Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Woman: A New Feature

Happy discoveries are made in the online stitching community!

Drink Me In

I stumbled across the work of a young British artist named Kate Elisabeth Rolison in the Phat Quarter group pool on flickr. I was immediately entranced with the stitching and energy of this piece and, like any curious stitcher, followed the links to her blog, poesie grenadine, where she documents her work embroidering modern love poetry onto vintage fabrics.

The work is beautiful and inventive. I just adore the way her drawing and stitching look like the caffeinated images one might concoct in a Viennese coffee den.

Dishwater Eyes

What follows is Part One of a mini-interview with Rolison. I was very curious about her life and her East London routes… especially how the two interact to create a talented young textile artist.  How does a woman who is so comparatively young, living in the U.K. create pieces that so resonate with me?

I started the interview with finding out more about her geographic source, education and her artistic communities, both online and in “meat space.”

A portrait of the artist as a tortured artist

Part Two will focus on her current work with poesie grenadine and other projects.

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Walthamstow (also known as "The Stow" or "E17"), a literal end-of-the-line town in North East London, on the end of London Underground's Victoria Line. It's an incredibly culturally diverse place, with everything from 99p and fried chicken shops to a gallery dedicated to the arts and crafts pioneer William Morris and swanky restaurants. It was also the scene of some of the recent London riots, and consequently has a bit of a reputation! My relationship with Walthamstow has changed over the years from “love-to-hate” to a true appreciation of its diversity and vibrancy, particularly since I've become aware of its thriving art scene.

The Stow
Walthamstow is home during the holidays, and also for the next three months as I complete a project independently of university. I hope to move back after graduating to attend the Art Writing MA at Goldsmiths College. I just hope I have enough experience!

Tell us a little about how you started stitching?
When I was 15 – 16, I studied GCSE Textiles at school and designed a dress based on the Amazon rainforest. I hand printed the bodice with a fern pattern, and then hand-embroidered unfurling designs onto the ferns. This first attempt was very amateurish and I took a long hiatus before picking up a needle again! Then, last summer, whilst I was recovering from an illness, my father bought me some very simple hand puppet kits to make for my little cousins. Sewing the simple tiger together was incredibly therapeutic, and soon I was hooked. I experimented with cross stitch and (again, very amateurish) hand

What are you studying in school?
The official title of my degree is "Writing (Contemporary Practises)"; the course as a whole is known as "Performance Writing". In my first year I was based at Dartington College of Arts in Devon, an internationally renowned, avant guard arts and performing arts school. Last year the college relocated to University College Falmouth in Cornwall, due to financial difficulties (however, Falmouth is acclaimed in its own right). My class is tiny; there are only ten of us!

Performance Writing doesn't necessarily refer to performance, per se, but to the fact that the act of writing itself is a performance. This can mean different things for different artists, but my practice mostly focuses on sound art and embroidery.

The Cure for Love

Studying Performance Writing has allowed me to push the medium of writing as far as it can go, and to blur the boundaries between writing and other arts.

I’ve noticed a lot of photos on your blog of you stitching with other artists. Tell us a little about your arts community?  Are there any online communities that you’re involved in relating to your creativity?

The arts community in Walthamstow is very much alive and kicking (some would say surprisingly!) We are the home of the East London Craft Guerilla (, who put on a monthly craft night, which I attend, as well as the E17 Designers (

I've become more aware of Walthamstow's arts scene since exhibiting in the E17 Art Trail ( Going around the trail I met many other enthusiastic and inspiring artists. The trail even brought me my first commission!

Rolison's first commission

The online embroidery community, on Blogger, on flickr, and on the needlework blog MrXStitch has been incredibly supportive of my journey in sewing. It's encouraging to see such a thriving contemporary embroidery community.


Rolison in front of exhibition space

Please take the time to explore Rolison’s work on her blog and in her flickr stream. I’m so thrilled to have found her and I’m geeked to witness her art develop.

Support and encourage talented young artists whenever you can, my friends!

More to come… 

Monday, September 26, 2011

Be gone from me

Not everyone has been good to me.

Homely little book

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about how important my friends are to me and how grateful I am to have them in my life. And I talk about the joy I get from making things for people I love.  But the other side of that is, of course, the friends and former loved ones who have hurt me. Badly.

Not talking about the way we can unintentionally hurt those we love. I'm talking about the people who hurt those who care about them with intent. With selfishness.

Coptic stitching in the folio center

For some reason I couldn't sleep last night. The pain of being used, lied to, ignored, judged and rejected by people I've loved hovered over my bed, pressing down on me when I tried to rest. Making it hard to breathe. I have no idea why. But I was reliving the hurt and shock of several events in my past.

So I got up and finished stitching up the coptic binding of the little book I made in the workshop earlier in the day. And as I was working on the homely little thing, fighting off the bleakness of my thoughts, I came upon the idea of binding these people and events up in the book and putting them far away from me, where they can't touch me. And that brought me a weird solace.

Sewn, coptic binding

The book itself is just a draft, an exercize in how to make a book. My first one. And now it has another purpose. Good bye to those who chose to be selfish and intentionally hurt me.

Stitching at 3 am

Be gone.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Far away from our regularly scheduling programing... Coptic bookbinding

Well, maybe not THAT far.

Stitching something different

It involves stitching, after all.

Preparing matt board for awl work

I decided to take a Coptic bookbinding workshop last minute this morning through a group called Jack's Crafts. Just wanted to play with a new, completely unfamiliar creative endeavor. I didn't have many supplies, but they were mostly provided by the workshop group and The Scrap Exchange, where it was held.

I loved piercing paper and matt board with sharp awls. I felt tough! But mostly, I loved stitching the binding together.

Finishing my binding chez moi

Thinking forward and plotting my text-based, stitched sketchbook for The 2012 Sketchbook project for the Arthouse project. I have the moleskin sketchbook that they sent, but since mine with be mostly a textile sketchbook and predominately stitched, I've been researching different ways of binding it all together.  Coptic binding may be the answer.

So happy to use needle and thread!

In the meantime, working on the Phat Quarter piece and exploring other ways of being creative, too. Have been cooking for the first time in many years. Feeding friends and colleagues is surprisingly joyful!

Chopping jalepenos

Even started growing herbs: basil, for cooking, and French lavender for the overwhelming, sensual experience. I wish I could share the dense aroma via this blog!

Sauteing ground turkey for a Thai dish

Next up... attempting to bake my very first Key Lime pie for a beautiful friend who grew up in Florida for whom this is a favorite. (This small New Yorker feels the pressure, in a thrilling way, to master this regional specialty.) Cooking is like stitching. Very methodical and slow, but with so much room for creativity.

Key limes and orchid blossoms

Does anyone else feel that making things for the people we care about and sharing our passion for our senses are among the most pleasurable things in the world?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Getting carried away with fill stitch

I love heavy fill stitch on my embroidered pieces. I love the texture and the sheen of the thread all piled up together. But I always underestimate how long it takes to stitch all that fill!

Back stitch in red.

So I'm late, once again, for my swap piece for Salvaged Mutinity. Sorry! Fortunately she is in some remote part of the world and not able to receive mail, so even if I was done, I couldn't send it. But I feel terrible.

I love the texture.

Stitching is an unbelievably slow, repetitive process. Just have to keep putting the needle into the fabric. Again and again.

Damn, I love it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Battling My Pink Robots

This is a blog about stitching, textile art, creativity and community, not about the visitudes of my emotions. But I try to be a honest maker and artist and, for me, my emotional and intellectual life is a huge part of my art practice, so please be patient with me.

My view: knees, sheet and stitching

Woke up lonely and blue this morning. Unsure of myself.

I had two choices. 1) Stay in bed, stewing in my sadness, feeling like no one cares about me. 2) Get up, eat a big bowl of Greek yogurt with berries, put on some music that feels like an embrace and stitch.

Guess which one I chose.

The yogurt was tart and fresh. Listened to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots (The Flaming Lips) and stretched out on my soft bed and stitched. The music, Wayne Coyne's voice, the simple red back stitch and my vibrant purple sheets... it seeped through my skin and worked its way down to the sadness.

I love stitching in DMC 321 red floss!

I wouldn't say that it removed my blueness or loneliness or shaky self-doubt, but it softened it. It put the lonely blues within the context of being a "part of life" that I can embrace, experience, survive and even create from, rather than be overwhelmed or crushed by it.

I don't know where the sun beams end and the star
Lights begins it's all a mystery
And I don't know how a man decides what right for his
Own life - it's all a mystery
~From, Fight Test

I have a long, busy, lonely day ahead of me today in the corporate salt mines. But tonight I meet up with friends, go to an art opening at The Nasher (The Deconstructive Impulse: Women Artists Reconfigure  the Signs of Power, 1973-1991) and meet Wonder Woman!

Opening night talk at the Nasher, 9/15/11, 7pm

And I had this morning and my music and food and stitching to buoy me. And there are so many people in my life that I care about and love and, I have to believe, that they care about and love me, too.

So I'm going to keep fighting and living and embracing experience and making what moves me to make it. And I'll keep reaching out to people, trying to make connections, both with my friends and by meeting new people.

I'll keep battling my pink robots.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Remind me of this gift when I'm lost

Woke up crazy creative and hyper visual today. I see patterns, textures and outlines of drawings to be stitched everywhere I look.

Da Vinci, Study of a Hand

Played with a friend’s hand it kept looking like a beautiful Da Vinci sketch... his fingers curled in the most elegant, graceful way. I saw his hand stitched in red thread on cream cloth.

I take a lot of photos of myself.

Looked at my own outstretched, bare leg and saw a painting. My kneecap a sea of chain stitch on canvas. 

I'm a constantly available subject & I do whatever I
tell myself to do!

Even my fingertips seem to have eyes… Touching my own ribs and hip bone, I can almost see them drawn and stitched onto fabric, blue tattoo and all.

Looked at veins on leaves at the plant store and saw rivers, highways and train tracks stitched out over mottled, green-dyed fabric.

The texture of my own lips wants to be rendered in deep red thread on cotton.

Sometimes life is bitter and sad and I feel like my eyes are oversized and full of blue rue, like an Edward Gorey woodcut of some lost orphan.

And then there are times like this weekend when, despite what I know are challenges and overwhelming losses in my life this year, despite even my not-too-infrequent loneliness, I’m given a gift from the universe… Having my senses turned up and seeing beauty all around me. I am so grateful. 

And when I’m gripped with fear of being alone, being completely and wholly unlovable, and like I’ll never create anything again, I need to remember weekends like this. Moments like this.

Please remind me.    

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Inspiration Sponge, or, Two books that are BLOWING my mind

Money is tight so I spent a quiet night at home instead of taking myself out for a drink and I'm so happy I did.

Just released! by Jamie Chalmers

Gorgeous book by Katharine Harmon

Quick post about two books that I've been devouring this evening: Push Stitchery: 30 Artists Explore the Boundaries of Stitched Art (Jamie Chalmers, a.k.a. MrXStitch) and You are Here: Personal Geographies and Other Maps of the Imagination (Katharine Harmon).

Quantum Entanglement (2009) by Orly Cogan

I will be exploring and writing about these two beautiful volumes for ages because the images are intoxicating and capture my imagination like nothing I've seen in weeks.

Fairy Tale (2006) by Orly Cogan

Chalmers' book features so many of my favorite artist/stitchers (Bascom HogueJoetta Maue & Penny Nickles, to name a few) and exposes me to the astonishing work of many artists who are new to me.

Contour Map of Identical Female Twins
Face to Face (date unknown)
Dr. Robin Williams

Harmon's book is not about stitched or textile art. It collects and reflects upon different kinds of personal map making and features the art of a wide range of new (again, to me) artists creating images of maps.

Druksland Physical and Social 15 January 1974
(1974) by Michael Druks

To say that I adore personal map making is an understatement. I often sketch my own maps, rudimentary scribbles of my love life, my passion for particular men, my crazy geography of desire, for example. And yes, I want to stitch these private images.

Mapping emotion on my back? self portrait (2011)
Thinking about stitching a map on this theme of desire and passion for a man onto this image of my back that I haven't worked with in a while. Or, perhaps, my heartbreak. My fears.

So many ideas! Perhaps being broke and needing to spend more quiet nights at home, alone, isn't a bad thing. I can stitch my way through the lean times.

Back to my stitch-speration. Love to all. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Late for a very important date! And photo inspiration at First Friday!

Me, stitching, ah...

Got a very late start of my piece for the Phat Quarter food-themed swap. The fabulous Salved Mutiny is at sea right now (literally, she is somewhere on a ship) and she told me to take my time with it, which I really appreciate. With the chaos of my recent move and all, I haven’t done much stitching or sketching.

Do Not Eat sign on my light box

Decided to do a hazard sign for the swap. I haven’t stitched up a hazard sign in a while. I don’t know why I love them so much. The odd simplicity of their designs? The way the image is reduced to the simplest elements to convey the warning?  There is something poetic about them to me.

Biohazard quilted piece,
still need to make it a proper pillow

I’m stitching the swap piece up on white cotton in the traditional red and black colors. But I also like to switch up the colors or ground fabric, like I did with my bio-hazard pillow or the Hans the Riot Cop piece.

Close up of simple back stitch

Lots of excitement about my new apartment. It is very unadorned at the moment. Want to fill it with threads and fabrics and stitches and color. My artwork and the artwork of people I admire.  Want to have gatherings. Want to fill it with passion and life! I know I will.

How beautiful is this orchid color?
Want to fill my home with this color.

For now, finally finished my spirograph dishcloth, so there is some color for my place! Gonna stitch up a lot of spirographs as gifts… let me know if you’d like one!

Had a fabulous time at First Friday in Raleigh this weekend! Local art rocks. Wandered around from gallery to bar with a rockin’ friend who appreciates art and creativity. It is just energizing to explore art with him. Electric stitch-speration abounds!

We saw some cool music photos from the Hopscotch Music Festival, the annual live music event in Raleigh. The exhibition inspired me to possibly pick up my camera again to take photos of something other than myself and what I make. We’ll see.  (Who am I kidding? I have too much on my plate already.)

I was particularly taken by the work of NC photographer Abby Nardo and this piece:

By Abby Nardo

I love the high perspective of the shot. And I love the clustering of the audience around the stage and the scattering of empty chairs. Gives the viewer the experience of being at a live, local show. Moody and gorgeous.  I encourage folks to explore her flickr stream for other lovely live music shots. Yah!

OK, back to stitching, kids! Gotta finish this piece for Salvaged Mutiny. 

I adore this Spoonflower fabric. I want every color!
Sending out my love and affection to all of my friends online and in meat space. Life is great because I have you in it. For real. Keep rocking…