Archive for June, 2012

Project 6 Stage 3 – Part 3

I started my exploration of applied fabric techniques here, with small samples of a range of methods. I continued here with more extended work on two larger samples. The final sample for the Stage has specific requirements, which I interpreted as:
* working from drawings(s) in my sketchbook
* a background of a firm fabric like calico, no more than 30 cm square
* applique the cut shapes by pinning then stitching unobtrusively
* do surface stitching if desired.

After reviewing all the work in my “sketchbook” (which other people might think looks remarkably like a plastic tub) I chose this photo – first seen in my sketchbook in April here, an initial exploration of some shapes in May here, then more versions in Stage 2 of this project, Developing Ideas, here.

I wanted to keep my focus points in mind, so did another quick sketch. Curves, shine, texture/edges and pops of colour.

I did consider changing the colours a bit, based on this sketch in May (sketchbook here), but in the end the original black background really called to me.

I wanted to go for a more free-flowing development approach – purposeful but loose. This worked well for me I think, especially as the shiny overall, black background, texture and colour pops combination was challenging. I won’t go through all the many, many variants I auditioned – and photos of the total tip I made of my workroom are right out! Instead, straight to the result:

The base is a black mystery fabric from the back of a cupboard – I suspect largely polyester – overlaid with a shiny black synthetic organza. Most of the shapes are a sandwich – base of synthetic organza, then misty-fuse to hold it together, then glitz (sparkly trilobal nylon) in swirls, snippets and strands, topped with tulle. A couple of the smaller pieces have tulle both top and bottom instead of the organza.

A particular dislike is the stitching. I used a fine black cotton but it is anything but unobtrusive. At one stage I was intending to do something like machine cable stitch or couch yarn over the edges, but I currently feel that would be too visually intrusive. I considered bonding the shapes down then doing just a little supporting stitching more unobtrusively, which I think would generally be reasonable depending on the end use, but that didn’t meet the exercise requirements. With hindsight I think the best result would be to control the placement of the glitz then leave a small edging all around of just organza and tulle to stitch through. I also don’t like some places where I cut the glitz and it sits in jarring clumps. I got better at handling it as the work progressed. Finally I’m not totally decided on the final size. I’ve cropped the photo, but could perhaps pull out just slightly on the bottom right for a bit more breathing space before it becomes boring.

On the plus side, I think I was able to experiment and improvise while keeping my points of focus – in fact to achieve them. It’s hard to photograph, but there’s a nice shine from the organza, while the tulle acts to both hold in the glitz and modify colours (eg the strawberry is red organza and green tulle, while the reflection on its left is magenta organza and black tulle). I’ve put in a thumbnail of another photo, trying to give the idea of the variation in colour and shine depending on the angle of viewing. There are also lots of curves and I think some interesting negative shapes.

I don’t know if it’s apparent in the result, but I did feel I was working more smoothly and spontaneously, identifying problems and opportunities as I was going and adapting to suit. For example when I started looking at my stash of synthetic sheers I found many of them too dense in coverage and rather “loud”, but without them I didn’t have the colours I wanted. I was able use disperse dyes to get a range of colours all based on the same white organza so with similar levels of transparency and shine. Overall a very enjoyable and absorbing process and I am moderately pleased with the result.

Nancy’s story

I’m continuing to build my theme book on Ageing. A subset of it is on a page of the blog, but the main book is physical.

As was apparent from my earlier posts here and here, I’ve been quite nervous about some potentially controversial or distressing aspects of my theme. I thought I might touch raw nerves, or get caught in a political / ideological debate.

I didn’t expect, and very much value, the thoughtful comments and personal stories that people have shared with me in comments and emails.

Today I added some material to the separate page – standard disclaimer, please don’t click through if my exploration of the theme Ageing could cause distress or offence: some dark humour about good intentions that missed; some photos of Nancy’s view; and a brief version of Nancy’s story, her journey from home to nursing home, in which I finally use the words I think might be a trigger.

The comments I’ve received have challenged me, helped and/or forced me to think more deeply about this theme. I would be very interested to read more and to understand different views. If you want to read the theme page from the top, click here.

The importance of scale

I’d been doing some research on an artist – Sheila Hicks. At the Sturt Summer school tutor Liz Williamson had a beautiful pile of inspirational books (or an inspirational pile of beautiful books) including Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor which was an exhibition of Hick’s small works and also the most beautiful book in the world.

Amazon has some links for the book – $1,200 new, maybe $400 used (I found other sites listing cheaper, but they seem to be outdated or non-functional). I couldn’t bear to buy at such a price, but I did find Sheila Hicks: 50 Years, a book published in connection with the exhibition at Addison Gallery of American Art.

It may not be the most beautiful book in the world, but it is a very nice book indeed and includes lots of great photos as well as three essays. So I flipped ahead looking at the photos, started reading the essays and was thoroughly enjoying myself when I came across this post on It has photos of Hicks with some of her work at the Textile Arts Center – and it’s huge! Go back and look at the photo of the book’s cover. That work is lying on a road, with people standing around it. I guess because of seeing the other book first I totally misinterpreted what I was seeing – definitely not hold-in-your-hand scale. Perhaps not an exciting anecdote for you, but a jolt and a powerful reminder to me about the dangers of preconceptions and assumptions.

Hicks was mentioned a number of times in Auther’s String Felt Thread (blog post here). Hicks was one of those working in fibre in America in the 1960s, somewhere on that border between art and craft. In her essay “Unbiased Weaves”, Joan Simon writes that throughout her career of fifty plus years Hicks has through her work questioned categorization of art, design and craft. Hicks has produced an incredible range of work – different purposes (architectural, conceptual, ephemeral, exploratory…), different scales, materials, ways of working (studio work, collaborative, for industry…). A significant facet that interests me is Hicks’s knowledge and honouring of traditional textile making while pushing to new and innovative methods and materials.

I know I should aim to interpret what I read and use my own words, but this sentence from Simon on Hicks’s work in the 1977 Artiste/Artisane? exhibition resonates with me (it’s also on the edge of my understanding and I couldn’t possibly write it myself!): “For though these were artisanal works, her conceptual reclamation of these objects into the realm of artwork signaled that the exhibition’s fundamental question was not the neat binary choice between artist or artisan – rather, that the history of twentieth-century art had widened the territory to incorporate one kind of thing into the field of another.” (page 110).

Combined with my interest in art <–> craft is a focus on weaving in particular, and though Hicks has used many techniques in her work weave has recurred throughout her career. In her essay “Ancient Lines and Modernist Cubes” Whitney Chadwick writes of the pliability and temporality that comes from the repetition in weaving. There’s a conceptual basis to Hick’s work that I frankly don’t understand, for example “new relationships between wall and plane” (p 169), the idea of a formal vocabulary, even “form”. Whatever the conceptual basis, Hicks has taken weaving in directions I have never seen before, and it’s both beautiful and fascinating.

Getting a bit more solid, why do I like Hicks’s work and what have I learnt that could be useful for my own? (this based on Emma Drye’s advice, originally posted here and mentioned in my post here.) Using a thread (or bundle of threads) as a means of mark-making. The benefit of extended study of traditional textiles and weaving techniques – but not just the theory and drafts in a book, but looking at actual (in person or in photos), historic textiles and how they have been created. Looseness and freedom in the use of the basic grid of weaving. Bare warp and wrapped warp. Slits and volume and light. The impact and importance of scale! Practice – do the work. Try to avoid preconceptions and assumptions. Don’t define yourself or your work into a box. Be open.

Auther, E. (2009) String Felt Thread: The hierarchy of art and craft in American art, Minneapolis & London: University of Minnesota Press

Chadwick, W. (2010) Ancient Lines and Modernist Cubes In: Simon, J and Faxon, S (2010) Sheila Hicks: 50 years, Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy in association with Yale University Press

Simon, J. (2010) Unbiased Weaves In: Simon, J and Faxon, S (2010) Sheila Hicks: 50 years, Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy in association with Yale University Press

Simon, J and Faxon, S (2010) Sheila Hicks: 50 years, Andover, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy in association with Yale University Press

Stritzler-Levine, N. (ed) (2006) Sheila Hicks: Weaving as Metaphor, Yale University Press

Project 6 Stage 3 – part 2

In earlier work on Stage 3 (post here) I did lots of small samples. I wanted to do some more extended work before moving on to the final sample (which has specific requirements).

The original idea of more synthetic organza + soldering iron didn’t go ahead. Anything that involves major mess or fumes I do in the garage, and it’s unpleasantly dark, cold and damp in Sydney’s current weather.

This is bonded layers of silk – shot dupion mostly so it looks quite different from different directions.

It’s based on a photo of Nancy’s husband. I used gimp to posterise it to around 9 levels of values, then created separate versions for each value which I printed out.

The thumbnail photos show the idea – slightly different because of changes when scaling.

I traced over solid areas of each colour to use as patterns in cutting fabric – lots of little decisions about where to draw the boundaries.

I used Misty Fuse on the back of the silk. It’s a fusible web, but it doesn’t come on paper – just the sheer web. I use baking paper or a teflon sheet to protect surfaces. I’ve found that the glue on some fusible webs will come through finer silks and create a blotchy effect and I think Misty Fuse gives a better result.

In my last tutor report Pat commented that I tend to be rather tight and controlled, working things out in an academic way, and I need to challenge myself and allow for a more intuitive, fluid approach. Obviously this is extremely tight and controlled – even without Pat’s comments I felt this method doesn’t really fit with the approach of the course, development of one’s own designs from one’s own mark-making etc.

I consciously chose to go ahead anyway. The idea interested me (it’s definitely not original but something I’ve seen in the past – I didn’t look up references because I don’t think I’ve got it from one particular source). Plus a small copy of this photo is one of the few personal items that Nancy has in her room at the nursing home, so the image feels very important to me. I’ve put some more information about it on my theme page – standard disclaimer, please don’t click through if my exploration of the theme Ageing could cause distress or offence, otherwise if you wish to read more click here.

All the bonding work is done, but I haven’t finished the piece. It needs stitching to add detail, especially in the eyes. At the moment I want to leave my options open, in case I decide to use it as an element in my Theme work in some way.

I’m quite pleased with the result in terms of the technique I chose, but I think as it stands it’s not a creative use of appliqué.

So for my next attempt I tried very hard to throw any tightness or control out of the window, and to work in a free and spontaneous way.

This piece makes me smile. It’s messy and exuberant. I keep thinking it doesn’t make sense in design or compositional terms, but I still find it interesting to look at and somehow satisfying. There are things about it that aren’t right, but it’s still fun.
It started when a friend (blogless 😦 ) suggested tifaifai, a Tahitian appliqué technique. I have a copy of Tifaifai Renaissance by Dijanne Cevaal, so took that out – very tight and controlled (her current work shows a lot of change – her blog is However I was interested in the idea of a pierced layer of fabric bonded onto a background.

Maybe I could combine that with my scribble “design” (now I think about it, I need to be sure I move beyond this as my “spontaneous safe place”). I didn’t actually look at the original or the interpretation I did in Project 5.

I put some fusible web (the standard stuff) on the back of some black hessian and attacked it with scissors. Next step was considering backgrounds.

The mottled background looked a bit busy while the plain orange has some texture which I think helps it hold its own against the black.

With the black fused onto the background, I went through all my tubs and drawers of thread and yarn, pulling out blacks, whites and variants of orange. I wanted a range of weights and textures, preferably in each of the colours (so a bouclé in black, in white and … well, orange-ish). Referencing information in Bonding and Beyond by Beaney & Littlejohn I sprinkled bonding powder over my base, then started layering on yarns. There are wools, cottons, silks, rayon and glittery threads. I tried to focus on using them for mark-making, just going with what looked good to me as I worked. After a small final sprinkling with bonding powder I put some fine black tulle over everything and fused it all together.

The final step was to free-machine over everything to supplement the bonding, which was pretty patchy. I went for simple, swirly scribbles in black. I didn’t check my tension – I was working hard at just following one idea after another, just as fluid as I could manage – and (again!) I rather like the back of the work, where there’s some nice feathering.

I don’t know if this is finished. I thought of doing some cable machine stitching on the top, but can’t see what that would add. Maybe some appliqué that would provide some coherence and movement across it. The four people I’ve shown it to (non-textile and non-arty family and friends) all mentioned Jackson Pollock – Blue Poles was a highly controversial purchase by the Australian government, so is widely known and I think with the passing of time people think the government was pretty clever and not duped after all.



Beaney, J. & Littlejohn, J. (1999) Bonding and Beyond, Double Trouble Enterprises.

Cevaal, D. (2002) Tifaifai Renaissance, Rozelle, Pride Publishing.

Separate theme page

After a brief email discussion with my tutor I have decided to go ahead exploring the theme of Ageing. I first introduced it in this post. I appreciate the comments that people left sharing their experiences, but I’m very aware that this is basically a textile blog and the material I might get into with this theme could potentially distress or confront readers on a personal level. I’ve decided to put most future information I choose to share on a separate page of the blog, here. In a post I might refer to theme work in a general way, but readers will be able to choose whether to click through to the detail.

The photo shows the blanket on Nancy’s bed at the nursing home. I’ve spent some time looking at the weave structure – leno, with areas of plain and almost basket (?) weave. I think I could weave it, but would have to use doups rather than bead leno, since that doubles up warp ends. I’ve commented a bit further on the separate theme page – please don’t click through if my exploration of the theme Ageing could cause distress or offence. If you wish to read more click here.

Project 6 Stage 3 – part 1

This Stage is all about Applied fabric techniques. The course notes start off with a long list of different techniques and materials for experimentation.

I wanted to try a reasonable variety so decided to go for small samples. With an eye on presentation as part of the Assignment I tried to keep to a simple flower shape and similar colours so everything could be mounted together on a page.

It’s a sheet of A3 cartridge paper, with a watercolour wash to mesh better with the samples. Right near the end of the work I thought about appliquéing all the samples to a base fabric, but that would obscure aspects of the individual pieces. There are seven separate elements.

Element 1.

This started as white synthetic organza. I used disperse dyes to create the base colour – yellow all over, then navy added at the top and a pale blue at the left. Disperse dyes work on synthetics – you paint (or stamp or…) onto paper, then when dry you put the paper face down on cloth and iron to transfer the dye molecules. By cutting the paper you can make shapes of colour.

The organza was bonded to white cotton iron-on interfacing. Then some purple tulle was cut and laid over the yellow section. There was enough “sticky” coming through the organza to hold it lightly. Next some circles of cotton (and a couple of silk) were bonded on – misty fuse ironed onto the cotton, the circles cut, then ironed onto the base.

Stitching was used to supplement the bonding. On the lower edge of the tulle I couched using a variegated stranded cotton. The colour gave some movement and perhaps a suggestion of depth (though thinking about it now I should have put the stronger colour in the foreground. I just liked it this way). I also reduced the number of strands while working from the lower edge to the left. The top edge of the tulle is held by straight stitch – clustered on the right to suggest grasses, a simple running stitch at the left. Again I varied the number of strands used.

French knots help to hold the circles at the front, varying size and colour in stranded cotton. I added extra french knots to suggest clusters of flowers.

All of this is loosely based on ideas from a weekend workshop I did with Liz Maidment a few years ago. Varying size by changing the number of strands used was suggested by Pat, my tutor, in her feedback on Assignment 2. It’s very effective.

The two larger flowers resulted from working with a soldering iron on synthetic fibres.  On the left I used an organza base, covered with snippets of a range of fabrics including lamé, sequins and organza, and a final layer of organza. I used the soldering iron to seal the edges together and cut out the shape. I also tried to make some marks in the flower, but just melted the top layer so the snippets are in danger of falling out (oops!). It was attached to the base using a fancy sewing machine stitch.

The flower on the right used a fabric created from strips of organza joined together using a soldering iron, then repeatedly re-cut and rejoined. The fabric was then laid on synthetic felt and the shape cut out with the soldering iron. I attached it to the base using blanket stitch and 20/2 silk.

The soldering iron work through all the samples was based on information in Beal, M. (2005) Fusing fabric: creative cutting, bonding and mark-making with the soldering iron, B T Batsford.

After the photo was taken I attached a piece of lightweight lutradur that I had painted and heat distressed. You can see it in the top photo. I used it to help the overall composition of the sample page, and because I like the way the holes created by the heat gun reveal parts of the base. Pushing the appliqué experimentation, the lutradur is attached using glue – Helmar “professional acid free glue”, neutral pH, sets clear, flexible bond and will not yellow, according to the label. I think I used too much, and the top right corner of the lutradur is dulled. It will be interesting to see how well it holds.

Element 2.

This element is a sandwich of synthetic organza, holding a filling of organza snippets. The layers were joined and the surface marked using a soldering iron. Shapes were cut out. The circles were used on other elements. The flowers were reversed and their positions shifted to play with the negative shapes. I attached them by stitching with a rayon machine thread. I think in theory I could have used the soldering iron, but I don’t have the skill to manage that.

Element 3.

The base fabric of this element is a cotton I dyed somewhen. It was actually the first element I did in this appliquéing exercise.

At the top is an attempt at a fairly traditional technique. I cut a shape in freezer paper and ironed it onto the front of the purple cotton – the fabric sticks to the paper. I cut the cotton out with a small margin, took off the paper, put it on the back of the shape, then ironed the margin of cloth over the edges of the paper. This makes it easier to keep the shape together while carefully stitching the shape to the base cloth. I tried using two different thread colours, one matching the background and one the applied shape. I don’t think there’s much difference in visibility. Finally I cut a hole in the base cloth under the shape and was able to pull out the paper.

The dark purple shape is cotton that was ironed onto misty fuse and the shape cut out. After ironing it onto the base I used a herringbone stitch and 20/2 silk to support the bonding around the edges.

The purple and orange shape was created using free-machine stitching on a wash-away fabric. When the stitching was done I soaked and rinsed to remove all the wash-away. I hand-sewed it to the base using one of the threads used in the stitching.

Element 4.

The base fabric here is a silk/hemp mix I dyed a few years ago.

The appliquéd shape is a light-weight tyvek that I painted then heat-distressed. This is a reverse appliqué – the tyvek was under the green cloth when I attached them using a machine zig-zag to get a satin stitch. I then cut away the inner layer of green cloth to expose the tyvek layer underneath.

At the bottom is some ribbon applied to the base using a special ribbon sewing foot (it has a guide to keep the ribbon in the right place to go under the needle), and one of the fancy stitches available on my machine that produces the flower shape I’ve been using. My sewing machine is a Janome Memorycraft 6500. It’s about 9 years old now and still going well – mostly! The circle from the organza sandwich was meant to be applied with the same stitch, but the shape is slightly malformed.

Element 5.

Honan pongee tussah was used as the base of this element – another past dyeing experiment.

The top flower shape is a mid-weight lutradur that was painted, heat-distressed using a heat gun then cut out. It was attached to the base using some free machine stitching with a rayon thread.

The centre flower shape is some wool felt I made that has been applied using a simple straight stitch in 20/2 silk.

The bottom flower has petals of silk organza, the edges and centre distorted and frayed using a needle. Some synthetic sheer was bonded to the base fabric to give shape and enhance the colour. The petals were attached with a silver thread using chain stitch up the centre of each petal, to provide decoration and to the opportunity for movement.

The top circle was attached using the same silver thread, this time in a spiral of straight stitch. The lower circle used a fine silk thread, unevenly hand-dyed. The straight stitches vary in length and spike out from the circle.

Element 6.

The base of this element is quite heavy and has a pile. It’s a scrap  I found in my stash and I don’t know the fibre or its history. I chose it because of the colour and because it has enough weight to support the appliqué fabric.

The appliquéd shape is a handwoven fabric – plainweave in cottolin –  left over from making this bag. It was attached to the base using a fine machine zigzag. I wanted to celebrate the handwoven nature, so deliberately left a margin of fabric around the edge which I frayed.

The circle was attached using a straight machine stitch around the edge.

Element 7.

The final element is another piece of lightweight lutradur, again painted and distressed using a heat gun. The applied shape is tyvek (I think – the note-taking wasn’t great that day), painted, distressed with heat gun, cut out and attached using seed stitch and 20/ silk. I used the same silk to create the outline next to it – I felt something more was needed and the rest of my experiments were, bluntly, failures. I think it would have made more sense in the work if it had been seed stitch too, but I wasn’t confident of creating a clear shape on the distorted ground.

I didn’t enjoy working with the tyvek and lutradur. I was wearing a respirator which isn’t comfortable for long periods, and the heat gun kept blowing all my little samples around. I’ve since discussed this with Claire who suggested ways of managing it better. Having said that, I think my favourite samples are the reverse appliqué tyvek on element 4 and the free-machined lutradur on element 5. I also like the handwoven shape on element 6 (I’m pretty sure to be using that technique again) and I’m pleased with the colour use in the free-machined shape in element 3.

Another thing I’m happy with is the general idea of trying out techniques on a small scale then putting them together. I even used some techniques from the first assignment to create the background page, using ironed crumpled wax paper to create texture in the wash. It suits my learning style to break tasks down into more manageable chunks, in this case getting a handle on techniques before adding in design considerations. Having said that, I did spend quite a bit of time arranging and rearranging the elements on the page as well as the placement of the individual shapes.

I’ll just attached the elements lightly, probably a piece of double sided sticky tape on one side. Pat has commented in the past on the backs of work being just as interesting, or more interesting than the front. I don’t want to hide away that source of inspiration. Plus it allows you to feel the change in the fabric with all the different processes – can it still drape and move?

I’d like to explore further with using the soldering iron on synthetic organzas. I’m still on the learning curve with the equipment, but I’m interested in the potential for layering and playing with transparency. These little samples are really just tastes. It could be overkill, but I’m thinking of a few more extended samples before going on to the next step of this Stage.

Where am I up to?

That was the initial title for this post, which I began writing a couple of weeks ago. In a sense all that is below is irrelevant now, but I’ve almost posted something similar a few times – and since this is my blog and my learning tool I’m going to post it for my purposes and memory.

“I’ve lost momentum a bit at the moment, but this isn’t really one of those angst-y posts. It’s more that I recognise this feeling, something isn’t quite jelling, and I need to take a moment or two and consider what I’m doing.

“I know I’ve been here before, because these questions come from a draft post started months ago when wondering about my interpretation of the course notes and work so far:

  • Am I pushing hard enough?
  • Am I adventurous enough?
  • Am I exploring widely enough?
  • Am I reading and looking at other people’s work enough?
  • A big one – am I thinking deeply enough about what I’m doing and reading and seeing?
  • Am I too worried about pleasing others, including tutor and assessors, instead of finding out about myself?
  • It’s not a matter of what I can get away with – after all, I’m in this to learn not to prove anything or get anywhere.

“At least I’m sure these are good questions to ask. From a recent post on the WeAreOCA blog, written by Emma Drye: ‘Students talk about wanting to get a degree – but it’s wanting to do a degree that is important.’ Marks will suffer if ‘… you are just doing what you always do and there is no evidence that you are learning or challenging yourself or that you are engaging with ideas at an appropriate level.’ At later levels we should ‘look at the course projects and take the time to reflect on them and make them relevant to your emerging areas of interest.’

“Not directly related to my current questions, but something I really want to remember and consider, in response to a student question Emma added ‘Relevant contextual study means that you have sought out, or been directed to, relevant artists and that by looking at their work you have learned something useful for your own practice. … It’s more helpful … if you can link your contextual work with your studio practice. If you are trying to work more texturally for example – look at Joan Eardley. Then look at Anselm Kiefer and Jason Martin and write in your log what you think of their work in your own words, followed by a concrete plan of action as to how you are going to use what you have been thinking about in relation to these artists in your assignment piece. If you find an artist you think could be useful for you, think about why you like them and ask your tutor to recommend a couple more in the same vein.’

“And a killer sentence was ‘Without enough time for the course, ideas don’t have enough time to ferment so the work tends to lack depth and there will not be enough time to find your own voice or learn the core skills you need.’

“My tutor Pat has also written in the past that I should take the time to explore a promising path and not just set myself deadlines. Sometimes I have to hear things a few times before they start sinking in.

“I was really bothered by how long I took on Assignment 2. I felt “behind”, and while not trying to catchup I was definitely trying to move briskly. Quite rightly it’s come back to bite me, because the little bits and pieces I’ve been working on are so uninteresting and I’m so disengaged from them that I can’t be bothered working on them.

“Having stepped back for a few days and thought about it all I actually feel quite good about it. I had a problem. I identified it. I can take steps to rectify the situation.

“Step 1 was to go back to the course notes and read again, carefully. What am I being asked to do? What am I trying to achieve and learn?”

Bringing this up to date, I did re-read and re-consider, and I decided to push on with my little bits and pieces. I think this was a good choice – I thought of more things to try, more variations, and even if very unsophisticated the small samples do give an indication of potential further work and exploration. The work has also given me the time and frame of mind to come up with a few ideas that I’m now keen to go on with.

Potential theme – Ageing

For a while now I’ve been thinking about ageing or memory as a potential theme for my design project for A Creative Approach, and basically because of an emotional connection I am being drawn towards Ageing.

This is my mother at the Art Gallery last weekend. I’m not really thinking of her stage of ageing. Mum’s in her eighties, is careful of what she eats, makes sure there’s a Physical, Mental and Social element in every day, is aware of and preparing for what may be in the future but is fiercely making the most of every moment. She has led and continues to lead an adventurous and independent life and I am enormously proud of her and her achievements. When this photo was taken we had just finished recording the first installment of the Oral History she wants to make, starting at age 11, sitting in a chapel in Weymouth when a man came in with a note for the preacher – England was at war.

In the background is Ben Quilty’s portrait of Margaret Olley, another fierce and independent woman.

Earlier that day we came across a work by Ron Mueck. It totally stopped me in my tracks.

I’ve included the information plaque because I think it describes the work beautifully.

This is an amazing, hyper-realistic work, perhaps two-thirds life size and looking even smaller in the large gallery space.

The sense of vulnerability and frailty is one part of what is concerning me.

This is the photo that really bothers me. It’s the window of a shared room in a nursing home, the home for over two years of a woman I know and occasionally visit. She is frail, vulnerable, alert, intelligent, trapped, scared, in pain. She used to be proud and independent in a quiet but determined way. Widowed as a young woman, she has raised her children alone. Now she is in a system that in the name of protecting her has stripped her of almost everything. Virtually everyone involved – family, nursing home staff, bureaucrats, whoever – will say in honesty that they are doing their best to care for her but the result is horrendous. She loves that window, the light, the view. She loves her family too, but she is ready to go.

I don’t know whether Nancy will be my focus (that’s not her real name, but obviously I’ll do my best not to identify her, her relatives or the nursing home). It’s more around loss of choice and personal control, physical restriction – for example see this article (I’m right to go, just don’t wake me by Mark Metherell accessed May 11, 2012) about people who have “Do Not Resuscitate” tattooed on their chest. I’m not sure how much I will blog about this, as it could be regarded as political and divisive which is not my intention. I’m not sure what my feelings are, beyond anger and pity, and I certainly don’t have any answers just lots of questions. I would like to learn and think more about this, to find a way to express myself in a way that is thought-provoking and not unduly offensive. I guess this is a toe in the water.


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June 2012

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