‘time:make’ sounds…

Kay Swancutt – golden rod naturally dyed yarn

The exhibition ‘time:make’ is now over. An intense week with the joy of sharing work and so many stimulating conversations – this skein of yarn was naturally dyed with golden rod by Kay Swancutt – so vital and glowing in colour and feel. I have been resting and reflecting about it all, but wanted to mention the sound recording element of my work.

I made field recordings of birdsong whilst walking and selected three for this exhibition. Owls calling at dusk and in the night, a chorus of spring song in the field and the swifts swirling around our village. Each quilt pattern was chosen to work with the birdsong. The concept I wanted to achieve was for the viewer to walk towards the work and for the sound to emerge quietly – much as we become aware of birdsong whilst walking outdoors. I have been so fortunate to work with Matthew Olden and am filled with thanks for the quality of his work and his support in realising this dream.

We discussed the ideas I had, and Matthew developed the system. Small sensors picked up the movement of viewers walking by the quilts and this triggered the software he developed which activated the sound of birdsong. It was a steep learning curve for me but so worthwhile and something I will pursue. I do love to balance the old ways and the new. The traditional skills grounded in time and the new technology to enhance and extend the work. A big thank you to Kay Swancutt and Jean Kirk – we have plans to take this exhibition to another place hopefully

The garden called this week – the autumn equinox is today and I have been harvesting food, flowers, seeds – and these rosehips are such a deep colour… New ideas brew

Looking ahead, next week is the Grow Batheaston Arts Trail and I am excited to be showing work with The Bees Knees Artist Collective. More soon…

owls, indigo and buddleja…

The last piece for ‘time:make’ which opens the day after tomorrow

12 golden stars amidst the indigo sky and the sound of owls calling in the night…

A few glimpses

Please do browse the previous posts for more images and thoughts …

More about the sound recordings as the week goes by – meantime I am folding, gathering, packing for setting up and wondering what I will forget…

dye baths for the third piece of work…owls in the night…

Firstly the buddleja dye bath. I have talked about this dye bath before and also in this post too – it is one of my most familiar, favourite dyes to brew. It is so consistent in colour, and the scent is heady and fragrant. Today I once again stood still and watched a hummingbird hawk moth on one of the bushes in the garden. I use the flowers either fresh or spent – it seems both react equally well, though I haven’t ever left them stored for long, but have made up a bath once they have finished flowering (especially if I feel they are needed fresh for foraging insects).

I used oak gall powder as a mordant and the experiments gave me a deeper golden yellow – not quite as bright as using a little alum. I had some in my box of cloth from last year so I could do a little mix and match for tones.

I try to keep a journal of samples to refer to, but often the magic of the process and the unexpected happenings are the joy of it all!

To save energy I leave my dye baths and cloth and don’t usually re-heat them and find the cold water works beautifully too..

The INDIGO… so now into the blues…

This is the one I don’t yet grow myself – one day maybe, another time.

Stock solution brewing – the mother tincture

The indigo flower and filmy copper

And now – out in the hot summer sunshine begins the dipping process which took days of slow rhythmic repetition – layering the blues, watching them dry lighter, dipping repeatedly to gain the range of tones. It was a long dry hot month and I drifted into day after day of working. I dripped blues onto my skin, my clothes, the kitchen floor, the outdoor stone…

Much thought about energy and water went into each day. The heat of the sun helped me as I didn’t reheat my vats but the warmth was enough and I decided to keep reusing water baths and not use more. It does show on the final work – it is deeply layered, I didn’t keep rinsing and so my hands are shaded with blue when I work with the cloth but that is fine…

As the cloth rested and cured I watched the night sky and decided what I achieved worked. Sometimes I left pieces out in the moonlight and let them dance and watch the stars…

the migration of swifts piece…

Since a small child I have scanned the skies awaiting the arrival of swallows, house martins and swifts. In one house where we lived, the swallows nested under the eaves of the bedroom window. At a village school where I taught later in life, the children watched the skies from the playground waiting each Spring with excitement. The arrival of these little birds is one of the biggest markers of my year and I miss them so much when they go… the soundscape of my summer…

The skylarks are another real love, and I walk the big field listening to their soaring song and trying to work out their subtle colouring as they rise from the meadow grasses. I capture sound recordings of them, but later it seems these were all on windy days so the clarity was not so distinctive and I watch and listen to them during the rhythm of my walking – these are birds that belong in my heart and hold a special space there.

This year I was fortunate that where I live it was possible to join in with a local initiative to ‘swift watch’ – looking for their arrival, nesting sites and patterns of behaviour. The sounds of their presence is usually my first indicator – I sense and hear them before I see them – they seem to emerge into my consciousness. Evenings walking with friends, talking to folk about these wonderful little birds, promoting their cause in various ways, the thrill of watching them fly so fast into a nest spot folding their wings at the last second has been a highlight and a dream to be actively involved with.

This quilt piece has been years in my mind – maybe even decades. No new dye baths as the stack of naturally dyed tones seemed to already be waiting in the wings!

Even the quilt pattern – flying geese – has been long thought of and planned out in my mind as a very simple migratory pattern. The swift watch initiative helped me focus and realise the piece as the research, reading, discussion and action about saving the future of these birds was so frequent during the days and evenings of late spring and summer.

Sitting at my grandmother’s machine working on the piecing, their sounds came through the top windows and, in the evenings, sitting outside and watching the skies the screaming parties swirled overhead…

Field recordings were taken from different locations on walks, ready to be part of this work…

9 patch part two…

The Exhibition at Stroud is called ‘time:make’. We wanted to talk and explore together the process of making, the time spent, the slow emerging of work – all the richness and depth involved in this. So often we see the finished pieces alone and I always feel this misses out on what is to me the vital sharing of the journey. I do understand and respect that not everyone views it this way, and therein lies hours of debate, but for me a space where I can share and discuss is precious in terms of talking about the issues which my work is about and the process of the making itself if anyone should enjoy that dialogue – and yet looking quietly and alone is equally valued too. So – I thought here on this blog might offer one way forward. For any welcome visitors – ‘time:make’ is soon to open at Lansdown Hall and Gallery Stroud should you choose to visit and meet us there.

The 9 patch is pieced with colours from the kitchen, garden and field. Mixing colour from these was joyful. The onion shells carefully peeled and kept in a brown paper bag for months, then brewed for dye – it matters to me that the beginnings of hot food have another reincarnation as dye colour and then go into my compost. The simple kitchen ingredients as modifiers – such as lemon juice, vinegar or bicarbonate of soda offer endless possibilities of shades and tones which will fascinate me for my lifetime.

There are 3 or 4 pomegranate peels, avocado stones and skins – all kept safe and waiting. I usually work outside for dye work – for preparing, brewing and drying cloth and thread. From the garden and field there are cloth patches of colour made from dye baths of dandelion, golden rod, calendula, alder, nettle, buddleja, and more. There would have been coreopsis if the seedlings had survived a cold wet spell last year, and there will be next year as a jar sits filled with dried flowers. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to pick flowers the insects need and leave them be and just watch. People ask if the colour fades and yes, it well may or may not however careful we are. But so do we fade, become fragile, and I tend to look more closely and regularly at something that may not last and cherish it.

This piece was photographed outside in Spring sunshine with a backdrop of blackthorn blossom and the shadows of the hawthorn and grasses. I wanted the work to blend back into the natural world and me with it – as I do when walking at dusk, drawing whilst walking, or standing as still as I can to record sounds of birds…

The sun shines through and the colours sing…

Next time will be about migratory birds and the quilt that followed that path….

making for the exhibition, part 1…

It has been a long pause since the last time I wrote here, but that is because there comes a time to start to ‘make’. A time to begin to resolve the experience and practice of walking, observing, drawing, taking images, documenting – and begin to make samples. Most of these are lines of thought – some pressed clay pieces, some cyanotype, colour patterns, tiny patches stitched in thread, knit with wool, all sorts of experiments which hold value in themselves but cannot all lead to resolved pieces. Sometimes what comes alongside this is also a kind of ‘stalling’ or a need to wait before I can begin to make work which I will share.

The Exhibition coming up is very much about process – and talking about all these themes

After much deliberation, some frustration, some questioning of what on earth I think I am trying to say, the path cleared and 3 pieces of quilt work formed in my mind and sample-books.

I have a box filled with cloth I have dyed with plants from the garden, fields and kitchen. Coloured pieces folded and still scented from the flowers and leaves that made them. The designs take more time to decide upon, this kind of work can be years in the making. The cloth is organic cotton, the thread is too, the dyeing process needs me to work out natural mordants, as little water and energy as possible – I spend much time thinking through environmental issues, researching, worrying even. And in the end, I begin – and everything relaxes into the concentration on the flow of making…

My grandmother’s Singer sewing machine operated by turning a hand wheel. This part is slow and I love the connection through time, the quietness of working, the repetition and rhythm…

A nine patch – blocks of 9 squares – a colourful mix – all blending with each other in a harmonious way only natural dyes seem to do. Hard to capture on camera.

And so the first piece is ready. The next post will show it outdoors in the natural world in the field and footpath from where the ideas germinated.

Each piece will have a sound recording of birdsong made during those long walks in the early morning or at dusk.. The balance of slow hand skills from across time and cutting edge (for me!) technology excites me and I found a sound artist to work with to realise that dream…. part 2 will follow soon!

a winter morning…

No filter, just managed to capture the sun on the overnight frosted ground as it gilded the seed heads.

Yesterday evening as twilight turned to darkness, but with a bright moon, I walked the footpath through the field. Frost on the grasses and a crackle of crispness underfoot. My eyes caught a myriad of sparkles of frost-light as the soft dark fell. I whispered to a settling bird.

The sunset had drawn out time – it took its time and held its colour for a long while

I was as quiet as I could be, ready to make sound recordings of the owls calling. Puffs and spirals of my breath rose in the air. Darkness was falling. This was a magical walk, one of those that stays longer in the mind

This morning brought bright sun, clear sky and I stand in a frost hollow looking up at a robin singing. I would love to see the breath of his song..

Green shoots…

I had captured some beautiful rosy late sunrises and early fiery sunsets from our mid winter solstice time which I thought of posting this week.

Somehow though, the green shoots of the first Autumn sown broad beans bravely and cheerfully popping through the earth feel so hopeful that I thought I would place them here for the dawn of a new year

Posting whilst walking…

A new idea. Can I post whilst the thoughts are fresh and alive – as I am out walking.

I was stunned in the cold air to see this – catkins – emerging vibrantly. On a closer look upwards this broken branch with a piece holding on…

I am not embarrassed to say this squeezed my heart and brought tears. Fragility is precious and deep for me and work is often born from it