Tuesday, 17 April 2018

In my garden I am queen




 The other day I was planting some bulbs out in a tricky spot in the garden. The soil was a bit dry and full of rubble , there was the usual ground elder to remove and the bed is tilted and at an awkward angle. To top it all there is a very old clematis vine in front of the spot and somewhere very nearby its roots. The vine lay across the planting hole and I found myself reaching for my claw rake and using it as a retractor.
 Would this have come to mind had I not spent some eighty hours so far watching surgeons use their tools in tricky spots? I always look to nature for inspiration in my work ,usually for the subject matter, but now I find it  helpful to bridge the gap of experience. Naturally I am not allowed to actually get involved during surgery and this had initially presented me with a dilemma. How do I understand the hands of another without trying what they do themselves?
 Whilst planting I always have to remove weed roots, note the soil condition and not chop the worms up as I dig. The soil structure is 'healable' but there are schools of thought that regard pit planting as preferable to digging over the whole bed. Choice of planting relies on knowing the spot that you want to plant up; dry? shaded? well drained?
 A multi dimensional understanding is key in gardening. This means that you combine the understanding of the plants' needs, the ecosystem of your garden, choice of colour  and how time affects the outcome. And yet these are qualities of all expert practise, we all use multi dimensional thinking to produce our work, artist, surgeon or gardener.
 My thoughts turn to understanding colour and complex surfaces hence the image above.This demands a whole post later.........



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Monday, 26 March 2018

Lace makers fingers

 

  A recent discussion with a hand surgeon open end up a new path of thought for me. An initial discussion about right angles cuts and the 'tip' of the cut dying back prompted me to make some stitch samples to illustrate how I tackle delicate cuts and repairs.
 I took these to our next meeting and our conversation took off! Our talk was all crossing paths between tiny stitches,straight needles, needle handling, needlelace, micro stitches,artery patterns in the hand,where you can cut and where you must avoid it, patching where there is loss and why aren't there more curved cuts.


 Two examples which I will expand on here show how we use the same solutions to very different problems. The first is with patching areas where there is tissue loss. Imagine the shape of the back pocket on your jeans and then removing it from a piece of fabric.Remove a little from the top edge of the hole so that it is now bigger than the patch. Now stitch the patch back in! This is accomplished by first seaming up part of the pointed end of the hole and then re-positioning the patch centrally and stitching it back. There are shades of 1930's pattern cutting in this with attendant issues of redistributing extra fabric. Similarly if you want to make an armhole smaller and fit the sleeve in you would do something very like it.
  It was also interesting to see my friends beautiful drawing of her techniques which were more than eloquent and very necessary.
 The other patch solution which impressed me was how to mend a hole with an asymmetric patch. As long as the length of each 'seam' is the same then it will work. This is not a mending solution for clothes but damaged fingers. However this principal is also used to create a good fit in tailoring and corsetry. What happens when you put two different shapes with equal sides together is that one side will kick out and give shape and volume and elegance of fit--the 'armhole to sleeve head' seam and sprung seams over the hips on corsets are two examples. This is because you are tricking a flat surface into curving over a 3D surface and thus giving it room to expand too.


  These things are always easier to see and understand then describe...which led our discussion to expert knowledge. At this point we went and discussed a magnificent piece of lace in the European gallery at the V&A! This marvel of point lace was a perfect parallel with its micro stitches and complex construction sequence.I find that surgeons always understand lacemaking !!!


Thursday, 15 March 2018

Textile Body part five: The unknown








  It takes a while to get to the site of the operation but after passing through the labyrinth of the body we arrive at the cramped confines of the organs.Tucked away in the core they are mute and mysterious, their internal structures hidden from view underneath the smooth surface. Here is where the tiny stitches will be, the micro movements made with trained hands, the millimetre precision judged.


 It was with some interest that I found that different organs are tougher than others due to both age and structure so I chose three different types of fabric which would behave very differently. Not wanting to simply make bad anatomical soft toys I chose instead origami to represent the complexity of the body.I have loved the folded fortune teller since a child, the tactile experience of the folding sequence and then finding that you have made finger pockets and fold out layered areas to write messages on.


 In fabric they take on more mystery so I chose first paper silk which as its' name suggests behaves like paper and takes a fold very well.It is incredibly lightweight and yet resilient. Inspired by a conversation with a paediatrician I chose it to represent neonatal organs. I also chose a coarse weave linen and a slub silk.The latter was heavily frayed and after completing the folding  these were the ones that I chose to squash out of shape to show damage.
  Inside I have embroidered samples of stitches that I use in my raised embroidery and lacemaking work. The linen organs all have variations of buttonhole stitch whilst the silk organs have examples of picot stitch, french knots, cup stitch and, shown here, needlelace.


   Each of these stitches is relatively easy to work on their own and on flat fabric but when they are grouped together they present lots more difficulties.The needle is more likely to hit other stitches as you sew and your thread becomes spiralled and catches on the fabric.These are the same challenges as minimal access surgery both in the technicality of the stitch and of handling several materials at once.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Textile Body part four: Noughts and crosses





  My area of observation in surgery has so far been for vascular surgery. I understood that there would be examples of very fine stitch work but had not fully considered how it was that you arrived at the area to be mended. It was the detailed sequence of the route into the body that inspired much of this 'body' that I have made.
  Watching several surgeons working at the same time I was aware that they don't just have to stitch but plan and negotiate physical space, both within the confined area inside the body but outside it too.
Around the patient there are at least three surgeons plus a medical student and the scrub nurse...and sometimes me! The surgeons must both negotiate elbow space around the operation and assist each other with tight manoeuvres, referred to as 'following'. The sequence they must follow into their target area has already been planned and in some cases marked out on the body after studying scans and case discussions.
  The image above shows how I have divided up some of these skills; on the right the woven materials of muscle and fascia and artery with their attendant material challenges to negotiate in order to get at the problem. On the left a game of noughts and crosses in fine organza.


  There is a style of quilting called trapunto which was once very fashionably worked on sheer fabrics.Patterns were hand stitched as double rows of parallel stitches on organza.Through the transparent material you could see cords impossibly threaded through these channels but with no apparent entry or exit holes.The fineness of the material allows for no mistake not least because it can be easily damaged.
  My version has tubular ribbons threaded through the pattern of '0' and 'X' variations, each slightly different to illustrate subtle differences in the challenge of threading them through. The trick is planning and understanding your materials;where to start? what tool to use? how far can the material be pushed and does it have hidden qualities?
 It seemed to me that a thought experiment was just the thing for this layer in my 'body'.






Tuesday, 27 February 2018

Textile Body part three; fragility


  This third post about this piece looks at how fragile some materials are. I was fascinated by how parts of the gut are lifted out of the body during open surgery to give the surgeon better access to the mending site beneath. The living structure is cared for whilst out in the open and still functions despite what is going on around, in fact it moves.
  This led to some interesting discussions with surgeons as to the nature of the tissues involved and I began to understand the similarities between these and certain fabrics that I know. One of the most extraordinary is connective tissue and the mysentery. This tissue type has more poetry about it than any other as it is changeable and elusive and somewhat mysterious. It webs its' way through the body and reveals itself under a microscope as dewy, fibrous, filmy and like organza.
  Throughout this piece of work  I have represented it in four ways;as clingfilm around the 'spine', as silver lurex stitches between layers of 'skin', as wide organza ribbon weaving through the 'muscle' and as layered organza in the gut. This last one is featured here and is the one where I took the most artistic liberty with the form!
  My elastic band lucet braid gut was tested and approved by a colorectal surgeon and I added in different thicknesses of braid as directed. There are also areas of damage to it which can be 'repaired'. But then I felt that it should sit in a bag as it does when it comes 'out' for an operation and so I used an idea from a screen I made some years ago. Layered organza was finely stitched in patterns and then cut away between the stitches.Some areas were left complete and some are cut away and very fragile. Betweeen these are more unseen areas  of 'damage'.
  To complete the surface I added scraps of organza as strange little florets because the cut edges catch on all around them, rather like the regrowing fascia can in the gut after an operation.
 The final touch was to put a drawstring around the edge of the bag and sit the 'guts' inside.They then sit atop the 'vascular' layer of the 'body' and have to be carefully extricated every time we demonstrate it.
  The organza has interesting qualities in this its 'organdy' version, that is to say in cotton. Despite its fine weave it holds shape well and can be used for very sculptural work. As it is transparent it allows no faults or hiding of mistakes. It is both strong and very fragile, mostly when cut into smaller pieces where it starts to disintegrate.By layering it you can create what I have been told are perineal spaces within the work!
 The final poetic mysenteric bag is shown here.