exhibition

Tate Britain – Paula Rego

This week I went to the Paula Rego exhibition at Tate Britain. We just managed to catch it before it finished, but I’m glad we did because it was a very thought-provoking show. I remember studying Paula Rego’s work at high school, but I was still a bit too young to understand the content and impact of her work. The main theme throughout the exhibition was the oppression of women, particularly relating back to Rego’s life and experiences living under a dictatorship, the Estado Novo, in Portugal. 

I found the first couple of rooms particularly interesting because they focused on Rego’s early work, which was mainly collage. As we have been experimenting with this technique of image making in the last couple of weeks during my diploma it was great to see it used in the creation of art, not only using found images but also cutting up and re-using images drawn by herself.

Self-portrait in Red (1966)

My favourite room was what I thought of as the main room of the exhibition. A group of large paintings in acrylic that Rego completed in the 1980’s culminating in what is probably her most famous piece ‘The Dance’. The group of paintings all prominently feature women and investigate how their identities are shaped by a patriarchal society.

The Policeman’s Daughter (1987)

Continuing through the exhibition this theme remains in her paintings, whether exploring her own interpretation of fairytales and popular stories, or as a commentary on the way women are perceived in society through the male gaze and her attempts to subvert this view. Much of Rego’s work has political undertones in opposition of regimes and issues that she finds unacceptable.

Angel (1998)

I can’t honestly say that I liked all of the work, but I did think that the exhibition was well put together, both in terms of showcasing the breadth and quantity of work that Rego has completed over the seven decades she has been a working artist (and still continues to be), but also in challenging the status quo and providing much needed material to open up conversations about subjects that can still be considered taboo.

I’m disappointed that I visited the exhibition so late as I would have liked to recommend it, but if you do get the opportunity to see any of Paula Rego’s work it is definitely worth a look.

subscription box

Craftpod – Autumn 2021

The autumn Craftpod has arrived containing two projects, both giving out very seasonal vibes! The larger project is usually my favourite in this subscription box, but this quarter the smaller mini hoops project definitely won top spot for me. The designs were just so cute and fun to sew.

Included in the box was: 

  • Printed fabric
  • Plain fabric
  • Embroidery threads x5 (dark brown, light brown, red, yellow, white)
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Superglue
  • Mini embroidery hoop frames kit
  • Rose hip enamel pin
  • Teabag

Although the mini autumn embroideries seem like the secondary project in the box I decided to do them first as you needed the large embroidery hoop for sewing the designs and I knew I wouldn’t want to take the larger project back out of the hoop once it was finished. The mini embroideries were my favourite part of this box. They weren’t so small that they were fiddly and they were quick to complete. The designs are simple but very effective. I also love the tiny embroidery hoops, I just need to decide what to turn them into. The instructions have lots of suggestions such as tree decorations, adding to chain to turn them into necklaces, adding brooch backs, or just displaying them on the wall. I like the idea of displaying them as tiny artwork, but I also quite like the idea of turning them into keyrings.

The larger project was embellishing the pre-printed design with a range of stitches. Whilst I liked the design and especially enjoyed creating the trunks of the silver birch trees, I felt that it was quite a simplistic project. I have come to think of Craftpod as a subscription box for embroidery lovers who are more advanced than beginner level, but this felt quite basic compared to other projects I have completed from their boxes. When I first saw a picture of the design I thought that the layers were going to be built up with appliqué, which would have added an extra dimension to the project and I was slightly disappointed when I realised that the design was already printed onto the fabric.

Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the box overall and both the projects were great for doing in front of the TV in the evenings. I think I am slightly addicted to the mini embroidery hoops and might just have to do some designs of my own! I find autumn to be a particularly inspirational time of year so now is the perfect time.

craft kit

Stitch Club – Badger Shelfie

Earlier this year Stitch Club released their new Shelfie animals as PDF patterns and I’ve been waiting patiently ever since for the full kits to be released, mainly because I’m lazy and don’t want to source my own materials! Well, now they are here and I ordered one straight away! They are cleverly designed to sit independently on the edge of a shelf, table, or any other flat surface, hence the name.

Included in the box was:

  • Felt sheets x3 (grey marl, black, white)
  • Stuffing
  • Embroidery threads x3 (grey, black, white)
  • Needle
  • Pins
  • Freezer paper templates

There was a choice of four animals: badger, fox, hare, or llama. I was torn between the badger and the llama because they looked like they had the most embellishments to sew but in the end I decided on the badger; I am a Hufflepuff after all!

I’ve never used freezer paper to cut out patterns before. It irons on to the fabric rather than being pinned on like standard paper pattern pieces and can be used more than once. I found that when it worked it was great, but when it didn’t quite stick properly it was a bit annoying especially when half way through cutting something out. I definitely think it was better for the smaller pieces though, which can be tricky to cut out using paper and pins.

The best part of the project was creating the front of the badger by building up the layers of felt to create the head and tummy and stitching on the features like the paws and nose. The patterns pieces fit together really well and sewing the front and the back together was really easy. I chose to use blanket stitch, but there was the option to use whip stitch or running stitch instead, all of which were explained in the ‘Learn to Sew with Felt’ booklet along with lots of other useful information about cutting felt, using freezer paper, and using embroidery thread.

The part that took the longest was the stuffing because it’s really important to ensure that all the small parts like the nose and ear are properly filled. To achieve this you need to feed in very small amounts of stuffing at a time, pushing them all the way in with the help of something like a pencil. When I first started the stuffing process I thought there was no way I would use all of the stuffing provided, but I used every last scrap in the end!

The kit cost £19.50, which I think is very reasonable for the amount and quality of materials, plus the great design of the product. I was expecting to pay anywhere between £25-£35 for this kit when I saw it had been released and I think it would be worth that. I’m very pleased with my badger sitting up on the shelf, but now I’m thinking that I might need his other animal friends too…

craft kit · subscription box

Inner Canvas – Autumnus

Embroidering on to organza and other transparent fabrics is quite a big trend at the moment so when I saw the Inner Canvas ‘Autumnus’ box I knew I had to try it out. The two main projects in this box were a classic arrangement of autumnal nature (toadstools, leaves, and acorns), stitched onto avocado dyed fabric, and a moth stitched onto organza.

Included in the kit was:

  • Avocado dyed calico
  • Organza
  • 20cm embroidery hoop
  • 15cm embroidery hoop
  • Embroidery thread x7
  • Needle
  • Black seed beads
  • Rhinestones x2
  • Mini embroidery hoop keyring kit
  • Paper templates
  • Carbon paper
  • Care package (tea lights x2, teabag)

Links to a video tutorial for each project were emailed including a basic stitch guide. Nadia, the lady behind Inner Canvas, has a very calm and soothing voice and explains and demonstrates each step very clearly. For the majority of my stitching I followed the guide in the printed instructions, but for a few stitches such as the use of fly stitch for one of the leaves and turkey stitch for the moth’s mane I watched the video as it was much easier to understand how these were done seeing someone else do them, rather than just trying to figure it out from the picture in the book.

Most of the stitches were worked in the full six strands of the thread unless otherwise indicated on the pattern, which is quite unusual as most embroidery projects tend to use a maximum of three at a time, but I quite liked working big for a change! It meant that the pieces were completed quite quickly and kept it fun, instead of painstaking. I did the autumn arrangement first before moving on to the moth.

Stitching on organza wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be. The weave is slightly more open than on the calico and you must be careful not to pull too hard otherwise it can tear. The main thing to keep in mind is that the back must be kept as neat as the front because any stray threads will show through, ruining the effect. There were great instructions for finishing off the piece as well. Usually you would just use a running stitch to gather in the back of the embroidery, but obviously this would be visible from the front, so the sides had to be glued into the hoop before the excess at the back was trimmed off completely.

Last but not least was the bonus mini project, an embroidery hoop keyring. Tiny designs of each element from the autumn hoop were included on the paper templates and your chosen design was stitched onto an off-cut of the avocado dyed fabric before being glued into the mini hoop and turned into a keyring using the kit provided. 

I definitely want to try embroidery on organza again. It gives such a great effect once it’s finished and I can’t wait to hang my moth up on the wall!

subscription box

MakeBox – Polymer Clay Jewellery

I often get so wrapped up in textile projects that I forget to go down my shed and play with clay instead, so the polymer clay box from MakeBox & Co was the ideal opportunity to do so. I was quite excited about the orangery slab design as well. I have made some very simple slabs before but never one as complicated as this so I was really looking forward to giving it a go.

Included in the box was:

  • Polymer clay blocks x4 (blue, white, orange, green)
  • Rolling pin
  • Scalpel
  • Circular cookie cutters x2 (large and small)
  • Pliers
  • Mixed bag of jewellery findings
  • Toothpick
  • Paper templates

The first half of the instruction book was full of helpful tips for working with, baking, and storing polymer clay, as well as jewellery making. I didn’t agree with the advice to pull open jump rings as this can make them misshapen when you try to push them back together. It’s always better to twist jump rings open and closed for a much neater finish.

There were three slab projects to complete to give you a range to shapes to make jewellery out of. A slab is a flat sheet of clay which a design is created on and then shapes can be cut out either with a knife or a cutter. The first was a marbled sheet, made by twisting the blue and white clay together to create a marbled effect. This is probably the easiest to do but is very effective and can be done in so many different colour combinations, and with three or even four colours, depending on the look you want to achieve.

The second project was an abstract slab, which was great for getting used to attaching different shapes to a sheet of clay and discovering how the clay would react when you pushed it or rolled it. The design was made up of really simple shapes that combined gave a really fun, colourful finish.

The final slab design was the most difficult. It’s called the ‘Midnight Orangery’. It is a dark blue background with oranges nestled amongst green foliage and white blossoms and it was difficult because it was made up of so many tiny parts that had to be placed with care onto the background to create the right effect. I think it’s a beautiful design and love the 3D effect of so many layers built up. It did take me a long time to do and was very fiddly, particularly adding the lighter green stems on top of the leaves. I actually started it and then wrapped it up to stop it drying out and came back to finish it the next day as I could feel myself getting tired and careless and I wanted it to come out looking neat.

Once all the pieces were baked and cooled and the edges had been sanded it was time to make some jewellery. I really liked that some clip on earring backs were included as I don’t have my ears pierced so it’s nice to be able to wear some of my creations! 

exhibition

Royal Academy Summer Exhibition 2021

As much as I love visiting art exhibitions, I don’t think anything can top the Royal Academy’s Summer Exhibition for me. It’s one of the most inspirational art events to attend and I think a big part of that is the accessibility of it. Not only does it happen every year (even last year), but the fact that anybody can submit their artwork makes you feel as though you too could be up on that famous gallery wall one day. Every time I visit I always want to create as soon as I get home. 

This year in particular I felt inspired as the exhibition co-ordinator, Yinka Shonibare RA, sought to bring more diversity to the gallery. This mainly focused around the promotion of pan-African art, together with artists who are neurodiverse, disabled, or self-taught, but this also allowed for the inclusion of artwork that is more traditionally seen as ‘craft’ rather than serious art. This feels like an important breakthrough as in 1770 the Royal Academy brought in a rule stating that ‘no needlework, flowers, cut paper, shell-work or any such baubles shall be admitted’, effectively excluding crafts and, by extension, women. Throughout this year’s exhibition there were examples of textile art such as crochet, embroidery, tapestry and quilting. Although I like to dabble in all crafts I see myself primarily as a textile artist, so to see these pieces exhibited alongside more traditional art was actually quite thrilling.

The exhibition is huge. Taking up several rooms you need plenty of time to look around as there is so much to take in. Every wall is covered floor to ceiling with artwork of all different kinds. It is running until 2nd January and I am considering a second trip as I’m sure there were things I missed on my way round, and others that I would like a closer look at. If you want a sneak preview you can browse the items for sale on the RA’s website, but I would still recommend visiting because you can’t beat seeing art in real life.

Tickets cost £22 and it is well worth purchasing a list of works for £3.50. Each work is numbered and the booklet lists the name of each piece, the artist, the materials used, and also the price. The majority of pieces are for sale and can range in price from a few hundred to several thousand pounds. Whilst many of the works are one-offs with only the original available to buy, there are plenty that also have prints available so if you are feeling a bit flash you could buy yourself some limited edition artwork whilst you’re there!

If you are interested in how it all works there is a programme available on BBC iPlayer called ‘Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, which explores the selection process and has interviews with Yinka Shonibare RA, along with several hopeful applicants discussing their work. 

craft kit

Paraffle Needle Painting

I recently started following Paraffle Embroidery on Instagram when they showed up under one of the craft hashtags I follow because I really liked the stylistic design of their animal embroideries, especially the sloth! When I saw that they had released a needle painting kit in such a cute size and design I had to get it. There were two colours ways for this orange slice design, navy blue or pink; I chose the navy as I thought the stitched orange looked more striking against the darker colour.

The kit cost £17.50 and included:

  • 3 inch embroidery hoop
  • Needle
  • Embroidery thread x4 (yellow, orange, white, brown)
  • Navy blue fabric
  • White carbon paper
  • Paper template

I really like carbon paper for transferring designs onto fabric as you can usually get a lot of detail and any lines that you don’t stitch over will eventually fade away or be rubbed off as you work so there’s no need to wash them away as you have to do with a fabric pen.

I have done needle painting before, but I’m always keen to practice my technique as it can be a tricky one to get right, especially blending colours like in this project. I’m also always interested to see how other people do it in case I can pick up any tips to improve my own work. The instruction booklet included with this kit was great. It broke down the steps into sections with detailed text explaining which stitches to use, the placement for them, and how your work should look when you’ve finished that step, along with clear photographs. It was especially good at explaining how to achieve the blending technique that gives the painted effect. There was also a useful section at the back for basic sewing skills like starting and tying off and how to do the stitches.

This little kit was perfect for doing in the evenings in front of the TV. It’s small size meant that it wasn’t heavy to hold up and whilst it still required concentration, the repetitive nature of each orange segment meant that you didn’t need to keep referring to the instructions and could get into a rhythm of sewing. It would make a great gift for someone who was fairly new to sewing and wanted to improve their skills.

subscription box

Craft Box Club – Wisteria Flower Felt Mobile

I’m clinging on to summer here with this beautiful wisteria flower felt mobile from last month’s Craft Box Club. I thoroughly enjoyed this project! I always enjoy working with felt, but the simplicity of the process combined with the satisfying results made this one a real hit for me.

Included in the box was:

  • Green felt sheet
  • Purple felt sheet x3
  • Lilac felt sheet x3
  • Embroidery hoop
  • Wooden bead
  • Needle
  • Needle threader
  • Green cotton
  • String

When I unpacked the box I was a bit concerned that there wouldn’t be enough green cotton, but there was actually plenty. As usual the link for the instructions was also included. I found the video more helpful than the photos this time around, especially for knotting the string onto the hoop.

The project started with cutting out the leaves. There wasn’t a template for this, just cut as many as you could from the sheet of green felt. The pictures and video gave quite a good indication of the rough size required. The project used thirty leaves. I cut a few more than this, which was quite good as I could select the best ones as I went along. Some of the leaves were pinched at one end and sewn to create a 3D effect. This process was repeated again at the end to add the final leaves to the hoop, although I would have preferred to do them all at once rather than in two lots.

The best part was making the flowers. They were made by cutting strips of felt which were then threaded on to string creating folds of material as you go, and the less neat the better to achieve a ruffled effect. There was enough material for three flowers of each colour, purple and lilac. Two pinched leaves and a non-pinched leaf were added to the top of each one.

The trickiest part was tying the flower strings onto the embroidery hoop, which acted as the frame for the mobile to hang from. The knot was quite easy to do, especially with the help of the video as I already mentioned, but the hardest part was trying to make sure there were evenly spaced and all the same height. Lastly two pinched leaves were stitched together and sewn to the top of each knot, before tying on the string and wooden bead to hang the mobile from.

This was such a lovely project to complete and I love the results. It was a fairly quick one too and not too much mess either, always a bonus! Even though we are heading into Autumn now I can always be reminded of sunny days when I look at it.

craft kit

Keep Going Embroidery

I think the inspirational message to ‘Keep Going’ on this paint-by-numbers style embroidery was very relevant as this was quite a labour intensive project all completed in the same stitch! This embroidery kit is one of many positive, uplifting kits available from Hello! Hooray! I’ve been wanting to try out some negative space embroidery for a while and this was a really nice project to work on in front of the TV every evening.

Included in the kit was: 

  • Printed fabric
  • Embroidery threads
  • Length of white cotton thread
  • Embroidery hoops x2

I actually bought it a while ago but didn’t get around to starting it and then when I came to do it I realised that the instructions were sent digitally and the link had timed out because I left it for too long. I contacted Clare, the lovely lady behind the brand, via Instagram and asked very sheepishly if she wouldn’t mind sending it to me again. I thought I might not get a quick reply as it was the summer holidays, but she responded to me the same day and sent the link again as soon as I confirmed my email address, which I was very grateful for. Such a fantastic example of excellent customer service from a small independent business that you would never get from a big company; another excellent reason to shop small!

I thought the numbering system on the pattern and the thread holders worked really well, with each group of three diamonds being made up of a light, medium, and dark shade of the same colour. It was really easy to follow and I did all the diamonds of one colour before moving onto the next colour. Satin stitch was used in a really effective way to create the 3D effect of the pattern.

The project was worked in a larger hoop before being transferred to the smaller blue hoop to finish it off. I thought this was great as it meant you didn’t have to keep moving the fabric around in the hoop to complete the whole design (although some of the outer most diamonds were a bit over the edge of the hoop and required a bit of fabric wriggling to complete), plus you got a spare hoop for another project once it was finished! Putting the finished piece into a slightly smaller hoop meant that the design ran all the way off the edge of the final presentation, which gave a really polished look to the whole thing. 

The white cotton thread was used for running stitch around the edge of the fabric to pull it in and finish it off at the back, as is fairly standard for embroidery hoops. You could stitch or glue another piece of fabric to hide the back of your stitches if you wanted as well. 

I really enjoyed this kit, it was nice to see the pattern start to emerge as I completed each diamond and I like the effect of the bright colours against the negative space of the words. I think I will have to create my own negative space design now. I also like to have a project that I can pick up and put down as needed and this one was especially good for that as each diamond was quite small so you could do as much or as little as you wanted in one sitting.

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Makerly – Chain Maille Jewellery

I’ve been making some chain maille jewellery, courtesy of last month’s Makerly kit. I’ve tried my hand before at chain maille jewellery and I have to admit that it’s not my favourite form of jewellery making, however I do have to give my respect to those that do it regularly as it is a very fiddly technique!

Included in the kit was:

  • Silver jump rings (various sizes)
  • Blue and green jump rings
  • Pliers
  • Lobster claw clasps
  • Earring wires
  • Blue and green seed beads
  • Charms
  • Jump ring tool

I was very taken with the jump ring tool. I have been making jewellery for a very long time and have been on many courses including my diploma and have never seen this kind of tool before! I usually use two pairs of pliers to open and close my jump rings, but this can result in pulling them out of shape. The tool included in the kit was a ring worn on the index finger of your non-dominant hand and used in conjunction with the pliers to open and close the jump rings in the correct way. I will definitely be making use of it in my future jewellery projects.

There are lots of practical uses for chain maille, the most obvious being for armour, but nowadays it is used for making things such as cut resistant gloves for butchers and even shark resistant wet suits for divers. The instruction book had a short section about the history of chain maille before introducing three decorative ways to connect the jump rings together. The first, and easiest, was the shaggy loops chain using the decorative green rings hanging off a central silver chain to create a pair of earrings.

The second was the orbital vipera berus, which involved creating a chain using the blue rings and looping the larger silver rings through them. I definitely think I made some mistakes with this one as when I was finished it didn’t sit nicely, but I couldn’t face taking it all apart again to fix them! I also made a basic chain with the smallest rings to create a necklace using a lobster claw clasp.

Lastly was the stepping stones chain. Although this was the hardest it was my favourite once I got into a rhythm with making it and was my favourite design once it was complete. However, it did take me a long time and was very fiddly as you had to link a lot of rings together and it required lots of concentration. I made this chain long enough to create a bracelet and used a lobster claw clasp to complete it.

The kit also included seed beads and charms to add to the designs, but I preferred them plain and I didn’t have enough enthusiasm for the craft to create more pieces with extra bits added. I’m sure I will find another project to use them in! Although it’s not a craft I will be taking up any time soon I always enjoy having a go at something a bit different and I can see myself wearing the bracelet.