Debbie Smyth

ZTwist Exhibition Now Open

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Our exhibition at the Pink Cabbage Gallery, Stroud is now open.

Here’s a glimpse of the final work I have on show and snippets from my statement to give you all the full round up……

After viewing many historic textile collections early in the Z Twist residency, Debbie’s attention was drawn to traditional samplers and their verses. By removing these verses from their traditional framework and presenting them in a contemporary way, these historic words can be perceived in a new light. A select few feature in her horse hair embroideries for their witty nuances regarding time……..

 

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Staple mended ceramics is an art of inventive repair at its best. This porcelain collection is inspired by the aesthetics of this traditional repair technique, combining horsehair, metal and ceramic to achieve unusual marks and beautiful imperfections. Still work in progress yet they can also be referred to as samplers. Traditionally, young girls completed embroidery and darning samplers to learn the basics of forming letters, needlework and mending textiles. Debbie may not have created samplers in the traditional sense yet she have created them for the same reason; to teach herself new skills

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If you can’t make the exhibition in Stroud, the full show will be travelling to Taunton in July.

You can find us in the Genesis Centre at Somerset College from the 11th-18th July

If this all tickles your fancy, why not attend The Make, Create, Cultivate Symposium on the 12th & 13th July…

MORE DETAILS HERE

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(photos by Zac Mead)

 

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Digital Samplers

Progress with my digital take on traditional samplers is going well. I am planning to display sampler verses and quotes by digitally embroidering them combined with the cut-out typography technique seen in previous posts. I have chosen my final colour palette for the works and have colour matched the various  threads with the horsehair fabric I intend to use. Firstly I wanted to see how all the colours look on all the fabrics so I have created my own embroidered samplers to test colours and fonts

Fabric Colours Swatches and Font and Colour Samplers

Fabric Colours Swatches and Font and Colour Samplers

I am experimenting with creating a distressed look to the typography by playing with and drawing into the designs on the computer prior to stitching. My next challenge is the choose what fonts and colours to use on which fabric.

Computer design and corresponding sampler produced from this design

Computer design and corresponding sampler produced from this design

I surprised myself with how quickly I got my head around the software for the embroidery machine.I struggled with illustrator when attempting to laser cut but this proved much easier to navigate. These being my first attempts, I think I’m doing  okay.

The embroidery machine at work

The embroidery machine at work

It meditative and captivating watching the machine at work….until it starts beeping and grinds to halt usually because of a thread breakage or blockage.  I am learning a lot in a short space of time with this machine but I’m loving the using this process and very happy with the results. The below sampler quote is quite apt for the process. Not much time left now to produce final pieces for the exhibition which opens on the 31st May at the Pink Cabbage Gallery, Stroud. More info here>

Computer design method and stitched design

Computer design method and stitched design

I have loved seeking out appropriate sampler quotes/verse for use in my work. Some are really quite funny….like this sampler letter from 1785. It makes me smile every time I read it.

Testing font for use on this contemporay take on a Sampler from The Montacute House collection

Testing font for use on this contempoary take on a Sampler from The Montacute House collection

“….I shall be very happy when I learn to write, as I think I can form my letters sooner with a pen than with a needle”

Brilliant, I love it. Another which is again very appropriate for the work I am producing during my time on ZTwist,

“all you my friends who now expect to see a piece of work performed by me cast but a smile on this my mean endeavour I’ll strive to mend and be obedient ever”

I think that could even be the title of the entire body of work I have produced for ZTwist.

Pot Production Line

It’s been a productive week this week, hence why my blog post is a bit late; I’ve just been so busy making. Trying to cram in as much as possible before the Easter break.

Working with the knowledge from previous experiments porcelain, I have refined my making method and have been busy churning out pots….pots….pots

pot production line

Pot production line

I’ve also been doing some more slip& dip samples, and I have been experimenting with metal stictches

more slip and dip samples hanging out to dry

More slip and dip samples hanging out to dry

I packed the kiln on Friday last week and I have to say I could not stop thinking about it until I opened it again on Tuesday. I was so worried I would open it to fins a load of burn fragments. To my amazement, I  found these little wonders when I opened it.

above left- packing the kiln, above right- the fired results : )

Above left- packing the kiln, Above right- the fired results : )

I have tried to refine my experimentation with the wire stitches and it worked…hurray!

fired stitched porcelain pots

Fired stitched porcelain pots

They may not be functioning pots as most have cracks but they look interesting. Also it’s quite ironic; I have been trying to echo porcelain staple/rivet mending techniques but mended post end up cracked.

stitched porcelain pots

Stitched porcelain pots

Now I just need to make more as I would like to have a big impactive cluster or rows of them for the exhibition.

I also have been playing around with trying to capture typography in porcelain and again I was very pleased with the results

Examples of trying to capture typography in porcelain

Examples of trying to capture typography in porcelain

Above you can see the pre-fired tags and then also the fired porcelain. I’m so glad I found a way to have a more refined burn mark that is actually readable. My idea would be to take text excerpts from old embroidery  samplers and remake them in porcelain

above left-example of sampler from Somerset heritage centre, above right- my contemporary twist on said sampler in porcelain

Above left-example of sampler from Somerset heritage centre, Above right- my contemporary twist on said sampler in porcelain

Results from the kiln

I arrived into college today and headed straight for the kiln eager to see the results of my first firing to 1260° . And what interesting results they are. Depending on the type and gauge of wire and the stitch used, very different effects are achieved. Some wire stayed solid, more burnt out  and some left a  smokiness like a charcoal smudge.

Samples from the kiln

Samples from the kiln

I spent hours laying the samples out, corresponding each sample with my before shoots, examining the stitch work, figuring out what works and what doesn’t; all the while trying to work out how I can pull all this research togther as a final piece.

Here’s a before and after shot. I love the burnout affect

Fabric and wire samples- before and after being fired. Fabric curled due to construction of weave

Fabric and wire samples- before and after being fired. Fabric curled due to construction of weave

Some samples linked with others randomly, see below. I had hours of fun, moving them round…..like a big jigsaw. Mending all these fragments back together. I love how in some the wire has left a mere smoky trace, whilst in others it has scared the surface with a burnt fracture

Geometric play with fabric, and sticth

Geometric play with fabric, and sticth

Other results included my wire and porcelain pots…… heres what they looked like pre-firing….

Fabric and wire pots before being fired

Fabric and wire pots before being fired

….and after.  Again traces of stitches creep to surface, some breaking through the porcelain whilst others are transformed into a  smudge.

Fired fabric and wire pots

Fired fabric and wire pots

The stitch details on some of the pots called for closer examination. I do love this effect; the stark contrast between the white porcelain and the creepy stitches. With my next round of pots, I need to get the porcelain looking neater. I seem to be slowly getting there….at least these pots are in one piece compared to last weeks

Fired stitched pot

Fired stitched pot

Below is some of the detail of the stitching. It reminds me of a snow scence where blades of  tall grass break through the cover of show.

Also the little  poercelain blobs on the strands of wire are mesmerizing….I didn’t mean for that to happen;I think thats what you call a happy accident. Lets hope for some more of those with the next round.

Details of stitched porcelain

Details of stitched porcelain

 

Visible Mending

Since returning from Ghent I have been spending a lot of time in the Ceramic Dept doing lots more experiments with Slip & Dip. As you have seen in my previous posts, my research for this project centres around mending. So I taken it upon myself to create visible mends in porcelain, which is proving not such an easy task, due to my limited knowledge of the material.

My experimentations involves horsehair fabric, wire and porcelain slip. Below are some examples of the flat  porcelain pieces showing various stitching, mending and darning techniques. I love how the wire oxidises; the contrast against the white porcelain is beautiful.

Flat Slip & Dip Porcelain Sampling with wire

Flat Slip & Dip Porcelain Sampling with wire

Some other sampling included imprinting the porcelain with the fabric. I poured slip directly on the fabric to achieve this result

Horsehair fabric imprint

Horsehair fabric imprint

These samples got me thinking about taking this into 3D. If can imprint the clay in flat pieces, could I not make a stitched fabric mould  to form a 3d shape.

Stitched horsehair fabric moulds

Stitched horsehair fabric moulds

My hope was the fabric would burn away in the kiln, leaving an imprint of the fabric on the outside and the wire stitch marks in place. You can see the results, below right….unfortunately they cracked. Why?? I’m not quite sure, maybe they were too thin…maybe the clay stuck to the mould so when it shrank it cracked.  I was however impressed with my flat works and and the stitch marks so this is something I will continue to play with.

visible mending in porcelain

visible mending in porcelain

I had a meeting with Anna at John Boyd last week. During which I showed her my progress so far which she seemed impressed by but her one criticism was that I was not showing the horsehair to it’s full potential. Totally understandable as I am just burning it away; I could in fact be using any fabric to make the work. Straight away my head was in problem solving mode….what other materials could I use where a kiln is not required? How could I use the horsehair differently? My solution…..Concrete!

Concrete & horsehair bowl

Concrete & horsehair bowl

Aswell as inlaying the concrete with horsehair,  I have also been looking at ways to creating visible mending  and stitching in bowls, see below

Visible Stitching in Bowls

Visible Stitching in Bowls

I would like to find a way to stitch and inlay; more experimenting is necessary.

With not much time left on the residency, I have started to think about our final show at the Pink Cabbage Gallery in Stroud from the 31th May-13th June, more details here. I have  been doing a lot of experimenting, and it’s time to start thinking about a final piece. How can I bring all these experiments together? What route am I going to take? Investigation time is up…it’s time to produce.

Visiting MIAT in Ghent

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Last week, myself , Penny and Patricia, travelled to Ghent for a Textiles conference at TI03 about smart textiles. However, I have to say, the highlight of my trip was not the future of textiles but the past. We visited MIAT, (Museum over industrie, arbeid en textiel) and their collection proved very interesting.

The following images are a photo diary of what caught my attention at MIAT, I hope it is as enlightening for you as it was for me

Detail of old Tapestry work at MIAT

Detail of old Tapestry work at MIAT

The Jacquard Looms in particular caught my eye, I love how the threads move within the loom; how they converge and criss cross and emerge as a woven piece of fabric.

Jacquard loom at MIAT and detail shot

Jacquard loom at MIAT and detail shot

A burst of thread out of a grid within the loom and lovely hooks onto the warp. I think these images could easily inform a site specific piece….how could I represent this within a gallery setting

Threads within a loom

Threads within a loom

The the trail of punch cards that feed the loom prove not only functional but aesthetically pleasing also. Beautiful braids are used to attach the warp to the wires

Details of the interior of a loom and punch cards

Details of the interior of a loom and punch cards

The photograph below is of a ribbon/trimmings jacquard loom, hence why the warp splits into sections, each section weaves into a separate ribbon. It’s is utterly amazing and captivating to look at these looms in depth, the threads are so compelling.

Punch cards and criss- cross jacquard warp

Punch cards and criss- cross jacquard warp

I love how the light shines through the punchcards and I also think these link into my ceramic work with punched holes.

Punch card beauty

Punch card beauty

Interesting patterns in spinning machinery

Machinery and yarns

Spinning Jenny and spools of yarn

We also spoke with some volunteers who work at MIAT. These volunteers keep the machinery and equipment in working order and they even produce lovely items that they sell in the Museums shop. Below is an image of a teatowl; designed, produced, and available to buy at MIAT. They also make and sell various printed items and cards

MIAT teatowel design

MIAT teatowel design

Other nice patterns within the museum…..what is it about stacks of spools of yarn that is so alluring.

Colourful yarn store and machinery

Colourful yarn store and machinery

Skein to spool winder

Skein to spool winder

And finally the view form MIAT’s window over  fabulous Ghent

View from a window at MIAT over the beautiful Ghent

View from a window at MIAT over the beautiful Ghent

 

Slip & Dip

During a course I did entitled Cross Materials Practice at West Dean College a couple of years ago, I was introduced to porcelain slip. This course was only a couple of days long so I did not have the time  then to fully explore the medium and ever since, I have been wanting to play with some slip. So I saw this as the perfect opportunity. This weeks sampling took place in the ceramics department Somerset School of Art.  Although Somerset college no longer runs any ceramics course, they still have a ceramics area; it’s small, rarely used but it is fully equipped and I’ve been having lots of fun doing some slip dipping. Is there a technical term for slip dipping?? I’m not sure….. even though the college has a ceramics department, there are no ceramics lecturers so I have no one consult about technical terms. I am learning through playing and I am making up words as I go. Enough words…..more picture; here’s a glimpse of what I’ve been up to.

Various Porcelain Slip dipped fabrics

Various Porcelain Slip dipped fabrics

These samples show the various pieces of slip dipped horse hair fabrics hanging out to dry following being submerged in porcelain. I also experimented with hole sizes as I plan to stitch the pieces once fired.

Experimentation with cutting fabric before dipping

Experimentation with cutting fabric before dipping

Other investigations involved cutting out the fabrics before dipping

Fired Samples

Fired Samples

Here are the bisque fired samples, and the thing that immediately caught my eye is what happens to metal in the kiln. I love the contrast of the dark oxidised lines against the bright white porcelain. I have yet to fire these to the higher temperature, so these lovely marks may still disappear. However this is something I am going to further investigate.

Porcelain and copper pot

Porcelain and copper pot

Obviously still inspired by mending; this sampler is informed by staple and rivet mending of porcelain (see my research in previous blog post)

The contrast of black squiggly lines on the white clay is beautiful and such a interesting way to create marks. Next on my list of samplers to make is further explorations of this as drawing medium…..eeek….exciting!!

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Stitched up perforated porcelain

Other ideas include the linking and stitching up of porcelain fragments. Now that I have tested hole sizes which can be stitched, my next samples will be designed to be fragments that jigsaw together.

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Fragments and flaky samples

Not all samples proved successful and most are extremely delicate and crumbled away, but still it is interesting to see the traces of the horse hair fabric which was encased in porcelain. The other smooth layer flakes away to reveal the fabric imprinted surface within.

More experimentations are definitely necessary….stay tuned!

Moving on with MAKING…..

I applied for this residency as I saw it as a means to have the time, facilities and head space to generate new ideas to take forward in my creative practice and take a step back from the fast paced design world that I usually work in. I want to SAMPLE and play with new ways of working and explore techniques unknown to me. If I am to sample new approaches and new ways of working, why not document them through SAMPLERS. I don’t necessarily mean I will create samplers in the traditional sense, of course I will be putting a contemporary twist of these old ways of working. I am known for pushing the boundary of string art in my creative practice; a thread weaving craft with its roots in mathematics, and I intend to push boundaries with the work I produce during this residency by using techniques in an unorthodox yet contemporary way.

Following on from last weeks post I have been investigating the methods of mending further through making and experimenting with mark-making using repair techniques. I’ve been playing with a staple gun, distressing fabric and exploring shading techniques for use in drawings in an unusual way

Mark-making with staples and horsehair fabric

Mark-making with staples and horsehair fabric

I have been further exploring darning processes and continuing on with removing the weft from the horsehair fabric. I am currently exploring the use of typography with this technique, examples below

typography and horsehair fabric

typography and horsehair fabric

As some of the samplers have a high contrast warp and weft, the typography is easily read. However I like the hidden nature of the low contrast sampler, I have held these up to the window here to display the light shining through the lettering.

typography and horsehair fabric

typography and horsehair fabric

I have also been experimenting with darning and drawn thread embroidery with little success, see below. I am not a huge fan of extremely slow processes. My next step is to look into getting a similar effect yet at a quicker pace. I like this juxtaposition of fast versus slow…..

drawn thread embroidery and darning

drawn thread embroidery and darning

As well as doing lots of making, I also paid a visit to Blaise Castle House Museum in Bristol this week.  After trying to book a viewing of Bristol Museums important group of over 200 samplers and finding out they were closed until Easter, I was pointed in the direction of Blaise Castle House Museum. Having not heard of this museum nor did I know of their collection, I booked  an appointment with Helen McConnell  to view examples for their textile collection…..and what a collection it is. Some tasters below,

Young girls needle-work notebook

Young girls needle-work notebook

The first gem I would like to show you is this young girls needle work notebook, containing not only darning and cross stitch samples but beautiful hand-drawn sketches of the methods too, so exquisite

Needlework drawing and  tiny cross stitch name tags

Needlework drawing and tiny cross stitch name tags

Here’s an example of one of the beutiful ink drawings in the notebook ans also some teeny weeny cross stitched name tags, so precise and wonderful

Darning Sampler

Darning Sampler

More beautiful darning

And finally this amazing patchwork quilt. Usually this type of patchwork uses patches that are similar in size to a 50p piece however the patches in this quilt were a lot smaller, each was the size of a finger nail. You can see the scale in the middle image where a hand is holding up the quilt. What an unusual piece, I’ve never seen anything like it

Patchwork Quilt

Patchwork Quilt

I would thoroughly recommend a visit to see Blaise House Museum, Helen was so helpful and even showed us their wonderful costume collection. They also have a lot of patchwork quilts but due to space are difficult to view. More details about their collection can be found here

Also you can visit Blaise House Museum facebook page here

Mending Matters…..

Following our visit to the Heritage centre, I seemed to have mending matters on my mind. Curiosities arouse about the practice of mending, the necessity of it and the beauty of it. It is something we do in an ongoing way, to prolong the life of an object and it is often something not remarked on or recognised. However I can’t but help notice the beauty of repair work……

There are some many different types of mending to explore; one collection in particular that caught my eye is Andrew Basemans Past Imperfect collection of what are often called make-do’s – domestic objects dating back centuries that bear evidence of having been broken and repaired in unusual and often artful ways. Here are some example of some pretties from his website

Past Imperct Collection

Andrew Baseman-Past Imperct Collection

I love how simple crockery is transformed and tells a story of it’s past, just by the insertion metal staples. The art of inventive repair at it’s best.

Andrew Baseman- Past Imperfect Collection

Andrew Baseman- Past Imperfect Collection

Another aspect of mending which I want to further investigate is darning; I touched on this also in my previous blog post.

Darning Samplers were especially prevalent in the Netherlands in the late 18th and early 19th century. Working as a linen seamstress could provide a steady living for these young women and their families. It was especially important for the girls in orphanages to master these skills so they would have an occupation to support themselves upon leaving the home. The training was so serious that these darning samplers were considered a sort of final exam in the orphanages.

Examples of Dutch Darning Samplers

Examples of Dutch Darning Samplers

I love the colours and use of pattern. It makes me think how can I incorporate darning into my work……..hmmm! Darning is a form of drawn thread work, or pulled thread work and this is something I have been experimenting with.

Darning is something I wanted to further pursue in my making. I always darn my socks; I can’t say I am the neatest and I do have my own way but I do like the process. I have been experimenting with the horsehair fabric, and by precisely and patiently cutting out the weft from the fabric, I can create graphic imagery leaving just the warp in place (see image below). This is some way mimics the darning process but in reverse, revealing the longitudinal stitches that form the warp instead of inserting them. Slightly ironic perhaps; I am trying to recreate the darning process by distressing the fabric rather than mending it.

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Sampling- Removal of the horsehair weft to reveal just the WARP

Sarah Pink sees mending/repair work as re-making,

“objects are never restored to what they were before, but are remade to emerge as something else”

(Visible Mending; Everyday repair in the South West)

Mending as Re- making…..this interests me!

Whilst distressing the horsehair, I was working very closely with the fabric and I noticed something; a mend along the edge of the fabric, but not just one, several all along the selvage. Each length of fabric had them, parallel lines of tiny stitchings fixing a recurring flaw. But how did this flaw happen and who fixes it…this is something I must enquire about on my next trip to John Boyd’s mill? I know they mend  the machinery themselves, but how much mending of fabrics is undertaken….?

Horsehair  fabric mends

Horsehair fabric mends

A lot of my Z Twist time has been focussed on research up to now  which has been great as I am really taking the time to fully investigate my approach but I really can’t wait to get stuck in making. Next time you hear from me, I’ll have lots of photos of hands on making………..

Stitches in time….

On a recent visit to Somerset Heritage Centre, where we were presented with a huge array of ancient artefacts in the textiles collection; Mostly fashion, embroidered and printed textiles, Victorian hair  jewellery and hair combs. However, it was not the beauty of these items which I noticed it was the flaws, imperfections and the details which would usually go unnoticed;  the rips, mends and repair work.  The unseen beauty of darning and tatters telling complex stories.

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Firstly I encountered these portrait paintings. Unfortunately, they seem to have been damaged somewhere, somehow. Perhaps that’s why they ended up here? Perhaps they have another story to tell, who knows…..

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Then I noticed these details of British flags, weather beaten yet lovingly mended in parts. I love the detail of the horizontal stitching

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More repair-work; the line quality of the stitches and the shading created by the tatters against the mesh, intrigues me and makes me wonder how I could adapt this as a medium to draw with.

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Intrigued by stitches that I had just seen, I then enquired with Estelle and Bethan as to whether they had any samplers, and to my delight they did. The aspects of the samplers which caught my eye, were not only the exquisite details but also the wear and tear of they ancient pieces of textiles. Also take note, the sampler (above left) was made by a 9 year old;  they must have worked painstakingly hard to produce such delicate stitches and at such a young age. Whereas the slogan on the sampler (above right) is rather fitting, I reckon “Time is Short”

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It was not only the details of the front of the samplers that caught my eye, but also the back. The reverse side reveals the process, the train of though,traces the movements of the hand, the story and is beautiful in it’s own right

After our visit to Somerset Heritage Centre,  I felt inspired and I began researching other examples of mending and certain methods caught my eye, in particular darning  and boro

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(Above Left) Darning Sampler from Bristol Museum collection
(Above Right) Detail of Boro, from kimonoboy.com

These textiles are generational storybooks, lovingly repaired & patched with what fabric was available. Never intended to be viewed as a thing of beauty, these textiles today take on qualities of collage, objects of history, and objects with life and soul.”

~John Foster, Accidental Mysteries blog ~

The beauty of boro mending did not only catch my eye but also the eye of Jude Hill, see excerpt below from ‘art, craft, and dedicated intent’ ~

“Although boro has become a bit of a trend these days, the raggedy edges and patching and primitive approach to cloth making…there is a subtle reminder that this was not an intended art form. This was life, mending, thrift, and respect for cloth. This is the result of living small with consciousness of means. The need to stay warm, the patience to repair, restore and to keep going….and the resulting beauty in that.”