Friday, April 19, 2013

Italy! (Part 1)

I’m going to have to split my Italy trip into at least 2 parts. One blog post would be very long and rambling, (as if this one isnt!). Also. for me, there were distinct parts. The 1st part being the Symposium itself, and the 2nd (and possibly 3rd!) part, the excursions afterwards to Gandino, Rapallo and Venice.

Before I begin, let me just say I have very few decent photos. It’s the first thing people always ask! I don’t know what has happened to my photography skills lately, I just don’t seem to be taking as good photos as I used to, or I just plain forget to take the pictures. There are wonderful photos of everyones work on Doily Free Zone.  Also, I’ve become so wary of being part of ‘social media’ generation, who facebook/tweet instantly, I like to take my time. When travelling, I always bring a notebook and pen to jot down my thoughts. I love writing when I’m travelling. Rambling nonsense, in various train stations, airports etc. You would be surprised at the reaction of people, when you are sitting in a public place and physically writing. You could almost call it performance art! It’s the same with crafting in public; it’s just not done anymore.
And so, onto Pavia, a town located just outside Milan, in the North West of Italy, where the Doily Free Zone symposium was being held. I had a little adventure getting from the airport to the town, but that’s a story for telling over a glass of wine. It includes the friendliest bus driver I have ever met, who personally escorted me, (carrying my luggage no less!), to my destination, via his bus, and 2 train stations. These North Italians, they are a very welcoming lot.

I was one of the last to arrive, and after a quick home-cooked lunch at Textile Support, (my timing is impeccable!), it was off to the gallery to hang my work in the exhibition, which opened that evening. Luckily my glass framed piece survived the journey in the baggage hold, I had been expecting the worse.

The Symposium was set up by Angharad Rixon, an Australian who has been living in Italy for several years. She runs Textile Support in Pavia, a school, gallery and exhibition space. One of the reasons she set up Textile Support, is because of the increasing number of students coming out of University level textile and design courses, with little or no technical skills. It was a continuing theme in various discussions throughout the weekend, the loss of skills. The reason she set up this symposium was to try and bring together the next generation of lace-makers. Though few of the ‘young lace makers’ would call themselves that. It was an eclectic bunch of artists, jewellers, fashion designers, etc, who all like to work with the physical and mental idea of lace. The days of the Symposium were long; presentations began in the morning, workshops in the afternoon, and meals together afterwards, continuing the conversation of each other’s work, ideas and influences, history, heritage and most importantly the future. The chat was mighty!

I could ramble on for hours about the various discussions, but I’d rather leave my ramblings until the next post. After the symposium, finished on Sunday evening, presenters and attendees all talked together about how to follow up the event. Should there be a new group/guild of contemporary lacemakers? How can we support each other? The older generation were looking for something more concrete, such as a guild, membership, possibly group exhibitions etc, but the majority of the younger generation, were not interested in a formal group. I suppose with social media, we have our own way of staying in touch, that doesn’t include membership fees and officially titled posts.

In this post, I just want to give a shout out to all the wonderful people I met, and the interesting work they are doing. All the presenters stayed for the entire weekend, taking part in each other’s workshops. So, it was more like a residential weekend, we spent a lot of time together, talking, eating, talking and eating... It was a wonderfully informal format, and by the end of the weekend, good friendships had been formed. I was delighted to be giving my talk and workshop on the first day, so I could relax throughout the rest of the Synposium.

The symposium was divided into sections; Traditional Lace, Lace and Design, and Lace and Art. It took place in a fabulous building, the Palazzo del Broletto in Piazza Della Vittoria, in the heart of Pavia. I’m delighted to say there were 3 male presenters! A surprise and a delight, to see men speaking as passionately about thread as we all did.

Day 1: Traditional Lace

Rebecca Evans, a curator from Australia. She worked as an assistant curator on Love Lace, a huge juried exhibition of lace inspired work in the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, Australia. She spoke about the exhibition, and it was very interesting to hear about the selection process. The unprecedented 700 applications they received, which was whittled down to 134. The original exhibition was only supposed to be 30! She also talked about the reaction of members of the Australian Lace Guild, many of whom didn’t approve of the exhibition. The battle between traditional and contemporary was a strong topic over the weekend!

Angharad Rixon, a technical textile historian. I could sit for hours and listen to this incredible woman, who is like a one woman army for textiles, both historical and contemporary. Angharad spoke about one of her current projects, the republishing of a very old book on Italian Lace, written by a formidable woman, an Italian Nationalist, who taught women to lacemaking skills, and insisted they received a fair wage.  

Me! After the first two speakers, I wished I had added in a few big words into my pathetic notes, but my ‘casual’ talk was well received. (Or so they said!) I talked very briefly about the history of Irish Crochet Lace, and then about my own work in Lace to date. Which, if you read my blog, you have seen before...

Premysl Knap, a Czech lace maker, talked about Vlacka Bobbin Lace. Premysl, first came across bobbin lace in the Vamberk Lace Museum, after he attended workshops run by a famous Czech lace artist, Iva Proskova. He spoke about the different areas of lacemaking in Czech, and about Vlacka lace designs.

Emer Finnegan, not only another Irish gal, but another Kerry resident! I had never met Emer before, but I had met her mother, who runs the Kenmare Lace Museum. Emer talked about the technique of Kenmare Lace as well as her own work in both Kenmare Lace and Bobbin Lace. Emer, as part of her studies in college, translated papers letters of Colbert concerning the establishment of the French lace industry. (Some info on French Lace industry here). She also talked about the Kenmare Lace Festival which takes place in October. I think we should get brownie points for being such good Kerry ambassadors.

Afternoon Workshop: I spent the afternoon teaching a workshop in Irish Crochet Lace. My students were from 5 different countries, had different skill levels, and also had different English terms for crochet stitches! I can honestly say, they didn’t learn a huge amount.  A 4 hour workshop in most textile skills, is just a taster, so it was a brief introduction to Crochet Lace. We had good old laugh, and they all seemed to go away happy. Crochet Lace is probably the most forgiving lace, mistakes are not visible and easily rectified. Well, in my classes, theres rarely mistakes, as I tend to teach it freeform style!

Day 2: Lace and Design 

Alicia Jane Boswell, an American jeweller. Beautiful work! A play with metals, enamels and bobbin lace. If I hadn’t had gotten into textiles, I think it would have had to have been metal for me. I have always loved metal, and I love her combination.

Daniel Iglesias Prieto. A milliner and lacemaker from Spain. Daniel designs fabulous hats and fascinators. He spoke about his current designs, which are heavily influenced by natural and geometric form and the culture and traditions of Galicia. Check out his page on Facebook Toca Fedella Toca

Kim Wille a Belgian fashion designer, who within 3 months of learning how to do bobbin lace, was incorporating it into her fashion designs. She spoke about the college she studied in, where skills were all important. Kim works part time as a shoe designer, in Holland. How easy it is to commute on mainland Europe! You can see her designs on her Facebook page.

Alessandra Fancesca Capurso, a costumer, who delves into the world of macramé and bondage... Her work, certainly woke us up a bit! I cant put her words into my words, you must read her wonderful words on the Doily Free Zone website here.

Afternoon Workshop: I attended Alicia Jane Boswells workshop on Metal Hardening Techniques. Alicia spoke about how to work with metals. She uses a variety of techniques, including enamelling directly onto lace, and embedding lace in enamel. There were 2 other lace-jewellers in her workshop, attendees at the event, both of whom work in bobbin lace and metal. So, it was very interesting to listen to the three talk about their techniques.

Day 3: Lace and Art

Marianna Kosic. A lady after my own heart! Marianna is a lace maker and psychology researcher. She comes from the Province of Gorizia on the Slovenian border. She helped to get lacemaking recognised as part of official Slovenian cultural heritage, and a living craft in the community. Very interesting to hear how her local government, preserves its heritage. She began an on-going contemporary lace project which has activist undertones! An online bobbin lace international project, using themes such as women/feminine, human and childrens rights, etc. She talked about using the Internet and social networks to link ideas, people and lacemaking. You can see some photos of the 1st themed lace project 'Tango' on Facebook

Armel Barraud, is a Parisian artist and designer. With a background in animation, she creates these wonderful lace stills in wire. She spoke about going to Portugal to lear bobbin lace, because she found them more open to her working in metal.

Olivia Valentine, an American artist, who creates a wonderful mix of lace, photography and architecture. Olivia’s work was shown as part of ‘Love Lace’ in Australia, and she talked to us about that project. She is currently living in Turkey, studying Oya, a type of Turkish decorative edging, which includes crochet and needlepoint.

Steffi Mittman, a grad student from Germany, creates wonderfully fluid pieces. She turns movement into stitches, by using dancers to create monoprints. These prints are the inspiration for her machine embroidery fabrics, and once-off bobbin-lace pieces. You can watch here video her on vimeo

Guillermo Roig, our second Spanish presenter and our third man! Guillermo is a tactile artist and is currently researching tatting, its techniques and origins, a decorative ropework practised by fisherman and sailors. To date his work have been large scale pieces, using rope, and in the process, his entire body. It easily translates into performance. It’ll be very interesting to see where he takes this!

Afternoon Workshop: I took part in Olivia’s ‘Thinking about Lace in an Installation Context’, and we had a wonderful afternoon, looking at textile instillations from around the work, and then a practical approach on how to design site-specific instillations.



A beautiful catalogue was published, to find out more, or to order contact Angharad or on Facebook


Devin Thein, who volunteers at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was blogging parts of the synposium on a lace community site, and you read her posts here


Throughout the Symposium there were elements that kept popping up and these are what I’d like to ponder on in another blog post. Also, i'd like to mention some of the attendees, expert lacemakers themselves! But I think this post is long enough already, you'll just have to wait for Part 2. (I do have better pictures from the road trips, and lots of lace...)

But here are just a few of the topics of conversation that cropped up over the week:
  • All of the presenters, who used lace in their work in college, were told not to
  • Most of the young lacemakers had to go searching for lace teachers outside of the academic arena
  • Colleges are becoming too conceptual based, and students are coming out with little or no practical skills
  • The Great Big Art Craft Divide!
  • There is a huge divide between traditional and contemporary lace
  • Most of the traditionalists are not open to alternative materials in lace
  • Countries divide greatly in their attitude to lace, some see it as cultural heritage, some don’t support it at all.
  • How can we, individually or collectively, promote the use of lace in a modern context

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