Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Patchwork stained glass / stained glass patchwork

"Patchwork" stained glass window in the
Abbaye de Fontfroide near Narbonne

I never liked writing postcards, but now that almost no one sends them they are missed (especially the ones with a Biro cross indicating one's guest house - yes, that's the one, five streets back from the beach almost hidden by the gasometer). My friend Susan not only still sends real postcards from her holidays, but often emails pictures as well. Two literally smashing ones arrived last week while she was in France. The subject line was "Patchwork in stained glass" and the email contained the information that they were "a collection of windows made from random scraps of stained glass salvaged from churches destroyed in the First World War. Charming." Which indeed they are. 

Anyone lost a knee?

I particularly like this one in which, as she points out, there is a spare knee in the bottom left-hand corner. It is surprising little encounters and juxtapositions that I treasure in patchwork quilts too, although misplayed knees do not usually feature. Which is a shame. 

As well as the patchwork connection, these windows fit very neatly into my current preoccupation with "Fractures", my love of collage and also my interest last year in a stained glass image of a saint that I wanted to reproduce in textiles, which meant the whole design had to be done in a similar style.

"Stained glass window" quilt, 2014

But in fact my curiosity about these broken and reassembled windows had already been piqued by an encounter at a craft fair last winter with the glass artist Sheenagh McKinlay, who makes beautiful examples with a contemporary twist, incorporating, for instance, glass lantern slides. She showed me photographs of such windows in churches and cathedrals, and since then I have looked for them, but in vain.

Stained glass "patchwork" by Sheenagh McKinlay

Stained glass is, of course, also a well established applique technique. I did the obligatory samples for City and Guilds many years ago - each piece pinned and then tacked in place before the bias strips were pinned and tacked and hand sewn into place - gratefully believing that I would never have to use the technique again. 

My "stained glass" applique samples for City and Guilds, mid-1990s

I was mightily relieved, therefore, almost 20 years on, that lightweight bonding materials (I use Mistyfuse for all my bonding these days) and fusible bias binding in narrow widths had made the whole caboodle a whole lot less fiddly. Which is not to say that I will be doing it again any time soon. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Well, it's good for the gardens...

Here, just for fun in the damp dog-end of summer, and following on from my "Floral Fabric Frenzy" post last month, are some pictures of Selfridge's in Oxford Street, its 24 windows taken over by thousands of flowers looking even more bright and sunshiny in the pouring rain. Click on the links above for more pictures - far better than mine.


Saturday, 5 September 2015

No, but cirrously: how I learnt to love cloud fabrics

Fracture: work in progress

There is love at first sight, then there is a passion that grows almost unnoticed over the years until something brings it into the sunlight.

A selection from my cloud fabric collection

Clouds: I've bought sky fabrics for years, first as a means to an end in a series of Greek Shrine quilts inspired by my love of Greece, with its turquoise sea and sky, then for their own sake. Plain blue or grey just don't cut it: I mean fluffy white clouds against shades of blue, or dark storm clouds in indigo and grey with perhaps some lightning flashes.

Greek Shrine 1, 1996, detail

Greek Shrine 2

Greek Shrine 3, detail, 2000

Greek Shrine 4, detail, 2001 - unfinished (permanently?)

My first sky fabric was stunning: a pale blue with sunny clouds shading into intense turquoise that seamlessly became an inky sea. The scraps have been cut smaller and smaller and I hoard them jealously. How I wish I had bought 20 metres when I had the chance.

Storm and rainbow fabrics, from

The sunset prints I've come across are mostly too vulgar to add to my growing collection, but I have recently bought some rainbows that teeter on the edge of twee and will be delightful if used with extreme caution, and also a violent storm scene that growls and flashes across the entire fabric width.

Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining, c2002

Synapse, 2015, detail

Looking back, I can see for the first time that skies have been a theme running through my work for the past 20 years right up to my most recently completed piece. In my first sketchbook are page after page of sky references and experiments, done so long ago that I had forgotten many of them - but perhaps overdue for resurrection.

The Poisoned Heart 1, 2011, detail

The Poisoned Heart 2, 2011, detail

Indeed, one sky fabric was the unifying factor in the three pieces that made up the installation for my degree show, The Poisoned Heart, although the sky itself was not part of the "concept". (Sorry, I still feel the need to use inverted commas around this word, as with "practice" or "process". Does this mean I'm not a real artist?) I've even painted skies on walls and ceilings in my house.

Sky cot quilt

More recently, I have made a couple of cot quilts out of sky fabrics: how wonderful it must feel to be wrapped up and enclosed in the softest, fluffiest clouds. (Perhaps I should make a big version for my own bed.)

The space under my stairs, with painted sky and artificial flowers

My latest work in process, on the theme of "fracture", is a dark stormy sky - I found a wonderful hand-dyed fabric by Jo Lovelock that was perfect - shattered like glass to reveal sunnier skies beyond. It's far from complete, although I rather like it as it is. See picture, top.

Hmmm. Cumulus and cirrus with a touch of undulatus?   

So what has brought my passion into sudden focus? It was my search for something special, something frivolous and exciting, to mark a significant birthday. Advertised "day adventures" seem to consist of climbing up high places or jumping off high places, or being passively massaged and pampered at ground level. But when I came across a mention of the Cloud Appreciation Society's AGM on that very weekend, September 26, I felt such a frisson of excitement that it confirmed I had found the very thing.

I have since become a member and have been busily learning to distinguish between stratocumulus, cumulonimbus and nimbostratus. Now my only dilemma is whether I should run up a skirt out of my stash of cloud fabrics to wear on the day. It would, of course, be in a spirit of tongue-in-cheek irony. But I don't want to be mistaken for a cloud nerd.

Perhaps it is too late.

Sky fabrics available from

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Art v. textiles: The London Open 2015

Dominic Kennedy, Schloss, 2015

Oh dear, and it was all going so well...

Since a previous foray into the Whitechapel Gallery, East London, where I discovered that the (for me) offputtingly titled exhibition  Adventures of the Black Square contained some surprising and rather wonderful textile art, I have been on the lookout for textiles smuggled into galleries in the guise of "fine art". And it has been rather encouraging. At the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition  I found several examples of what the Americans call fiber art, from a masterful embroidery of a budgie in shiny silk threads - next to a portrait of Simon Cowell that was grabbing all the attention - and a delicate, pastel machine embroidery in a round embroidery frame to an architectural 3D structure of perspex and embroidery threads. And of course there were Sonia Delaunay's quilt, clothing and textiles at Tate Modern this summer. (A quilt, in Tate?)

Dominic Kennedy, Schloss, 2015. Detail, showing scraps of felt

So I was delighted when I went to the Whitechapel again, this time for The London Open, the triennial open submission show promising "the latest trends in contemporary art  - paintings and sculpture, film and photography by 48 London artists", to discover some more textiles. True, they were very carefully hidden and you had to be alert to their presence. But there in my favourite piece, a large mixed-media painting/drawing/collage, Schloss, by Dominic Kennedy, above and top, I found some fragments of green felt, the rich, saturated colour almost glowing against the sketchy paint and crayon marks on bare canvas.

Dominic Kennedy, Hunker Down, 2015.
Detail, showing scraps of pink felt

Alongside, in another canvas, Hunker Down, bright pink and intense grey felt added depth, texture and softness.

Sarah Roberts, Ambersands, detail with digitally printed fabrics

My textile-seeking instinct now fully engaged, I found a few small lengths of digitally printed fabric in a large installation by Sarah Roberts, Ambersands, a fantasy building site with pastel colours, glittery bricks, stepladders, lights and the detritus of interior renovation.

Grantchester Pottery installation, with digitally printed fabrics on chair and clothing 

More obviously, fabric was incorporated in another large interior-style installation, pretty but with plenty of punch, by The Grantchester Pottery, looking hand-painted but digitally printed and made up into clothing and chair upholstery

And there was a large wall piece made of woven strips of fabric - not my style, too beige, but hey, it's textile art and I was pleased to see it there..

Jodie Carey, Untitled (Wall Hanging) 2015

Then I made an appalling mistake. I sat down to read the catalogue and realised all was not as it seemed. The traditional prejudices against textile art that I assumed post-modernism had eroded are all still here, alive and well, despite the tokenism.

Dominic Kennedy, it transpires, is "cultivating a child-like aesthetic" with "rudimentary materials including felt". The Grantchester Pottery group is a "decorative arts company" and its collection of pottery, furniture and textiles shows that "the distinction between high and decorative art continues to be challenged". Jodie Carey's wall hanging is made of the only textile that is allowed unchallenged into an art gallery - canvas. She has taken the "traditional craft material of textiles, evoking folk tapestries and communal quilt-making". But don't panic! She has dipped it all in plaster and "applied subtle staining with coloured pencils and graphite". Phew, all that nasty folk stuff has been safely covered up with proper art materials.
Sarah Roberts' Ambersands is described as "architectural" - a nice masculine word. And the images printed on to the textiles are of marble and stone - masculine materials - which perhaps allow her to get away with her tiny bits of fabric, even though her installation is essentially domestic and pretty.

The Grantchester Pottery. 

Here are the traditional, textbook prejudices against textiles: They are childish. Check. They are domestic. Check. They are merely craft. Check. They are unsophisticated ("folk"). Check. They are made by anonymous "communal" groups, not artists. Check. They are simply "decorative" (a very dirty word). Check.

The collaborative Grantchester Pottery group's catalogue entry openly admits that these prejudices are still evident. How very noble and enlightened of the Whitechapel to allow the work through its doors.

Rebecca Ackroyd, Pillow talk, 2014

What was I left with then? A piece by Rebecca Ackroyd, Pillow Talk, polyester resin and silk, which seems to have escaped the label and catalogue censors to be accepted as Fine Art. How was that achieved? The silk was dingy, dreary and distressed, smeared and sullied.

And depressing.