Ironically, this is the title of an artwork I made, in a less chaotic time, for the inaugural Australian Textile Art Award. The exhibition opened last Friday, then the gallery immediately closed for an indefinite time due to the Corona Virus.
Last October, in what seems like another life, we spent a wonderful week at Lake Garda, Italy. We walked along the lake edge, caught ferries to lake side villages, ended the days with an Aperol Spritz and a delicious dinner.
My plan was to make work inspired by this beautiful lake, focusing on the enjoyment of life.
Big skies and large bodies of water calm me, I take a deep breath and sigh, all is right with the world. This work began after a lakeside holiday with a goal to reflect and inspire this simple joy in life. However, back home life got in the way, with responsibilities, interruptions, and the negative influences of social media and the news. Working through the many iterations of this piece has helped me accept that the chaos will continue, and that we need to look for the glimpses of calm amongst it.
Materials and Techniques
Materials – silk organza, silk dupion, recycled business ties, woolen blanket, polyester machine thread, embroidery thread. Techniques – Fabrics were printed and hand dyed, then layered together and machine stitched throughout. Some layers have been cut away. Colonial knots were then stitched throughout. Individual circles have been assembled with hand stitching.
I am delighted to have my work A Merry Dance selected for Stitched and Bound 2019, which opens at Zig Zag Gallery, Kalamunda, 11 October and runs to 27 October 2019. The exhibition then tours to Lake Grace Regional Art Space 11 – 24 November 2019.
A Merry Dance is the second in a series on Domestic Maps. The work comprises layers of business shirts, dyed tea towels, woollen blanket, all retired from their original purpose in our household. The layers have been machine stitched together with some areas cut away to reveal the under layers. The work is completed with hand stitched colonial knots.
A Vegetarian, a meat gourmand and one who loves tinned spaghetti, my children all cook, often at the same time. A merry dance around each other as they wear a path from fridge to stove top to sink. I’m very proud they can all cook, but “Oh what a mess!”
I was tracking well on my latest piece of work. 2/3 finished and way ahead of the deadline…
Usually work slowly comes together, there is a love/hate relationship at various stages, with corrections and changes as the work develops.
The image in my head simply didn’t translate…the colours, the proportion, the contrast. There was simply no way to fix it.
So I have started over. Having made the decision it is actually quite a relief! I am much happier with the progress.
Below – A new start
Below- The top layer ready to machine stitch
Below – The Middle Layer
Each work I make stimulates more ideas to play and experiment with on the next piece. The more I make, the more I refine the process too. I have been experimenting with a range of backings over the years. Starting with polyester felt, upholstery fabrics and this year recycled denim. The denim made a lovely sturdy work, but proved difficult to hand stitch through. I’ve started doing a lot of hand stitching and the strength required to pull the needle through on each stitch really made my hands ache. I have changed to using old blankets for the last few pieces and find it much more comfortable on my hands.
Below – The backing. My childhood blanket recycled…again!
The backing for this new work was unpicked and sewn back together from a previous dud artwork. The disaster piece was no different. Both proving what not to do!
Since then there’s been a lot of machine stitching, cutting away areas
and lots of hand stitching Colonial KnotsAs I’ve been stitching away, I’ve been listening to more 99% Invisible podcasts – Here is their recent set on clothing. My favourites being Punk and Blue Jeans and Pockets.
As a female artist, the role of caring for loved ones, domestic duties and family responsibilities are never far away. From nappies to the beginnings of an empty nest, twenty five years of laundry care are marked by a well worn path. Mostly invisible, yet expected, quiet steps throughout the house are often only noticed in their absence. Stitched layers of worn-out family clothing map the labouring process expected of so many women throughout our society. A Well Worn Path is currently on show at the Minnawarra Art Awards, Armadale District Hall until 19 May 2019.The piece is made from family clothing, well washed and worn out: My Husband’s shirts printed with metallic paints, layered with shirts, shorts, jeans and silks. The whole piece is then machine stitched. Some areas have been cut away through two layers, then colonial knots cover the remaining circles to create the texture and contrast of the well worn layers.
Working is textiles is a rather slow process. I started this piece in mid February. It is large – 3 x 2m lengths and there are several very time consuming steps…lots of ironing, printing, machine stitching, cutting away and now covering the entire piece with colonial knots.The slow stitching is quite calming, I’ve got into a gentle working rhythm that is surprisingly easy on my back, neck and shoulders. Often the repetitive nature of my work leads to lots of pain…and always in the back of my mind – How will I complete this if my body can’t cope?I’ve started listening to Podcasts as I stitch. Thanks to a recommendation from my son, I’ve been listening become slightly addicted to 99% Invisible. I’m boring my poor husband with lots of interesting facts…
While this is probably something I say every year, this year the approach is a little different.
Moving away from the “mosaic style” of my cut-away pieces, where I stitch 100s of 1-1 1/2 inch squares to a canvas, I’m trialing whole cloth pieces. I started this in “Days Like This”. These 20 x 20cm works were delightful to make and gave me the opportunity to include some simple hand stitch; colonial knots and running stitch. The challenge of course is the design/layout has to be determined before you start any machine stitching. With the “mosaic style” I could play around with the layout on the canvas until the very last stage of making the work. However there was a huge amount of time spend edging each small square with satin stitch.In this new work I have pushed the size to over 50 x 100cm. A challenge to manoeuvre for free motion stitching on the sewing machine, and awkward for access to the centre for hand stitching. Below – back of the work. Most seasoned quilters will say I am a being a wuss “that’s not very big!” BUT, I don’t have a long-arm quilting machine nor a quilting frame and in hindsight the backing of denim may have been a mistake. It’s quite tough to hand stitch through.
I’ve also worked mostly white on white, a shift from the usually bright colourful works I make in the cut-away technique. I’ve technically learnt a lot making this piece and during the time spent stitching, I now have lotsway too many of ideas for “whole cloth” works!
Making a body of work is only one step to exhibiting your work. Midland Junction Arts Centre staff have been wonderful to work with. Ease and grace come to mind. Curator Greg Sikich and volunteer Assistant Curator Lisa made me truely admire the skills of a curator. Achieving the vision I had with some works and guiding me with suggestions and decisions when I was less certain…I learnt a lot in those two install days.
A huge thank you also to Margaret Ford for her speech to open my exhibition. She immediately understood my work and portrayed it beautifully to the audience.Of course this body of work would not exist without the support and trust of my mother as you will see in the catalogue essay below. She willingly told me her very personal stories and those of her mother, my Nanna, in the knowledge that I was going to, in some form, interpret this into contemporary textiles. My one hope is that she feels I have honoured them. The ever supporting family 🙂
Of Our Time – Ordinary Lives explores the lives of three generations of maternal women in my family.
Family stories, those incidental ones beyond the dates of significant events, are lost if not recorded. Historical events and dates of births, deaths and marriages are easy to research. However how these same events personally affected my family as they navigated changing and challenging times can only be found through inquiry.
My early experience learning about the women in my family was through the naive lens of a child. My childhood memories of my Nanna’s life paint her days as simple and leisurely. My Mother appeared to cram a much larger workload into a strict timetable between home duties, work and study. By comparison, my own feels mashed together with few clear boundaries and little structure, but for the constant putting out of spot fires. My daughter’s life I can only project.
As a mature adult I started asking the right questions and discovered that the stories of my Mother and Nanna were much more complicated than I had believed. I have been fortunate to have access to old family letters: some nearly eighty years old, to records, memorabilia and photos. I have also been fortunate to have access to my mother, between heartfelt conversations and a shared visit to the Midland area much in the style of Julia Zemiro’s Home Delivery.
Often we can’t think of the right questions, or aren’t interested until it is too late, and as I observed this in my friends and family, I was determined not to let the intricacies of my own family history slip away.
My left-handed Nanna, who taught me how to crochet right-handed, was the eldest daughter in a large family, and long considered a confirmed spinster. As far as we know she never had paid employment outside of the home. In 1941, at 37 years of age she received a marriage proposal by letter and travelled from Melbourne, Victoria to the Midland Junction Train Station to meet her Husband to be: a man she had only met on a couple of occasions. With whom she would start a new life in Western Australia.
I was drawn to the precious items my mother has kept: Nan’s letters, including the proposal by my grandfather; her exquisite hand embroidered and crocheted doilies; telegrams, ration cards, and receipts for major purchases; the documents relating to my Grandfather’s early death; immunisation records; swimming certificates; five books in the Anne of Green Gables series. I began to get a sense of her experiences leaving a loving family in suburban Melbourne, a few tram stops from the city, to living through Perth summers near Midland, during WWll and the rationing of most living necessities. The only means of communication being via letters and the occasional telegram.
During my Nanna’s time, concepts of recycling and zero-waste were of necessity. This exhibition was created entirely from materials I already possessed: scraps from previous projects, recycled and gifted vintage fabrics, older Op Shop finds.
2000 Miles Away uses tie linings complete with stains from washing, marks from manufacture and the remains of unpicked stitches, sewn together with recycled envelopes and overhead projector sheets. On a recreation of my Nanna’s hexagonal tiled floor their conversations are blurred by distance and time.
In 1962 my nineteen-year-old mother married my father and had to resign from her clerical job at the Government Railways in Perth, Western Australia. The “Marriage Bar” was still four years from its eventual repeal, requiring married women to give up their jobs in the Australian Public Service.
She found employment in a private company until I was born two years later. As time went by she worked in many clerical roles and in her 40s followed her true passion, gaining a degree in Literature and History from UWA aged 50.
My mother’s life has been marked by massive shifts in the means of communication, along with the frequency and also the access across remote distances, thanks to developments in technology.
The typewriter in its many forms has been a pivotal part of her life. Starting with the “clunky old Remington with round black keys,” on which she learnt to type in High School, to a bright red Olivetti Valentine portable: I remember her squeals of delight in receiving it for her birthday from my father, and when she came home perplexed, having had to take a speed test on “one of these new Golf Ball Typewriters,” during a job interview. As technology has changed, her progression has continued with electric typewriters, computers, iPads and mobile phone texting.
The individual typewriter keys, unique and separate, when linked together have been the means to tell stories, write essays, apply for jobs, write letters to family and friends, and more recently, send emails and texts.
The title Remington Keys is taken from the typewriter brand she learnt to type on in high school. These keys show the structure of life, bound by society’s conventions, order, and acceptance of those rules imposed upon women. My mother worked within this framework in acceptance of these societal expectations and employed these skills to create the space to explore her dreams. The work employs vintage fabrics and op shop ties in the hues with which my mother would decorate her home across the decades and the fashions she followed.
Keyboards are now less a skill in and of themselves but a means so many of us use to communicate, shop, write our thoughts, and play. Textiles have changed in a similar way: they are no less present in our lives, but our relationship has changed. The traditional sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidery skills passed down from my grandmother to my mother as important tools to make a home, have become a means of expression and exploration, when passed down to me.
Made from minute scraps leftover from my previous works, Days contains a timeline and travels of my own art practice. The approximately 20 000 squares, recreate the days of my life so far. As a group, they all blend together, similar though unique, frayed, complex, simple, broken, amazing and any other combination on any given day. Held on by a thread. A life and a day can go from happiness to sorrow and back.
These individual days are shown in their complexity, detail and contrasts when scaled-up in Days Like This. Minute details which are glossed over in the context of the whole, make up the subject matter of these individual works.
This past month has been spent writing a catalogue essay, labeling and choosing images, organising layouts, writing lists for guests and floor sheets…all necessary for an exhibition, but lacking the somewhat meditative process of making. My evenings in the studio usually consist of continuing from where I left off on my current project. It wasn’t until my work was finished, that I realised how much I need this and how bored, frustrated and lost I felt. I picked up this set of samples/experiments that have been sitting around for a while and started some simple stitching. What a lovely distraction from essay writing 🙂 With the essay submitted, late last week the lovely Anne Williams gave me a private tutorial on making artist books using Coptic Stitch binding.
I was delighted with the potential and made another using one of my art cards and used transfer print papers.I plan to make a limited edition of Artist books for my exhibition.On a sad note, this is the last issue of Down Under Textile magazine. The publishers have found it is no longer economically viable. A sign of the times for print publications, but still very disappointing for the readership and textiles in general in Australia. So many of us have had the opportunity to have our work featured over the years. I am especially grateful to Editor Kate Oszko for inviting me to write for the magazine over the past 18 months.
As I’m writing this I am close to my self appointed deadline of the end of this month, to have all my work finished for my exhibition in November Of Our Time – Ordinary Lives My studio and our house is covered in dust thanks to the endless cutting fabric into small bits and reassembling.
I was actually a little bit ahead of my deadline and that is a problem. In that I thought Ooh, I could see that exhibition…and that other one…and maybe go out to dinner. You know, have a social life like other people. There goes the weekend. And then over the past week or so, so close to being finished a few unexpected challenges consume my days. The washing machine hoses leak and flood /stink out the laundry, the dog starts limping – will this be the second trip to the vet in a fortnight? A car is purchased for our daughter = an afternoon sorting out insurance, money and collection of the car.With a couple of days to go I have officially finished making!!!As I have mentioned to friends that my work is almost finished, they comment on how organised I am. November seems a long way off. There are still many steps other than making work in order to prepare for an exhibition – attaching work to canvases, backings, hanging devices, all leading up to photography day mid September. And on to catalogues etc.
I have been working on the theme of Silver Linings over the past few years
and Light into the Darkness was a shift to wearable art and is the final piece in this series.
I wanted the model to be smothered in a dark cloud, her view of the world obscured, not to be able to see beyond the overwhelming darkness.
I came across an image of an enormous pony tail tree in full bloom, the strength of the trunk supporting the bloom inspired the shape of the garment. The trunk or body of the garment became the silver lining, those little seeds of hope and colour connecting and building a strong foundation of resilience.
The cloud is made from tulle that I dyed black and grey.
Some of the edges have been machine stitched with silver lines and some with a black lace like edging.
I wanted the effect of an upside down tutu and after feeling very frustrated with my results, I rang the WA Ballet and spoke to a lovely lady in the wardrobe department who very generously gave me lots of tips and ideas to create the desired effect.
I ended up making four separate layered pieces for around the models’ neck and a headpiece.
The model’s body is covered with colourful circles connected together with machine stitching.
There are about 1200 circles. Each circle is a sandwich of denim jeans as a backing, transfer printed satin (see below), silks
and a top layer of dark grey fabric that has been printed silver with a stamp. The sandwich is machine stitched together and then I cut away the top layers to reveal the colourful silks and satins underneath.
Each piece was then hand cut from the sheets.
The circles are connected to each other by free machine embroidery. I stitched on a plastic like material called Solvy to connect all the circles. When I finish stitching, I wash away the solvy in warm water and as long as all the stitching is attached to the circles the whole work stays together…If not, it’s a big knotty mess!
I made a few panels of circles and then trialed them on my dress form. My initial idea was to blend the circles black to silver.
Very quickly I abandoned the silver, and continued to make dark panels trialing for shape and quantity.
When I was happy with the arrangement, I stitched all of the panels together. The whole garment then needed to be washed again. This was a rather scary moment!!!
The shoes where a Buy Nothing gift and were bright orange. I spray painted them black then made a stencil by stitching another piece of solvy and then sprayed silver over a stencil.
Light into the Darkness image by Tony Tropiano at Wearable Art Mandurah Showcase 2018