Tuesday 31 December 2013

Cloths of Gold & Silver? El Anatsui at The Royal Academy 2014

When is a cloth not a cloth, that is the question? Maybe we think of a cloth as something we stitch on. Maybe a cloth is something that feels gentle on the body. Maybe it is something woven, knitted, sculpted, even, of fine materials? In the past, we know that some garments were richly wrought in gold and silver threads. Henry VIII of England famously met Francis I of France on The Field of the Cloth of Gold. Can something made of metal really be counted as cloth? If yes, then look at these wonderful drapes above and below.
They were created by El Anatsui, an artist from Nigeria. His works have clothed some iconic buildings in Venice and elsewhere and in summer 2014 you will be able to see them on the façade of Burlington Academy, London.
El Anatsui, born 1944, was Professor of Sculpture and Departmental Head at the University of Nigeria. His fabulous works are composed of metal, but not exactly precious metal: it is metal that can be found on recycling tips. Anatsui uses anything from chainsaws and welding torches to his intricate and meditative sewing process, he has shaped materials ranging from cassava graters and railway sleepers to driftwood, iron nails and obituary notice printing plates. So are these cloths or not? (My apologies for the delay in this post - we are still experiencing high winds which topple trees and take out our power lines - our energy is up and down like a yo-yo still.)

Sunday 29 December 2013

Women For Women International * Helping Women Survivors Of War

Zarghuna was six when her family forced her to marry her nine-year-old cousin to settle a family dispute. Despite the initial hardship, she grew to love her husband and at 16 gave birth to a daughter. When her husband was suddenly killed, she twice tried to kill herself. She says: I had been feeling very depressed, and went to the hospital to seek treatment. The doctor advised me to connect with other women, so I could discuss with them my challenges and hear about the similar obstacles they were dealing with.. Using the business skills she learned through WFWI, and a £300 loan from a family member, Zarghuna started an embroidery business in Kabul which now employs 120 people. She recently invested just over £11,000 in machinery to expand the company, and says she has more than £18,500 in the bank. Her employees are women who work from their homes, which gives them the opportunity to contribute to their family's livelihood. To find out more about Women For Women International, just click here.

Saturday 28 December 2013

Workt By Hand: Hidden Labour and Historical Quilts * The National Museum of Women in the Arts * Washington DC * Until 27 April 2014

This exhibition showcases 35 18th–20th-century quilts from the Brooklyn Museum’s renowned decorative arts collection, presenting examples of iconic quilt designs and techniques while providing new insights into the different interpretive methods used to understand historical quilts. The NWMA Director, Susan Fisher writes: Quilt making was among the most significant forms of artistic production historically available to women. Teasing out social history from quilt history, the exhibition includes a remarkable early 19th-century patchwork Liberty Quilt (ca. 1830) attributed to Elizabeth Welsh of Virginia (below), which exemplifies how women created and disseminated iconic American revolutionary symbols. Women’s roles as both producers and consumers at the height of the Industrial Revolution are evidenced by the popular and highly publicized Crazy Quilt pattern made with affordable, vibrantly-colored textiles. The exhibition includes an exquisitely embroidered example created by Mary A. Stinson (ca.1880).

Friday 27 December 2013

A Babe Wrapt in Finely Embroidered Swaddling Bands

Swaddling has enjoyed a recent short revival. The swaddling garments these days are usually custom-made and resemble an armless and legless onesie, very unlike the bandage lengths used in the past. It is astonishing to see the lengths to which these bands were elaborately embroidered. In the case above they were made for the young prince Federigo, Duke of Urbino. And not only the bands are decorated, but the whole layette of cushion and comforter are similarly embellished - an incredible labour of love in the making - and also, I would suppose, the necessary laundering.

Two-month old Cornelia Burch has plain swaddling bands, though they resemble fine silk. Notice also her cushion and coverlet. (The rather vicious-looking spike in her hand is a rattle and a teether and in this case probably made of ivory, though many were made of coral.) How different are these wraps to the simple ones envisaged binding the young infant Jesus, below.

Wednesday 25 December 2013

Power ON! And a Kontich Christmas Sampler

While we were driving around yesterday, trying to pick up a mobile signal for our battery operated PC, we were astonished to see the results of the storm of Monday night. No wonder the power workers had such a hard time getting through - roads were blocked by fallen trees and even main roads were flooded. We saw crowds of people in the centre of Godalming and Guildford, not coming out of church services as we initially thought, but coming to see the flooding. We live on the side of a hill, so storm waters rush by without bothering us much at all, but the local trees bring down the power cables. So, we were the lucky ones. We were only in the dark. We were not in the dark, paddling in muddy water, watching our fridge and carpets and chairs float by. My heart goes out to those who were flooded. And my sincere thanks go out to all the power workers who gave up their Christmas Eve and Christmas Day to get us back on the grid. We are so grateful! Who cooked their goose? Well, we are simply one day behind with our festivities. The neighbours up the hill braved the cold and started up their barbecue. I just made a one pot of venison, chorizo and seasonal veggies with some prunes and strips of orange peel for festive measure. So, here belatedly, is yesterday's intended post. A sampler with Christmas from the Kontich Museum by Zotte Annot (zot means crazy), a man from the neighbourhood of Kontich who stitched the life of Jesus in a very special way - it is dated 1853. For more details of the Kontich Museum, click here.

Merry Christmas From Darkest Surrey

Merry Christmas. We are in the dark still - no power expected before tomorrow. But we are fine. Hope you all are too!

Tuesday 24 December 2013

To Hear The Angels Sing

Owing to the stormy weather here - we have been without power for some time - so it is time to relax and talk by candlelight; drink wine in the absence of a working kettle and nibble lots of festive sweetmeats with neighbours popping in and out - their torches bobbing up and down the lane. We are safe and cosy by our log fire - and hope you are too. It is lovely and quiet - quiet enough to hear an angel sing.....

Monday 23 December 2013

Only Two Sleeps - Christmas Fun & Samplers @ Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden

I expect like me that you have your pinnies on today and are up to your armpits in the kitchen.

There's always so much to do - and here we are, only 2 sleeps away from Christmas.

We were celebrating in Canterbury Cathedral yesterday and we were sitting just to the side of the magnificent choir in the quire.

So, today, I thought you might be able to snatch yourself away from the festivities in preparation to enjoy looking at a few samplers from the museum in Dresden, Saxony.

To Visit the Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Click Here.

Sunday 22 December 2013

Les Robes Géographiques * Elisabeth Lecourt

While passing through Cambridge on the way to meet up with friends for a Christmas dinner, I was introduced to the work of French artist Elisabeth Lecourt.

She makes garments from vintage maps - everything for the globe-trotter

and the girl about town. What is it this thing I have about maps? My earliest ambition that I remember was as a result of sketching childish maps of the banks along Bradford Beck - it was to walk through France mapping life as I went. I got as far as Paris - in May 68 - and the rest, as they say, is history! To visit Elisabeth's website, just click here.

Saturday 21 December 2013

Dame Dorothy Davenport * A Great English Needlewoman * Bramall Hall near Stockport, UK

Between The Whitworth Museum in Manchester and The Macclesfield Silk Museum you will find, on the outskirts of Stockport, Bramall Hall. The home of the Davenports since the 15th century. It was home to Dame Dorothy Davenport who was famous for her needlework. You can see her above aged 60 in 1627.

Bramall Hall is one of the most beautiful treasures of England and is of great national importance. The magnificent 16th Century wall paintings, Elizabethan fine plaster ceiling, the Victorian Kitchens and Servants Quarters give this Hall its unique charm. One of the bedrooms, the Paradise Room, was originally furnished with textiles stitched by Dame Dorothy, though sadly there are now replicas there and you have to go to the outskirts of Macclesfield and another hall, Capesthorne Hall, to see the originals.

It was quite by accident that I came across this small piece of needlework at auction - it measure just 8" x 6½ ". Attached to it was a label telling us rather cryptically: Dame Dorothy Davenport Who Died In 1636, And Who Was Known Throughout England As A Great Needlewoman-Are Being Furnished In The True Style Of 300 Years Ago With Authentic Pieces Of That Period, The Gifts Of Local Residents" and below you can see the piece in question.

Friday 20 December 2013

Susan Briscoe's Japanese Quilt Blocks

Quilting is not something I have been able to find as much time as I would like for - but when I saw these beautifully produced books, I fell hook, line and sinker. The blocks are so beautiful - I am particularly fond of the taupe combinations - and the descriptions and text in the books is simply first rate. If you love beautiful quilts, take a look at these. Just click on the images for more details.

Thursday 19 December 2013

The Land of Lost Teddies And Bunnies And More....

This is so not the time of year to be leaving your teddies and bunnies behind - they need to be with you for Christmas! Did you know that there is a Facebook Page for lost and found cuddlies? Wipe your tears, here is the link already, click here.

Wednesday 18 December 2013

Royal School Of Needlework Sampler Exhibition * January - July 2014 * Booking Essential

Bryna Black from the Royal School of Needlework emailed me this week to tell me about their upcoming sampler exhibition tours.

The sampler exhibition will show examples of the RSN’s Collection of samplers in all techniques. Bryna tells me that: it will include the traditional letters and numbers samplers starting in the 18th century, map samplers, pattern samplers and technical stitch samplers in techniques such as metal thread embroidery. There will also be samplers in different formats such as made into rolls comprising sections featuring both embroidery stitches and sewing techniques that were popular in the late 19th and early 20th century for girls’ education. There will also be examples of patterns and designs from the RSN relating to samplers produced by the RSN over its history.
To see the samplers you need to join a tour. The tours are at 11am and 2pm during the last week of every month, booking in advance is essential. Click here for more details and to book your tour.

Do follow the Royal School of Needlework on Facebook too: .

Tuesday 17 December 2013

NO8DO - The Skein of Wool That Means She Has Not Abandoned Me * Not Forgetting Christopher Colombus


Seville is a wonderful place to visit - sunny, warm hearted, full of good cheer, beautiful parks, buildings and friendly people. And just so I don't forget, I'll mention Christopher Columbus first. His tomb in the Santa Maria Cathedral in Seville is extraordinary. His body is borne aloft in a casket by four nobles. I was particularly interested in the figure nearest us, bearing the arms of Leon, the hem of whose emulated embroidery robes are decorated with gorgeous plump, round pomegranates. Although he left for a life at sea when aged just 10, his family were weavers and it is likely young Christopher spent his early years helping his father, perhaps throwing the shuttle.

Seville is a wonderful place to be for the winter holiday festivities - Christmas lights amongst the oranges in the trees! I digress...what about NO8DO? Well, that is a knotty problem, one might say. Everywhere I turned I saw this strange device - NO8DO - it was on all municipal buildings, somewhere. At first I thought it was a clever pun on knot since nodo means knot and what lies between the NO and the DO is a knot of sorts. But no, it was Richard who found out the real meaning. And it is a rebus, not a pun. The 8 represents a skein of wool, in Spanish - Madeja. So the device is to be read No Madeja Do which sounds like: No me ha dejado meaning: She has not abandoned me. Some believe this refers to the city's support for King Alphonse X in the war with his son Don Sancho in the 13th century. Others say this refers to Ferdinand III who uttered the words upon entering the city and freeing it from Moorish rule in 1248. What a yarn!

Monday 16 December 2013

The Bright Arrival

Another off-piste post - this time about our talented carpenter-nyckelharpa-playing niece. She plays with a group called Bright Season and they will be touring the UK in Spring next year. The piece they are playing in the video is called Arrival and is to celebrate the arrival of a new baby - I thought it was very apt for the season - this bright season, in fact. If you have never heard a nyckelharpa, now is your opportunity.

Sunday 15 December 2013

All Buttoned Up Then? * The Shop At Somerset

In one of those moments of serendipity I discovered the Shop At Somerset and found lots of brilliant notions that you might enjoy.

I thought their range of buttons was quite delightful and would add a touch of je ne sais quoi to a special stitching or patchwork project. Just click here to visit for yourself.

Saturday 14 December 2013

Hoop - La! LOL!

I am forever rescuing, liberating, ransoming embroidery hoops from jumble sales and charity stores. It is surely a mistake they are on a shelf there. Are they lost? Where are their friends? I inevitable take them under my wing. Now what? asks Richard, not unreasonably. I always promise a good use for them..... Now, Richard points out, maybe I am the one in need of rescue from my own good intentions as their population growth has gone slightly exponential while I was concentrating on other things. I have a feeling this book packaged together with some of my hoops might make a useful gift to the local Brownies run by our village postmistress.

Friday 13 December 2013

Sampler Tribute to Robert Marshman Pastor of Westbury Leigh 1763-1806

It's always rather exciting to come across samplers that relate historic events - particularly on what might be termed the micro scale. From these stitched documents we can see through the eyes of the community those issues that were considered important enough to record - acts of goodwill, acts of corruption or, as in this case, acts of devoted long service. In 1662 a congregation formed in Westbury Leigh, Wiltshire. By 1669 Anabaptists were meeting in the house of Roger Cutter, who was their pastor until his death in 1693. Cutter also represented his congregation at the 1st Baptist Assembly in London in 1689. After 1693 the congregation moved into a barn beloging to Stephen Self, a clothier, on the site of the present Baptist chapel. In 1714 Self converted the barn into a chapel. Robert Marshman, the pastor honoured on this sampler, ministered to the congregation from 1763-1806. Between 1796-7, he was responsible for building a new, larger chapel on the site of the old one. Nearly all the cost of £1,300 was raised by the congregation. There was a Sunday school, built after Marshman's time, where 140 pupils were taught. The chapel is still well used today. Elizabeth Lane was the stitcher of this sampler which she accomplished aged 9. Was she chosen because she was the best stitcher among her peers, because she was a relative of of a church elder? We do not know. However, it is almost certain she did not marry. She appears in the 1851 census as daughter of the household, aged 42. Her sampler is for auction - Lot 742 - with Henry Aldridge and Son on 14 December 2013. Click here for more details.

Thursday 12 December 2013

Angels * Midori Takaki * Canterbury Christ Church Gallery Until 21 December 2013

December is a month when I feel I can indulge myself a little to take you off-piste, and today it is to share some special ceramics with you. Those of you who know me well, will know that I have had a very diverse life with many interests. While I have always loved textiles, I have always loved ceramics too. It has been my pleasure, long ago, to have known and sometimes managed exhibitions for wonderful potters - including Dame Lucie Rie, when I was taking a maternity sabbatical working for Henry Rothschild at his Primavera Gallery in Cambridge. So there is a ceramic core to my textile heart! Some time ago I visited Japan to pay homage to Bernard Leach's roots with Shoji Hamada at the workshop in Mashiko and since then my love for Japanese ceramics has just grown and grown. When I came across the work recently of a Japanese former anthropology student working in the UK, I was thrilled. Midori Takaki, when she was a child in Japan thought she would become a writer. She says: My head was full of imagination, memories, feelings, thoughts and stories. Once a while, they overtook my daily life. It wasn’t always easy for a child to live in the real world and my own world at the same time. Especially as all my imagination, memories etc. just float around in my head, like clouds in the sky. I didn’t know what to do with them. Now I capture the floating thoughts in ceramics. Once they were given shapes, they become grounded. I create something small almost daily at night. I call them my journal. I am writing in ceramics. By doing that, I file the information, which is, otherwise, difficult to classify, in drawers in my brain. I could bring every nuance and detail of my memories, stories, emotion and thoughts, back to life vividly when I see each sculpture. If you are near Canterbury be sure to visit Midori's exhibition at the Sidney Cooper. To see some of her works for sale, visit her Etsy shop.

Wednesday 11 December 2013

Rosemary Cathcart & The Sheelin Antique Lace Museum, Ireland

My hat goes off to anyone who sets up an independent textile museum, and my hat is certainly doffed to Rosemary Cathcart who set up an antique lace museum to showcase the finest examples of Irish lace on the planet.
Set in the picturesque village of Bellanaleck, just south of Enniskillen in Ireland, the Sheelin Antique Irish Lace museum is a beautiful attraction and one of the largest collections of antique Irish lace in the world, displaying Youghal Needlelace, Inishmacsaint Needlelace, Crochet, Limerick and Carrickmacross. All the lace dates from between 1850 to 1900.

Adjoining the shop is the Sheelin Lace Shop - a treasure trove of antique Irish lace items and other vintage textiles and clothing. Items for sale include antique wedding dresses, wedding veils, shawls, collars, bonnets, christening gowns, 1920s dresses, feather fans and headpieces. And right next door is a fabulous tea shop - what are we waiting for? For more details click here.

If you are not able to make the trip to Ireland, Lilee Cathcart has another antique lace shop in Alfie's Antique Centre, Marylebone, London. Click here for more details of the London shop.