Page 1


Issue 8 Autumn 2016


Cover Cover: Gladys Paulus, Young Buck, photo Bella West @throughourhands

Through Our Hands ‘the magazine’ Established 2014. Editors: Laura Kemshall, Linda Kemshall, Annabel Rainbow Design: Laura Kemshall Submissions and advertising enquiries: Issue 8 Published by Through Our Hands, October 2016 © Through Our Hands, 2014-16. All content copyright. No part of this publication to be copied or reproduced in any form without prior written permission from the copyright holder(s). 11 Knightcote Drive, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire

Contributing authors Annabel Rainbow Gladys Paulus Alice Kettle Janice Stevens Anne Williams Tom Leytham Jennifer Lehm

Christine Chester Sue Benner Eszter Bornemisza Kate Bridger Beryl Taylor Terry Grant

throughourhands. 07877 402455

Find out more about our contributors on the website:

In this issue... Welcome 4 Janice Stevens 5 Beryl Taylor 15 Jennifer Mary Lehm 21 Significant Stitch 29 Terry Grant - Crow 37 Gladys Paulus 41 Christine Chester 49 Show and Tell 55 Sue Benner 59 Fiber Art International 67 Kate Bridger 72 Tom Leytham 83 Unfinished 85

5 Janice stevens

72 Kate bridger

Gladys Paulus




Beryl taylor Terry grant

59 Sue benner

49 christine chester

Left: Paintbox, Linda Kemshall

Right: Murder, Annabel Rainbow

Left: 52�32’N, 04�03’W, Laura Kemshall


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Welcome Hello and a very warm welcome to the latest edition of Through Our Hands, The Magazine! We’ve worked very hard to bring you a magazine packed with interesting features and gorgeous images. For this edition Alice Kettle has written a special piece just for Through Our Hands called Significant Stitch. Alice is Professor of Textile Art at Manchester School of Art, and is exhibiting in “Significance” at the Knitting and Stitching Shows at Alexandra Palace and Harrogate. She takes us through the works which have all been inspired by the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection. We’re also delighted to share articles by all your favourite authors. Anne Williams concludes her series of interviews with well-known artists, following a visit to the exhibition “Unfinished” at the Courtauld Gallery by asking them about their own unfinished work. In this last part, she chats to Jenni Dutton, Michala Gyetvai, and Sara Impey. Terry Grant’s article, Crow, is inspired by an unusual and uninvited guest who decided to visit her basement one day and tease her cat! We also have fabulous articles written by the artists themselves, including Janice Stevens who makes amazingly colourful quilts; Beryl Taylor’s beautiful mixed media; Danish artist Jennifer Mary Lehm who explains how her sketchbook inspires and informs her stitched textiles; Gladys Paulus who specializes in 3D felted structures and Christine Chester, who tells us how important being taught and teaching is to her work. We also have features from Sue Benner a TOH Affiliate Artist, who explains the challenges behind a corporate commission, Kate Bridger gives us a step by step guide to the process of her house portraits; Eszter Bornemisza takes us through the latest Fibre Art International exhibit, and Tom Leytham explains his lifelong passion of form and light.

Annabel Rainbow

Laura Kemshall

Phew! We hope you enjoy catching up with all these amazing artists and writers, and will feel wonderfully inspired. As always the magazine is FREE to read online, but don’t forget that you can also take your time reading the magazine and even curl up in bed with a copy on your tablet, Kindle or by printing a copy. Simply visit and download your copy for just £3. Love, Annabel, Linda and Laura

Linda Kemshall


Featured Artist

Linda and Laura were privileged to meet Janice Stevens when she took one of their online courses several years ago. Let’s take a look at the work of this accomplished quiltmaker.

Text and images by Janice Stevens

Facing Page: Communication Breakdown, Thailand Below: Urban Transportation, Burma

Janice Stevens Rust on a metal door latch, moss on a concrete wall, visible signs of deterioration and collapse; all these images inspire me. I love alleyways and doorways and piles of belongings at the curb for the glimpse that they give into other people’s lives. I am Canadian but have lived and travelled in Asia for twentyfive years, amassing a very large collection of photographs along the way. Based on these photos,

I create representational textile art quilts that attempt to convey a sense of where I live and what I have seen.

Working from Photos

While looking through photos for an interesting image for a new quilt, I consider several factors; I avoid photos of tourist attractions such as the Taj Mahal and look for images that have interesting lines or structure and that convey a sense of people’s lives or the interplay between man and nature. Since many of the photos were taken long before I thought of making them into quilts, there are often areas with minimal or no detail that I need to fill in with imagination and deductive reasoning before beginning the quilt. Although a deep shadow isn’t a problem in a photograph, reproducing that same area on a quilt with plain black fabric can create a void in the image that can become an unwanted focal point. So there is a “What might be in that space?” phase of preparing the image for quilting. This also occurs when I decide that I want


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

to remove certain unwanted elements, such as water pipes, from the image. I then need to imagine what might lie behind them and how these hidden elements would realistically intersect with the other elements in the image.

To prepare the master copy of the image, I scan the photos that aren’t already in digital format onto my computer and open them in Photoshop so that I can crop them, adjust the brightness and contrast and enlarge them to the size of the finished quilt. I then create a grayscale copy that I print out and assemble



Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

as my master. I also print an A4 size high resolution full colour image on photo paper to serve as my reference source for colour and details during the painting phase of the quilt.

The Fun Stuff

Like most artists who work in textiles, I love searching through my fabric cabinets for just the right piece of fabric to reproduce the colour in the photo. I mainly use fabric that I dye myself so once I have chosen what I can from what I already have on hand, I’m off to the dye studio to dye the missing colours.

I usually dye one metre lengths of fabric in each colour. I scrunch up the fabric to produce mottled colours because they provide a range of values within one length of fabric and also because they imitate the colour variations of natural surfaces more easily. I dye a four step gradation of each colour to allow for highlight and shadow values if needed. Since gray is a frequent and recurring colour in my work, I dye nine step gradations of six different black dyes as well as four step gradations of four different grays. As black is a mixture of different colours, I am always amazed at the change in colour that occurs as I reduce the dye concentration

Facing Page: Behind the Wall, India Above: Urban Renewal, Burma


in the gradation. Some dyes create pale values that are more blue, green, pink or mauve than gray so that a dark gray from one black dye might require a pale gray from a different black dye for a successful colour match. Once I have all of my fabrics I create the appliqued part of my image.

The Applique

I use raw-edge fused applique to create as much of the image as possible on the background fabric of my quilt.

were the keys to assembling that applique without having a nervous breakdown! Once all of the shapes are cut out it’s time to create the appliqued image. With very complex images, I often fuse several smaller shapes into larger sections on transparent Teflon sheets placed directly over my master copy. These larger fused pieces are then removed from the Teflon sheet and fused to the quilt top to create the whole image.

From the reverse side of my master copy, I trace the various shapes that I need onto my double sided fusible, Steam-A-Seam 2 Lite. These shapes often number into the hundreds so I write a number on each piece and on the master copy. I also assign a number to each colour of fabric and write that number as well on the shape and master copy. This extra step allows me to do all of the tracing sequentially without having to jump from place to place to keep all of the same coloured pieces on one piece of fusible. Once all of the pieces are traced, I roughly cut them out and group them by fabric colour so that they can all be fused onto the appropriately coloured fabric. I then cut the pieces out and place them into containers by colour. My most ambitious quilt involved more than one thousand applique shapes in six different colours. Organization and a lifetime of jigsaw puzzle making experience

Right: Urban Still Life, Beijing


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

The Background Fabric

The background fabric in the image is as important as the appliqued image and needs to be analyzed and reproduced accurately. Since each background is unique my approach varies from quilt to quilt. Seldom am I able to use a single piece of fabric from the fabric cabinet as the background. One exception was Communication Breakdown in which I was able to use a whole piece of mottled gray fabric and just add the effect of the corrugation with Derwent Inktense pencils and blocks. When the design has complex patterning and colours as in Urban Transportation and Urban Renewal, I start from plain white cotton and apply colour either with thickened dyes or with Inktense pencils and blocks. After the overall colours have been layered onto the fabric I add details with Inktense pencils, fabric markers and stitch. Some backgrounds require more precise control of colour. Again as in Urban Renewal, the termite trails on the wall had to remain white. I used washable school glue as a resist and applied the colours after it had dried. I then washed out the glue and had the white trails that I wanted. Washable glue is not considered a good resist for immersion dyeing because it breaks down in the dye solution. However you can use this property of washable

Above: Outpaced, India

glue to create results that might be difficult to produce otherwise. When dyeing the fabric for the street in Behind the Wall, I spread glue over the area that I wanted to be paler and let it dry. I then dyed the fabric in the usual way. The uneven dissolving of the glue during the dyeing process

reproduced the varied colour effects of sunlight on uneven paving stones. Occasionally a commercial fabric provides the best option. This was the case in Urban Still Life where a mottled brown commercial fabric gave an excellent representation


of polished marble wall tiles that didn’t require any further input from me. At other times I work on a foundation fabric that is never seen because the entire quilt top is appliqued as it was in Outpaced.

Above: Urban Renewal, detail Below: Communication Breakdown, detail

Putting It All Together

Once the background is completed, I fuse the appliqued pieces into position. Now I add depth, shape and contour to the appliqued areas by adding highlights, shadows and tiny details. I use my much loved Inktense pencils and blocks, acrylic paint, and markers to bring the image to life. Once all of the painting is completed I choose the threads I need for the quilting and thread sketching. Most often I match the thread to the fabric rather than choose a contrasting colour. The exception to this is when I want to accentuate an element such as the moss on the ledge beneath the cement bags in Urban Renewal. I plan my quilting carefully to add the final definition, detail, texture and depth to the quilt. Since many of the images have surfaces encrusted with moss and lichens, I use tiny vermicelli and bubble motifs to create a sense of textural thickness. For flattening background areas I use granite stitch because it doesn’t add any specific design to the area


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Right: Security Breach, Red Fort, India

and makes surrounding areas stand out.

Thinking Out of the Box

The challenge of faithfully reproducing my chosen image means that I sometimes have to develop unique approaches to resolving problems. Real cement bags like those depicted in Urban Renewal are made of woven plastic strips. To recreate the translucency and low sheen of that type of surface, I adhered silk organza to paper and put it through a paper shredder to recreate the strips. I then removed the paper and wove the strips into a fabric from which I cut the cement bag shapes. The photo on which Communication Breakdown is based shows layers of advertising posters pasted on a corrugated metal fence. Under the influence of sun, heat, humidity and rain, the paper gradually faded and split, the glue failed, parts fell forward and edges curled creating an interesting three dimensional structure. To recreate these effects, I needed to make soft fabric act like stiff paper. To accomplish this I fused two different fabrics together, one for the front and another for the back of the posters. I painted the inner fabric with textile medium, shaped the pieces as needed and left them to dry overnight. In all, forty -four unique pieces were cut and shaped and then sewn into place to create the curled edges of the posters. In Urban Deconstruction the collection of construction

materials removed from a house during renovation looked to me like an abstract sculpture with overlapping shapes and a variety of textures. To create the crumpled pieces of paper in the image I used contour mesh sandwiched between layers of fabric. The pieces were then shaped and folded before being added to the quilt. I am someone who always needs a challenge so when I look for an image for a new quilt, I look for one that has elements that will require some thought, some ingenuity and some stretching of my skills to


Left: Urban Deconstruction, Burma and detail below. Facing page: Urban Jungle, Burma

complete. However I want to feel challenged not overwhelmed. I want to have to rummage through my bag of tricks to find a solution to a problem but a solution must ultimately be possible so that at the end of the day I can sit back and look at my work with a feeling of excitement and accomplishment and say “I did that!�.

For more about Janice:


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016


Featured Artist

Beryl Taylor explains how her formative years playing with scissors and paper laid a foundation for her career as a mixed media artist.

Text and images by Beryl Taylor

Beryl Taylor As a tiny tot I loved to do paper cut-outs with my blunt plastic scissors. As I got older, my style became more sophisticated particularly when I was allowed to use proper scissors and I started to cut fabrics as well as paper. I used to enjoy making my own jig-saw puzzles and only I knew how they were put together; I was taking my first fledgling steps into the enthralling world of art. I was experimenting with shapes and colours and the process soon became enriched with the addition of paints. At the start of my teen years I was lucky enough to earn a scholarship to the Manchester High School of Art. It was the swinging sixties and the necessity of wearing hip clothes combined with the financial constraints of the times led me to dressmaking and I was soon back on the path of cut-outs (patterns), jig-saw puzzles (piecing the patterns together) and colours (the compulsory psychedelic designs of the times). In addition to this, I was learning composition and I progressed from using

manufactured designs to making my own. Without realizing it I was learning a technique which I love and has lived with me ever since; the layering of my pieces and making my own designs. On my journey I have done much experimentation and I am still learning, not only about the technical aspects of my work but also about myself. I think I have now come to the conclusion that the most important part of my work is not the detail in the foreground but the choice of the medium and the composition of the background. As a result of my dressmaking period, fabric was my default choice for my backgrounds until one day I decided to try paper. I was once told at college that you couldn’t sew into paper. Why not? Why can’t you? Never be afraid to follow your instincts and experiment. Never be afraid to fail – it might not be right on the first attempt, it might not be right on the twenty-first attempt but if you persevere it will be right on the twenty second!

Facing page: Mixed media work


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016


I am called a mixed-media artist because I use a variety of media. I do not have a work plan but I do have themes that arise from the various inspirational stimulants which give me direction. When I start a piece I do not limit myself, I do not know what I am going to include in terms of the media but the themes give me direction, and the piece tends to develop itself. When I am teaching I use that methodology a lot and it’s surprising how many students who think they have an artistic block suddenly start working feverishly trying to fit the pieces together just like a jig-saw. I love layering and the 2-D image which it produces and I get joy from the manipulation of fabrics and even feel a warmth when I see frayed edges! I like to use text in my work and it doesn’t matter if it is handwritten or print. It comes from my love of calligraphy which I studied for several years but could not fully come to terms with; there were very demanding requirements and limitations caused by the ‘rules’ which could not encompass experimentation. Stitch is the thing that binds all these components together, whether it is hand or machine stitching; for me they are equally important and I do whichever feels right for the piece on which I am working.

Facing page and detail, left: Tree of Life


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 6 | august 2015

Facing page and detail above: Writing on the Wall

For more information about Beryl’s work:



Danish artist Jennifer Mary Lehm tells us about how her many years of sketchbook keeping inspires and informs her stitched textiles.

Text and images by Jennifer Mary Lehm

Below: Drawing and free motion stitching Facing page: Figs, sketchbook page


Jennifer Mary Lehm I have worked in sketchbooks for many years and today sketchbooks play an important part of my work with textiles and embroidery. As a child I already had a passion for paper and fabric. Cutting, drawing and pasting on the back of used envelopes, magazines and cornflakes boxes and rummaging through the bargain basement at a local store for cheap remnants. At art college in the UK, I moved

on to sketchbooks, which we mainly used for recording and trying out ideas. Here I also tried working with fabric and free motion embroidery for the first time and my pride and joy was a red pepper, cut in half, showing the seeds – an image that still continues to fascinate me, to this day. Many years later I decided that my drawing needed strengthening and made at least one drawing, each day, in an A5 spiral-bound

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016


Above: Iceland, sketch Below: Landscape, free motion embroidery


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

sketchbook. Often this only took a few minutes. As soon as the drawing was done I flipped over the page. The process of ‘keeping the pencil in working order’ was more important than the product. This way I started to draw things I never would have chosen otherwise. I drew from the TV, sport or portraits from talk shows, people on the train, and the scene from my window, washing on the line or a crumpled cushion on the sofa etc. My first choice though, would always be organic – the natural world that supplies never ending inspiration. I have always pressed flowers, collected shells, driftwood, fossils and feathers. After many years of daily drawing practice I found the A5 format a bit restricting and moved on

to A4 books and the chance to experiment a bit more.

Above: Iceland, embroidery

Having taught young people for many years I decided, on early retirement, that it was time for me to be the pupil, for a while, and not the teacher and workshops and on-line courses opened up an exciting world for me. I discovered new techniques, new media and ideas and met great people who are passionate about textiles Denmark is a small country and embroidery has always been very much dominated by traditional and very beautiful counted thread embroidery. Free style embroidery, whether by hand or machine, is in its youth and just up and coming here.


My favourite sketchbooks are bound, and have paper with a relatively smooth surface and take kindly to both dry and wet media. I work in A4 or A3 books and my textile work is usually no bigger than 50x60cm, and preferably smaller. I use any kind of media and techniques, dry and wet but pen or pencil drawing is my alltime favourite. I prefer drawing to painting and I am also partial to incorporating collage into my work. For a number of years I had my stitchery and I had my drawing, running as two parallel disciplines, but wasn’t able to connect the two with each other. I think the turning point for me, came through the use of collage, which connects so easily to fabric. My sketchbooks fall (approximately) into three different categories – and I nearly always have more than one on the go, at a time. I keep a visual diary for, and with, whatever I fancy. Places I have been to, drawings from the zoo or exhibitions visited and of found objects. I also enjoy the serendipity of using an image from the newspaper or tearing a piece of patterned paper from a magazine that inspires me. A torn strip from a page can send my work in a new direction and inspire the use of fabric in an embroidered piece. I often use vegetables bought for supper as a starting point. More than once, I have bought a fruit or vegetable


Above: Sketchbook page Facing page: Quince, sketchbook page

for its looks more than its taste! I make themed sketchbooks too if I am working with a specific theme, so that I am able to examine every aspect of the idea. I look at the modern and historic aspect if applicable or changes throughout the seasons if this is more the case. The theme can be concrete like trees or water

or more abstract like pattern or texture. My travel sketchbooks are a source of great pleasure and inspiration. I enjoy travelling in countries with a rugged and sometimes uninviting nature. I have visited Iceland and the Faeroe Islands quite a few times

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

and find no end of motifs and inspiration in these countries. I am also inspired by the beautiful scenery in Italy and the British Isles and Danish landscapes also feature in my work. For colour I use crayons or pencils, soluble or non-soluble, oil pastels, dry pastels or water colour.

to use. I just know when looking at the subject which technique to use and find travelling light a bit difficult. On one holiday in Iceland I had left some favourite water soluble crayons at home but ended up having to visit Reykjavik to buy a box, as they were precisely what I needed.

In reality, I feel that I do not choose the motif. It is the motif that chooses me. In the same way as a motif tells me which media

My sketchbooks are books in their own right and created primarily for the satisfaction of the drawing process, remembering places

that I have visited, experiences, ideas and the beauty, and often unexpected, aspects of nature. But my sketchbooks are also my reference books and are invaluable to my work with textiles, it is here my ideas are generated and from here they are developed. They are my primary source of inspiration. Sometimes the sketch is translated almost literally and sometimes more atmospherically. I often work intuitively and let my embroidery lead the way; I follow the threads


Below: 10 x 10, free motion stitching

and needle, just capturing the feel of the drawing. I use fabric in the same way as I do paint, and my needle and thread as my brush. My sketchbook pages tell me which embroidery technique to use – hand or machine, and the subject dictates my choice of materials. I start by collecting the colours and tones of fabric that I think I might need, in a basket. An eclectic mix, because anything goes. I use loosely woven fabrics that fray, silk or chiffon scarves, wool and sheers, lace and recycled knitwear. If I am sewing by hand I collect thread in the appropriate colours too; tapestry yarn, stranded cotton, perle and the super fine thread; Danish blomster garn (flower thread). My base fabric for hand embroidery has to be easy to pierce with a needle. I have my sketchbook open at the page that I wish to work with, on my left hand side and my basket of fabrics on the right. I start by choosing fabric, cutting and tearing and perhaps fraying the pieces to suit the subject. A few pieces are loosely pinned in place before I start embroidering. I have very little knowledge of complicated embroidery stitches, and I often choose to use the same simple stitches again and again in varying shapes, sizes and directions. I work from the background of the motif towards


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

the front, building up a surface texture, adding more fabric as I go along and sometimes moving away from the original source. I start with fine threads and work towards thicker threads in the foreground.

hold tiny slivers of fabric in place with a wooden skewer while sewing. The stitches following the direction of the landscape. I often build layer upon layer of sheers to achieve the right colour and effect.

When working on free machine embroidered pieces my starting point is the same. I start with a big pile of fabric to my right hand, and will use any kind of thread for machine sewing as long as it is of a good quality.

I never dye my own fabric, but really enjoy the search for the right pieces, often cutting a small bit from a larger pattern or using the reverse side of the material. Recently I have made a small series of tiny fruit and vegetable pictures inspired directly from drawings in my visual diaries. These are very close to the original drawings. I start by cutting one piece of fabric in a suitable colour, sewing this into place with free motion stitching and build on to this base with minute pieces of fabric as if painting the subject on to my

When working with landscapes I refer to my drawing and start at the top of the piece working downwards and in to the foreground laying down bits of fabric and stitching these into place with free motion stitching. I change my thread and bobbin with every change of fabric and

Above: Sketchbook pages and stitch sampler

page. Drawing or painting makes me familiar with a subject and translating it in to another media is fun. I don’t copy the place or the object exactly, but the viewer must be able to recognize the subject.

Jennifer is a member of a craft group called Plantefarverne with a summer market the 28th and 29th of May and a Christmas Market the 19th and 20th November 2016



Alice Kettle is Professor of Textile Art at Manchester School of Art and exhibiting in Significance. This exhibition shows contemporary works by staff and students at Manchester School of Art, made in response to the Gawthorpe Textiles Collection.

Text by Alice Kettle Images as individually credited

Significant Stitch Gawthorpe’s Textile Collection includes 30,000 pieces, collected by Rachel Kay-Shuttleworth (1886-1967) who was the last member of the Shuttleworth family to live at Gawthorpe Hall in Padiham, Lancashire. An expert maker herself, she collected the everyday specimens of embroidery, lace, woven textiles and embroidery. These specimens are from her local and foreign travelling and also through an extensive network of family and friends who collected for her on their travels. They are textiles collected as examples to inspire and instruct, both the technical and design processes of textiles and also the link with culture and social history. The study of textiles, particularly stitch practice at Manchester School of Art has a long history. Part of the philosophy of its teaching is rooted in accessing real samples which can be seen close up and discussed in detail for their significance. Following our initial conversation staff and students visited the remarkable Gawthorpe Textiles Collection, to look more closely at a small selection of artefacts from the vast numbers of

pieces. These textiles provided the impetus for contemporary works which referenced and represented a process, an imagined history, a design from the original. Jane McKeating and Caroline Hagan responded to the colourful 19th century embroidered bandanas which are printed in paisley. In one the design is completely obscured by embroidery with shades of yellow, brown, red, blue and purple in a variety of stitches ranging from French knots to basket and feather stitch. Jane has printed her own drawings and similarly built up an overlay of rich stitch work whilst Caroline has followed the repetition of the paisley pattern in her own floral stitching. The delicate 20th century tatting samples are reimagined in 3D print samples by Mark Beecroft, who says: “I was drawn to how the small fragments of lace within the Gawthorpe archive had been listed and preserved, this made me question the significance of 3D printed textile material.” Fragments of patchwork with

Right: Shirt from the Bottom of the Bottom Drawer, Jane McKeating, 2016 3 pieces totalling 200 x 100cm, Digital print and hand stitch on cotton Photo: Jack Armour 29

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

their paper backings have inspired Bukky Jesusanmi and Lucy May Taffe. Lynn Setterington’s rePurposed Patchwork uses footballs and Jessica de Sailles has made a brightly coloured cloth from reprinted second-hand fabrics in


response to the tumbling blocks patchwork from Gawthorpe. The 19th century Chinese cuffs were a popular choice with their intricately stitched figures and animals on silk cloth. Kelly Quinzel stitched a Monkey and

Juggler and Lisa Baronona has made tiny narrative works titled Race to Progress, an allegory depicting the journey to wealth and status. Nigel Hurlestone’s Darned Sample is made in response to a Darning Sampler from the

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Facing page: Embroidered Bandana, C. 1870-1890, RBKS 11983 Gawthorpe Textiles Collection Photo Jack Armour

Low Countries c 1800-1840. He comments: “The process of darning has long held a personal fascination. It encompasses both the necessity and capability of cloth to be mended and re-formed, but also the opportunity to form a decorative interlude within the cloth itself. This technique, formed out of mimicking the weaving process with needle and thread, offers us a condensed, miniature explication of warp and weft, and the rich patterning opportunities that occur when

observing strict structural forms. The resulting ‘darns’ make sections of new cloths within and out of an existing fabric substrate.” Rachel Kelly and Kate Egan have responded using alternative technologies with Rachel literally animating The Queen Anne inspired Embroidery of the early 20th century in a series of moving digital works, wallpapers and screen prints. Kate Egan looked at a Ticking Pillowcase and produced Electric Field which is made of electric cloth, rivets, hand stitch

and gold leaf. I do not have room to talk about all the works, simply to finish with my own where a figure of blue, white and silver was inspired from a small piece by Alice Edna Smith (I like the fact she is my namesake). Her piece demonstrates how stitch connects to fabric fields, where thread lines run across as surface drawings but where construction, design and decoration/mark-making are dependent on each other. It is a delicately simple and refined artefact.


Above: Queen Anne Inspired Embroidery, early 20th century, RBKS 11393 Gawthorpe Textiles Collection Photo: Jack Armour

This project has developed our understanding of the significance of material knowledge and textiles as an innovative contemporary practice, furthered through the exploration of an important collection of historical stitched artefacts. The new works begin to tell new stories and the significance of individual works within a wider collection.


Through linking and unlocking connections we hope to demonstrate the creative potential of this remarkable resource as a site for research, learning and simply looking.

Palace, London (5th-9th October) and Harrogate (24th-27th November).

Significance, featuring Alice Kettle and students from Manchester School of Art, is at The Knitting & Stitching Show at Alexandra

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Above: Animated Embroidery, Rachel Kelly, 2016 Digital animation, prints and screenprinted wallpaper Various sizes Photo: Rachel Kelly

For more information:


Last few available! All 27 Through our hands artists featured

Gallery Bookshop Discover a selection of books that you simply won’t find in your high street bookstore. Titles from :

Through Our Hands Portfolio

Foreword by Maggie Grey, all 27 Through Our Hands artists featured, plus extra articles. 84 pages, full colour, ÂŁ10 plus P&P.

Eszter Bornemisza, Jette Clover, Mirjam Pet-Jacobs, Linda Barlow and more. It is often possible for your book to be signed by the artist, please just enquire when ordering.

Available in the Through Our Hands gallery bookshop online now:



Terry Grant crow

Text and images by Terry Grant

Laura: I’ve long been a reader of Terry Grant’s blog so when the time came to invite artists to write for Through Our Hands magazine Terry was always going to be on my shortlist.

Below: 3D Crow Facing page: Crow

Many years ago I sat, early one morning, alone in my kitchen, eating my breakfast, when I heard sounds of a commotion of some kind emanating from the basement of my house. Then, from behind the door leading to the basement, the squawk of some alien creature. I slowly opened the door and saw, just a few feet from where I stood at the top of the stairs, a large crow sitting on the ledge of a small window at the landing of the basement stairs. Below him, my cat Oliver

sat, crooning softly, feverishly flicking his tail back and forth and staring up at the crow. The crow silently met my gaze and stood very still as I gathered up the cat and secured him in a closed room, then I opened the basement door to the outdoors, on the downhill side of the house. It was surely the cat door in that larger door through which Oliver had somehow dragged the crow into the basement before losing control of the bird. I gestured toward the door, made some ineffective “shoo-ing” noises and hoped the crow would take the hint and leave of his own volition. He stood quietly and watched me. I left the outside door open and went back upstairs to finish my breakfast and ponder my options. Twenty minutes later the crow was still there. I noted how very vicious his claws looked and how powerful and sharp his beak was, but it now seemed that I was going to have to take some action to help him out of my house. I donned gloves and a sweatshirt and found an old beach towel, and with my heart pounding, I opened the basement door. The crow was


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

quietly waiting and as quickly and gently as I could I covered him with the towel and firmly grasped him, pinning his wings to his side. He did not struggle or resist, but went very still and I could feel his strong, warm body in my hands. I carried him quickly to the door, and stepping outside,

slowly opened the towel and he flew away without a backward glance. I watched him climb high into the blue summer sky for several minutes before he was out of sight. I thought about my encounter with the crow many

times,especially how calm he seemed, how still and quiet he became and how seemingly accepting of my human touch he was when I finally carried him out—not at all the wild creature I expected to have to deal with. Was it instinct? Fear? Trust? Did he sense my intention was


to help free him, not to harm him? It felt to me like a kind of communication passed between us, but I will never know. I still think of that encounter and I see it, in my mind, as a little movie—as if I were someone else observing my own actions. Where do ideas, where does art come from? For me it springs from my everyday life and surroundings and especially from memory. When I was in school I once had an idea of painting a scene of night in a big city. In my mind it was New York City, although I had never been there, and had in fact barely been out of the small city that I grew up in. Of course I had seen New York in movies and felt confident in depicting it. It was a pretty bad, trite painting and my teacher kindly noted that it was always best to paint what you know about. I’ve made that my motto since then, and found that its corollary is that in painting (or creating an image in whatever way) something you know, you come to know it even better. I find myself returning to favorite subjects over and over for that very reason. I always find something new to discover in even the most familiar things.

Above: Crow 1


Shortly after the crow in the basement, I made a small fabric piece depicting a crow and I thought about how often I have seen this common bird, but until I stood and looked that particular crow in the eye and noticed the shape and size of his beak and claws and considered the best Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

way to manage holding his body, I had never really studied a crow very closely. My awareness of crows in the world was heightened and I began noticing them on my walks and articles in magazines and artwork by others. I was fascinated to discover that their eggs are green and speckled and quite beautiful. Occasionally I find crow feathers on the ground and their shimmer of iridescent blue over obsidian black is startling and I wonder how to interpret that color. Even as I work on different projects and series based on other things I continue to go back to the crow. I suppose I have made at least 20 pieces of art with the crow as their subject. At one point I became rather obsessed with creating a 3-dimensional fabric crow. Friends say I have a “thing� about crows. So, where do ideas come from? How does an artist decide what to do? How do certain images get into your head and stay? Do you go out and find your subject matter or does it come to you? Both, I think, but I know at least one of my favorite subjects came around and found me when he somehow ended up in my basement one summer morning a long time ago.

Above: Crow 4 Left: Crow

For more information about Terry:


Featured Artist

Gladys Paulus

Buying a fleece from a sheep farmer compelled Gladys Paulus to teach herself how to felt, now she is a master of 3D felted structures. Let’s find out more...

Text by Gladys Paulus Images by Gladys unless stated

My name is Gladys Paulus, I am a feltmaker based in Somerset, England. Originally from the Netherlands, I have been living in the UK since 1995. I am a mother of two. My relationship with felt started back in 2005, when I bought a fleece straight off the sheep during a visit to a sheep farm with my young daughter. After an interesting and informative chat with the farmer’s wife about the low value of wool, I felt compelled to purchase a fleece to see what I could do with it. I had been creatively frustrated for years and had (rather ironically) stopped painting altogether after studying at Art College in Utrecht, the Netherlands. Busy with motherhood, the need to put bread on the table, and a complete mental block when it came to painting, my life was going in an entirely different direction to the one I had envisaged for myself. It became clear to me that I needed to reclaim the core of me, which has always revolved around creativity, and this entirely innocent trip to a farm and the fleece that was a result of it presented me with a blank slate. Here was an opportunity to start with a material I knew nothing about, from scratch, with an open mind. I was working in environmental education at the time and through this had become interested in natural fibres and crafts such as basketry and cordage making, so the transition into working with animal fibres was fairly organic. Left: Strange Beast 42

Left and facing page: Sande & Mende masks, private commission. Approx. sizes 1.70m & 1.20m, fully wearable. Wet felted, hand spun & hand embroidered. Photo by Juraj Ladziansky


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Having circled the fleece a few times, and after a few false starts (spinning and knitting), I turned to feltmaking. Library book in hand, my first try was a tea cosy of moderate success. I didn’t know at the time that not all wool felts well, so I was incredibly lucky that my fleece had the right characteristics. I was instantly intrigued by the process, but soon after became a mother for the second time (it’s all in the timing!) and had little time to get the grips with the technique. But as my youngest grew, so did my desire to go back to felt and in 2008 I got my wool stash out again. Via evening experiments with toys, hand puppets and other items, my creative juices started flowing more freely and my mind turned to more ambitious and meaningful pieces. I recognized the potential of the material from the moment I made that first tea cosy, but it took a while to build up my skills to the necessary level. I’m beginning to learn that this is the way I work, that I like to think big and then work my way towards that. I set out making masks to see if it was possible in the first instance. I had been carrying an idea to make an ancestral costume, and I wanted to see if it was even possible to wet felt a mask in the first place. I spent the following few years working out the technicalities of felting such complex hollow 3-dimensional shapes. I am self taught and wasn’t really aware of any other feltmakers at the time, let alone anyone felting masks. I work best by doing - through trial and error – and I’m still in the process of fine tuning the process. With each commission I undertake I perfect and develop my techniques a little bit more. The most challenging and satisfying masks I have made to date are ‘Sande’ and ‘Mende’. They were privately commissioned by a US-based photographer in December 2013. This commission was a real vote of confidence in me and came at exactly the right time, as I had just moved into my first studio after years of working at the dining room table, which meant I had the physical and mental space to start working on a larger scale. I was very excited to take


on the project as the visual references linked well to my own ideas. Research into the history of the Mende and the Sande society in which these carved wooden masks play an important role, revealed that the masks are worn only by women. Many parts of the carved wooden masks carry a deep significance, so it was important to me to keep elements such as the downcast eyes and hair detailing in my design. The challenge was how to translate all this into felt. Wood is hard and allows for detailed carving and sharp outlines, but wool by its very nature is soft and outlines can become less well defined. In my search for a smooth felt and the ‘right’ finish I made many small samples. My heart was set on using some beautiful jet black Alpaca from a local breeder, but the finished felt was just too hairy for the project ( even when mixed with other fibres) so I finally settled on dyed Merino with locally grown Black Welsh Mountain for the hand spun tassels. Then work started on a full-size sample mask. This was an invaluable part of the process as the many things that went wrong enabled me to work out changes in my process. It was also useful to have an actual physical piece I could discuss with the commissioner at this point. I made a long list of things that were not right (and a short list of things that were), and armed with those facts went back to the drawing board. I spent a large proportion of my time on improving and perfecting the resists I felt around, working out how many layers to use on the different components and in what order to work. In total, I laid 8 thin layers of wool for the main part of the mask, with fewer layers for the attachments so they would be strong yet light and be able to stand upright if needed. Most of the 3-dimensional elements of the masks were pre-felted separately, incorporated into the main body at different stages and all felted together in a grand finale. Due to the size of the work this was


the trickiest aspect of the whole process, and made rolling the felt pretty much impossible. Working in solid black was a challenge too, as it was hard to keep sight of the details. At times I felt I was – literally – working in the dark! It was almost a relief to embroider the finished felt to highlight some details and mimic the intricate patterns carved in the wood. The tassels were spun by hand and replicate the raffia skirts that are traditionally worn with the masks. I experimented with shop bought, double ply yarn but it was too even and regular and just didn’t look right. I wanted a more organic look so decided to spin my own, single ply yarn, made deliberately lumpy and uneven to contrast with the smoothness of the masks. As I only have a drop spindle it soon became clear it would take me a very long time to produce the amount of yarn needed, so I paid a friend to spin the remainder of the fleece on her spinning wheel. All in all nearly 2 fleeces were spun (for both masks) and they were attached by felting them in. If I had to do it all again I would use Finn wool or similar as it felts much harder and denser than Merino, and I would make a separate tassle skirt for the wearer, as the tassels continuously got tangled up doing the felting process. In the past year or so I have started teaching my mask making techniques to fellow feltmakers, which I have found tremendously helpful for my own process. There is nothing like writing down one’s methods step by step to realise which techniques could be improved on. I still haven’t managed to find the time to make my ancestral costume, but the need to do so is becoming more and more urgent and important to me. My father passed away earlier this year, and that really brought home to me the importance of telling the stories of our forefathers. On a more personal level I think there’s a real deep need to deal with my grief and start healing through my work. My fascination with masks and ritual stems from my mixed heritage childhood. Through my Indonesian side of the family (my father’s side), I was exposed to imagery such as the ‘Wayang kulit’ shadow puppet deities with their mask like faces, and to

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Above: All That I Am, 2015, work in progress

my grandfather’s tales of magic animism woven in with his Catholic beliefs. We would go to the ‘Pasar Malam’, an Indonesian cultural market, where I remember being completely entranced by the beautiful ladies in their immaculate face paint and dress who performed the most graceful of dances. Every gesture is symbolic which, as a child, completely passed me by but it somehow left an indelible mark on me. Throw in the mix some Dutch pragmatism and Germanic folk tales, and this is what you get. People often think my masks are scary, but to me they just represent another side of us and of the invisible forces at work around us. Last year I collaborated with Wales-based performing arts company Citrus Arts on a performance piece, and it was so exciting to create pieces for a specific storyline and then to see these pieces being brought to life. Being the maker of static work, the whole idea of animation is fascinating to me, but it is not a skill I possess myself. So, to offer up the work and have it animated by a professional dancer who knows how to move, make shapes and

interpret the character of the animal was a fantastic and surprisingly moving experience for me. I am kind of surprised to find myself creating 3-dimensional work. As a child I was always drawing, and I studied painting during my Art college years. But there’s a painterly element to feltmaking too; the coloured wool fibres can be blended in a similar way to mixing paint. I am often asked if I dye my work after I have felted it, but all the colour blending happens during the felting process. Much of my work consist of 6 layers of fibres or more, and I build the colours from the bottom layer up, very much like a painting. It is not until the wool is wetted out and the fibres begin to merge and blend, that the final effect becomes clear. There is often an element of surprise, although with practice it is possible to predict to some extent what the final effect will be. To me, to make felt is to practice alchemy – another reason perhaps why I am drawn to it. What starts off as a fluffy pile of wool is transformed into a very strong textile, using nothing more than some


Facing page: Vixen, photo Bella West

water, soap and a pair of hands, using very ancient techniques. The more I understand the material, the more I’m interested in exploring and pushing the boundaries of what can be done with it. The physicality and earthiness of the process also appeals to me enormously. From sourcing and collecting a fleece, to processing the wool in preparation for felting, and the feltmaking process itself; every aspect of it is time consuming but forces me to slow down. It cannot be hurried, and in this fast world, this feels like a really healthy antidote. It is my form of meditation. Of course, there are times when I struggle because of a tight deadline, or things don’t go the way I want them to, but that is all part of the transformative nature of the creative process. You have to be able to recognise you are fighting the material rather than letting it speak through your hands. As soon as that realisation dawns, you can relax into the process and things take shape organically. Although I do a lot of planning when I design my pieces, when it comes to the actual felting process I work much more intuitively and that’s when a real connection occurs. Hours can go by in that state, and I will barely notice. I can honestly say I am happiest when I’m in my studio in that state of mind. Another important aspect of working with wool is that it is a low impact, natural material. In many ways wool is seen as a waste by-product in the farming industry nowadays, having been surpassed by synthetic fibres, although I am pleased to say there is a bit of a wool revival taking place and there are many rare breed societies keeping ancient breeds and specialist wools alive. This country’s wealth was built on the wool trade, and there are still clues to that past visible in many towns and villages around the country. In the town I live we have an old stone wool drying tower (currently an art gallery) and there used to be a woad production area for dyeing the wool cloth. I like this historical link. It deepens the work somehow. Much of the technique of feltmaking has not changed for millennia. Feltmaking is though to pre-date woven fabric, and the earliest archeological evidence

dates back to the Bronze Age. It feels right to me to practice such an ancient craft, that generations of hands have been practicing throughout the ages. About 5 years ago I resolved to turn my passion into my profession. With my children growing up fast, the time had come for me to put myself out there and present myself to the world as an artist. That was quite a big deal. I have known I wanted to be an artist from the age of 5, but I never had the confidence to pursue my goal. Having children relatively young gave me more confidence and drive than I ever could have imagined, and now is the time for me to step out and be the artist I am meant to be. I am lucky to have been born into an artistic and hands-on family who have always been supportive of my creativity. For as long as I can remember, both my parents had creative hobbies (my mother is a mean seamstress who sewed our entire family wardrobe, my father was a passionate and gifted photographer), and further down in the generations there are various fine artists, a cobbler, a well known pottery painter and farmers. I don’t see myself as a mask maker or a feltmaker exclusively, although outwardly that’s what I am right now. I have so many ideas in my head of pieces I want to make, some of them incorporating other mediums. I do recognise that in many ways it is still very early days for me, but I think I’m making up for lost creative time. The real issue for me is to find a balance between work and motherhood, and between earning my living through commissions and developing a more conceptual body of work. It’s not an easy balance to achieve and I can get very frustrated with the lack of progress of my own ideas, but frustration gives me drive too. Gladys Paulus lives and works in Frome, Somerset (England). Recent commissioners and clients have included National Geographic Channel, Harrods Magazine, Paruno Mexico, and an undisclosed A-list film star.




Christine Chester

still learning

Chinese Proverb: Teachers open the door but you must enter by yourself. Christine Chester tells us how important being taught, and teaching is to her work.

Text and images by Christine Chester

Below: Fading, 2011


I have been teaching and learning my craft for over 20 years, and last year I reached the pinnacle of my career so far: a gallery at Festival of Quilts called Fragility of Memory, and I gained my Masters Degree. I reached that stage with a lot of hard work, some heartache, a needle through my finger, and the input of a lot of exceptional teachers. My first talented and inspiring teacher, was my mother, Dee Chester. After a childhood spent with my mother teaching me stitching and other associated crafts, I finally formalised my learning by taking City & Guilds with her guidance. Dee encouraged me to experiment, to interpret, to observe, to enjoy skills

development and to research if I did not know the answer. The C&G qualification has its weaknesses in that it develops skills in a particular way particularly in designing and project development, but the sheer breadth of knowledge it delivers is mindboggling, and it does teach you to bring a project to a conclusion. It gives a language of techniques that enables you to choose what is the most appropriate for a given inspiration. So on balance, it was really worthwhile doing, but you often need to continue to work with a teacher or in a class, in order to make the transition from student to independent maker. My mother’s shoes are large ones,

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Right: Fragile Moments, 2005

but they have been both filled and expanded by the team of Leslie Morgan and Claire Benn at Committed to Cloth. I met Claire at an exhibition in East Grinstead and having chatted to her about her work and their joint vision for a textile community, I signed up for 2 courses and spent the next 10 years driving the 100 odd miles up and down from Eastbourne to Betchworth every month. It wasn’t that I couldn’t make work on my own; I had already made the quilt (Fragile Fragments) which won the Large Innovative class at Festival of Quilts in 2005. Rather, I needed a community to work within where I was not the teacher and could instead, work on becoming an artist. It was a challenging tutorial at the start of a new year of classes in 2008, that made me settle down from the butterfly I had been, dipping into all sorts of themes and processes, to work consistently on one process and consequently, a theme. My father had been diagnosed with dementia and as a family we were just coming to terms with that. Concentrating on paper lamination gave me

the opportunity to use early photographs of my father when he was working as a fisherman, as well as expressing ideas of loss through the fracturing that is part of the process. That was the beginning of my work on memory loss, which formed the basis of the gallery at Festival. As part of the C2C community, I have also had the opportunity of doing short courses with some exceptional teachers and artists. Initially, I took classes because I wanted to learn something about the process being taught. However, the calibre of the teachers gave me something else

altogether: a belief in myself and a real way of moving my work forward. The rust prints I created with Jo Budd gave me one of the strongest metaphors for loss of memory and have featured in much of my recent work (Layers of Memory) whilst contact with Nancy Crow made me completely change my home studio to make it more studio and less living room. Out went the old furniture and in came a design wall and cutting table. Not the lesson in piecing that I thought I had signed up for! Inspired by the work in her lovely book: Calligraphy – A Book of


Above and detail below: Layers of Memory, 2012

Contemporary Inspiration, I was lucky enough to get on a course with Denise Lach. She gave me a language of mark making that I continue to use and forms a huge part of my palette of fabrics. Words form such an important part of my work on dementia; whether telling the story of my experience as in Forgotten, or the repetition inherent with memory loss, or the fragments of memory spoken by my father. The tools that Denise gave me (both actual and metaphorical) remain a key part of my practice. Once I started my MA, I questioned whether I should continue to do short courses. However, I had started the MA at the same time as starting up my own teaching studio, and I knew I needed to keep up my profile as a textile artist in order to help give credibility to the studio. Working with inspirational teachers was one way of helping me to create new and fresh work. So when the opportunity came to work with Dorothy Caldwell, I snatched it. I thoroughly enjoyed the course but it took quite a while for the effects to show in my work. This happened much later in


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

combination with lessons learned from working with Matthew Harris. Their influence was very strong in the last piece made for the gallery (Afterwards iii). The drawings (Afterwards i & ii) that were created in his class led me to find a new way of working with a longarm machine to create ‘blind’ machine stitching, in order to express the same loss of control that was exercised in the drawings. I had tried to find a stitch version of these drawings whilst in Matthew’s class and failed miserably. But the effect of a good teacher/course stay with you whilst you are working on other things and produces a solution to a problem when you least expect it. The combination of the ‘blind’ stitching I did with Dorothy, and the drawings, along with the acquisition of a longarm machine, produced a perfect storm of ideas. I realised I could stitch with a blindfold without risking more needles in fingers! Working on a transparent layer created some real challenges for the machine (and me!) and so I also got a narrative of good and bad stitching as I worked my way down the long piece of voile. I am continuing to work with the concept of ‘blind’ stitching in the newest work I am creating for Quilt Art’s Running Dialogues (Routine Interrupted i detail), letting go of that tight grip from C&G towards perfection. I have gone back to hand stitching and extended this to the printing as well, so the latter section of the work loses its rhythm and

Above left: Afterwards II, drawing, 2014 Above left: Afterwards III, 2015

Below: Routine Interrupted I, detail, 2016


Above and detail, right: Layers of Silence, 2013

repetition. All these tutors and influences over the last few years have been important to the work that I produced for the gallery, and to the work that I am creating now. I have realised that I can’t predict the rewards gained from any particular teacher; they add to my choices and will make themselves relevant at some point. As the Chinese proverb suggests, it is up to me to use those lessons in my own work in my own way. So I intend to keep learning, as it keeps me fresh, gives me exciting new opportunities, and challenges my preconceptions and attitudes.


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Above and detail, left: Forgotten, 2015

For more information:


Show and tell Take a look at some of the wonderful work being made by readers of Through Our Hands Magazine

If you would like to see your work featured in the magazine, then all you have to do, is to send us 1 high resolution image (300dpi) together with a few details about the work: its title, size, and perhaps a brief explanation of the techniques you used or your inspiration. We can’t promise to publish everything, but we’ll do our best!

Left: Rescue, Debby Schnabel “Over and over Scripture talks about how much God cares for the poor and needy. It encourages and challenges me to care for those less fortunate than myself.” This quilt was chosen to be part of the SAQA “Inspirations” exhibit that is currently hanging at the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Above: He Sat and Perched and Nothing More ‌, Ana Buzzalino It is made with my hand-dyed fabrics, machine quilted, hand-embroidered and the images are transferred onto the quilted piece. It is mounted on a painted birch board and has plexiglass attached with brass screws. The work was inspired by a photo of a crow I took in Halifax a few years ago. He was standing on a fence and I walked by and saw him. He just stood there, posing, while I took photos of him.


Above: The Road to Gadstrup, Dorte Gjelstrup When I drive from my house to a little town nearby called Gadstrup, I pass some trees bent by the wind. They all stand leaning in the same angle looking a little bit tired. The background of the quilt is painted with Procion, the trees are printed using a silkscreen and I have added a lot of stiching


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Facing page: April Bead Journal, Angela Grasse I start with a felt base and needle felt into it. Embroidery stitches and the beads are added intuitively.

Above: Only A Memory, Karen Goetzinger Thread, acrylic, collaged fabric, charcoal on stretched canvas.



The Story of a Commission

Palo Duro Canyon: Fortress Cliff

Accepting a commission presents many challenges to the artist. Sue Benner guides us through the process, with additional text from Sally King, Art Curator, BNSF Art Collection.

Text and images by Sue Benner


The Commission

Among the first corporate art collections in the U.S., the BNSF Art collection is comprised of early 20th century landscape and Native American figurative art acquired by predecessor railroads for use in advertising to promote tourist travel by train to the West. Installed to a pinnacle of both beauty and meaning in a Lake-Flato designed postmodern headquarters complex, the amount of this historic art is

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

limited. BNSF’s dynamic growth and expansion exceeded the supply of historic art some years ago. And even though BNSF has been headquartered in Fort Worth since 1995, it lacked art by Texas artists. To meet both shortfalls, in 2006 an executive decision provided support for acquisition of a 21st Century Collection of Texas and Southwest art, contemporary realistic landscapes


of Texas and the Southwest. In mid-2015, a need arose for something more dramatic and high impact than conventional art for a high profile location in a new building on a floor dedicated to Texas and Southwest landscapes:

paintings, drawings, prints and photographs. At twelve feet, the wall was wide enough for a good sized work. The catch was that the artwork would be installed over a sizable awards case filled with mementoes marking achievements of the employees in this department. Something with a three dimensional and textural feel seemed to be the solution, and Sue Benner’s amazing quilted artistry leapt to mind. I have been impressed for over 20 years by her complex, colorful abstract quilted creations. But it was only over Easter weekend last year when I was able to see her fabulous retrospective at the Texas Quilt


All images in this article: Palo Duro Canyon Fortress Cliff, Sue Benner, and details of.

Museum in LaGrange, and then seeing her at an art lecture, that I became aware that she also produced representational landscape. I wanted her to choose a site that spoke to her and with which she could be emotionally involved. Sue settled on Palo Duro Canyon and, in the 104 degrees of last August, hiked there for two days with her husband‌and plenty of water she said. From a beautiful selection of three watercolor sketches she presented, I selected Fortress Cliff. We had a few discussions about how I wanted Sue to be able to fully use her complex vocabulary of painted, dyed and found fabrics with all the

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

underlying abstraction in collage and stitchery while achieving a representational and recognizable image. And I have told her repeatedly, that she has exceeded my wildest expectations. Her quilted landscape is the hit of the 21st Century Collection. Employees are mesmerized by the colors, textures, tactility and designs and seek it out to immerse themselves in its wonder. Sue Benner’s textile art has expanded to wonderful effect the vocabulary and expectations of the compelling contemporary landscape art at BNSF. -Sally King. Art Curator

Preliminary Steps

For an artist, creating a commission is almost never an easy task. Even the ablest artists find it a challenge to create a work for someone else’s specific space and stated expectations, let alone the unstated ones. When Sally King, Art Curator for the BNSF Art Collection contacted me in June of 2015 and asked me if I would be interested in creating a Southwest landscape, I said, “Sure!” I knew I could do the work, but realized that I hadn’t immersed myself in a Texas or Southwest landscape for decades. Much time had passed since I had camped with friends (and my future husband, Craig) in Big Bend National

Park in 1986 to observe Halley’s Comet. Out of that trip came a series of more than 400 paintings, T-shirts, bandannas, and other designs. I accepted BNSF’s tight deadline and actually contemplated doing only online research—for about a day. I realized I needed to actually be in the landscape, hiking the trails and taking original photographs, despite the summer heat and the short timeframe. After talking to friends and perusing my Texas Atlas and Gazetteer, I selected Palo Duro Canyon State Park because it is an iconic Texas landscape that is close to my home in Dallas - well, close in Texas miles - about a six-hour drive from Dallas. It is the second largest canyon in the United States, but I had never been there before and neither had Craig who had lived in Dallas since he was nine; plus, it was near Canyon, Texas, the place where Georgia O’Keefe became inspired by the Western land and sky. I had no time to waste and though the August heat was daunting, Craig and I set off for a long weekend trip. After years of intense drought, the summer


of 2015 was unusually rainy in the Panhandle of Texas, and to my surprise Palo Duro Canyon was lush with green and full of wildflowers against the backdrop of multi-colored rock. Craig and I hiked the trails, carrying lots of water and drinking it on a schedule—about every half mile. I took hundreds of photos both with my Canon digital SLR and my iPhone, also using the panoramic feature. As I often do as I explore and document a place, I took detail photographs of native plants, park signs, and geologic features, including the fancifully named rock formations that Palo Duro is known for, the ‘Spanish Skirts.’


Just as we were about to leave the park on Sunday morning, I saw a picnic table up on a mound. I made Craig stop the car one more time and grabbed my cameras. After scrambling up the trail, I stood on the top of the picnic table, and saw an unobstructed panoramic view of Fortress Cliff. Perfect. By the time we left Palo Duro, I was in love. Returning to the studio, I began analyzing my photos and researching the geology of the region. The layers of rock that have been exposed by the eroding canyon are beautiful hues and are of various degrees of hardness, creating lovely cliffs,

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

those Spanish skirts, as well as hoodoos. The rock formations are called (in brief from the top of the canyon down): the Ogalalla (an off-white/buff limestone layer or caprock), the Trujillo (hard red sandstone layers), the Tecovas (softer yellow, gray and lavender shale), and the Quartermaster (banded orange-red shale and sandstone with white gypsum). The photos of the park signs I took were also of great help, and the extra online geologic information gave me a better idea of what it was I was actually seeing in the photos. Sally King had given me the final size for the work, about 28” x 84”, or a 1:3 format, and the charge that it had to be recognizable as the landscape it was. Working in Adobe® Photoshop®, I composed, merged, cropped and enhanced the photos. In evaluating the vistas, I chose three sites that excited me to work with and fit well into the given format. I created a loose ink drawing of each subject, scanned it back into Photoshop®, where I painted it in a watercolor-like manner. This looseness helped me

to simplify the forms and colors, and abstract the subjects it in the process. I submitted the proposal to Sally, and she and I both agreed that Fortress Cliff was the strongest choice. It is an impressive site, recognizable to anybody that has been in the park, and suited the needs of the BNSF collection and art location.

Use of Fabric

One of the great joys of being a textile artist is assembling an array of fabrics to use for a project. During this phase of Fortress Cliff, I gathered fabrics that shouted “Ogallala!” Or, “Spanish Skirt!” Or, “Prickly Pear Cactus!” I organized these fabrics into color groupings and placed them in labeled bags, boxes, and trays, making sure I had a lot of variation to select from. Many of these fabrics were ones that I (and a few other artists) had dye-painted and monoprinted; others were from the extensive collection of found fabrics, vintage and recycled, that I have collected from thrifts stores and generous friends.


With any of the collaged and quilted landscapes that I have done, I have not been interested in photorealism. I want it to be obvious that besides depicting a place, on some level it’s about the fabric. Although at times I am simply using the fabric just for its particular colour quality, value, and texture; other times I am using it humorously, joyously, or even ironically. With Fortress Cliff I was trying to walk that line between making the vista ultimately recognizable, but also somewhat funky and firmly rooted in the fabric from which it’s made.

Looking Back

Craig and I hiked in Palo Duro Canyon on August 8 and 9 in 2015. I completed Fortress Cliff on November 1, 2015, and I am still not quite sure how I managed it. Immersing myself in this Texas landscape brought me almost full circle with the landscape aspect of my work. At some point during the process of making this commission, I went back and reviewed photos of the designs I did in the late 80’s of Big Bend, marveling that I had only taken ONE ROLL of 35mm slides - 36 precious photos and not all of them interesting or well-exposed. With those photos, a few sketches, and, I guess, some imagination, I created all those images back then. Thinking now about the unlimited nature of digital photo technology, I really had to laugh at myself ! Working on a commission can be difficult with its restrictions and compromises, but it can also be liberating. The parameters may be set, but within those boundaries there can be much room for exploration and experimentation. There is also a wonderful opportunity for problem solving - a process I enjoy greatly. Thanks to Sally King and BNSF Railway, Palo Duro Canyon: Fortress Cliff brought me back around to an expansive subject, the West Texas landscape - a love I had almost forgotten. In the end, it was a deeply satisfying process.


For more information about Sue:

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Would your like to promote your event, exhibition or organisation? Get in touch to tell us about what you’re doing and discuss available options.

Visit the Through Our Hands website for Affiliate Artist portfolios, latest news, gallery shop, videos and more.



Fiber Art International

in Pittsburgh

Text and images by Eszter Bornemisza

Through Our Hands Affiliate Artist, Eszter Bornemisza gives us a guided tour of the latest Fibre Art International exhibit.

In the cold early days of May this spring I had the chance to participate in the opening events of the Fiber Art International triennial in Pittsburgh, PA. Despite the fact that the exhibition was split into two locations; in the

Pittsburgh Center of the Arts and in the Society of Contemporary Craft, it was an exceptionally high standard show presenting the best in contemporary fiberart. The jurors, Chunghie Lee of South Korea, Arturo Alonzo Sandoval from the University of Kentucky and Tali Weinberg from Berkeley selected works by 78 artists from 14 countries, providing a singular opportunity to see current trends and innovations in this constantly evolving area of art making. The events started on the day before the opening with a gathering in one artist from Pittsburgh’s loft where we got name badges with the photos of our work

Left: Sleep Cycle, Rachel Meginnes


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

and had the opportunity to meet fellow artists whose name and work we had known before but whom we never met in person. We could hardly wait for the opening of the exhibition and for the awards ceremony. It was the start of dynamic conversations between artists and viewers and between the artists themselves. It was followed by the next day’s symposium when we were asked to stand next to our work and answer questions. It was highly interesting not only to talk to people interested in what the artists were creating, but also to listen to other artists speaking about their inspirations. The entire show and weekend event were organized by the volunteers of Fiberarts Guild of Pittsburgh at an extremely high standard. It was a spectacular event. Recently I came across an earlier article of Fiber Art Now (2015/4) describing the beginnings of Fiber Art International: “Back in 1976, the needlewomen of what was then the Embroiderers’ Guild of Pittsburgh were looking forward to their biennial member show. Their best work, meticulously crafted over the previous two years, had been submitted to the juror and preparations for the event were well underway. But the juror declined to cooperate. Instead he delivered the verdict

Top right: Bystander, June Lee Right: Lichen Party Frock, George-Ann Bowers


outsize large hunchedover figure surrounded by several smaller ones standing in positions while looking away and not paying attention to one who was obviously suffering. The piece entitled Bystander draws the attention in quite a direct way to how we trend to disregard the socially outcasts. (Second place)

that changed the direction of the group: “Technique is not enough to carry craft to art form.” There was no show.” The initial impact today when entering the multi gallery exhibition is that the shock therapy forty years ago was well worth doing. It provoked a new way of thinking for both the organizers and for the artists. The pieces on display are not ‘nice’, but intriguing, quaint, and thought provoking. Mastery of workmanship and process are common denominators in all works, where the choice of material and technique supports the thematic content, as well as providing its own abstract


content. Artists continue to push boundaries, some in a quiet, meditative way, some more strikingly. A few examples that I personally found inspiring and pushed boundaries: Sleep Cycle by Rachel Meginnes, an almost white piece has a meditative quality. The artist sanded the layered structure of fabric, pulled thread embroidery and paint. The surface is extremely subtle and asks the viewer to come closer to see what is revealed below the surface. (Award of outstanding use of materials) June Lee presented a three dimensional scene comprising an

The small multilayered woven dress entitled Lichen Party Frock by George-Ann Bowers, which won the outstanding weaving award, draws patterns of nature into a garment reflecting concerns about growth, destruction and change in a very unusual way: vignettes drawn from nature are translated into textile form. In her relatively small piece Ashley Smith uses a photograph and threads to investigate the complexity of intimacy and pain. The work is provocative, evoking the ever recurring questions of manipulation and power not only couple relationships but in a broader sense. Sandra Jane Hirst’s dimensional assemblage of four strange creatures morphing into a form between animal and weapon, striving towards a

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

certain unknown goal, is fragile, formidable and hilarious at the same time. If the title, Indigenous Expulsion didn’t suggest a basic line of interpretation, a wide range of associations would rise about their nature and aims. Gudrun Bartenberger-Geyer’s felt object entitled the Caged Body wasn’t drowning in for the first sight, but the screen with the video placed nearby helped the concept to reveal: a woman wearing this ‘armature’ made it look like a bizarre animal-human creature with mislocated ribs on the hips, something natural and still unnatural. The structure works as a frame or stocks over the body constraining the freedom both in physical and spiritual ways. Margery Amdur’s Amass #6 is far more than an amass of coloured cosmetic sponges glued onto canvas, showing how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The variation of rhythms in density and form of surfaces and the cascading drapery evoke sensations of tranquility and tension. Some areas looking like cluttered new estate buildings; others like well groomed lawns indicate the discrepancy of urban cityscapes.

Facing page: Call the Boys by a Wrong Name to Remind Them How Unimportant They Are, Ashley Smith This page, top: Indigenous Expulsion, Sandra Jane Heard Right: The Caged Body, Gudrun BartenbergerGeyer Below: Conductive Apparatus, Leslie Pearson

Susan Hotchkis dimensional, richly embroidered piece, Embrace is a fine construction of realistic fragments into an abstract oeuvre. She mixes delicately elaborated portions of sometimes enlarged images of patterns found on


eroded or overgrown surfaces with liberally painted details of peeling paints of decayed walls and lacy structures. The fight between nature and the manmade is delicately depicted here. Leslie Person’s Conductive Apparatus is an intriguingly complex work made of torn book pages and gut on a wire armature. The organic form looks like a strange gear of interception and a loudspeaker dredging something deep and enigmatic, a medium of messages of hidden layers. These few examples may give an insight into how diverse the field of textiles has become. I was honored to be part of this exhibition and I will continue help push the boundaries of what has become both an expansive and inclusive field of inquiry. Above: Embrace, Susan Hotchkis Above left: Amass #6, Margery Amdur


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016


Kate Bridger

Textile artist Kate Bridger shares her love of house portraits and guides us through the process step by step.

Text and images by Kate Bridger

the house that kate built

Houses, much like the people who occupy them, come in many shapes and sizes. But, regardless of whether one’s ‘castle’ is opulent or humble, large or small, new or old, most people pour love, money and sweat into their homes and the payoff is a bank full of life’s daily happenings and events, fond

memories and pride. I learnt early on in my interior consulting career that ‘home’ is more about how we feel in our houses and less about what they are made of or filled with. This lesson was further reinforced as I began stitching commissioned


house portraits for various clients. Clearly, it didn’t matter if the house was a beautifully appointed structure on a grand estate, or a humble bungalow in a subdivision, what it represented to its occupants was all that mattered. I stitched my very first house portrait, Samways Acres, in 1994. This cute little house in New Zealand belonged to my father and his wife. In February of that year, my family and I escaped the northern Ontario winter and spent six weeks there. The house became a symbol of the happy times we’d shared and the portrait, rudimentary though it was, was a perfect way to say ‘thank you’. Since then, I have stitched dozens of homes from all over the world. I rely on the photographs and anecdotes provided by my clients for those houses that are miles beyond my neighbourhood and the reach of my camera lens; for example, this home in Britain, right.

Above: Samways Acres, 1994

Above: A British Home Below: The challenge of a greenhouse

On the other hand, I did enjoy the privilege of visiting this beautiful home near Oving, UK. It is one of many brick houses I’ve stitched. As you can imagine, stitching bricks is very labour intensive and I have become a great fan of clapboard siding since! One of the challenges with this portrait was to add the greenhouse to the front of the building and yet maintain its transparency … and so began my


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016


love affair with organzas and sheer commissioned by a couple now fabrics. living in Arizona. As students, back in the 1970s, they had rented In many portraits, the context and the upper front rooms. But, here’s the best part ... this home stands surroundings are as important as the structure itself. That’s when right across the street from where the landscape architect within I live now. As I worked on the shows up - of course, unlike Capability Brown, I don’t have to wait too long for the shrubs and trees to mature.

piece, it was great to be able to hop across the road to check on an awkward angle or confirm a bit of trim detail. I included my clients’ dog in the picture as well as a skunk trying to get into a rubbish bin on the porch—two

To me, the most important addition to a house portrait is something that the client holds dear … be it a pet, an object, or a memory. The house top left was


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

notable memories from their time there. It’s those personal touches that make the finished portrait so special … notice the cat on the windowsill and the BMW parked on the driveway in the other two pictures. Some homes are very elaborate and ornate, others are plain … some are rustic and some are merely summer retreats, but obviously all of them are loved and cherished by their occupants at the time and my work provides an attractive visual trigger for their happy memories for years to come.


The Process

The most complicated home I have ever ‘built’ out of fabric is a piece I was commissioned to do in 2015. It is a beautiful, ornate old building in Ontario, Canada, that now serves its community as a successful restaurant. However, it was once home to a family and a young girl who spent many happy times there while visiting her grandparents. This young girl, now a mother herself, has two daughters and they decided that a stitched rendition of the property would make a wonderful birthday gift for her.


I was delighted to be asked to create the piece but, at the same time, somewhat daunted by the task. The perspective, the gingerbread detailing, the bricks (oh, the bricks!) and even two stained glass windows made this a seriously challenging undertaking. To illustrate just how complex the layering and building up of this picture was, I photographed my progress each day so you can see precisely how the ‘house that Kate built’ came to be...

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016


I laid down a background for the house and then blocked in the main structure leaving openings for the windows (oops, I missed two ... don’t worry I’ll cut them out later). Then I tossed a few clouds into the beautiful blue Goderich sky, planted the front lawn and used a couple of strategically placed trees to obscure the views of any other buildings in the neighbourhood. I spent the next day creating forms and shadows to go behind 3 the glazing on the windows. I even installed tiny stained glass details in the upper sections of the two most prominent ones. I began the first part of the red brick detailing just to see if I had the patience to cut them with my scalpel. Still forgot those two other windows, but I’ll get to them before long. ‘A. J. Cooper’ was carved into the cement on the path in front of the house and the lawns were edged.

This photograph illustrates several steps in my process. 4 I finally got around to installing the missing windows and adding window frames and sills to all of them. I installed the doors and put up a foundation for the porch I’ve yet to build. And then ... it was all about the bricks ... lots of bricks! Shade was applied to the lower left section in anticipation of the shadows that will be cast by the porch when it’s added.



Still bricking it! Brick detailing and stones are added above the windows and I tacked the wooden porch on to the facade. It all looks a bit sad without a roof and with steps I wouldn’t trust, but I’m so relieved to be finished with the bricks, I’m ready for anything!


Much progress has been made ... the house finally has a roof on it! Even the chimneys are peeking out over the top. The porch has been properly attached and a border of flowers is already growing up in front of it. Unfortunately, the stairs look even more treacherous than before ... they’ll have to come out. But, as you can see, some finicky detailing above the upper windows and beneath the roof overhang is well underway.


Adding the foundation planting has made the building look far more grounded and less likely to fall off the page. There’s also a gorgeous hanging basket filled with geraniums and lobelia hanging from the porch and some irises have popped up on the front lawn. The stairs look a bit more solid and, with the addition of banisters, they’re probably quite safe now.


Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016


The wrought iron railings were installed today ... incredibly intricate work, but well worth it. A bit more fine-tuning to attend to (just noticed that the hanging plant is suspended in thin air, perhaps I’d better secure it to the porch) and then I think this beautiful House Portrait will be ready to be presented to its new owner:

For more information about Kate:



Tom Leytham Text and images by Tom Leytham

Describing form and light has been a life long artistic passion - in fact I became an architect because I love to draw. Drawing and designing are symbiotic activities – to draw you must take something apart – to design you put things together. Vasari said “Drawing is the basis for all art and architecture.” Switching my architectural work to the computer has freed me to again pursue my love of watercolors. Since 2004, I have been exploring the remnants of the 19th and 20th century industrial landscape in Vermont and the surrounding region through a series of watercolors of working, ruined and repurposed buildings and structures. Some are monumental, some are modest; many are hiding in plain sight. One of the most original vernacular buildings in Vermont is the step child of a historic district – overshadowed by a covered bridge and miller’s cottage. A piano factory is hidden in the bushes in Barton and the


remnants of an asbestos mine evoke the Great Wall of China. As an architect and artist, I am fascinated by this architecture of necessity and invention. The process of documenting components of what I call “the other working landscape”— in Vermont, farms and forest are considered the working landscape—has afforded me the opportunity to study and appreciate the resourcefulness of the design and construction. Word of mouth [from archaeologists, preservationists, photographers, artists, writers and community members], study of Google Earth and visual exploration have led me to these sites. Driving on a dirt road in Eden, you come upon a 6 storey building on a mountain stripped of all vegetation. On route 12 in Bethel, you are confronted by an eighty foot high grain millsurrounded by 1 ½ story houses – much like a cathedral town in France.

exploration, through the use of partial views, negative space, dramatic perspectives, and rich detail I seek to create complex, pictorial environments that will engage the viewer’s imagination. Once the pride of the community, today, these aging and disappearing buildings and installations have come to symbolize the demise of the industrial economy, resource depletion, and environmental degradation. Yet, they are also important cultural artifacts that demonstrate enterprise, bold engineering, and often, craftsmanship. In the words of poet William Butler Yeats, “Things reveal themselves passing away.”

Just as these architectural ruins in their incompleteness invite visual

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

For more information about Tom:

Above: Jericho Mill, Tom Leytham, watercolour




part two

Continuing from the first part of this article Anne Williams poses questions to some leading textile artists on the topic of ‘Unfinished’.

Text by Anne Williams Images as credited.


Anne resumes her conversation with Through Our Hands affiliate artist, Jenni Dutton. Once you’ve started, do you always finish a piece of work? Oh yes, I find it very difficult not to finish something once started. I have a piece at the moment which I have left, but the delay in finishing is deliberate and part of the ongoing narrative of the piece. I started it knowing that I will be interrupted before I can finish it – my daughter is having a baby very soon. This piece is an insurance policy; a comfort blanket so that when I have time I can come to it, reassured that despite the momentous experience of becoming a

grandma for the first time, my life as an artist goes on.

Would it feel like a ‘failure’ to not complete a work?

Oh yes, it would undermine my confidence in myself and I would probably panic. One is only as good as one’s last piece and there is no guarantee that one can make anything else, ever. This is sounding very negative, but leaving a piece unfinished is tricky, though it does depend on the reason. If it’s because I can’t resolve it then I have strategies to overcome that, but just to leave it is an awful thought. One develops an intimate relationship with the work one makes and to abandon it seems to leave that relationship hanging in mid-air.

How do you know when a piece of work is finished? It’s like reading a good book – I always speed up towards the end. And it’s like that with a piece of work, and then I make myself give it another period of time to tidy up the loose edges. When I’m making my Dementia Darnings* working from photos, I never allow myself to look at the whole the right way up: half the canvas

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

is always hidden under a sheet and it’s on its side or upside down. This is because if I see it and think that it’s good then I can’t go on with it as I think I may spoil it, and that’s a disaster. So finishing a piece can sneak up on me unawares.

Do you ever go back to a piece you’d considered to be finished and add – or even take away – from it? What have been the reasons for doing this?

I’m very likely to return to a piece of work. I like to leave them up in the studio or I pack them away and sneak a look when the unexpected can reveal some new idea or direction. My work has a strong narrative underpinning it which may not be evident, and sometimes I will see a way to continue that narrative in a previous piece of work rather than making a new piece – the world has too much art!

Do you make pieces that you never had any intention of finishing? Why do you make these pieces? Are they samples in preparation for making a fully resolved work?

I never make samples. I can’t see the point; I like to work out all the issue with concept and technique, and explore the materials, while I am making the actual piece – it makes the making process so much more exciting. The struggle with the making is what gives a piece its ‘edge’.

Above and facing page: Pieces from the series Dementia Darnings, Jenni Dutton

If you leave work unfinished is it because you’ve totally abandoned the piece or might you set it aside with the intention of returning to it in the future? I never abandon a piece; I couldn’t cope with doing that.

If you abandon work, is this likely

to be early on in the making process? The longer you’ve spent on a piece, are you more likely to persist to try to complete it?

I always resolve each piece in some way or other, but I’m still aware if there has been a big struggle during the making, that maybe the piece has not been


Left: One from the series Dementia Darnings, Jenni Dutton

will tell me straight without hurting my delicate ego (or perhaps I can just take it from her). I wouldn’t deliberately show an unfinished piece to anyone, but if I’ve left it somewhere where it’s been seen then they may comment on it, but I hate that as their words jump into my brain and just won’t leave…

How long would you leave a piece before you consider that it will never be finished – or would you say ‘never say never’?

completely resolved as I would hope. However, the next piece or the one after may reveal how I could have done the previous piece, but I doubt if I would go back to try to remake the piece to try to improve it. No, that would not be right.

Do you destroy abandoned work? If you do, or if you don’t, why? I once destroyed a piece of abandoned work it and it was an awful experience. A huge waste. But now I sometimes worry that I can’t take big risks in case I really cannot resolve it and so cannot finish it...

Where do you keep unfinished work? Might you leave it somewhere you can see it hoping that the ‘answer’ to what you need to do to complete it comes to you? Would you show the work in-progress to other people to help ‘unlock’ what you need to do to resolve the piece? When I’m troubled by an unfinished piece I leave it in different places: around the house or around the studio, look at it in mirrors... I hardly ever show anyone work in-progress, except my daughter who


I would say ‘never say never’, but the nature of my work – mixed-media, installation and assemblages, as well as paintings and textile pieces on canvas – lends itself to being adapted each time it’s shown. I have an installation piece using dolls and mirrors on a plinth; each time it’s shown I try out a different arrangement and I know it may develop into paintings or some sort of installation/assemblage, so this kind of conceptual work has no point of ‘finished’. I’ve made a sculpture that is a dress embroidered with portraits: this started The Dementia Darnings. I thought it was finished, but I’ve had an idea of how it can be extended for its next outing in a show I’m having in January 2017 (I’m very excited about this, but due to the nature of the idea I can’t reveal it!).

If you’ve returned to an unfinished piece after some time, did the intent behind it change? If so, what might the reasons for this be? Sometimes a work develops in stages, which doesn’t mean that it’s unfinished when it has arrived at the end of the first stage. But that does mean the work sits around waiting for the next phase to begin. Is this the same as unfinished? Which leads to the question is a piece of art work ever finished?

Do you ever deliberately leave parts of a work ‘unfinished’? What is the ambiguity between finished and unfinished expressing?

I have made work so that it was over-finished, tight and dead. Then I will take a bit of violence to it, burn and singe, or cut and tear, or just pull out a lot of the threads, taking parts back to an unfinished-

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

looking state, but it will be very considered in its unfinished-ness.

Would you ever exhibit your unfinished works? If yes, what do you think would be the value of displaying the pieces? If no, why?

No, it would like being seen in grubby underwear!

How do you think you would feel if someone else completed your unfinished work/s?

It would depend on who it was. If it was collaborative then that would be interesting, but I would want to document the whole process so I had some sort of control. Goodness, is all this about control? I think it is! That’s a revelation to me. And a few final thoughts from Jenni: “I realise that thinking about finishing a piece of work, whether it is completed or not, is actually all about the continuing process. For me a piece of work is hardly ever finished completely, but it reaches ‘completion’ during stages in its life and I have no idea how many stages there will be. My work often is made up of a series of pieces, so one piece may lead to another and so on, so the whole series is the artwork and so is probably never finished. Hmm, this makes lots of my answers to your questions a bit bonkers... But I have enjoyed enormously thinking about it all, so thank you for asking me to participate.”

Above: One from the series Dementia Darnings, Jenni Dutton Below: A part worked darning that will be left unfinished, Jenni Dutton

Shortly after the ‘Unfinished’ interview, sadly Jenni’s mother died. The subject and focus of her Dementia Darnings, Jenni has decided not to finish the part-worked darning shown – a scenario she had not anticipated when answering the questions.


Anne poses the questions to Through Our Hands affiliate artist Michala Gyetvai. Once you’ve started, do you always finish a piece of work?

Once I’ve started a piece of work I do usually go on and finish it. But there are a few exceptions, one being Sea Picture, which has another half. In total the piece will be nearly 6m long, but I had to put it aside to finish other work for my exhibition at the autumn Knitting & Stitching Show.

Would it feel like a ‘failure’ to not complete a work?

I don’t think it’s a failure not to finish a work because there is always the possibility you may come back to it, and having space away from a work may give you a new insight to it. Perhaps it is finished; you can changes over time and your experiences will make you decide on different outcomes for your work.


Above: Sea Picture, with one half yet to be completed, Michala Gyetvai

How do you know when a piece of work is finished? It’s difficult to say when a work is finished; I feel it’s intuition.

Do you ever go back to a piece you’d considered to be finished and add – or even take away – from it? What have been the reasons for doing this?

Yes, I do go back to a work I have thought of as complete. It may be due to acquiring new exciting materials, or just a sense that extra stitches will improve the overall composition. I think of stitches (mark making) like notes in music, collectively they come together to create a harmony.

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

If you leave work unfinished is it because you’ve totally abandoned the piece or might you set it aside with the intention of returning to it in the future?

Because I work on some very large pieces I can have several that I’m working on at the same time. If I abandon a work it may be due to a commission that has to take priority. Or, for example, after I got back from my trip to India, I felt compelled to start new work while the vision of place was still fresh in my mind.* Above and right: Sea Picture, detail, Michala Gyetvai


Left: Outsider Art, Sara Impey

I have to ditch an idea and just chalk it up to experience. Dead ends or blind alleys are part of the design process – a process of continual elimination and refinement.

Would it feel like a ‘failure’ to not complete a work? Not so much that, but abandoning a piece of work is a terrible waste of precious time and materials.

How do you know when a piece of work is finished?

With my wallhangings containing stitched text, it’s obvious when they are finished because I’ve covered the surface with stitching and finished the text. However, in recent 3D pieces such as chains and tapes which are made up of individual units, I can add or subtract elements if better ideas occur to me (see below).

Finally Anne speaks to Through Our Hands affiliate artist, Sara Impey. Once you’ve started, do you always finish a piece of work?

At the risk of sounding goody-two-shoes, I always do these days. But that’s because I make a lot of samples which I discard at an early stage if it becomes clear they are not going to work. Usually this is because the initial idea was way too complicated and needs to be simplified. I seem to have a natural attraction to the complex which has be reined in by the limitations of whatever technique I’m using. I never mind if


Do you ever go back to a piece you’d considered to be finished and add – or even take away – from it? What have been the reasons for doing this?

Yes, recently I have, but only with the 3D pieces where it is technically possible, not the wallhangings. Sometimes I want the artwork (e.g. a chain) to be longer to fit a particular hanging space, so I make more links. In a recent work, Outsider Art, that consisted of a series of separate calico tapes showing stitched quotations from textile critics, I’ve sometimes discovered a better quote and substituted it for a weaker one. This flexibility is quite refreshing. The work may be slightly different in different exhibitions.

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Do you make pieces that you never had any intention of finishing? Why do you make these pieces? Are they samples in preparation for making a fully resolved work?

I wouldn’t embark on an artwork that I had no intention of finishing – what would be the point? But, as I’ve said, I do make samples: these are my main design tool as I don’t draw, take photos or keep a sketchbook. They are usually small rough pieces with the thread ends not properly finished and are not intended to be seen but to point me in the right direction, test out colours, etc. I don’t usually make samples that are complete in themselves and can be exhibited as small pieces of work. But unfinished samples are very useful in exhibitions where they have a ‘sample table’ for people to look at the back and see the work process. I’m always happy for people to handle them in that context.

If you leave work unfinished is it because you’ve totally abandoned the piece or might you set it aside with the intention of returning to it in the future?

Above: Please Don’t Take One, sample, Sara Impey

As in recent years as I have pretty much always finished a ‘proper’ piece once I’ve started this doesn’t really apply. But although I don’t return to actual works, I do return to ideas, sometimes from quite long ago, and re-interpret them in a new piece.

If you have left work/s unfinished, what have been your reasons for doing so? Is this likely to be early on in the making process?

This isn’t really applicable to me, but the main reason would be that it wasn’t working, either technically or as an idea, not that I simply got bored with it in the middle. There’s always a point in any project when you’re fed up with it and wish you could get it finished and move on to the next thing. But I know from experience that if I grit my teeth and work through these doldrums, I will complete it. There’s no satisfaction in abandoning a piece of work that’s going well just because it’s going to take ages to finish and a new exciting idea occurs to you – or indeed in abandoning a piece of work full stop.


Above: Please Don’t Take One (in leaflet holder), Sara Impey

You’ll just look back on it with a sense of frustration. I only ever have one piece of work on the go at any time – I don’t chop and change. The new idea has to wait till the next quilt, however tempting it is. I have to be disciplined and single-minded about this otherwise I would never finish anything! And, yes, if I did abandon something it would be early in the process before I’d committed too much time and effort.

Do you destroy abandoned work? If you do, or if you 93

don’t, why?

I keep most samples, even if they don’t seem relevant at the time – you never know when they might be useful. I’ve never destroyed or thrown away a work, unfinished or not.

Where do you keep unfinished work? Might you leave it somewhere you can see it hoping that the ‘answer’ to what you need to do to complete it comes to you? Would you show the work in-progress

Through Our Hands Magazine, Issue 8 | autumn 2016

Right: Outsider Art, Sara Impey Bottom: Sample tape, Sara Impey

to other people to help ‘unlock’ what you need to do to resolve the piece?

I have a drawer stuffed full of samples, but other than that this question doesn’t really apply. Occasionally I show work-inprogress and samples to my daughter, and am often guided by what she says as she has clear and strong opinions which I respect. But mostly I guess I’m my own critic at these early stages in making a piece.

Do you ever deliberately leave parts of a work ‘unfinished’? What is the ambiguity between finished and unfinished expressing?

No, I never leave parts unfinished. The nature of my work is such that this would be an odd thing to do. On the whole, I’m trying to avoid ambiguity, but I appreciate that many other quilt artists like their work to be ambiguous so that the viewer draws their own conclusions.

Would you ever exhibit your unfinished works? If yes, what do you think would be the value of displaying the pieces? If no, why?

I’m happy to exhibit samples (see above). I suppose I might exhibit an unfinished piece in some kind of teaching context or where the emphasis of the exhibition was on deconstructing the design process. The value would be in casting further light on an artist’s work and thought processes.

How do you think you would you feel if someone else completed your unfinished work/s?

In one way it would be flattering that someone wanted to bother, but in another I would be slightly horrified. The need to ‘own’ the making process is

quite strong in us quilters!

For more information about Jenni’s work: * You can find out more about Jenni’s Dementia Darnings in Through Our Hands issue 5 May 2015. For more information about Michala’s work: * You can read out more about Michala’s Indian travels in Through Our Hands issue 5 May 2015. For more information about Sara’s work:


Urban Transportation, Burma, Janice Stevens 11 Knightcote Drive, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwickshire, UK 07877 402455

Through Our Hands Magazine | Issue 8 - Autumn 2016  

Art and inspiration from Through Our Hands. Featured artists this issue include Gladys Paulus, Janice Stevens and Jennifer Mary Lehm, while...

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you