Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Better Late Than Never

I can't believe it is now a week since my workshops and talk at Farfield Mill and two weeks since the preview of The Read Threads exhibition, time is certainly flying by!
'Tarry Woo' collaborative pillar installation

It was such a busy run up to the exhibition, getting everything prepared and hung, and I am amazed that we got everything completed on time.  However, by 12 noon on 24th September Karen was ready to deliver her talk and I had put the finishing touches to my pillar wrap installations.  
'Oil Pool' installation

'Clever Lass' pillar installation

Karen's talk about the History of Rag Rug Making in Britain was enlightening, and a little controversial (you can now find it published at  The opportunity to view some of her wonderful rug collection was also of great interest to her audience.

After a swift lunch in the wonderful cafe at Farfield Mill, it was time to greet and chat to our visitors at the exhibition preview. Farfield Mill had kindly organised refreshments and there was a lovely 'buzz' as people talked about the work and many left complimentary comments in our visitor book. The afternoon flew by and Karen and I ended it in the cafe again, exhausted but happy!


We are both extremely grateful to everyone who has supported us throughout the residency and run up to the exhibition, especially our families, everyone at Farfield Mill, the owners, managers and staff at the four business that we worked with in Sedbergh, and also Arts Council England whose funding made the whole project possible.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The final countdown to the show

Last Tuesday (20th September) saw Stella and I armed with paintbrushes and polyfiller ready to make good the walls of the Dover and 2K Galleries at Farfield Mill Arts & Heritage Centre. The lovely staff had already done most of the hole-filling from the previous show so it was a relatively quick job to fill the rest and run up and down ladders with the paint roller. We then assembled all the plinths kindly lent by the University of Cumbria and gave them a nice coat of white paint too. The following day saw us back and beginning the exciting process of actually hanging our work. The laser level was brought out just to confirm (yet again) that the walls of all galleries are never straight! We were glad that most of the work went up without the need to get the power drill out - drilling and plugging gallery walls is definitely not my favourite occupation.

Stella managed to have the most mountaineering to do with an ambitious plan to display her whitework pieces against a floor-to-ceiling painted red stripe. With the laser level abandoned we improvised a plumb bob with string and a bolt and voila, Stella was down to business at the top of the tallest set of step ladders in the world! Several metres of low tack masking tape later and she was ready to apply the first brush stroke. It took three coats but the result was fabulous and shows the work off to perfection.

In the meantime I had finished putting my work up on the walls or on plinths and had moved out into the Heritage Gallery to install my 'Oil Pool' prodded piece which forms the lower half of our joint installation called 'Tarry Woo' after a traditional knitting song. The piece had to be wired and stitched into place around one of the mill's characteristic silver pillars -not the easiest of jobs grovelling around on the floor in low light conditions. Luckily, I managed it without stabbing myself with the needle.

Our final day consisted of  displaying our workbooks and cork boards pinned up with work samples in the 2K Gallery and then sticking down all our labels and cleaning the glass cabinet for our smaller pieces and generally tidying up. Of course, as soon as I carried my tool box out to the car we found we needed a screwdriver - always happens! And finally, just a few quiet moments for us to look round and admire our work.

Did we forget anything? Yes, pointing the wretched spotlights into all the corners, must have been the scary stepladder put us off!


Saturday, 17 September 2011

Getting ready for The Read Threads exhibition

Stella and I have been hard at work over the past month, both madly making our pieces for the show but also preparing all our exhibition publicity and acompanying materials. We've signed off the mini-catalogue and postcard, photographed our work (well Adam, Stella's son has - cheers Adam!), written panels, press releases and hundreds of personal preview invitations plus emailed out a load more. Phew!

Our exhibition preview invitation - hundreds printed and emailed!

The most exciting part of this was bringing the two parts of our pillar installation together at the mill and finding that it works brilliantly as a single piece - now christened 'Tarry Woo' after one of the local knitting songs that inspired Stella.

Stella putting the finishing touches to 'Tarry Woo'

I'm pleased to say that my work is pretty much all finished now, so today I have been concentrating on attaching pieces to their backing and then screwing on mirror plates. It's so satisfying seeing the work stacked up all ready to go. I'm still pondering exactly how to display my large 'Oil Pool' textiles though so it's not all plain sailing, but I do like a problem to solve so long as I have the time to do it without panicking!

As a little experiment I have scanned some of the sketches I made during the residency back in May and have been digitally printing them onto linen and framing them up today as well. Hopefully they will be a nice complement to the main ragwork pieces I have made.

Sara and the rest of the staff at the mill have been wonderful and we really hope that we get a good turnout for the preview next weekend if only for their sakes. With exactly a week to go it won't be long before we all find out!


Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Sedbergh Art Path open for business!

Stella's piece for Powells Fruit Shop

Detail of Karen's piece for Hollett's bookshop
Since finishing our residency at Farfield Mill at the end of May, Stella and I have been hard at work weaving, hooking, stitching and snipping. We've concentrated on the pieces inspired by our visits to the four business premises in Sedbergh who were kind enough to let us poke about and take photos and make sketches. This was in preparation for the 'Art Path' that we planned right from the start of the project. Our intention has been to show the work inspired by the Sedbergh businesses in its original context. Art on display in the workplace looks very different to art on the walls of a gallery! Yesterday was the big day when we delivered our pieces to the business owners. Luckily, everyone was delighted with the results and they are now all on show along with posters explaining how each piece came about. We have also written and printed a leaflet which shows where all the businesses are and also describes a lovely riverside walk from the town out to Farfield Mill where people can see a display about the work we did in the mill during May. Big thanks to the mill for allowing us to adapt their own walk leaflet for this. Let us know if you manage to walk our Art Path!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

The last day in the studio at Farfield Mill

Sunday 29 May was our last day in the residency studio at Farfield Mill and it was incredibly busy with visits from the businesses in Sedbergh that we have been working with and a display of our work to be put up before we could tidy and clear away.

Our first task however was to spend time planning the next steps of the project which will culminate in our exhibition at Farfield in the autumn. We managed to come up with a rather scary amount of stuff that needs doing plus a whole set of deadlines and meetings for our diaries. My head was spinning by the end but I think it will help both of us keep the momentum of the project going once we have returned to our respective home studios. It's been great having the chance to work alongside Stella, discussing ideas, getting technical help and seeing my work through her eyes and I will miss the intensity of the residency.

Stella chats to some of our guests
We'd barely finished our meeting when the first of our invited visitors arrived. It was great being able to show them the samples we have come up with inspired by their work premises, showing them how even ordinary things can become interesting when looked at by an artist. I'm pleased to say that everyone seemed really delighted with what we'd been working on and are keen to host some of the finished pieces during August as part of our planned Art Path through Sedbergh and on to the mill. The delicious fairy cakes from the Weavers Cafe were quickly consumed and we left our various guests exploring the mill while we then got on with putting up our little display in the Level 4 exhibition area.

Stella and I had at first thought we'd just show examples of our MA work but in the end we felt we also needed to show photos of our residency samples and inspiration along with some explanation of the concept behind the project. After all, this will be the end point of the Art Path we are planning. Sara from the mill gave us a lovely little set of display panels and Stella and I were happy with the result although a bit of tweaking will be needed to get it looking a bit more corporate! Thus a long day came to an end along with a month of wonderful opportunities.

We are very grateful to Farfield Mill for allowing us to use the Bainside Studio free of charge and of course to the National Lottery through Arts Council England for the grant that has allowed us to expand the project to include the various businesses in Sedbergh.

Stella and I will continue to update this blog over the summer, posting photos of our work as we progress and discussing the concepts as they develop. We'll also post details of the Art Path as soon as we can. Until then...


Thursday, 2 June 2011

Crazy Patchwork and Quilted Silk

What a beautiful day it has been for a drive back up to Farfield Mill to put the finishing touches to The Read Threads display and to wind some bobbins so that I can continue to weave my 10 metre warp ready to create the pillar wrappings for Farfield Mill.

Another purpose of my visit to Sedbergh was to collect some paper, netting, hessian, and woven plastic sacks from Powells Fresh Produce, one of the wonderful businesses that I am working with in preparation for The Read Threads Sedbergh Art Path.  I am going to use them to create some crazy patchwork - a technique steeped in British 'make-do-and-mend' and a reminder of how even the smallest scraps of textile were once considered precious.

In contrast to this I have been using silk noil to create some oven gloves for the other business that I am working with, Howgills Cafe and Bakery.  I am quilting the silk noil fabric using kantha quilting technique to create the ripple effect evident in the weave of the fabric from which oven gloves are made.  I have just begun work on the final piece and have nearly finished quilting one mitten.

It is strange to be working back at home again, especially on such a lovely day when the studio at Farfield Mill will be filled with light.  Working at home does, however, allow me to pick up my work whenever I have a few moments as well as working during dedicated studio time, and, as I seem to have so much to do before the Art Path begins in August, I will need every moment I can find!


Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Nearing the end of the residency

I only have two more days left in the residency studio now and those will be sent setting up a small display and talking to some of the business owners about the work I have been doing inspired by my visits to their premises, so today was really my last real making day in the mill. I spent it working up samples based on my visit to The Chair Workshop in Sedbergh. I'd loved the curved marks left by the Masai bells on the door but I have in the end been more inspired by the marks left in the worktop varnish as the workshop owners rotate the chairs they are mending. They reminded me of the marks skaters leave on ice or the way a child might scribble a big circle onto a sheet of paper with a wax crayon. I did lots of studies using a pale brown ink laid over wax lines. I'd loved the wax resist sketches I saw at Leeds Art Gallery by Henry Moore last month so it was a pleasure to play with the same technique. I also tried curving splashes of silver ink and liked both of the effects.

By a wonderful coincidence my chum at Skipton's Oxfam shop had reserved a couple of lovely pale brown wool blankets for me and these were my starting point for this week's samples. I used them to hook the background then first tried bleaching, then painting on some lines. Neither worked so today I used white glass seed beads and silver embroidery thread to lay out some delicate irregular curves. I'm still not quite there yet and might retry bleaching lines with some advice from Stella on how to thicken the bleach to make it stick where I want it. However, that will be for another day, and definitely back in my home studio not at Farfield. I am now looking forward to chatting with the business owners with a view to them displaying some of my work in their premises during the summer. Let's hope that they like them!


Monday, 23 May 2011

Visitors and plastic bags.

Wow, we have had a lot of visitors in the past three days - friends and family, students and people from arts organisations, and lots of lovely interesting and interested holiday makers from as far afield as Inverness the Channel Islands and even Novia Scotia.

Even with all of the chatting about the residency and the weather, we have both moved forward with our drawing and sampling for the work with the businesses in Sedbergh.

I am very interested in the way in which textiles have become an incidental part of our life because they are now cheap and readily available.  Until recently cloth was a valuable commodity due to the labour intensive nature of the manufacture - time taken to process the initial fibre then to spin it, weave or knit it, colour it and finish it.  It is no wonder that cloth was expensive and every piece considered precious. With the introduction of intensive farming methods and synthetic fibres, machinery to spin, weave and knit cloth and chemical dyes to colour it we now take cloth for granted and replace it quickly when it shows signs of wear. However, I feel that the evidence of  stains and wear on cloth tell the story of the use of the textile, and my work for the cafe and the greengrocer in Sedbergh will incorporate elements of the staining and distressing of age.  I also want my work for the businesses to highlight the valuable commodity that cloth once was.  I intend to make everyday textile items used by the businesses, such as oven gloves and onion nets, from materials such as silk and cashmere, that today are still considered valuable and generally used for luxury items.

Stella's journal pages
Today I have been focusing on the plastic bags containing animal feed and peanuts that are sold in the greengocers.  I particularly like the way in which the light catches on the folds and creases that form where the plastic is stretched or pulled together.  I have drawn some of the shapes formed by the folds and I have begun to develop some shaddow applique using silk and silk/metal organza stitched with silver metal thread.  The 'expensive' materials representing the human manipulation of the plastic textile that results in the wear of creases and folds.


Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Progress made.

Well into the third week of the residency and the time is flying by so fast.  I feel like I am now beginning to fully develop my ideas and samples for the site specific pieces for Farfield Mill and, following visits to both businesses that I will be working with in Sedbergh, I now have lots of ideas for developing the work for their premises.

Foundry lettering on a
silver grey pillar.
My work for the mill is focusing on the silver grey pillars, I have been looking at the foundry lettering that is cast as part of the pillars and am incorporating lettering into my samples in the form of Italian corded quilting.  I have also been fascinated by the songs that were sung by the spinners, weavers and knitters and want to incorporate something of the songs into my work just as the sound of the workers singing is an unseen, unheard memory contained in the building.  The text of the corded quilting will, therefore, be the titles of the songs and some of the body of the song will be incorporated elsewhere on the piece as text.
Corded quilting on the felted woven wool

A lunchtime visit to Howgills Bakery and Cafe, and not only a delicious sandwich and latte, but also a chance to take some photos of the textiles that they use for their work, their hands using the textiles and the marks of use that have been left on the textiles.  Lots of food for body and mind!

I discovered some interesting textiles at the greengrocers too...
... more of my ideas of how I will develop this work in my next post.


Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Passing the half-way mark

Stitched wool effect
I know it's a cliche but I really can't believe how fast the time is going at Farfield Mill. I am now more than half way through the residency but I'm happy with the amount of work I'm managing to get done. I mentioned the lovely rough grey and brown wool I found in the mill shop a day or so ago. I used them in samples based on studies of the cracks in the floorboards at the mill. When I had a bit of a crawl around and a good look I realised that they were full of wool fibres from all the years of spinning and weaving plus lots of wood splinters from the pine floorboards, no doubt scuffed up by all the millworkers' clogs. A fascinating and almost invisible record of the mill's past to add to my studies of the oil patches left by the long gone looms. I think I now have enough sample work for the work I am going to produce inspired by the mill so I spent most of today working up samples based on the designs I came up with yesterday inspired by the brass runners and their shiny screwheads in R F G Hollett & Son's bookshop. After a couple of goes I hit upon the idea of using a gold chiffon circle stitched to the hessian then padded with sheep fleece for the screwhead shapes, a couched black black wool yarn for the slots then a really dense black velvet hooked around it for the waxy black residue left after years of polishing the floor. I was pleased with the results but now need to do more work deciding what the final form of the textile piece will be.


Design work for Hollett's bookshop
Sample based on designs for Hollett's bookshop

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Time to think and sketch

Oil pools under the Dobcross loom
Both Stella and I were at Farfield Mill today and we had a long and productive day. It didn't start well for me as I had left my toolbox at home, but a trip down to the mill shop to buy a substitute rug hook led me to discovering a cache of wonderful rough wool yarn, perfect for the samples I am working on inspired by the cracks between the mill floorboards filled with wool fibres. Stella kindly lent me wool needle to test it out and I was happy with the effect. I also had the chance to chat to the volunteer who operates the Dobcross loom downstairs. I was interested in how the mill had acquired all the wonderful oil patches and he showed me where and how the looms are oiled and told me all about how the female loom operatives would have been responsible for keeping their machines regularly oiled. He also showed me proudly the high quality steel the bearings are made from meaning they are hardly worn after all these years of operation.

I also had plenty of time to start some sketches based on the photos I took in Holletts bookshop earlier in the week. I'd initially been excited by the curving shapes of the brass runners let into the floor but after some work I realised I was much more interested in the wax and dirt that had built up around the brass screw heads and I ended up with some really nice designs which I now have to translate into textiles.

Karen Griffiths

Saturday, 14 May 2011

A Quiet Day at the Mill

Today has been really quiet at Farfield Mill, in contrast to Thursday when lots of friends visited.  Both types of day are equally nice - it's great to spend time talking about our work but it's also good to have peacefully time to consider where the work is going.
Knitted and woven samples before and after felting.
Those of you who know my work will know that living through the making is very important to me, I need to feel that I have touched every fibre of a piece.  To that end I have spent the past two weeks creating the cloth for my samples.  I have knitted and woven fine merino wool and then felted the resulting cloth.  I am now ready to work onto and into it and will be developing the samples further this week.
The 10 metre warp wound onto
 the backbeam of my loom. 

In the last few days I have begun to warp up my loom with a new 10 metre warp ready to weave the cloth for the site specific work for Farfield Mill.  I have just finished winding the 320 ends of warp onto the back beam which has taken some time because each 50/60 end section has to be pulled, straightened, finger combed, tied onto the front beam and then wound onto the back beam about 10cm at a time.  I wish I could wind the warp onto the backbeam of my loom as easily as the large warping mill on the ground floor of Farfield Mill!

The large warping mill
for the power loom at Farfield Mill
that winds the warp onto the giant
backbeam (right).


Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Inspiration, sampling and more sampling

My first task yesterday was to meet up with the owner of the second Sedbergh business that I am working with. Christopher Hollett runs a wonderful antiquarian bookshop in Sedbergh, open by appointment only, called R F G Hollett & Son. As expected, inside it was quite magical, full of old books and lots of polished wood. It didn't take me very long to home in on a really interesting feature, the curved brass 'runners' that allow access to the shop window behind a set of bookshelves. Inlaid into the honey-coloured parquet floor they had a wonderful patina to them. They've been there for over 40 years and were made by the local iron monger.

These lovely curved shapes mirror the motifs that I picked up during my visit to The Chair Workshop on Monday. Here Sandra showed me the wooden worktop where she and Alison carry out repairs and I was delighted to see some marvelous scored shiny circular marks in the varnish which I think will provide me with an excellent starting point. As I was leaving I also caught sight of more curved marks, this time rubbed onto the door frame by a set of Masai cow bells.

Back at the mill I got on with working up samples based on the drawings I made last week of the floorboards in the mill. For my MA work I became particularly interested in the hidden dirt found among floorboards and here at the mill the gaps between the floorboards are full of wood splinters and wool fibres, testament to the long history of the building.

The sampling has continued today and I am please with the final piece made from hooked woollen blanket and black crepe paper treated with heat applied plastic sheet, acrylic paint, wax and silver embroidery thread. I am going to work up a final piece tonight using an old grey army blanket as the base rather than the cream one which I think may look less stark and more worn.

I have now organised two days for drop-in workshops in the Bainside residency studio. They are Sunday 22 & Tuesday 24 May 11am-12.30pm & 2pm-4pm. Come along and learn simple rag rug making techniques, just £2.  No need to book.

Karen Griffiths

Sunday, 8 May 2011

The start of week two at Farfield Mill

Stella Adams-Schofield, The Read Threads Residency May 2011 from Karen Griffiths on Vimeo.
Stella and I were both in the top floor studio at Farfield Mill today and got lots of work done along with lots of chatting over the project in general and our collaborative pieces in particular. All in all it felt like a proper Dent 'sitting' with plenty of gossip, stories and laughter alongside lots of serious textile production.

Stella will post about what she was making, tomorrow, so here I'll just talk about my day. I actually spent most of it cracking on with a ragwork sample from my study of the oil stained boards at the mill. I hunted out some wonderful imagery last night of the great black clouds of oily smoke produced by burning oil refineries. I want to try and capture some of the malevolent energy of these roiling boiling hot clouds. I also wanted to try and achieve the dense blackness of Richard Wilson's amazing 20:50, a huge steel tank full of viscous black used sump oil on permanent display at the Saatchi Gallery. I managed to finish the sample by the end of the day and was happy with the effect. 
Study for sample

I now have to decide how large I want the finished piece to be and whether I can collect enough black 'rags' together to complete it or whether I want to make it entirely from hand-dyed woollen blanket which was my initial plan. I'm not entirely convinced I can get the dyebath 'black' enough. More experimenting required clearly! I was also not very happy with the silvery nail head effect I got by using silver acrylic paint. Too matte and blurry where it needs to be smooth and very bright.

Finished ragwork sample
Tomorrow I am off into Sedbergh to meet up with the first of the businesses I plan to work with, the good folks at The Chair Workshop. I can't wait to explore their workspace, I'm sure it will be as full of inspiration as the mill.

Karen Griffiths

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Craft & Design magazine May 2011 issue

We are so pleased that Craft and Design magazine agreed to run an article about our residency as part of their British Craft and Design Month promotion.

Knitting, weaving and video cameras

I can't believe that it is the end of our first week at Farfield Mill.  We are so lucky to have such a great studio space courtesy of the folk at the mill and also the time to develop our own work courtesy of the National Lottery through Arts Council England.

A few people came in to see me today, most just chatted and watched but some were prepared to have a go at the weaving and have their hands filmed for the projection piece that I am planning.  Two young men from Horton-in-Ribblesdale were particularly good and wove several inches of lovely wool cloth ready to felt.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Where did the time go - teacakes and technology!

Yesterday at Farfield Mill seemed to fly by - it seemed like no time at all between arriving and enjoying a breakfast teacake in the cafe courtesy of my brother-in-law Barry and his wife Sue, and hearing the '15 minutes until the mill closes' warning at the end of the day while I edited some video footage taken on my new headcam.
Stella's journal
I spent the morning reading background information and writing up my thoughts about the site specific piece I want to create for Farfield Mill.  I have been inspired by the statement about the silver grey pillars that Karen, in her other role as an Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park, wrote on the Rules and Regulations information panel:

'Standing about doing nothing was strictly forbidden. The steel columns in this mill were apparently painted a silvery-white colour, which showed marks if any workers leant against them with their greasy work clothes!'

I am really interested in the visible and invisible marks human contact has left in the mill and have spent time today observing the visible dints and scratches that have been made on the silver grey pillars. 
Lunch time saw me sitting in the lovely Howgill Cafe and Bakery in Sedbergh enjoying a latte and arranging to work with them as part of the wider Arts Council England funded project.  I also went into the greengrocers, Powells Fruit and met the lovely manager who is also keen to work with me.
Stella using the headcam

Back at Farfield Mill I began the exciting task of unpacking my new headcam that had arrived the day before, and, just as the youtube review had said, this was the most difficult part, the camera itself has excellent instructions and came with a partially charged battery so I was able to try it out straight away. Check out the results below.