Jack In The Green

Folklore and old traditions often play an important part in my making and research. A couple of weeks ago I attended the Jack In the Green festival at Hastings. It’s an annual event, over four days, culminating in a costumed parade on the fourth day of the festival where the “Jack” dances and parades up and down the streets and lanes of Hastings followed by his bogies and a magnificent cast of green characters, dancers, straw-bears, birds and a giant. Jack slowly makes his way up to the West Hill, with locals and visitors snaking their way up to the top of the town for further music and merriment. At the end of the festival the Jack is symbolically slain and the spirit of summer is released.

I enjoy how a lot of the events across the country are a blend of old pagan traditions mixed with more recent Victorian ways of celebrating and 60's and 70's influences, as well as present day fashions and subcultures. They have all made their marks and culminated in a hybrid celebration. 

There has been more interest over the last few years for these kind of customs and I have noticed more artists taking an interest in old customs, costumes, folklore and folk art. There is a zeitgeist for these traditions across the arts, present too in the recent resurgence and interest in folk horror films. It’s a trend I’m excited by, if it gives more importance and resources for recording and celebrating some fascinating aspects of our social history.

Blue On Blue

I’ve been taking advantage of the good weather this May, to get outside and make some samples with organic cotton and natural indigo. I prefer working with natural dyes outside as I’m using some chemicals and mordents but it’s also more enjoyable too, to be making work from botanical sources and be outside in the garden working with them in nature.

The Natural Indigo vat takes a little while to prepare. Mixing two separate solutions and combining them. There is a fair bit of waiting involved and testing to make sure it’s working well before you go ahead with submerging the cotton. The part I enjoy the most is watching the fabric change from yellow/green to blue as it oxidises in the air. It’s quite magical to see. You can keep the indigo solution for a few weeks, so I’m hoping to get some time to make some more samples over the next month.

For my most recent series of samples I worked with increments of ten minutes, to produce 9 samples, gradually getting darker and darker blues. They look really beautiful when stacked together.

I also overworked some denim samples I produced a few weeks back, from up-cycled denim. It really brings out the blues of the denim and gives a crisper finish. The samples in denim are using traditional patchwork techniques including string work.

Make Your Future – Craft in schools

I’ve been working at the Crafts Council since August 2017, as Project Manager on Make Your Future. The project was developed from the research findings in our education manifesto and aims to bring craft back into the classroom, with a really hands on focus – but also incorporating STEAM in its broadest sense, looking at digital technology, the science and maths that naturally occurs in any designing and making and links with all our creative industries.

The project initially runs for three years and in September we launched our year two provision. After the first three years, the project will continue and develop based on our findings from the first few years.

Each new year sees us working very intensively with 24 schools over three regions and offering high quality CPD for teachers in a leading University. This teacher development is then followed by professional makers visiting the schools to deliver a series of hands on practical workshops for young people to experience making and thinking with their hands. The teachers and makers work together on this as a team with teachers building confidence in new craft skills, to teach for many years to come where ever they are working. We have three current specialism’s - textiles in Yorkshire, ceramics in London and metal in Birmingham. All carefully chosen, linked to the history of the region and the crafts they have supported in the past and still do today.

It’s been an incredible project to work on so far and I can see it making a difference in schools and young people across the country. We made a film to celebrate the first year of the project, you can view it here...https://vimeo.com/247284771

It's in the trees...

I split my week between the wilds of Kent and the big smog of London. When I’m in Kent I like to make the most of being outdoors, especially in the summer months when the days are longer, I’m out there as much as possible to take advantage of living next to ancient woodland. I’ll forage for wild food and watch the native animals, trees and plants. I sometimes pick up a few treasures for the studio to look at and draw - a seedpod, a leaf, or fallen nuts.

Images left to right: aspen and silver birch leaf, foxglove, dead tree, local farm growing cereal.

This summer I have been brushing up on my bushcraft skills and getting better at knowing the trees in my local area, attempting to identify animal tracks and walking along new footpaths I have not ventured along before. I’ve collected nettles and made my own cord. It’s surprisingly strong as a material! I’m sure I spent too long trying to make it look “perfect”, when I guess the real test is making it fairly swiftly and using it for practical reasons, but I’m a maker so it can’t be helped!

Images left to right: nettles in the woods, picked and stripped of leaves and stings! crushed nettles with pith removed ready for the cording, final corded nettles.

I also started using resources in my own garden to use as materials, including crocosmia leaves to play with in the studio, making some coiled forms with wild silk as a binding. I’ve been drying out some cherry wood from the garden for a couple of years and I enjoyed carving a simple haggle form and working on making tapered ends in ash.

There have been several blackberry trips this year (a usual occurrence for me in August & September), and I’ll probably save some berries towards the end of the season to make some more dye experiments.

Images left to right: coiling, blackberries, carved cherry wood, coiling with crocosmia and wild silk.

Often this kind of making in my studio will be about building “thinking works” where they help me explore an idea or feeling I’m trying to capture. These works might not necessarily filter through to a final collection, or the actual materials I end up using. I like to know the old ways of making things with hand tools and the minimum technology! Watch this space...

"Blue Death" - Adventures in natural indigo Dyeing

This Spring I will be showing "Blue Death" a neckpiece, at Mobilia Gallery in Cambridge USA, as part of their exhibition celebrating 4000 years of jewellery, linked to an exhibition at The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. My work was inspired by one of my favourite exhibits at the British Museum, Sumerian Court Jewellery from UR. C.2,500 BC. The extravagant assemblage of jewellery is beautiful when viewed, yet has a more macabre meaning. The pieces were excavated from a Royal burial and were found among several bodies. The Queen dressed in magnificent splendor was accompanied into the afterlife by her attendants.

"Blue Death" references the use of dye by ancient people for its symbolism of colour. Our blood is blue before it reaches the oxygen in the air around us. The fluid dye of the indigo represents this movement and the synthetic red once it is spilt. Blue Death could be interpreted as a royal death and also echoes the similarly named Black Death.

My neckpiece uses the following techniques: oxidised Silver fused and formed. Hand felted forms using red merino. Hand dyed yarn using natural Indigo dye. Crocheted cotton using unbleached yarn.

The pieces in the Museum are displayed based on how they were found on the skeletal remains. There is no evidence to show the totality of their appearance now the textiles elements are eroded. My translation of the works uses textiles to a great extent; these elements would not last very long underneath the earth. The original pieces could have been worn alongside textile elements. It is an enjoyable fantasy to think how they might have actually looked. The title Blue Death conjures up a story that invites the viewer to find out more about the origins of the work or create a meaning themselves from the puzzle presented.

A woman's work is never done

21 Jewellery works made for 15 trailblazing women. Created over three years, this frieze of jewellery represents the women who have been important to me, influenced my ways of working or ways of thinking. The collection was prompted by an ACJ exhibition in 2014, where I made a neckpiece in honour of Patti Smith, in response to the theme of ICONS. I accumulated a long list of trailblazing women and I decided to make more works in honour of them and their work.

It became an intensely personal way of making. Not purely making a work that would be a literal representation of the person I had chosen, or their style of work. It became a way of exploring how I felt about them and the particular influence they had had on me. Often the connection with them triggered a feeling, which then became, in part, a non-visual response for making.

Many pieces have multiple layers of symbolism and sentiment. Some pieces allude to something more tangible in their work, such as the scissors in the work “Wheel of life” for Patricia Highsmith, which references a murder weapon from one of her novels. The works for AS Byatt aims in part to capture the mood of Byatt’s novel “The Children’s Book” but also makes reference to the Cottingley fairies and experiences of my own.

These works are made in honour of the women but running alongside this is a dialogue with myself and my own interests, preoccupations and personal ways of making. Many of my jewellery objects have a collage or assemblage feel to them. For me, the person I make a work for might trigger a memory from childhood, have a connotation with a trip I made or an object I have seen in a museum. These complexities do not necessarily need to be explained to the viewer as once they are out there in the world they become something new and each viewer is invited to have their own conversation with the work. The experience will be unique to that individual and they might not admire the woman as I do or even have come across them and their work before. They are made to be seen a frieze of works, capturing different aspects of life and it’s cycles.

Some works, manifest themselves as a badges of honour to celebrate the achievements of the woman, others act as a talisman to offer protection. Most obviously the work for Mary Anning, which is titled “Talisman”. The notion of this piece is that it would have protected Anning from landslides, while she hunted for fossils. The neckpiece for Amy Johnson includes ephemera from her own lifetime. An enamel pin badge from the 1930’s, in the shape of a green plane with the name “Amy” written on it. It would have been bought as a commemorative souvenir after her flight to Australia. The work also includes a silver rose, to represent Yorkshire and has many embroidered details and words relevant to her life’s work and the planes she flew in.

I allowed myself to be quite fanciful with my making and I did not edit my responses. In the same vein I did not edit my list of women in any way, it was an honest and instinctive list of women who had been influential for me.

The women I have chosen are often the first to reach a goal, the first to pioneer a way of working, resilient women and women who made something of themselves despite set backs or gender bias. The women who are unapologetically themselves and get on and do their thing the way they want to!

I was surprised how many women on my list were musicians and strangely there are no jewellers in my list at all! There were many more trailblazers on my original list than I have managed to make work for. The strong women selected are from diverse areas; including sculpture, science, writing, painting, acting, civil rights, palaeontology and aviation.

A full list of the jewellery Anthology:

“Sister Brooches” for Louisa May Alcott, “Mr Punch” for PJ Harvey, “Woolgathering” for Patti Smith, “She flies with her own wings” for Amy Johnson, “Cottingley sisters” for AS Byatt, “Wheel of life” & “Lobster” for Patricia Highsmith, “Landscape” for Barbara Hepworth, “Self portrait” for Frida Kahlo, “Chair” for Rosa Parks, “Structure B” for Rosalind Franklin, “Talisman” for Mary Anning, “Mac ‘n’ heart” for Drew Barrymore, “Spellbound” for Siouxsie Sioux, “Thames” for Virginia Woolf and “Yoyo” for Kate Bush.

Images for all the works can be seen on the gallery page.