Thursday, 14 December 2017

Woman’s Hour Craft Prize exhibition

I was interested to see the exhibition of work by the finalists of the Woman’s Hour Craft prize at the V&A Museum last week. The well-deserved winner was Phoebe Cummings with her beautiful unfired clay fountain which is designed to dissolve as the show progresses; the image shows a detail from it. However, looking at the exhibition got me thinking again about the difference between craft and art. I’ve been trying, unsuccessfully, to define both terms.

Various crafts are represented in the exhibition for sure, Laura Ellen Bacon’s woven structures and Celia Pym’s darning for example, but Laura admits to never having woven a basket and you wouldn’t ask Celia to invisible darn anything. As far as I’m concerned both are artists who use their craft skills to produce work that reflects movement and narrative, respectively. Of the ceramicists in the show, Alison Britton makes containers that are functional but speak of containment, Neil Brownsword highlights the loss of industrial ceramic skills by making and discarding clay flowers, and Phoebe Cummings deals with the ephemeral. Andrea Walsh initially studied fine art and developed the idea of a vessel into her glass boxes, which are sculptural and jewel like. Emma Woffenden also combines sculpture and glass to create strangely distorted figures while Laura Youngson Coll makes intricate biological sculptures (see the picture above). Of the jewellers in the exhibition, Lin Cheung acknowledges her ideas-based approach while Romilly Saumarez Smith gives antique finds a new life and narrative by turning them into jewellery. The other two exhibitors, Caren Hartley who makes bespoke bicycles, and Peter Marigold who initially studied sculpture but now makes what can loosely be described as furniture, seem to be more traditional craftspeople rather than fine artists.

It seems to me that most of these pieces combine craft and fine art. Does this signify the elision of the line between craftspeople and fine artists? Are most craftspeople now using their skills to produce work with conceptual ideas behind it? I doubt they are, as a visit to any gallery would show. Should we welcome this merging of art and craft? Do these definitions and categories matter anyway? Should we just enjoy the work whether it is art, craft or a combination? Food for thought!

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Working Carrickmacross lace

I’ve been doing some Carrickmacross lace on my Battle of Britain lace panel which has made me appreciate the skill of the person who made this lovely piece from the UCA Textile archive. Having worked some of this lace I realise that cutting round the fabric shapes once they’ve been sewn down, without cutting the net underneath, is one of the most difficult parts of the technique. However, you soon get used to the feel of the fabric being cut. I found that if I used my nail to stretch the fabric above the net it was easier to cut and ‘gave’ as I cut it away, which made it easier to distinguish fabric and net. I also realised that the placement of the grain of the fabric was important too as some of the shapes are very small and tend to come away from the sewn edge if they aren’t placed and cut on the grain. The fabric I’ve used also seems to be more open than in traditional examples, which gives it a very lace-like appearance, but makes it less stable when its cut. I’m very impressed that in this beautiful example from the archive the fabric is cut very closely to the sewn edge and has worn so well without unravelling.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Lace in Weldons encyclopedia of needlework

I was delighted to buy a copy of Weldons encyclopedia of needlework in my local Oxfam bookshop, especially as the final section of the book is an illustrated supplement of lace. It gives a brief and not entirely accurate description of ‘needlepoint lace’ and ‘bobbin or pillow-made lace’ but mainly consists of photographs of lace from the Victoria and Albert Museum. The pictures are a bit grainy but do give an idea of the different types of lace and it’s encouraging to see so many illustrations, particularly in such an old book. The image shows a detail of Point d’Argentan lace with its distinctive hexagonal mesh. Although the book is mainly a how to do it manual, there are no instructions for making either needle or bobbin lace but there are sections on other types of lace such as netting, embroidering on net, drawn work, crochet and knitting which I shall enjoy discovering.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Carrickmacross lace

The next stage of my Battle of Britain lace panel requires some Carrickmacross lace so I’ve been reminding myself how to do it. The last time I made any Carrickmacross lace was a while ago when I made this cape inspired by peacock feathers. Basically the technique is to lay a piece of fabric on to the net, then outline the shape you want with a thickish thread without cutting out the material. Then you couch the thread down using a fine thread and finally cut away the excess material to leave the shape you want outlined in a thicker thread. The secret is not to cut into the net as you remove the excess fabric round the edge of your design or to cut the outlining thread, so precision is required! As you can see, for the cape I used several layers of chiffon to make the peacock eyes so the technique was quite complicated. This time I’m just using one layer of fabric with an outlining couching thread so it should be simpler, however the net I’m sewing on to this time is firmer and has less give than the gold mesh I used for the cape. I’ll need to try a few different types of fabric on a sample before I work on to my panel to see which one works best with the net.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Needlerun lace

I’ve been doing quite a lot of needlerun lace recently for my Battle of Britain panel so was interested to find this example in the UCA Textile archive. It’s a collar worked by hand on a diamond-shaped machine-made net and while I’ve just been using outlining stitches this includes blocks of shaded areas as well. Embroidering on net was the first type of ‘mechanised’ lace and in the early nineteenth century numerous lace runners were employed in Nottingham to embroider the net produced on machines designed by John Heathcoat and John Leavers. Although lace machines were then developed that could produce patterned lace, the technique of needle run lace continued to flourish, particularly in Ireland. It had been introduced to the country by Charles Walker who took 24 skilled English women to Limerick in 1829 and set up production there using machine net imported from Nottingham. They trained local women to make needlerun and tambour lace and the technique soon spread to other towns although it is always referred to as Limerick lace. The reason I’ve been using the technique is that it is fairly quick and covers a large area quite easily – bobbin or needle lace would take considerably more time because you’re making the net as well as the patterns. Also, in my case, I wanted a technique that referenced the origins of the original Battle of Britain lace as a net curtain panel and working on machine net gives that link to machine-made net.

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Lace fashion reports 1930

I recently spent a day in the Lace Archive at Nottingham Trent University doing some research and came across a folio of lace fashions from the 1930s. It contains reports of the Paris fashion shows written for the lace manufacturers in Nottingham showing the latest trends. It is all quite detailed and as well as the report, which includes some sketches, the correspondent has sent samples of the lace and photographs of it with detailed measurements. There were also photos of ladies wearing lace fashions at the races. This type of information was obviously useful to the manufacturers in designing lace and finding out what the trends for the coming year would be. In fact the report is marked ‘Confidential’ so it was obviously highly sensitive information.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Exhibition dates for my Battle of Britain lace project

I’m delighted to have finalised the dates for my Battle of Britain lace project. It will be exhibited in three venues but I think will look quite different in each. It will first be shown at Wollaton Hall in Nottingham as part of the ‘Lace unravelled’ symposium being organised there from 15 to 18 March. The space there is a large room at the top of the building with amazing views over the surrounding countryside. Unfortunately it isn’t possible to hang anything in the room though, so my three panels and a facsimile of the original Battle of Britain panel will be placed on long tables that can be walked round. That also means that the installation part of the project – stylised paper parachutes representing the airmen killed in the Battle of Britain - cannot be hung either so that aspect of the work will be absent from Wollaton.

The next venue is Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire where it will be exhibited from 7 July to 4 November 2018. Gawthorpe is a beautiful old house well known for its textile collection. The Gawthorpe Hall collection also includes one of the original Battle of Britain commemorative lace panels and it will be on display at the same time as my new work. The parachute installation will also be displayed with the new panels. This aspect of the work is very important in this setting because there is a strong family connection to the Battle of Britain - Richard the 2nd Lord Shuttleworth served in Fighter Command and died in the Battle.

The third venue is Bentley Priory in London, which was the headquarters of Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. The exhibition there will be open from 17 November 2018 to 30 March 2019. The exhibition room is circular and my panels will hang on the wall with the parachutes hanging from the ceiling in a huge circle radiating from the central pillar. The parachute shapes are being made at Bentley Priory as part of their family and school learning activities. Bentley Priory also received one of the original Battle of Britain lace panels and has it on permanent display so that can be seen as well. I’m really looking forward to seeing how the panels and the parachute installation come together to highlight aspects of the original panel at each venue.