31 March 2015

Tuesday is drawing day - at Museum of London

Last week we met "downstairs" at the Museum of London - a place with lots of audiovisuals, hence lots of noise - and some rather gloomy, dim lighting. All this augmented my somewhat grumpy mood, so I was relieved to find somewhere quiet - the City Gallery, the one with the Lord Mayor's coach and the six horses. At that point I was ready to sit down in front of anything just to get away from the noise and chose this aiguilette, or it chose me -
Well it was shiny (made of wire) and loopy and woven-ish and ... strange ... why would anyone wear this? It's ceremonial wear, and lower-ranking officers wear it on the left shoulder, whereas senior officers wear it on the right shoulder. It references lacing that once held armour together, and is one of those strange historical survivals that become fossilised in uniforms. It's the pointy tips that are the "aiguilles" - needles - and these distinguish it from a lanyard.

Hidden in the photograph is a police whistle, made by J Hudson & Co in Birmingham - it says so on the whistle. What's more, it also says "City of London" and "Police Reserve". The whistles, says the label, were attached by a brass chain to the second button on the officer's tunic.

I spent some time figuring out the way the aiguillette was made - a simple crochet chain, but oh how wonderful it looks in that 16-strand (or maybe it was 24-strand?) gold wire!

In between, however, my other notebook was filling up with an effort to "write away" the grumpiness ... who knows why these moods afflict us? During my torrential writing, some very young children came to see the horses, and I quickly drew the one in the hooded parka, and after that, more of the visitors -
They further obscured the writing, indeed changed its bad temper to something more positive. At the end of the day I quite enjoyed the drawing experience (among which is a horse in blinders) -
And of course I enjoyed the coffee and chat, and seeing the others' drawings.

Having drawn the back leg of a horse previously, Jo now tackled the front leg - "it's not too often you find a horse that will stay still for that long" -
then wandered into the street of Victorian shops and started drawing a  display of biscuits -

Sue, meanwhile, had settled in front of the doors of the lift in Selfridges, designed in 1928 by ... goodness knows who ... info on labels was scanty - though an online search finds they were designed by Edgar William Brandt. They were removed in the 1970s "when escalators became popular" -
In the museum, the panels are lit from behind, and appear yellow with silhouettes -
Sue drew the personified wind from the top left, and Aquarius, top right (other panels had other horoscope figures).

Later we got out a few drawing implements - Sue has been using these coloured pencils for quite some time -
along with Jo's sepia felt pen and "colorkilla", and my 50p-each-on-sale watersoluble, chunky Stabilo crayons -
The chunky crayons relate to my totally erroneous theory that if you use a clumsy implement, the result doesn't have to be exact - which is obviously entirely wrong thinking - if you want to be exact, why chose an implement that starts out by defeating that purpose?

Maybe that's why I so enjoyed the inexactness, the freedom, of the drawing-over-writing today. Throwing accuracy out the window. Going for ... expression ...

30 March 2015

More garment sewing

The rain (and laziness) kept us in yesterday, so instead of going to see an exhibition I settled down to making "the ladybird dress" from: the fabric impulsively bought at Olympia earlier this month, a pattern that's been hanging around for five or six years, a zip picked out of a charity shop garment years ago, thread that didn't match but was the right tone ... and just when I thought I had everything needed, it turns out that the bodice needed to be lined (to finish the armholes) ... at which point the stash obligingly supplied some plain cotton, a bit stiffer than the ideal but "it'll do".

First difference from sewing as I remember it from my youth was that the pattern needed to be cut to size - in this case, a different size at the top and bottom, to match my measurements. In the aforementioned youth, patterns came in different sizes, and types - Misses, Juniors, and (do I misremember?) a type for mature figures - and in the envelope you'd find just the one size, 10 or 18 or whatever. Then as now, the pattern pieces were printed on enormous pieces of tissue paper, and had to be cut apart anyway, so cutting out to your size isn't extra work, just needs a bit of care and is more accurate in terms of eventual fit. 

Soon the pattern was laid out and ready for cutting out - double check and take a deep breath -
2 metres of 60" wide cotton = a sleeveless summer dress
The dress has a dropped waist and panelled flared skirt, perfect for adding pockets - you can see them integrated into the seams of the skirt front. There was just enough room - once the hem was taken up to my length - to fit everything in. The fabric requirements given on the envelope were rather more than the length I had bought so optimistically. I did wonder whether to piece the bodice lining out of the same fabric (in my youth I was a dab hand and that kind of thing) but went for the easy way instead. Too much danger of attaching it with the wrong side out!

Here are the lined bodice on the left, and the pockets inside the skirt on the right. Next time I'll take the top of the pocket up to the waist, to be sure it won't flap around inside the skirt; this time, if the pockets do flap around, a finger-crochet thread cord will join them.
Bodice and skirt are now joined, awaiting insertion of the (dreaded) zipper ... some research is needed on that one - I vaguely remember a method of basting the seam, machining the zip to one side (were teeth centred? maybe not), flipping it and top-stitching, then laying it on the other side of the seam and stitching from the right side of the fabric, which - once the basting was removed - created a perfect overlap. 

Another difference in sewing "then" and "now" is that I seem to need to constantly check the instructions, even though a few moments before I was perfectly clear on what needed to be done. Mind you, even "then" I did a lot of checking and re-checking. And "research" - for several teenage years, books on sewing were my favourite reading, either learning something new or revisiting familiar techniques - they were vividly re-created in my imagination, with underlying skepticism about whether something would actually work in reality, and an eye open for short cuts. 

While sewing I remembered the joy of spending the day, or the afternoon, making something new to go out in that evening. That would be one of my favourite ways to spend the day, even now.

29 March 2015

Getting back into garment sewing

Since seeing the asymmetrical top on the last episode of The Great British Sewing Bee, I've wanted to make it. The pattern is in a book, and this involves tracing it off from the sheet -
 Not my favourite task, but while I was at it I traced the pattern for the top with big pockets, shown on the cover. The vintage tracing wheel that came to me via Sally Douglass (thanks, Sally!) got good use, as did the weight that came with some ancient scales at one point and has proved SO useful since -
Much paper was pieced to make sheets big enough.

Nor was there table space big enough for laying out the fabric.
Ah, the fabric - I was attracted by the "dazzle" pattern and the fluidity of the fabric ... which will be causing me problems, as it shifts all over the place. Trying out sewing threads, I'm not having much luck with what's on hand, and don't seem to have nylon or polyester in navy blue. 

The serger is threaded up with black thread, which might do - but when I tried it out, one of the threads promptly snapped. Which will involve finding the manual and re-learning the threading. Or sticking with the ordinary machine ... either way, some research is needed.

At the moment I feel that this will be another trying-to-sew-knit-fabric disaster ... the jersey dress I made in 2007 is still unhemmed, gathering dust on Esmerelda the dress form, in a corner of the hall outside the weekend studio.

Several hours later
After cleaning and rethreading the serger, and a visit to the local [how lucky to have one] fabric shop to get ballpoint needles and polyester thread, and some fiddling around with stitches and tension on the other machine, I worked through the instructions in the book ... and cursed my choice of fabric. Then, once the neck was done, I cursed myself for not following my instincts - to staystitch the neckline, for a start: the fabric stretched, and the strip for facing will be much shorter next time!

The fabric feels lovely to wear, or would if it was warm enough to wear this yet. Even in summer, thanks to the stretched neck (and floppy facing) it will have to be layered over a teeshirt -
The next version will be made in cotton jersey, something irresistible from the local shop.

Lots of lessons learned. I don't have much experience of sewing with knits or with stretchy fabrics ... more research needed, for a start - and two garments are waiting to be made in cotton jersey.

28 March 2015

Light, and time, today

London from space -- all lit up -- but this evening, between 8.30 and 9.30, is Earth Hour, aiming for all non-essential lights to be turned off ... imaging that brightness at the centre somewhat diminished as the floodlit buildings are quelled for a few moments...

And a few hours later, at 1am, the clocks spring forward.

(photo citymetric.com; more info on Earth Hour in London at londonist.com)

27 March 2015

Ceramics - last class

Not quite the "end" - but the last class of the course saw a flurry of activity as I rushed to get what I could in the kiln. These will be available after 20 April ... which seems a long time away, given that some of them were started several weeks ago. Never mind, ceramics is a slow process, even when you use only one firing!
Some of these had dried out over the past week, others were fresh-dipped
They started out like this -

A final view of my drip-drying paraphernalia-improvisation - a weight in the bowl keeps the sticks in place -
The hairdryer is subsequently applied to each, to help dry out the bottoms and keep the sand from sticking - though that doesn't always work. No time for extra drying this week...

I had made some little paper-clay and metallic-organza pots at home -
On the left - to go into the kiln; on the right, what came out
The metal has a greenish tinge when paper clay is used, but with dipped porcelain, it turns black no matter what colour the fabric was -
Sampling different colours of metallic organza
And finally, more of what came out of the kiln (and had to be carefully taken home) -

The blue is glass from a few melted beads

26 March 2015

A little nothing

A mini-JQ, trying out a new method of putting it together. Would it work at a size of 6"x 12"? This example is 6" x 3 1/4" -
It's a quickly-made paper collage, with stamping (the yellow spots, the blue lines), a bit of fabric (the flower/sun), and quite a bit of couching (orange and yellow threads). I prefer the back, which shows the (neon) threads holding the three layers together -
Three layers - between the paper front and the fabric back is a layer of stiff, non-woven interfacing, which works at the small size to give the piece a "good handle" - it doesn't flop about - it's that non-floppy property that I think would get lost in scaling up this construction method.

Poetry Thursday - New Gravity by Robin Robertson

New Gravity by Robin Robertson

Treading through the half-light of ivy
and headstone, I see you in the distance
as I'm telling our daughter
about this place, this whole business: 
a sister about to be born, how a life's new gravity suspends in water. 
Under the oak, the fallen leaves
are pieces of the tree's jigsaw; 
by your father's grave you are pressing acorns
into the shadows to seed.

(from A Painted Field, Picador £6.99 - found here)

Robin Robertson (b. 1955) "is a poet of austere and meticulous diction, tempered by a sensuous music". He was brought up on the north-east coast of Scotland but has spent much of his professional life in London. His debut collection A Painted Field appeared in 1997 - and won the Aldeburgh Poetry Festival Prize, the Saltire Society First Book of the Year Award and the Forward Poetry Prize for Best First Collection. In 2004 Swithering won the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection. "An astute editor, Robertson also compiled Mortification: Writers' Stories of their Public Shame"; a short interview is here, in which he says "I simply follow lines of enquiry" [see below!] and continues, "Poetry seems to me, initially, an act of curiosity".

Now to the image, which stems from words in the poem but doesn't capture its feeling, quite the opposite. The stone captures the transience of living oak (and all that it represents), bringing it out of a durable material; the poem's moment is captured too, in words, making a surface just as the stonecarver made the surface of this carving in Lincoln Cathedral (found here, with no further information given).

Beyond the poem: 
In the same way that I like to know about the lives of the poets (especially, events in their childhoods that have a bearing on their later lives), it's an interesting exercise to find an image to go with the poem. The most mundane search words can bring up intriguing images and lead one through all sorts of interesting byways. This one sent me into another world, that of cathedral conservation and restoration work - of stonework, sculpture, glazing, and the roofs. Restoration of sculpture in the west front was finished in 2008 - just look at the difference -

To replace an area of stonework: "Templates are taken from the original stones and full size drawings are made. Full size block measurements are sent to our quarry north of Lincoln and sawn on six sides from the rough quarry block. The stone is worked using the templates from the original stones. Archstone, stringcourse, capitals, columns and many other types of stone are worked by hand to an accuracy of 1mm."

Another byway: the history of Lincoln Cathedral. Until 1549 it was the tallest building in the world - then the spire of the central tower (built 1307-11) blew down! Sic transit and all that...

Then, master stonecarvers themselves - it's chance that sends you to certain sites, in this case to the website of Nicholas Fairplay, who shows examples of drawings that are presented to clients, which I find very informative for approaching drawing of stone -
But I digress! If you've read this far, go back and re-read the poem...

24 March 2015

Tuesday is drawing day - at the Wallace Collection

Amid the gilt of the furniture and the dark colours of so many of the paintings, the light and freshness of these two caught my eye -
but I wanted to tackle something a bit "different". French furniture isn't really an interest of mine - though after you've spent a chunk of time paying attention to something, it gets more interesting!

The marquetry on a Louis XVI secretaire caught my eye- 
as did those lovely leaves... The eye-slits on the helmet of the "helmeted cuirass" on the left were the deciding factor - I'd start with those.

It was interesting to see the details in the goldwork (gilt bronze) - the veins on the leaves, the ornamentation of dangling fringes, the arrows in the quiver, the groups of berries - and with the reflections off the gold itself, and the darker areas of wear, it was quite hard to figure out what was happening where, tonally ... but it certainly made you look!

And then I got to that lion - who is rather 3D, and at rather an angle, something I didn't pick up on at first -
At that point I was totally frustrated and rubbed him out. And had another go, not much more successfully (scroll down and you'll see) ... something to revisit after a bit more drawing practice?
Some of the marquetry made it into the background of my drawing, and very exquisite it all is. The gilt motif is outlined in a dark wood - which has the finest outline, less than a millimetre, too small to draw! - in a light wood. Amazing. The label reads: "Oak, veneered with panels of pictorial marquetry in holly, box, stained sycamore, pear wood, walnut, sycamore, tulipwood, gilt bronze, Carrara marble, box, amaranth and satiné". 24 details can be seen in the Images section here.

What I also enjoyed was the signature of the furniture maker - Foulet.  The maker is Pierre-Antoine Foulet (or Foullet). The Metropolitan Museum of Art has another piece by Foulet, and so does the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (here); in fact there are quite a lot of chests of drawers by Foulet scattered round the collections, including this one and that one...

And finally what I'm looking for - some biographical info on Foullet, in addition to "master 1765" or "d.1775", which refers to his father, Antoine; also, the patterns on the secretaire are based on those in a book that was published in 1776-7, hence its attribution to c.1777. Pierre-Antoine's dates, says the catalogue of the Robert Lehman collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, are 1746-1809; he's an ebenist, and in the late 1760s worked in collaboration with Leonard Boudin, who made the body of the furniture and gave it to Foulet to apply the marquetry. 

In 2014 the Wallace Collection exhibited the Foulet secretaire alongside a 19th-century reproduction - "The initial impression that one piece is a literal copy of the other is soon dispelled: the marquetry, despite degradations on the magnificent and aristocratic Foullet example, is far less detailed and beautifully executed on the nineteenth-century version.  The construction of the drawer linings is not the same, nor the construction of the backboards, nor the use and type of screws, and so on." This video compares the two superb pieces of furniture.

A detail of Foulet's marquetry -
Our finished drawings -
Sue drew an enormous ceremonial sword - too long to fit on the page, so she did it in halves; aren't those gilded spheres glorious? It's an elaborate version of this -

23 March 2015

New art from Africa and Latin America

The Pangea II exhibition had many large works exhibited in the Saatchi Gallery's large rooms, but the one I remember best had been in the previous Pangea show ... the "ants" by Colombian artist Rafael Gomezbarros. This time some of them were in a small room, and to step into the room, its walls crawling with these creatures, was to have all the hairs on your legs stand on end - quite a different effect from them being "safely" spread on the walls of a very large room -

Also extremely impressive was the work of Ethiopian artist Ephrem Solomon - cut lino with collage and paint, with limited colours and signature elements of chairs and slippers -

Ibrahim Mahama lined an entire room with coal sacks in the first Pangea exhibition - this time he showed several smaller works -
Armand Boua's medium is tar and acrylic on cardboard -
The collections of hats, sewn onto canvas, are part of Alexandre da Cunha's "Nudes" series -

And now for something completely different - in a small room upstairs is prizewinning work by children of various ages from one school - the "cubist faces" are by 10-11 year olds -
What a brilliant rendition of "The Chomondley Sisters"!


... blue plastic bags in this installation at the Pangea II show at Saatchi Gallery (till 6 Sept) -
Jean-François Boclé
Everything Must Go
Does it make you think of melting icebergs?

22 March 2015

New directions?

In combining textiles and ceramics - or, turning textiles into porcelain - I'm making some flat pieces that will fit into box frames and hang on someone's wall, maybe. They are gathered and steamed and dipped and fired ... but none have come out of the kiln yet ... so I don't really know what to do next ...

The simplest is a rectangle about 10cm high; this one has metallic threads stitched across the gathers -

This is a sampler of the different metallic organzas, to see if they make different colours after firing -
After gathering and steaming, it looks like this -
It'll be interesting to compare the photo to the dipped and fired version ... but too late to develop anything based on the knowledge gained. Ah well, "next time"...

"Four Fields" before dipping, indeed before the sections were sewn together -
 ... and afterwards -
Aha, it's not the same "four fields" - unfortunately I forgot to take a "before" photo of this version. The "after" photo ... that's anyone's guess at this point! 

I like the format and have had all sorts of ideas about developing it, incorporating the metallic (colouring) elements in various ways, as fabric and as stitching. As there won't be time on the ceramics course to fire more, I'm thinking about developing them as textiles. Here's another in various stages of gathering -
 This is an idea involving layering of sheer fabrics -
Nice mindless stitching for television evenings or tube journeys!