Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Janet Bolton Workshop by Lynne Gill

I've long been a fan of Janet Bolton, having a couple of her books on my bookcase dating back to the 1990's.  Here's someone else finding them interesting!

a new JB recruit?

 When I was reading Lynne Gill's  Textile Treasury blog I was fascinated by Lynne's Janet Bolton style pieces - and wasn't surprised to read of Janet's influence.  I'm quite envious that Lynne had the opportunity to go to a Janet Bolton workshop and was really pleased she agreed to write about her experience here.  

Over to Lynne from  Textile Treasury...

I wasn’t in the best of health at the time, and had been experiencing a two-year long ‘falling out’ with everything stitchy. Eventually a good friend took me to task, said I’d been messing about with paper and paint for too long, and hauled me off to a Janet Bolton 2-day workshop in the pretty Northants village of Oundle.

Now, I had long been a fan of Janet’s work, and had one or two of her books, but I had never attempted to make any of her pieces, as I was until then making quite large quilts. No matter, I thought two days of gentle stitching would be just the ticket. And it certainly was!

Although trained in fine arts, Janet discovered an affinity for creating pictures from fabric and her career took an unexpected direction. However it’s wise to remember that artistic background, as her work can appear misleadingly simple, due to its naïve, folky style. In fact, every stitch is a deliberate statement, and she has an artist’s eye for balance and placement. Her reputation is as a textile artist, and her work is collected worldwide.

There were about a dozen of us embarking on the workshop, all with some prior knowledge of Janet’s work. We had brought with us very meagre requirements – lunch! Basic sewing equipment, varying amounts of fabric and threads, note pads pencils and high expectations! The atmosphere was friendly, peaceful and non-threatening. This is not a workshop to be worrying about in advance.

Janet is herself very down-to-earth, friendly, humourous, and generous. She brought with her many of her stitched pieces, her books, and a stash of scraps which she kindly encouraged us to rummage through and help ourselves to. We needed no second bidding! 

We were shown Janet’s process of working, and the methods she employs. First creating a background, framing this with strips and then backing the whole piece and neatening it off before adding the detail. This is a very pleasing way of working, as it is so much more enjoyable working on a tidy piece of work, rather than frayed and flapping unfinished edges. If you don’t like to see a ‘mess’ on the back, it is easy to add a further, concealing backing to the whole thing. Janet ‘previews’ each element by cutting the shape to its finished size, in order to be able to place the pieces exactly where they will go. Then each element is re-cut to include turnings, and each is placed and stitched in order.

Very basic stitches are used – running, slip, hemming and French knots. I can’t think of any others. Stitches are used to secure, or to add detail in a painterly fashion. Sometimes they are hidden, at others they are deliberately visible.

Then it was time to get cracking with our own attempts. Janet encouraged us to design something ourselves – most people's turned out looking remarkably like Janet Bolton pieces, even if you’d have no difficulty telling hers from ours! I began with an idea in my head, but grew steadily disenchanted with it as the afternoon wore on. Finally, despite help and encouragement, I asked if I could start again, choosing something from one of her books. Of course, there was absolutely no problem with this, and I was relieved and happier to be starting anew. I chose one of the ‘flower beds’ from her In a Patchwork Garden book, which I had brought with me. This time I was well away and though some of the pieces are a little clumsier than I’d like them to be – Janet encouraged us to ‘eye-ball’ the shapes – I am still quite pleased with it.
There is great satisfaction to be had, stitching these tiny pieces. The sewing is soothing and undemanding. The only practical difficulty I could envisage is working on such a small scale if you are more used to working larger, or if your hands /fingers are less nimble than you’d like them to be. No matter, both the method and Janet herself are beautifully accommodating, and you can work within your own comfort zone. 

 Shibori Garden

The two days passed by delightfully, we stitched tranquilly, shared food and drink, got the undivided attention of this incredibly talented and amiable woman, and left well pleased with our endeavours. I actually finished mine when I returned home – which is quite unusual for me. Since then I have become hooked on making these small stitcheries; many of them are from Janet’s books, but I gradually became confident enough to begin designing my own. Granted, they are still recognizable as Janet Bolton style, her work is so popular it is recreated endlessly. However, I like to think that I am slowly developing my own style.

 Avocets at Titchwell

Janet continues to wander throughout the UK and further afield, beguiling and encouraging her students. I feel more and more privileged to have been lucky enough to attend one of her workshops, and actually it’s all thanks to that friend of mine who dragged me out of my doldrums and back to stitching again. If you get the opportunity to get on a workshop, do go, you won’t regret it! 

Lynne, thanks so much for sharing your experience with us.  The pieces you're designing yourself are a definite "moving on" aren't they?  They're retaining the Janet Bolton influence but you're putting more of yourself into them - I love them.

Visit Lynne's blog to see more of her work.


Lynne said...

What a nice surprise, Wendy to see myself 'in print' on Handmade Harbour. Thanks for the opportunity.

Wendy said...

You're more than welcome Lynne. I hope other people enjoy your post as much as I did! x

Artsy Craftery Design Studio said...

I love the simple little Avocets. Joining through Look forward to reading more of your posts.

Highland Monkey's said...

Lovely post. The sewing looks deceptively simple but I can see a lot of thought went into it. I love applique, need to get back into it.

Wendy said...

I love the Avocets too, Sandi. Lynne tells me that one sold quite quickly - not surprisingly! Penny - yes, I love applique too, there's so much you can do with it.