Thursday, 28 February 2013

Conversations with Greens

I missed you all last week as I was catching up on the day job, having spent the previous weekend delighting in fantastically colourful conversations with many arty ladies at Textiles in Focus. What a show! Opening on Friday and finishing Sunday late afternoon, it was wall-to-wall colour, both from other exhibitors and displays of groups’ work to the visitors themselves. I’ve never seen so many amazing hand-made nunno felt jackets, woven shawls, felted bags, art embroidery and clothing of all kinds. I was even shown how a humble piece of brown wrapping paper could be turned into an absolute work of art by distressing it and applying different surface treatments like metallic paints. Incredible.

Attracting much more attention than me and my Country Spinner was my peg loom, a very kind birthday present from life-long friend Frances, on which I’d started to try my yarn in rug form. Many ladies stopped to ask, to share memories from childhood, to watch or have a go themselves at the easy weaving. Being thick yarn the rug grew very quickly! I’d taken my skein ‘Among the Aspens’ out of circulation as I was itching to try it on the peg loom during the show. I also decided to spin a skein with a different green-selection colourway during the show to demonstrate the Country Spinner, as not many people have seen these big wheels. It must be spring coming in - the array of greens seemed magnetic to visitors. The emerging rug and my working baskets of fibre, ranging from minty greens to mustard colours, enticed many ladies to stop, feel the fluff, and talk.  

I’m no artist: I just love plants. And as every artist and gardener knows, there are very few greens and yellows that don’t sit neatly together in some kind of order. You’ve only got to look at the early spring sunshine coming through the backs of evergreen plants’ leaves to see a world of variety in one entity. Interestingly the greens drew much more interest that the blacks, bronze, whites and creams of the zebra-style material I was spinning on the first day of the show. The greens even attracted an interview with Just Hands On TV  - not something I’m used to. As a PR person in the day job I’m usually crew-side of a TV camera, not in front of one! I gather when the videos are uploaded from Textiles in Focus I’ll be sent a link, which - if I’m not too shy! - I’ll share here.   

Most of all at the show I enjoyed the company of very many interesting, intellectual, colourful women, and exchanging wildly enthusiastic conversations from the production of madder in Zeeland to ways of mapping out and creating circular rungs on the peg loom. Sharing their insights, looking at their work, and sharing a common passion for colour and creativity was an experience second to none. Here’s wishing you a week of creatively profitable conversations, and a sharing of goodwill with all those around you.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Glass Ceilings and Just Deserts

No-one could accuse women in architecture of being shrinking violets, yet apparently they are still not getting their just deserts, according to Architects’ Journal.  All this metaphorical talk of ‘glass ceilings’ and fair and due rewards was swimming around in my brain last weekend, while under my own physical glass ceiling in the greenhouse.  Cleaning is supposed to be cathartic, but such items in the media only serve to make my greenhouse cleaning more vigorous, to think this inequality still exists and in a supposedly enlightened profession like architecture.  

I suppose when you think back, though, it’s not that long (in terms of geological time!)  since my grandmother’s generation of women were first deemed sufficiently intelligent and discerning to vote.  Are we asking too much to expect pay equality inside three generations? Personally I don’t think so, but  perhaps our craft sector is one in which artistic merit and skill reap rewards more equitably for both men and women.  All that vigorous cleaning, prior to planting this year’s vegetable seeds, reaped rewards for me too:  a few fleeces were found hiding under the workbench – the last available place for storage! 

These were the more time-consuming fleeces to process, such as a beautiful but tangled Leicester LongWool.  The best of last summer’s fleeces, from the Farm Animal Sanctuary, are already washed, some are dyed, and are waiting for use.  They will have to wait a few more days though, until after Textiles in Focus, which opens in Cottenham, nr Cambridge tomorrow.  Three of us from our local spinning group are exhibiting, myself, Clare of Boo’s Attic and Lesley of FibreTastic, with her amazing wool necklaces. 

Producing craft products on a small, part-time scale, will never allow us to gain the bulk discounts from suppliers that would gain us anything other than diminutive just deserts for the effort involved, especially in a still-recessionary market.   But then perhaps we do if for more than just fiscal reward.  The extreme detail and technical skill that goes into some of the works of textile art on the FibreFusion stand opposite mine at the show would put top couturiers  to shame.  Yet they’re not after millions or board directorships, they’re primarily after satisfying their creative instincts.  Here’s wishing you a week of fulfilling your own creative instincts, and if you’re coming to Textiles in Focus, do come and say hello. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

My Kingdom for a Rug

It’s funny how you get an idea of what a fictional detective might look like as you either read or listen to investigative stories.  I’m currently listening to C J Sansom’s ‘Sovereign’, featuring the very human character, Tudor period lawyer Matthew Shardlake. It's  a very well-woven story with so many threads appearing yet joining seamlessly together.  My ‘mind’s eye’ picture of Shardlake came unwittingly alive this week when just the type of face I’d imagined burst onto our TV screens as the facial reconstruction of real king Plantagenet Richardthe Third, re-discovered under a Leicestershire car park. 
How do our mental pictures of people and things gather their momentum?  You can understand that a lifetime of visiting art galleries, museums and country houses, of viewing historic portraits and being taught about past lives and times would colour our imagination.   Yet you still have a mental picture of how you want something to look when you start making, whether you’re working to a knitting pattern or making it up as you go on loom.  You’ve very little for your mind’s eye to go on, but there’s still a picture in there waiting to come to life under your hands.  I was a little doubtful that my colour and texture combo for a peg-loom rug recently would work but luckily using each colour in very small amounts brought together by the figuring in the fluffy blue seems to make it all hang together nicely.     

It’s the second peg-loom rug I’ve made (I tried a small tester one earlier in the summer), but I’ve got plans for a larger project using one of my mega yarns. I want to try doing a circle – no idea how to achieve that but maybe it’s about starting small with a full stop and increasing gradually.  At least I know that in colour terms, whatever I do will be quite tame compared to the amazingly inspired creators in the Foundation Rugs’ video of their ‘Rug Addicts’ exhibition!  
My rug weaving won’t have a definite top and bottom either, like the hand-knotted beauties in the V&A’s collection (illuminated in detail by Curator Jennifer Weardon’s videos).   I’m always impressed by the phenomenal attention to detail in Middle Eastern hand-woven rugs, like those due to be displayed at the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair in April.  I'm also overwhelmed by the amount of skill and effort it takes to make them.  Though Brian Murphy’s book ‘The Root of Wild Madder’ was written some time ago now, one still wonders whether today’s hand-weavers are really getting just rewards for their artistry. The complexity of their patterns and their cultural significance have engaged many brains across the centuries, including apparently Sigmund Freud, who had quite a collection of Oriental rugs. 

My little bit of weaving though will be much less complex: my patterns will already be set by the colour of the yarns I’ve made.  If I get warped up in time I’ll take my peg loom to Textiles in Focus, so come along and see how I’m doing if you can.  I’d appreciate any constructive comments or ideas on how to make a circle. King Richard the Third may have pledged his kingdom for a horse in battle:  I’ll just settle for a mega-yarn rug that approximates something round, and won’t be too much of a battle in holding its shape!  Here’s wishing you a fruitfully creative week, guided by the foresight of your mind’s eye.