As many of you know, I have been studying at the Gail Harker Center for Creative Arts for some time… I believe it’s 8 years now. I’m just finishing 2 1/2 years in the Level 3 Advanced Experimental Stitch course. Our class will be exhibiting coursework including assessment items, sketchbooks, presentation books, samples, and historical stitch studies at an exhibition on October 26-27.
Mark your calendars! We will also have an artist talk from 10:30-11:30 am on Saturday October 27.
UK Textile Tour Day 9: Audrey Walker at the Ruthin Craft Centre – Wales
One week before I was scheduled to leave on my trip, I received my “Embroidery” magazine, the publication from the UK’s Embroiderers’ Guild. To my surprise, an article highlighted an upcoming exhibition at the Ruthin Craft Centre in Northern Wales of Audrey Walker’s amazing embroideries. And it was opening one day after I was scheduled to drive North through Wales up to Scotland!
As an artist who does a lot of pictorial work, I’ve been a fan of Audrey Walker’s work ever since my mentor and tutor, Gail Harker, introduced me to Audrey’s intricate stitched portraits. So, without much hesitation, I worked out a change in my itinerary to stay an extra day in Wales, so I could see the exhibition on its opening day.
Audrey Walker’s six-decade long career in embroidery has influenced many contemporary embroiderers. Not only is she an amazing artist in her own right, she succeeded Constance Howard as the head of the Goldsmith’s College Embroidery & Textiles Department (1975-88) guiding another generation of makers. She focused on teaching her students to seek out and explore their ideas first, then to study the history and techniques to realize their artistic vision. Her first textile associate was Jan Beaney, who went
on to become internationally renowned for her stitchwork, as well as being one of the Cities and Guilds tutors and evaluators who taught Gail Harker. So, I guess I can claim Audrey is my embroidery great-grandmother!
This exhibition, in Audrey’s 90th year, is a retrospective of her work, with pieces coming from as far away as the U.S. (owned by private collectors) brought together at the Ruthin Craft Centre, the location of Audrey’s first solo exhibition 18 years ago.
Audrey’s start in textiles began ten years after completing her degree in fine art (mainly portrait painting), after seeing an exhibit of fabric collages by Margaret Kaye (1912-2002). Prior to that , Audrey associated embroidery with the domestic textiles of her youth. Rather than continuing on as a painter, textiles became Audrey’s medium of choice. She even incorporated some of her family’s domestic textiles into her artwork, giving a nod of recognition to the historic roots of embroidery.
Topics that have figured prominently in Audrey’s work include “momentary glances, encounters, inward smiles, the power of a gaze, vulnerability and the simple pleasures of life”. Some of her figures have a wistful, enigmatic look or smile, reminiscent of the Mona Lisa. Audrey’s process includes drawing portraits prior to her stitching and even drawing at the end of a day of stitching as a critique of her work or to an express an idea to develop in the future.
It’s remarkable to see the incredible detail that has gone into each of these large pieces. The images are created through color blending with the threads.
“There is no doubt that building up an image with absolutely separate lines of colour – the threads – is an endlessly fascinating and pleasurable activity. But it can be infuriatingly slow and it has all kinds of hazards! …However, the very slowness of the process can be productive. It allows a longer encounter with the idea and therefore the chance to explore it more fully and critically. It offers opportunities for valuable interludes – for instance setting a large piece on one side for a time in order to work through related thoughts on a smaller scale or in a different medium. The prooblems in the larger piece are often solved through side-stepping into related work.” (Audrey Walker ‘Insights’, 1999.)
Audrey was a regular participant in the “62 Group” exhibitions from 1966 – 1981. Starting in 1962, the 62 Group of Textile Artists was created as support for serious professional textile artists. Audrey joined in 1964 and remains an Honorary Exhibiting member.
Inspired by a tiny embroidery fragment less than 2″ high at the Victoria and Albert Museum, Audrey created “Observed Incident.” The 14th Century inspiration had 3 knights in full armor with a watching figure. She wished to salute the unknown embroiderer’s imagination with a large scale version of the topic.
The Big Blue Bowl is part of Audrey’s recent body of work where she is experimenting with a single line of stitch, rather than overlapping stitches.
Once in a while you need to give in to temptation… as I did by going out of my way to make it to this exhibition. I’m so glad I did!
UK Tour Day 1- Royal School of Needlework Curator’s Tour
I’m a great admirer of England’s RSN and the incredible embroidery pieces produced by their students and tutors. I’ve had the great fortune to visit them twice in the past, most recently in 2016 for theor Stumpwork and Raised Work exhibit. So when planning my current tour, I looked up what is available and found their current exhibit is “Animals in Embroidery”- one of my favorite things to create! Only problem was that the curator’s tour this month occured only at 11 am on the day I arrive from Seattle at 7 am! I thought about it for several weeks and then decided I’d take the risk and sign up, even if timing was tight and I might miss it. Luckily the stars must have been aligned because our flight arrived on time, we were successful with our train connections, and we met the RSN volunteers at the front ‘moat’ gate of Hampton Court Palace at 10:45 am.
The Royal School of Needlework (RSN) started in the late 1800’s with Queen Victoria as their first patron. Their mission has been to keep the art and techniques of hand embroidery alive and thriving, as well as helping train women (now men too) for employment so they can support themselves and not become destitute They have classes at Hampton Court Palace and other International locations lasting from 1 day to several year programs. They also have rotating exhibitions at their on site location, which can be viewed with a curator’s tour. Book a tour at the Royal School of Needlework here!
According to our presenter who is inher second year of the RSN teacher certification program, animals (including birds) are the second most common subject for embroidery (flowers are the most popular.) The display of both student and tutor work includes all sorts of techniques, tied together by the common theme of animals. The techniques include blackwork, needlelace, goldwork, canvas, Jacobean crewel embroidery, whitework, applique, and silk shading.
One piece that caught my eye was a blackwork race horse and rider. The stitches were so tiny- about 3 mm at the longest. To create the shading/shadows, the density of stitch is increased, often by increasing the thread weight. The jockey was done in blackwork techniques, but using colored threads to create contrast. This exquisite piece was given to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee in 2012.
Silk-shading works beautifully as a technique for animals and birds, as you can make extremely realistic hair/fur and feathers with gradually blending the colors of very fine silk threads. There are many true to life creatures in the exhibit using this technique including rabbits, leopards, chickens, badgers, yaks, flamingos, bats, owls and more! Some might call this a photo- realistic style, but I think it’s so much more than a simple 2D picture. You can’t get the range of texture in photography that you can in stitch.
The tour moved then to their workroom where RSN trained embroiderers are working on commission projects. These include both conservation work (repairing historic embroidery to stop the ravages of time) and new bespoke pieces.
As a final treat, we got to the RSN giftshop, where I picked up a few goodies. After flying 9 hours and staying awake through planes, trains and automobiles, we headed back to our hotel in London, to get a well-deserved rest before a late dinner.
If you’re planning a trip to London, make sure to look up the RSN and see if you can take a class or tour. You’ll be glad you did!
Day 4 – Game of Thrones Tapestry at the Ulster Museum, Belfast
My guilty pleasure… Game of Thrones (well, Fantasy & Science Fiction overall.) Now, mix that with textile art and I’m in heaven!
Before the final episodes of Game of Thrones were filmed, an army of designers, weavers and embroiderers in Northern Ireland was hard at work.
The tapestry was designed by hand by illustrators and color artists Carim Nahaboo, Jacob Merrick-Wolf, and Rob House. The weavers, Juliet Bailey, Franki Brewer, and a team at Dash & Miller in Bristol used a state-of-the-art jacquard loom. The linen thread was provided by Thomas Ferguson Irish Linen in Banbridge, one of the last surviving mills in Northern Ireland, and contains over 250,000 threads placed by hand.
Each episode through season 7 is represented in the 253 foot tapestry. Rather than wait for the final season to be released (Season 8, set to air in 2019), the tapestry develops its own conclusion.
After the weaving was complete, delicate hand embroidery added by a team of 30 stitchers at the Ulster Museum adds color, glints of metalics, and detailing to enhance the tapestry. From King Joffrey’s golden crown to Daenerys’ shimmering white and silver hair, blood red weddings, emerald green wildfire, cold-blue White Walkers and jet black ravens, threads of metallic, cotton and silk yarns bring vibrancy and lustre to the story. The embroidered elements are quite simple overall, but bring much to the finished project. Stitches include chain stitch, split stitch, back stitch, running stitch, couching and seed stitch.
In Belfast’s Ulster Museum where the Tapestry is currently on display, they also have two magnificent Willow dragons soaring above the three story atrium
Click on the video below to view the entire tapestry!
As well as information about the making of the tapestry, the exhibition included further documentation on the history of the linen industry in Northern Ireland, supplementing what I’d learned in Lisburn.
The process of making the tapestry is described in this video by Northern Ireland’s tourism department:
Day 3- Carrickmacross, Ireland
Ireland has a rich history of lace-making, including several distinct styles:
- Carrickmacross lace
- Irish Crochet lace
- Krnmare kace
- Limerick lace
- Youghal lace
Knowing this, I wanted the chance to see some of this beautiful needle art! Driving North from Dublin, we made our way to the little town of Carrickmacross.
Carrickmacross lace was introduced into Ireland in about 1820 by Mrs Grey Porter, wife of the rector of Donaghmoyne, who taught it to local women so that they could earn some extra money. During the famine years in the mid-1840’s, a lace school was set up by the managers of the Bath and Shirley estates at Carrickmacross as a means of helping their starving tenants, and the lace became known and found sales.
The lace is made on a base of cotton net (similar to tulle, but much softer and pliable). A lightweight soft white muslin (sheer enough to see a pattern underneath) is appliquéd onto the net. Additional embroidery stitches create edgings, patterns and cutwork.
After the worst of the famine years, through the last half of the 19th century, the lacemaking declined. Then in the 1890’s, the Sisters of St Louis founded their own lace school to revive the craft, and this was quite profitable for several years. Although the outbreak of the 1914–18 war marked the virtual end of commercial production of hand-made lace in Europe, the lace school kept the technique alive throughout the 20th century. In 1984 the St Louis Sisters assisted in the formation of The Carrickmacross Lace Co-operative, which maintains the tradition to this day.
The lace cooperative also has some little kits and supplies if you want to try your hand at making your own Carrickmacross Lace. Their kits are available via their website at: https://www.carrickmacrosslace.ie/
Here in the 21st Century, the most famous use of this beautiful historic form of lace must be when Kate Middleton incorporated Carrickmacross lace into her wedding to Prince William. I highly recommend you make the time to come visit, if you’re ever in Ireland!
|Christina standing below hand-dyed
I’m back from five days in “stitch heaven” with Gail Harker. The class, “Experimental Hand Stitch” focuses on Procion MX dyeing of embroidery thread and a wool/acrylic felt to stitch on, and then learning some of the basic embroidery stitches and how to use them in a contemporary context.
|My friends”, Debbie and Rebecca, dyed felts and threads|
The felt and threads are vibrant and beautiful. Gail feels that having your materials inspire you is important, so she helps her students understand their color choices and combinations to be successful with the dyeing process.
|Some of my dyed felts and threads|
I basically stuck with an analogous color scheme from yellow-green through red-violet. If you’re unfamiliar with analogous color schemes, it means that you pick colors that are adjacent to each other on the color wheel. So the colors I worked with were greens, blues, and violets.
After our dyeing days, we started doing small stitch samplers. Each stitch will have its own page in a small stitch book (we even learned how to bind our books!) We also worked on documenting our samples within a sketchbook, including what threads we used, any observations we have, needles that were chosen, etc.
|Some of my incomplete pages with the sketchbook
documentation pages and sample threads
Some of our samples were also worked on sketchbook pages which we dyed and then fused together, so they are quite stiff. We then poked holes in the sketchbook pages along the line which we wanted to stitch, and then added the stitch afterwards. It was so fun… it reminded me of when I was a little girl and had cards with pictures on them and holes to “stitch” through (really it was more like lacing.)
|French Knots (in process) by Christina Fairley Erickson|
While none of these samples is complete yet, you can get an idea of what they’ll look like here. I have additional ones started, but these are the most complete. The other thing which was different and interesting was the freedom which we were encouraged to take with each piece. For instance, in years past, French knots were expected to have the thread wrapped neatly around the needle two times. With contemporary hand stitching, however, we can make a variety of sizes and different textures and effects by wrapping a thread more times around the needle, or by wrapping it loosely, rather than tight.
|Running Stitch (in process) by Christina Fairley Erickson|
|Seed Stitch (in process) by Christina Fairley Erickson|
|Blanket Stitch by Christina Fairley Erickson|
|Open Chain Stitch (in process) by Christina Fairley Erickson|
Each of the pages is about 5″x 7″, so they fit in well with my 5 x 7 Challenge! I’ll be getting my final Salsa piece finished up this week, then I’ll need to work on the sashing and binding of all the Salsa blocks into a finished quilt.
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& Not Giving Up
|Hand Stitch Variations|
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