Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Leaving Kew

On Friday I received official confirmation that my application for Voluntary Redundancy from  the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew  had been approved.  So with 3 months notice, I will be leaving on Friday 13 February 2015 after nearly 25 years  working there.
There have been difficult times and changes  but none so much as now. I've worked on some incredible projects , particularly on orchids , bryophytes and ferns  and with some  amazing people. I'm proud of my science publications, my books  and my involvement in teaching and training.
I'm not sure what lies ahead apart from downsizing  and moving to Faversham  although I'm looking at reviving my rather rusty botanical survey skills through MMU/FSC courses and fitting in some more time for stitching and painting. Then I need to find another job.

Rusty Journal Quilts -real and faux

Rust Shoreline 
Rust Shoreline detail
Rust Ripples 
Rust Ripples detail 
Greenhouse Door Rust
 Rusted silk habotai  couched on digital print of peeling paint of Alston Hall greenhouse door

African Scrap Door 
( no rusted fabrics: Ndobe indigo, African Kola and Indigo, Potassium permanganate, commercial )

The question of what you do with the bits you produce on workshops: use them in Journal Quilts.
 I enjoyed  trying out   rusting on fabrics and papers  using teas with Alice Fox  and produced some lovely marks on  small pieces ( thanks Olga for  highlighting  my  efforts on the Ragged Cloth Café blog) . I made up a small book and  applied the stitched pieces  to pre-machine quilted backgrounds. I love the resulting textures of these  but I don't think I will be pursuing this technique further as  after the initial excitement , I'm struggling  to work out how I incorporate them in my main series.

It's partly a scale issue: I prefer   yardage  such as my indigo shibori to small  pieces, however exquisite, and I'm a quilter not an embroiderer. It's a process issue:Alice does not wash or iron the  the resulting fabrics liking the folds and creases and applies these to felt or other fabrics. That   fits her aims and ethos but not mine.  It's a fabric issue: the  nicest marks were on thin silk habotai  which I can't easily mix  with the cottons I usually use.  Mainly though it's a colour issue: as a painter the marks, colours and especially tones  achieved are just too subtle and unpredictable .

I overheard  several times people stating authoratively that my 'Fleet Mudflats' quilt contained rust marked fabrics. It doesn't - it's a mixture of commercial printed fabrics and African kola and indigo with some digital prints of sand ripples. My African Scrap Door JQ above also contains no rusted fabrics.  
Fleet Mudflats
When you learn a technique or process, however much you admire the work and ethos of the tutor, you have to decide whether it fits with your own work. On this occasion I have  no immediate use for it - I'm  happier with faux rust effects.  But having learnt it , it's in my arsenal  for  the future  if appropriate.  

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

A creative weekend and strange plant memories

At last, some creative time squeezed in this weekend!  Sue  and I had scheduled a 'play date' for Sunday afternoon to look at the results of  our rust dyeing  workshop with Alice Fox and to  do some sewing. So  Saturday was spent assembling bits to work on including some Journal Quilts ( more on that in another post)   and finally getting round to trimming down and facing the first challenge  for 'International Threads' group. I'm embarrassed to say that we're now   on our  fifth ( although I've completed others in between)
It has been almost finished for a long time.  A wholecloth piece of Japanese silk shibori  layered over an African damask ,  it's been a labour of love, hand stitched  using a variety  of loops and other stitches  trying out techniques from Helen Parrott's book. It's accompanied  me on several train journeys, the format of 40 x 80 cm being a good travel piece to work on.
It looks quite sinister and plant-like  reminding me of the carrion flower so I'm calling it 'Red Stapelia' .

At one time in the  small glasshouse at work  where we  had plants that had originally been grown in the lab, there was an enormous Stapelia that took up most of a bench, very  ' Little Shop Of Horrors' .  The smell was something else.... It even had a proper engraved  label which besides  the accession number and  family, genus, species details also bore the  plants name :' Cedric the Poo Plant'. Alas Cedric is no more, removed when the  glasshouse changed use many years ago

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Let's Move to Faversham

 It seems appropriate that leafing through the Saturday Guardian Magazine this weekend at Whitstable station waiting for the train to Faversham to do some house reconnaissance, that this should be the subject of the 'Let's Move To... ' article. We took it as a good omen!
After our trip to Whitstable a  few weeks ago  we  booked a  B&B  to test out the  'Javelin line' on a Friday evening, and  explore the housing there locally while  doing some of the  artists trail. In the meantime we'd done some more research   and Faversham looked like it had potential but  we decided to go to Whitstable anyway to use  it as a base.
Accordingly  I met  up with Ian at  St Pancras at 5pm ( after a brief explore of the continually changing colours  of the  'magic tunnel'  which leads to his offices!). The journey to Whitstable was about 1hr 15mins, very smooth,  and we  were made very welcome at the 'Pearl Fishers'. We were in the 'Paris' suite,  smart art deco with a very high bed - comfortable once  you'd   scaled it. We had a lovely meal at 'Alimo', a  Moroccan fusion restaurant, highly recommended and then a walk along Oxford Street to  see the sea with the nightlife just starting - lots of  good-natured students.
After a delicious breakfast,  we headed to the railway station, picking up a 'Guardian' on the way.

In Faversham , just 8 minutes away,  we looked first at the housing south of the railway- lots of  new builds  well within our price  about 15 mins walk from the station. Then we headed into town using a walkway above the railway bringing us out by the recreation ground.  I know that Faversham is known for its medieval streets and its market  but I was unprepared for how pretty and buzzy it was . The market was in full swing with lots of  varied  stalls. We'd popped into the 'Fleuer de Lis' heritage centre for some leaflets and the volunteers were so friendly especially when we said we were thinking of moving there.
After an excellent lunch ( with local Shepherd Neame    beers ) at the  Anchor we headed off on the artist trail.    

Lots of inspiration around the Creeks 
 Brickwork patterns
Lost of black and white ( and other coloured!) buildings
We loved the work of Magz Roberts and Mike Roberts. Magz started off in textiles and Mike has a lovely quirky style in his cartoons.  After a detour via the Abbey Physic community Garden, I heard beautiful singing coming from the church  - Faversham Choral Society having a final rehearsal before their performance that evening.
We finished up at ' Creek -Creative' for coffee and cake and a look round the studios. When I asked what the rent was  ( thinking  that a new house might not have suitable painting facilities)  we were given a  behind the scenes tour! 
An inspirational, welcoming place  and  we're both agreed that Faversham feels right for us.  We'll be back in December for the Xmas markets and to explore a  different  housing area.

Visit to Salt Mills, Saltaire

A year ago I combined taking some  plants to handover to Natural England  staff with visiting 'Cloth and Memory 2' at Salt Mills, Saltaire and although there is no exhibition  there at the moment, it worked well  so repeated it this year. Very mixed emotions as it's probably the end of my involvement  after nearly 25 years.  Arriving around 11.30  for discussions  and disbelief over coffee and cakes then a look around the Hockney exhibitions , time spent browsing in the book and art shops  , resisting the gorgeous jewellery ( I succumbed last year!). Most of all some time for contemplation  and reflection away from work, making plans on the trains   

During  CQ winter school  on rust marks with Alice Fox, we were having a discussion about Cloth and Memory exhibition, how interesting it was. People had different favourites and  many of us ( myself included) found that what stuck in our minds  after a year was not necessarily  what grabbed us at the time.  I was also looking around Saltaire this time with fresh eyes , seeing some of the  areas that inspired Alice, like the broken yellow lines on the cobbles. I got some strange looks taking this photo from the gangs of schoolboys that were hanging around the station!
  There was one piece of work by Machiko Agano from that exhibition  that was redisplayed in one of the entrance areas on the ground floor.  It looked very different in a  new context. Many of the Japanese pieces although  based on the themes of Cloth and Memory  do not seem so powerful in retrospect as those that were inspired directly from the building itself and the processes and people  it represents. The following photos are from last year.
Diana Harrison 'Handkerchiefs'  inspired by the flagstones
Jeanette Appleton " Production Line:People's Lives" Felt books/ledgers placed within the walls of the spinning room
Rachel Gray 'Shadow Pieces' stitched layered , patched and mended,  worked well with the peeling paint of the walls.

David Hockney ipad drawings
One of the reasons I arranged the meeting for a Wednesday was that so I could see  David Hockney's ' 25  Trees and other pictures' Besides the 3 huge photographs showing these trees in different seasons, finding beauty in the mundane ( it included a bus shelter!) there  was a projection room showing the latest drawings done on iphone or ipad which he sends regularly to the gallery.  Lots of vases of flowers ( glass works particularly well using this medium)  and other quick sketches, so lively.  'The Bigger Picture' at the RA a couple of years ago  remains for  me one of the most memorable exhibitions of recent years.

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Green Tea Rust Dyeing Experiment

 Home with a day off after my stimulating  CQ Winter School workshop  on rust marks with Alice Fox, I wanted to have a go straight away while  it was fresh in my mind.  I found a  bag with some old tools in the cellar ( mainly some of my Dad's pliers) and some Green Tea bags bought from a herbalist in Iran which I hadn't got round to trying ( good for obesity apparently!)
As before I placed some watercolour paper in a tray and placed tools and items either directly onto the paper or wrapped them in silk or linen  with lashings of tea. I then lay a piece of silk chiffon over the top. The photo  below was taken just after setting up, the photo above was the marks on  paper after 3 impatient days!  I'm thrilled  with most of the results - I used the tea  when it was hot and there's less of the brown  staining resulting from normal tea, more variety in colour and tone.
The chiffon layer on top also picked up stronger marks
 I was also pleased with the marks on the strips wrapped round nails 9 although there were a few that took up hardly any caolour.

I liked the effect of the rusty tin bottom ( above)  and the piece of shelving bracket (below)

The wrapped pliers gave the most interesting  and  pleasing results: linen above, silk habatai below. Definitely an experiment to build on.  

Stitched Rust Marks

I've just unwrapped the parcels of stitched fabrics wrapped around rusting items that we prepared on Saturday afternoon as part of CQ Winter school workshop with Alice Fox . After a busy morning wrapping up items , wetting them with tea, it was nice to have  a change of pace, digesting our delicious lunch!  Alice shared some of her samples showing how she'd stitched into the fabrics before dyeing with rust and built up layers and textures. The picture below shows 'before' and the results above 'After' (these are the more interesting ones)
An intriguing idea was to incorporate a piece of metal between 2 layers and stitch around it, the idea being that the metal remained in it ( might be a useful way  to  weight a quilt) I prepared 2 samples with washers- one with linen , the other with cotton organza. In both cases I placed the fabric on top of some watercolour paper  and then put a silk chiffon layer over the top - hoping to catch any marks  above and beneath ( the photo below is after a days soaking in  tea.)

 In the case of the cotton organza ( above) with  stitching out from the centre, it was the paper beneath that gave the most interesting marks
For the linen, all 3: paper, linen and silk chiffon over-layer  provided interesting, sand ripple like marks. It's my aim   to  combine all  of them in one piece and also investigate this  particular method further