Monday, 1 August 2011

Pianola Roll - embroidery and automaton

I have finally completed my first Pianola Roll project, having bought these from the World of Mechanical Music Museum.

I took as my starting position the fact that the holes in the paper were information points, and so took those and used them to make a cross-stitch embroidery.  I also copied some of the printed information on the roll as it would have been visually dull though intellectually rigorous to have just used one set of data to make an accurate copy into another medium.

In order to make an object which would hang well I used bondaweb to stick a backing fabric onto the cross stitch. I used part of an old sail I had available, which is a good material to use at it cuts easily, is strong, and doesn't fray. I then used bondaweb to stick the embroidery onto the original pianola roll, having cut off almost all the paper but kept the section which attached it to the bobbin.

I haven't sorted out the display method yet, but this piece can either be hung from from a cord attached to the edges of the bobbin, or set on a surface using the original box to hold it in place.
a second, complete, pianola roll
I haven't made much progress on the automaton idea.  I have played with the kit I bought, and I do understand much more of what would be needed to make a hand that moved when a handle was turned.

I made the basic hand by sticking the pianola paper onto artist's canvas and then using knotted wool to allow the joints to move.

the fingers move - a little
canvas backing on paper

I have also played with a small windup 'gramaphone' music box I bought, and a little doll, but haven't managed to work out how to make a piece where turning one handle makes it look as if the doll is winding the gramophone.

wind-up gramophone from Ebay

my 95pence doll from the charity shop

An additional problem is that the gramophone works by winding the handle a little and it then plays for quite a while, with the handle rotating in the opposite direction as it does so.  I had assumed it would be like those little metal music boxes you can get where the music only works as long as you turn the handle.

I doubt I will have these pieces done in time for the exhibition but I am not giving up yet!  In the mean time I need to get on and work on the 'Love Tokens' project I started ages ago, based on the archives at the Coram Foundling Hospital.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011


Another catch-up postcard

Monday, 4 July 2011

Georgia falling and the ginger pig

Following on from the entertainments of the summer residency at Blue Ginger, I have made two embroidered postcards.  The sewing machine was a bit stroppy, but manged to complete both without tearing my hair out.

I had hoped to catch up on all the missed postcards before the September Exhibition.  However, the topics from last year aren't on the Facebook list any more...but there was a title of 'something beginning with F'.  While I was looking for a photo for the 'Stitch in Time' topic, I came across a photo of my granddaughter as a baby, caught in the act of falling (she was at that stage where sitting up is a great effort - but the floor is very close), with her hair flying out like thistledown. So, Falling (Georgia) is my submission for this topic.

When we are the Blue Ginger Summer House artist's residency there was a hole in the grass that two of us got caught out by.  On the Thursday I put a squeaky toy in the hole, to mark where it was and act as warning.

Of course, no-one could resist standing on it and making it squeal.  As it contributed so much entertainment I thought an embroidery of a pig would be appropriate.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Pianola roll - opportunity and threat

donkey sand-automata - it did have a keyboard

I went to the World of Mechanical Music  in Northleach, a village in the Cotswolds.  This is a completely amazing little place full of the most astonishing mechanical music machines.  A tour involves being played ( and sometimes playing yourself) music on pretty well every form of machine for playing music that works by winding or pedaling.  My highlight was being played a direct paper recording by Rachmaninoff - sitting watching the keys of the piano move it felt like the man was sitting there playing with invisible and very large hands just for me.

This little museum is also a workshop for repairs, I think the back room probably has gnomes...probably a direct time-vortex link to the North Pole.  They also sell old unwanted pianola rolls for one pound each.  I came away with a handful, and gave them to my embroidery group in lieu of Christmas cards.  Since then, each month when we meet, we find out if anyone has started a work making use of the pianola roll, each time we ruefully shake our heads.
front edge of roll - attaches to winding mechanism

I intended to make an automaton of a piano player with the paper from my pianola roll.  Anyone who has seen any of my stitchery will know precision is not my strong point, but I love automata and had always wanted to make some.  I bought two paper automata kits so that I could learn how they worked.  One had a donkey that played a keyboard, operated by sand falling through a hopper.  I made it, rather roughly, but by now I have lost a few of the bits.  The second one is a set of fingers that move as you wind the handle. I had all sorts of plans but as the exhibition date looms I am reducing the scale of my aspirations.

Yesterday I finally unrolled my pianola roll and discovered it was about three times the length of my house!  After a bit of agonising I cut a section of paper out of the middle to have something to work with, to get the feel of how the paper works, can it take stitch, how does it fold.  I also tamped talcum powder through the holes with a cotton-wool pad onto dark soft paper, considering it's use as a stencil.
very very long!

Pianola rolls have holes that provide information.  These holes determine which keys are played.  In effect they are no different than a knitting pattern or a computer programme.  I looked at the holes, the added lines of colour whose purpose I don't know, and decided to start with a direct copy using cross stitch.  I have a piece of cream even-weave, some threads, and a piece of work that I can work on easily, a bit every day.
pianola roll detail

The rolls come in neat cardboard boxes with supports for the ends of the rolls. These are beautiful in themselves. The ends of the rolls area a variety of materials, but the Bakelite ones are, again, lovely things in their own right.  any aspect or part of these rolls could be the starting point for the work.

I was at Malvern Theatre last night, and noticed that they hang long banners from poles in their high ceiling.  Immediately I could see a piece of work with nine long embroidered and manipulated pieces of the piano roll.  Will I be brave enough to suggest this?  I'll work more on my roll - then perhaps after our September show in Ledbury suggest it to the group.

This is such a long (both in time and physicality) piece of work that I am going to use this blog as a sketchbook to describe the processes I go through, rather than waiting to write about a finished piece.  I am hoping this will help me clarify my ideas and remember what I have planned to do.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

A summer postcard

A group of friends from my C&G course still meet monthly.  We make a small postcard sized piece on a theme each month just to keep those of us less good at motivating ourselves working. I have to admit that, even with such a small piece and a deadline, I have still been poor at doing these.

However, next week we meet, and this month the theme is summer.  I have planned several different pieces in my head, but they got no further.  One of the group does a truly inspiring mini-sketchbook for each them.  We all sigh and say we must do the same and never do.  So, all these thoughts don't even make it to paper.

Yesterday I was hunting on the computer for a particular photo and came across one I took in Scarborough a few summers ago.  They have some lovely beach huts and two women had set up a table with bright cloth and a vase of flowers and were enjoying their tea in the sunshine.  I asked if I could take their picture, thinking it would a lovely source of information.

So, this little postcard is based on that idyllic hot summer moment.

I started by drawing the picture with felt pens.  I find drawing a scene helps me be sure of the spatial arrangement and points of interest.  I then found a scrap of artist canvas, found a new sewing machine needle (that took a hunt) and a wash-out fabric marking pen.  I was going to just do free drawing with the machine but it is so long since I have done any embroidery with the machine that I drew the rough sketch first.  I then stitched with black thread, washed the cloth and left it to dry.

I gave away vast amounts of fabric recently due to an impending house move, so have fewer pieces of cloth to chose from.  I thought the table cloth, vase and flower, and the beach hut doors should be fabric snippets, and the rest left as stitch. Fortunately the stack of fabric and sundries I was going to take to College is still here, and it includes a lot of ties I painted for Rod.  It occurred to me that if I just kept those I would have access to a lot of different colours in small amount, so this will be my source for small bits of cloth.

I added a bit of colour for some of the doors, the table cloth and the flower.  I did make an error on the blue and red door but I didn't spot that until I had sewed it up (they should be shorter) and I decided not to unpick the envelope to restitch it.  The reverse has a note from these two ladies to a friend - done as always too hastily.