The Oxford Concise Dictionary: 9th Ed. Definition of Taxonomy: the scientific study of classification, esp. of living and extinct organisms.

As a graduate of a Photography degree my work has attempted to explore some of the fascinating theories regarding the photographic image – an almost magical process which captures the play of light and dark occurring uniquely in just one moment of time.  It has come as a surprise to me that since the first Covid 19 lockdown in March 202, I have become obsessed with the actual, physical touch of natural forms; whether the wonderful shapes of a leaf, the amazing variety of colour of a flower, or the explosion of natural textures discovered when heat and water is applied.

It’s paradoxical that the more faithful reproduction attempts to be, the more it can distort the original.  The photograph has been described as a “certificate of verification’, but time and technology has exposed the truth of a photograph for the lie it is.  In contrast, nature offers itself up to all who are interested, as innately beautiful, complex and never-endingly versatile.

The interplay of absence and presence finds a fractal expression in my attempts to abstract nature’s shapes whilst celebrating its actual, physical uniqueness and unrepeatable shapes, colours and textures.  I have explored a process called Eco Print, which, as the name suggests, is an environmentally sympathetic method aimed at extracting the essence of nature, using organic matter.  This has led to my year-long commitment to explore a one year cycle; a side effect of this continuous cooking, has been an appreciation of the touch and feel of the stems, leaves, spines, edges and lines of that material once dried, which have been exploited in a series of collographs. 

The first collection of these prints highlighted the random, chaotic forms that proliferate all around us and often taken for granted – by me anyway!  Now my new body of work, also derived from that dried residue of Eco Printing, is seeking to categorise these forms into its own taxonomy; arranged according to some pleasure-detector in my mind and cut through with arbitrary geometry forms in contrast to the whole.  I have observed form within form during my many long, lockdown walks in the Chiltern countryside, and this intervention re-creates the observed paradox through cut outs in my plates. The work asks whether human intervention always has to be bad?  And with sensitivity can there be a benign human interference to natural forms which can be beautiful and illuminating?



I like getting into a freshly made bed and to feel the cool, crisp, smooth sheets under my body.  I wonder why touch has a strong effect on how we feel?  I also wonder why the term ‘to be touched’ should imply madness?

Experience is most often mediated through the senses and our largest organ is our skin and it is the place where we meet the world, and the world meets us; to touch is to be touched. 

It’s the haptic quality of textiles that holds the magic by evoking memory, feelings and comfort.  Quilts, toys, clothes, blankets – things made of cloth – can be both beautiful and poignant. I can still remember the feeling of my own special piece of fabric which, when I rubbed it between my thumb and index finger, brought me a focus for my mind, and a comfort for my body.

We interact with the world physically – a fact brought home quite forcefully during lockdown, when instructed to keep two metres apart we suddenly realised how we missed the touch of other people.

Weavers’ practice is rooted in the exploration and sharing of tactile properties inherent in textiles through a selection of materials, structures and subsequent processes.  It has been suggested that the growth of digital technology is also fuelling this desire to touch.  Our daily lives have been hugely impacted by electronic devices which use touch in an unconscious way, with our eyes and attention fixed to a screen rather than aware of the activity of our hands, even whilst using touch screens. Human beings, like things, have become interfaces in a technological world, and along with that technology has come a notion of the compressing of time and space. 

Haptic technology refers to any technology that can create an experience of touch by applying forces, vibrations or motions to the user.  These technologies can be used to create virtual objects in a computer simulation, to enhance remote control of machines and devices.  The word haptic, from the Greek ‘haptikos’ means ‘tactile’ and pertains to the sense of touch.  Simple haptic devices are common in the form of game controllers, joysticks and steering wheels.  Tactile touchpads became commonplace in all our cellular devices.

Gamers can experience the benefit of haptic applications when playing Sony Playstation 5. They report the sensation of actually ‘feeling’ what it is like to draw the string of a bow – haptic feedback through the voice coil actuators. 

Haptic feedback is essential to perform complex tastes in The Shadow Hand, an advanced robotic hand, which has 129 touch sensors embedded in every joint and finger pad that relay information to the operator – which allows tasks to be performed from a distance.  There are so many applications this sense has been used for as well as games and mobile devices, from teleoperators, simulators, robotics, medicine and dentistry, neurohabilitation, Art, Aviator, Space, Automotion and, intriguingly, teledildonics which refers to remotely connect sex toys that allow users to engage in virtual sex or to allow a remote server to control their sex toy!


The term Cyborg applies to an organism that has restored function or enhanced abilities due to the integration of some artificial component or technology – this might not always involve human-machine integration but can conceivably be any kind of organism like animal-machine coupling.  Cyborgs include not only glamorous bodies of high-tech jet-fighter pilots, athletes (think of Oskar Prestorius) and film stars, but also the anonymous masses of the underpaid, digital proletariat who fuel the technology-driven economy without ever accessing it themselves. Could these bio-mediated organisms free disabled or deformed human body to live better, fulfilled lives (like me?), or would they blurr the lines of demarcation between man and machine rendering the human victim to the bodily support it depended on? I have skin in the game on this one and, again, thanks for your feedback.

That world view is old fashioned and rather arrogant, isn’t it?

Nowadays new technologies offer the prospect of digital Avatars which can simulate our personalities in the online world, now, and even after our death.  Millions of us interact with Avatars through computer games and online virtual worlds like ‘Second Life’ – not me, this time! An Avatar can be represented in a virtual environment through a simulacrum: the real us in a virtual existence where we can live vicariously.  We must be careful of these simulacra because if they become unfeasibly perfect people, who is to say we won’t just cut ourselves off from the world and concentrate on fantasising about our totally fictional characters?  It would be tempting for me to forget about my sickly body and inhabit a new and perfect one.  Attitudes to death could be affected when Avatars exist after our real-life deaths, our Avatar lives on, interacting with our nearest and dearest, and no one mourns. 

Robots are purely machines programmed by a computer.  They are capable of carrying out a complex series of actions automatically – and infallibly, in case of HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey.  Robots can be guided by an external control device or the control may be embedded within.  Robots may be constructed on the lines of human form and it is this ‘disguise’ that is the cause of most concern for real humans who feel threatened. Because they look, behave and experience like real humans does that make then SMART HUMANS or do they remain Smart Machines?  Robots designed to perform tasks that humans don’t like, and who look machine-like, seem to be more welcome to humans who don’t like to feel control resides elsewhere.  Once again, the visible is always privileged.

Would the organism still be a Cyborg if instead of the insertion of mechanical technology into a human body, the human body’s cells were modified or altered by genetic modification? Genetic Engineering, as it is called, is a process that alters the genetic structure of an organism by either removing or introducing DNA.  GE takes the gene directly from one organism and delivers it to the other.  This is much faster, can be used to insert any genes from any organism and prevents other undesirable genes from being added, creating a SMART HUMAN.  Fiddling around with our genetic make up seems so much more intrusive than an add-on mechanical support, to me – but, again, it may be because one is visible and the other invisible? 

Illustrations by Ralph Mcquarrie


My experience with Covid 19 has been profound.  With the pressure to exhibit and sell removed I have allowed nature to influence my studio work; I have relaxed and followed my own wild inclinations! Most important and engrossing for me, has been making my own inks from whatever raw materials I have found in and around my studio in Marsworth and learning the art of Eco-Printing.

It has been a bit like alchemy, finding out how to create inks and how strangely they behave when exposed to elements like sun and rain; and what amazing changes occur with the addition of acid or alkali solutions. Some of my dyes are made from soaking my copper and steel plates in a mixture of vinegar and salt, and I have experimented with exposing these plates to the elements which I will then clean and print in the conventional Intaglio method.

Some of my favourite colours are achieved by boiling berries, plants, vegetables, and flowers.  The dyes created have been made permanent by the addition of binders like Gum Arabic or a little clove in the dye which prevents mould.

Following nature’s example, I have also discovered Eco-printing, exploring plant pattern, colour, dyes, and this supremely natural technique. Leaves, petals, heat and water – with these simple ingredients I have learned to make beautiful images that connect with the natural world around me.  These unique eco-prints reflect the land around my studio in rural Buckinghamshire, as well respecting the choices of my hands and eyes through trust, acceptance and perseverance.  I have learned the names of many local plants both cultivated and wild, and now I pay more attention to how they change through the seasons.

I have produced shamelessly ‘nostalgic’ prints that evoke a sense of peace and the notion of ‘safe haven’; all most unlike me but really satisfying at this time of uncertainty. My main image is of my print called Das Heimlich which translates as a sort of cosy home – an inverted Freudian concept of the Uncanny, which now combines notions of the familiar and epitomises the idea of comfort and homeliness (Heimlich).  The work started with an investigation into ink making from the natural materials and resulted in a Hybrid print that expressed my personal, instinctive response to this awful pandemic.

Two more Hybrid prints (Hughenden Valley and Marsworth Canal) below:-





ANNI ALBERS at TATE MODERN – 11th October – 27 January 2019

Last week I visited the Anni Albers Exhibition at Tate Modern. I didn’t know much more about her than that she was introduced to hand-weaving at the Bauhaus, where the tutors felt it a more suitable activity for a female than painting.  Weaving has often been reduced in significance this way as it was thought to be an activity for women; it was considered a menial job suitable for a mother or wife to fit around her childrearing and domestic chores.

Throughout her career Albers explored the possibilities of weaving as a modernist medium, but one also deeply rooted in highly sophisticated and ancient textile traditions from around the world.  Students in the weaving workshop at the Bauhaus produced independent artistic works as well as designs for industrial manufacture.  Albers and her colleagues created wall hangings which she considered a modern development to textile art.  They described them as, “amazing objects, striking in their newness of conception in regard to use of colour and compositional elements”.


The weaving workshop developed its own distinctive language, making use of the grid structure of weaving, and emphasising haptic or tactile qualities. Albers published two influential books; one on designing and one on weaving.  Her seminal book ‘On Weaving’ (1965) serves as a kind of visual atlas by exploring the history of the last 4,000 years of weaving around the world, as well as examining technical aspects of the craft and the development of the Loom. Anni Albers made many of her pictorial weavings on the eight-harness Structo Artcraft handloom pictured below.


The loom is a machine for weaving cloth and was the world’s first piece of automated machinery. The earliest looms actually date from the 5th millennium BCE and consisted of bars or beams fixed in place to form a frame that held a number of parallel threads in two sets which alternated with each other. By raising one set of these threads, which together formed the warp, it was possible to run a weft thread between them. The block of wood used to carry the filling strand through the warp was called the shuttle.

The fundamental operation of the loom remained unchanged, but improvements were introduced through ancient and medieval times in both Asia and Europe. One of the most important of these was the introduction of the heddle, a movable rod that served to raise the upper sheet of warp. In later looms the heddle became a cord, wire, or steel band, several of which could be used simultaneously.

The draw loom, probably invented in Asia for silk weaving, made possible the weaving of more intricate patterns by providing a means for raising warp threads in groups as required by the pattern. The function was at first performed by a boy (the drawboy), but in the 18th century in France the function was successfully mechanized and improved further by the ingenious use of punched cards. Introduced by Jacques de Vaucanson and Joseph-Marie Jacquard, the punched cards programmed the mechanical drawboy, saving labour and eliminating errors. Punched cards were used to direct the weaving of beautiful patterns, punched cards either had holes or no-holes (un-perforated card) – it was binary: yes or no, on or off.

In the mid 19th century Charles Babbage designed an automatic mechanical calculator designed to tabulate polynomic functions. It was called the Difference Engine and was intended to compute many useful tables of numbers – through his interest in mass production methods he realised that he could ‘borrow’ the punched card method of programming from the Weaving Industry as it operated on the same binary system of ones and zeros.

Albers studied the material qualities of yarns, as well as different ways of working with them.  Combining yarns and techniques, she was able to create complex, multi-faceted pieces, rich in texture.  Using a floating weft technique and brocade weaving (adding surface threads to a basic weave), she was able to integrate additional threads as free lines.  She could draw with these threads into the structure of her pictorial weaving.


In the 1940s she began to explore knots by sketching and painting entangled, linear structures; and produced scroll-like works with Celtic-style knots.  Albers’ works reflect her statement “The thoughts can, I believe, be traced back to the event of a thread.”


String or thread has been being used to weave fabric for forty thousand years. As the great ice age sheets began retreating from Northern continents humans started inventing.  These newly creative hunter-gatherers produced novel tools – awls, pins and chisel-like burins, and they sculpted representations of animals and people. They painted pictures and made hand prints on their cave walls by spitting pigment over a hand placed on the wall. And it was these people who also invented string and sewing by twisted handfuls of little weak fibres together to make long, strong thread, or string.


The production of ‘homespun’ yarn and cloth was one of the first cottage industries, and pin money was women’s earliest source of independent cash when they sold surplus yarn and cloth, working as small-scale entrepreneurs long before the emergence of factories or the mechanisms which now define the textile industry.

Anni Albers was aware of the rich feminine history linked to every warp and weft of woven fabric and she was open to creating new works that explored the connection between text and textiles; textiles and architecture; textile as memorial and pictorial weavings, “what I’m trying to get across is that material is a means of communication.  That listening to it, not dominating it, makes us truly active, that is: to be active, be passive.”

It should also be mentioned that she developed a range of jewellery made with ubiquitous materials like hair pins, corks and eyelet screws, and she also took to printmaking when weaving became too physically demanding.

Though Albers was in favour of modern design and production, she held a strong belief that technology increasingly dulls our awareness of the tactile, or haptic, as it replaces the need to make things with our hands.  In her essay ‘Tactile Sensibility’ she states that

“All progress, so it seems, is coupled to regression elsewhere.  We have advanced in general, for instance, in regard to verbal articulation, but we certainly have grown increasingly insensitive to our perception by touch, the tactile sense.  For too long we have made too little use of the medium of tactility.’

How interesting it was to see Albers’ work and her commitment to establishing weaving as a modernist medium, but I feel the curators missed a trick, given her obvious inquisitive nature, I felt as if we were left with a bit of cliff-hanger.  For me, it would have been an instructive exercise (and fun) to explore how Anni Albers would have coped with, or indeed what would have been her opinion of the use mankind had made of weaving and the adoption of its punched card system?  Would she have been excited by this new turn in the history of weaving and its significance in the development and dominance of computers in everyday life?  Would she have re-prioritised the visual over the tactile; would she have been inspired by the possibilities of smart textiles; or would she have been appalled at work being made on a screen one removed from the human hand, with no touching and no haptic quality to inform the progress of her ideas?



These Cells were part of a solo show exhibited at


an exhibition designed to highlight Mental Health  issues and celebrate Mental Health Awareness Week – May 2018

at The Open Door Gallery, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire


The ten Archi-Frames with Solar Plate Prints depict parts of photos found in a Brighton flea market.  The frames were made of wood that was once old architrave taken from the demolished walls of Graylingwell Mental Asylum.

When I saw the architrave I wondered what sights and scenes this inanimate material had witnessed.  Images that came to mind were of old and abandoned wards & corridors in a Mental Asylum were sad and poignant. The corridors looked scarily like frames when a face was superimposed on the end wall, and bore a similarity to my idea of how the finished piece should look.

My frames have, on the whole, the thick, outer parts of the architrave turned around to make a central viewing window rather than the more usual, narrower edge in the middle.  With the origins of this material in mind I hope that looking down these apertures will lend a sense of voyeurism to the peering experience.  For this reason too, they are hung just slightly lower than is comfortable as I am evoking a sense of bending down to look through a key or peep hole; where what is seen is difficult to make sense of – people locked away, unable to go home or escape the wardens who, most probably would continuously observe them through.

The solar plate etchings within the apertures are heavily cropped parts of family photos found in a flea market in Brighton.  The images used depict arms, knees, hands, faces and an eye uncannily taken out of context and digitally manipulated to create a uniform ‘look’ by applying a Bitmap screen – as used in photo journalism.




Happy New Year everyone.   As we approach a brand new, fresh year I am hoping that some things may happen to give me some optimism for the future. But I am struggling to foresee anything that might work that magic?

I won’t look to this UK government to suddenly wake up, look around them and see what an utter mess this country is in.  To pick one area where they could help, the NHS, they have cancelled all non-essential operations for January – apparently it is NOT in crisis!!??  Then there is the 3.4% fare rise on our railways whilst earnings have not risen sufficiently to make this hike affordable.  Let’s not forget poverty, how could we forget that the past Christmas saw more homeless children than ever before.  Which takes us nicely onto the lack of affordable housing whilst around 610,123 homes remain empty in England; 31,884 in Scotland and 23,131 in Wales.

Image # 3

I won’t look to the environment as we leave a year riddled with extreme weather.  The fingerprints of climate change experienced throughout 2017 have featured supercharged storms, hurricanes, floods and heatwaves through to bushfires. 2017 has seen it all.

So I’ll move onto world peace or the lack of it.  With the crisis in Gaza, the rise of Islamist militants in Iraq and Syria and the international stand-off ongoing in Ukraine, it can sometimes feel like the whole world is at war.  And experts believe this is actually almost universally the case, according to a think-tank which produces one of the world’s leading measures of “global peacefulness” – things are only going to get worse.  Out of 162 countries covered by the Institute for Economics and Peace’s latest study says that just 11 countries were not involved in conflict of one kind or another.

Never again War

Without even mentioning Donald Trump or North Koreait is looking like a rather bleak year that we are entering.  Yes, little babies are fantastic and wonderfully full of potential but what sort of world will they grown up in?  The planet upon which we live is beautiful and nature is wonderful but human beings are working hard to pollute it.  Technology is a whole other bag of worms offering some potential advantages and some threats with multi-national companies in charge of whole banks of knowledge about us.  We must not walk blindfold into this brave new world.  If I have depressed you, I am sorry, and beg you to reply to this Blog with some ideas about 2018 that may cheer us up?

Self Portrait

PS.  What a shame these images by my favourite printmaker, Kathe Kollwitz, still resonates nearly a hundred years after they were created.




Throughout History and Now

What did ancient people try to accomplish when they deliberately made clothes that contained meaning? For one thing, it must have been to mark or announce information.  Twenty thousand years B.C. a small, plump Venus donned a string skirt to announce her readiness for childbearing and in the mountains of South Central Asia, a Kafir woman wore a distinctive headdress for a few days each month to indicate that she was now a woman.

 Cloth could also be used as a mnemonic device to record events and other data.  Social rank too, has probably always been encoded through symbols in material, design, colour and embellishment of the clothing.  In Ancient Rome the emperor and no other enjoyed the privilege of wearing entirely purple robes.  Hanging up a distinctive textile could be a way of making ordinary space special, even sacred.  In Southern Sumatra a special ritual cloth was placed as a backdrop in important rites of passage ceremonies.  And the vision of Henry VIII and his ‘Field of the Cloth of Gold’ remains a vivid image in the minds of many British schoolchildren cheering at the British King who was grander and more stylish than his French counterpart.


Thirdly, fabric design has been used to invoke magic – to protect, to secure fertility and riches, to divine the future, perhaps even to curse. Within that magical world, fertility, prosperity and protection were three of the most common objectives.  Images of snakes, frogs and fish (egg layers all) incorporated into woven cloth were thought to bring wealth and fertility to a household in many parts of Europe.


The Slavic Goddess Berehinia – Protectress of women and their fertility displaying birds in her hands

 But Europe had no monopoly on mystical, protective images on cloth and clothing.  In Egypt, Tutankhamon’s tomb was found to contain a wealth of royal cloth, in particular a richly decorated tunic, with a neckhole forming an ‘ankh’ (or sign of long life) with his name embroidered at the centre of the cross and surrounded by the traditional ‘cartouche’ (a protective oval made by a magic rope), and at the bottom of the tunic panels embroidered with an array of real and mythical beasts (thought to be of Syrian workmanship) are all designed to ease his journey into the afterlife.

 More structural approaches to working magic have been devised with folktales telling of magic girdles where the magic seems to be inherent in the weaving, not merely in special decoration.  One possibility was to weave in the spell as number magic; in the Netherlands experts have unearthed cloth where the weaver has chosen red wool warp threads for her work, twenty four spun one direction, and twenty four spun the other way.  Opposite spins catch the light differently and, when placed next to each other, give a striped effect.  She divided the bunch spun one way into three sets of eight, and the other bunch into four sets of six, and alternated them. It can’t be a coincidence that in Holland, Germany and Denmark those numbers were considered particularly sacred.  The scheme is best known from the runic alphabet, which at first consisted of twenty four letters in three sets of eight, and later of thirty two letters in four sets of eight.  It is assumed that number magic began with the introduction of Mithraism into those countries via the Romans; Mithraic religion from the Near East is just packed full of number magic. 

 The Batak tribes of Sumatra generated woven magic another way; in one area the women wove special magical cloths on circular warps, which were never cut because the continuity of the warp cloth across the gap where the wool had not been woven in, was said to ensure the continuity of life from the mother to the child.  The birth of the child was represented by the beginning of the weft at one side of the uncut fringe; drawing the cloth through the hands of the weaver represented the child growing up, and when the other side of the uncut fringe was reached, it represented the beginning of a new generation whose life would repeat that of the mother, and so on ad infinitum.   Biblical students will remember that Jesus’ garment was removed from his body uncut “in accordance with the scriptures”, a possible reference to this custom?

But these magic numbers, symbols, and methods of weaving depended largely on the wearers and viewers buying into the myth of the magic woven into the cloth which they were conditioned to believe.  It was not until the twenty first century that actual magic became available to inventive weavers worldwide.  Conductive fibre or elements; computer circuitry and electronics; laser optics and speakers would mark the next stage for this fabricated messaging. Value Added Fabric can communicate, transform, conduct energy, grow, medicate, play music or identify friend or foe.  It is used for astronaught suits as it can inflate or deflate, be heated or cooled down, be lit up in dark outer space, and can incorporate infra-red digital displays and alarms.

Smart fabrics are set to transform the fashion industry and allow us to download new styles for our clothes rather than buying new garments.  “Micro-robotics, 3D printing and rapid changes in technology are poised to revolutionise fashion,”  says the designer of Lady Gaga’s bubble-blowing dress ‘Anemone’, and ‘Volantis’ her flying dress powered by twelve electric motor-driven rotors.

lady gaga 2

 Electronic conducting textiles have the ability to make music.  One example is the electric gloves that allow people to interact with their computer remotely via hand gestures, beautiful gloves that help the wearer gesturally interact with their computer and technology allows for a performance without having to interact with or physically touch, keyboards or control panels.

 The new generation of weavers will double as medics, technicians, artists, designers, spacemen, nutritionists, image consultants and, of course, scientists.  What will be next?  How much more inventive we can get?  Maybe they will be able to realise what only those imaginative writers of the TV series Star Trek, way back in the sixties, had thought possible; maybe the next big thing is Transportation Suits where we can wear a piece of clothing that will jumble our atoms and ‘beam us up’ to new and unexplored parts of the universe, or even to different time zones?  But what happens when those suits gets hacked or infected with malicious Ransomware?  Back down to earth or lost in time and space?  


Once politics was, if not simple then at least understandable.  There were parties on the left and parties on the right, and they would stay roughly at either end of the spectrum, fluctuating into the centre and out again; but you knew, and so did they, which side of the centre they belonged.  Then you had the parties in the centre that had to fight off incursions into its space from one side or the other.  Tribal loyalties saw to it that you would usually follow your family’s lead when placing your X on the polling card. But now conviction politicians are gone.  Candidates promise anything to get votes.  Elected politicians appease reactionary popular opinion; unpalatable stories are called fake news.  No one wants to listen to elite groups who, they argue, consider themselves superior to everyone else.


It feels like everyone is playing by different rules; change has spread right across classes, gender and the country.   Austerity is hitting some communities badly whilst others continue much as they ever have; buying necessities like foreign holidays, fast cars and super wide televisions.  The government continues to cut funding for further education and the NHS but can find enough to commit to Trident and nuclear weapons.  Many young people want to know what the point in cramming their heads with knowledge is when experts are no longer valued or guaranteed work once they are crammed with arcane facts.

The financial crisis caused by the banks hit everyone except the banks themselves, who are still getting richer.  Terrorist fanatics are killing indiscriminately across Europe and the need to gather information means that personal liberties are being invaded.

It seems obvious to me that now is the time to have a serious discussion about how our society works and what our priorities should be to prevent the very poor getting poorer and the very rich getting, well anything they want.  Should we look to the Nordic countries and raise Taxes so that our schools and hospitals work?  Should we know what proportion of our taxes go to what?  And should the disgustingly rich pay at a higher rate of Tax than the ‘Just about Managing’ people who feel they have been left behind and forgotten?

In other words, do we want politicians discussing things that don’t really matter? Do we want a higher moral and honest tone to the debates in the House of Commons – with no booing or braying?  Or shall we forever be talking about what we can screw out of our neighbours just to leave them all alone for a while?  And seriously, do any of us really think that this is a brave little country hitting way above it’s weight against larger, calculating, unscrupulous and less plucky competitors?


String is thought to be the earliest manufactured thread and has been described as the unseen weapon that allowed the human race to conquer the earth.  String can be used for carrying, holding, tying and trapping, securing and decoration.  Textiles underlie the great prints and canvases of Western Art and form a surface to write upon. Paper nowadays is largely made of wood pulp but is still made in the traditional manner with the fibres from plants in specialist paper mills; these fibres are pulped and bleached, washed and dried and then filtered onto a mesh and compressed onto a fine felt. 

 Sophisticated textile production dates to six thousand years B. C., in southern regions of Europe, and four thousand B.C. Egyptian women were weaving linen on horizontal looms.  Archaeologists have unearthed fabric and rope fragments that date as far back as twelve thousand years in the past, making them the oldest known textiles in South America.  In China, where the spinning wheel is thought to have first turned, sophisticated drawlooms had woven designs that used thousands of different warps.  These prehistoric weavers seem to have produced cloths of extraordinary complexity, woven with ornate designs far in excess of the simple need to cover and protect bodies or to provide warmth and comfort for their dwelling places.


The production of ‘homespun’ yarn and cloth was one of the first cottage industries, pin money was women’s earliest source of independent cash and women were selling surplus yarn and cloth, working as small-scale entrepreneurs, long before the emergence of factories or the mechanisms which now define the textile industry.

There were other spin offs from textiles too.  The weaving of complex designs demanded far more than one pair of hands, and textiles production tends to be communal, sociable work allowing plenty of occasion for gossip and chat.  Weaving was already multimedia:  singing, chanting, telling stories, dancing, and playing games whilst they worked; these spinsters, weavers and needlewomen were literally networkers as well, spinning yarns, fabricating fiction and fashioning fashion.  The textures of woven cloth functioned as a means of communication and information storage too, long before anything was written down. 

Weaving is often used to mark or announcer information and a mnemonic device to record events and other data.  Textiles do communicate in terms of the images which appear on the right side of the cloth, but this is only the most superficial sense in which they process and store data.  Because there is no difference between the process of weaving and the woven design.  Cloth persists as records of the process which fed into their production; how many women worked on them, the techniques they used and the skills they employed.  The visible pattern is integral to the process which produced it, the programme and the pattern are continuous. 


The lozenge motif dates as far back as the Neolithic and Paleolithic period and is tied to human fertility and land. The binary male and female principles serve as the basis for deciphering the meaning of this symbol. It consists of two triangles. But in the pre-Ukrainian period, it was believed that the woman held the three corners of the lozenge (the three corners of the home), while the man held the fourth, which completed the integrity of the family. A lozenge with a dot in the middle symbolizes a sown field, which meant abundance and prosperity.  In addition to simple lozenges, we often see rhombuses with hooks (tiny horns) in Ukrainian embroidery. This design is called “zhaba” (frog) and symbolizes fertility. In ancient beliefs, this little creature was linked to heavenly moisture that gives life.

Lozenge-shaped patterns were embroidered on wedding towels and bridal gowns. Pregnant woman wore shirts covered with diamond patterns until childbirth as this symbol served as a powerful talisman.   

As the frantic activities of generations of spinsters and weaving women make clear, nothing stops when a piece of work has been finished off.  Even when magical connections are not explicitly invoked, the finished cloth – unlike the painting or the text, is almost incidental in relation to the process of its production.  The only incentive to cast off seems to be the chance it provides to start again, throw another shuttle and cast another spell.