Textiles 1: Ideas and Processes Nina O'Connor

Learning Log


Exercise 1.4 Poetry Prose Lyrics

The course notes are helpful in reading and understanding The Myth of Orpheus (1977) and the painting is a good example of the narrative being representing in a single picture plane without being too literal.

I feel stuck.  I know there are many choices for this exercise, but I only have one song in mind and I can’t seem to get away from it.

Black Tears (feat. Jeff Beck) – Imelda May

Black Tears

one will fall for every good year

rolling down my face

inside I’m dying outside I’m crying black tears

Your kiss

killed me on that night as your lips

left a bitter taste and

inside I’m dying  outside I’m crying black tears,

How did it all go wrong?

we seemed to have it all but its broken

and I’ll  run

and I’m scared

so I pray to god above

its a sin that we don’t love

its so quiet

can you hear me?

are you there?

Black tears

please be gone so I can see clear

keep calm and carry on

but inside I’m dying outside I’m crying black tears

Oh yeah

How did it all go wrong we seemed to have it all but now its broken and I’m running and I’m scared so scared so I pray to god above cos its a sin that we don’t love its so quiet can you hear me? are you there?

Black tears one will fall for every good year rolling down my face

inside I’m dying outside I’m crying, crying, crying black tears


I have some external pressures and I can’t think outside the box, this song is going around and around in my head, it doesn’t offer the complexities of Orpheus, says little, but I press on, forcing myself , my thinking is so literal, although I know I it would help if it were more lateral.

We are asked to make 10 rough drawings .  Again I look to unfamiliar materials in the hope that a playfulness will ensue, but no, far too literal, ‘black tears’:

The instruction is “Be experimental and have fun, Remember drawing in this instance is a loose term, study the writing carefully and use materials that add something to the subject and contribute to the meaning of your chose poem prose or lyric”.  Trying to loosen up, I use a pipette to apply ink and a large brush.

I think to add red, a colour of love or anger and use a combination of oil pastels, watersoluble graphite and scarlet acrylic ink, which, when diluted, is warm red rather than the blue red I was hoping for.

I’m still stuck and should probably have walked away or sought further inspiration. Irritated I press on, using a large paintbrush, black and scarlet acrylic ink from a dropper.  There is more feeling and spontaneity in this drawing, but I’m not sure if it came from the heart or frustration.


Using indian ink and dripping black tears onto damp paper or spraying wet ink with water, the marks were less contrived and more effective on the white than the red paper. I was quite excited by the effect of dispersing the ink with a spray which created atmosphere and a subtle mood change.

Developing the ink drips above, using Quink ink on A3 below, I find it aesthetically pleasing, There is a sadness and as the ink separates, the eye is drawn in to look at the detail which suggests more meaning to the tears.


I have found this frustrating, I love books which inform, recipes or techniques, the tactility of the object, I enjoy novels, but ‘poetry, prose and lyrics’ are less appealing.  Did my view on the subject affect my approach and difficulty to think laterally?  Is it that words are less inspiring to me?




May, Imelda (2017)  Black Tears (feat. Jeff Beck)


Project 1 Initiating ideas Exercise 1.1 Identity & labels – Works that challenge conventional labels

We are asked to collect at least four images of works that challenge conventional labels and write a personal response to each.

Ernesto Neto

Balanço em U, ventre, ponto e linha, 2012 Crochet of polyester and polypropylene rope; plastic balls 400 x 350 x 390 cm.

View of the exhibition “Ernesto Neto, Não tenha medo do seu corpo” at Galeria Fortes Vilaça, 2012

A large installation crossing the boundaries between crochet & sculpture, approximately 4m2 , comprising strong polyester and polypropylene rope crocheted into giant cocoon like hanging pathways suspended from the ceiling with plastic ball-filled pouffes nestled into the base. It is big and strong enough to explore by climbing in and walking through providing an interactive, playful, sensory experience, inviting investigation.   Appears soft and tactile but would polyester and polypropylene rope be so?

Flexible knotted pods in a vibrant palette, orange, pink, yellow, almost fluorescent, each colour flowing into the next as though it were painted on the page. Although vibrant, the lace like structure softens the colour, with darker softer grey/browns filling the squashy pillows contrasting with the lighter webbed surround.

The floor too is covered in concentric circle patterned crochet, unifying the space.  The installation has a pleasing aesthetic with low light, soft contours.  Crochet knots, polyester and polypropylene rope strong and fit for purpose. Unsure of its meaning, to me it seems a calm inviting place to explore, a safe haven, in which to relax or read. Although, imagining it with other visitors exploring would change the dynamic to a playful mood, with squeals, laughter, out of controlled rocking or swaying like a rope bridge. Pathways are tunnel-like, the opening inviting the viewer in and guiding them through the artwork.



Bella May Leonard

Departure Archway, 2013 200 x 260cm Perspex, mixed wires, cords and thread. Hand embroidery

A large, freestanding, perspex archway punctured with holes and brightly stitched with a variety of coloured electrical wire crossing disciplines between sculpture and embroidery. I was initially attracted to the possibility of making holes in a transparent medium for the weaving exercise later in the course, but, the more I looked, the more my eye was drawn in to the intricate patterns of stitch, the spaces in between. The perspex allowing the whole stitch to be seen, both front and back.

The work has a folk aesthetic and from an article by Jo Hall in Embroidery magazine, the embroidery “references traditional patterns while reinventing their application”.

Perspex cut with a laser cutter, hand embroidered with electrical wire

Bella May Leonard has successfully achieved her aim to challenge common perceptions of embroidery with the scale of the arch, perspex ground and electrical wire as thread.

Visually, I am attracted to the playfulness and scale of the structure, I imagine being able to examine the detail of the stitch at eye-level.

It is difficult to comment on the composition as I have only seen photographs of this work, but I feel the space in between the embroidery helps to offset the stitch and the additional unstitched holes reinforce the line of the design.

The Departure Archway appealed to me because it pushes the boundaries of embroidery and takes it beyond people’s usual perception into a new context.






Nick Cave

I might describe Nick Cave’s Soundsuits as crossing disciplines between textiles and sculpture or once they are worn, art, dance & fashion, although from an extract of Jessica Hemmings, Cultural Threads:transnational textiles today

His seductive and deceptively playful pieces pay no attention to the boundaries between fine and applied art, high and low culture, gendered and racial identity, let alone fashion, textiles and craft.

The suits are constructed from an eclectic mix of found materials, cleverly combined, often vibrant, tactile, bizarrely stylish and mesmerising, taking different forms and making sounds when worn.  Each suit is usually inspired by an object, and then other found items are sought to build the idea and the whole suit is evolved in the making. Cave chooses not to sketch out designs.  The pieces take on different guises once worn and in my mind then become performance art.   The suits do not appear to have names, so I have concentrated on a button suit which was inspired by a found chair and is discussed in the interview with Nick Cave at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston on youtube included below.

This suit has a chair as the basis of the structure.  The seat has been removed and the chair rests on the shoulders.  A pearlised thigh length top with the drape of a vintage sequinned Frank Usher falls away from the back and seat of the chair, shimmering as the buttons reflect the light, coupled with matching trousers and a pair of slip on shoes.   Extending above the shoulders is a large balloon like transparent capsule punctuated with buttons resulting in a a fantastic, dramatic costume ready to take on any persona the performer desires.

There is a deeper meaning behind the suits which opposes the joyous, party like visual the collection presents.  Nick Cave’s first suit was made in response to the Rodney King incident in 1992 which are said to have triggered the LA riots and the feelings of being devalued and dismissed.  It was constructed of discarded twigs.  It is interesting to note that this was a critical part in the development of the work as the “core understructure of the work is based on found objects or materials”.   In the interview below Nick Cave refers to himself as an artist with a ‘social conscience’ and the ‘surplus and abundance of what we gather’ and how materials can be viewed with re-purpose in mind which is an encouraging stance.  In addition each suit ‘erases gender, race and class’ liberating the wearer and allowing the viewer non-judgemental observation.


Harriet Popham 

Harriet Popham’s fabric, Glastonbury Meadows 2015 80 x 60cm, is a combination of print-making and embroidery.

The Glastonbury Meadows Chair is a beautifully crafted re-upholstered, vintage nursing chair, using Harriet Popham’s hand drawn illustrations as the basis for a screen printed surface design which she then embellishes with freehand machine embroidery.

The artist visits the place she has selected as inspiration and takes photographs to work from later.  She makes lots of drawings which she then scans and pieces digitally before sending the final design to an English fabric manufacturer for printing.

The colour palette is a successful striking combination of fuchsia pink, cyan and white, the detail on the seat is white and pink on a rich cyan background whilst on the chair back, the illustrations are in pink and cyan on a white background. The printed fabric is layered with further illustrations in freehand machine embroidery.   The illustrations are representational but include a playful combination of architecture juxtaposed with plants and animals in varying scales and perspective. There is almost equal balance of illustrative lines and negative space allowing the images to be clearly identified.  The end result is a sumptuous, decorative piece.



Embroidery The Textile Art Magazine November/December 2016 pp28-31

Embroidery The Textile Art Magazine January/February 2017 pp 30 – 35

Hemmings J (2014) Cultural Threads: transnational textiles today Bloomsbury

Selvedge Magazine The Fabric of Life: Carnival Issue 68 Crochet Cocoon pp31-34

Selvedge The Fabric of Your Life The Pop Issue No. 65 Sound and Vision pp33-35


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Project 1 Initiating Ideas

Before beginning the exercises, we are asked to read, absorb and annotate an article in which Edmund de Waal ‘talks about craft as practice and where he feels it sits within the range of visual arts disciplines’.

Reading the recommended article, I was reminded that quite early in my Level 1 studies, I was profoundly moved by the transcript of a speech Edmund de Waal gave in parliament to accompany Our Future is in the making: An Education Manifesto for Craft and Making developed by The Crafts Council and its members, so my first thought on reading was that it was inflammatory of Grant Gibson to ask Edmund de Waal if ‘he felt he now stood slightly askance of the craft world.  If he had, in effect, broken out of the craft ‘lagoon’ As Grayson Perry once described it”.  I felt indignant on his behalf.  If the author had done his homework, he would know that de Waal gave an ‘impassioned speech’ on Why craft is central, the transcript of which was published in the January/February 2015 Issue 250 of Crafts Magazine.  Although, on reflection, I realise a good journalist is entitled to ask whatever questions are necessary to produce an interesting article.

To annotate the article as requested, I had to consider his words and decipher the meaning of his comment which begins

“Craft is the great otherness in our culture.  It’s little understood.  It’s extraordinarily relevant and powerful.  It goes deep into people’s lives.  It’s catalytic.  It changes the world.”

and continues  passionately.  I thought about the definition of ‘craft’ as an activity involving skill in making things by hand, or in the singular, skills involved in carrying out one’s work and realised that I feel very strongly that ‘craft is central’.  It extends far beyond its well know labels such as embroidery, ceramics or woodwork and I couldn’t agree more with the Manifesto which opens with the words “Craft and making are vital to our society, culture and economy”.   This view is echoed by Rosy Greenlees’ comment below which was posted and published September 2014 Crafts Magazine Issue No. 250

Important in and of itself, a craft education isn’t just about creating beautiful objects. It has a vital role to play in wider industry, helps with problem-solving (as Matthew Crawford illustrated in his best-seller The Case for Working with Your Hands), and contributes to general cognitive development. It helps students see that there is more than one way to learn, and provides a sense of agency and empowerment. As the historian and master of Wellington College Dr Anthony Seldon argued in the Evening Standard recently: ‘All young people need an excellent grounding in the arts, creativity and sport.’ Yet if this decline continues then there is no question that the future of British craft will be in real jeopardy. And with it the material skills and expertise required by the film industry, engineers, designers, architects and surgeons.

I feel incensed when I read of a reduction in funding for creative arts in schools and believe a rounded education in creative and academic pursuits is vital.  So many talents can’t be judged by academic ability.  Often, individuals who find academic work difficult excel in creative activities .  Creativity also has positive effects on mental health.  Whilst this article is intended as a ‘catalyst to suggest themes and approaches to the creative practice’, it has also reminded me of the importance of craft in society.

The article also prompted me to think about craft in relation to fine art and I was interested to listen to a BBC Radio 4 Woman’s hour broadcast from 19th January 2017 looking at the history of craft and how it was elevated to the rank of fine art. The interviewees, Joanna Norman, Senior lecturer in Design History at Kingston University and Dr. Catharine Rossi, Head of Research, V&A Museum really helped me to put the role of craft in fine art textile practices into context.

Catharine Rossi was asked when craft began to be appreciated as art and responded that the idea of craft defined as a ‘category of making’ dates back to the history of industrialisation in the 18th and 19th centuries with the emergence of another way of making. The factory emerged as mass-produced, paid labour, associated with men and the home emerged as a site of amateur making, unpaid work, associated with women.

Joanna Norman was asked how craft differs from fine art and responded that craft is to do with skill and materials, particular kinds of making in particular materials such as ceramics, wood or textiles. In her view, the difference between the two is in training. From the mid 18th century there was organised training in Fine Art such as painting, but no equivalent for crafts such as ceramics, embroidery or making for the home. There were pattern books and instruction manuals but no formalised training.

In simple terms, I can relate to this, many people have excellent craft skills, some craft their own ideas and some follow the direction/instructions of others.  I used to, loosely, fall into that category, fortunate to be able to pick up practical craft skills, such as needlework, embroidery, dress making, free machining but with no idea how to develop my ideas beyond using other people’s ideas or patterns. Following a degree course and learning the creative process is enabling me to use my practical skills to express myself creatively and develop my own style.  In turn I feel I can call myself an artist, rather than, or, as well as, a maker, but I firmly believe that craft is central to the process.   For me, there is great pleasure in producing a well-crafted piece of work, the basis of which is a good understanding of the materials and related skills.  Such knowledge enables and empowers me to develop work to produce new and exciting outcomes.

Going  back to the article, de Waal says he “spent a lifetime thinking about porcelain but I didn’t know it”.  I feel to get the most out of your chosen material, it is important to get to know it well.  I remember reading that El Anatsui commented similarly and believe it is fundamental to explore your material and understand its properties.

I noted the words associated with pottery; fragmented, broken up, shards, patchwork, broken things and the comments, ‘the spaces between things’, and ‘the new way of making with more space between objects’.  What does he mean?  I need to consider this and come back to it.

I wonder if ‘making is very close to music’ for everyone, as commented in relation to his collaboration with the composer Martin Suckling.  I used to play music, but it wasn’t in my soul, perhaps thats why I stopped.   I feel as though making art, or the learning and executing of the process is.

It was interesting to note that de Waal increasingly does projects in places that he “really wants to understand and spend time in.  Place, it seems to me, is really compelling.”.  In developing my artist’s voice, I have become more aware of my individual needs and preferences and it is becoming more important for me to choose places I really want to be in and explore what it is about them that make it so.   Closely linked is the recognition that I need to get out of my safety zone to explore and expand what is beneficial for me, as de Waal did when he left Herefordshire and moved to Sheffield in trying to work out “who he was, and what it was to be working by yourself, making something that had some value”.