Monday, 5 July 2010

How bits and pieces make threads

We are into July and the weather has turned cooler with some rain and lots of wind - after a fabulous June which was the hottest, driest and sunniest in 40 years or so.

I’m knitting small tapestries. There are still pattern and ornament in them, but after the period with the structural colour patterns and ongoing “percolation” of various threads and bits and pieces in my mind I feel drawn to do something more pictorial again. I won’t show any of them (yet), am just happy making, and some of them may become presents.

My little pond has some life in it, birds and insects visiting, the second new leaf of the water lily just peeps out. There is some amount of algae in it already as well as lots of stuff that came down from the trees and shrubs, so pond watching isn’t as clear as it was anymore, and I have difficulties to make out the two tadpoles that are in it, wherever they came from. Hopefully they make it into frogs.

I of course went to see Caroline’s exhibition. I was a bit afraid because the invitation warned not to bring children, and it was about a tough and horrifying experience she had when a close friend committed suicide. The exhibition showed works Caroline made to deal with this experience. She used textiles, text and handicrafts. There are no words needed here other than hers and the works themselves. I think she was very brave to show these to others.

I wasn’t sure if I should write the following here, but I think Caroline will find it interesting. In her interview she said:

“But at the end of the day, it is the stuff of life and the stuff of death, and that, really, is where my interests lie – in exploring the world, looking at it, looking at the horrible bits as well as the beautiful bits. And there is so much beauty in the gaps between the horror.”

Let me tell first that she has sent me a lovely present some time ago: a needle holder she made using the same technique as in her exhibition - machine embroidery – and probably even the same fabrics. Inside the needle holder when you open it you see this lovely little sheep:

After I had left the exhibition I went into town, having not been to Sligo in a year. I went into several bookshops because I wanted to find a good book, something that would fit with or contribute somehow to the percolation. At the very end of my search I found something in the book nest that I hadn’t known exists. Not a book to read, though: Henry Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook.

He made the sketches more out of opportunity when he watched the sheep that were grazing outside his temporary studio in 1972. He later gave it as a gift to his daughter Mary. Unfortunately I am not allowed to upload any of the great sketches in it, but here is a link to the book cover.

I definitely bring it to the next Knitaholics meeting.

He has captured the sheep so well, their gestures, postures, movements. And there are some particular good individual portraits that show how a sheep sometimes looks at you as if it is thinking.

Here is some of what he said about the sketches:
“The sheep often wandered up close to the window of the little studio I was working in. I began to be fascinated by them, and to draw them. At first I saw them as rather shapeless balls of wool with a head and four legs. Then I began to realize that underneath all that wool was a body, which moved in its own way, and that each sheep had its own character. If I tapped on the window the sheep would stop and look, with that sheepish stare of curiosity. They would stand like that for up to five minutes, and I could get them to hold the same pose for longer by just tapping again on the window…

Later…I found that the sheep had been shorn. They looked pathetically forlorn, naked, skinny, but shearing revealed the shape underneath the wool. I didn’t like them as much when they were shorn…So after a few more drawings of them in their shorn state, other interests took my attention, and the sketchbook ends.”

Now, I used to make drawings of my sheep some years ago, but I worked from photographs. Initially however, once or twice I attempted the exercise to do quick sketches of them, and I was very embarrassed with the results. But now I wanted to look at them again. I had to search and wasn’t sure if I had kept them. I found them, and it just feels right to show some of them here.

Ouch, this was the first one:

Luckily no heads needed here for the sheep grazing in long grass:

This was done at the second attempt:

I also found this unfinished drawing, done from a photograph:

The other funny thing with Moore’s Sheep Sketchbook was that on the second page there is something I don’t actually know the purpose of. It lists a few “subjects”, accompanied by little scribbles. One of these subjects are: tadpoles. There are three tadpoles pictured, one more than I have in my pond. But then again, can I be so sure about the amount?


  1. The sheep drawings are lovely!
    Thanks for your words too.

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  3. Hi Snac Breac, without spelling mistake now: Thanks.

    Meanwhile I can see the drawings to be funny.