Criminal Quilts new exhibition

Criminal Quilts exhibition returns to Staffordshire from 25th May – 7th July at The Brampton Museum and Art Gallery, Newcastle-under-Lyme. The museum is free entry and is open Monday to Saturday – 10am to 5.30pm, Sunday – 2pm to 5.30pm, Bank Holidays 2pm – 5.30pm.

I will be giving a talk and tour at the museum on Wednesday 3rd July at 2pm.

 

This exhibition also includes the original criminal Quilts miniature pieces made for Staffordshire Arts and Museums service plus the new Prison Apron shown below.

 

Suffrage Exhibition at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre

Suffrage is a new exhibition at Llantarnam Grange Art Centre focusing on textile art and political expression to mark the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage. I am one of the exhibiting makers alongside Morwenna Catt, Eleanor Edwardes, Caren Garfen, Rozanne Hawklsey and Sue Shields. The exhibition opens Saturday 6th October 2018.

My piece, Prison Apron,  explores the prison sentences of suffragettes, expressed through stitch. Over the last year I have been reading accounts of suffragettes in prison for my project Criminal Quilts and considering the bravery of those women who knew their actions would inevitably lead to prison sentences. Over 1000 people, mostly women, were imprisoned for criminal activity related to suffrage campaigning in the early 20th century. You can also find out more about the exhibition in the online catalogue. I will be at the exhibition preview on Saturday 6th October in conversation with the curator and other artists. I am also running a professional development day for makers at the gallery on 20th October. The exhibition continues until 17th November 2018. 

Recently, I have become very interested in using data as a way of telling a story. For me, using data allows me to step back from the personal story and away from the more obvious interpretations to find a new route into the narrative I am exploring. I have chosen to work with prison sentence data to create this piece, looking at sentence records of women including the famous Pankhursts, Alice Hawkins from my home town of Leicester and Welsh women including Lady Rhondda and lesser-known Kate Evans. 

The apron is an antique piece, selected for its similarity to those seen in prison photographs and descriptions I have read in documents. Prison clothing was marked with painted-on arrows to show the items belonged to the government. Rather than paint on these arrows, I have hand stitched them on using threads in shades of grey. 

I have taken a series of prison sentences imposed upon suffragettes, ranging from 7 days to 9 months as the starting point for this work and created arrows using one stitch per day in prison. Each sentence is a different thread. One of the arrows is made up of 270 stitches of a single 9 month prison sentence, while the others are made up of numerous shorter sentences served by different women. 

The stitch is hand embroidered chain stitch, a symbolic choice, where each single stitch forms a connected chain which completes the whole. There are a total of almost 1000 individual stitches in this piece,  representing the 1000 individuals sent to prison. Hand stitching, and the slow, careful work it involves, reflects the time spent in prison doing repetitive labour including needlework. 

 

 

Llantarnam Grange Art Centre

St David’s Road
Cwmbran
Torfaen  NP44 1PD
Tel: 01633 483321
Email: info@lgac.org.uk

Opening Times

Monday to Friday 9.30am – 5pm
(Closed Bank Holiday Mondays)
Saturday 9.30am – 4pm
Admission is free

Criminal Quilts : Sketchbooks

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!)

Criminal Quilts research blog : photo albums. 

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.

 

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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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