During the last year I have produced a number of sketchbooks responding to the monthly prompts of the traveling sketchbooks set by our local embroidery group, “Aspects of Stitch’. These began before lockdown and consisted of each member beginning a sketchbook and then passing it on to the next. Each month we were to produce some research and produce small 20 cm max embroidery.
Lockdown has been a time of sober reflection and trying to keep lots of plates spinning (despite the surrounding cacophony of breaking ceramics all around ). One reason I love cloth and embroidery is how resilient it is to external factors and how practical it can be. It’s been 3 years since I had the solo show ‘decorated’ in Sleaford. This was such a wonderful experience and in many ways brought those 4 years of research into WW1 to logical conclusion. During lockdown I’ve been making some ‘security blankets’. Scraps from previous projects repurposed and patched together. Hours of hand stitch create new surfaces. People always comment on my patience. I have zero patience, just oodles of determination. For me embroidery can be a little like the satisfaction people get from completing a jigsaw puzzle. There comes a point when you just have to keep going to get that last stitch in place and the work is complete.
I am a lucky man. At nearly 52 I’ve had a fantastic teaching career (25 years in Ireland) and am enjoying a ‘retirement’ back at the family home as a full-time artist and part-time carer for my elderly and vulnerable family. We are a great team. A chaotic team full to the brim of love seasoned with complaining and cuddling. We have a great support network of extended family and our neighbours, who have been wonderful during this time of lockdown. Underlying health conditions give us a different perspective of the pandemic from many younger family members. Trying to not be driven by rage at the selfishness of others, the news and social media stupidity is testing. Sewing is well documented to help with those stress levels. I dare not imagine what life would be like without it.
My textile work is normally directed at specific exhibitions (I’m a member of the 62Group and showed in Sleaford as part of the recent ‘Ctrl/Shift’ tour) and just prior to the lockdown I had packed up a new piece to send for consideration.
That ‘Conversations’ exhibition for St. Barbe’s is now rescheduled to March 2021.
I had been preparing for a dozen workshops and lectures to different groups all over the East Midlands and Northern Ireland. Our loft is groaning under the suitcases full of kits I have pit together ready for nimble fingered participants in the future. Looking at the rest of the world weeks before lockdown it was clear my usual income streams and way of life was going to change dramatically and there was a time of complete creative despair. I used to thrive on deadlines and now struggle to plan further than the next mealtime. Things are opening up and plans are in place for some events but nothing for the rest of this year.
Like many independent crafts people income has ceased. I am very fortunate to have independent supports in place. I see many people shifting to online teaching, and maximising their web shops. I haven’t the heart to update the website anymore and am uncomfortable trying to sell product when I’m so conscious of what a hard and uncertain time many are experiencing. I admire those who are doing so well, and I am focused on surviving by sewing. I have always sold better in person and through commissions. I still do dog portraits to order.
I have been busy with presents and memorials for friends and family. Giving my time is the most realistic gift I have for their losses.
I have focused on trying to finish those many stubborn projects that seem to accumulate prior to resolution. The momentum to complete them dries up and they gather dust in the forlorn state of ‘one day’. Lockdown has meant the ‘one day’ seems to be the new every day. The ‘suitcases full of cash’ began about 2 years ago but were never the right answer for specific exhibition briefs. Taking scans of decommissioned European bank notes because fo the gorgeous mix of colour, pattern and decoration. Decorating these vintage suitcases was a chance to play at being rich. Speculation about value, worth, and the capitalist model have fascinated me for many years. A 5000 lire note has no more commercial value than monopoly money. In the huge move towards online banking and contactless payments is cash redundant? Billionaires are richer whilst others are relying on food banks for the first time in their lives. For me the image of running away with a pile of cash resonates with our attitudes to immigration, money laundering and the stash of money under the bed for a rainy day.
I have a lot of stuff. I’m a maximalist with an approaching hoarding disorder. This time has made me be resourceful. How can I use what I have collected? I think it is a little like trying to prepare a banquet using only the contents of the cupboard including that suspiciously out of date tin with no label that you have no idea when you acquired. Textile collage is quite liberating after more academic style drawings and realistic stitch projects. An intuitive response to the ingredients in front of you works best when I see a series so that I can use my scissors to chop and a mountain of pins to place and reposition the elements.
Doing what I’m told.
I’m part of our local Embroiderer’s Guild, Market harborough’s ’Aspects of Stitch’group. We do a monthly swop of our ‘travelling notebooks’. This challenge of having to respond to a theme someone else has set is a challenge. This has become a virtual exercise now, emailing photos of what we have been up to. Last month was ‘geometric’ and that made me realise that I can’t remember ANYTHING from my 2 A’levels in Maths form 35 years ago. These mini deadlines help me to focus and keep a track on where the days disappear to. We all look forward to meeting upon and seeing the work we have each produced in the thread.
The hot weather makes sewing hard. Slippy fingers make sloppy stitches. As like so many others, this time has meant cancelled celebrations, booked trips and the plans for future holidays. It has been hard on my sister who has special needs and had been obsessed by her birthday trip that should have happened a few weeks ago to see her beloved chimps at Monkey World, Dorset. She has her ‘Thelma’ cushion, and her family, to cuddle. We truly hope the future is postponed and not cancelled.
In the meantime we will make button worms together.
Delighted to have been interviewed by the incredibly talented Dionne Swift as part of her ongoing series of conversations during lockdown. As always I’m stitching a huge , heavy wool blanket in a heatwave.
Hi everyone, strange times for all of us. I hope you and yours are well in mind and body.
Sewing helps me.
Being creative helps.
At the moment there are not many future plans. All the lectures, workshops and exhibitions I have been working towards for the last 6 months are cancelled or postponed. I will update when there is some definite and hopefully positive news.
My online shop has been in lock-down as I couldn’t guarantee to get anything in the post. I have recently re-stocked with a lot of small mounted works of mounted drawings, prints on fabric and embroideries.
These are mostly under the KINGDOM page. Watch out for updates as I add more.
Please see my Instagram feed for regular updates on the sewing as it happens. Goodness knows when anyone will ever see it in the thread but I am a busy boy.
In the meantime enjoy the past. The archive of the last few years is all on here.
My great grandfather, Corporal william Holman served in the army and died in 1917 in WWI. My grandfather William Cheney was a driver for the RAF in WWII. My uncle and father both did National service in the army and navy respectively. This work is about the questions I have regarding the family members we know and the lives that they lived before we existed.
More information is available on the Rijswijk Museum website
‘The Shepherd’s Daughter.’ As a textile artist I am inspired by family history and a love of nature, using digital print and embroidery as a means to explore ideas of memory, myths, fact and fiction. I am fascinated by the different ways our identity is shaped by place and experience, which has led me to understand that my interests and taste have been forged by the wonderful upbringing I have been fortunate enough to have.
This exhibition of drawings and textile artworks uses the lens of mother’s life as a vehicle to look at our shared experiences of the contrasts inherent in living in a rural farming town whilst working in the textile industry. Colour, texture and materiality are underpinned by a rich palette of craft and textile processes.
My mother’s birth certificate lists her father’s occupation as ‘Shepherd of Bumblebee Cottages’. It is the stuff of fairytales. In response to this landscape and experiences take on magical, poetic and fantastical qualities.
As the 4th daughter of 9 children she talks so fondly of her childhood in a small village outside of Market Harborough, Leicestershire, where her freedom to explore and discover a love of nature more than made up for any lack of material possessions. She remembers her father as a vital farm labourer, a man of all seasons in tune with the rhythms of the land. In her mind he is driving the Ferguson tractor and dealing with all aspects of livestock and arable farming, whilst I can only remember him as my elderly grandfather suffering from chronic ill health. After school she went on to become a machinist in ‘Symingtons’, the long since closed lingerie factory that dominated the town where she met my father. As a child I grew up with an industrial sewing machine in our living room as she was an outworker. Instead of wandering the fields with rabbits we had a pet rabbit in the hutch in the back garden. Listening to her anecdotes has always provided limitless inspiration. The exhibition encompasses several themes that range from the nostalgic black and white photographs of family and buildings, in contrast with detailed drawings of farm animals and colourful interpretations of a magical cornfield filled with wildlife.
I have taken the Edward Thomas poem ‘Lights Out’ (1917), and the haunting opening line ‘I have come to the borders fo sleep’ as the starting point for this piece. Recently I have made work that deals with memory, commemoration and the relationship between clothing and identity.
The resulting exhibition ‘decorated’ referenced specific soldiers from the First World War through military insignia and uniforms.
The shift for this piece was from that of historical archivers to develop a fictitious character and echo the sensation of being lost in the thoughts that overwhelm him in the moments before his death.
Beginning with a period tailcoat I set about decorating it with machine embroidered appliqués of letter forms, symbolic forget-me-nots and a number of hand drawn portraits. The purpose of this was akin to costume design in using the language of clothing and colour to Crete mood that assists narrative.
Collaboration with both the model (Stephen Quinlan) and photographer ( Lucas Garvey) delegated control of the creation of imagery from that of personal, hand drawn to that of a nostalgic document.
By exploring technology through digital print and the use of typography the resulting quilt explores the way in which a cherished photograph can act as a portal to bring us to an event than that captured by a single image.
The process of simple hand stitching over the digital print distorts and helps us to tease out the relationship of materiality and tactility in our memories.
Photography in gallery courtesy of NCCD and Electric Egg.