5th August 2020: on preparing cloth – looking at traditional methods of transferring designs

After being a little stuck on what to actually do as my next research investigation, I decided that I would attempt to make a copy of the coif (T.12 1948) that I have been digitally tracing.

Yesterday, I printed out the trace drawing – something of an ugly print out, low quality LaserJet on A4 paper taped together to make a 1:1 image. My thought today was about how to transfer this design onto cloth. In my own embroidery , I draw very basic outlines onto thin paper and carbon copy them onto cloth, rubbing graphite onto the back of the drawing, taping it down onto cloth and tracing the image using a biro to transfer the carbon. The lines this method leaves a faint but, as they are my own designs, I have enough to work with and can pencil in areas of detail directly onto the cloth if I need to.

However this design is more complex than one I would make myself (I add in detail directly in the embroidery with my own designs), so I decided to try traditional traditional ‘prick and pounce’ method – where are you pierce the paper designs to create holes and rub chalk or charcoal through them to transfer the designs before drawing in the lines with ink. Not having any ‘pounce powder’ (a commercial embroidery product), I made my own by crushing a stick of charcoal. I was struck by the clarity of the transfer!

I then decided to try a few different links for drawing in the lines – finding Indian ink to be the most permanent (other inks smudged – though not if left to dry properly).

I also needed to work out which cloth would provide the most similar stitch scale. In each case, I found working three threads per stitch (as it is worked on the original) to be too large, but, by reducing the scale to 2 threads per stitch I was able to get something close to the original – with the calico and linen given to me by SN being almost a perfect match.

I spent most of today pricking the design into the paper. Again this got me thinking about hidden labour – the pricking took almost 4 hours. But, it occurs to me that this sheets can now be used several times to transfer the design. And I’m also thinking about how this -pricking a design I have printed using a computer – is similar to the pricking of printed design sheets.

I was also struck by how the pricked sheet is in itself quite beautiful – the design sparkles when held up to the light and there is something delicate about the pierced white of the reverse. I also quite like the accidental trace left in the cardboard used underneath the paper… it’s an interesting thing, a bit like the marks left on a cutting mat – there is something I’m drawn to here about the disposable nature of these things, the marks left on them unintentional, never meant to be regarded as more than a thing to be thrown away once they are no longer useful. I wonder what they put under the original paper designs (not having cardboard), perhaps just a layer of rough cloth?

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23rd July 2020: Notes on Supervision meeting 21st July with Becky, Penny and Yuen

We began by discussing how Latour’s ‘Migration of Aura’ might offer a counterpoint to my reading of Ingold and thinking about the ‘aura’ of the facsimile. We discussed the problems of making I have encountered in my replica samples and P suggested that the difference between my work and the original might be a way to gain an insight into what the original is – what is not possible sheds light on the original. It was suggested that I create a comparison chart, thinking about the differences in time, materials, process etc. as a way to think formally about what I have discovered so far and make my responses in light of this.

This also got me thinking about how my own practice has similar and different concerns (related to a discussion we had a bit later about my own practice and aesthetic). About how I, like the historic embroiderers, am interested in plants, insects, birds and animals as motifs and the levels of ‘abstraction’ applied to these forms. About how these relate to wider cultural concerns – the Tudor period sees an emerging interest in the natural world through study and exploration (in a proto-scientific mode) with an increase in herbals and bestiaries, while my interest stems from being brought up on the edge of a small market town, growing up in an almost liminal space between urban and countryside. I’m fascinated by the ways the manmade and the natural intertwine, touching on wider ecological concerns.

I’m also thinking about how I have access to and also an almost infinite range of visual sources due to photography and the Internet and I wonder how this compares to the more limited range of design sources in the historic blackwork, and about how my own sense of aesthetic differs and is similar.

A final thought about the idea of making comparisons, I think it might be a good way to think about the type of study and outcomes I want to make. I’m thinking that different approaches are needed for different audiences. For example, the type of technical drawings, samples and notes I make for an embroiderer would be different to the more spectacular outputs I have in mind for gallery or museum audience. Though, I do want to note that I believe all these should be beautiful. I’ve been thinking about how, historically, the presentation of knowledge has been venerated and the forms it takes highly crafted (I’m thinking of the books in manuscripts produced).

We moved on to talk about the areas of loss in the original embroideries and the aesthetic‘s of ruins. Y spoke about ‘age value’ – how the state of decay gestures towards a history, and ‘newness value’ – a celebration of the maker and how these help to frame history in the present.

These  ideas are part of the politics of reconstruction and presentation, and it was suggested to me that I need to clarify my position. Thinking about ‘reconstruction’ as a verb and a noun, what is revealed in my making, or failure in making, of ‘accurate’  reconstructions?  Is there an ‘authentic’ point in the objects history? Just what am I trying to reconstruct?!

To move towards this, it was recommended I read  ‘On the Museum’s Ruins’ by Douglas Crimp & ‘Curious Lessons in the Museum’  by Claire Robins.

I also need to think about how other artists have tackled these issues and it was suggested I build a collection of artists/artworks to begin to map various positions and approaches.

In thinking about decay and the aesthetics of ruin, I’m wondering if the Japanese technique of mending – KINTSUGI – might be worth looking into? Though my focus is slightly different in that I cannot alter the original objects, it might be a way to think about the value of decay?

We also discussed my progress on collectively made pieces. I pointed out that my plans for these have been put on hold for the moment as I cannot get access to the object I want to work from. I have a very specific object in mind, T.844-1974, a coif with no embroidery left on it at all; only the drawn outline, a few holes and some wisps of black thread remain. The idea is that I will invite other embroiderers to stitch this motif as a collective response to a totally lost embroidery.

We also talked about my drawings of the motifs and patterns, about what form these might take when I come to share them and about permissions I might need to do so (I can’t see this being a problem but will discuss with S)

We also discussed the sampler and drawing work I have been doing, about the idea of RECONSTRUCTION AS DECONSTRUCTION and the knowledge I am gathering/investigating is about stitch.

My supervisors also talked about how there seemed to be little of ‘me’ in the work I have been doing and they asked about my initial interest in Blackwork – what drew me to it. I talked about my love of the black and white graphic quality of technique, the repeating patterns and the natural forms of the motifs. They suggested I begin to juxtapose my work with other objects, writings, graphics etc. to try and start a visual conversation.