Friday, December 9, 2011

Visitors from The Keiskamma Art Project

Some of you may remember a talk Jan Chalmers gave a while ago about a project on the Eastern Cape of South Africa, The Keiskamma Art Project.

Bandlakazi and Novuyani in national dress

Last month two Xhosa women from the project, Novuyani and Bandlakazi came to Oxford for a couple of weeks to see how things were done in the embroidery and sewing world in the UK. A plea was sent out to guild members for volunteers to spend a little time demonstrating a textile technique or coming to have a “sew in” with them. Carol-Anne Conway responded and was very generous with her time and materials and spent a Saturday afternoon with the women teaching and demonstrating with one of her beaded creation packs.

Bandlakazi and Novuyani making felt in Jan's kitchen

For Novi and Bandla it was an excellent experience as beading is one of the ancient decorating techniques used by the Xhosa on their traditional clothes. They also came to the November guild meeting and Novi who is the Art Project manager (new in post) was completely on a high afterwards bursting with ideas she had gathered from the way guild meetings are run and will be implementing many aspects of the agenda . She sends best wishes to Karen who spent a long time with her at the meeting explaining things. Both were very happy to see how women in Oxford work together and share their ideas and would like to be able to do the same in Keiskamma.

They send love and thanks to all.

Monday, November 14, 2011

9 November 2011, Ali Brown, "Needlefelt without the Teddy Bears"

I had no idea what to expect at last week’s meeting. I’m not a huge fan of felt, never enjoyed making it myself. However Ali was a great speaker! Despite a few technical problems she had lots to tell us and lots of lovely stuff to look at. She has an art background and is one of those artists who is not afraid to try new things. She also has a great website – – do look at it and see!

Ali Brown

I am a great fan of chickens and found that this is a popular subject with many of us. Ali had some lovely needle felted chickens. They were incredibly simple but strong shapes and she uses as a background beautiful thick pieces of handmade felt, made from merino wool. Not content with lovely felted pieces she also had some hangings, with kantha type stitching on them.

Ali Brown
Colourful Cockerel

Sadly we weren’t able to see her sketchbooks; these were on the slideshow that we were only able to see later in small groups around the laptop. She is a big advocate of sketchbooks and as I am currently doing a sketchbook course I would have loved to have seen them and turned their pages.

A lovely speaker, lots to share with us, full of enthusiasm. And how does she stay so thin??


We are always pleased to welcome visitors to our branch meetings. This month we were delighted to receive 9 visitors, including one from France and two Hamburg in South Africa. Bandlakazi and Novuyane and Jacky are all involved with the Keiskamma Trust and were in Oxford visiting one of our members. They hope to return to the UK next year, when we would be please for them to join us again. In the mean time, we hope that our other visitors will join us again a little sooner and a little more frequently than once a year.

Monday, September 26, 2011

14 September 2011, Cynth Weyman, "Retire to Wear Purple – No Chance!"

Cynth Weyman’s background came from fine art, and the images she showed us of her drawings and prints certainly demonstrated her artistic skills. She finds inspiration in natural forms such as plants, rocks, seascapes and human figures and will often use the rocky coastal paths of Pembrokeshire as a starting point for a piece of work.

Cynth started by describing her most recent (and exciting although stressful) piece of work. This was to design a logo for a banner to be used as part of the Welsh Tourist Board’s current campaign aimed at encouraging more tourists to Wales. A large, colourful piece, it will be widely seen on social network sites such as Facebook and as part of the TV advert campaign.

I think some of the audience were a little confused by how this fitted into textiles but Cynth got round this by using it as a way of describing the technique she has developed and called "Intaglio Stratti". This is based on the technique of stitching layers of fabrics together and then cutting back top layers to reveal others underneath. Cynth has made this technique her own by using up to 14 layers of fabrics, many of them vibrantly coloured and textured Indian silks, and cutting back in very small areas to create very detailed pictures. These are further enhanced by simple hand stitching.

The first pieces she showed us (on slides) did look a little dated, but that was understandable when you realised they were originally done in the 1970s. Cynth believes in allowing the viewer to read their own story in her work, although many of the pieces are built up from themes in her own personal life. Her work has obviously developed in complexity, from early pieces of mushrooms and plant life, she has moved onto female forms seen within cliffs and Salvador Dali-type mirror images combined with human hands. Cynth told us that she restricts her colour palette and only has 3 boxes of fabrics under the bed – when you see the range of tones of colour in her work this is hard to comprehend!

Cynth Weyman
Reality & Desire

It was difficult to appreciate from the pictures that many of the pieces are designed as panels or art quilts to be hung on walls (think large pieces over 3ft tall) and often there are a number of them forming a series. However, as she had also bought some pieces for us to actually see, you could start to appreciate the amount of work needed to create each picture. She also bought a large collection of cards and prints for sale and emphasised the importance of taking a good picture to start with and knowing how to enhance this on the computer.

Cynth Weyman
Coming Down Going Up

It was perhaps a shame there were not more quilters in the audience as this technique may have appealed more to them as there was not a lot of stitching to appeal to embroiderers.

13 July 2011 - Summer Social

In July, we had our second social evening of the year. The social evenings are a chance for members to get to know each other a little better or, for those who are better acquainted, a chance to catch up on news.

We usually have a bring-and-share supper and in the summer we have non-alcoholic punch.

On the social evenings we sometimes have a light hearted competition. This year, remembering the ‘interesting’ hat that Princess Beatrice wore to the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, the challenge was to design a hat for Beatrice to wear to the wedding of Zara Phillips and Mike Tindall.

The teams completely went to town with the weird and wonderful assortment of materials available to them and, judging by the laughter, a lot of fun was had.

13 April 2011 - Jane O’Brien, "Damask, Colour and Collage"

In April we were treated to another talk by one of our own members. Jane O’Brien shared with us some of her knowledge and passion for damask. Rather than bore us, as Jane put it, with endless photographs of faded fragments of fabric, Jane had prepared a slide show that told the story of damask through a series of paintings but she did begin with a few photographs that show the full beauty of this wonderful fabric. Jane explained that it is the pattern in a twill (matt) weave on a satin (shiny) weave background that gives the fabric its distinctive look.

The talk could almost have been a history of art lesson since Jane is as knowledgeable about the paintings and the artists who produced them as about the fabrics themselves. We saw that for centuries, those wealthy enough to do so have chosen to adorn themselves and their homes in damask. We saw how the earliest patterns - simple roundels surrounding flora and fauna – evolved as they journeyed through time and across continents.

The Ambassadors
1533, Hans Holbein the Younger

Jane then told us about her background in interior design and how she entered the world of textile art. After gaining a Diploma in History of Art, Jane went on to study textile art, gaining a distinction for her Diploma in Stitched Textiles at East Berkshire College. And finally, Jane showed us how her interest in textiles, and the messages they convey, has been the inspiration behind her own art.

Jane O’Brien

Jane O’Brien

Jane O’Brien

Jane O’Brien

9 March 2011 - Jackie Langfeld, "Maximising the Miniumum"

"I am inspired by the challenge of interpreting the human form and am intrigued by how the subtle nuances of facial expression and body language can transform a message".

A member of Odyssey textile artists , Jackie originally did her textile degree course at Opus – so the audience knew to expect something out of the ordinary. For her, the creative process, whether drawing, painting or stitching has been a life-long interest and passion. After a brief intro to her early textile life, she began to offer more information about the work she has recently completed entitled "Straw Dogs, Paper Warriors".

Jackie Langfeld - Paper Warrior I (Study)
Life size figurative sculpture
Willow, cardboard, garden twine, paper cording, steel

She had begun just playing around with bits of cardboard, manipulating them and painting them before stitching. Liking the way they turned out and feeling they had a "life" of their own she found they grew in size and eventually she decided she wanted to work on something life size. Created from metal, recycled cardboard, willow, paper cording, and garden twine she found it quite a challenge to answer the question of how they would stay firmly upright (a steel framework hidden inside the figures was the eventual answer). There is little colour to them as they are mainly constructed in neutral shades, but there is a lot of texture to the way their “armour” is tied and twisted together.

Jackie Langfeld - Paper Warrior II (Study)
Life size figurative sculpture
Willow, cardboard, garden twine, paper cording, steel

At first viewing these life-size warriors seemed strange and haunting – somehow a group of bodies without faces. I liked them, but could understand how some people found them to be eerie – especially when displayed at the top of a high staircase looking down into the foyer.

Jackie had bought sketchbooks and that's something that a lot of us just love looking through. You could see the early seeds of the warriors in some of her earlier pieces of tied and manipulated work.

Totally different was Jackie’s work of delicate broken china tea cups and saucers which were "crocheted" back together again, and a series of ladies dressed in crinoline's and made of calico, feminine floral print, tissue and running stitch.

Jackie Langfeld - Holding On - Loving No Less
Ceramic, handmade paper, paper cord
Life size

A very interesting talk, well delivered and illustrated. I will definitely look out for her work at exhibitions.

Monday, February 21, 2011

9 February 2011 - Rachel Gornall, "The World in Colour"

The moment Rachel Gornall started to speak, the whole room was engaged. Her manner and presentation are as bright and colourful as her art. Her passion and enthusiasm for her work, her subject matter and the places that have inspired her shine through.

Rachel Gornall - Into the Deep, 2009, framed textile, dyed cotton, stitch, 65cm (h) x 85cm (w) photo: colin harvey

Most speakers tell you a little about their education and/or qualification. Rachel briefly mentioned her BA(Hons) Design: Surface pattern degree course at Staffordshire University only as a stepping stone to telling us about a study trip to Liverpool’s Metropolitan Cathedral. Listening to her description of being surrounded by light and colour, makes you wish you were there. And so it was with every place that Rachel spoke of from a grey concrete tower block reflecting a fiery sunset, to Cornwall in dense sea mist, to Latin America, Columbia or some other exotic location. It is obvious that Rachel drinks in and savours every detail of the places she visits. During a year-long world trip these details were beautifully captured in a tiny leather bound sketch book. The pages are crammed with sketches and notes recording pattern, form and colour. After her trip these visual reminders and thousands of photographs were expanded into story boards, exploring common themes that would be developed into series of work.

Orange Revealed, 2009, textile panel, dyed cotton, stitch, 104cm (h) x 104cm (w) photo: colin harvey

Rachel works with hand-dyed fabrics, bonding layers together to intensify the colours. Much of her work is multilayered with areas cut away and sections suspended with stitch so that they move, creating shadows and shifting colour values. Rachel says of her work “These instinctive colour statements evoke perceptions of time, feeling and place. Works often reference a specific location or experience and my own personal relationship with the encounter – a moment captured.”

Dende Caju, 2007, wall panels, dyed cotton, stitch, each 28cm (h) x 28cm (w) photo: artist

Rachel’s talk certainly evoked a perception of time, feeling and place. The only disappointment of the evening was that Rachel had to rush away to catch a train home. I think everyone would have liked more time to look through the samples and especially the sketch book that Rachel had brought with her.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

12 January 2011 - Ann Griffiths, "Beyond and About"

Ann Giffiths is well known among our branch members, as is the Designs for Life art/science collaboration that was the focus of much of her talk. For those of us who knew nothing about the project, Ann explained that it was funded by The Wellcome Trust, and co-ordinated by The Oxford Trust in collaboration with Diamond Light Source, Oxfordshire Women’s Institute, and Oxford and Cherwell Valley College.

Diamond Light Source is the UK’s national synchrotron science facility, located at the Harwell Science and Innovation Campus in Oxfordshire. In their own words, "By accelerating electrons to near light-speed, Diamond generates brilliant beams of light from infra-red to X-rays". I won’t pretend to understand the science of this but fpr me to simply say that they produce pretty pictures of tiny things like viruses, cancer cells or molecular structures would totally trivialize the importance of their work.

Ann designed 30 panels based on viruses and diseases chosen by the members of the WI who would stitch them. The stitchers also chose how to interpret the designs and incorporated many different techniques, including hand embroidery, machine embroidery, appliqué and patchwork. Tatting, knitting and crochet all feature on the panels, as do Suffolk puffs and Dorset buttons.

Stitched sample, courtesy of Anne Griffiths

One panel consists almost entirely of cross stitch. In order to include as many contributors as possible this panel went 'on tour' and everyone it met was invited to add their 'X'. Another panel comprises circles that the scientists at Diamond Light were encouraged to embroider themselves.

Stitched sample, courtesy of Anne Griffiths

To unify the panels, a batch of threads and fabrics were dyed and each group was required to use these for at least 80% of the panel. They were then allowed to add anything of their own choosing to give a unique flavour to their chosen design.

Ann showed pictures of every panel (they can be viewed on the Designs for Life blog) and described the thought processes behind each one, pointing out some of the unique details or techniques that the groups had added. Ann brough with her some of the many samples and practice pieces.

Stitched sample, courtesy of Anne Griffiths

The whole project was extremely interesting. While nothing can be taken away from the wonderful artwork that the Ladies of the WI created together with Ann, from the point of view of the Guild it has to be seen as disappointing that anyone would turn to the WI before the Embroiderer’s Guild when proposing a textile art project. It makes me wonder how we can raise our profile an become the first organisation that springs to mind when thinking about textiles.

Ann then told us about the projects that she had been involved in since Designs for Life. The first was a follow on project for Designs in Life as one of three artists in residence at Diamond Light Ltd.

A year of research and study led to a series textiles printed with iron filings in magnetic patterns including three stainless steel sculptures made in collaboration with Paula Groves.

Next came a new collaboration with Diamond Light and Evotec to create The Largest Diffraction Pattern in the World. Inspired by the cross stitched panel in the ‘Designs for Life’ project, this project would be a 3m x 3m textile hanging depicting protein crystals discovered at Diamond. Eventually over 5000 people would contribute a cross to the background of the textile piece.

Just as that project came to a close, Ann received a very unusual invitation participate in a project to create bier covers for the Viewing Rooms, formerly known as mortuaries, at Frenchay and Southmead Hospitals for North Bristol HNS Trust. The brief was for secular pieces that were to convey a feeling of value, respect and care for the deceased.

Ann’s designs compliment those already chosen for the large windows of the Viewing Rooms created by Cardiff based artist, Judy Foote. The colours were chosen to tone with the swatches of paint and materials used for walls, sofas etc.

Stitched sample, courtesy of Anne Griffiths

Ann closed her talk with a brief look at her latest venture, designing bespoke fabrics for interiors.

Stitched sample, courtesy of Anne Griffiths