The embroidery of running

The art of running
The artist’s footprint, scan of her heart and her heartbeat – and my size eights!

There’s a definite art to running, but what about running to make art? What about running up and down a very large room 15 times, leaving footprints, recording your heartbeat and stitching them together into an artwork using a sewing machine and 100 metres of cloth?

Twenty-three artists from all over the world took a room in a former textile factory as their inspiration to produce Cloth and Memory, which is quite frankly a most magnificent and moving exhibition. The fact that the inspiration is in the Unesco World Heritage Site of Saltaire and Yorkshire epicentre of all things arty, makes this exhibition in the 168-metre-long spinning room at Salts Mill a must-see.

I’m a real fan of Salts Mill anyway, it has a fabulous bookshop, a whole load of Hockneys and the coffee’s not bad either. Plus, it’s only a short run from home…The top floor of the former mill has hosted a number of exhibitions, as well as performances, seminars and installations. I just love the light up there, an essential element for the spinners when the mill was producing 18 miles of cloth a day. No wonder Bradford was once the textile centre of the world.

The exhibition takes cloth as its main theme and left it to the artists to interpret it in the context of heritage or memory. They made great use of the space, with spirals of cloth suspended from the ceiling, hand-woven kimonos with a feminist theme, embroidery hoops with woollen cloth and an unravelled jumper, the description doesn’t do it justice! But what really stood out for me was a 100 metre length of cloth digitally embroidered by Karina Thompson who had run up and down the room to represent the amount of fabric produced in one hour at the mill. I was tempted to run alongside to see if my steps matched hers, but I didn’t want to crash into the suspended web of dried rice from Japanese artist Yoriko Yoneyama and cause an international incident.

There wasn’t any information on how long it took the artist to make. Even though it was machine stitched and probably using computer technology it is quite a feat and rather than fancy embroidery, I’m pretty sure she used running stitch.

Cloth and Memory runs 11-4pm daily until November 3. Entrance is free.

Getting knitted out

Cat casts a critical eye over the new jumper.
Cat casts a critical eye over the new jumper.

The first thing I ever knitted was a dishcloth. It was at junior school,  the stern-on-the-outside but soft-on-the-inside Mrs Elliot cast caution and health and safety to the wind, and without so much as a warning about the pointyness of needles and their potential as playground weapons, thrust knitting needles and a ball of thick grey string into our hands, and told us to get on with it. Those were the days.

Fortunately dishcloths do not need to be a prescribed shape, though it’s best not to have too many holes, as I found out when I did my first wash-up and tied knots of unknitted string around the Sunday best fruit dishes, failing to scrape away the residue of Del Monte fruit cocktail and Carnation Milk.

Along with baking and sewing, knitting is making a come-back, we’re all finding our creativity again. Personally I’m glad, I like making things to eat and wear, it feels somehow more satisfying than writing a solid strategy or project plan with milestones and critical paths. Though of course it doesn’t pay as much.

Living near Bradford, which used to be the wool and textile centre of the world, you’d expect to find a few good yarns, even though most of the mills have long since gone. The best of the best is Texere, a quirky mill-cum-shop open just a few hours a week, packed with every colour and weight of wool possible. There’s even  coffee and comfy sofas to spend those few hours browsing patterns or, in my case, talking to anyone and everyone, listening to tales of knitting derring-do with chunky needles the size of rolling pins and near misses with the stitch-holders.

I went to look at the colours and get ideas, after all, I hadn’t knitted since just after dishcloth days. The orange mohair in the bargain bucket was calling to me. Why on earth wouldn’t anyone want to knit an orange jumper? And at £1 a ball, well it was criminal not to buy it, even though I hadn’t a clue how much I needed or how to make it into something I could wear. Still, a bargain is a bargain.

It turned out there wasn’t quite enough for a whole jumper, I worked that out before I started, so in my usual make-it-up-as-I-go-along fashion, I added extra colours and twisted in some fine yarn which I’d bought on an impulse with the vague idea of knitting Noel a tie. Still, it’ a one-off, and the cat seems to agree, though he was more interested in sitting on the balls of wool. Maybe next time I’ll use a pattern, I might even stick to it.

Bollywood, bindis and baggy trousers

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There’s something elegant and exotic about the fancy floaty fabrics of Asian clothes. Having worked in Bradford for the past year and admiring the colours and shapes of churidars and kameez, I was itching to have a good old girlie trying-on session.

When Janan, a new designer store opened just a stone’s throw from work, it would have been rude not to pop in, dragging Kate along to cast a critical eye. Now one thing you need to know about churidars, or trousers,  is they are nicely tapered at the ankle, but spreading out like a huge great pair of sails to envelope the waist. There’s a heck of a lot of material and for some reason, maybe a shortage of elastic in the Asian clothing industry, there’s nothing to keep them up. So as I stepped out of the cubicle, I moved, the churidar didn’t, except to drop to the ground. So much for the feminine look, then. Fortunately I’ve threaded many a pair of knickers with elastic so knew what to do. Never have I had so much fabric around my waist, I could eat an entire bakery and no-one would notice my big belly.

Ans there was just the occasion to wear my new elasticated purchase too. A Bollywood evening at a friend’s house to raise money for charity, oh my goodness what a riot of colours! We were each given a jewelled bindi, or third eye, and more curry than a human could eat, then it was on with the show, Bride and Prejudice watched by a roomful of giggling girls in sarees and shalwar drowning out the soundtrack with our jangling bangles. Dressing up doesn’t get much better than that!

A clickiness of photographers

Photographers photographed

There’s something rather wonderful about spending an afternoon with a bunch of photographers intent on doing creative stuff. With my Exposure Leeds hat on at a jaunty angle, I set off to lead a street photography workshop in Bradford city centre.

This was this third workshop I’ve run with the lovely people at Impressions Gallery. They were so popular, all the places were filled as soon as the workshops were announced, which was encouraging.

There are some magnificent street photographers, capturing people, shapes, patterns, light, shadow, movement and anything else on the street. We set out to take photographs of pretty much anything that moved – and plenty of things that didn’t.

The results are here . I have to confess to being rather chuffed with the photos they took.

A little bit of imagination goes a long way

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One of the great things about kids is their uninhibited imaginations, there’s a whole world of make-believe is inside their little heads, bursting with energy and ideas. Before you know it, they have a story, a play, a song or a picture and the dozen or so youngsters who burst into Impressions Gallery looked like they could do the whole lot!

With my Exposure Leeds hat on, I was leading a Family Photo Workshop, the idea was to encourage kids to enjoy photography and use their imagination. They didn’t disappoint. No sooner had they arrived with their parents than the props box was broken out, wigs, gowns, silly glasses, the lot. One little boy who wasn’t even part of the workshop picked out a rather fetching Geisha wig and a sparkly handbag and helped me  welcome everyone, adding a comment or two of his own.Which was nice.

Grown-ups were dressed up, their children art directed the photography. Who’d have thought so many hats could be fitted on one head? Oh the power of telling your dad to pick his nose or act like a pirate arrrrrr, all in the name of exploring new ways to express yourself with your camera.

While Si did the indoor stuff, I took a group around City Park making them stop every 20 steps, look around, think, tap into their active imaginations and then take a photo. I’d already encouraged them to think of themes, maybe a colour, or a shape, types of buildings, reflections or shadows. One youngster carried a spotty bow tie around, photographing it in all sorts of places. Another worked with a blue feather, another captured architecture and buildings. They stood on things, lay flat on their bellies on the pavement, splashed through water to get the shot they wanted, excitedly showing their photos on the camera screens. It was glorious.

Thanks to Si for helping with the ‘shoot the grown-ups’ session.I don’t know who were the bigger kids, though, Si, me and the Impressions staff or youngsters. A tough call, I’d say…

Outbreak of spontaneous hugging

One minute I was in the camping chair, mini union jack in one hand, the next I was hugging a total stranger. It couldn’t be helped, Team GB had just won their second silver medal at the London Olympics and all of us around the big screen in Bradford city centre were very pleased indeed.

It was a bit parky for late July, but a few folk were milling around City Park where sponsors had set out rows of camping chairs and giant bean bags, that’s giant bags of beans rather than bags of giant beans. Cadbury’s were handing out chocolate medals for feats of athletic ability. I got one for throwing a ball through a hoop not once, but twice, it was emotional.

But that was just a prelude to the real excitement, we were all willing Team GB to beat the Kiwis to silver in the equestrian event, knowing gold was beyond our grasp. And we did it, so what else was there to do but hug a total stranger to celebrate?. Oooo I love the Olympics – gold’s the next goal, possibly tomorrow….please!

Silver for Team GB - the scene before the hugging!

Make art, not war

Razia with the ropes

I’ve come to the conclusion that if artists ruled the world there would be no wars, with any conflict confined to minor skirmishes rooted in artistic differences of the kind that split up The Beatles.

The latest installation at Gallery II, tucked away in the decidedly un-arty engineering block at the University of Bradford brings together art and conflict on a very personal level. Changing Spaces is an interactive installation, in other words the visitors make it happen which is what I like in my art. None of this standing around and looking, let’s get in there and do it!

Artist Sorrel Muggridge was commissioned by Lisa Cumming, from the University’s Peace Studies Department and David Robison of the Media School to create an  installation where people could say something about conflict and how they have dealt with it by making rope.

I joined Lisa and Gallery helper Raiza to bring my own conflict and commit it to rope which I would make myself. Sounds bizarre, but it was an amazingly moving experience.  I started by writing my own conflict down on a tiny roll of tape, a challenge in itself and not something to share here. Lisa and Raiza helped me make the rope, stretching out from hook to hook across the room, winding, twisting and tying and of course chatting, which to me was all part of the interactivity and the art. The finished rope is hung from the ceiling, joining those made by others, all making a statement about dealing with conflict.

My own rope was two, one rough, one smooth, brought together with the climber’s figure-of-eight knot, my conflict right there in the middle. How satisfying. How moving.