Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lace practice

This is one of the very first exercises I tried from Clark's Needle Lace, a nontraditional net (even before the snail). It was useful to attach it to paper and have that firm surface to work on while I was learning the basics. It was also useful to work with quite a coarse crochet cotton, and fun to play with colour a little. I'm pleased enough to have it pasted into my journal.  But I don't really like the look of that loose net stitch, which is a shame because it really is the easiest.

Right now I'm focused on expanding my repertoire of stitches for my next exercise in detatched lace.  I learn each new stitch attached to aida cloth, because the set up for making detatched lace is so time consuming and challenging. Once I'm confident enough to add them to the detatched project, that's where I'll do the hours of practice that it will take for me to develop enough skill to produce the quality I want for my work.  

It turns out the snail was a really good symbol to choose for learning to make lace.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Learning lace

My first complete detatched lace motif,  8cm wide (about 3 inches).
The net fillings are a sampler of different kinds of stitches.
I've been thinking about making lace for years: wanting to, wishing and yet always putting it off. I needed the incentive of a particular project to help me overcome feeling intimidated.  I can't tell you yet about the project but I'll tell you about the learning.

Crochet lace, which I thought was hard to learn...
 and then I started on needle lace and realised that crochet lace is a piece of cake
After gaining some competence with crochet lace I realised it wasn't suitable for the project I have in mind. What next?  Bobbin or pillow lace requires a serious committment to a lot of expensive kit (bobbins, bobbin winder, pillows and pins). It seemed easier (ha!) to start out with needle lace. Needle lace has a history at least as long and illustrious as bobbin lace but only requires a fine tapestry needle to get started.

So about three weeks ago I started teaching myself to make needle lace and now I have finally completed my first little piece of Venetian Point-style lace. I've been following this excellent tutorial online and practicing stitches from Needle Lace-Techniques and Inspiration by Jill Nordfors Clark and  Therese De Dillmont's famous The Complete Encyclopedia of Needlework.  

It is, without doubt, one of the most difficult things I've ever learned, certainly the most difficult textile technique in my wide repetoire.  I've been joking to friends that it's like learning brain surgery, (but thankfully no one can be killed by my poor technique).

Proof of how terrible my first lace really is.  My eyesight (and most people's) isn't good enough to notice most of these messy details even on close inspection, but macro photographs reveals every imperfection. 

Early on a single stitch would take me several minutes, and then be so bad that I unpicked it anyway. Every few stitches I had to stop, get up, and move around to release the tension in my body and mind before returning to the task. But then after some dozen or so hours over of sweating and swearing I imperceptibly crossed a line. Now I wasn't struggling over every individual stitch, but  instead was frustrated by trying to make them into a pattern. And then another dozen or so hours later, some of the patterns started to look better than a stoned spiderweb.

And eventually my little lace snail was finished in all its misshapen glory. My needle lace is lumpy, uneven and a little grubby, as you would expect for a first attempt.  I'm so proud, and yet so ready to start the next little piece so I can work on getting my tension consistent, changing threads smoothly (and keeping the work clean).  I can't wait to take these basic skills and develop a wider vocabulary of stitches and techniques.  And one day my cordonettes will flow and my nets will float.   
I'm a bit embarrassed to share these photos which reveal my beginners's clumsiness but I intend to eventually get good enough to make a  beautiful brain out of lace. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

(in transition)

Crochet lace on wet felted object

Many people say they need a deadline to be productive.  I always find deadlines very limiting and to be avoided as much as possible.  I am so much more creative, and just as busy and productive, when I don't feel pressured.   I take more risks, I play more, I'm more imaginative and experimental. I write and draw and daydream.

This post-South Island winter (with only a couple of of low pressure deadlines) is proving a fertile season with new ideas almost every day, some in my dreams, some in the half sleep of dawn, some as I learn techniques or see other people's work.  My journal pages fill fast with sketches, scrawled notes, lists and stories and samples of stitches.

There are too many ideas for me to ever take all of them up but it is not difficult to know where I want to channel all this fecundity.  I came back from my South Island trip with a very clear sense of what's next.  The coal of Stockton Mine, the flora of Denniston Plateau and the rock and ice of Franz Joseph Glacier, together with the sense of transformation that each place is undergoing are proving very powerful influences.  

It's not just thinking, writing and drawing round here. As usual my hands are constantly busy with needles, hooks, threads and wool. My work table is a jumble of multiple projects all  in high rotation.  But it is too soon to talk about what will come next as I float 'Extraction' out in a new direction.  Sometimes is dangerous to share too soon, when the ideas are still so malleable, my confidence in them not quite firm enough to withstand 'helpful suggestions' or critique.

If interrogated, perhaps I shyly mumble words like:

I will say there won't be blankets-I've been wanting to wean my work away from them for a while, despite the sensual pleasures. Instead, I'm teaching myself to make lace which is about the hardest textile skill I've ever tackled.  I'm also teaching myself to wet-felt which is easy in comparison. Both techniques are extremely enjoyable ways to extend myself. Embroidery (in various textures with the unlovely name of stumpwork) has also reasserted itself into my practice.

Alongside the new developments, I'm still spending more time that I would like finishing off prior obligations. I'm also waiting to move into a much bigger home and studio on 31 August.  I've postponed tackling large scale projects while I am cramped into this increasingly claustrophobic space, with the weather too inclement to work outside.

Snuggled among the clutter of my busy studio, this last winter before I move is proving a time of exhilarating inspiration and steep learning.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Water moves rocks

This post wraps up my South Island trip: in which I visit a glacier, admire weather stations, spot charismatic megafauna and visit an earthquake struck city.

Franz Joseph Glacier- only a few years ago, the ice extended past the place I was taking the photo.

During my 'Antarctic period' I became tangentially fascinated by glaciers, not only those in Antarctica but elsewhere.  I dreamed about them, I wrote poems about them, I tried to imagine how I would make one but  I'd never actually seen one for myself until last month.

Dirty glacier grinding up the mountain and leaving a big mess of rocks. A bit like a mine, but slower and well, a natural process.
 I found my necessarily-rushed visit to Franz Joseph Glacier to be every bit as exciting and inspiring as I could have hoped for.  I will be going back someday, somehow, for more.

The terminal face from 500m which is the closest we could get with out a guide. Those crevasses are scary looking!  I love how the ice is blue where its been recently exposed by a fall.

Even though the Glacier visit was a sort of last minute add-on to our trip, it turned out to be the key that unlocked my thinking about how to respond to mining issues through my art.  I was struck by the similarities and differences between mining and the natural processes that slowly grind down mountains into rocks and gravel carried across away the landscape.

Rock striated by being dragged down the mountain by the glacier.  I'm restraining myself from posting many more great rock photos from my South Island trip. Rocks were definitely the highlight for me- the West Coast is a geology-geek paradise.
I've already started working on developing ways to express these ideas with needle and thread, and my next posts will be full of those explorations.  In the meantime, here's some photos to give you a flavour of the rest of our week in the South Island.

At snowy Arthur's Pass, four kea were hanging around the railway workmen's barrel fire.
One of the cheeky kea found a workman's satchel, opened the flap, moved the thermos flask and unwrapped his sandwiches!

My travel companion had her own agenda for the trip (to check out monitoring stations), fortunately highly compatible with my mining obsession.  Here Robin inspects the Arthur's Pass weather station.  Under her influence I have become so adept at identifying weather stations in the scenery that sometimes I can spot them even before Robin! (Note my restraint in not posting numerous weather station photos on this blog)

We spend our final few days in Christchurch, staying in the Eastern suburbs on a street with more houses abandoned than occupied.  In many parts of the city this kind of scene (actually in Kaiapoi) is common.  It is heart rending to see how damaged the city remains over a year after the big quakes.

Christchurch's devastation is also pocketed with determinedly cheerful community projects transforming the empty lots and ubiquitous shipping containers into street art.  This is a project in Sumner  that I contributed a couple of crocheted squared to, along with hundreds of other crafters around the world.