And finally…

My favourite part of exhibitions I visit is often the section relating to the artist’s process and thinking, and so it was with the Doffer and the Fancy. I was very lucky to be offered the Mill Space, within the museum, to display these elements of my work, and also to be working with Chris Sharp, the curator, who enjoys the creative process of presenting the diverse elements which make an exhibition.

It provided a great opportunity to offer some explanation of the thinking behind each piece. Each vitrine was devoted to one piece – here the sketches and models for The Doffer and the Fancy:

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

It was also great to be able to display these alongside material from the Museum’s archive.

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

And here, the Piecer and the Harpist:

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

While I gave quite a few tours of the exhibition, I couldn’t be there all the time, so including diagrams and samples was important. It was a reminder to me, too, of the ideas I had rejected along the way, like the red gear cog from when I had imagined Headstock in multicolours.

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

For Creel, I had no spare pods for the vitrine, so this was the only piece I had to remake elements for the Mill Space and get my dye pots out again!

Two more vitrines explored River and Singer.

The museum has a great collection of sewing machines in the stores and it was lovely to be able to show some of these and to include the machine whose dimensions I took for my felt piece. I also included a sewing machine which I had sculpted in plaster on a course with Lewis Robinson at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Once the basic form was constructed in plaster around an armature, it was carved and sanded back and, once home , I decided to coat it with beeswax and graphite powder to bring out the surface texture.

The Mill Space was also home to the last exhibition piece, the 5 panel hanging “Thank Gott for Armley Mills” depicting many aspects of the life of the mill, in free motion embroidery on cotton organdie. It looked very much at home in front of the mill window overlooking the river.

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

Benjamin Gott, industrialist and philanthropist, who became Mayor of Leeds in 1799 was responsible for establishing the mill in its heyday and his insistence on an innovative fireproof design is probably why the mill still stands today. I realised that my exhibition had not covered key elements of this magical place – you can’t do everything! – but I wanted to pay my respects to the mighty façade, the water wheels, the shuttles and the industry-changing Jacquard Loom.

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

The hangings started life in an A4 sketchbook and the design then stitched onto cotton panels using one continuous line of stitch where possible in each section.

The river was added as a monoprint, and the cogs are lino printed.

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The paper I put under the cotton while lino printing (to protect my table) and which I then reused to clean off my rollers, turned out to be quite beautiful things, so I included them too!

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Happily, there was a chance to hang some of my 2-dimensional work.
The mighty Carding Engine in free-motion embroidery on handmade felt:

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

Two views of the Fulling Stocks in hand-dyed and stitched felt:

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

And a line drawing of the Headstock – the last piece of work I completed for this exhibition so a fitting  final photograph.

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Photo credit: Jules Lister

Time for a quick reflection on the exhibition as a whole.

It was an incredible opportunity for what was my first major exhibition and, for me, it grew from the love of a place and of a set of machines. The work was created over six months and gave me some sleepless nights but also great joy, insights, skills and inspiration to carry forward for future projects.

I am immensely grateful to Leeds Museums and Galleries for the chance to carry this through, and to all the staff at Leeds Industrial Museum for their friendship and support. Especial thanks to Chris Sharp, my curator. Curators, as I said at the exhibition opening, are the unsung heroes of the exhibition world – their names should be up there on the posters and their work recognised. I could not have done this without Chris.

As I write this post, Leeds Industrial Museum, along with all museums and galleries, is closed due to Covid-19. Measures have just been announced for a lifting of many Coronavirus lockdown restrictions to allow for the re-opening of the economy. The future of the arts and cultural sector looks particularly fragile. I think of Leeds Industrial Museum at Armley Mills and how much it has to give to visitors and I hope that, along with museums and galleries across the world, Gott’s strong and powerful mill will receive the support it needs to weather this particular storm.

Finally finally… almost one year on to the day from when it was filmed by Jules Lister, here is the exhibition film for you to enjoy.