Making A Large Neckpiece

Alex and I have just added a new article to the “Techniques” section of my website. It covers the making of the textile neckpiece I made for this year’s Devon Guild of Craftsmen, Summer Exhibition.

Detail of the finished neckpiece

Detail of the finished neckpiece

If you are interested in my textile techniques you can have a look at the article here:
Making the “Neckpiece for a Golden Age”

Creating the base fabrics for the project

Creating the base fabrics for the project

Quartz Festival 2012

Last night (25thSeptember), Alex and I went with a friend to attend the Private View of the art exhibition at the 2012 Quartz Festival. The Festival is an annual event held by Queens College, Taunton, in Somerset.

Banner image for the 2012 Quartz Festival

The 2012 Quartz Festival

The exhibition runs alongside a programme of performing arts events which this year includes performances by singers Lesley Garret and Elkie Brooks, along with sessions featuring comedy, poetry, magic and performance art. Space is always made for more serious cultural topics too and this year there will be a talk by Chris Larner, who in 2010 accompanied his chronically ill wife to the Dignitas Clinic in Switzerland.

Sculpture by Melanie Deegan

Sculpture by Melanie Deegan

Photograph by Ingrid Hesling

Photograph by Ingrid Hesling

The exhibition was an interesting and eclectic mix of painting, sculpture, photography and crafts from artists in the South-West of England. I thought that some of the sculpture by Melanie Deegan and photography by Ingrid Hesling was particularly strong.

The Private View

The crowds at the Private View

The Private View was very well attended right from the opening and a good number of sixth-form students were on hand to assist with greeting visitors and supplying the canapés and drinks.

My jewellery on display

My jewellery on display

More of my jewellery on display

More of my jewellery at the exhibition

Queens College was founded as a Wesleyan Methodist School in 1843. Today it provides co-educational facilities for pupils from 3 to 18 years as both a day-school and boarding-school. The fine main building was built in 1874.

Queens College, Taunton

Queens College, Taunton

Wisteria over the main entrance to Queens College

Wisteria over the main entrance to Queens College

The exhibition runs from Wednesday 26th September to Saturday 6th October. For further details see the Quartz Festival website.

Early Paintings

I thought it might be amusing to show you some paintings I did back when I was a student. These are a series of small oil paintings on canvas (each 285mm X 260mm) that I made around 1980 and are probably the earliest pieces of serious work I still have.Early painting number 1The paintings were not strictly figurative but there was supposed to be a hint of heraldic creatures, or emblems, or maybe ceremonial banners. Early painting number 2I am not sure how I would judge them now, or how I would pick out links to what I do now. My husband Alex says that he sees a connection running through all my work but I find it hard to judge.Early painting number 3I have had these paintings on the walls of my home for over thirty years now and they are old friends that always make me smile and feel inspired.Early painting number 4

1960’s Hong Kong

Last month, my daughter Isla spent a few days scanning old photographs so that we could store them on computer. These included pictures from an old album that came from Hong Kong, with black and white pictures that were taken in the 1960s.

A teenage version of me, posing under a bamboo

A teenage version of me, posing under a bamboo

Most of these old photographs were taken using a little box camera and are not very good but I love them for their nostalgic air of a bygone age.

Looking towards Hong Kong harbour, mid-1960s

Looking towards Hong Kong harbour, mid-1960s

While I probably took some of the landscape photographs, I do not know the origin, or the subjects of many of the others.

Portrait of an old man

Portrait of an old man

My favourite picture of all is an old wedding shot showing the bride surrounded by her female relatives and friends, where everyone is aiming for 1960’s high fashion, Hong Kong style! My mother is seated on the far right of the photo.

I love the hairstyles and the big handbags!

I love the hairstyles and the big handbags!

The Famen Temple near Xian

The Famen Temple, or Famen Si, is one of the most revered Buddhist sites in China. Situated about 120 kilometres West of Xian, the temple has a very long history and is believed to have been founded in the 2nd century AD. It reached its peak of fame during the Tang dynasty (7th century AD), when it effectively became a Royal Temple, with the ruling Emperor visiting each year and bestowing gifts and treasures. This tradition ended when Buddhism fell out of favour for being a foreign religion and the Temple went into decline.

The Famen Temple near Xian

The Famen Temple near Xian

Today, the Famen Temple is marketed to tourists as a Tang dynasty site, though none of the current buildings are very old. The very beautiful pagoda is a modern reconstruction, copying the grey brick Ming dynasty original. This in turn had been built to replace a (wooden) Tang dynasty version. The Ming tower had finally collapsed in the 1930’s after many decades of neglect.

The Ming pagoda collapsed in the 1930's and was rebuilt in the 1980's

The Ming pagoda collapsed in the 1930’s and was rebuilt in the 1980’s

Even if the buildings are modern copies, they are well done and the small compound that is all that remains of the old temple has an authentic feel. There is a genuine Tang heart to the place, however, for in 1987 while preparing for the reconstruction, workmen discovered a hidden underground palace which had been lost for over 1,000 years. The underground chambers were filled with relics and royal treasures, including the temple’s great claim to fame, what is said to be a finger bone of Buddha himself. These underground treasure rooms, with many of their precious objects on view, are now open to visitors.

There is a Tang dynasty treasure-house beneath the pagoda

There is a Tang dynasty treasure-house beneath the pagoda

Overall, this is an interesting and pleasant place to visit. The biggest fault would be that it feels a little too well manicured and the landscaping is a bit like a municipal park, but at least it seeks to pay homage to past that gives it meaning.

The grounds look like the work of municipal gardners

The grounds look like the work of municipal gardeners

Tourism is big business in China now and the bulk of the overseas visitors come from Japan, Taiwan, South Korea and other East Asian countries, which all have strong Buddhist traditions. While the Famen Temple was already a draw for these visitors, the Shaanxi Provincial Government wanted to create an even bigger attraction and began building a whole new shrine and visitor complex which was completed in 2009.

The new visitor complex is on a gargantuan scale

The new visitor complex is on a gargantuan scale

The new buildings are clearly intended to impart a feeling of awe, being built on a gigantic, dehumanizing scale. It takes some time to realise that the building complex at the entrance to the site does not serve any religious function but instead houses a supermarket, restaurants, rows of souvenir shops and a 200 room five-star hotel, all there to part the tourist from his money.

The entrance complex is dehumanizing in the best traditions of Stalinist architecture

The entrance complex is dehumanizing in the best traditions of Stalinist architecture

The awe-inducing scale continues inside the entrance with a 1200 metre avenue leading to the enormous new shrine in the distance.

Beyond the souvenir shops a straight avenue leads to the new shrine in the distance

Beyond the souvenir shops a straight avenue leads to the new shrine in the distance

The new shrine itself is 148 metres high and though it is an interesting piece of architecture it looks as if it belongs in a city, not out in the remote countryside.

The massive new shrine is interesting but out of place

The massive new shrine is interesting but looks out of place

The new temple complex is clearly intended to be grand yet ends up seeming merely grandiose. Rather than seeming impressive, the acres of gold paint only serve to give the air of pretence, making the experience seem more like a theme-park than a religious establishment. The theme-park feeling is then amplified by the rather humorous theme-park type trains used to transport visitors along the avenue (needed because the distances are so great.)

The biggest complaint about the new shrine is the way it now dominates and redefines the older temple. Though it is some distance away it is so big that it looms over the traditional pagoda as if the intent is to make it seem insignificant.

The huge new shrine is dominates its surroundings

The huge new shrine is dominates its surroundings

The Chinese people have a very mixed up relationship with their past.  On the one hand they are very proud that they are heirs to some four thousand years of culture and civilisation and on the other it is less than 50 years since they were heading out daily to smash up any vestige of the old culture. Most Chinese are still unable to face up to the horrors of the Cultural Revolution but a slightly schizophrenic attitude to the past is still with them today. Many Chinese get angry and upset about the destruction of the old Imperial Summer Palace by Western troops or about the looted Chinese treasures on display in London or Paris, yet they often seem insensitive to the damage done to parts of their cultural heritage found on their own doorstep. Damage does not have to be physical however and I cannot help wondering if the new complex at Famen Si will be regarded in the future as a new cultural treasure or as a form of cultural vandalism.

Wai-Yuk and Alex Kennedy
(All photographs by Alex Kennedy)

Do people still wear brooches?

A few weeks ago I received a link from Nicole at Tiaras and Trianon, who was blogging about royal jewellery. The post she linked was about brooches and ended with the question – “Does anyone wear brooches anymore?”

Since I make and sell brooches on a regular basis the answer must be yes, at least for some people, but this does seem to be a question that a lot of women are concerned about. Certainly my daughter is not convinced that wearing a brooch is an acceptable fashion statement, though of course she is at an age where most people think fitting in is much more important than standing out. This concern does seem to be more widespread, as it only took me a few seconds to find a string of blogs and forum threads discussing the subject.Red textile brooch

The big fear expressed again and again is (whisper it) the “granny look” and I sort of understand what is meant. (Please note that this is not an attack on grannies. I am already well into the age range where I could be one myself!) I suppose we are talking about a sort of genteel and conservative look that seeks to avoid any strong personal statement.

I have a beautiful little gold brooch that I inherited from my mother-in-law, but I could only wear it with an outfit that somehow changed its context, or was “knowingly” retro. I do wear gold or silver brooches on occasion, though I think precious metals and gems tend to look best against my skin. If you want precious jewellery that makes a statement when pinned to clothing, it really needs to be a bold bit of bling, but this can easily slip into tastelessness.
(Mind you I took a wander through the precious jewellery department of Harrods recently and it’s clear that many people have no worries about tastelessness at all!)

I wear brooches all the time, and while nowadays these are mostly my own creations, I also wear other pieces I have bought or received as gifts. Most brooches I wear are either colourful or quirky, or are made from unconventional materials. Few are small and they are generally selected to make a bold contrast when worn on a jacket or top.

This leather brooch is a fun accessory

This leather brooch is a fun accessory

I believe a brooch is as valid a weapon in creating a personal fashion statement as any other accessory. A dull, conservative “granny look” results from dull, conservative choices in creating your outfit, not from the category of any individual element. Dressing up well is all about self-confidence and conviction, not following a rule book.

A conventional brooch

A conventional brooch like this can still be work well if the outfit is well chosen

I have a friend who went through much of her life dressed in a quiet, restrained and very conventional way, then around the time when her son had grown up and left home, she transformed herself. She swapped her long straight hair for a fiercely short crop (which looks stunning in her steely grey) and began wearing the boldest, most colourful clothes she could find. This was not a desperate attempt to recapture lost youth, but instead a form of liberation. Clearly, there had always been someone with a personal style sense hidden away inside her and she just reached the point where she had the confidence to let that secret person out. The transformation from camouflaged moth to colourful butterfly was a shock at first but she is now much admired, by young people as well as those in her own age group.

What I am trying to say is that when deciding to wear a brooch, or any other item, fashion can be a trap. I am referring to fashion in the homogenised, high street, mass market sense, which is not about dancing out on the edge (what fashion used to mean) but about giving people a safe set of rules to hide behind. Far from helping you to stand out, the fashion industry today is all too often about giving people a new conservative place to hide.

Blue green and purple brooch

Blue green and purple brooch

This post is probably me letting my “grumpy old woman” out for fresh air, aided and abetted by my “grumpy old man” husband. If you have any thoughts on this subject, whether agreeing or disagreeing with my viewpoint, I would love to hear them.

Related posts:
Are brooches popular? When do you wear them?
Do you wear pins/brooches?
Wear red lipstick and a brooch
What to do with brooches

Bonsai Hand Embroidery

A few months ago I put up a post showing a hand-embroidered bonsai tree. Here are some photographs of another work I produced in the same series.

Hand- embroidered trident maple bonsai

Maple embroidery with Japanese style mount

Maple embroidery with Japanese style mount

My husband Alex is a bonsai enthusiast and I would love to say that the trees I embroidered were his but they were really hybrids between his real trees and photos of grand Japanese trees (plus a liberal dose of imagination here and there!)

Detail of the embroidered twigs

Detail of the embroidered twigs

Alex made hand-crafted bonsai pots as a business and the pots in all my pictures were modelled on his work.

Detail showing the bonsai pot and embroidered moss

Detail showing the bonsai pot and embroidered moss

Another detail of the embroidery

Another detail of the embroidery

Related post: The first bonsai embroidery