Last week a new textile exhibition called Softer opened at the Mill. A follow-up to last year’s Soft show, Softer  showcases the variety of textile talent in E17 and includes a crocheted reindeer head, an applique wall-hanging, a patchwork piece and a book of children’s stitches, to name a few. Oh, and our knitting group’s piece, Softer Light is proudly on display in the window!

Take a look at the Mill’s website for more info, or, better still, come and see the show in the flesh fabric.softeropening1 softeropening4softeropening5softeropening2softeropening3 softeropening6 softeropening7

Kenoujak Ashevak (and me) in Paris

On Tuesday I got back from a short family trip to Paris. We revisited old favorites (Cluny Museum, crème brûlée) and savoured some new (chocolate soup, Rodin Museum). I’ll share those later, but first, a highlight:

Fantastic Kenojuak Ashevak at the Canadian Cultural Centre, Paris.

This exhibition showcased 40 works by Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013), an artist from Ikirasaq, near Baffin Island in the Northwest territories of Canada. Ashevak transferred her skills in traditional inuit textile designs to drawing and printmaking and became one of the first artists from the area to attract international attention.

Her images often depict birds and animals, sometimes alone, sometimes in symmetrical groupings. Some are drawn cleanly and straightforwardly, others are surrounded by blobby protrusions, as if appearing from the patterns of ice floes, like images discovered in cloud formations.

Fantastic Kenojuak Ashevak is on show at the Canadian Cultural Centre, 5 rue de constantine, Paris 7ème until 6th September 2013.

Ashevak was also the subject of this short film Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak made in 1963 by John Feeney, available to see for free on the National Film Board of Canada website.

Dieter Roth at the Camden Arts Centre

Notes on a visit to the Camden Arts Centre’s exhibition Dieter Roth: Diaries, 17 May – 14 July.

Dieter Roth (1930-98) was a Swiss-German artist known for his varied range of mixed-media artwork, often using found materials.

© Camden Arts Centre, London

The first gallery has a library-like atmosphere; on one side stand five bookcases, interspersed with lamp lit reading desks. There are five shelves on each side of the bookcases, each housing fourteen carefully dated ringbinders filled with the detritus of Roth’s life – photos, letters, medication packets, cigarette ends, bus tickets and numerous sundry scraps of paper. His one criteria for candidates into these files was that objects should be no thicker than 1/4 inch.

Roth seems to have had the understanding of an archaeologist that it’s actually the objects we use daily to the point of being unconscious of them, the detritus that usually ends up in rubbish pits and landfill sites, that reveals the most about us. These give a more honest portrayal of an individual or society than any official biography or collection of high-end artefacts, through sheer accumulation and by the very fact that they tend to be overlooked and underestimated. The piece raises the question Why keep everything?, but then again, Why keep anything?

© Camden Arts Centre, London

In the second gallery, a series of wooden boards covered in stains, notes, paint and doodles reminds me of long-suffering school desks and the kitchen table of a friend whose children have free reign to scratch and sketch over its surface. These, along with the shelves of ringbinders and the journals in a nearby cabinet, are just another kind of diary for Roth, a record of his life.

Gallery 3 houses Roth’s most extreme and ambitious project of documenting his life. He set up video recorders in rooms in his house and studios and for two years captured his daily life. A wall of television sets simultaneously show Roth sleeping, eating, washing up, making phone calls, going to the toilet, and, largely, working. The last video impassively records the empty studio on the day he died.

Later, flicking through the exhibition catalogue, I chanced upon this telling quote by Roth:

D.R.: For me, it’s…it’s like a cancerous tumour, it’s basically an illness. An illness that I have. Now.

I.L-H.: This compulsion to represent your entire life.

D.R.: Yes. That’s my terminal illness. It’ll probably be the cause of my death.

Extract of interview with Irmelin Lebeer-Hossmann, Stuttgart, 20-22 June 1979, published in ‘On Keeping a Diary’, Dieter Roth: Diaries, ed. Fiona Bradley (Yale University Press, 2012), p. 158

I wonder what Roth would have made of social media and blogging had he witnessed the current culture of recording daily life on a massive scale? The questions raised by his pointedly indiscriminate recording and archiving seem more pertinent than ever.

Is the desire to be heard and remembered a terminal illness that we all suffer from to some degree?

Dieter Roth: Diaries runs from 17 May to 14 July 2013 at the Camden Arts Centre, London. Free entry to all.

Group Knitting Project

This morning I’m busy sewing together our Softer Light group knitting piece. Over the past couple of months us knitters at The Mill have made squares for this ‘stained knit window’, to be featured in an upcoming textiles exhibition, Softer.

To do these beautiful squares full justice, I’m knitting a mile (well, not quite) of i-cord as ‘leading’ to hold the ‘panes’ of knitting in place.

The i-cord was made on two double-ended needles by casting on two stitches, knitting them, and, after knitting the second stitch, pushing the stitches from the left to the right-side end of the needle, transferring the needle back to the left-hand and continuing as a round by bringing the working yarn around the back. This forms a very tiny tube of knitting with four sides formed by the two stitches.



Mitred squares

Here’s my (slightly) modified version of Aunty Penny’s pattern for a mitred square. These measurements are specifically to make a 10x10cm square in Debbie Bliss ‘Angel’ mohair yarn.

Debbie Bliss kindly donated this and lots of other beautiful yarn to The Mill, so we’ve been putting it to good use for our group piece for the forthcoming Softer textiles exhibition.squares


k – knit

k2tog – knit two together

sl1 – slip 1

psso – pass slip stitch over

Cast on 31 sts on size 5mm needles.

Row 1 and every following alternate row: Knit.

Row 2: k14, sl1, k2tog, psso, k14.

Row 4: k13, sl1, k2tog, psso, k13.

Row 6 and all following alternate rows: Continue reducing in the same way, with decreased stitches forming central diagonal line, until 3 stitches remain.

Following row: sl1, k2tog, psso.

Cut yarn and pass end through loop.square

Many thanks to Aunty Penny for putting me on to this. Here’s her original, excellent advice:

20th April 2013

“I just discovered an interesting way of knitting squares, where you decrease a stitch in the middle of each row, forming a diagonal, as follows.
Cast on an odd number of stitches, 2n+1
Row 1: knit n-1 stitches, slip 1, k1, psso, knit
Row 2: as row 1
Row 3: knit n-2 stitches, slip 1, k1, psso, knit
Row 4: as row 3
Continue until there is only 1 stitch. You can either pull this through, or start on a new square by picking up n stitches along one of the edges of the first square and casting on a further n.”

24th April

“Re my comment of 20th April on diagonal squares, I’ve just been trying different decreases, knit 2 together or knit 2 together through back of loops, and for garter stitch it doesn’t seem to matter which one you do as long as it’s always the middle stitch and the stitch before that you knit together and you are consistent. These squares are particularly fetching in rainbow yarn.

I’ve also noticed that it’s a way to get a scalloped edging. Instead of carrying on decreasing until you’ve got one stitch remaining, you stop sooner and then just knit straight.”


I’m just back from a few days in Brussels. Despite the best intentions to get straight into some art appreciation at one of the many brilliant galleries in Brussels, upon arrival I couldn’t bear to drag myself indoors away from the glorious SUNSHINE. And so, the first afternoon was spent wandering the city flâneur-stylee, picking streets at random and sauntering into parks to knit/ read.

bxl7bxl10bxl5bxl6bxl4bxl1bxl2bxl3Later in the evening I met our host, who cooked a beef and beer stew (blue label Chimay, 9%, for those of you who, like me, will be attempting to recreate this dish) and told me about a fantastic Brusselian knitting group called ‘Tricot Trottoir‘ (rough trans.: ‘Curb Knits’) who draw attention to environmental and pollution issues by (amongst other methods) knitting plastic bags into colourful garments. Art that uses knitting and green ethics? Tick, tick.

The following day, Sayed and I visited a nearby fleamarket (to get a present for my sister) and a specialist belgian beer shop (to get a present for my Dad), before heading off to Recyclart to set up the evening’s one-night exhibition. Recyclart is a fantastic organisation, run for 12 years by a dedicated group of creatives in a series of units under the main railway line that cuts through the city. We set up Sayed and Karl’s exhibition in Unit 13 – Studio Marcel.

Two videos and a series of photographs projected on the wall presented their ongoing project ‘My Granddad’s Car‘. Outside in the street, a friend’s car borrowed for the night stood in for the two vehicles far away in Pakistan and Nigeria. We covered the car with a sheet and showered it with blossom petals in a half-invented ritual echoing past ceremonies. After dark, a small crowd stood watching the satisfying effects of flurries of wind caused by the passing trains overhead.

car1 car2

Historical Hairdos

‘Sappho’: fresco of a lady holding a stylus to her lips, with a writing tablet in her left hand. From Pompeii.

Recently my sister told me about this amazing lady called Janet Stephens who makes youtube videos on reconstructions of historical, mainly ancient, hairdos. A lot of them actually involve using a needle and thread to stitch the hair in place, and so also require a handy slave to do all the work.

I also found this wonderful quote in the catalogue for the current Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum exhibition at the British Museum:

Ovid in his Ars Amandi (III, 133ff) “…in the same way you can’t count the acorns on an oak tree, so you’ll never be able to count the different ways of doing women’s hair … many women look great with a bedraggled careless look. You’d think it was yesterday’s hairdo (but she’s only just done it…). Contrived styles must look casual.”

Paul Roberts, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum (British Museum Press, London, 2013), p. 135

Body I Am


Today I visited the Alison Jacques gallery – a compact white wall space on Berners Street, near Oxford Circus. Although I haven’t been for a few months, it’s a gallery that’s close to my heart; the year I moved to London I stood outside on a warm September evening, amongst an awed crowd that blocked the traffic, gazing at Patti Smith perform for the opening of a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition.

The gallery’s current exhibition shows work by two of my favorite artists – Hannah Wilke (1940-93) and Ana Mendieta (1948-85), and a name new for me – Birgit Jürgenssen (1949-2003). During the seventies these three artists made work which explored contemporary issues of feminism by reproducing their own bodies in drawings, photography, film and sculpture. The small selection of works on display reflect the remarkable similarities between independently working artists; all three produced work in a number of different media, and placed themselves in front of the camera at times, whilst both Birgit Jürgenssen and Hannah Wilke made ceramic sculptures that are metaphorical of the female body.

This small, but not inadequate exhibition gives an intriguing glimpse into their art. On until 16 February.

A visit to the British Library

On Sunday we went to see Mughal India: Art, Culture and Empire at the British Library.

The dozens of vivid, excruciatingly finely detailed miniature paintings on display would have originally been made only for the eyes of a select few at the royal court. Which is why it’s all the more special to see them today, along with thousands of other visitors (although it wasn’t that busy when we were there!).

I particularly liked one eighteenth-century painting of a pangolin by Shaikh Zain al-Din.

It inspired a (slightly less) lavish idea for homemade pangolin Xmas cards. Stay tuned..