Threads of identity 1 – standing back from the work

Threads of Identity 1

Threads of Identity 1, Ann Rippin (2011)

It is a really beautiful day in Bristol.  The sun is shining and the sky is blue.  A perfect early spring day.  The Christmas roses in the garden are starting to come out.  I mention this because one of the things I like to do (and I have simple pleasures) is to take my work into my dining room and photograph it in close up on the very rare occasions when we have strong sunlight.  The way the sunlight hits the stitching and forms deep shadows gives me great pleasure, and I think we should take pleasure in our work.  Here’s an example:

Close-up of Threads of Identity 1, detail in strong sunlight

Close-up of Threads of Identity 1, detail in strong sunlight

I think it brings out the texture in the work which sometimes gets lost behind glass.  I frame work behind glass as often as I can because I think it is hard to get textiles taken seriously and putting them in a frame and glazing them helps to make them more serious.   Here’s another strong sunlight piece:

Threads of Identity 1 - strong sunlight close-up

Threads of Identity 1 - strong sunlight close-up

A couple of years ago I bought a camera which is very unprepossessing and tends to raise a bit of a snigger when it comes out of my bag.  The reason I bought it is that it is very good for an amateur photographer like me to take close-ups.  I can hover three inches (6cm?) over the surface of the piece and it will still be in focus.  The first time I did this I fell totally in love.  It is like looking down a microscope and seeing a different world.  I literally saw my work differently.  I saw a wealth of detail, particularly in the machine stitching which I had no idea was there.  It was like scales falling from my eyes.  It reminds me of a great story I heard the playwright, Tom Stoppard tell on a talk show years ago.  When people gave him their interpretations of his plays he had to say that he was a like a man going through customs and being stopped.  On taking off his jacket (this was before increased security at airports, of course), he discovered he had an armful of contraband wristwatches.  He couldn’t deny they were there, but he didn’t remember ever putting them on.  I feel the same way when people tell me what my quilts are about for them.  I can’t and wouldn’t argue, but I don’t remember putting that stuff in.  It’s the same with the close-ups – I can’t deny that the stuff is there, but don’t remember consciously inserting it.

Changing tack slightly, probably my greatest intellectual crush of all time is Walter Benjamin.  One of the forerunners of critical theory, Jewish intellectual, German, he was hounded to his death by the Nazi regime.  Although I don’t understand all of his work, the stuff I get, I really get, and I think he was an absolute genius.  He completely understood how mechanical means of reproducing works of art was going to change the way we understand them, interact with them, and use them.  He looked at the camera lens and he understood what it meant and how it would change the human condition by changing how we, in the occularcentric (to use the trendy jargon) world see, perceive, use our senses.  He said that the artist, looking at a close-up of their work would have a completely different relationship with it.  Now, I do not consider myself to be up there with the great artists he was concerned with, but I do think I make art, and I think that my relationship with that art has changed totally since I started seeing it in minute detail.  There is a kind of loveliness at that level which I have no real responsibility for, but which I really enjoy.

Body Shop Quilt panel - close-up on the dining room table.

Body Shop Quilt panel - close-up on the dining room table. The pearl beads turn into scultpure.

(For those interested, Benjamin’s 1936 essay in which he discusses these ideas is ‘Art in the Age of Mechanical (Re)production’, and is widely available, including as a slim volume with his essay on Kafka, which is the best thing I have ever read on bureaucracy.  In the Penguin Great Ideas series.  There is a particularly good website devoted to the study of his work at http://www.wbenjamin.org/walterbenjamin.html

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin, 1892-1940

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Threads of Identity 1 – the half-way stage?

Halfway(?) through Threads of Identity 1

Halfway(?) through Threads of Identity 1

Having done what I call the construction sewing on this – putting down the foundations and making sure the whole thing sticks together – I can move into the more interesting decorative phase.   This piece is turning into a bit of a delight for me because it is going together easily and it is allowing me to enjoy really beautiful textiles.  So, there is some more of the lovely linen on the left, and on the right some of the exquisite silk from Margo Selby.  These textiles are so beautiful they don’t really need much doing to them.  The big tassel in the centre is made from a lovely double-sided silk furnishing fabric, and was supplied, as was the piece of old lace at the bottom by my mother.  Once I have finished attaching these elements, the fun can really start with the embellishments, which I think will start to let a narrative emerge.

Threads of Identity 1 lace detail

Threads of Identity 1 lace detail

I think this will be an interesting example of letting the piece speak to me and tell me its own story.

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Is less more? Or is more more?

Threads of Identity project detail

Threads of Identity project detail

 

I went to Bristol Quilters last night, which is the biggest group I belong to with about 100 members.  Although there are far too many of us to stitch, we do have a great show and tell where we share our work. and we can afford to have really wonderful speakers.  Last night’s was Karina Thompson who makes gorgeous, tactile, sophisticated slashed textiles.  I have put a link to her website on the blogroll but for the record it’s www.karinathompson.co.uk.  It was interesting to hear her talk about her work as she is definitely a textile artist rather than an arty quilter, and she spoke the language of a practising artist.  I really like the fact that Bristol Quilters has speakers who are very traditional quilters one month and textile artists the next.  I think it keeps us fresh.  My good friends Becky and Alison who have featured in this blog before went to her workshop and said she was a great teacher as well.  I loved her idea of controlled fraying for when she brushes her textiles into a chenille-type quality.  It was also interesting to hear her talk about her fascination with the doing the least possible to suggest an image.  Some of her work is minimalist; only the barest evocation of a landscape.  This is in total contrast to my own.  I am interested in sumptuous, encrusted, glittering surfaces.  In my imaginary museum of quilts it would be interesting to hang her’s next to mine!  Anyway, treat yourself and have a look at her website.

This morning I indulged in one of my guilty pleasures which is to listen to Melvin Bragg’s Start The Week on BBC Radio 4 while doing some stitching.  I know I should be hard at some administrative task, but it puts me in a good mood for the day to listen to STW and that must benefit any students whose work I am marking.  Today was on the Battle of Bannockburn which is entirely irrelevant.  Last week’s was on Aristotle’s Poetics and I spent the whole 45 minutes taking notes.  So it evens out.

To get to the point, the picture at the top of this post is of the start of my Laura Ashley project inspired by my trip to the Foundling Museum.  I thought it might be interesting to document the progress of the piece – which is very small – only about 14 inches square.  I intend each piece to start the same size and to develop out of a sample of Laura Ashley fabric.  I am not planning much but am responding to the sample, but I would like stories to emerge out of the juxtaposition of cloth.  I started with what turned out to be a fairly fine synthetic fabric which looks like unbleached cotton lawn, which I will use as the foundation for all the pieces.  The wadding is bamboo, which I quite like because it is very low loft.  For once I have started with the frames.  I usually make the pieces and then have to have them expensively framed.  This time, I thought I would be a bit cleverer and get the frames and make the pieces to fit.  Fine, but box frames are like rocking horse poo – extremely hard to find.  In the end I went to good old IKEA and bought five large square frames.  I thought the black edges might be appropriate to the memorialising aspect of the quilts.

On Sunday afternoon I made the basic sandwich and chose potential elements for the piece.  I started with a scrap of Laura Ashley fabric as each piece will have one sample, and off I went.

Initial stages of Threads of Identity 1, February 2011

Initial stages of Threads of Identity 1, February 2011

These are both linen fabrics.  The one on the left is one from a pile of samples my mother gave me ages ago from some of the last cloth produced by Rose and Hubble, a British company which is no longer in business.  The one on the right is from a bag of off-cuts of exquisitely beautiful linen I bought from The Linen Shop when I went to Art in Action at Waterperry about three years ago.  The Linen Shop sells seriously gorgeous linen with a lovely sheen and very subtle colours.  Even though the off-cuts were fairly cheap they are far too beautiful to cut into, and I had to give myself the ‘Do you want to die with this fabric in its pristine shape until the perfect project worthy of them presents itself, or do you want to enjoy them while you still have your faculties?’ talk.  I saw sense.  The Linen Shop’s website is http://www.thelinenshop.biz.  Again, treat yourself.

That’s probably enough for today.  But I will track the progress on this piece which is coming together surprisingly quickly in subsequent posts.