Wednesday, March 25, 2020

25,266 Female Convicts Transported to Australia

While in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, recently one of the most moving experiences we experienced was visiting the place where female convicts and their nursing babies were transported to Australia from the British Isles from 1788 to 1853. The story of the Cascades Female Factory has only recently begun to be told.
Above is an image of an artwork in one of the reconstructed yards in the prison...

...the place where the babies were kept until they were sent to an orphanage. Many of them died while living in the cold, damp, windy conditions within the eight-foot high walled prison located in the shadow of Mount Wellington.

The aim of the prison's harsh conditions and treatment of the women was to break them down then mold them to be suitable wives to procreate and populate the new colony. 
On arrival, their hair was cut off and sold. Throughout their sentence, they were forbidden to speak, they had to share the sleeping hammocks and they worked 12 hour days spinning fiber, weaving cloth, washing and mending laundry and as punishment unwinding strands of worn out, tarred rope for reuse, while in solitary confinement.

Actors from Live History Hobart, Her Story, "offer an immersive theatrical experience" where small groups follow convict Mary James around the prison as she tells her story - in 1833 she was shipped from Ireland to Australia to serve a 7-year term for stealing a square of cloth. For the participants, it is an emotional roller coaster as Mary tells of her life in the prison. So few have heard her story or the stories of any of the other women.

Honourary artist-in-residence, Dr. Christina Henry decided to tell their story to the world by inviting over 25,266 women to each to create a bonnet to pay tribute to these women, each bonnet named for one woman. The project was launched on International Women's Day on March 8, 2007, in Hobart.

While living in Calgary I can remember the night at the Calgary Guild of Needle and Fibre Arts monthly meeting when we were told about the project and members were offered the chance to pick a name and make a bonnet for her. While a few of the resulting bonnets are on display in the Matron's House in the restored prison, the project is ongoing as the majority of bonnets travel between Australia, Ireland, and England and continue to tell the women's stories wherever they are displayed. For more about this project check Christina Henri - Roses from the Heart Facebook page

As a tribute to the work the women did, there is an art installation within the prison walls.

Cotton garments have been hung on a line with metal clothes pegs.

The only reference I could find to this installation is a plaque about convict Mary Kennedy serving 7 years for stealing a gown. Her occupation is listed as a washerwoman.

 Maybe these garments will hang on the line for 7 years in remembrance of Mary's time in the prison.

On another level, I was also intrigued by the installation as it is so closely linked to my current body of work in preparation for an exhibition with Laura Feeleus, Laura's website called 'The Laundry Room' where Laura and I are exploring the nature of women's work.
After several hours exploring this World Heritage Site, we came away emotionally exhausted. We walked back to our rented cottage and rested quietly for the rest of the afternoon, not up to doing any more exploring that day. We were emotionally drained and needed to reflect on what we had experienced and learned.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Nana Knitting: Pinterest Board, Vintage Patterns and Searching for Buttons

Previously I posted about my new project, Nana Knitting, here How this project began
The new mother-to-be, daughter Katherine gave me guidance - a Pinterest board she had loaded with the styles, colours and look she was after for her first born's knit wardrobe. She described it as 'Christopher Robin Chic.'

From the Pinterest board I could see vintage styles in low intensity, gender-neutral colours.
I started with a traditional wrap-around surplice (that's a really old word for this baby garment) worked in one piece.
In a past life when I taught knitting I was known to my face as The Swatch Queen because whenever anyone had a problem they needed help with I would first ask to look at their swatch. I began most workshops with a swatch. I suspect I was called other names out of earshot...
Now I must confess when working on Nana Knitting I don't make a swatch. Also, I continue with my habit of rarely ever working a pattern in the yarn it was written for. For Nana Knitting I make my choice of yarn, match the needles and make a bigger size the baby will grow into. It's then up to the parents to get the garment out of the closet at the right time. That is no problem with my daughter. She is an organiser.

The nursery in anticipation of baby's arrival.

I made a pair of traditional short rompers with crossed straps to go with the surplice. According to the the pattern it was for a 12-month size but instead because of my yarn and needle choices it ended up more like an 18-month size. This sizing was just as well because the combination of the all-over seed stitch and the high twist yarn made for a 'hard' fabric more suitable for an active toddler than a sitting baby. 

I found an amazing yarn for a cardigan using a 1960s vintage pattern. The yarn is Lang Magic Tweed Superwash, a soft spun, single ply that fluffs up after it is washed.

Blocking the garment pieces after the first wash.

Working the neck and front band edgings.

Another wash and block.

Christopher Robin Chic requires buttons with a specific understated look. None of those cute shaped Fimo plastic animal etc buttons will do. But I found Christopher Robin chic type buttons are hard to find. I have now added buttons to my shopping list when I travel.

The finely knit garment fabric itself does not provide much to secure buttons on safely so I add a circle of fulled wool on the inside to stitch the button securely to not wanting it to become a choking hazard.

Sewing on the button with a pad of fulled wool fabric at the back.

Finishing the cardigan with coconut shell buttons.

The finished cardigan fits age 6 to 12 months.
 Another characteristic I like about this Lang Magic yarn is it makes a very light and soft garment. This cardigan took less than 2 balls so it is economical too.
A note from the future: This cardigan was a favorite. It was worn and machine washed regularly until reluctantly it was retired when it no longer fit.
I am loving my Nana Knitting Project with reports on more results to come.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

'Current Threads 19' Vancouver Island Surface Design Association Exhibition, October 3 - 24, 2019

Steaming the wrinkles out of Origins after it traveled in a box from Gimli, Manitoba to Duncan, British Columbia. This is minutes before the Artists' Reception of Vancouver Island Surface Design Association's annual exhibition, Current Threads 19.

This work is about a group of Icelandic people settling in Canada bringing with them their material culture and their DNA. I wrote about it in a previous blog post here 

This year's exhibition is in the new, expanded Portals Gallery run by the Cowichan Valley Arts Council here. With so much more room the VISDA artists were able to hang large works.

During the reception, I was able to talk to some of the artists about their work.

Gina Dingwell, No Looking Back, dress: hand-dyed, indigo silk, recycled knitting, and crochet with various yarns; personal objects.

Gina's artist statement: 'The process of knitting with found knitting materials from my past was a visceral experience. It was an exploration of materials that I had left behind, past experiences, self-image, burdens, things said and done. This piece represents a challenging and yet beautiful process of letting go to find new awareness.'
I think Gina shows great courage in putting out such intensely personal work for all to see. Gina has done what I have just learned about from Merill Comeau, website, during her workshop 'Mining the Personal for the Universal' she taught during the Surface Design Association's conference in St Louis, see previous post.
Visit Gina's Instagram site to see more of how she views the world.

Barbara McCaffrey, Ogham - Oracle of the Trees, 3 Oak staves imprinted with Ogham alphabet letters compiling the words 'Courage,' 'Harmony,' 'Strength'.
Barbara's artist statement: 'Ogham writings were discovered in the Book of Ballymote, a 14th-century Irish manuscript. The book contains treatises on the history, genealogical and geological survey of Ireland among others.'
Barbara has recently returned from a trip to Ireland where she spent time discovering and exploring her heritage. She told of her findings in this and other works in the exhibition.

Laura Feeleus, Cellular Articulation, hand and machine stitching and beads on repurposed textiles.
Laura has recently been exploring the biological processes involved in the body's assimilation, storage, and breakdown of fatty tissue. At the same time, it is a comment on the global problem of obesity and overconsumption, a concept reinforced by her use of recycled materials. 
Laura's website here

Jean Cockburn, Green Worlds, hand embroidery on linen gauze backed with cotton.
Jean's artist statement: Imagine many green worlds, large and small, spinning through the infinities of space. What possibilities for Life!
Jean's meditation on green can be explored in many ways: a colour study, a survey of hand embroidery techniques, the power of the mandala, the cosmos of the universe.
Read Jean's blog here to see more of her work.

Susan Duffield, Traveller's Dreams, cotton dyed with indigo and madder.
Susan's artist statement: 'Stitched with memories of childhood and travels to Australia.'

Traveller's Dreams, detail
Like Gina, Susan is working with the personal to access the universal and like Jean, she is exploring the power of the handstitched circular mandala shape.

Bryony Dunsmore, One Rift, One Flaw No. 2, textile
Bryony's artist statement: Inspired by a Margaret Atwood poem which includes the words "...there is one rift, one flaw, where we are nailed to the earth forever."

One Rift, One Flaw No. 2, detail
I didn't get the chance to talk with Bryony about this work so I can't give you more details.
I am always drawn to Bryon's beautiful colour schemes. They are just so harmonious and soft but always with enough contrast to speak loudly. She demonstrates complete mastery of her technique the result of which is always a pleasure to explore up close.

Lesley Comassar, Uprooted, (the work on the left) hand-dyed, hand-painted cotton, machine pieced and appliqued (raw edge), free motion quilting.
Lesley's artist statement: When our vital connections to the earth, our families, and communities are forcibly severed, the effects reverberate through the generations.
Lesley's website here.

This is one of a series of 3 works where Lesley has explored the effects of migration at both a personal level and in different communities around the world. I talked with Lesley about how she reworked the colour scheme to ensure the works had the impact she was looking for, the right grey the right red.

These are just a few of the outstanding works in this year's VISDA annual exhibition. As you can see, members are willing to tackle large, serious and intensely personal subjects and they have the strength and courage to express their viewpoints and feelings on these subjects while demonstrating mastery of their craft.
Many thanks to Gillian Riordan and her committee for presenting an exceptional exhibition.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Surface Design Association Conference, Beyond the Surface, St Louis, Missouri

The Surface Design Association's 2019 biennial conference, Beyond the Surface, was in St Louis, Missouri. It was held in conjunction with the Innovations in Textiles 2019 a three-month-long event held every four years. With 43 participating venues and a large number of other museums and other historic buildings in the St Louis area, SDA members attending the conference had to come up with a plan to make the most of their time. We couldn't see it all even when arriving early in St Louis and leaving a few days after the conference.
One of the highlights for me was SDA's own annual juried members' exhibition Beyond the Surface. Jurors Jo Stealey and Jim Arendt said in their opening remarks they selected 48 artists who demonstrated a "well-developed artistic vision" and mastery of their craft, both factors equally weighted. The gallery was full of strong works executed with an exceptionally high skill level.

Kathy Nida, Swallow Me Whole, raw edge applique with quilted ground, 67" x 76"
First place award
Kathy's website/blog

Swallow Me Whole, detail
It was fun to stand in front of this work and come up with a story. Kathy has perfected her technique and uses it consistently making her work easy to recognise. She knows her biology so well she pushes, pulls and exaggerates it with great humour. Check out her website for more of her funny/serious narrative quilts.

Marie Bergstedt, In There, fulled fabric sculpted wall hanging, 48" x 35" x 3.5"
Second place award
Marie's website

In There, detail
Sorry about the fuzzy image but it was the only one I took and I wanted to show the sculptural 3D quality of this work. Marie is a fibre artist who has perfected several different techniques. I have seen some of her amazing button works and know she is a skilled embroiderer. I didn't know she also works in wool. This work is kinda icky and at the same time warm and fuzzy. Marie really plays with the viewer's emotions.

Leslie Horan Simon, Geologic Time, 34.5" x 27" x 0.5"
Third place award winner

Geologic Time, detail
This close up shows how Leslie knit then fulled each stone before attaching it to a black felt ground.
If I was forced to pick my favourite work this would be it. It got me with being knit and fulled, 2 techniques not often used in quality fibre artwork. I was enchanted with the luminosity of colour Leslie managed to achieve with fuzzy wool.
I did have many other second favourites.

Chris Motley, Here and There, hand-knit wire and fibre, 43" x 50" x 4"
I would have preferred the individual units hung level at the top to give more of a suggestion of downward movement.

Here and There, detail
Chris is a knitter and as a result, has a vast range of techniques she can use as well as a world of different materials that can be worked with two sticks. In this work, Chris shows the sculptural quality that can be achieved with the knit stitch.

Chris in front of her work opening night. I did enjoy talking with her about her work.

Nanhee Kim, Layered Fluidity, nomex, monofilament yarn, 48" x 36" x 4"

Another knitted work caught my eye, surprise surprise. This one worked in a stiff 'yarn' so the shaping stood out in raised relief. It made for the most interesting play of values strengthening the form.
Nanhee Kim describes herself as a "knit textile/surface/ fashion designer and artist."

Melinda K. P. Stees, st equal px, knitted yarn mounted on a rigid internal frame, 24" x 29"
Melinda's website

st = px, detail
Melinda says about her work, "The strong contrasting colors can catch your eye from across a room, while the knitted texture will pique your curiosity when you’re up close enough to see it."
You may also notice this computer-programmed, machine-knit work has been worked from the right to the left, with the stitches presented lying on their sides. I wonder if Melinda did this and stretched the work on a rigid frame to counter knit fabric's characteristic drape.

Time Notes: Day, detail
Here is another work with computer-programmed, machine-knit work in a scale making it readable only from the other side of the room.

Ann Clark, Time Notes: Day, knit fulled wool, 93" x 66" x  0.25"
Ann made this work as a rug. As fabulous as it looks on the wall I imagine the impact of the image would read differently when viewed from above while walking.

I was delighted there are so many knit works in this exhibition showing 'the best of contemporary work by SDA members.'

Check out Wendy Klotz's blog post about what she saw during the SDA conference, here and see more on what there was to see and do in St Louis.