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.