Peoples History Museum

I got chance to go over to The Peoples History Museum this month to take part [with Jade and Zi from work] in what I thought was a talk but pleasantly turned out to be a workshop. It was called The Fabric of Protest and was organised by Helen Mather and Lisa Gillan []. Helen is an independent artist, painter who is interested in banners [and quilts as paintings as I discovered through chatting – there were so many connections].

The workshop that I took part in was one in a series in which people to come along on a monthly basis, in earlier meeting that I had not attended they had come across the story of the Matchstick Girls. This is very basic but essentially, in a factory down south, girls of 14 and maybe younger were employed to make matches and pack them up. Part of the process involved putting the matches in there mouths and as a result they would develop horrendous mouth cancers. Alongside this was the very poor standards of working conditions and at the time, they were considered as unskilled workers and were therefore unrepresented by a Union [which only worked for skilled workers at the time]. On one day a girl was fired which resulted in the entire workforce walking out and marching down to the local Union representative to demand support. This, I understand was the birth of the modern Union’s.

This workshop had decided to make a banner that represented this action, previous weeks had seen the design for the banner develop and this session saw the beginning of sewing happening. We managed in a=our small groups to get the lettering cut out and started some sewing before the session finished and for other in the next groups to continue with. There were so many similar practices happening in this event and the MQB, there shared experience of working on one item was particularly rich.

I am hoping to get along to another session in the future before it is finished but it is during the week and so may not be possible.

The phrase ‘It Just Went Like Tinder’ was a term used by someone at the time of the incident to describe the reaction of the girls / workers when they decided to take action and not stand for the mistreatment any more.

I cannot remember the name or date of the event but I understand the banner is going to be used as a backdrop for a musical event in Manchester during December. I believe the singer is possibly an artist in resident at the Manchester Peoples History Museum and is doing a concert in response to this residency. Will endeavor to find out more.

OK – this is probably a more accurate account…


Learning to make Glass Beads.

I was lucky enough to go to Berlin this month [a field trip with students] and found the time to find out about a few workshops that i could take part in. i was keen to experience something I really had no experience in and so I picked the glass bead making session. It was an organised group session however I was the only one so got a 1:1 session for an hour and then had a few hours after to work under my own steam.

I was totally transfixed with the process, it was strange to be doing something so hands on yet their was no skin to material contact while it was being made. When drawing or making textiles, the hand and touch plays such an important role – particularly in terms of having a direct understanding of how a material is responding.

Here you can see the results of this session and my notes on what to do. I am interested in perhaps developing this further if it feels appropriate. I have found, although not yet visited, a studio which offers open workshops for glass bead making in Hebdon Bridge which is quite local to me.

Hand made glass beads. [Perren, 2016]
Hand made glass beads. [Perren, 2016]

Quilt Development from Painted Study

I decided it was time that I took one of my earlier painting studies of a Gee’s Bend quilt and have a go at translating it into a quilt top.

Tim Ingold talks about ‘know for yourself’ in his book Making. In order to truly understand something, from the inside out you need to be actively engaged in it i.e. just looking at pictures of the Gee’s Bend quilts will only bring a certain amount [and type] of understanding.  My thoughts are that by drawing them, painting them and making work that explores similar aspects [not copying] will bring more of the true knowing that Ingold talks of.

Sally Bennett Jones 1944-1988 Centre medallion of triangles, surrounded by multiple borders. 1966. Cotton. 86 x 77 “

Sally Bennett Jones Study [Perren 2015]
Design plan for Sally Bennett Jones Study [Perren, 2015]
Piece layout for quilt top, Sally Bennett Jones Study [Perren, 2015]
Ref: Ingold, T. (2013). Making. Oxon: Routledge.

Exploring non quilted stitch

When it come to textiles, for the last few months the focus has been on quilting. I’m quite happy with this but as a mum I often find myself at locations waiting for one of my daughters, quilts are not exactly portable so I have used the time to explore textiles in other ways in more bite size pieces.  Much like the amateur knitter sitting at the side of the local pool, I found myself doing some embroidery [although I would consider them to be drawings].

These samples have again allowed me to engage with a slowness of pace in working and the ability to use time in a manner that I could have some autonomy. I believe these approaches to stitch might be worth further development with regards to narrative and materiality.

Stitch Exploration 1. cotton, jute, Japanese tape yarn, beads, sequins. [Perren, 2015]
Stitch Exploration 2. Sheer viscose, beads, waxed linen, sequin. [Perren, 2015]
Stitch Exploration 3. Cotton, polystyrene, velvet, dipped paper yarn, tyvek, beads, netting. [Perren, 2015]

ummm, not sure about this

I have used the quilt top / sandwich to develop some ideas with sequins. Think in this case it has not worked, not sure why but it feels like it is two separate things forced together. I am going to keep going with this though but it will need more thought. Once I get a little more time I would like to work on a piece a lot more heavily, at the moment it seems too polite.  Need to take it to extremes.

Applied Sequins onto a Quilted Top. Cotton, sequins. 70 x 40 cm [Perren, 2015]
I need to gain more control of the straight line, particularly the machine sewn ones. I am ok with the mix of machine and hand sewn lines but it just needs a lot more of a lot more things?

Quilting Skill Development

I decided it was time to start and develop a few further quilting skills and explore possibilities of composition. Although I am not sure if quilting will be the best direction to go in terms of practice, my gut feeling suggests keep going with it. Not sure why I am a little nervous about it, I suspect it is because of its loaded nature but I believe that is exactly why I should be pursuing it further.

This is a quilt top that I actually made from a plan as opposed to ‘lets see what happens’. If this work is going to develop as image, then I will need to gain a lot more control and understanding of the technicalities of quilting. If the direction becomes more about the act of making then this may be less of an issue.

Quilt Top [development]. Cotton: plain and printed. 70 x 40 cm [Perren, 2015]
Quilting leftovers are becoming more of a point of reference. Keep more scraps!

Bumping Hands

When we all met for the first time, as expected we were quite reserved, polite and understood about personal space. The politeness remained but an aspect that I had not observed in the earlier mentioned video about the Gee’s Bend women was just how physically close you have to get so we could work on the quilt.

A couple of moments stuck out for me, the first was seeing two quilters [who did not know each other before the group got together] work so closely that their hands were literally bumping. In the questionnaire’s that were completed at the end of the sessions, one person commented ‘bumping hands for the first time with someone will always make me smile’.

Bumping Hands [Perren, 2015]
Working Space [Perren, 2015]
The second observation was when one of the quilters was sat underneath the quilting frame, amongst the legs of her fellow workers she was trying to sort out a knot on the back of the quilt.

The Underside [Perren, 2015]
These were aspects I was keen to further explore within my own practice and highlighted the nature of my initial preference for working in isolation.

Sun/flowers and a Mouse

As we got towards the end of making the quilts we began to think about what else we might want to add. We had sewn in enough lines diagonally across the quilt to establish its ‘usefulness as a quilt’. Again, everyone requested that I provide clear guidelines [despite my objections], once they were given, after a week people just started to do what they wanted.

I had been thinking about the utilitarian nature of stitching in the Gee’s Bend quilts and the simplicity of Japanese quilts. From this I had suggested that we stick to geometric shapes and / or the follow lines of the pieced blocks. I found myself sewing at one end of the quilt one week and could not see what else was going on.

To my total surprise, at the end of the session when I walked round to see what we had all been up to I found a moon, several flowers, a leaf and the outline of a large eared mouse [apparently a favoured motif of that quilter] – not too dissimilar too Mickey Mouse.

Again, the quilters seemed very happy to subvert the direction of the quilting.


Quilting Bee Prep by an Amateur

So I had made one quilt [wrongly], I was very keen to just turn up with some fabrics and a book and see how things went [so we could all engage with the amateurishness]. However, I suspected that would be the quickest way for everyone to leave. I reflected on the processes and stages I had been through in my quilt and created a basic framework that provided the structure so we all knew what was happening but that allowed everyone to input into the process in their own way.

I did not have much cash and so went along to IKEA and bought metres of their reasonable quality plain ecru cotton cloth at £2 per metre. I then dyed this up in the washing machine with Dylons in 3 shades: mid tone grey, fuchsia and turquoise. Inspired by some of the simple uses of block colour in the Gee’s Bend quilts I chose for the daytime group to have Grey and Turquoise and the evening group to have Grey and Fuchsia. Having been washed and pressed, I cut them into long strips at 6″ wide. The idea was that people would each take a few strips, cut them into blocks and piece them together. If they wanted to keep it simple they could just join a few long strips, for those a little more adventurous they could cut it into small pieces for more intricate work.

I drew up some quick plans so I could work out the amount of fabric required and if people wanted a visual clue as to what I was thinking about, I would have it to hand.

Loretta Pettway, born 1942. Four-block strip quilt. Circa 1960. Cotton twill and synthetic material [men’s clothing]. 78×73 inches.
Rough plan for the group quilts.[Perren, 2015]
Gee’s Bend Quilt: