This was on the back of the quilt poster:
My research showed that another learning and therapeutic practice offered in some UK prisons is organized by the charity Fine Cell Work who go into prisons to teach the prisoners needlework. One of their main lines is making quilts that are then sold to foster the charity’s work and to support families of those in prison.
The charity LandWorks, near Ian’s hometown, employs prisoners on day release from the nearby prison to work in their vegetable and flower garden to extend the prisoners’ skills sets. If they want to, the prisoners also tend the poultry and learn woodcarving and pottery.
Extending personal skills was an element of prison life that Ian wrote about and that I was not aware of and which constituted, therefore, my main body of work. I approached LandWorks in August 2018 to ask if I could photograph the fruits of the prisoners’ labour. Having developed a site-specific body of work, I used my Facebook contacts to design a quilt. An OCA textiles student sewed the resulting squares / cells using her specialist sewing table and machine foot which I did not have.
The cyanotypes reference Anna Atkins’ pioneering plant cyanotype photography work of nearly two centuries ago.
LandWorks will auction the quilt in November and whatever they raise will receive matched funding.
Fellow OCA SW student, Sarah, came to my rescue with her quilt equipment: table and sewing machine with a quilt foot.
Despite all the equipment, it still needed two of us to feed the quilt under the foot.
I was very grateful to Sarah for lifting a huge weight off my shoulders – I had not realised how much the two failed quilts / incomplete quilt was rumbling in the back of my mind. the only thing left to do is to appliqué the two motifs on the pockets – when they arrive.
I found this article on cyanotypes which I first saw in the RPS journal of October 2013.
Progress on process:
At last, I am seeing some progress. Starting with fresh mixes of the potassium ferric cyanide and the hydrogen peroxide and going to using 2 digital negatives for each image, I have ramped up the exposure to UVA to 6 mins and that seems to have done the trick. I am quite pleased with these prints:
These are the images I took to record the process:
Having seen the work L’autre rive of Émeric Lhuisset which I first saw on Catherine Bank’s blog, I am now investigating making cyanotypes bigger than A4 which means I have to find a company which sells A3 or even A0 transparency sheets = very exciting!
Progress on my cyanotype experiments.
15th December, 2018
There are so many variables in making cyanotypes. With the help of all things photographic guru David A., I devised a way of controlling the time that the images are exposed to UVA light.
If my exposure of 1/15th sec on my camera = 4mins under UVA (because that is what I determined at the start of my experimenting) then 1/30th sec = 2 mins under UVA.
If everything else was equal, then that would logically follow. But it isn’t.
The variables which get in the way are:
- How long the hydrogen peroxide has been exposed to the air – the longer it stays, the more oxygen it has absorbed from / has given up to the environment and so the weaker its effects = the lighter the final ‘cyanotype blue’ it is.
- How long the cyanide mix has been standing – the longer it stands, it seems, the more exposure time it needs – I haven’t worked out why yet.
- I had forgotten that for our cyanotype training last year, we had to take 2 copies of the digital negatives to make the resultant cyanotype clearer.
- The accuracy of the timing device.
- If I paint the cyanide mix onto the cotton, it dries blotchy but smooth. If I soak the material in the cyanide jar mix and squeeze out the excess liquid, it dries creased.
The last 2 examples look much better in the photo than they do in reality. maybe I’m just picky & want it to look like the design I made in Photoshop?
I found the time dial on the UVA lamp very crude: I could not get 2mins 30 secs but had to guess so I started using the timer on my phone.
The fennel has come out quite well:
The work and experiments start
For my exhibition in July 2019 I have decided to make a quilt. This is not a random idea – I have never made a quilt, so I will have to learn from scratch – it comes as a direct result of my research for my Contextual Studies essay on opportunities offered to prisoners to develop their skills. Quilt making has a history in UK prisons and one of the organisations involved in the occupation is “Fine Cell Work”.
Their mission statement reads:
Fine Cell Work’s mission is to train prisoners in creative, commercial craftwork so they re-enter society with the self-belief and independence to lead fulfilling and crime-free lives.
Our vision is to expand the role of commercial craftwork throughout the UK prison system in order to create training, employment and rehabilitation for greater numbers of offenders. We aim to become the country’s “go-to” site for needlework and soft furnishings, selling high quality, handmade British goods to the public and interior designers.
My main contention in my prison project is that the mass media presents a one-sided, rather negative view of UK prisons. My research has shown me that there are many prisons which offer prisoners a plethora of avenues for self-improvement and skills development opportunities which are very positive in terms of rehabilitation, and therapeutic.
Best-selling author Tracy Chevalier developed a project with prisoners in HMP Wandsworth on the theme of ‘sleep’. She wanted the prisoners to design and make a square each on the theme for a quilt “The sleep quilt”. On completion of the project, she wrote:
“ the project “became much more therapeutic than I’d thought – things came out, emotions came out. Sleep is quite contentious in prisons, and I hadn’t known that. But when we’re going to sleep, it’s often the time we think the most. For prisoners, things have gone wrong for them in their lives and that’s the time it comes out. That definitely came through in the quilt.”(1)
I don’t have the time to apply to work in a prison, nor do I have the skills to teach what I don’t know, so I am teaching myself quilt making skills and have designed a “Garden quilt”. Gardening is another of those therapeutic sessions available to inmates in prison to expand their skills which will help them find employment once they have spent their sentence.
I have been photographing in LandWorks, a centre in Dartington, Devon, where prisoners are sent on day release to work in the gardens, or learn pottery or woodwork in the workshops. I have been focusing on the plants because the title of my body of work is ‘One Year’ which carries the metaphor of change, development and regeneration best, in my opinion.
The plan for my quilt is to make a 1.5m x 2m quilt using the gardening images inspired by the rehabilitation and therapeutic work being carried out at LandWorks. Instead of printing them in colour, I am hoping to do 24 cyanotypes on cotton and then stitching them into a quilt which will be auctioned at the end of my exhibition. The money from the auction will go to a prison charity but I have not yet decided which one. Some of the quilts half the size of mine are selling for about £200 on the Fine Cell Work website, so I am hoping to make somewhere in that region from the auction.
This is my plan for my quilt so far:
Eager to try them out, I did 3 cyanotype prints:
The squares for the quilt will have white surrounding the image – the painting of the chemicals will be done more carefully than these were when I applied the chemicals to the paper.
My plan is now to buy some white cotton, cut it up into 30cm squares, cut a board template with a 22cm hole, paint the chemicals onto the cotton, let it dry & print some of the negatives onto each square.
I have discussed the quilt design with a friend who has experience with making quilts and she suggested redesigning it using a 5 x 7 grid, with heavier cells around the outside:
All the images are of plants, roosters, fruit and vegetables grown at LandWorks, Dartington.
After many iterations, I think I have settled on this (6th version) one:
9th November, 2018
I thought I would make a start with my quilt since I have not made one before & there are lots of tricky things which could go wrong in making 35 cyanotype prints on cotton.
Step 1: find out how to use resist on cotton: draw up the square around which the cotton needs to stay white and block it using wax: if it works on batik, why can’t it work on cyanotypes? The article on the Alternative Photography web site, recommended by fellow OCA student Catherine Banks, suggests using black silk painting outliner or vaseline as a resist.
Step 2: since I can’t find my old tjanting, buy a new one and a pot to melt the wax; buy wax..
Step 3: calculate the size of the squares which will accommodate 5 squares across and 7 down which have a 15cm image and, with a denim border, will fit on a 150cm X 200cm surface = 27cm cotton squares with 2 X 1cm seams and the same for the wadding. The idea now is to sew the cotton and wadding squares with the seams showing on the outside of the quilt.
Step 4: buy / beg used denim jeans for the quilt edge from a charity shop – plenty of those around – and wash them.
Step 5: cut up templates on card for the cotton; cut t2 trial pieces of cotton into 27cm squares and draw round the 15cm square centres for the image. Melt the wax & go round the outside of the image square. Paint the inside with the ferric cyanide solution and leave to dry.
Step 5: Check the effect of the wax in the squares: disaster: the chemicals have seeped below the wax except in one small part of the perimeter:
Step 5: start experimenting to see what went wrong. I thought that perhaps the cotton needed to be hot too so I tried:
As all the experiments were done painting the same side of the cotton which came out with a rough texture, I tried painting the back first – same result.
I then tried to iron the wax out but it left a yellow stain where it had been – do I change the wax or wait till I have exposed the chemicals to UV light and rinse in hydrogen peroxide and then wash it? I will first expose to UV, rinse & then try to iron out more wax.
- The tjanting has a clean edge which I could not get when I was using the stiff bristle paint brush.
- Applying the wax to both sides has no advantage over applying it twice to the same side.
- The thickness of the wax is crucial in not allowing seepage.
- I need to practise using the tjanting a lot more in order to control it better.
- Try the vaseline method before I decide which leaves the better white border around the images in the squares.