Friday, 23 October 2015

SECOND NATURE - gallery at the Knitting and Stitching show Alexandra Palace 2015

For those who saw the details of my new work for SECOND NATURE in my previous post here's an up-date showing a  selection of the work in its gallery setting at the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace 7-11 October 2015. Grateful thanks to curator Liz Cooper and her team for their help with the hang, to Jan Westbrook and his team for the plinths and to all at Twisted Thread/Upper Street Events for their organisation of the show.


Me with NOVA 2, 3.10 x 2.5 metres,  painted willow, jute and rattan,
photo: Addy Osbourne
From left: DARK MATTER (wall), GEO-METRIC (plinth), BIG BANGLE (plinth), ANOTHER STAR (wall), BLING (wall), MYTH (wall), TRUE NATURE (wall),
A selection of geometric plaited works incorporating vintage linen and steel tape measures.
GEO-METRIC, vintage linen tape measures, spun paper tape, rivets, 50 x 40 cms
KEPLER'S SNOWFLAKE: Vintage etched steel tape measure, spun paper tape and rattan, 75 x 75 cms
MYTH: painted Hazel and Willow, 120 x 45 x 12 cms
My new CRUCIBLE series: carbon steel, various sizes - largest 70 x 65 x 50 cms
SUN BLOOM: dogwood, apple, flax and rattan, 100 x 60 x 15 cms

FLOW: painted Hazel and rattan, 140 x 40 x 12 cms
This is the first time contemporary basketry has been shown at the Knitting and Stitching Show and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Thank you to everyone who visited the gallery and for your generous feedback.  There'll be another chance to visit when the Knitting and Stitching Show is in Dublin (RDS) 12-15 November and Harrogate (HIC) 26-29 November.  See you there!

Monday, 14 September 2015


It's a real privilege to have been invited to exhibit in my own gallery at the 2015 Knitting and Stitching Shows.  The shows take place 7-11 October at Alexandra Palace, London, 12-15 November The Royal Dublin Showground in Dublin, Ireland and 26 -29 November Harrogate International Centre, Harrogate, Yorkshire, UK.

I've titled my gallery SECOND NATURE - thinking around ideas of re-use, repurposing, recollection, repair, redundancy, re-appropriation and all the ways in which we give new life and meaning to quite mundane, overlooked or obsolete materials.  It's also about how all those small acts of repetitive hand-making over time make their mark on us as we make our mark with them - just as walking a particular pathway leaves an impression on our minds even as our footsteps help mark out the path. Or, I should perhaps say, how my materials and use of basketry techniques have marked me and my thinking about them in the process of developing the work.

Here's a few details to, hopefully, intrigue and excite.

Detail from KEPLER'S SNOWFLAKE: vintage steel tape measure, spun paper tape, rattan and rivets - 75 cms diameter approx.  Johannes Kepler was a seventeenth century mathematician and astronomer who gave his employer Rudolph II an essay on the six cornered snowflake as a Christmas present - because, as he said of the snowflake, 'it falls from the heavens and looks like a star'. 

Detail from CRUCIBLES.  I've also been working with a material that fell from the heavens - iron. Or, actually, in this case carbon steel wire which rusts exquisitely when left out in the rain. 

Detail from GEO-METRIC: linen tape measures, spun paper tape and rivets.  But back down to earth I've also made a large plaited basket from old linen surveyor's tapes - the sort that were used to measure out land, cricket pitches and the like - before they were made redundant in the UK after metrication. 

Detail from SUN BLOOM - dogwood, apple and rattan.  I've made several more of my 'Bloom' series; this one from green dogwood - faded to a soft buttery ochre - a recollection of ripened seed-heads drifting in slanting sunlight.
Detail from DARK MATTER: paper twine and willow.  So I drift from waxing lyrical about natural phenomenon at the macro and micro level to the intense dark spaces that are another side.
I've realised that much of what I make comes in two sections: two halves that make a whole or two layers of weave that combine and contrast.  That, I suppose, is the nature of my making - that I'm drawn to dualities which remain distinct but have to be woven/knitted/stitched together.  Perhaps I'll see what happens next if I pull them apart ...
 Detail of MYTH: painted hazel and willow, 140 x 40 cms.
I look forward to seeing you there - please say hello.

Sunday, 2 August 2015


For the past year or so I've been developing and teaching random weave basketry techniques.  This is an increasingly popular contemporary technique worldwide - applicable to a huge range of forms and materials and great fun to do. You don't need specialist tools or previous basketry experience.

Morley College Random Weave Basketry student work 2015
Spheres are probably the most popular forms and, I think, the simplest for beginners.  The challenge is in creating a perfect sphere without using a mould - not so difficult once you know how.
Prototype 'font' basket by Stella Harding.  Making More project for Mottisfont National Trust 2014
Open forms are slightly more tricky as one has to take into account some form of border and the perennial issue of how to deal with all the loose ends.
Random weave baskets, bowls and bracelets designed and made by a collective of seven novice basket makers in collaboration with lead artist Stella Harding.
The Mottisfont Collection was designed and made for Mottisfont National Trust in 2014.  It was an Arts Council England funded collaborative project with Making Space, Havant. The collection comprised of random weave baskets, ceramic bowls and bracelets - the colours and forms inspired by the ancient intertwining waterways and pathways at Mottisfont.
Spherical basket from the Mottisfont Collection 2014, photo Tracey McCeachran
Since 2014 I've been continuing to teach the techniques to students on the Contemporary Basketry for Beginners and Improvers evening course at Morley College, Lambeth, London.
Morley College students' work
Most students pick up the basic techniques quite quickly and find the creation of flowing, intertwining lines quite mesmerising.  The range of forms and colour effects produced by dip-dyeing the centre cane and/or incorporating other materials is really exciting.  I'm looking forward to the next academic year and more opportunities to introduce a new crop of students to this and other contemporary basketry techniques.
If you are interested check out the Morley College website for evening courses and weekend workshops beginning September 2015.

Sunday, 26 April 2015


LEAVING HOME: a new setting for site responsive contemporary craft, is the latest exhibition at CAA (Contemporary Applied Arts), Southwark Street (behind Tate Modern), London.

Dish of the Day: chicken in a basket, Robert Cooper and Stella Harding. Photo: Jim Stephenson
Curated by Unravelled Arts  the exhibition  features our collaborative piece commissioned for Unravelling Uppark in 2014.  At CAA it sits on a specially made gallery plinth alongside other works originally shown in the Unravelled series of exhibitions at three National Trust properties in the south east of England - including Unravelling Nymans (2012) and Unravelling The Vyne (2014).
As well as wanting to bring the pieces to a wider audience the curators wanted to question 'what happens when site-specific installations are moved to a new setting? Does the work either gain or lose significance when it is taken out of its original setting?'
Dish of the Day: originally shown in the Stone Hall at Uppark House NT in West Sussex.
I would say that much depends on the nature of the new setting.  At Uppark Robert Cooper and I wanted the piece to operate as 'stealth craft', and as such we wanted it to blend into its 18th century surroundings so that it would appear at first sight as an anonymous collector's piece - only revealing its jarring message about child sexual exploitation and modern slavery (collaged from contemporary news cuttings) upon closer inspection.  The risk in this strategy was that, amongst all the opulent decoration in the dimly lit interiors of Uppark with no visible interpretation material to flag its whereabouts, it could easily have been overlooked entirely.  But that was our point;  much child sexual exploitation and modern slavery is still overlooked - despite the increasing glare of the media spotlight. 

 Dish of the Day - detail
At CAA there's been no  attempt to reference or recreate those original settings.  Our piece is literally placed under a hard spotlight and thrown into stark contrast with its dark red plinth against a plain white wall.  Here it vies for attention with similarly 'decontextualized' works, some of which sit happily in the gallery as recognisable examples of contemporary applied art (textiles, wood-carving, metal work and embroidery) by well known makers. 
Lidded vessels by Robert Cooper
ARCHEFOSSIL - Stella Harding. Photo: Arnold Borgerth
For me, I find our piece as uncomfortably out of place at CAA as it was at Uppark - still operating as stealth craft but in a different way.  It not only isn't recognisable as a gallery piece by either Robert Cooper or myself  (our own work is very different from this collaborative piece) but here the traditional dish form, relief decoration and eighteenth century quotation from Mary Wollstonecraft becomes oddly anachronistic.  It has to stand alone without fixed reference points either to its makers or to a single craft genre.  It's a liminal, borderline piece  - straddling historical time and contemporary space - dependant once again upon the beholder to look beyond the first glance and unravel its significance. 
The contemporary settings for child sexual exploitation and modern slavery may change - shifting from the eighteenth century brothels and grand country houses to the internet or the gold mines of Peru or the nail bars of Peckham. But the practices carry on now, as ever, largely unabated, largely unchecked and largely overlooked.
Will this piece ever sit comfortably anywhere?  I do hope not.

Monday, 20 April 2015

KNIT exhibition at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery, Bradford

This exhibition at Cartwright Hall Art Gallery in Bradford celebrates the vibrant legacy of Bradford's woollen industry and contemporary developments in design, materials and technology.  One of my wall pieces, BLOOMING, is featured alongside archive pieces from the  Crafts Council Collection, including work by Hikaru Noguchi, Freddie Robbins, Carol McNicoll and Susanna Heron as well as some of my fellow makers from the Crafts Council's Hothouse programme.

          Stella Harding, BLOOMING - painted willow, apple wood, jute and rattan.
                                                    Photo: Arnold Borgerth

Stella Harding DARK BLOOM (detail)
Although the  central woven sections of the 'Bloom' series might appear to be knitted, the effect is achieved by a basketry technique known as twining.  Twining and reverse twining alternate to create a 'stitch' similar to knit one, purl one.

The exhibition runs from 25 February until 25 August 2015.