, I've started to experiment a little with what I have available to me. This is just the starting point but experiments have to start somewhere.

Leaves I collected at the Yorshire Sculpture Park last week were wrapped in silk, wool and cotton (pre-mordanted in tea and ash water)

and bundled up for steaming.

Nettles (collected at my parent's last week) were ripped up (with gloves on!) and left to soak in rainwater

as was chopped red cabbage

and grated beetroot

Tayberries, gooseberries, blackberries and damsons from the freezer were put into jars, topped up with rainwater and left to infuse.

They all look quite scrummy in their jars but we'll have to see if they produce scrummy colours in time.