Criminal Quilts research – October 2017

The research and development phase of Criminal Quilts is now well underway. I have been spending time in residence at Staffordshire Record Office exploring archives and finding out what resources I have to explore during this project and planning what the workshops for volunteers and participants will involve.

Stafford Prison photograph albums from the late 19th and early 20th century form the basis of the entire project. For several years I have been creating work around a handful of photographs of women with no additional information about them at all. One of the aims of this new funded research project is to explore the full collection of photograph albums and trace stories through the records.

There are 10 different albums dating from 1877 to 1915 which gives me a broad window of exploration beyond the Victorian and well into the 21st century. I have begun by cataloguing the women who appear in the photographs. The albums just contain photos, and in a couple of cases, indexed pages of named but very little detail. Each image is marked with the prisoner’s name, a date (of photograph, I assume) and a number. In this first phase I am making lists of all the women (about 10-15% of the total in each album I estimate) and noting name, date, number, approximate age and a detailed description of the photograph. I’ll then be able to cross reference between the albums to see who features more than once and then find out more about them via the written documents which I have yet to explore.

Already I can see women who appear several times over the years. I have identified prison uniforms and what I suspect is prison-issue clothing. There’s also a very clear timeline of fashion, particularly in hats which almost all of the women are wearing. These photographs are known to be a rare record of working class women’s clothing but I am already realising it is going to be difficult to be sure what is prison issue and what is personal property, particularly in the later images. There are also some really lovely shawls appearing which may well inspired new work.

I have a lot of additional research to do about the background to prison identification photography, about prison uniforms and a lot of cross referencing to fashion history in general before I can draw any conclusions about what their clothing says.

The albums themselves are impressive and inspiring objects with marbled endpapers, damaged spines and hand written text. I’ll be exploring the albums in more detail in the next post.

 

There are still spaces for volunteers to work with me on this project during 2018. Find out more here.

Criminal Quilts exhibition is available for touring in 2019 onwards.

Images of archive material courtesy of Staffordshire Record Office. Project funded by Arts Council England with Staffordshire County Council.

 

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Rethink your Mind

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.

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Little Selves Exhibition at New Walk Museum, Leicester

Leicester Society of Artists Little Selves exhibition opened this weekend at New Walk Museum in Leicester. It’s a gorgeous show with some amazing pieces including impressive pieces by local school students as well as a lovely set of miniature paintings from the museum collection. The exhibition continues until 25th June 2017 and is free to visit.

My contribution is a small embroidered eye self portrait stitched in human hair, which you can read about here.

 

Creating Stains

I have recently started a new collaboration with artist friend Gillian McFarland exploring stains and marks. It is incredibly liberating to just experiment and play, swapping ideas and techniques and to see where it takes us creatively, without a fixed goal or deadline. For me it is great to feel able to explore process and concepts in a variety of different media rather than feeling confined to a material or technique.

 

Postcards from San Francisco 1

In the fine tradition of sending the postcards once you have got home, I am finally posting some highlights from San Francisco, starting 8 weeks or so after I got back!

As with most big cities, San Francisco has excellent museums. When the weather was good we were outside, as much as possible, but when it rained (which it did plenty) we went to museums. My two favourites were the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and the Asian Art Museum in the Civic Centre.

 

Shapes. Textures. Colours. Patterns. Asian Art Museum.

 

 

Details. Inuit carvings. Peruvian bird. A handful of textiles. A view from the top. De Young Museum.

 

 

 

 

Magical works by El Anatsui & Cornelia Parker & Ruth Asawa

 

 

What’s in Your Shed? Exhibition at Snibston

This week I finally got to see my work Tool Shed on exhibition at Snibston, a museum a few miles away from me. Apparently this work inspired the whole exhibition project, which is really nice to know. My work is exhibited in a purpose-built shed, inside the giant museum shed-style building. It’s great that my dad was able to come and see the work too and remember his dad, and those amazing sheds!

These pieces are based on the household and garden tools from my Grandad’s shed. He was a professional gardener from the age of 14 and carried on growing his own vegetables until his death in 2012 at the age of 96. His numerous sheds contained years of carefully-maintained and well-used tools and the essence of him. This collection uses outlines of his gardening and DIY tools stitched into his handkerchiefs, found neatly ironed and folded in the airing cupboard after his death. You can find out more here.

 

The show also includes two other artist sheds, rather different in character! Flights of fancy is a pigeon fancier’s fantasy shed by the wonderfully surreal team Mrs Smith who have a thing for both sheds and pigeons! The same artists created Tales of the Unfinishable which has been touring around the UK in the last year or two.

 

Core Shed is pretty hard to get your head round. I have read a little about it, so I was able to make some sense of it, but it has no text explanation at all, which is a huge mistake in a family-oriented, mostly science/engineering museum environment. In a fine art gallery visitors might engage with it more easily, but in this space it is adrift and pretty impenetrable. However, despite my misgivings about the appropriateness and interpretation, it is full of interesting bits and pieces which make nice photos.

 

 

The exhibition continues until 26th September.

Christmas Shopping at Makers’ Yard

Make it a handmade Christmas and come shopping at my studio building, Makers’ Yard, where you can buy from the other tenants in the studio building as well as me. I’ll have a lot of samples for sale (cushions, bags, scarves, brooches etc), as well as discounts on books, fabrics, sewing tools and gift vouchers for sewing enthusiasts.

Please come along to the exclusive evening event with mince pies and mulled wine on Friday 15th 6-9pm or any time on Saturday 16th November 10-4pm when there will be additional artists and makers selling their work too.

 

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