The Shape of Things to Come

With much excitement, I travelled down to the Cotswolds to the Textile Study Group summer school this week. I think it took me five minutes to pack my clothes, and most of a day to pack my art materials. 
The venue was abosulutely stunning…

Our Coach House studio  

The view across Evesham vale 

The wildlife was a treat (and I don’t just mean the ladies). We stopped the car on the drive to talk to a kestrel that was sitting about a metre away on the fence. It was probably a little taken aback at three mad ladies in a car but what a thrill to be so close to a beautiful wild creature. I also had two dear sauntering about outside on the hill most mornings, which was considerably better than seeing someone striding across the field with vigour before 7 o’clock whilst I was just coming round with my cup of tea. I’m sure that’s not normal.  

We were given a group focus of ‘This way up’ with Mary Sleigh. It was a chance to look at containers of any type from a different perspective, and think about ones that might have a surprise inside, or reveal something. We began with an exercise using square of paper folded diagonally and pinched back along the fold to provide a kind of crimp. This simple action was explored by producing a little series of increasingly elaborate shapes, tacked together in different places. Looking around, people had used different sizes, used thread to tension shapes, and twisted pieces off-centre in ways I hadn’t thought of which was all food for thought. 


Whilst the other groups had exploded straight away onto their tables in a colourful riot, I had to be very patient with our much slower beginning.  However, once Tuesday was underway and I had mount Vesuvius erupting from the front and back of my area of the room I was feeling much more at home. I have loved, loved, loved getting to know the people and as we spent time together, glimpses in sketchbooks and photos of work were tentatively shared along with our working pin boards. We had ladies from Australia, Hungary and Alaska attending. I was reasonably proud at the sacrificial journey I had made ALL the way from Yorkshire, but suddenly found myself rather unimpressive.  On a good note, I have found new friends from my area with the potential to meet up which would be lovely. 

Over recent months, the petal chambers of the Osmia bee had caught my attention, and I have been incubating (pun intended) some ideas about cocooning hopes and dreams – placing them somewhere to wait to see if they come into fruition or dissolve away with time. The Osmia bee puts nectar into the chamber with the larva to feed and nurture it, and I have been considering how to wrap words which I wanted to symbolise the nurturing of hope. The petals are sandwiched together with mud, and I had started to think about using tracing or layout paper so that the ‘mud words’ of whatever I made could be seen as we were also considering the inside and outside of structures as equally important.   

It didn’t take long for Mary and I to chat through a way to represent cocooning through making a kind of wrap as I wasn’t interested in a literal shape and I’m actually not very good at construction and needed something simple to play around with. Experimenting with stiffening paper and cloth to support a structure has been what my week was about. As I have sat stitching a couple of wrappings, I had a really strong sense of this giving of time and love, and how the stitch was functioning in the way I had thought about words. I’m sure this is what those that sew gifts of cloth in all its forms must feel: the idea that someone else could be wrapped in your time and love just felt very tangible for a while.

These structures have been stiffened and laminated using different materials such as cmc paste, pva glue, starch paste, gesso, and rabbit skin glue. In my case, more than one sometimes. It kept my brain active trying to work out what was going to stick to what, or successfully peel off drying boards and  when to roll up the wrappings so they would form and not collapse. They are all made from one simple long triangle shape ( no mathematical formula, not this girl), just a fold that bit over and it will do nicely sort of a thing. 

 This one has words of a poem stitched into it. 

I used some stiffened silk to make tiny trial shapes.   

I wrestled with the idea of including words which was something I really wanted to do. Mary talked to me about her common experience of wanting to include ‘the important thing’ and finding that as you get caught up in the process, the important thing just doesn’t want to be present in the work. For me, I think the important thing has now become the shape and how it might wrap around in a nurturing manner.   

This one was a test to find a way of supporting a larger structure, and in making it, it seemed to want to be a parent for a smaller one.  It has the poem written over and over inside just to see how it looked, but it wasn’t that successful (although the contrast was good). The materials were all wrong, too.  The paper I used turned quite pulpy when wet, but now I know.  It also wasn’t very smooth when trying to form a curve, so I think some sort of interfacing may be needed but I have no idea if that would hold a shape?  Actually, I’m not sure if it looks a bit sinister, which gave me quite an uncomfortable thought considering all the news about grooming and exploitation.  

These little trial shapes have allowed me to test processes and materials so that I could make them again in a much more thoughtful way. They could even be the start of a set of work exploring relationships which has been an interesting concept developing over this week – I had thought for months about my personal cocooning or wrapping of my hopes and wishes and of course life is never lived in isolation.

In my fanciful moments, I had imagined making cocoons in a completely different way, and doing enough that a pebble could be symbolically put inside by someone else; that they could be given away and sit through time to see what came about.   Something interactive still appeals, but I may have to avoid the whole the hippy love thing.  So in a much more down-to-earth Yorkshire girl approach, I just used the pebbles to play around with shapes and ideas.




 Inside outside, different perspectives 


If I carry on working with these, they will need to be much cleaner and considered.  I have ideas for arranging two forms together so that their tail ends entwine, as we often share our hopes and dreams with another. It might be interesting to arrange two that appear to be fighting, or one that dominates? Could I show loss, or transition? Would it be interesting to try and represent age with texture or stitch? What about a male and female one? A very hairy textured one contrasting with a clean crisp one? (Yes, I probably do need consigning to a soft and darkened room somewhere for a good rest, but you can see what it’s like in my head now).  I’m now wondering if they could be used for another project brief…who knows, they could be the shape of things to come…. 

Im not sure that I will do any of this at all! But I have enjoyed the thinking and I hope something might get carried through to whatever madness takes me next in the world of textile art.  

And that as they say, about wraps it up folks!

                                                                                     I know….sorry.

28 thoughts on “The Shape of Things to Come

  1. A true to life description of your journey this week, very articulate! You produced some amazing work and I loved spending time with you, thanks for your company. I didn’t see you to say good bye but we can swap email addresses through Kim. xxx

    1. Thank you, and likewise! Your work was a feast for the eyes, and it was nice to see how everyone took things in their own direction.
      I so enjoyed meeting you and the others. I felt very at home and appreciated the easy friendship.
      Yes, email swapping will be good.

  2. Oh what an inspiring post, it really was thought provoking and gave me the lift that I needed with my own work for city and guilds and a lovely place to stay in. I look forward to seeing the outcome of your labours in a later post. Many thanks.

  3. Rachael !! I Love, Love, Love your work – I have to say,
    I am not sure why yet – but I really felt quite moved by them – Just lovely xx

  4. Hi Rachael, some amazing work after a difficult start to the week. It was lovely to meet you after following your blog for a while and hopefully we will meet up soon given that we live so near.

  5. As ever Rachael you move me with your work ,your spirit which shines out from all you do and the way that you share your processes . Beautiful evocations of cocooning and a window into your incredible mind xx

    1. Thank you! That’s really generous. I think the mind was that of a mad woman on the end table, I’m sure the others were not quite sure what was taking place amongst all the inky drips. Mine was the only table covered in plastic shall we say!
      I believe you may be off to be cocooned somewhere? Have a great retreat xxxx

  6. Always enjoy reading your blog, and this was no exception. I am going to try and get on the TSG summer school next year

  7. Hi Rachael, what a lovely account of your time there and your photos are beautiful. It was lovely to meet you through Kim, albeit only briefly. Happy future coiling with your cocoon!

  8. Rachel, I love seeing and reading about your art, you are very gifted and inspiring. I am a fiber artist as well and lived in Alaska until 2007. I am curious about your Alaskan classmate, as I might know that person too. I am so happy that I stumbled onto your blog.

    1. Thank you, that’s very kind! We were asked to be quite careful about giving details out during the week, but I think I have her email address so I could enquire privately with her?
      It was great meeting everyone from everywhere round the world.

  9. these are fabulous! I’m having an ongoing wrestle with 3D myself, and having varying degrees of success. Lovely to find your work and your blog!

  10. Wow! Thank you for putting words with the pictures. I find it so helpful to follow your thought processes behind the fabric art you create. I like the open curves – they seem in the act of revealing something that is continuous inside and out.

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