Wednesday 12 June 2024

Jesmonite Workshop at Rural Arts, Thirsk with Laura Docherty

My Jesmonite Tray and Bobbins

Recently, I attended a Jesmonite workshop at Rural Arts in Thirsk, run by Laura Docherty (@ottomezzaluna on Instagram).  I've been wanting to try out using Jesmonite for some time so a short course at Rural Arts seemed ideal. 

Wikipedia tells us that "Jesmonite is a composite material used in fine arts, crafts, and construction. It consists of a gypsum-based material in an acrylic resin. It was invented in the United Kingdom in 1984 by Peter Hawkins." Initial experiments acually began in 1978 in Jesmond, Newcastle which is where the product's name comes from. It was conceived as a safe alternative to fibreglass and as a lightweight alternative to cast concrete. In fact, on our course, Peter's daughter, Laura (not our course leader), was with us and was also trying it out for the first time!

Laura Docherty's Jesmonite Examples

Jesmonite, like concrete, involves a powder and a liquid that have to be mixed together.  Both can be poured into moulds and become solid.  However, Jesmonite is more ecological.  Known as an eco resin, the water based acrylic liquid and mineral base have to be mixed in a specific ratio.  It solidifies quite quickly and there is very little waste...

Moulds & Mixing Equipment

Jesmonite - Powder & Liquid

You can add pigment to the liquid element before mixing in the powder to colour the Jesmonite.  The pigments can be combined to create the colour you want.  Not much pigment is needed...

Jesmonite Pigment

Terrazzo chips can be made which you can then use as inclusions in your mix and result in a finished product speckled with the colours of terrazzo chips that you have added.  They are made by making thin sheets of Jesmonite and breaking them up into small chips once the Jesmonite has solidified...

Making Terrazzo Chips

Tubs of Terrazzo Chips

I enjoyed making a dark grey tray with multi-coloured terrazzo chips...

Mould filled with my mix of Jesmonite and terrazzo chips

The tray had to be sanded with wet and dry sandpaper once it had set to reveal the colourful terrazzo...

Sanding my dish to reveal the terrazzo chips

Finished dish

I am keeping some bobbins on my terrazzo dish at the moment (see first image).

I also made a pot with a black colour-blocked rim and a mint green body. You do this by pouring the black Jesmonite into the mould first and because there were streaks of black on the mould this made an interesting pattern when the green was poured in...

Pouring Jesmonite into a pot mould

Pot mould after pouring

Finished pot

It's not always possible to completely control the outcome so you can get some really interesting results.  I'm not sure how I expected my pot to come out but I like it and am currently using it to store my crochet hooks...

Finished Pot & Crochet Hooks

I thoroughly enjoyed the session and look forward to experimenting more at home.  Thanks Laura!

The Courthouse, which is where Rural Arts is based, has a great cafe, an artisan shop and has exhibitions, workshops and performances - worth a visit for the cafe and shop alone!  The next Jesmonite workshops is on Wednesday 17 July 2024. Check it out here.

Friday 31 May 2024

Stumpwork or Raised Embroidery - A First Attempt

My finished stumpwork pincushion

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. Recently, Annie Smith has led a series of stitch clubs to teach some of us how to do stumpwork.  

Stumpwork is a type of raised embroidery that was popular in England in the 17th Century.  At the time it was called raised embroidery or embossed work.  The term stumpwork has only been used since the end of the 19th century.  Typical scenes might include a castle, stag, lion, birds, butterflies, fruit, flowers, and a number of figures sometimes positioned beneath a canopy.  Kings, queens and mythical or biblical figures were often depicted. The technique can use wire, threads of various sorts, padding, beads, needlelace and other materials. Much of the detail is applied to a base fabric.

We were going to make a small pin cushion using our chosen design which meant we needed both a back and a front that would eventually be stitched together.  Annie had brought lots of examples of her work to show us...

Annie Smith's Stumpwork examples

First, we began by tracing some design elements onto our top fabric.  We used pens that were heat or water erasable, so that the lines could be removed when required. Annie had provided plenty of designs to choose from.  I chose oak leaves and acorns.  We then hooped up double layers of fabric into our embroidery hoops.  I used a fine cotton for the top and calico for the underneath layer.  Annie showed us how to attach some wire to the fabric to outline our design and how to fill the shapes in.  My first two oak leaves were wired and then filled in with long and short stitch.  I also stitched three acorns using French knots for the acorn cup and long and short stitch for the acorn itself.  These would be cut out and applied to our overall design once they were finished...

Acorns and wired leaves in progress

Once the wired leaves were completed they were cut out very close to the stitching being careful not to cut into the stitching.  The cream edges could be colored in with a felt tip to stop them being noticeable when they were added to the design...

Acorns and wired leaves finished and ready to cut out

Next, it was necessary to stitch three more oak leaves that would form the basis of the design. The outline and leaf centre line were backstitched and then the leaf was filled in with long and short stitch like the wired leaves had been...

Oak leaves form the basis of this design

Time to add the acorns!  These were cut out with some excess fabric round the edge which was stitched round and drawn up like a Suffolk puff before stitching the acorns in place...

Oak leaves and acorns in approximate finished location

Once I had added my acorns and the two wired leaves to the design, I took inspiration from Annie's acorn pieces and added some beads and some twigs and berries using French knots and stem stitch...

Front of my pin cushion

I decorated the back of my pin cushion with different sizes of star stitch using a variegated thread...

Rear of my stumpwork pin cushion

Once the two sides were stitched together it was time to add some decorative fly stitch to the edge...

Decorated pincushion edge

Front of my stumpwork pin cushion 

Now it's all ready to add my pins! (see first image)

Saturday 25 May 2024

Issam Kourbaj - Urgent Archive at Kettles Yard, Cambridge

Issam Kourbaj - Our exile grows a day longer and a day closer is our return (detai1)

Kettles Yard in Cambridge has been showing an exhibition by Issam Koubaj, entitled Urgent Archive.  Kourbaj's art is inspired by his home country of Syria and its continuing conflict and other conflicts in the Middle East.  He reflects on the suffering of his fellow Syrians and the destruction of his cultural heritage.  Since the Syrian uprisings of 2011 Issam Kourbaj’s artwork has taken many forms and here's a flavour of it all.

The two artworks shown below - "Abundant, No Abandoned" & "Don't Wash Your Hands: Before the Quake, Aleppo City and Citadel", use materials that Kourbaj associates with Syria.  The map - "Abundant, No Abandoned" is created from indigo pigment which he, as a child in the late 1960s, smeared on their windows in southern Syria to act as a blackout so that the Israeli planes would not detect them as they flew overhead on their way to bomb nearby areas of Jordan and Palestine.  The map itself shows the "dead cities" of north west Syria.  His choice of title suggests the existence of extremes - abundance and abandonment. "Don't Wash Your Hands: Before the Quake, Aleppo City and Citadel" is created from Aleppo soap...

Issam Kourbaj - Abundant, No Abandoned & Don't Wash Your Hands: Before the Quake, Aleppo City and Citadel

In "Blue Blackout" you can see the use of indigo pigment smeared on a window.  Here he is using it to draw our attention to people in the Middle East trapped in cycles of war and violence...

Issam Kourbaj - Blue Blackout

Kourbaj, reflecting on the survival of Syrian women in times of war, adds a new piece to "Agony: 156 moons and counting", with every month that passes since the start of the Syrian conflict.  He points out that women, being less able to flee conflict than men, have to remain to look after their homes and families...

Issam Kourbaj - Agony: 156 moons and counting

This work, "Killed, Detained and Missing (Women)", contains the handwritten names of Syrian women who have been killed, detained or are missing as part of the conflict in Syria.  They are written on a pianola scroll.  This is to emphasise how women's experience of war goes under reported...

Issam Kourbaj - Killed, Detained and Missing (Women) - detail

"All But Milk" contains shelves of baby bottles containing anything but nourishing milk.  It is a reference to the suffering of the children in Gaza and the need for a ceasefire...

Issam Kourbaj - All but Milk

Issam Kourbaj - All But Milk Inventory

In "Our exile grows a day longer and a day closer is our return", every day since the start of the Syrian conflict is marked with a  date stone 
stitched to a found canvas tent (see also first image above). The number of stones (4750), and the scale of the piece, emphasises the trauma of the conflict and of exile but offers hope for a time of return...

Issam Kourbaj - Our exile grows a day longer and a day closer is our return

"Damascus, Fragile City I", made from old book pages coated in wax, was one of the first works Issam Koubaj made when the uprising in Syria started and serves as an abstracted map to reflect the destruction of homes and communities in Damascus...

Issam Kourbaj - Damascus, Fragile City I 

Issam Kourbaj - Damascus, Fragile City I - detail

There is a wealth of different media and meaning in this exhibition and it is well worth a visit...

Issam Kourbaj - Fallen Springs

Unfortunately it closes on Sunday 26 May 2024 so you'll have to be super quick to get there.  Do go if you can!

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!