Last night saw the opening of London Met’s new exhibition, ‘Fabric of the City’. Drawing upon East London’s rich textile tradition, a number of artists were invited to use the 17th century weaving of Spitalfields Silk as an inspiration point from which to formulate a contemporary work.
I had the wonderful opportunity to work on a collaborative embroidery piece for Karen Coughlan, a pair of ‘Gin Gloves’ worked in silk shading and metal-thread embroidery:
Anne Fanshaw, daughter of the Lord Mayor of London, wore a dress woven of Spitalfields silk to an event celebrating her father’s newly-appointed position in 1752. Motifs of hops and barley woven into the fabric reflect her father’s position as a master brewer within the City. Inspired by this representation, the ‘Gin Gloves’ also contain botanical imagery specific to this particular alcohol: twirling vines of the juniper berry and elegant stems of angelica ‘growing’ up the surface of the glove. The falling baby was inspired by Hogarth’s ‘Gin Lane’ etching.
The gloves themselves are handmade from leather, which although supple proved to be a pain to sew accurately through. However, patience persisted and I managed to successfully produce a piece of metal thread embroidery on a less-than-ideal surface. The angelica stems are comprised of padded ‘veins’ appliqued over with couched green metallic passing, growing towards chips of bright check silver blossoms. The juniper branches are cutwork purls, single-strand silk shaded leaves and appliqued padded berries. The baby was heavily padded to give it the desired three-dimensional effect, ‘growing’ out of the glove, embroidered in black floss and edged with silver pearl purl.
I found this a very enjoyable commission to work on as it appeals to my sense of humour: the absurdness of the baby falling out of a gin botanical seems an exquisite combination. It also impressed upon me the sense of personal responsibility present in a commission such as this – not only was I responsible for the technical execution of the stitch itself, but I also had comparatively free reign in relation to drawing out the initial design and suggesting choices of threads etc. Whilst any collaborative project is always a two-way exchange of ideas, I think during this project I truly realised that unlike working for Hand and Lock (where designs always came to my desk fully designed in a kind of colour-by-numbers kit), here my confidence in creative discretion was of utmost importance. I hope this confidence is something I can continue to cultivate on subsequent collaborations.
Do come along to the exhibition if you can and see the many wonderful works on display. Despite the many hours of careful concentration and craftsmanship invested, the private view nearly didn’t happen yesterday – London Underground had a tube strike on, and the resulting chaos in the remainder of the public transport system was ridiculous. I got sunburn waiting over two hours for a seemingly non-existent bus, with every one which did turn up driving past and literally full to bursting. As the queue for a taxi out of King’s Cross station was in excess of two hundred people and an estimated several hours’ wait, this piece would not have made it to the gallery had I not flung myself in front of a passing empty taxi in desperation. The resulting zombie-like scramble for ’empty taxi without the queue!!’ notwithstanding, my journey to the gallery was saved. And I didn’t die throwing myself in front of a moving vehicle in desperation, suffragette-style, so I’m still available for future commissions!