November 2005


November 1st - 4th

I am 10 months into writing this studio log and it is becoming clear that it's what most visitors come to my site for. My stats have slowly and steadily grown since I started it. What this says to me more than anything else at the moment is that I need to reorganise my website.

I started the studio log at the end of December, when my brother and Peter started their marathon voyage. It just seemed an interesting idea at the time and so I tucked it away as a link from my What's New page. Now it would make sense to have a proper place for it, linked directly from the homepage. I think writing this stuff has become such a regular part of my routine, I can't quite imagine stopping when Berrimilla eventually rolls triumphantly back into Sydney Harbour.

On the site in general, I haven't added anything to the Gallery since I started it and all the work there is really archive material and not new. I need to add shibori pages to my Techniques section, and so on. Websites are great but they can be greedy time- monsters.

I fiddled about with my homepage the other day and realised that it's such a long time since I designed it I can't remember how to make buttons - and in any case my updated web graphics program doesn't make them the same way as it used to. Headbanging awaits and I don't need that just now. So I will have to leave web upheaval until I have less to do.

In the studio I have over half of the new scarves ready to steam and so they are due to go in shortly. I've been trying something new with this lot and would like to see how they work before doing the second half. So I am now off to wrestle with tin foil and poach my shibori snakes.

Later.. some really interesting results from the poached-snake session. I started this lot from white blanks as opposed to dyeing a background first. I think I am tying them tighter than I used to and this certainly makes a difference with more defined lozenge patterns and some good thread or tape lines. Now to do and dye the other half of the batch.

twisted, tied , dyed and steamed

untying and opening up : the best bit!



5th - 9th November

We all managed to survive bonfire night, including the dog. Torrential rain over Saturday / Sunday night had roads awash and the town storm drain in full flood, as it were. Apparently it doesn't do this very often, so the rainfall must have been significant.

The storm drain, complete with plastic bottles, crisp packets, polystyrene and other evidence of human care for the environment...

I washed and dried the twist-tied scarves and checked that they will hold wrinkles if they are retwisted when damp and allowed to dry. I have been uncomfortable about the idea that the wrinkles may wash out, when customers may have bought the piece because they particularly liked the wrinkles. Happily, it's effective as a technique but the scarf must be twisted up very tight.

I photographed a twist-tied and a clamped scarf for a poster I need to do for the courses in the spring (see Courses page for dates). This is it:

Today (9th) I attended a seminar in Okehampton run by Devon Artsculture. The subject was Valuing and Pricing Your Work. There were about 24 of us there and some interesting issues were raised although with practitioners in several disciplines present, it was clearly difficult to make all the information relevant to all - all of the time. Having been making and selling for nearly 20 years I was familiar with many of the procedures, such as identifying a "survival budget", but in the general advice on finance and planning from Alan Eden there was some interesting stuff to ponder. I also liked the initial three-point analysis made by Richard Wells of the "state of being an artist". He listed the following, which can be viewed as qualities each with its own jolly little downside.

Artists are autonomous

Their work is indeterminate in outcome ( my favourite version of this is - if you know where you are going, you're probably lost)

They dislike conformity

I started the morning off with a bit of a flourish. I entered the building with another attendee, a flutemaker, and we were ushered up a long corridor to what was described as a "room at the end". We wandered in to a big hall full of people and helped ourselves to coffee. It all looked very smart, with a Powerpoint presentation limbering up at the top end of the room (sigh - not my fave way of spending a morning) and anally-neat plastic files on the tables. We were then invited to sit down at the tables. These all seemed to have names ready for attendees, but mine was not among them. The flutemaker seemed to have disappeared. Then I was approached by a man in a very important looking shirt and tie, like one of the sort that M&S sell in the same pack. With quite noteworthy charm he suggested that as he didn't know my face, I was probably in the wrong room. They were due to start a meeting of the local Probation Service. Um. Thanks for the coffee.


November 10th - 13th

This weekend our town held its annual Carnival. There is a tradition in Hatherleigh that on the second Saturday of November flaming tar barrels are run at great speed through the streets, first at 5 am and then at the end of the Carnival Procession in the evening. I am not sure how long the tradition goes back in Hatherleigh. But at Ottery St Mary, in East Devon, the tradition is so old its origins are untraceable.

The Celts divided their year into two seasons: the light and the dark. Beltane was on the 1st May and marked the beginning of the season of light. But the Celts believed that the year cycle started with the dark, and so the festival of Samhain in November was the most important. The eve of the old Samhain festival is associated with our modern Hallowe'en (All Hallows Eve); the night in which new life is believed to begin emerging from the darkness. Pagan and Christian meet confusingly at this time of the year. That's the end of the lecture. Here are some pictures of last night's frolics. I missed good ones in the morning (a much more anarchic affair than the evening) because I had forgotten to charge my camera battery.

Coming up High Street. The barrels are dragged with chains and (more or less) controlled by the team of haulers, preceded by torchbearers. The torchbearer image below is from 2004

The Steward on the left holds a can of petrol in case the flames look a bit feeble - and also a fire extinguisher. Covering all eventualities.


An arty-farty shot of one of the Carnival floats

Today I am back to making scarves. Yesterday I finished the Berrimilla Glossary; it was approved by Him with the English Degree, so now it's been uploaded by the Berriwebmen to the Berimilla site. Here if you want to see it. It took me an absurd amount of time but I felt it was something I could contribute to the general enjoyment of the site.

14th - 17th November

Continuing to work on scarves for Christmas, and also labelling finished ones so I don't have to do them all at once at the end. The new batch of Tussock scarves are on 14 mm crêpe de Chine and I picked up the design from where I left off. I think the last time I worked on Tussock was in July. It took me about 8 scarves to "move on" with the design, as the way I am doing them continues to develop from scarf to scarf and is the reason I don't get bored. So they now have more layers and the design looks denser. One of the frustrations of working with an artist's head but to a commercial requirement (eg have x scarves of x type ready by x date) is that you can get to a breakthrough point just as you have done "enough" scarves - and have to stop to do another design. Taking notes just doesn't work because it's like doing a painting and breaking off to make someone a sandwich. Entirely no-go-concentration-continuity wise as when you get back to the work - zippo - head's somewhere else.

It is something I tried to express in the seminar I attended last week without, I think, much success.

Amazingly beautiful frosty morning today. Not the first of the year but one where I took some photos on the Dog Walk:


November 18th

Had to abandon Tussock for reasons of time and economy (see the grumbles of yesterday). I am now doing a simple, larger version with large expanses of plain colour, on a fabric called Waffle Georgette. It has a slightly dish-clothy sort of weave, not altogether appealing on first fresh-out-of-the-bag sight. But once it has the large areas of colour on it the texture makes the colour alive. I generally dislike a large expanse of glossy silk, so have amended the Tussock design to suit this fabric and its textural qualities.

Earlier this week I found myself talking to a letter-cutter in stone. I am awestruck at the skill that a good cutter has, knowing something of the hazards of good spacing etc from my former life as a graphic designer. I cannot imagine sitting myself down in front of a slab of slate or stone knowing that once it goes wrong, it goes very wrong and that's that. No rubbing out, re drafting, scraping down or using the delete button and starting a new file. We talked about the gravestones in our local churchyard at Hatherleigh , where the Hooper family were stonecarvers and letter-cutters for more than a hundred years. Some of the lettering and carving is exquisite. Most of the monuments seem to be in slate which has preserved well. So today I went out with the dog and the camera to photograph a couple of the stones on the church wall. One of them was flat on to the sun and will have to wait until another occasion, but these caught the light from the side. They are dated 1820.

In fact, the stone to Mary has two marks between the capital Ls of Ellacott which are put in as space"fills". I wonder if this was done retrospectively, when it was realised how wide a gap there was, or carved as a natural part of the spacing. I particularly like the curved top of the A in Ellacott, which is out of character for the font and not used on the A of Mary.

19th November

I have been working very hard on scarves and feel quite tired. I need to take work to the dry-cleaners in good time for the Plymouth show in December which means finishing all the waxed stuff this week so that there's no panic. Sometimes it takes 5 days to have the work cleaned, depending on how many people have got married or spilled gravy down their clothes. Or, I suppose, both, if the wedding reception has been particularly lively.

This week I had a pre-Christmas commission for three scarves, and they also needed to be fitted in before the dry-clean. The client asked for a piece in certain colours which she had seen in a Savannah scarf. I tried to do this - twice - but it didn't work. Explanation: When I make a piece from the Savannah series, where there can be as many as 6 or 7 layers of wax and dye, they kind of emerge in the colours they want to be. There is some control, of course, because I start the background in certain colours and this can follow through in the subsequent layers. But it is hard to impose order after about the second layer and if I try to do this it often goes wrong and the colour balance goes awry. A piece can look sickly - too green, too red, too sweet, too boring. If I use the Chaos Theory approach, just acting on the last layer, it goes much better. But that means a pre-determined colour combination can be elusive. I have made another piece in the Tussock design where colour is easier to control and think I have the colours my client wants. If she is reading this, I hope she will be pleased with the result!

It was quite interesting in fact, as the colours I was trying to achieve were oranges and turquoise. Not easy but I am really pleased with the result which I will photograph once it's steamed.

I started the ghastly job of wax iron-out this afternoon. Door open, extractor fan on. Not an activity I recommend and it isn't necessary with all work as all of it has to be dry-cleaned anyway. But some heavily-waxed pieces must be pre-ironed or the dyes migrate in steaming and I end up with blurry results.


Here's another image from the churchyard, showing the Hooper signature on the monument and the delightful stone carving on which it rests (see yesterday).

20th - 22nd November

A few days de-waxing, steaming, sewing on labels, preparing for a dry-clean and dyeing a length of silk tubing which I am going to use in making some lower cost items or gifts for the Plymouth Crafts weekend. This is said with astonishing sang froid as some of these desirable gifts have yet to be invented or devised. Gifts or no gifts, the fair will be held at the Guildhall in Plymouth on 10th and 11th December. It's open from 11am - 5pm on Saturday and 11 am - 4pm on Sunday. As yet I don't have a list of other exhibitors but this should come through to me soon. It has been organised by Devon Artsculture who have done all the co-ordinating, advertising and arranging.

Many years back I went to Australia with the family and we travelled across the Centre from Darwin to Adelaide. We had just spent several weeks in Indonesia clanking across volcanic islands in indescribable buses definitely not designed with the Western femur in mind. So the squeaky clean loos of Darwin, dairy foods, our lovely spacious van and smooth roads were truly appreciated. Contrast of many kinds can make one more aware and as we travelled south I became more astounded by the colours of Australia. We hadn't just stepped off the plane from the UK, but even compared to the colours of Indonesia the landscape was offering something totally unfamiliar to me. Huge, huge skies, for instance, where the integrity of the colours on the ground was continually offset by the vast expanse of blue above.

It's a long way from one end to the other of Oz and so, despite our Biblical 40 days and nights with the vehicle, we couldn't spend vast amounts of time stopping in the van so Mum could draw another bloody pebble. What I did was to make pencil colour notes as we drove along and then fill them in when we stopped. Here are a couple of pages with a postcard pasted in (lower right) to remind me of the raspberry and purple hills of the Mount Sonder area.

At Alice Springs we visited a number of galleries and arts centres, amongst which was the Araluen Centre. In one of its several galleries I came across a piece of work which seemed part map, part nature study, part painting and part drawing. It was by John Wolseley, an Englishman who has lived and worked in Australia since 1976. As I had forgotten his name I e mailed the centre this week and they replied, which was great as I have been able to follow up on his more recent work. I am interested in the idea of journals and diaries and logs where time, images and ideas blend.

A recent exhibition of his, called Bird on the Wire has generated some journals which I really recommend. Click here to read about him, and click the journal notes link on the page you'll find with his bio notes to read some of his observations. Read the one for October 17th. if you've time for nothing else. I very much identify with his statement about the process of keying in, or becoming one with a specific place, and his question: is that an art form in itself? Or is it the artform?

Having been involved with teaching the drawing process this year and actually (at last) again starting to draw more seriously, I feel more and more that the actual drawing produced is irrelevant and it's only that connection with place (or object) that matters. One just strives to improve the accuracy of that connection, in whatever way we choose to define accuracy.

Time to lighten up and sew the scarves in the dry-cleaning bag.


23rd -26th November

Dry cleaning is done and there are some images of the new work on the What's New Page. There is one piece I am particularly pleased with because there seems to be a different quality (to my usual) in the use of colour. The new Tussock scarves I did recently became denser in design with more detailed work in the last layers, and this one is an example.


I was also pleased with one of the Waffle Georgette scarves ( below left) as I managed to work a bright blue into the red; or rather I should say that I was able to isolate a bright blue and work red round it.

These are the first bags I have made for the Christmas Fair.

In addition I have also made half the planned small bags for the Fair. These will hold a bar of posh soap and are made from a combination of silk scraps from general sewing and some painted ones from scarves that didn't make the grade.

We've had floods, frost and snow this month. Here are some pictures of the scene on Friday morning;


27th -28th November

More sewing. This time it's simple bags with handles, made with a lining. I am using brilliant pattern in which everything (handles, lining, padding, if any) is sewn in one and turned outwards by a small opening in the lining. I learned it on one of the Guild (Weavers, Spinners and Dyers) talks in Oxford from a lady who had studied Japanese techniques of bagmaking. Pictures will follow. What has been quite interesting is to come face to face with scraps of silk I painted as many as 18 years ago. I have kept all my scraps and they are used for cardmaking, or projects like this. There are remains of lengths of fabric which were used to make jackets, or commissions for shirts when I was still on Skye. I also keep failed scarves and it's interesting to see how the fabric changes when stitched against something else.

One of the fabric lengths was based on the patterns on the spongeware I used to pick up on the beaches of Skye. I still have boxes of these fragments. The pottery was exported from Scotland to Canada and ended up in Port Neuf in Montreal, and is sometimes called Port Neuf ware. I think it was traded locally in North West Scotland but there were tales of beaches covered in fragments where a wreck had occurred. There was supposed to be a magical beach at Sleat (South Skye) like this, but I never found it.

Below is part of my collection of sherds. The patterns were stamped on with a natural sponge. For more academic information, click here.

Above right is a life drawing from last night. When I was drawing it I thought it was a disaster but now I think it isn't quite as bad as I thought. Not enough feeling of weight pushing down into the bent knee, and something wrong with the articulation of the hip and bent leg, but the tipped back tense head actually looks ok when I had quite give up on it while drawing. I should also have had her sitting on something as the body looks unfixed. I could have done with another half hour - this pose was 40 minutes.

A friend asked me if the drawing I did played an important role in my textile work. I said I thought it was vital, partly because the observation central to the sort of drawing I (ought to do more of) makes me aware of what is around me and opens my mind up to new ideas. Then, when I draw, I am constantly appraising the work- I suppose as in the paragraph above. That kind of self criticism makes one less forgiving about work that goes wrong - which can then be made into patchwork bags. Which I ought to now go and do.