Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Julie Arkell (knit to embroidery)

The magical Julie Arkell is my bridge between knitting and embroidery (next area of interest). I recently had the privilege of attending one of her workshops at Loop in Islington. I had an absolute ball.

Arriving at Loop I had a quick chat with lovely Susan and a couple of the beautiful girls that work there. It's a trinket box of treasures... walking in the colour of the yarns, products and aroma from the scented candles immediately put you in a spell and make you want to stay. Everyone there is passionate, friendly, interesting and welcoming. Susan is a really special woman who clearly attracts other similarly spirited people.
Downstairs, the stock room was turned into a cosy little den for learning. Candles, flowers, baskets of wool and jugs of needles on the table, yarns lining the walls around us, the exotic and talented Julie Arkell humbly and warmly made us all tea and coffee. How lovely is that?!

Julie enthusiastically talked to us about her work and showed us a selection of her creatures. Everything about her is gentle, gracious and warm. Her energy and fascination for what she does and the world around her are a joy to encounter.
The creatures we saw were bigger and heavier than I expected and as textiles so often do, they acted like catalysts to conversation. The group was so mixed and the many different spins on the creatures, different points of view, different interpretations was wonderful.
As we began working, people talked about their experiences and craft lives in their respective countries. Each person was passionate about textiles, each in a totally different way, but the community of the group was wonderful. Shuffling through a vintage case of Julie's fabrics, through baskets of wool, it was a small group of disparate women in a sweet-scented fabric heaven.
Julie collects words and phrases, something I also happen to have done for many years. For me it was wonderful to meet someone so different to myself, but with so much commonality to talk about. Chatting about various textile artists, techniques, our fascination with lives lived and records and remnants of those, collecting 'bits' that are imbued with memory... it was a rare treat for me... I was so over-excited I was giddy.
Julie's work is fascinating. My favourite piece being that with a press-stud as a face - which closes in on itself and is called 'shy'. It's small and charming, it has a playfulness but I feel that the concept is really strong and powerful, simple and concise, it never ceases to impress me.
Her creatures were beautiful and full of character. To hear her speaking about why they are who/what they are, how they evolve, how they grow out of the paper, how she chooses the papers, works with it and then chooses what comes from it, is intimate and magical.

Today in our day to day lives we're surrounded by progress and changes which scare and delight us. Julie is a person so gentle and genuine, in brightly coloured, intricately detailed clothes, with a kind manner, without a computer, she chooses to hand write instead.. she could be a beautiful creature herself, simply not of our time. But her lively interest in everything means she is totally of this time. It is just that her insight and accurate perception cuts straight through to what people can relate to, what it is people are looking for - in tiny details, threads and remnants, these little pieces of detail that we find comforting or evocative, connecting us to some unknown artisan, housewife or child from the past.
People dropped in throughout the day. A beautiful Japanese artist, a girl and her mum, a lovely girl who clearly drops in from time to time to get help with her knitting. They do sit and spend time teaching there. It's wonderful. Anyone can drop in, sit in a lovely chair (cushioned to perfection) and ask for help. There's no hesitation, just enthusiasm from the incredibly talented girls who work there. (see what I mean here)
The course finished with a photo shoot of our little ladies all lined up outside the shop. It was like a Spice Girls reunion tour except... tasteful! Each creature was imbued with our own thoughts and ideas, full of the conversations from the day, each of them a totally different little character.
My creature/lady didn't get finished. I'll do that another time. For now she sits in a tea cup, reminding me of the chats. What I really got from the day was personal. As I'm currently a mum who has been at home with a poorly baby for the last 15 months, it was a reminder of all that makes me tick when I am very occasionally able to be 'me'. I considered my new work, my nervous new direction and thought that yes, it is valid... I'm thinking and working in a positive direction. I wonder what the others got from the day...
Meeting the other women was a real tonic, demonstrating how unifying this craft stuff is. Meeting Julie Arkell was marvellous. Her energy, gracious nature, her interest in everything, her quietly powerful work was really inspiring. And Susan and the girls at Loop - with all their knowledge and energy... impressive and benign, made for a really great day. I feel I went away with so much more than a creature. With a feeling of community, of similarity to such different people, with inspiration and energy for my personal work and my passion for textiles soaring higher than ever.
Julie Arkell will be teaching a residential workshop at Katie Armitage's wonderful home studio in the South of France this Autumn. You can find out more about it over here.
You can buy Julie's book online from Loop here.