I am currently working on a new exhibition at Gawthorpe Hall Textile Collection which is in an amazing National Trust building in Lancashire. The textiles there are a private collection assembled by Rachel Kay Shuttleworth (1886- 1967) who lived in the house and opened it up to share her collections and her knowledge.
I first visited the Gawthorpe in 2015 to look at their pincushion collection as inspiration for Memorial Pincushions, which celebrate the life of my beloved aunt. The first half of collection were included in my Narrative Threads exhibition in 2015 and some in Salisbury Textiles Open in 2016. Emotional Repair will be the first time all 46 (each one representing a year of her life) will be displayed together and alongside the original inspiration pieces from Miss Rachel’s own collection.
Late in 2016 I began talking to Jenny Waterson, curator of contemporary exhibitions and learning at Gawthorpe Textile Collection about showing this piece and others in a solo exhibition which is now confirmed for 28 March – 24 June 2018. Over the last year I have been developing new pieces of work and groups which will form this exhibition. I also returned to Gawthorpe in the autumn to look at more textiles, this time selecting pieces about mourning and remembrance, as well as unfinished pieces which I consider very poignant and full of potential stories of loss.
Emotional Repair covers a wide range of personal and emotive subjects focused around loss and remembering and includes work made over the last two years as well as brand new pieces currently in development. Much of this work is deeply personal and touches on subjects which are hard to talk about so it may seem strange that I want to share them in this very public way, but we all know just how healing and cathartic it can be to make things when having a tough time. Textiles have such strong associations with domesticity, personal lives and family memory that they are the perfect means to express emotional stories. For me this works so well with the Gawthorpe Textile Collection, although Miss Rachel didn’t collect with this emotional response in mind, it is still one woman’s personal selection and it is displayed and preserved in her family home which brings an intimacy and personality beyond most museum collections.
The exhibition opens 28th March and continues until 24th June 2018.
In between archive visits I have begun working on a sketchbook to gather my thoughts and ideas for the new work I intended to make for the Criminal Quilts exhibitions starting in summer 2018 – which is suddenly really quite soon!
I’ve created a sketchbook for sharing with people when I do talks about the project and during archive workshops starting in January. It is very much a working sketchbook; a gathering of ideas, inspiration, notes, thoughts, colours, textures and details but it is also intended to be shared, used and probably included in exhibitions so I have taken care to make it look really nice!
I’m working in a large format spiral bound sketchbook with brown kraft paper pages which is robust, easy to display, has capacity for expansion and the colour fits with the project. As I discussed in a previous post, I am finding the photo albums themselves very inspiring – the layers of papers, the damaged leather bindings and the marbled endpapers which feel like a little incongruous in their luxurious feel.
I’m also working on colour palettes to bring through the work, much of it inspired by sepia photos, cyanotype prints and my early pieces taking colours from the Shire Hall court buildings themselves and most recently I have been working on ways of creatively interpreting the data which the research is uncovering. My next post will explore the growing data collection in more detail.
You can keep up to date with the project on Twitter @criminalquilts or on my personal Instagram feed (which also includes a lot more besides!)
During November I went through all eight photograph albums from Stafford Prison to record all the women featured in the photographs. The photographs begin in 1877 and continue until early 1916. The style of photography changes dramatically during this period as does the clothing worn by the women. The first set of images 1877-81 are all pasted alongside a written record giving details of each individual and a little information on their crime, trial and other convictions. The women are shown sitting down with their hands in their laps or enveloped in a large shawl. Many of the women in this album are photographed wearing a medallion with their prison number. Apart from the prison number medallion, these images look more like informal portraits than any of the later images. There about 100 records of women in this album. All the later albums just have photographs with a name, prison number and date of photography with no further details.
The album covering 1883-1887 contains the images which I used as inspiration for my previous Criminal Quilts, focussing on the hands, which in these photos are placed on the chest. It seems that hands were included prominently in prison photographs for a few years as hands, particularly damaged or missing fingers, could act as identifying features. This album has 12 photos per page including about 130 women in total.
The 1893-1896 album shows a change in the way prisoners were photographed. The early photos are taken face on but with a side mirror intended to capture the woman’s profile, though this is fairly unclear in most of the images. Their hands are still shown but by the end of the period this album covers a new style of photography has taken over with a profile image alongside the facing front photo, without hands. These photos, although less intriguing and personal than the ones with hands, still show clothing, and particularly hats with great clarity. These are black and white rather than sepia so also show a change in photographic technology. In most of the later (side on) images, women are shown without their hats and many are wearing prison uniform as shown below (arrow showing on her shoulder in the profile image).
Two albums cover 1897-99 and only contain 21 photographs of women. Why there are so few remains to be discovered as I do more research. These images are similar in style to the previous album although most of them are wearing hats.
Moving into the early 20th century the style of profile and face on images continues and the wearing of hats varies. In the last album 1911-1916, the hats are so impressive and stylish it is easy to be distracted by them and forget these are prison photos. A number of women are wearing similar outfits of gingham apron and mid-colour shirt with white collar and checked neckerchief which is surely prison uniform. A few older women are still wearing a Victorian bonnet rather than the modern large brimmed hat.
In all there are around 500 photographs of women in this collection of albums. I had initially intended just to focus on the earlier, Victorian-period albums where the hands are shown but I have decided to extend the research to all the women in these albums right up to 1916 as they are so intriguing and fascinating. A handful of women also appear across a number of albums and add depth to the stories I am aiming to tell with this project.
In the next post I will be showing the other side of the project – my own creative work developing alongside the research. You can follow the project research on Twitter @criminalquilts where new blog posts and snippets about the project will be shared.
The photographs which have formed the source material for Criminal Quilts are held in bound albums in Staffordshire Record Office. The albums are part of a large collection of archives from Stafford Prison and I’ve been working my way through each one in the last couple of weeks. The images I am working with date from 1878-1915.
As well as the intriguing photographs of women, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the albums themselves. They are large bound books with hundreds of pages. Some have damaged spines showing the binding. Some covers are badly damaged too, showing layers of leather and board.
The albums have marbled endpapers and indexed pages, buckled pages and damaged corners. The materiality and weight of these albums adds another dimension to the stories of the women whose images are contained within.
I am hoping to bring in the physicality of the albums into the new work in make as the project develops, in the form of artist-made books with hand printed and stitched pages.
I’m pleased to have a new piece of work selected for the ReThinkYourMind Yellow Book project.
My piece Ash Map will be included in the new book for 2017 which will be launched this week after an awards reception at the House of Lords last week, although I was at the Contemporary Craft Festival so wasn’t able to attend the awards.
The theme for entries was ‘I feel better when….’ and for me this is walking in the countryside. The line of the piece follows the route of a walk and is stitched with the seeds of an ash tree (called keys) which I collected. This work and a number of others exploring the natural world and the therapeutic nature of walking were created in late 2015 as I was dealing with a painful relationship break up when walking was essential to calm my mind and focus on things outside of my own head. Walking a lot is nothing new for me, I have always loved walking, but these pieces are the first work I have produced which use this experience of walking as a theme and inspiration to making. I am continuing to develop new work around walking, my experience of the natural world and hope to have an exhibition of new pieces in 2018.
As I develop new work for my Fragments exhibition in the summer, I am investigating and exploring a lot of old quilts. I am continuing to explore my photographs and notes from the research visit to the Quilt Association’s collections in February and creating new technique ideas based on the structures, designs and history of the quilts. I am also investigating the antique quilts and pieces which I own myself and working out ways of incorporating elements from these pieces into new work.
Quilt Association collection
Quilt Association collection
Quilt Association collection
I have also been investigating my own collections of quilts and bits, engaging in Quilt Archaeology (credit to someone on Instagram but alas I forget who). What interests me is not the fineness of the stitching or the patchwork patterns but the textures, the tactility and the reasons these quilts were made and used (or not). I’ve been using drawing, painting, mark making and print techniques to explore my ideas, some of which are very large scale which will have dramatic impact and some much smaller and more intimate, like the quilts themselves, and invite close consideration.
Meanwhile, my Harefield Hospital Centenary Quilt project has been featured this week on the People’s History of the NHS blog.
Rowan leaves to represent Rowan Ward. Hand embroidery.
In June I will be running an exciting new 4-day course for West Dean College. In this course I will be sharing my own way of working taking inspiration from antique textiles and creating sketchbooks and samplers to develop into new textile pieces. Find out more about West Dean from my previous blog posts.
Quilt Association collection
My original career plan was to work as a costume and textile curator in museums and I specialised for some years in medieval textiles. It didn’t quite work out like that and textile history became my hobby as my day job in museums was focussed on exhibitions and other projects covering a wide range of social and design history. I spent my days off researching medieval textiles in the V&A and other collections and developing a series of talks and workshops investigating textile and fashion history. When I started out making textile pieces in 2005 I chose to work with techniques drawn from my research, in particular 18th & 19th century dress trimmings.
These days my textile research is purely for inspiration as I work in a much broader way but is still key to forming my ideas and ways of working. I am excited to be able to share my textile collections and research through this course. I am also building up a lovely Pinterest board of ideas related to this course, so you can get a flavour of the colours, textures and patterns we will be enjoying throughout the week.
This intensive and exploratory workshop is designed for others with a love of antique textiles, those who love to explore museums and antique shops and want to make work inspired by what they find. I aim to share the skills to research and explore old textiles, develop your understanding of design and technique as well as learn ways of translating what you love about old textiles into your own original contemporary work. Tuition will concentrate on sparking and developing your ideas, growing your confidence in working from inspiration material and selecting the best techniques to use to take your design ideas forward.
During the course you will have time to study my large personal collection of historic embroidered, embellished and quilted textiles and you are welcome to bring your own and explore the many textile treasures to be found in West Dean College buildings. I will share my experience and knowledge of textile techniques and design and you will develop a sketchbook of shapes, colours, patterns, materials and textures drawn directly from the textile sources, then spend time exploring and experimenting with how to translate the feel of the historic pieces into your own contemporary work. I will demonstrate a wide variety of techniques which you can use for your own designs including hand and machine embroidery, fabric manipulation, painting and stencil printing, appliqué and other methods of embellishment to create exciting surface textures and pattern to develop ideas, designs and stitched samples.
For further information please see the course details on West Dean website.
You might also enjoy my textile history posts about smocking and trapunto quilting, two of my favourite obsessions.
12 to 16 June 2017