During my blogging hiatus, one of the many things I’ve been making is a stitched series using WW2 cream Utility blankets.
The first piece is called Fettle. I’ve been cutting multiple holes in a blanket and hemming them with mattresses stitch. The second piece is called Fallow and it comprises of round pebbles sewn onto a blanket with (the unfortunately named) Colonial Knots. I see them both as a continuation of the ideas raised in Tatterdemalion.
Fettle was started in 2018 and is nearly finished. It would have been done already but I made a major mistake in the concept of the piece and spent an embarrassing amount of time sewing stones into the middle before realising that I was actually trying to squeeze two different pieces into one. Unfortunately I was nearly finished before I realised that I needed to cut the stones off Fettle and start a second companion piece with them.
What's worse is that I was recently looking through my old sketchbook and found a drawing where I'd originally conceived of it as two pieces not one. I don't know when or why I foolishly squashed them together, my suspicion is that I just misremembered the original plan. Guess it just goes to show the importance of flipping through your sketchbooks on the regular!
So that was an annoying but very necessary realisation. I’m much happier making two separate but connected pieces. Before there was a constant feeling of wrongness (that I should have heeded much earlier), whereas now there's a deep feeling of rightness. I’ve only just started sewing the stones onto Fallow because it took me 7 months to source a second blanket the same size as Fettle. So it’ll be a while before that’s finished and they can be shown together as I envisage them, with Fettle hanging on a wall and Fallow tumbled on the floor under it.
What’s odd is that during those 7 months while I was trying to find a second blanket, Fettle temporarily lost its name. After I took the stones off, I was unsure whether it was still called Fettle or not but the minute I bought the new blanket and understood that it was called Fallow, Fettle reclaimed its name. Apparently they are so deeply connected that I couldn’t properly name one until I knew what the other one was called.
I chose to work with Utility blankets for several reasons and none of them are anything to do with WW2 nostalgia.
Firstly, I got obsessed with a scratchy old grey wool blanket at my parents house. It gives me Big Art Feels; I am simultaneously drawn to its humble beauty but repelled by its scratchiness. I call this The Push-Pull Feeling and it’s the basis of a surprising amount of my work.
My parents are still using that blanket as a mattress topper so I don’t want to ask them for it. Besides, there’s only one of it, which would make it far too precious for me to ever use for art. I don’t know how many blanket pieces I’ll ultimately make but I know myself and I like to work in series. I knew my chances of finding a set of identical blankets to the one my parents own was ridiculously small, so I needed a reliable source of substitute blankets that gave me that same Push-Pull feeling.
Modern blankets are way too soft, plus I wanted to work with old blankets that had already lived a life. However, I didn’t want to destroy anything truly precious or expensive. I settled on Utility blankets because they were made in their thousands to a set standard, come up fairly regularly on EBay and even now can be bought reasonably cheaply. And naively, I initially thought that choosing Utility blankets would mean they’d all be identical.
Hah, I soon learned otherwise!
I now own four of these blankets in two sizes and each is slightly different. Although like all Utility products they were standardised due to the restrictions of World War 2, it’s obvious there was a certain amount of wiggle room in the rules. Even if they had started out identical, which they didn’t, they have been living in different conditions over the last 70 years. Some have clearly been used and washed far more often than others, some have stains, holes or other damage and they are all subtly different shades of cream.
So Fallow is not an exact colour and texture match to Fettle but by this point in my blanket collecting, I wasn’t expecting it to be. Fallow has a distinct Herringbone pattern that Fettle lacks and it’s slightly darker. They are very similar but not identical; siblings not twins. However, they are the same size and that was the key thing for me.
Don’t expect to see Fallow finished anytime soon, this is the very definition of slow art. Even if I worked on it every day, which I know I won’t, it would still take ages. I'm trying to crack on with it now while I'm still fresh and enthusiastic because I know from bitter experience that it's likely to get harder later. Baring disasters, Fettle should definitely be finished in 2023 and I am working on them both weekly. I find if I don’t strongly commit to working on the big sculptural textile pieces every week, they fall off my list too easily.