Monday, 30 November 2015

Family outing to the Hepworth, Wakefield

Barbara Hepworth
As the kids had a few days off school so the teachers could be trained, we headed south for the weekend to visit family.  This, amazingly, fitted in well with some great exhibitions, and for once, it was a coincidence rather than careful scheming on my part.
Cool Moon by Barbara Hepworth
I’ll be writing more about the Bowes Museum and the Pauline Burbidge exhibition later, which were both fab.  They were our first stop on Saturday morning.  After lunch, the youngest and I had a lovely afternoon at the Knitting & Stitching Show in Harrogate.  She enjoyed the exhibitions and shopped with great determination, given a very limited budget!  And yes, I bought some bits too.
Barbara Hepworth.  My photo doesn't do justice to the beautiful, intense blue colour
Sunday, we had an entire family outing to the Hepworth, in Wakefield. We all really enjoyed it from the oldest to the youngest as well as us in-between.  The building was amazing and had lovely vistas out over the seriously fast flowing river – we were glad to be inside as the weather outside was foul! 
View from the Hepworth
The Gallery has a mixture of Barbara Hepworth sculpture and contemporary art.  It also gives an insight into Hepworth’s working methods, including her tools, some technical drawings and lots of maquettes.  There were some drawers which displayed some of her personal inspirations and I was thrilled to discover a Cycladic figure amongst them – can’t go anywhere without seeing them! 
Barbara Hepworth's Cycladic figure
The cafe was rather good and there was a fantastic, free family activity pack.  If you are there without kids, I suggest you pretend you have some with you as it was a well thought-out guide to looking at and interpreting the work in a personal manner.
Hepworth - the building framed some of the work beautifully
As you can guess, I found it all very inspiring.  It was worth the hideous drive back through torrential rain and driving snow.  I was desperate to do some sketching, but my sketchbook (and camera) got stolen by the younger members of our group as they were either inspired or bored and looking to entertain themselves while the adults enjoyed the art.  These are the sketches by the oldest, who is 13 

and the youngest who is 8.  

The middle one spent his time photographing, especially making panoramas.  This was his favourite - he liked the dark and light in it.

Our next family outing to museums will be an exciting trip to London.  Any recommendations for family friendly museums?

Barbara Hepworth - Olympus

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

How to: Gelli Plate Printing

Some of today's prints drying, with added slipper on bottom left!
One of my favourite techniques at the moment is gelli-plate printing.  I’ve been teaching it a lot recently and whenever I have a spare hour, it is definitely my preferred way of experimenting creatively. 
Applying paint with foam stamper
A gelli plate is a soft surface to monoprint on.  You can make your own using gelatine, but I prefer to use one made from some kind of silicone made by Gelli Arts.  It’s disadvantage is that you don’t control the size, but it doesn’t go off, can be reused endlessly and doesn’t need to be kept in the fridge.  Also it is vegetarian.  Are you sold yet?  They are not cheap, but I think having to keep buying packets of gelatine and other stuff to make one would end up more expensive in the long run.
Gelli plate ready to print, with paint and leaves on it
I really enjoy developing work using the gelli plate, using ‘what if’ principles.  Generally, the first couple of prints are poor in a session, then I get into it and change the paint colours or the objects I’m mark making with.  So far, my favourites are stencils, the plastic netting from orange bags, foam stampers and empty tape rolls.  Oh and of course, leaves.  You get fabulous prints from leaves.
First print on left and how the gelli plate looks after it on the right
Today I spent an hour playing with a foam stamper, five colours of paint and two sprigs of bamboo. 
Second print on left and how the gelli plate looks after it on the right
I mainly printed on hand dyed fabric and got lovely effects on scrim and woollen felt.  I wasn’t as convinced by the silk habutai, but I think it was partly due to the background colour rather than the fabric.  Of course, you get wonderful effects on cotton, which is what I usually use.
Printing from the inked up leaves
Generally, the second print is better than the first as it is more delicate.  I also was getting a third print from the bamboo leaves themselves, which were gorgeous.
Printing on scrim
Gelli plate printing also works really well on paper and on Friday 4 December, I have a one day workshop on gelli plate printing and making artists books.  
There is just one space left if you are interested.  The theme is up to you, but it could be a special way of making unique Christmas cards.
Printing on felt

Now I’ve just got to find time to make something with these fabric bamboo prints!

Unsuccessful printing on silk habutai

Monday, 16 November 2015

Inspiration: Eye on Elegance at the DAR Museum

Eye on Elegance Exhibition
Eye on Elegance was an exhibition of antique quilts at the DAR Museum in Washington DC, USA, this summer.  I wish I had been lucky enough to visit as was my friend, Louise Carr.  However, I got second best as she kindly gave me a copy of the catalogue.  As well as the catalogue and physical show, the DAR Museum has also mounted a big and informative online exhibition of these quilts, which is well worth a look.  You can access it here - .
Pieced and Stuffed Medallion Quilt about 1810 and 1820s
For anyone interested in historical quilts, it is a must.  For others though, there is lots of interesting titbits to be gleaned.  As well as the quilts, which are organised by type (Appliqué, Pieced, Album, Migration and Wholecloth), there is historical information about the makers and the designs and fabrics used.  A few facts that caught my attention:
·         The quality of the stitching is stunning.  Some of these quilts have up to 12-13 stitches per inch.  Reading this made me flick through the catalogue to look at the different standards – even the ‘worst’ has 6-7 stitches per inch. I think I would struggle to draw 12-13 stitches per inch, let alone stitch them!
Reverse Applique Flower Basket Quilt 1849
·         These are not ‘make-do-and-mend’ quilts.  Some of the fabric cost more per metre than a farm hand would earn in a week.  I would be terrified to use such expensive fabric now in case I got it wrong.  Unsurprisingly, many quilters followed patterns and sometimes it seems you could buy a kit ready basted ready for you to stitch down the appliqué and then quilt.  This would still be very time consuming.
·         The curator makes the point that even when there is one named quilter (and there is much information on their individual lives, which is fascinating), often any woman who could stitch to a high standard living in that household would be commandeered into helping – including servants and slaves.  I admit knowing this changed how I looked at some of the quilts.  We have this lovely cosy view of a sole maker inviting her friends to a quilting bee to finish off her masterpiece, but how much does this actually reflect reality?  Did these woman see stitching as a break from their normal routines, or resent being made to do it?

Although these quilts are over 150 years old, it is surprising how relevant they are to today.  
Tree of Life and Birds quilt 1810s
For example, I was teaching Broderie Perse to my City & Guilds Certificate Group yesterday – it is part of the syllabus.  No, none of them were using pieces of chintz that cost over £200 a metre, but it is the same process.  And the other month with the Diploma Group, we were looking at borders and their proportions, just like the medallion quilts in this exhibition, which were very popular at that time.  
Mathematical Star Quilt 1830s
And I love the star design, and was already thinking of making one using paper piecing, even before I saw this book.  Actually, I’m trying to dissuade myself due to lack of time and to concentrate on my 4-years-and-counting hexagon paper pieced quilt, which is still going to need another 3 years!

If you have the opportunity, I would thoroughly recommend reading the book - the photos are stunning and there are lots of detailed shots -  and having a flick through the online exhibition.  And fingers crossed that one day I can get to see some of these quilts in person.

All images used with kind permission from the DAR Museum.

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Mhairi Matheson's amazing miniature quilts

Miniature by Mhairi Matheson.  I think this was my favourite one
As part of the C&G Diploma course, the students have to make a proper miniature quilt.  This is not my area of expertise and I was delighted that Mhairi Matheson was able to visit and share some of her miniature with us at the weekend. 
Miniature(detail) by Mhairi Matheson
Mhairi loves making miniature quilts and has made over sixty.  This is no mean feat, given that it is often said that a miniature quilt takes the same amount of time to make as the equivalent full sized one.  She has made miniatures in many different styles, including foundation pieced, traditional block patchwork, appliqué and even contemporary styled quilts.  Her skill in all of these is impressive.  I can struggle to make my points match on a 12in block – she can manage to do so perfectly on a 1in one!
Group of miniatures by Mhairi Matheson
Miniature quilts for competition purposes (and Mhairi has won a fair few) have strict guidelines and it was interesting to have some of them explained.  I knew that a miniature had to look like a full sized quilt if photographed – with no sense of scale you should not be able to tell that it is tiny.  Mhairi’s quilts meet this criteria as one of the students had shown me a photo of this quilt taken at the Festival of Quilts and I hadn’t realised it was a miniature at all to start with.  However, to get this correct sense of scale, everything tends to be made on a 1/12th scale ie a full sized 12in quilt block should be made as a 1in block.  So a 2in quilt block would not be generally be considered a miniature as you don’t tend to get 24in full sized quilt blocks. 
Miniature by Mhairi Matheson

Miniature (detail) by Mhairi Matheson, showing the foiling on the trees

Mhairi’s enthusiasm was contagious and even the mini-sceptics amongst us were (almost!) converted after seeing all of her wonderful work.  Can't wait ti see what the students now make.  
Miniature by Mhairi Matheson
Remember when looking at these photos that none of these quilts is bigger than 12in (30cm) square and that any wonky angles are due to my photography rather than Mhairi's making.

Miniature by Mhairi Matheson

Miniature by Mhairi Matheson

Miniature (detail) by Mhairi Matheson

Monday, 2 November 2015

Starting at the beginning - my next piece

Ink wash drawing of a teasel
A few months ago I was invited to join the exhibiting group, Turning Point.  I was very flattered as I love seeing their work in various locations, such as the Smith in Stirling.  Of course, I accepted, especially as it adds a new challenge for me – making work to a theme and size set by another.  The first piece I need to make is to be inspired by a saying.  


We had lots of family fun coming up with inappropriate sayings, but finally I settled on the William Morris quote:

Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful

Another flower

I’ve been taking lots of photos of nature recently and I thought this could tie in nicely with a quilt inspired by nature.  This also conveniently links in with the nature course I am running over this year.  So far, I have taken lots of photos, 

Lovely flowers from one of the students, Chrystine

looked at lots of Morris wallpaper on Pinterest
My pinterest board

made lots of sketches 
Blind drawing of leaves
and dyed and printed fabric green.

Breakdown printed fabric
Initially I was thinking of something directly Morris inspired, but I’m not convinced that this suits me as all my drawings keep going looser and looser. 
I didn’t think it would be a photo realistic quilt either, and that has been confirmed as I’ve gone along – my drawings started from the flowers and have become more imaginary and I use the shapes which appealed the most. 

One of the more recent drawings

So now I’ve done my research and I have a reasonable idea in my head as to how it is going to look.  Having dyed lots of fabric for the background – it was always going to be green! – I just need to get started on the sampling.  
Some of the green fabric dyeing - this shade will not be the dominant colour!
I always tell my students to sample as you will end up with a more interesting work, having worked through any issues in advance, but sometimes I still rush in...  This time I’m going to be good!

I love the dew on the cobwebs in Autumn

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