Portrait to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Death of War Poet Isaac Rosenberg

This weekend is the sees the 100th Anniversary of the death of war poet and artist, Isaac Rosenberg. Over the last few years, I have been working on a series of portraits of poets who died during the First World War: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas and here are photographs, with a bit of background about my portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Rosenberg came from a deprived, working class background. His parents were pacifists who had fled from Lithuania so that his father could avoid conscription to the Russian Army, first moving to Bristol then onto the East End of London. He was the eldest son of Orthodox Jews and “for his part Rosenberg claimed that Jewishness gave him and his fellow Jewish artists ‘that which nothing else could have given’”. (Jean Moorcroft Wilson, ‘The Making of a Great War Poet’, page 3.)

Isaac Rosenberg

‘Daughters of War’ detail.

Rosenberg was a painter and a poet, he attended the Slade School of Art and trained as an engraver. Due to his background, he was automatically enlisted to the 12th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment (a Bantam regiment) as a Private rather than as an Officer, he therefore found that doing jobs such as a stretcher bearer gave him more of a gritty reality of war and this is reflected in his poetry.

Isaac Rosenberg - Daughters of War.

Daughters of War

Within this portrait, I have used hand stitched references to his poetry and his life. A number of his poems I found very pictorial and as I was reading his biography by Jean Moorcroft Wilson as preparation for the portrait, I was noting ideas for imagery. One such poem was Daughters of War, which drove my I need to find a way to illustrate these ‘spirits’ taking the souls of the dead and dying soldiers to be their partners. I stitched frenzied figures dancing, with a section of the poem hand stitched around them.
The figures of the Daughter of War, also symbolise the soldiers who also dance around a flame in ‘Louse Hunting’. This poem depicts some of the terrible issues the soldiers had to put up with day to day, besides fighting in a war.

Isaac Rosenberg

Detail from portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ and ‘In the Trenches’ were two poems which I have also used to aid the composition of this portrait. ‘In the Trenches’ talks of a poppy at the top of a parapet, not far from the barbed wire of no man’s land, and the terrible aftermath of a shell with the poppy strewn on the floor.

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Detail from portrait, poppy on the parapet of the trenches.

I have also included imagery of Whitechapel Library where, before the war, Rosenberg spent many evenings with his fellow artists and poets, in this portrait Whitechapel Library is positioned in the place of no man’s land, where he would die.

Isaac Rosenberg, framed portrait at the Sage Free Thinking Festival, March 2018.

Framed portrait of Isaac Rosenberg at this years Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival, at the Sage Gateshead, March 2018.

Rosenberg died at dawn on the 1st April, 1918 during a German raiding party but his body was not recovered until the 16th April near Arras. His war poetry is now considered to be some of the finest from the First World War.

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Charles Darwin portrait, finished.

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The Man from The Mount (Charles Darwin)

My textile portrait of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), is part of my series of ‘Cultural Hero’ portraits, including William Morris and W. G. Grace.

I chose Charles Darwin to be part of my series for many reasons including: he was a very cool naturalist, he had a great beard, he was born in Shrewsbury (where I am from) and he had a very interesting life! Simply, he has always been a hero of mine.

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Charles Darwin portrait, first phase.

When I am working on a portrait, I never have a finished overall plan of how it is going to look. It evolves, over time as I am working on it. I tend to do quite a lot of background reading and like to find out more about the person, where they lived, so that I can drop in links to their background in the portrait. So when I first start, I machine sew the initial portrait onto white cotton, then paint it with tea!

Phase 2 Charlie

Charles Darwin, with hand stitched background.

The background was drawn on and hand sewn, it includes images of the Tatochila Theodice Gymnodice butterfly which he found 1834; Scymnobius Galapagoenis found in the Galapagos in 1831; the Vermillion Flycatcher, also found in the Galapagos and sundew heads, which are found near where he was born at The Mount, in Shrewsbury.

Phase 3 Charlie

Working on a tapestry frame, hand sewing and painting the details.

Once the lines are stitched, I start to paint in with acrylic whilst working on a tapestry frame. This keeps the textile portrait taught, as I am not working on a canvas and the fabric would very easily start to shrink and stretch in all the wrong places.

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Vermillion Flycatcher, Charles Darwin portrait detail.

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Tatochila Theodice Gymnodice. Found by Charles Darwin in Chile in 1834.

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Detail showing the Scymnobius Galapagoenis (the Ladybug Beetle) and Sundew heads, embroidered onto Charles Darwin’s cloak.

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Detail from Charles Darwin portrait.

Since finishing my portrait of Charles Darwin, I have started again working on my portrait of the War Poet, Edward Thomas, which I hope to get finished by the middle of March, ready for the anniversary of his death during the First World War, on April 9th, 1917.

 

The Shipley Art Gallery Centenary Quilt, finished.

In 2016, I was asked to work on a lovely, large community project to help the Shipley Art Gallery celebrate their 100th Anniversary in 2017. The Shipley Art Gallery has a fabulous collection of the decorative arts and a very long, established link with the traditional technique of patchwork and quilting. Within their collection they have hundreds of hand quilted pieces, which have either been wholecloth designs or made using English Paper Piecing.

The project took over 9 months and was ready for the anniversary celebrations in November, 2017. We had over 100 patchworked squares made by members of the community, some local and few were posted from different part of the UK. The pieces which didn’t form part of the finished quilt (not because of quality as the standard of the finished, hand paper pieced squares was fantastic), have been made into pieces which can be used with schools, community groups and general visitors to help explain the process of hand paper piecing.

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Planning the final position of the patchwork squares for the centenary quilt.

Once all the squares were collected in and registered. A small group of people who had worked closely with the quilt over the last nine months, came together to help with the very tricky job of deciding where to place all the finished pieces. At this point, the paper templates were still in the back of the squares. Members of the group took a couple of rows away to join the individual squares together, then two rows together.

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Reverse of the centre panel for embroidering, with it’s paper templates still intact.

During this time, I worked on the centre panel, which was made up of cream and white self patterned ‘Grandmother’s garden’ hexagons, which would become the area to embroider the text upon. This section was then sewn into the middle of three rows of squares.

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Detail of the embroidery onto the central panel. The silk was hand dyed and hand spin by one of the members of the group.

Once all the rows and the central panel of the patchwork were sewn together, it was then placed, pinned and quilted to an organic cotton wadding centre and cotton backing. It took a long time to just pin the three layers together, accurately, as the quilt by this point was 200 cm by 220 cm.

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The finished patchwork ‘top’ being pinned to the organic cotton wadding and cotton backing, in preparation for hand quilting.

I decided to use a new tool, called a basting gun, which I bought from Cottonpatch to ‘pin/tack’ the three layers of the quilt together. A bit like the tools used in clothes shops to attach price labels to clothes, which can delicately keep the layers together but also quick and easy to remove. It made things much quicker and cut out the damage pins could do. It also allowed me to use a large hoop to quilt with, as it was too large for my frames.

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Binding the edge of the quilt.

The quilt needed to be finished a couple of weeks before the centenary celebrations, as it had to go in the large freezer at the Discovery Museum in Newcastle. This is something which the museum and gallery service will regularly do with new items to their collection to ensure that no new contaminates are brought into their collection.

Throughout November 2017, there were lots of different events at the Shipley Art Gallery to celebrate it’s centenary and the quilt was at the centre of this. People from the local community including the women of the Jewish community, women from the local Syrian community, plus local craft groups, the Shipley Quilters and all those who had individually made a square, were invited to a lovely afternoon of celebrations at the Shipley.

Local Syrian ladies community group

Some of the women from the local Syrian community who worked on the quilt.

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Finished Shipley Art Gallery Centenary Quilt on display.

The Shipley Art Gallery Centenary Quilt, 2017.

The Shipley Art Gallery Centenary Quilt, 2017.

The Shipley Art Gallery Centenary Quilt update

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100 finished hand patchworked squares positioned for sewing together.

Over the last five months I have worked with and meet with people from all over Gateshead, the North East and the UK to encourage people to be part of the Shipley Art Gallery Centenary Quilt. We have now received over 130 squares which have been made using traditional hand sewn,  hand paper piecing technique known as English Paper Piecing.

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Designing and making individual squares.

As part of the programme to make the quilt, there has been a weekly class held at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead. Attending were a mixture of people who had patchworked before and people who hadn’t stitched.  This was a really vibrant and supportive group of people, who within a couple of weeks were advancing very quickly in their skill development and very confident in using the new technique they had learnt to create their own designs. There was also a great opportunity for skills sharing and even the embroidery silk which will be used to stitch the lettering was hand spun during a skills sharing moment by one of our very talented group.

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The Shipley Art Gallery proved to be a great inspiration for our designs.

I have also worked with local craft groups, visitors the the Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival, members of the local Jewish Community and a Syrian Women’s support group. This has been a lovely opportunity to talk to people about how sewing,  making and craft has played an important part in their family, community and culture.

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Just a few of the 130 squares made!

Members of the patchwork class have been helping me over the last couple of weeks to sew the 100 squares together into rows and then the rows together.  This has been a fantastic help, as I am working on the central panel which is white and cream hexagons sewn in the ‘Grandmother’s Garden’design. This will then be embroidered with hand spun silk to create the lettering. Next month, October, I will then start to quilt the piece ready to be hung in the Shipley Art Gallery for the 22nd November, 2017.

 

 

How to: English Paper Pieced Patchwork

Patchwork has a long tradition of using precisely cut, paper pieces to ensure that the complex geometric designs fit neatly into place, ensuring fewer mistakes and more economical use of fabric – which was and can be expensive.

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Finished, hand stitched Pinwheel design.

Follow these simple instructions below to help you with your own English Paper Pieced patchwork.

Patchwork 1

Stage 1

  • Pin the backing paper to the ‘wrong’ side of every fabric patch.
  • Fold over the seam allowance and pin it so that the paper and fabric are the same size.
Patchwork 2

Stage 2

  • Tack around this edge – contrast cotton works well as it can be easily removed later.

TIP: When sewing the corners, use your nails to ensure you have folded the fabric neatly to the points, then create ‘wings’ in the excess fabric, which will remain on the underside of your patchwork piece – giving you a neat sewing edge on top.

Patchwork 3

Stage 3

  • Place two patches, ‘right’ sides together, line them up carefully so that each corner you are going to sew from matches.
  • Pin along this line.
Patchwork 4

Stage 4

  • Then sew a very small whipstitch/over stitch, sewing this edge together – try not to sew through the backing paper.
Patchwork 5

Stage 5

  • Continue placing new pieces together.
Patchwork 6

Right side of English paper Piecing.

  • Looking at the ‘right’ side of the fabric, you should be able to still see the hand sewn whipstitch you used to sew the two pieces together. This gives it it’s authenticity and adds beauty to the piece.
  • The tacking stitches you can see around the edge (and the paper inside) will eventually be take out, once all of the patchwork/quilt has been pieced together, before the backing fabric is placed on.
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Finished, hand stitched Pinwheel design.