What year is it?!

This blog’s having a bit of a Rip Van Winckle moment, waking up, bleary-eyed, from a long nap, staggering around and wondering if it can survive in this strange new world.

Ok, slight exaggeration there.

What with studying an MPhil in textile conservation, I decided it would be wise to focus my time and writing efforts on studies.

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This is what a textile conservator looks like (working on a bloodstained jacket from Annan Museum)

The course has been a mighty learning curve; I’ve learnt about the science behind textile fibres, and how and why they degrade, researched an ornate Afghan coat, seen the weavers in action at the fantastic Dovecot Studios in Edinburgh, unwrapped and humidified 1500-year-old archaeological fragments from a burial site in Sudan, talked my socks off at the Centre for Textile Conservation Open Day and the Edinburgh College of Art, and conserved  an amazing  bloodstained military jacket from Annan Museum.

More than that, I’ve met, made friends and shared way too many embarassing stories with my coursemates (two of whom write awe-inspiring blogs: https://textileinvestigations.wordpress.com/ and https://hannahsuthers.com/blog/).

Right now I’m applying for jobs and preparing for the trip of a lifetime to Japan next week. I’ll be taking part in a traditional Japanese indigo-dyeing workshop in Fujino, so thought it would be a crime not to share what I see and learn while I’m there. Check back here for updates!

 

Paisley potato printing

After Alice and I made our bird and leaf lino cuts for the William Morris Society earlier this year, I figured my next printing project would have to be even more elaborate and ambitious, because, well, I’m competitive with myself. But a crafty night in with my flatmate, a roll of brown paper, a potato, craft knife and some gouache paint has reminded me how satisfying the simpler projects can be.

paisleypaper01paisleypaper02I cut out a very simple paisley design and printed the whole roll of paper with white footprints. I went to bed feeling just a little bit smudged. The next morning I added some colour, picking combinations from a very lovely library book on Central Asian Textiles (perhaps Indian or Scottish textiles would have been more appropriate, but this eye-popping blaze is just what I wanted and had to hand). paisleypaper03 paisleypaper04 paisleypaper05 paisleypaper06 paisleypaper07 paisleypaper08 paisleypaper10

I was inspired to use a paisley design by what I’ve recently learnt about the history of the Scottish textile industry, and its surprising international connections. Paisley is a town in West Scotland which became so well known in the nineteenth century for its reproductions of imported Indian shawls that the motif (also known as boteh) became synonymous with the town.

At Glasgow University some interesting research is uncovering various aspects of the Scottish Textile Industry. Below are links to current research projects:

ReCREATE – a network of specialists and academics researching Scotland’s textile industry during the Industrial Revolution. Talks at an event of its forerunner ReINVENT are available to view here.

Glasgow Dyes Project – Julie Wertz’s PhD project to research and recreate the brilliant ‘turkey red’ dye used by Scottish dyers. She’s also written a post about her research here on the Centre for Textile Conservation and Technical Art History blog.

Darning Scotland’s Textile Heritage – the University of Glasgow archive’s project to enhance their collection of records relating to the Scottish textile industry.

Glasgow Necropolis

A belated ‘Happy Halloween!’ and some more photos of the city I now call home.
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I’ve discovered that the best views of Glasgow are from a) the eleventh floor of the University library and b) the hilltop of the city’s Victorian Necropolis.

My boyfriend Sayed and I chanced upon the Necropolis a few weeks ago, after a visit to the nearby St Mungo Museum of Religious Art and Life. Sayed’s an artist and photographer, so apologies that none of these images are from his elevated perspective and swanky digital SLR, which I’ve often borrowed for blog posts in the past. I’m missing him (and the Nikon!) right now since he’s doing a two-month artist’s residency at the National College of Arts in Lahore (more info about his projects here).
Necropolis3Necropolis2 Necropolis5 Necropolis6The entire hill is covered in statues and elaborate tombs – 3500 of them, apparently. A path winds its way to the top, which is so prickled with obelisks it resembles a hedgehog’s back. As I photographed the tombs, I was struck by how the Victorian monuments merge and alternate on the horizon with the factory chimneys and high-rise flats of the city beyond.Necropolis4Necropolis8The Necropolis is beautiful and peaceful (especially on an unusually bright, sunny autumn day), and a surprisingly excellent picnic spot. However, it was marred by one thing. Disturbingly, a member/members of the National Front have used the tombs as a canvas for hateful words. I thought long and hard before including an image of it here on my blog; I’m reluctant to give xenophobia any attention that might lead these misguided idiots to think their actions have any credability, but I also want to expose its ugliness. If I can match each spiteful, ignorant word with a decent, informed one, then I think it’s worth mentioning. It’s the first time I’ve ever seen ‘NF’ and swastikas scrawled in a public place, here or anywhere in the UK. I hope it’s the last, but if current statistics on perceptions of immigration are anything to go by, this may be part of a worrying rise in racism.Necropolis1Necropolis7

The Burrell Collection

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border detail of embroidered panel depicting Judith and Holofernes, English, mid-seventeenth century, silk and metal on silk.

There are some places that draw me back again and again whether I intend to go or not. The Burrell Collection seems to be one. I visited for the first time during my first week living in Glasgow, then returned with friends for a tour of the embroidery collection, then once again a few days later, when I hopped on a bus intending to go north, and ending up going south instead. I realised in a panic, leapt off (kicking myself) then, seeing the leafy entrance to Pollok Park, consoled myself with a wander around the collection and a Tunnock’s teacake.

But then, there’s certainly the quantity and variety of artefacts to warrant more than one visit. When Sir William Burrell bequethed his huge collection of Chinese ceramics, ancient Egyptian art, Medieval embroideries and Rodin sculptures (amongst other things), he stipulated it should be housed in a building 16 miles from the city of Glasgow. He worried that city pollution would damage the objects, particularly the tapestries, so wanted them to be housed in a clean rural setting – showing great foresight in terms of conservation. Although not as far from the city as he wished, Pollok park provides ample green space for the collection building as well as Pollok House (now a National Trust property), herds of Highland cattle, dense woodland and blackberrying opportunities. Yum.

burrell01Unfortunately, nature is also creeping into the building in the form of clothes moths and rain water, so some furnishings have been taken off display for deep freezing to eliminate any unwanted hosts, and in a couple of rooms furniture is swathed in plastic whilst stray buckets collect drips.

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Peasants hunting rabbits with ferrets, French, 1450-75, wool and silk tapestry.

burrell04 Continue reading

Tramway

tramway3Yesterday I visited Tramway, an arts venue in the south of Glasgow. Formerly a tram depot, the space is big and bare enough to allow ample breathing space for contemporary art exhibitions, but still bears traces of its past life.

Before electric trams came in, they were pulled by horses which were stabled, oddly, in the floor above the tram shed. The slopes up which they trudged to their hay now lead to a workshop space. When the last trams were taken out of service in 1962, about 250,000 people turned up to watch the procession of vehicles make their last journey, some putting a penny on the track by way of a squished souvenir.

tramway2The old metal tracks run the length of the main exhibition room, currently inhabited by Cathy Wilkes‘ work – a frozen theatre-like assemblage of tatty, forlorn figures and bits of detritus. Her work sits well in the space, with an unnerving edge which adds to the slightly sinister impression I have of tram tracks (ever since a childhood visit to Barcelona, where I learnt that Gaudi died after being hit by a tram – a feeling recently confirmed by poor Berlioz’s death in The Master and Margherita).  tramwayI spent the remaining afternoon with Glasgow Knit ‘n Stitch group, who meet in the cafe every Wednesday and Sunday. We knitted and talked socks, Glasgow history, wool shops, politics and mitred squares. An afternoon well-spent!

Aside from contemporary art and knitting groups, Tramway hosts music, film and performance.

Tramway – 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow, G41 2PE

Glasgow!

Here are a few photos from my first two days living in Glasgow, which I’ve mainly used to find routes (with the exception of swimming) across the Clyde, visit the Burrell Collection and Kelvingrove, get a bit lost on the buses and scout out the best wool and fabric shops (Marjory’s and Mandors so far).

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Yesterday I visited the Burrell Collection, which is set in the middle of a very woody park south of the Clyde. On the way to the museum I attempted to befriend these beautiful young Highland cattle by complementing them on their bangs. I’m not sure whether they could see, or understand me.Glasgow02

Amongst an impressive array of Chinese pottery, ancient Egyptian carvings and Rodin sculptures, the Burrell collection includes walls and walls of tapestries. I’m going back tomorrow for more.Glasgow03Linen silk/ silver-embroidered waistcoat, made in Britain 1615-18. Amongst the symmetrically-curling foliage and flowers sit caterpillars and butterflies. Continue reading

Spend less, Mend more

One way to slow the pace of fast fashion is to mend more. Adding patches, mending zips, sewing buttons back on and stitching tears all prolong the life of an item of clothing, and stem the tide of buying more. It also takes little time, saves money and is much easier to do than you might think (but if you’d rather not do it yourself, it’s also easy to find tailors/ drycleaners who provide mending services).

In the process of packing my bags for Glasgow and preparing for the course, I’m making sure all my clothes are in good shape, and getting a bit of sewing practice in too.

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holey pocket: before

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holey pocket: after

I learnt most of my mending tips and tricks from my granny’s little pink ‘Make Do and Mend’ pamphlet, which contains specific instructions on different types of fabric and wear, with very helpful illustrations. I’ll blog some more information and images when I’ve remembered which box it’s packed in.

In the meantime, here are a few half-decent instructions I found online.

How to sew on a button – Instructables

Fix a zip – Wikihow

How to patch a hole – Martha Stuart

Art lessons

kievjuly21As a (freelance) teacher of Art and English, I’m always trying to think up new projects and ideas for lessons. Most of the time I try to take the lessons outside to parks, museums and galleries, where we can draw from observation and learn about art first-hand.

We also have some favourite classroom-based games, including:

– “What Am I?” (names of animals are drawn on numerous pieces of paper, each person sticks one to their forehead and tries to discover which it is by asking Yes/No questions like “Do I have hooves?”)

– “Exquisite Corpse”, aka “New Species” (each person draws part of a figure, then folds over the paper and passes it to the next person to complete)

– the self-explanatory “Keep-the-pencil-on-the-paper” and “No looking” drawings

– “Describe the picture” (one person picks a picture from an art book and describes it for the other person to draw)

On one of the rare occasions we weren’t out and about on my last visit to Kyiv, I came up with this very simple mosaic-making project. Suitable for all ages (with varying degrees of assistance).

How to make a paper mosaic Continue reading

Sitting on the grass, drinking kvaas

I’m back from Kyiv* now, with a happy and exciting visit still fresh in my mind. This is partly thanks to the beautiful music I’m listening to now, discovered on my third day.

Wandering past the Golden Gate – the historic gateway to the old city of Kyiv – I came across a group of singers and musicians playing what I now know to be traditional Ukrainian instruments. I stopped to listen for a moment, then a few, then leant against a tree to enjoy the sweet voices and trill of the lute-like kobza, which to my ears sounded like something from a past era. As it turns out, many of the instruments, tunes and lyrics used by these musicians have changed little over centuries, with the knowledge being passed on both by word-of-mouth and in written form.

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As the evening unfolded, I found myself sitting on the grass, drinking kvaas (a weak beer made from fermented rye bread) in a circle of new friends, humming along to songs I didn’t understand, but, by the end of the evening, had started to learn.

kievjuly13Having made the acquaintance of Taras, Valeriy and their friends, I went to two more of their concerts over the course of the week, one at the Ivan Gonchar museum, the other at the book museum in Pechersk Lavra, the large twelfth century monastery complex on the edge of the Dnipro river. Both concerts were organised to raise money for the Ukrainian troops, something that many Kievans I met feel very strongly about, believing there to be a real danger of Putin’s soldiers invading Eastern Ukraine. Personally, I think that the addition of more troops can only lead to more division and violence, in a volatile situation which has already led to over 1,500 deaths. I hope peaceful means can be found to prevent the gyre from widening further.

During the Soviet era, when Ukraine was part of the USSR, the Ukrainian language was supressed, as was any expression of traditional folk culture which suggested a greater loyalty to something other than the Soviet state. Indeed, Ukrainian musicians frequently came under attack, with kobzars and bandurists being specifically persecuted, and even being executed under Stalin in the 1930s. Despite this, the musical tradition has survived, and perhaps because of it, is passionately celebrated and defended by a a number of talented musicians. Banduras and kobzars are still produced under a Guild system in Kyiv.

kievjuly11kievjuly10In my last post, I included a clip of a performance of ‘De Libertate’ – ‘Of Liberty’, a song I’ve been enjoying without understanding it’s meaning or origins. I’m including it here again with the lyrics. Thanks to Dmytro for this translation.

Of Liberty – an 18th century poem by Hryhorii (Gregory) Skovoroda

Що є свобода? Добро в ній якеє? What is freedom? What good does it have?
Кажуть, неначе воно золотеє? Some say it is like gold.
Ні ж бо, не злотне: зрівнявши все злото, No, I say. All the gold of this world
Проти свободи воно лиш болото. Compared to the freedom is only dirt.
О, якби в дурні мені не пошитись, Oh, I’d never want to become a fool
Щоб без свободи не міг я лишитись. Left without freedom.
Слава навіки буде з тобою, Let the glory ever be with you,
Вольності отче, Богдане-герою! The father of freedom, Bohdan** the hero!

 

*I’ve changed my spelling from Kiev to Kyiv, since the latter better reflects the Ukrainian pronunciation.

** Hryhorii Skovoroda mentions Bohdan as a positive historical figure, but this connotation is not as widespread now.

Return to Kiev

For the past few days I’ve been working in Kiev. As instability and violence continues to grow in Donetsk, my employers and many of my friends have relocated – hence my change of location too. The circumstances are permeated with so much sadness and worry for those families fleeing and broken up by the violence in the East, and Ukrainians across the country anxiously forseeing an invasion by the Russian army.

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St Sophia belltower

The reasons for being in Kiev are far from ideal; however, it’s been wonderful to have an excuse to visit this beautiful city so soon again. I’ve visited a few new places, discovered some incredible Ukrainian folk music and seen ballet and opera for the first time (and done some teaching too!).

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Street art. Chicken Kiev..?

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A protest outside the German embassy

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The son of Yaroslav, a struggling artist who sells his work on Andrii’vsky Descent, shows off his dad’s paintings

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A gala concert performance of opera and ballet at the National Theatre

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An exhibit in Ivan Gonchar museum, woven from corn. I am keen but yet to find out its name!

kievjuly09A chance encounter at the Golden Gate led to a pretty magical evening sitting on the grass, drinking kvaas and listening to singing and kobza-playing by Taras Kompanichenko and fellow folk musicians. More to follow on their music! In the meantime, here’s one of their songs – ‘De Libertate’ (On Liberty). Thanks to John Doe for the comment and additional info.