It has been a while since I have picked up my work and switched my sewing machine on, but today it was time to start. A very difficult Christmas period is over, my self assessment is in and last year’s photos have been edited and labelled.
It still surprises me when things get hard, but every time there is an issue in December, the month of the anniversary of Carl’s death, numerous weeks can be really hard, my confidence and resolve weaken and work remains untouched. It has happened before and will happen again, but at least I have learnt that it is ok to take some time out and allow the sad feelings to pass.
Such breaks also allow me to realise just how important my work is to me. Without it I can dwell on things that aren’t necessary, but stitching makes me feel good, it awakens my inner self and brings back my passion for creating. The drawing I have returned to is one that I started in 2015 but then stored away whilst I completed last years exhibition pieces for ‘Shiftworks’ and Newark Park.
The drawing is taken from a photograph of a couple who were sat opposite me on the tube train in London. The lady looked into space and her husband had his head turned away for the whole journey. Not a word was spoken between them. I couldn’t resist taking the photograph and will endeavour to complete the whole image …
I have finally completed my free machine embroidered shift dress and safely delivered it to Penny Wheeler. Monday it was packed ready to send to the National Centre for Craft and Design, Sleaford, where shiftWorks will run from 12th November to 8th Jan, 2017.
Throughout the project, the dress threw up quite a few difficulties in the design and the construction. However, the text for the care label was actually quite easy to choose and draw because the instructions for looking after the condition are pretty standard, although trying to manage them every day can be tricky.
The final stage of sewing the panels of the dress together involved hand stitching. I decided to use red thread because I wanted to strengthen the link with the body; it was also a good contrast. Stitching through some rather inflexible, but fragile fabric was quite a challenge and not helped by my lack of tolerance for hand sewing. With persistence the dress was finished …
This week I have been preparing a workshop that I will run at the NCCD in Sleaford. Whilst being very used to running classes at Art in Action over the last nine years, this is my first full day workshop where I can share my passion for working with a sewing machine. During the class students will be guided through the steps of a commercial pattern and helped to make a shift dress in a day.
I love dress making. Once, I would make all my own clothes including wedding and bridesmaid dresses for friends. However, as for many of us, time is short and passions like dress making get put on hold. To my delight preparation for this work shop has meant having to take off the free machine embroidery foot and raise the dog teeth (a part of the machine needed to help feed fabric) so that I can make technical samples and a few dresses as examples.
This class will run to coincide with the NCCD’s celebration of textiles and whilst ‘shiftWorks‘ is being shown in their gallery.
During the time that I was drawing / making the white fabric of my dress, I had felt excited about making the final image that would form the main design. A toil had been made to so that I could plan where the circles representing the enlarged bronchi and normal sized artery could go.
Whilst happy with the placement of the circles over the chest area, it soon became clear that trying to draw a small section of a CT scan image into the markings wasn’t going to work.
I didn’t like the drawing of the CT scan detail so I removed it. Feeling disappointed, I knew that I had to rethink my ideas. I quickly realised another important reason for the project, that feeling of disappointment when you are told that something is medically wrong and how you may feel when you suddenly take on this new label / diagnosis and the implications for your future wellbeing.
The base for my design is a shift dress, it is made from delicate thread that has been worked obsessively. Instead of the detail, I would pare the design down and make two simple circles in the same colours that are seen on a CT scan image. The dress will also have a label and come with instructions for care – just the same as if the dress was hanging on a rail in a shop. However, this would have been one dress that I might not have chosen.
Whilst many projects initially seem like a very good idea, I often find that the early days are quick to throw up problems, and make you wonder how it might work out. I had a simple idea – I would make a dress entirely from drawn thread and include an image from my CT scan that would represent bronchiectasis.
First I needed to get hold of my CT scan images. I started by contacting the consultant who supported my project, and he directed me towards the radiology department, where a seemingly complicated process of gaining consent to access records eventually resulted in me getting a copy of my CT scan. Once I had the disks another problem arose – how to read the images so that I could recognise the diseased lung from the healthy tissue. The consultant radiologist at Southmead kindly agreed to meet me and explained that there was a classic shape that signified the disease: a signet ring. In healthy lung tissue the bronchi which allow air to pass through the lungs are the same size as the accompanying blood vessels. In bronchiectasis the damaged bronchi have an enlarged lumen, which provides the signet ring appearance.
Transverse image of CT scanWith a basic understanding of what I was looking for, I printed several different images from my CT scan. I cut, arranged and rearranged images and then made some samples in free machine embroidered 1/4 scale blocks on dissolvable fabric.
Last year I was diagnosed with mild bronchiectasis. Whilst this was disappointing news it did help me to realise that the symptoms of shortness of breath, tiredness and chest pains did have cause, and weren’t due to the usual exhaustion that can be felt by anyone trying manage my various roles in life after being widowed.
Sitting in the consultants room receiving a diagnosis was very peculiar; whilst I had had several tests at the GP and the Respiratory centre at Southmead hospital, I still didn’t expect a label, a named cause and an actual reason for the symptoms, especially because I run, cycle and have never smoked.
My first reaction was to google ‘bronchiectasis’; I know that we are always told not to do that for health related concerns, but I needed to know just what I was dealing with, how to minimise exacerbations and how common it was. (I used the British Lung Foundation and some other reliable forums as listed below). My second reaction was the realisation that I had found the subject for my next creative project: my shift dress that I was about to start making for Seam’s project ‘Shiftworks‘.
So back to the enjoyable research – here is an image from a great day out with some members from Seam, at Clothworkers (the behind the scenes storage facility used by the V and A in London). During our visit, the staff presented some dresses for us to examine; a close up view of some iconic 60’s shift dresses.
I particularly liked Stephan Willats’ Mondrian inspired PVC dress, Andre Courrage’s dress of cotton and machine embroidered organza and Foale and Tuffin’s ‘Double D’ dress. I now needed to consider how I could use one of these designs to help inspire a dress that would be made with my usual drawn thread technique and how to show a design that related to ‘bronchiectasis’.
What a lovely summer my boys and I have had. Whilst it was initially hard to get very excited about all the new happenings due to a very hectic workload and a lack of good sleep, there is now time to reflect and enjoy what has happened.
Last Sunday my sons, my niece and myself spent the day in London – the visit was arranged so that I could hand deliver my piece of work ‘A bar of drinking chocolate’ to Diana Springall. At the beginning of the summer at Art in Action, Diana Springall, a very well known British textile artist and collector of work made by needle and thread since 1970, had purchased my piece of work to add to her collection.
At first I had had my usual rush of nerves and worried that my work just wasn’t good enough for such a collection – but this is nothing unusual for me when I am tired and running at full steam. However, after an amazing trip to New York and some time to relax with my boys, I was able to enjoy the success and appreciate the accolade. I could also realise that my anxiety over the making and selling of my work aptly fits my process of working – obsessive attention to detail with changes of threads for just a few stitches in the attempt to achieve perfection which is then lost in the final stage when the backing fabric is removed and the threads find there own space. My mistakes become part of the work and how this is interpreted is much the same how I handle issues in life itself.
And now there is time to realise the most important accolade – my sons’ approval and delight that I had finally let go of a piece of work and it would have a place in Diana Springall’s collection. Without Josh and Mikey’s support, my work just could’t happen and for that I will always be grateful.
To continue the very good summer, Josh has had his own success by gaining an A* in his ‘A’ level Maths exam. Next year will be the second year of sixth form for Josh and the start of GCSE courses for Mikey. For myself, my first project with ‘Seam Collective’ – a shift dress that will be drawn with stitch and discuss a chronic lung condition called ‘Bronchiectasis’.