Sunday 20 June 2021

Amulets and Talismanic Clothing

 I've  had a fascination  with amulets  for a very long time,  from my travels   to  making a journal quilt and shrine  for lost earrings.  

Turkmen child's kurta, Afghanistan  ( from Amulets by Sheila Paine )

My first  outing with the ' Drawing Tuesday'  group   was drawing amulets in the Islamic Gallery  at the British Museum  

Also  seen in the Islamic Gallery on another occasion was  this amuletic cloak by Bita Ghezelayagh

I first came across  talismanic/ charm  shirts in the ' Turks' Exhibition   at the Royal Academy  in 2005 and the example above in the   fabulous ' Fabric of India' exhibition at the  V&A  in 2015. 
Then  in 2019   I drew a talismanic cloth at the Brunei gallery , SOAS  ( below) 


Recently on   my  first  visit to the British Museum since lockdown ( !)   I came across this   wonderful Talismanic Tunic    in the Albukhary Foundation Gallery of the Islamic World 

 It was also shown  at the  inspiring Grayson Perry ' Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman' exhibition  in 2011 - this detail of the tunic is from the book 


The back of the tunic ( and other 'Charm Cloths')   are included in  John Gillow's books on African  Textiles and Islamic textiles. Besides books, I've bought many textiles from John over the years: kanthas , ikats, indigo  and he gave us the details of a  dealer in Yazd, Iran


All this delightful research  among my books and online  was prompted  by  the  idea of  making  a talismanic shirt  from  Colour Catchers   as my contribution   to   Lito Apostalokou's  participatory project "Clothesyoullneverwear"  ( as featured in the Evening Standard!).  Lito was a fellow  student  at City Lit on collage  and EDAM  courses  and  I sent her a box of fabrics etc  ( which has made no impression  on my stash... ) which has already  been put to   use in making some fantastic garments based on memories  of clothes.  The course I did earlier in the year on Time and Memory, highlighted the importance of fabrics to me,  I think I'll have to do some  'mind mapping'  to  explore  this  more and decide what I'm  going  to make.  It might even be a  hat ! 

Leather  Amuletic hat from African Textile   book.



Wednesday 26 May 2021

Place-Making Winter: A Book of Marks

 Over the course of the last  6 months on my daily-ish walks down Abbeyfields  in Faversham, I've been mapping and recording my impressions  of this ' Place'   inspired by Alice Fox course ' Place-making Winter.  I've finally got round to compiling  some of the drawings ( on Abaca tissue, Colour Catchers)  prints, texts,  fabrics  into  a '  book of Marks ' . The  structure is  based on that learnt on Dorothy Caldwell course in Puglia  2013   of sewn signatures  with a needle woven binding . I've used it several times   ( in Rydal, Greece, Weymouth )   but not recently so it was a bit of a relearning curve  but I love the interaction of the pages. 

2021 CQ Journal Quilts : INDIGO January to April

 I've been making  Journal Quilts every year  since 2003 ( and with Contemporary  Quilt  of QGBI   since 2007) .  This year  they are  to be of a  theme and shape(s)  of your own choosing  but designed  so that at the end of the year they  can be joined together in some way  for possible exhibition.   My favourite / most successful   set of  JQ's   is from  2013 when I chose 'Indigo' as my theme  so that is what I've chose to revisit  but deciding on size/ shapes  took a lot of pondering on graph paper!  I decided in the end on  a combination of : 8 x 8", 10 x 10" , 8 x 10", 10 x 8"   which  I hope will give me enough scope for experimenting.   So far I'm on track , having completed  January  to April  and  May's the current piece of ' trainstitching' 

January ( Jellyfish Bloom ) is wet bulb thermometer wicks stitched onto shibori dyed section of old quilt.

 February ( Hidden Depths)  is monoprint of net on silk layered with indigo dyed wadding and linen tablecloth , kantha stitched.

 March ( StitchResistRipples) Stitching back into a piece of Mokume ( 'woodgrain' ) shibori was almost as time consuming as doing the stitch resist ! Combined with a monoprint and a small scrap of Ndop stitch resist indigo from Cameroon.

April ( Thunderbolt Pier ) A couple of years ago  the ' Edgy Stitchers' ( CQKent)  had an outing to Chatham Historic Dockyard  as inspiration for  our exhibition later in the year.  This is  a recycled sample based  on photo of 'Thunderbolt Pier' , manipulated in Photoshop, printed on fabric  and  fused  to background of quilted silk arashi shibori.

Sonic Landscapes

 As part of  Alice Fox's 'Place- Making Winter'  course, for the last  6 months I've been recording/mapping  my  daily(ish) walks down  'Abbeyfields'  in Faversham  in different ways. 

So I was delighted to participate in  another project with Kimbal Bumstead as part of his residency at the  BasementArtsProject   this time making  audio recordings on my phone   in my 'Place'  and  then drawing from  the recording with my eyes closed, responding to the sounds and textures.  From the submissions made by the participants  he has created a   digital collage ' map'  and a 'sonic journey' to accompany it.    The result is interactive - you can move through  the 'landscape'   accompanied  by the soundtrack, highly recommended ! 

SONIC LANDSCAPES — Kimbal Quist Bumstead (

Abbeyfields  1 

There was  a zoom meeting  with some of the participants talking about what they got out of it.  On many of my walks  I was aware of the  some of the  sounds (  a patch of brambles  with lots of sparrows I call the ' shouting bush ' ! )  but listening  to the recordings at  home  with headphones on  and replaying it again and again I was able to isolate and identify  far more. The crescendo  of a car or bike going past on the road; the rhythms of a dog barking ; distant clanking of boat masts, blurred conversations  and used different media and colours to try and  capture those qualities on paper. 
 A fascinating process which  I hope to repeat  which has added a new dimension and awareness to my walks .   Maybe have a go at blind stitching to the sounds  ( as on Dorothy Caldwell course) 

Abbeyfields 2

Abbeyfields 3 

Abbeyfields 4 

Kimbal's  'Sonic Landscape': screenshots of Digital Collage ( above)   and detail ( below)  

Thursday 18 February 2021

Memory and Remembering : Recollections II

 In addition  to the  City Lit Art and Ideas  course , since  November I’ve been participating in a monthly   textile  course  with artist Alice Fox ‘ PlaceMaking Winter’  where  we’re exploring means  of recording our local natural  environment .   The different focus  and emphasis   ( on  ways of  retrieving the past  and being in the present ) have complimented each other ,  but both   share  a lot of reading  which I’ve enjoyed immensely.  Books  have always been important  to me , to the extent  that  when asked  about hobbies  during a management course, I didn’t think to  include reading as its more than that , its integral to who I am.  For various reasons  it seems I  haven’t  been giving  myself  permission/ time  to  read !

One  of these  books  is ‘ Landmarks’  by Robert MacFarlene  and  lot of  what  resonated  with me  were  the ways of looking and experiencing what’s around you, particularly  the childs -eye  view ‘ rapt by the miniature and close at hand’ . ‘wonder is now, more than ever, an essential survival skill’.  

 When the  group   shared memories ,  I realised mine aren’t  generally about people  but about places, plants  and insects, colours, experiences .  My first memory  is of picking daisies   and placing them in  a pink eggcup ( I would have been less than 3  as it was on the lawn in our first house ) .  

 At the end of the  final session of  the  course we  watched some clips  from  ‘Afterlife’ by Hirokazu Koreeda .  I think the memory  I  would   choose to take  into the Afterlife  is of  Prawle Point   in summer 2013.  I was  sitting sketching  the wonderful coastal  scenery  surrounded by rare plants , dazzled by  hundreds  of  six-spot burnet moths  flying around. It’s significant  that it combines  both my  art and scientific  sides.  I was lucky  that   I was   allowed to  study  art at  ‘ A’ level as  well as  biology and chemistry  ( it took some creative  time- tabling !),  continuing to draw and paint   alongside   my career as a botanist/scientist . What both disciplines  share is a way of looking and thus my way of remembering 

I’ve travelled widely for both work and pleasure  and have always  taken lots of photos. There are  crates  of slides   and packets  of photos  in the garage unlooked at it 15 years. Like ' Funes the Magnificant ' I feel that if I started sorting through them there would be no time to experience the present ! I don’t  feel the need  to  consult them   however as I  have  ready access to my sketchbooks. 

Quick drawings  and  notes made at the time  summon up  memories  of places,  time,  and people I was with far more than photos as  when you're drawing  you’re already editing to record what’s significant . I’m  really missing  going to art galleries and exhibitions , seeing  how  other artists  interpret  and edit what they’ve seen and experienced, what they regard as important.

In this  example   from  Xmas day 2002  at Thien Mu Pagoda Vietnam, dragonflies  were hovering,  there was background  hum  of Buddhist chanting. A monk admired my drawing and gave me a pear. 


In  2003  I  printed  copies of some of the photos taken and drawings I made in Vietnam  onto fabric .  It was early days in experimenting and they weren't very  successful and they were consigned to the scrap box. 

However , through the process of  layering and stitching , not only have I been remembering my trip there but  it's beginning  to result in  pieces that are intriguing in their own right. This may  be the start of a series  but what would you call them  ?  Layers of Memory?  Stitching to Remember?  


Memory and Remembering : Recollections I


The final  session of City Lit   Art and Ideas Time and Memory   was devoted to  sharing  our understanding, reflections  and creative work made in response  to the  ideas explored on the course. What I  chose to  make  to share with the  group was a textile piece   inspired by  the themes  covered  in session  2 and  4  on  involuntary  and mediated memories 

Remembering involves all the senses.  My  ‘Madeline Moment’ was to do  with the feel of fabrics and threads.  I have kept a lot of my  mums  stash which includes scraps from childhood  dresses.   What I collect  are  old  quilts, the layers worn through and colours faded,  the ‘hand of the maker’ evident ,the  cloth itself with memory  and re-use them to make them my own.  

In 2001  I bought my   first home computer  with  inkjet printer  to  manipulate photos  or  drawings  using Photoshop  and print them on fabric.  Over the years  I’ve  used these in   my   textile work    but  still  have about 200  or so  printed pieces  of cloth!!  These include 40 or so  printed sheets of silk organza including  photos of Krac de Chevalier in Syria  and  Tiryns  in Greece. I’d printed the same image both on cotton and  silk organza. Slightly offset they give a 3d  effect, more of a shift  and it starts to  be unsettling , reminding me of the work of  Idris Khan.

A  few years ago ,  for  the Contemporary Quilt suitcase  collection   with the theme ‘ Childhood  Memories’ I combined  scanned photos printed on fabrics  with a monoprint that reminded me of Bamburgh  where we used to go on holiday. The black and white photos  of my childhood in the 60's and 70's are mostly black and white  but  In fact it was very colourful  time! So I used vintage charity shop fabric as backing and  using machine quilting , stitched from the back with flourescent threads following the wild patterns.Perhaps  because it was  for public viewing  it now it seems rather decorative  and literal  and my preference now is for a more abstracted approach.

 For my response  to this course I wanted  to make something  more personal .  I  layered  printed photos on fabric of  me and Ian   with those  from  significant holidays  overlaid with a print of Cyclopean walls from Myceanea on silk organza. Memories are buried but I know they’re contained within.    

While I  use  my sewing machines  for piecing fabric together and some machine quilting  for quick results , my preference has always been for the slowness of hand stitching: the rhythm, ,the mindfulness, the connection to cloth. The stitch you get with machine is uniform  ,unbroken, solid , the same on top and back. With  hand sewing, the natural variation  in size of stitch, the thread used  and the way the fabric is held and manipulated results  in the front  ‘intentional side’ often  being  different to the  back, the ‘unconscious side’.   Stitching by hand  through layers results in an  integration that you don't get by any other means.  Its difficult to describe ( though you can feel it)   and  photos  don't do it justice  but   that's what happened here, with  hidden marks/memories  revealing themselves.  I  took the photo  when it was partially stitched so  the difference  the stitching makes  is more evident . 

The  feedback from the group ( with artists from a  range  of disciplines, non textile related)  was very positive , preferring  this to the earlier work,  representing hidden layers  of memory both physically  and metaphorically.   I had to laugh when  some  said the textures  reminded  them of doors....