Saturday, 27 March 2010

Woman...her dress

The second dress has seemed simpler somehow to put together...maybe because I am so much clearer now in the way I want to show the contrasts of exquisite and poverty.... all made up of fragments. Scraps of printed cloth dating from 1908, that I have kept since 2000 make up the bodice, adding irony in their text such as: "washes well" and "thoroughly shrunk". Labelling for 100s of women of the past, and uniting with my own experience. Somehow there is a cleansing in it I have added the lable "pure" to the skirt. There are only loose plans for the third garment as each has to evolve as I work...each telling its own story.

The Weaver ( B.M.Franklin)

My life is just a weaving,
between my Lord and me,
I cannot choose the colours
He weaves so skillfully,

Sometimes he weaveth sorrow,
and I in foolish pride
forget he sees the upper,
and I the underside.

Not till the loom is silent
and the shuttles cease to fly,
will God unroll the canvas
and explain the reason why.

The dark threads are as needfull
in the weavers skillfull hand,
as the threads of gold and silver
in the pattern he has planned.

The natural madder dye has created a rich background to work on, and stitching on both the right and wrong side of the work shows some tangled threads or smooth patches in the work, just as it is in life...nothing is contains both the rough and the smooth, the perfect and imperfect, as is quoted in the poem "not till the loom is silent".

Catching Up

After two weeks of planning and stitching there are just a few moments for the blog! Time is going so quickly, with much to do, but at last my major project has been physically easy to write about it, but not so easy to give birth to it in a meaningfull and unpretentious way.I think the personal nature of the work made it difficult to begin with, but that barrier has now fallen away, giving place to real enjoyment and satisfaction in stitching the stories.The "family dress is now complete; here is part of an unfinished detail:

Friday, 12 March 2010

Now, the actual making and creative work on a dress that will combine fabric that is similar to historical red flannel petticoats of the poor, and antique lace that they would have had a part in making for the wealthy.The imagery in this piece will be of a personal nature, and I shall try to add the message and meaning as it develops.
The vibrant warm red colour was obtained by using a natural Madder dye, as the fabric is boiled wool. Wool dyes so well with madder, whereas cotton is not so vibrant. I woke up in the middle of the night remembering a pair of 1930s threadbare cotton print beach trousers that had been packed away for ages, and knew that the print would be a perfect combination and add another dimension to the dress idea. Here the fabric and antique lace is laid out on the table before cutting....and it was scary cutting it, incase it didn't work and the lovely vintage item was spoilt; but it was has to be brave!

Choosing the colours

I really enjoy working in neutral colours,but for this project colour must be meaningful...I wanted something that would really "sing out" so that the pieces would not appear sombre...even though the subject matter has a serious side.As there is a personal element to the work, I decided to use the colours of my old home in South Africa...they seem appropriate, and will bring the soft old colours of the vintage fabrics and lace to life, whilst the dark accents of black or navy will symbolise the dark threads that run through every life.

Development of the collection

The collection for Fragments, is going to be Art based, rather than Fashion led, although, as the work will be mostly in garments form, elements of fashion will run through it. It is intended for a gallery setting, so I shall be working in my own way of developing the work by building it up on stands, rather than design drawings. I find that one cannot really design for art...the creative process has to evolve without being forced, and that is difficult when there are deadlines to be met. A favourite artist, Rozanne Hawksley, speaks this out in her book, where she states that she does not draw something before she makes it...if she did, it would already have been completed.I have to admit that my way of working often causes me to panic a bit, as sometimes I am not sure where the work is leading untill everything falls into place.Here are some images of fabric being loosely "played with" for mood and inspiration.

Some sketchbook pages of early inspiration

Looking at the edgy Irish cottage interiors, and the softness of the lace and mother of pearl crosses, one can see such a contrast, but to me this is where the beauty the contrasts.Whilst researching for my dissertation, I came across this wonderful text.." The unlike is joined together, and from the difference results the most beautiful harmony (Heroditus).
That is what I am aiming to achieve in my current work...the unlike being joined and resulting in harmony.

I find it helpful to lay out some of the fabrics I hope to use, with images and text; this helps me to develop a mood for the work. Here there are books, lace and mother of pearl crosses ( one is a picture)laid ot together, and a fine, very worn shetland shawl ruched as a garment detail.

Also, the peeling layers of paint in David Creedons wonderful Irish Cottage Interiors, are just so beautiful to look at. Here in a sample is beauty in an unexpected form, and the vibrancy of the colours astonishes.View David Creedons work at
Beautiful layers of lace, as in this image of clothing by Swedish designer Ewa I Walla also inspire me...although I do not want to copy iy...there would be no pint in that.

The Song of the Shirt

There was an outcry about the starvation wages paid to needleworkers during the 19th century, with the cause being taken up by magazines such as Punch, and many artworks and painting appeared in connection with the famous poem "The Song of the Shirt " would depict the exhausted needle woman in a state of collapse over her work for the wealthy, and it became the hot topic of the period.

Exquisite Poverty: Fragments

Poverty is not exquisite,but what emerges from t can be. The beautiful work of women's hands throughout history, the lace, embroidery and fine stittching on a simple seam which we revere and treasure today were created in poverty as a means of survival for working class women.
They did not enjoy the fruits of their labour, nor recognition for their skills; their inner artist had no freedom to create...just for the joy of it, nor would they have had the time.
My progect will combine humble fabrics with beautiful lace, reflecting by the contrast, the differences between the two.It also references a period of my life which was spent in pieceing together fragments to make a whole...a story told in needle and that shows both the wrong, and the right side of the cloth as a visual language of life.


At long last here I am catching up with my blog, and the final major project almost has lift-off.The last two weeks has been difficult with illness clouding my head and stalling progress, but as I look back, progress has been made.The title of the project is Exquisite Poverty: Fragments, and it was inspired initially from research from my dissertation and the resulting knowledge of the harsh circumstances experienced by 19th century needleworkers.It was an image of an intricately embroidered collar with the printed stamp mark declaring "ten days allowed" that demanded somehow a creative response.