Wednesday, 29 October 2014

'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red'

Today, like many other people over the past several weeks, we have been on a special trip to London to see what is most likely a once in a lifetime event.  This year marks the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and the Tower of London has been chosen to stage a huge installation commemorating and remembering all of the British and Colonial lives lost in the Great War.  888,246 ceramic poppies have been made and are being planted in the moat at the Tower, one poppy for every life lost. 

The poppies are the inspiration of Paul Cummins, a Derbyshire ceramicist, and he drew his inspiration from a line in the will of a Derbyshire man who died in Flanders. "The blood swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread".  These poppies have all been made by hand by potters at Paul Cummings studio using techniques in use at the timeof the Frist World War.  Some might say ironically that Paul has become a casualty too as he has lost a finger and damaged another while making the poppies.  Tom Piper has worked in collaboration with Paul to bring his inspiration to life.

Our visit today was sadly a little marred by a wet day but the impact of the poppies was nonetheless huge.  They are indeed like a huge red sea swirling all around the moat of the Tower of London.  The crowds vying for a view of the scene were huge but happily all were calm and patient in their jostling for a good view.  

 These little sparrows have soon found a new perch in amongst the poppy stems.  I wonder if sparrows ventured into the horror that was the trenches?

 Despite the rain there was a huge group of volunteers planting poppies.  I had not appreciated that  the poppies are actually constructed on site and it would appear it involves quite a lot of effort.

You should be able to see that even the Chelsea Pensioners are getting involved. 

The last poppy will be planted on Armistice Day, 11 November, and after that the poppies will be taken up and sent out to everyone who has requested one.  A percentage of the monies from the sale of the poppies will be shared among 6 Forces charities.  I'm happy and moved to say that one will be taking a special place in our garden later in the year. 

There are a lot of videos on Youtube about the poppies and I have included one here about their manufacture.

Each day at sunset the names of 180 Commonwealth troops who died during the war are read out and the Last Post is sounded.  

I abhor all forms of war and conflict and it is doubtful that this unique commemoration will change anything in the tide of man's brutality, but it is a formidable and very visual statement about the sheer numbers of individual lives obliterated in a war, and all around us today we could hear parents explaining to their children the significance of each flower.  Paul Cummins and Tom Piper and all the individuals involved are to be commended for their vision and effort.   The visual and emotional impact of the sea of red is both immediate and lasting. 

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Rust Retreat

With a month since my last post you won't be surprised to learn that we have been away.  The leisure part of being away featured our annual pilgrimage to St Ives, more of which in a later post.   The less leisurely but equally enjoyable part was a weekend working retreat with Alice Fox organised by the Contemporary Quilt Group of the Quilters Guild.  Winter School, as it was called, was based at Alston Hall in a beautiful part of Lancashire.  

The venue was ideal, comfortable, bright rooms and excellent food.  I think we all came away a few pounds heavier.

There were two workshops going on, Philippa Naylor with machine quilting and Alice Fox exploring rusting on fabric and paper.  In addition a group of ladies came to concentrate on their own work as a retreat.  

Alice Fox was my chosen tutor and she proved to be a supportive and inspiring tutor.  We started by exploring rusting with various agents but most particularly tea of various types and red wine.  

Very quickly we accumulated a growing collection of fabrics wrapped around rusty objects of all shapes and sizes.  Papers were also treated and in some cases used as drip sheets for the damp parcels.

You can probably imagine the sense of impatience we all felt waiting for the packages to dry and the rust reaction to happen.  In some cases wet parcels were brought home and several days allowed to elapse before they were unwrapped.

Where the fabrics had dried we unwrapped with bated breath.

 Above, prints on cartridge paper.

This piece above had been previously dyed with seaweed and was wrapped around an old ratchet.  The biggest effect is the sculptural creasing that has happened.  
 I am delighted with this lovely vintage hanky which was folded around washers.  There are some beautiful marks from the washers and some delicate flow marks from the liquid.

 I think the piece above was hacksaw blades.

 Silk noil wrapped round a chain-linked necklace.

 These strong marks have been formed where a strip of fabric was wrapped round a strip of metal and clamped with mini bulldog clips.

This piece is very delicately marked after red wine was dribbled over old cotton wrapped round an exhaust pipe.  

After dyeing various fabrics we looked at applying stitch both before and after dyeing.

 This piece above is all paper and still requires more stitch.

 This piece above frayings of thread couched down and then the piece rust dyed.

Finally we explored concertina book making incorporating the dyed papers and scraps of fabric and stitch.

I really like this little book, which needs further work but has lots of potential.  The patterning on the paper came from fine wire wool arranged on the paper.  

I have previously worked with rust and always got the strong orangey marks from it but rust promoted by tea gives softer marks and a range of colours is achievable.  It is also likely to be less toxic than the orangey kind.  Alice's workshop gave the illusion of running at a very sedate pace but we achieved a lot and had time to think where this technique might lead.  I've alreadybeen shopping for some wired wool and rustable hardware. I've got a good collection of rusty bits found in the street, on the beach and in gardens but I am always on the lookout for more.  It will be very pleasant too, to sit and stitch into some of the pieces made at the weekend.  Thank you, Alice and all my classmates for a great working weekend.