Category Archives: 03.5 Unit 1 experiments

Group Tutorial w/ Maiko

Our first group crit of the second year! Fascinating to see the difference between now and a year ago: everyone sounds so much more certain, more involved and simply more excited about their work and their plans for the future. If you look at the members of the class who haven’t done as much development (perhaps through simply not making or testing enough ideas) you can’t help but feel for them – seeing a frustration and a confusion that we’ve felt all year but have finally started to leave behind.

I went into the session still harbouring my A v B quandary and wondering how to combine or choose between the two ideas. First off I presented my (Experiment A) corn circle and the accompanying photos to the group. Responses:

  • Corn is heavy with ritual symbolism, even in a simplified form compared to my desire line this is still evident. This is fine if that’s what I want the piece to say, but….do I? (No)
  • Can’t escape the context of folk traditions / folk craft with this either. Now this is true partly of any weaving I do, but the corn weaving makes this much more manifest through the material.
  • Do the photos do anything? I’m not convinced and the group didn’t sound convinced either – Maiko picked up on the alien geometry of the circle standing out against the urban backdrop (pure circles aren’t that common). This is exactly what I wanted but…. I’m now not sure I like the idea at all

We then went on to discuss a few other general ideas. The main points I noted were:

  • The land artists such as discussed in my research paper generally use elemental materials – wood, stone, earth, water etc. I could consider creating my own elemental language, perhaps if not literal then metaphorical
  • I explained that I think I finally understand the agency that the material itself has in generating meaning, so perhaps it is time to let go of my current ‘fixations’ and reflect on my material use across Unit 1. My material choice is always symbolic – this is important to me – and will be a core principle of my Unit 2 project. I want every material I use to be there for a reason and nothing should be replaceable with something else.
  • Text, words are important to me and always have been – am I going to consider bringing this into my work somewhere?
  • We taked about Experiment B – the map weaving – and what I planned next to do with it (if anything). I commented on how I thought the most exciting thing about the maps is that they bring with them a co-existing alternate reality of the past embedded within them

What next?

Well first off, I followed the suggestions of the group (incl. Maiko) of trying my corn dolly weave with my maps. This was incredibly fun and satisfying to do – and much to my surprise gives an incredibly robust structure. I didn’t risk standing on it, but you could probably rest a brick on it at least.
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I have been thinking over my options for a week or so now, but after making & thinking today a giant lightbulb clicked on somewhere in my head. This lightbulb combines my current direction with some of the very BIG early concepts I had back last year but couldn’t deal with at the time; however, it is also focussed enough to be achievable – at least I think so!!

More to come in a future post, I need to rewrite my project proposal first, but…..I think I may have found the project for the final show…..!!!

Who are you where you are?

Following on from my discussion with Shane a couple of weeks back, I have done my first test of an ‘ephemeral’ temporary sculpture out on site (I wouldn’t really call it site-responsive as such). Since I made the weaving it hasn’t stopped raining / drizzling, so have been a bit delayed in getting out to take some shots. Interesting results in the end though.

  • I like: the camera, my latest obsession is providing a lot of fun, although I’m still not great, I’m getting better at scene setting.
  • I like: the atmosphere of the resulting photos, I have tested a few different approaches to the light, so they don’t stand as a set – but this is an experiment after all!

But where do I take the photos? Somewhere “meaningful” or somewhere random? Does this make a difference to the viewer? If I don’t tell you (dear blog readers) where these photos were taken, does it matter? What do they say to you?


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Corn dolly braiding with willow

I’ve been testing out the method for properly preparing my dried white willow and seeing how well I can manipulate it – initially using the same pattern as I did for the last ‘desire line’ experiment. It has taken a few attempts to test the soaking and mellowing times, and I’m still not able to get the simple weaves done without some stems breaking. Not sure what (whether my skills or the dryness of the wood) is causing this yet. It is also really hard to get the new weavers in neatly unlike the invisible joining you can achieve with straw.

Some pics of the latest tests are below – you can see clearly where some of the weavers have snapped mid-bend.

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My initial reaction is mixed: firstly, I really like working with the willow. There is something mysterious and elegant about it as a wood which I really enjoy. However, with the spiral braiding, I am really not sure what this offers that the wheat straw doesn’t already. I wonder if doing a modern corn dolly plait works better for me with the corn itself. This said, I will continue to try some different forms using the willow. Perhaps something more suited to it as a material. Also, I have a whole bundle of steamed willow as well, so that’s something else to have a look at too.

This all brings me back to my current ‘challenge’ which is to try to understand other sources of inspiration for forms. I did try something based on a new idea which has been floating about my head, that of interlocking identities through interlocking repeated forms. This was an initial 3d sketch (for lack of a better description). Is there something to work with here?

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Desire Line – finished experiment

After a couple of days of weaving the ideas I had got into calligraphy drawings directly into corn, I have now completed a finished test piece! This is the first piece so far that has been properly made with my project concept embedded into both the material and the form. The basket I did for the interim show was communicative materially (even if using maps was a literal interpretation of place), however I made a ‘basket’ shape (a bowl in other words) for lack of any other ideas.

I have to say I am very pleased with how this has come out – I am happy with that it has come out the way I intended. I didn’t pre-plan the exact structure, only the principles I wanted to express in the form, letting serendipity and the nature of the straws guide the way the weaving progressed. I think it may be nice hung in mid-air, but lacking the facilities to do that in my home studio, this is the piece on the wall.


Desire Line

With the bits of test corn weaving I have been doing, I had an idea about combining them together into a sculptural piece. I came up with a mock up construction using the three pieces of weaving.

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Now I want to try to make a coherent, well-finished sample – and not just shove things together, so I thought I would take some more time to see how I want the form to look. I had been doing some line sketches in my note book based on the idea behind this piece (now under the title Desire Line). This is based on the idea of the local path (our individual movements) as an echo of a larger, deeper human drive and ‘universal path’. I got thinking about how in my head I see this as a overlay of different paths (past, present and future) all condensing into a single moment as we pass along the way.

So, some more considered drawings:

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I think what I need to do is ensure the finished piece is all one continuous, connected flow of weaving – it needs to be one path and many paths at the same time. (Not in other words, made by winding the pieces round each other and hoping no-one moves it). I will need do some tests on how to combine the different weaves together – as interlocking or intersecting – before moving on.

Pleased with my thought process so far though, I definitely have taken Sandya’s farewell words to heart: OWN IT, FOCUS, BELIEVE, LEAD YOUR OWN PROJECT

More corn weaving

Autumn is setting now and the sunny days are turning more frequently to rain, the long evenings into longer nights. It seems perfectly appropriate to be working with the raw materials of this summer’s harvest in making experiments capturing a place and moment in time.

After my first set of weaving experiments with the beautiful Maris Widgeon wheat, I decided there was enough potential in the material to do more. The wheat is grown and harvested in Staffordshire using traditional methods using no artificial fertilisers. The wheat is sown during the first week of October and is cut in late July, around 2 weeks before it is fully ripe, while there is still a hint of green in the stem, and the ears are erect. The sheaves are air dried by hanging them upside down.

For the next set of experiments I wanted to continue to test different traditional weaves but apply them in different ways. First was a number of traditional plaited weaves: a 7-strand flat braid and a compass plait.

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I plan to make a few more strips of this nature and then experiment with pulling them together into a form inspired by the pictures in my last post and my current favourite quotation:

“Where people live is both local and universal, both particular to the individual and particular to everyone…the path…is both a very particular place…and also a universal path, like all other paths”
(Malpas 2007, p78)

I also wanted to start making the finish a bit more shiny, to make sure the experiments move from samples to ‘finished’ test pieces. I know this is going to be increasingly important as we inch closer to the assessment and Unit 2. This next weave was a repeat of the 5-strand spiral plait I did a few weeks ago with more care taken with the finish. I will take this and form it into a more complete piece once it has dried fully.

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Liking this material. Curious as to how mixing corn with the steel cables would be.

One for the rook, one for the crow

One of the things I have started to realise about last year’s array of experiments is how much I have struggled to really understand the materials. Not from a practical point of view (I have been able to functionally use them), but more in finding a medium which speaks of what I think it does. In my quilting work, you used cotton because that’s what you do. Even in art quilting, materials are nearly always used because of their aesthetics or textile qualities and nothing more. Few ask why we use fabric in the first place. If you consider the supply chain, woven cotton cloth is a long way down from it’s pure raw materials. Now this isn’t an issue in itself – but if you begin your making with cotton, you inherit the associations that come with it: the history of production, female craft traditions and so on.

For my current research project, this discussion so many layers down the production process is a distraction from my concept. I think I saw this even back in the Spring term, when I started the experiments with making silk paper and spinning maps (See this post: Making my own Fabric), even though the approach was still a bit random as to what materials I picked to use. I knew I wanted my own fabric / my own fibres.

So where does that bring me to now?  Well, I am looking at materials which “are having the right conversation” with my project context. I’ve already experimented with steel wires (which although processed, they are still essentially a raw material), old maps – which come with a complex but relevant context. I like both of these, but since there is a little unit 1 time left to experiment, I thought I would look a little beyond them…after all, the symbology using old maps to represent place is a little obvious. A first order solution as you might say!

This brings me back to a very interesting place – natural fibres again. My proposal and essay (which is coming along nicely) have been looking at the concepts of locality and universality, and keeps coming back to the idea of local materials and what that means. So I have come back to an old idea using a rather interesting natural fibre: corn

A brief diversion…………………………………………………………….

Brief history of the corn dolly

The most famous use of the craft of corn weaving is undoubtedly the corn dolly. When early man exchanged the nomadic life as a hunter-gatherer for a settled, farming community based existence, they believed that that the success of labour on the land was highly dependent on various deities who would oversee the cycles and fruitfulness of the crops. To this end, various rituals would be held to propitiate his gods: this is true of civilisations all over the world, particularly where cereal crops are concerned. Wheat is one of the first cereals known to have been domesticated, and archaeological records suggest that this first occurred in the regions known as the Fertile Crescent in the Near East, and the Nile Delta.

So even into comparatively modern times, wherever cereal crops are grown, the underlying legend of a Corn Spirit or Goddess of the harvest still remained: it was thought that the Corn Spirit retreated before the oncoming reapers at harvest time, taking refuge in the last of the standing corn. The last sheaf would be cut and made into a receptacle in which the Spirit could rest during the winter. This was the corn dolly (or cailleach or corn maiden depending on where you live!). In the spring, the corn dolly, along with the corn spirit contained within it, would be returned to the fields and ploughed back into the soil with the new planting. By giving the Corn Spirit a home during the dark winter months, it was hoped to ensure that the forthcoming crop would be a bounteous one and bring blessings and prosperity to the local community.

Most of the evidence for this ritual activity comes from anthropologists, including the infamous James George Frazer who wrote the well known work The Golden Bough. A lot of scholars note the gloss which Frazer used in romanticising England’s pagan history. However true the long history of the harvest fertility rituals, by the time we reached the 19th / 20th century, a corn dolly was generally said to be ‘for luck’. Any deeper significance was long forgotten. Irrespective of this is it is ancient worldwide tradition. Due to the fact the dolly was generally only kept for the winer, you generally don’t see corn dollies in museums and the like. There are some hanging in churches decades old – apparently Martinho Church has a corn dolly from 1897 hanging there still.

With the changes in harvesting methods as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the craft was almost completely lost in Europe by the mid-1900s. From about the 1960s, the craft saw a revival, although mostly for tourist souvenirs.


For weaving you need to use a hollow stemmed straw, which you only get from a specific variety of corn. I managed to find a local craftswoman who offers this beautiful stuff: Maris Widgeon wheat, a winter variety planted last October, and harvested this summer.

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I rather like the ritual associations (obviously) but don’t want to make that the focus of using it. I want to use this as an example of a material which sits ambiguously in the local / universal box. Most cultures on earth have some grain harvest tradition, making this type of material practically universal in its reach and importance to society. However, the growing and use of the grain is the epitome of locality – grown, harvested, ground and baked into bread – surely one of the most fundamental acts that we had in this country?

For the moment, I’m playing to see what the material can do – looking at different basket forms and weaving techniques to see what has potential. These were my first experiments:

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Rolls, folds and scrolls (part 2)

So from 2d to 3d. That was the overall theme of the day using the papers we made yesterday. The tutor showed us some ideas and basic structural techniques to make different book forms – based on folding, rolling and scrolling. It was really interesting how everyone took very different approaches to putting their books together. Some worked with a “traditional” idea of a book – cover, content, pages etc. And others were keener to use the idea of a book as object.

I tried to make a range of samples, using each of the techniques the tutoe demonstrated and expanded on them with my own knowledge. I carried on with my theme of mapping and ended up with a loose series on “which way is up?”.

First one was reinforced paper with some scrolls. This would be great for old fashioned book covers as well as more sculptural stuff.


Next were some samples using concertina folds, my favourite was this one with little pockets.


We also got the sewing kits out and did some basic bookbinding, I did a sample based on a set of clock prints. This came out a bit fan-like but is a neat technique. There are a range of different stitches that would work well here.


The next set of samples were rolls, one I did with some weaving (I really like this one) and another based on navigational ideas.


My favourite piece was my final one – which I am calling a 3d poem!


Rolls, folds and scrolls (part 1)

August has arrived and with it my annual pilgrimage to the Festival of Quilts. As this is the first year I have not needed to take time off work, I am making the best of it and attending my first 2-day masterclass before the show starts.

The masterclass is focussed around paper, led by Cherylin Martin – mark making / surface design techniques first, then book forms and sculptures using folding and scrolling. I thought this would be a fun thing to do, but I will also see how I can use my overall MA topic as a backdrop to just ‘being creative’. Today we got stuck into mark making, using a vast range of collected papers we brought with us. Of course I had a collection of old maps to play with too! It was a bit of a roller coaster of techniques, most of which I had done before, but were still fun. I ended up having a bit of an indigo day colour wise, I wanted to keep all of the work themed rather than just have lots of bits of brightly coloured paper I can’t do anything with…

Today’s work so far….tomorrow we go onto structures!