Saturday 4 May 2024

Unravel - The Power & Politics of Textiles in Art at Barbican, London

Sarah Zapata - To Teach or To Assume Authority
Ancestral Threads

The Unravel exhibition presents artists from the 1960s to the present, who use textiles, fibre and thread to tell stories of resilience, rebellion, emancipation and hope.  It is divided thematically into 6 sections: Subversive Stitching, Fabric of Everyday Life, Borderlands, Bearing Witness, Wound and Repair, and Ancestral Threads.  

Please be aware that some works in this exhibition (and shown in this blog) may contain nudity, references to forms of systemic violence including police brutality, sexual violence, colonialism, racism and the transatlantic slave trade

Also, a number of artists in the exhibition have chosen to withdraw their work or provide an accompanying statement as an act of solidarity with Palestine in response the the Barbican's decision not to host the London Review of Books (LRB) Winter Lecture Series.  

Here's a very brief flavour.  

Subversive Stitching -

"Stitching can be a subversive act; thread can work as a language to challenge fixed ideas and voice free expression" 
(* see note at the end of this blogpost)

Tracey Emin's piece "No Chance", which is a handstitched appliqued blanket, expresses her feelings and relates to 1977 and her 13 year old self.  It was also the year she was raped...

Tracey Emin - No Chance (WHAT A YEAR)

LJ Roberts embroiders their friends and their activism. Roberts shows the front and back of each work - behind every person or story lies a messy underside...

LJ Roberts - Frederick Weston  (front & back)

Fabric of Everyday Life -

Textiles are part of our lives in our clothes and our homes and so are particularly suited to express stories of lived experience.

Sanford Biggers is interested in "codeswitching" where people, usually from the global majority, change their behaviour, not just to fit in, but to survive. He has used an antique quilt, representing a first layer of code, and added cut, sewn and painted patterns to add another layer of code...

Sanford Biggers - Sweven

Drawing on the intimacy of textiles, Sheila Hicks asked family and close friends to give her a piece of much loved clothing which she wrapped in colourful yarn and thread to create a bundle of what we hold dear...

Sheila Hicks - Family Treasures

Borderlands -

Borderlands are places were two or more cultures meet, where people of different races inhabit the same space, where social classes collide.  These emotionally charged spaces can provide the inspiration for much creativity and questioning.

Igshaan Adams had created a series of amazing pieces based on an exploration of "desire lines" created in post-apartheid South Africa.  These informal pathways, often creating short cuts, he sees as symbolic of collective acts of resistance by a community who have been segregated and marginalised through spatial planning...

Igshaan Adams

Vinoja's work recalls the Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009) and represents aerial maps based on her memories and testimonies of others showing such things as borders, bunkers, checkpoints and burial sites...

T Vinoja - Bunker & Border

Bearing Witness -

Here textiles are used to document political violence and commemorate victims of oppression and speak their truth to power. 

Hannah Ryggen's "Blood in the Grass" addresses the attrocities of the Vietnam War (1955-76) which she read about in Dagbladet (a Swedish newspaper) which was delivered to her remote Norwegian home.  The man in the hat is Lyndon B Johnson, who was the US president at the time.  He is presiding over a lush green landscape dissected by bloodshed...

Hannah Ryggen - Blood in the Grass

Violeta Parra's embroidery depicts a scene from an epic 16th Century poem that tells the story of the Spanish conquest of Chile especially the Arauco war fought between the Spaniards and the indigenous Mapuche people...

Violeta Parra - Fresia and Caupolican (detail)

Wound and Repair - 

Here we see stories of personal and collective trauma but there is also recuperative potential. "Many of the artists turn to sewing as a metaphor for healing in the aftermath of violence..."

Angela Su's work, sewn in hair - with its charged associations with the body and femininity, was made in response to the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2019, drawing on the tradition of body sewing in protest of the suppression of freedom of speech...

Angela Su - Sewing Together My Split Mind: Straight Stitch

This work of Louise Bourgeois relates to the condition of hysteria which in the past was thought to be a psychic condition affecting mainly women.  Bourgeois was interested how psychic pain might be expressed through the body - an arched back reflecting psychic wounds...

Louise Bourgeois - Arch of Hysteria

Ancestral Threads - 

Here there is much unravelling of the stories embedded in textiles, of globalisation and trade, of the use of enslaved labour, of the use of traditional indigenous techniques.  Artists express stories of the past and challenge the present.

This was my favourite section of the exhibition.

Tau Lewis, using recycled fabrics and seashells in her patchwork quilt, pays homage to the enslaved women and children who died during the enforced transport across the ocean of enslaved people from Africa to the Americas during the 16th to 19th centuries.  She reimagines them as  sea creatures who are now free, overcoming the trauma held in these undersea territories...

Tau Lewis - The Coral Reef Preservation Society

Sarah Zapata's "shag" sculpture (top picture) references the architecture of the Nazca ceremonial site of Cahuachi, where a huge woven cloth was excavated in 1952.  The colourful piece, made using a rug making technique, demands that such a place should be remembered and its form subverts the notion that rugs should be on the floor. Indigenous peoples in Peru did not put textiles on the floor until after the Spanish conquest.

Kerunen creates deeply personal abstract sculptures from woven natural fibres inspired by her experiences of joy, love and ecstacy.  They celebrates the skills and labour of communities in Uganda and were made collaboratively with women who had learned their techniques from other women. Ayelele, made from natural fibres, "came from the earth and  will return to the earth" reflects Kerunen's concern for climate change...

Acaye Kerunen - Ayelele

Unravel, which I found thought provoking, uncomfortable and visually enthralling, is on until Sunday 26 May 2024.  Lotte Johnson, the curator hopes the exhibition will inspire visitors to pick up a needle and thread to express their own stories.  

Purple Hibiscus being installed - Ibrahim Mahama

When I went, Purple Hibiscus by Ibrahim Mahama was just being installed. This artwork, of around 2000 square meters, covers the concrete walls of the Barbican's lakeside terrace.  It is a collaborative work involving hundreds of crafts people in Tamale, Ghana. The panels have been woven then stitched together to fit the building. Onto this fabric, 100 batakaris (a traditional Ghanaian men's garment) have been appliqued. These treasured textiles may be kept in families for generations and carry the memory of those who wore them. We are told that Ibrahim Mahama holds a deep interest in the life cycle of textiles and what can be learnt from the historical memories embedded within them.

If you're in London before Unravel closes on 26 May 2024 take a look!

Passages in quotes are taken from exhibition information provided by the Barbican e.g. wall texts.

Monday 29 April 2024

Broderie Perse with York Embroiderers and Stitchers

My Broderie Perse Piece (detail)

I am a member of the York Embroiderers & Stitchers, who are a friendly group of stitch and textile enthusiasts of all levels of ability and experience.  At our April meeting, Chris Small led an afternoon workshop in Broderie Perse. Broderie Perse (French for "Persian embroidery"), popular in the late 18th and 19th Centuries, is a style of appliqué which uses printed motifs from one fabric, usually flowers or birds, to create a design on a plain background fabric. Traditionally it used chintz fabric, which was expensive at the time.  This fabric could be made to go further if the motifs were carefully cut out and applied to a plain background as a central motif or border and handstitched in place, such as on a quilt top.

We were provided with a vast array of fabrics to choose from...

Flowered Fabrics

together with a choice of background fabrics and some finished examples...

Broderie Perse Examples

and then it was time to get going.  Here's an idea of what my starting fabrics looked like...

Fabrics I Chose for My Broderie Perse

I chose two flowery fabrics and intended to make a vase of flowers design on my mushroom coloured background fabric.  As I cut out rather a lot of flowers I decided to use bondaweb to attach them to my background fabric and then machine stitch them in position as hand stitching would have taken a lot of time and the fabrics were likely to fray...

Broderie Perse Design Bonded to Background Fabric

Broderie Perse Design Machine Stitched in Place

I then decided to add some handstitch to embellish the piece...

Lots of French Knots

French Knots, Stem Stitch, Straight Stitch, Chain Stitch & More

and so the finished piece looked like this...

Broderie Perse Embellished with Hand Embroidery

It was a fun technique - thanks Chris & YES!

Monday 22 April 2024

Prism Textiles at the Art Pavillion, Mile End, London


Sue Burley - Nature v City (centre) & City v Nature detail (left & right)

I have recently been to see the Prism Textiles Group Edgelands Exhibition at the Art Pavillion, Mile End Park, London, E3 4QY which was wonderful.  Prism are an international group of textile artists who push the boundaries of textile art and promote its visibility.  They  exhibit annually at this lovely venue and it is genuinely a highlight of the textile art year and this year was no exception.  Prism members also run a variety of free workshops during the exhibition which are also well worth attending.  Edgelands is on until 29 April 2024 - a definite must see!

Maria Wigley - Linguistic Entropy

The artists exhibiting were responding to the theme "Edgelands" and a huge variety of textile and mixed media techniques were in evidence. There were 59 contributing artists.  In this blogpost, I am showing just a dozen of my highlights which are only a small fraction of the fabulous work on display. 

Lynne Chapman - Buried Treasure (back detail, front, front detail)

Jacqueline Adkins - Bridge I & II

Judith Isaac Lewis - Nature Pages

Amanda Hislop - Out of sight, farmland fragments found

Aran Illingworth - Heron

Hayley Mills Styles - LS6 detail

Anne Amosford - Once were Sheep

Kim McCormack - The Wet Desert

Ross Belton - Laid Bare: The Ages of Man

Wolfgang Woerner - Distance loses all rational meaning

Whilst I was visiting Wolfgang Woerner was leading a workshop which I attended. Everyone was given a padded shape and encouraged to explore blanket stitch in its many variations e.g. density, size, direction, form and to share their results.  It was a very amusing, enjoyable and relaxing session.  Thank you, Wolfgang! Here are the results...  


Wolfgang Woerner Workshop

You can read the directions for a step free route to the Art Pavillion from Mile End Underground station here.  It's a great exhibition - do go if you can!  You can download the exhibition catalogue here to find out more about the artists and their work. It's on until 5pm on Monday 29 April 2024.

Saturday 13 April 2024

New Hippystitch Necklaces Now In At The Ropewalk, Barton upon Humber

Hippystitch Fabric Necklaces

A new selection of Hippystitch fabric necklaces have winged their way to The Ropewalk Craft Gallery in Barton upon Humber.  There are lots of different patterns and colours to choose from and some super Liberty prints...

Hippystitch Fabric Necklaces

Whether you like brights, darks or neutral colours there's something for you in this selection...

Hippystitch Fabric Necklaces

The Ropewalk has exhibitions on in its galleries as well as it's Craft Gallery Shop. There's also The Ropewalk Museum and a coffee shop, not to mention some nice walks nearby. It's well worth a visit - go see!

Tuesday 2 April 2024

Using the Unusual - My Pages in the Travelling Book


You may wonder what this is all about. Well - it's my turn to complete some pages in the York Embroiderers and Stitchers' Travelling Book. York Embroiderers and Stitchers (YES) are a friendly group of stitch and textile enthusiasts of all levels of ability and experience and the Travelling Book is a book that members of the group add to every month with samples of whatever work they choose. It may be examples of stitched work but it could be mixed media work or something else.

I decided I would go with the theme of "using the unusual" and to narrow that down a bit I chose coffee as a linking factor. I used colourful coffee packaging, used coffee pods, and leftover coffee to paint some papers for the background...

Colourful Coffee Packaging

Used Coffee Pods
Paper Painted & Marked With Coffee

I experimented with the coffee packaging by cutting out shapes and ironing them onto paper.  This worked well but when I tried sewing into it, I had to add a layer of calico behind to stop the paper ripping.  This was because I had used basic printer paper and I didn't like how the paper looked...

Initial Sample

I then tried ironing the coffee packaging directly onto fabric but it didn't stick so I decided to try using Khadi paper.  This is a comparatively heavy cotton rag paper which I thought would be suitable to stitch into and has a nice colour and texture. Firstly, I made a coffee packaging collage and then embellished it with some simple stitches - backstitch, crossstitch and French knots.  Most of the packaging had stuck well after ironing but a few areas were lifting a little so I added a few coats of acrylic wax to the whole piece, which I hoped would seal it down. It worked...

Coffee Packaging and Stitch on Khadi Paper

My next challenge was to create something with the coffee pods. I had seen various people on Instagram making things (mostly jewellery) with upcycled coffee pods and I thought I could use the same techniques to make some flowers.  (See @renatamarilon.up, @coffeepodcreations, @sustained_wrapture)

I made a variety of different coffee pod flowers.  Then, having decided where the flowers were going to go on my background fabric, which was made up of two layers of calico, I machine stitched the stems and leaves before appliqueing the flowers in place.  The paper leaves were cut from an old magazine.  I used buttons and/or stitch to secure the coffee pod flowers in place.  Finally, I added some hand stitching to finish the piece...

Coffee Pod Flowers With Hand and Machine Stitch

Coffee Pod Flowers (detail)

Coffee Pod Flowers (detail)

Once all my pieces were finished, I attached them either directly to the book or to my coffee painted papers.  I then added some explanation of what I'd done, and my pages were complete...

Finished Pages Before Folding Out

Fold Up Collage for Explanation

Fold Out Coffee Painting to Reveal Coffee Pod Flowers and Explanation

Finished Pages Showing Fold Outs

I even managed to make a little book with my initial sample and some left over paper painted with coffee ...

Mini notebook made from my initial sample of coffee packaging & stitch and leftover coffee painted paper

Now what shall I do with that?