August 2019

No stitching happened in August, apart from an hour at an event at the end of the month, which is fine. It ebbs and flows. Having dabbled/worked in creative stuff since college I recognise it is part of the cycle, so just rode it out. I feel at a bit of a crossroads generally with my work at the moment, not enough time to work mixed with low confidence - just need to get back in the groove. Too much time working on my own perhaps. In the light of this, the annual August days out were well timed this year to provide plenty of inspiration and thoughts to mull over.

Just over the hill from Brighton is Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft. I feel quite lucky to have this so near and try to visit most of the exhibitions. The latest one was right up my street. Called Women’s Work, it focuses on craftswomen who ran their own businesses between the two world wars. With a variety of mediums and makers it meant there was much to look at - the work included printed textiles, silverware and ceramics and weaving. The musuem is fairly small but they always seems to pack in as much as they can without it looking too cramped or layered. As we walked around I was (typically) drawn to the printed textiles, particuarly those made by Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher. I am also a longtime fan of Enid Marx so enjoyed seeing more of her work.

As someone who quilts I also found this letter really interesting. Dated 1939, it’s an order from Buckingham Palace for a silk hand quilted dressing gown for the Queen. The photograph is wonderful, how lovely to have a hand quilted dressing gown to wear on a chilly morning. Nearby was a flyer for an exhibition of quilts at The Little Gallery, run by Murial Rose who was an important figure in 20th century quilt history, promoting and protecting the quilting tradition in Wales and the north east of England.

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I did feel there were a few undertones that added a layer of interest, the strongest being the topic of unmarried women during this period. I have read quite a few novels recently that are based during this period of history. Although fiction, the themes in the books were well researched, with topics such as women having to go back to a domestic life after working during the first world war, the daughters of the suffrage campaigners coming of age who had been bought up with the option of following a less conventional path, and the lost generation of men meaning an overall sense of loss as well as affecting marriage prospects. This era was still in the time of marriage being expected of women, and if they decided not to do this due to circumstances, or for reasons such as wanting to run their own business or not being attracted to men, working and making a living from craft was a respectable way to live. Like teaching I feel. Textiles are always perceived as ‘nice’ so if an artist a very acceptable option, compared to something such as engineering. At least one of the craftswomen was married with children, but there was a sense that this conventional part of life could be circumnavigated if you so wished. It was only hinted at, but anything to do with women during this time will have echoes of some, if not all of these themes.

At the back of the exhbition there was a wall where visitors were encouraged to put forward their suggestions of women who should be on Wikipedia. Apparently, less than 10% of its editors are women and so the museum has run a training event, and is running another one in October to try to add more information about craftswomen on the site. I can think of at least ten quilters and embroiderers I would like to add - it is such a great idea and a wonderful way for a museum to not only reflect on the past, but bring the story of craftswomen right up to date. If you live near and are interested the event is free to attend, and no booking is required, read more here.

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Later the same week we also had an inspirational day up in the big smoke. When I briefly lived in London I went from A to B all the time, but these days spending £25 on a train ticket means I want to get as much as I can from the day. We started off down south at Dulwich Picture Gallery. I’ve been getting into my printmaking again and someone on Twitter mentioned their lino cutting exhibition so it has been high on my list of things to do this summer. It wasn’t a disappointment - an inspiring exhibition packed full of prints. The work was by The Grosvenor School which was founded in the 1920s and is internationally recognised for their pioneering work in lino cut. The tickets were timed so we stopped in the garden for a tea under the shade of the eye catching Colour Palace. When we went into the exhibition it was busy, but not too hectic, but some of the signs were a bit small so I occasionally had to wait till the crowd around a particular piece of work thinned so I could get close enough to read about it. However, this is a tiny gripe, and in a way, with prints you don’t want hulking great big lines of text next to them, it would throw the scale out. The work was separated into rooms by themes , with each one having a clearly defined wall colour so you could feel the difference as you walked through. These themes included transport, labour and sport and leisure, so firmly placed the designs in the time they were made.

Following this we went ‘up west’ to the Saachi gallery to see Sweet Harmony, their exhibition about the rave scene. It was interesting to see the ‘art’ take on it. I was a bit young but love the music and remember friends’ older siblings wearing baggy t-shirts and jeans and going out to dance and have a good time. I loved the huge photos and music - looking at them made me yearn for a simpler time, when we did not have mobile phones and lived more in the present.

Then it was onto the V&A for their Friday late. I love these as a great way to extend a day out in London. I do wish more galleries would be open though, or it was changed around a bit more. The first thing we did was to head for was the Mary Quant exhibition. I love the 1960s aesthetic, and remember buying Quant tights with big daisy’s on them in the late 1990s. It followed a chronologic order, from the early days to the Daisy dolls. I enjoyed getting up close to the clothing and following the evolution of the company and style. I felt it lacked a bit of personal info, but as a design exhibition in a design musuem it hit the spot. I have an old copy of her biography so will give that a read again. Interesting though, shouldn’t actually matter but maybe in the days of personal brand we want to know more about the story behind something, rather than just the story. Or maybe it is my nosiness. They had some old footage that I really enoyed watching, fascinating how clothing production and promotion changed so quickly from the 1960s to the 1970s. Again, tying up with my thoughts above it felt workwear was important to her ranges, reflecting how women’s role was changing.

We skipped Dior, the fuss about tickets put me off a bit and I felt it would be too busy. We did look around the fashion gallery though. Back in my college days I pretty much knew every outfit on show so when I visit now there is always something new to find. I still haven’t got over the textile gallery moving up the road, what I would have done to look through those lovely heavy wood cabinets again. Anyway, the next activity was textile based. A free one-hour workshop called something to do with feminist embroidery (I have mislaid the info). It was fun sitting in a workshop sewing. We were all given a piece of fabric and a printed square that had paper-backed fusible web on the back. This had been printed from the Mary Queens of Scots tapestries (or maybe was Bess of Hardwick, I had a glass of wine early evening in the beautiful tiled room and wasn’t in a note taking mood) , and it was explained that embroidery was a way for women to communicate in secret. Love it, stitchy secrets. We spoke about signing pieces of work so I worked on a patch that has my initials and ‘resist’, will share a pic here when it is finished.