Category: Textiles

Cape Farewell

This is one of the pieces in the Verdant Works Exhibition ‘The Arctic Whaling Year’, Autumn 2018.  Whalers were as superstitious as any other sailors and had many rituals which they observed.  They also amended rituals for the circumstances they found themselves in. A good example of this is the crossing the line ceremony. This is traditionally an initiation for sailors crossing the equator for the first time. But in the case of whalers it could be performed when they crossed the Arctic Circle on the way up to the early whaling grounds around Spitsbergen and as locations of whaling changed it could be performed on May Day or when passing Cape Farewell at the southern tip of Greenland on the way to the Davis Straits.

Cape Farewell

Cape Farewell

Neptune and his wife would board the ship (looking suspiciously like members of the crew dressed up) and, using an oversized jagged joke razor, the green-hands (first-timers) would be ‘shaved’ after a mixture of soot and grease was applied to their faces.  This was then followed by music, dancing and the consumption of alcohol. Most captains tolerated the carousing that followed as a relatively controlled way for the sailors to let off steam.

In some places when the ship left port the wives and sweethearts would give ribbons to their sailors as keepsakes.  On May Day these ribbons would be woven round an iron hoop to form a garland, often suspended under a model of a whale ship, and hoisted onto the rigging for luck. This was not brought down until the ship returned to port where boys competed to be first up the rigging to reach the garland.

At Hull Maritime museum there is an original joke razor from a whaleship. I have used my drawing of it here. In several of the museum’s  paintings of Arctic whaleships you can see the garlands hanging between the masts.

My dad  was in the Fleet Air Arm and I have his crossing the line certificate, signed by Neptune.  I used the image of the sailing ship from it for the ship above the garland.  When I first crossed the Arctic Circle, Neptune came aboard and tipped some icy water down my back as my initiation.  Under the beard he looked somewhat like the Assistant to the Cruise Director.  I have used my photo of him as a basis for the illustration here.  The map is based on the one in the Norwegian polar explorer Nansen’s book on his first crossing of Greenland.

Sealing

This is one of the pieces in the Verdant Works Exhibition ‘The Arctic Whaling Year’, Autumn 2018.  As whaling decreased the populations of whales, the whalers hunted other marine mammals to maintain their profitability.  Seal skins were a valuable commodity and to maximise the economic return, whaling ships could leave earlier from British ports, pick up men from places like St Johns in Newfoundland and head to the nearby sea ice where huge numbers of seals were born each year.  The skin of the young seals was particularly sought after.  The seals were killed and roughly skinned.  The skins were collected together prior to being dragged back by the men to the ship, which was moored to the edge of the ice, often some distance away.  The skins would be dropped off at agents in Newfoundland or brought back to the home port before starting the whaling voyage proper.

Sealing

Textile panel (80 x 60 cm) from ‘The Arctic Whaling Year’ exhibition at Verdant Works, Dundee, Autumn 2018, Fabric marker pens and freehand machine embroidered layered sheer fabrics on unbleached cotton.

It was the innovation of using auxiliary steam power which made this possible.  Ships could approach the edge of the ice more reliably using steam power rather than having to rely on the sails.  The arrival of these first steam-powered whalers from Dundee in St Johns, Newfoundland triggered the development of the auxiliary steam-powered sealing fleet from Newfoundland.

The McManus,  Dundee’s Art Gallery and Museum holds a fantastic collection of early photographs of the Dundee whaling trade. I have used three of these as the basis for this triptych.

 

Victualling

This is one of the pieces in the Verdant Works Exhibition ‘The Arctic Whaling Year’, Autumn 2018.  Whaling ships setting off to the Arctic had to be self-sufficient in all they would need for the long summer whaling season. They took everything from harpoons, spare whaling boats and rope to extra clothing and canvas.  They also had to take a  lot of food.  In a time before preservation by canning or refrigeration, fresh food was only available for the very start of the voyage. Salt beef and dried vegetables, potatoes (and a surprising amount of alcohol) were the usual staples.  In later years they also had to have enough food to survive the harsh winter if they became trapped in the ice.

Victualling

Victualling

In the Archives at the University of Dundee there is a collection of whaling account documents with the invoice slips for the items bought for whaling voyages around 1830.  The text is from these accounts and the plan is of Dundee Docks.

 

 

 

Calling At Shetland

This is one of the pieces in the Verdant Works Exhibition ‘The Arctic Whaling Year’, Autumn 2018.  Many whaleships from English and Scottish mainland ports called into Orkney and Shetland to pick up further supplies and additional crew.  The whaling agent Hay and Co in Lerwick, Shetland recruited local men, who were good sailors and cheap to employ, to act as crew for the whaleboats.  Hay and Co also supplied other goods to the ships for use during the voyage.  High-quality Shetland knitted goods and other provisions were bought in bulk to be sold to the sailors from the slop bag or slop chest – a common store of goods the sailors could obtain against their pay whilst on board. The Shetland Museum and Archive at Lerwick has a collection of documents from Hay and Co including accounts for individual Shetland whalemen.

Calling At Shetland

Calling At Shetland

I spent a month in Shetland in 2017 researching their Arctic whaling archives and after about a week the penny dropped.  I realised that the Hay Dock café at the museum was named for Hay and Co and that the museum and archive were actually built at the Hay Dock. Later one of the archivists  told me that the Builders Merchants on my route to the supermarket was still Hay and Co!  I bought some rope and a pair of gloves there and was delighted to see Hay & Co at the top of the printed receipt!  The building shown here (a digital photograph printed on fabric) is in front of the museum in Lerwick, and forms part of the Hay Dock.

 

 

Commission for Whalebone pub

My artist statement currently states that “I make work inspired by Moby Dick and British Arctic Whaling, inspired by my travel and research. I am aware that this is quite a niche practice, but I carry on regardless, and for once this approach has paid off!

The White Hart in Downham Market, Norfolk has been returned to its original name of the Whalebone by its new owners Wetherspoons (a UK chain of pubs) and as part of their redevelopment of the pub they were looking to commission some related art. Their designer found my web site and thought I might be just what they were looking for. Because of my research I knew enough about whaling and Norfolk Whaling heritage to be able put the Whalebone in context. So, I set myself the interesting challenge of making something that explained Arctic whaling around the 1800s (when the pub had last been called the Whalebone) but understood that this was a pub and restaurant so couldn’t make it too explicit and gory. The added complication was that I only had a couple of months for some focussed research and then to design and make the piece, which turned out to be the largest textile piece I’d made to date.

I was already working on related imagery for another exhibition and in a short space of time I’d looked at a range of sources. I was aware of the illustrations in William Scoresby’s Account of the Arctic from 1820 and a wonderful circular map of the known arctic from a journal written by his surgeon on one of his earlier voyages. I had also been looking at and thinking about arctic panoramas.

Whaling Grounds Whalebone textile commission

Whaling Grounds Whalebone textile commission

A composition soon emerged of the semi-circular map showing the whaling grounds at the top and the arctic species of whale hunted at the bottom would sandwich a panoramic image of whale ships. The panoramic image would include whaling ships, arctic landscapes, icebergs, and some scenes of whaling. To make this a more personal design I used my drawings of the Spitsbergen coastline (early arctic whaling grounds) from my trip there in 2011, and some of the icebergs were inspired the ones I saw off Greenland in 2014. Two roundels containing images of the products of the whaling, a whalebone corset (from one I saw at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum, Exeter in 2014) and a whalebone arch suggesting the one at the original whalebone pub based on one still visible in Kings Lynn.

Once the design was finalised it was transferred to the three main pieces of fabric and the making begun. I used several techniques, fabric painting, freehand machine embroidery, quilting and layering coloured sheer fabrics to give blocks of colour. Once the components were sewn together it measured 48 x 36 in (122 x 91 cm).

I was invited to the soft opening of the pub in March 2018 and enjoyed a delicious meal with a great view of the work!

Having a drink overlooking my work

Having a drink overlooking my work

Wondrous Whale

BCEWondrous

Wondrous Whale

Wondrous Whale.  Sewn whale skeleton, screen printed map, quilted textile. Inspired by the Burton Constable Sperm whale skeleton mentioned in Moby Dick and door panels in the Chinese Room in the Hall. Made as part of my Residency at Burton Constable in 2015/16.

Gigantic Fan

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Gigantic Fan

Gigantic Fan. Layered screen printed fabric. Inspired by the Burton Constable Sperm whale skeleton mention in Moby Dick, and the journey the whale skeleton took from Tunstall on the coast to Burton Constable Hall.

 

The close up detail shows the map in white that shows both these places. Made as part of my Residency at Burton Constable in 2015/16.

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Gigantic Fan (detail)

 

Gothic Spire

Gothic Spire.  Layered digital print and painted fabric. Inspired by the Burton Constable Sperm whale skeleton mentioned in Moby Dick and door panels in the Chinese Room in the Hall. Made as part of my Residency at Burton Constable in 2015/16.

Gothic Spire

Gothic Spire

The Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

The Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton.  Painted and screen printed fabric. Inspired by the Burton Constable Sperm whale skeleton and the wall and border in the State Rooms in the Hall.  Made as part of my Residency at Burton Constable in 2015/16

Measurement

The Measurement of the Whale’s Skeleton

 

#StitchOff and my Mappy Sewing

Twitter is an interesting and remarkably random thing.  As part of my artist in residence project at Burton Constable Hall I had some social media targets and so I had returned to my long dormant Twitter account.  I needed to work out how to use it and specifically to best promote my somewhat niche art practice.  (If you are reading this in isolation I’d better explain.  I make print and textile art inspired by Moby Dick and British Historic Arctic Whaling and informed by my travel and research.  Hence my residency at Burton Constable Hall, near Hull, which has a sperm whale Skelton mentioned in Moby Dick).
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So I started tweeting and liking (though it was favouriting back then), retweeting and following, and being followed.  It’s been hugely useful for plugging in to all sorts of networks and particularly the more traditional textile heritage that I’d not really engaged with before.  And I saw some intriguing tweets about something called #StitchOff with some interesting embroidery patterns from around the time of Jane Austen from The Lady Magazine.  There was a call out for anyone who was interested to use one of the patterns as inspiration with the chance that it would be put on display as part of the Emma at 200 exhibition at Chawton House in the spring.  I had my show opening at Easter, hardly had any pieces made for that so I thought this should interesting I’ll give it a go!

A little knot of people were posting images of their work in progress, all of which looked fabulous and rather intimidating but if mine didn’t work no one need ever know… I chose the waistcoat pattern because none of the samples I’d see seemed to be using that one and it had a linear design which appealed to me.   I made a sample on grey polycotton which I quite liked and learned quite a bit about how the pattern worked. I had decided on a piece of blue and white striped shirt of my husband’s that was ready for recycling when I had one of those ‘slap head, duh’ moments – found maps that I print on fabric are a big part of my practice so off to the Internet to see if I could find a map of the right period area around where the exhibition would be.
And I did.  It was a two part strip map with a road running down either side and a line done the middle which echoed the central line in the waistcoat pattern.  I printed the map out on my inkjet printer onto A4 sized cotton.   Using fabric marker pens I had traced the design onto a scrap of white crystal sheer fabric and had gone round my collection of fabrics testing it against them.  I tried it against the map and liked it.  I tweeted a photo of it and got a surprisingly positive response.

stitchofftest

And then had the dilemma of what piece of sheer to use?  I rifled through my extensive collection looking at two tone pieces but found one changed colour from green to purple down a well defined line which was perfect.  I then chose the threads based on how the samples had worked in  greens, reds and pink/purples.  A rather nice variable thread would make a good backbone to the pattern.
To be honest after the thinking, planning and printing the sewing felt like the quickest bit.  Freehand machine embroidery is a bit like that.  It’s like drawing with thread, except the drawing tool (needle and thread) stays still and you move the fabric around.  I mostly sorted a bit of an issue with puckering (I hate using hoops) by inking in a slightly wider border with a black fabric marker.  I had mounted the map on some medium weight vilene for stability before sewing and I sewed some pale grey felt as backing (which also hid the back!). I ran round the hemmed sheer with a soldering iron to stop it fraying.  This gives the edge an interesting texture and can also be useful for breaking up/hiding any small inconsistencies in the sewing.

stitchoffin

My tweet of a photo of my finished piece is at time of writing it is my most viewed tweet!  I was suitably thrilled to see photos of it in the display with all of the other works and will travel down to see the exhibition and maybe even meet up its some of the other makers (I think we are mostly following each other on Twitter so hopefully may keep in touch).
So from seeing some tweets all sorts of things have cascaded and I suspect will continue to.
And I got the new work for my exhibition all done in time, and it opens Easter Saturday!
You can read about the project (including my piece) here