I have just spent two joyful days making bramble baskets in new leafed woodland near Heathfield, East Sussex, facilitated by Ruby Taylor of Native Hands.
The gentle supportive tone and pace of the weekend was set as we were invited to make the short walk into our camp in the woods, silently and to turn off our mobile phones. Each day we joined in the lighting of a campfire, blowing gently to ignite a small spark held in a dry grass bundle to which twigs, sticks and small split logs were added. It became the centre of warmth, support and mindful making.
For our material, we gathered and stripped brambles; a small wall basket with a handle the aim. Each technical step was taught with care and clarity by Ruby. We shared food at lunch times and punctuated our days with plentiful tea and flapjacks. Baskets finished, but not yet trimmed as bramble shrinks, we gathered with joyful surprise at our efforts.
As we contemplated our return to busy-ness, Ruby read The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry to complete a quite beautiful weekend.
“When despair grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
© susy orton 2019
This Spring I have returned to willow and rush weaving; it’s been joyful to get my hands back onto the beautiful pliable stems. Willow and Rush compliment cloth weaving in the challenges of thinking, of form and of choice of material. My technique is improving but I have a way to go to feel satisfied; a lifetime of repetition. A time of reconnection, review and renewal is ahead.
© susy orton 2019
Inspiring books have come into my life these past few months; they arrived in various ways but all with generosity and warmth. I wanted to share them.
The first is by Elizabeth Fisher and Rebecca Fortnum: On Not Knowing: How Artists Think. It’s a chewy book, when slow re-reading and digesting is essential for me. It has chapters like ‘Tactics for Not Knowing’ and ‘Unteachable and Unlearnable’ and ‘Pedagogy of the Not Known’. I am loving it, chewing it and allowing myself to relax a little more into my own puzzles and artistic endeavours.
The second is by Kate Davies: Handywoman. Paralysed by a stroke at the age of 39, Kate’s world turned upside down. Forced to change direction, she took a radical new creative path. Handywoman is not a book about triumph over adversity, rather it is her account of the ordinary activities and everyday objects that stroke and disability made her see differently. Part memoir, part personal celebration of the power of making, it redefines disability as in itself a form of practical creativity.
© sue orton 2018
… so to the completion of Sprit of Damselfly. In late autumn last year I put aside time and settled into my weaving. Conversations with my client and a deeper sense of understanding of the essence of the weave had helped me know the structure and sett of the piece. The warp was to be random using fibonacci sequence as I painted the colours on. It was a joy to make. I also decided to weave the weft with blue bamboo over the ‘painted’ warp to give a consistent yet random feel. World it work? Knowing that a settled and clear stretch of days was needed for rhythm and form to be consistent I began. Winding the warps, threading from the back of the loom and then into steady days of weaving. Into December and I was finished in time to send it for a surprise Christmas present. I know it was received well and I am delighted.
© sue orton 2018
A request for a commission came to me last Autumn from the partner of a gifted poet who had admired my South Downs Tweed. My creative ideas had unconsciously started when she sent me a poem ‘Damselfly’ which I had been pondering. ….The process of designing started with a conversation and a wondering … and my notes record ideas and snippets …”damselfly, water, sea, rivers” ….”Spring summer, appreciate the lift of energy,”…”strong rich colours teal, lighter blue, olive greens..” … colours that expand into the bright edge of themselves… ” So my exploring, experimentation and mood board began … and as I looked and pondered my yarn palette grew too. A mix of merino wool and bamboo perhaps…? After a few weeks I decided a point threading would be fun to explore and so using fibonacci numbers to help randomise the warp I painted a warp and went ahead with an experimental cloth to send to my client for her perusal…..
© sue orton 2018
In 2017 I was asked if I took commissions and I was unsure so. Here is my response…
A commission …… the process of weaving for me, is to walk, to be outside, to find some inspiration photographs, pictures, writing or some thing that intrigues me, moves me, to ponder and to wonder….… then to sketch, to explore shapes and ideas without knowing the form, colour or structure of a piece, until it ‘emerges’ out of my sketch books over time. Once I settle on the feel of a piece, I play with colour, with yarn and with weave structure, make a short warp and sample some ideas on my small loom to see if it works.
Then, when I’m happy I design a warp, wind it and then put it onto my loom before weaving and then finishing it. Sounds simple but it’s a bit more complex than that. The stages I go through are: sketching and designing; developing a colour pallet; selecting yarn; exploring and finalising a weave structure; winding a warp of 500-600 threads, dressing the loom – taking the warp from the carousel to the back beam; threading and treadle setting; weaving, washing and finishing a test section usually 20 cm; adjusting the set as needed or not: weaving full length of about 2 m, and then finishing. This usually takes me a couple of months. The summer and winter are good weaving times as I’m not doing so much learning coaching. In the autumn and spring, weaving is punctuated with coaching during each term.
In December I finished a commission; post to follow this.
© sue orton
I live 100m from the beach. It’s the English Channel. It’s tidal with large expanses of beach covered then revealed twice each 24 hrs. The tide and its strand line change with the moon bringing high Spring and lower Neap tides. I walk, swim, paddle, sit; I sketch, breath, take pictures. I gather flotsam and jetsam, pick up plastic and bits; I smell, see, am buffeted, warmed, nourished by weather. I meet dogs and their walkers, fisher people and bait diggers. I collect driftwood for journey-sticks. Here are this mornings gatherings.
© sue orton