The Doffer and the Fancy revisited

MS titlePhoto credit: Jules Lister

Strange times. With museums and galleries closed during lockdown, I’ve been enjoying online posts about past exhibitions and it got me to thinking back to The Doffer and the Fancy. Hard to register where I was this time last year in the whole exhibition-making process,  with just over a month to go before opening. My heart goes out to exhibiting artists who find themselves in limbo this year with all that work, and nowhere to show!

Anyway, here’s a little trip down memory lane, to Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills last June when The Doffer and The Fancy: Re-imagining the Machine opened, and a few insights into the fun we had installing.

Photo credit: Helen Riddle, Jules Lister

The eponymous piece, The Doffer and the Fancy, greeted visitors in the first room of their museum tour, standing proudly next to the carding engine. You can see Chris and Andrew from  Leeds Industrial Museum (LIM) during install – Andrew appears to have lost something vital inside the sculpture – but actually was checking the internal support system which secured the sculpture to the base and kept it safe for visitors. It was great to see it in place, with the red fleece picking up the colour of the mill window frames.

Just around the corner is the magnificent spinning mule, inspiration for The Piecer and the Harpist

piecer and harpistPhoto credit: Jules Lister

Suspended from the ceiling it hangs at the end of the mule, continuing the rhythm of the metal spool holders and catching the light from the mill window. I love the way that this piece blends in with its surroundings – the metal rods, the white, Wensleydale wool, the twist of the ropes on the wall. Visitors catch sight of it out of the corner of their eye and then take a closer look.

Photo credit: Jules Lister, Helen Riddle, Jules Lister

The next piece, Headstock, was also inspired by the spinning mule, but in this case by the densely packed machinery that powers it.

headstockPhoto credit: Jules Lister

The lighting really worked here. Much of the museum is quite dark so it was great to make the most of the new spotlights; the shadows on the plinth reminded me of the sunny days earlier in the year while I was working on this piece. Given that it was partly inspired by Cornelia Parker’s Cold Dark Matter, being able to incorporate shadows into the piece was important to me.

headstock and creelPhoto credit: Jules Lister

I love this photo (thanks Jules)! There’s something about seeing these two works in amongst the beautiful forms of the machinery that makes me very happy. Creel (in the centre of the photo) was a real favourite with the staff of the museum, and with many visitors.

Creel has 130 or so separate parts, so it was a bit of an undertaking to install. I had a colour scheme planned so each pod was numbered so it could positioned correctly. It took my trusty assistant and I a whole day to install…though you can see we worked very hard!

… then we had a quick lunch before…

But it was all worth it in the end!

Photo credit: Jules Lister

There’s something special about those warm autumnal colours: the museum staff tell me that it is magical in the late afternoon sunshine. They’ve become so attached to it that this piece is staying on, on extended loan – hopefully when the museum comes out of lockdown, we’ll be able to enjoy it again!

By contrast, River, was a dream to install. I brought it to the museum rolled up, so, once in position, it unfurled itself. There was a large cogged wheel lying serendipitously nearby under the loom, so it took on a new role, representing the waterwheels.

Photo credit: Jules Lister

Finally (for this post), we head downstairs to the sewing room, to find Singer, the smallest of the pieces, but a possible contender for the Peoples’ Vote, I think, had we had one.

sr singerPhoto credit: Jules Lister

Everyone loves a Singer, and this one was in its element here, a Singer amongst Singers.

That’s all for now.

Next time, we’ll head down to the Mill Space and a little reflection on the exhibition as a whole.

4 thoughts on “The Doffer and the Fancy revisited

  1. Hi Helen! I enjoyed reading this and remembering your show, which, with the course, really inspired me and was significant fro me. I seem to progress very slowly but the course really set me up. I am just this week experimenting with lino printing having bought an XcutXpress machine for lockdown! It’s taking me a while to get quality I want but I will get there! I love the excitement of printing and the feel of making product in quantity for once! I’m also progressing (slowly) with CiFT.

    All the best to you, Pippa



    1. So glad you have carried on being inspired. The Xcut is a good piece of equipment but, as you say, it needs some experimentation. I have an extended bed and felt blanket for mine from Handprinted – have you seen them? I’m now working on my project on Ageing…mostly thinking and planning and designing as I can’t get to the studio. But thinking time is good! I’ll start blogging about it once I get my thoughts in a more coherent order!


  2. It really was an amazing exhibition, thank you for the re visit Helen, The photographs are stunningly good. I’m so glad I went.


    1. Thanks, Ann. I really enjoyed looking through the photos too. The Singer piece is now in my sitting room which is great, but I know it looked better amongst the other machines.


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