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CETG Meeting on Monday 12th August 2019

Our Speaker - Marilyn Rathbone

Her Subject - Following the Thread - an Intuitive Approach to Textile Art"


Here is an overview of Marilyn’s talk, along with some photos taken on the evening.


Marilyn talked about how she develops her work and how people are often surprised that it is intuitive. Her route into textiles was not planned. She took a Degree in Fine Art and fell into embroidery, it was not a conscious decision.


Her first artwork came about through walking her children to school and back for eight years.  She was inspired by the patterns and cracks seen in the roads and pavements, and other “ordinary” views. Marilyn champions the overlooked and ordinary.


“Welcome” was constructed using 1300 sheets of petal paper.  She enjoyed the assembling and construction of the piece.  It was selected for the “Art Textiles 2” award.


Following this, Marilyn was asked to join the 62 Group of Textile Artists.  The Group was keen to have themed pieces.  Marilyn worked on a piece named “Water” representing water and the patterns seen on manhole covers.  She also made her own cord to keep the display box open.  The cord was made using a wooden lucet and loom - tools that have been used since Medieval days.


Marilyn’s first piece of work for the 62 Group using a lucet was a braid with the theme of the Duke of Portland.  She took the Cavendish family crest as a starting point and wove all of the Duke’s many names and titles into the braid.  Her work is very time consuming!


Marilyn also wanted to do some of her own work but had a limited choice of techniques.  She learned more about braiding, cording and button making.  In button-making she enjoyed making discs of colour.


Marilyn explained how she came up with one of her ideas – the “100 Metres Dash”.


It all began with a quotation from Andrew Hamilton – “How many truly remarkable things have you done in your life?  If the answer is almost none, then maybe you should run a marathon”.


She decided to challenge herself to make a 100 metre braid.  100 metres is the shortest running distance and this would be her marathon event.  She researched the topic, made samples and carried out time trials to see how long the work would take to make.  Working intuitively, she became inspired during this work and her ideas evolved.

She saw the parallel between an athlete training for an event and her completing her braid.  She decided to be very disciplined, just like athletes, and used sports terminology in her progress reports.  She also wrote a CV and a training programme alongside the braid work - setting out her targets, personal bests, time trials and progress chart.  She worked out that it would take her 48 weeks to complete!  She kept notes and updated her bulletins which she eventually made into a 54 page book and DVD.


Como silk, dyed in the colours of the Olympic symbols was used The challenge was not plain sailing.  Near the commencement of the challenge she realised she hadn’t calculated enough thread and had to start again!  During the summer she kept going, averaging 6 hours work a day.


She also used markers along the way, for 1 metre, 2 metres and so on, to help her see how far she was getting.  The finished braid was displayed on a large cotton reel.


The whole piece took 1 year and 1 day to complete, including the book and DVD.


Someone asked why she did this all by herself?  She explained that when she starts working, she is not sure how the work will end up.  She solves problems along the way.  She thinks that when she is “in the zone” ideas take off and flow.  She feels that the work leads the way and she intuitively follows - so having someone else with her would be more of a burden than a help.


Marilyn has also worked with Kumihimo braids.  She used these braids in her work “Viperidae” for the Cambridge Museum of Zoology.  The piece needed more complex braids and Kumihimo braiding allows many more different colours and pattern combinations. The piece was displayed as an installation in the Museum. 


Marilyn decided to make her own boxes to display the items both in the Museum and afterwards.  Her box and cabinet design work was put forward for a design award.


Marilyn is also intrigued and inspired by number sequences.  She has made a set of 6 braids – “6 degrees of separation” and has also been inspired by Bauhaus - seeing colours and numbers as shapes.  Marilyn made braids of numbers displayed in 3 different shapes – triangle, square and rectangle.


Another design was “Pi in the sky”, inspired by Pi numbers.  This is made up of braids displayed horizontally and rings threaded on the braids highlighting some of the Pi numbers.


“The Random Number braid” consisted of random numbers – 1-60 – in random order.  The distance between the numbers was also random.  This was a very complicated braid to make, the most difficult one of all so far.  It was displayed on a hexagonal frame.


Button making – Marilyn was very much inspired by Carl Andre’s work, based on a magic square in colours, not numbers.  She experimented with other button techniques including shirtwaist buttons.  Julien Macdonald is another designer whose work inspires Marilyn.


“Self Avoiding Walk” is a sequence of moves that takes you through a lattice work of buttons connected together by one thread only.  This piece will be on display at the Knitting & Stitching Shows in Autumn 2019.


Marilyn has developed an interest in mathematics as is clear from all of her work and her talk.  She admitted that she actually doesn’t know much about maths at all but it has emerged in her work, completely unplanned and it has lead her into surprising outcomes in her textile work.


She is still coming up with new ideas using braid and button making; she enjoys the simple practices of the two techniques.


Marilyn’s concluded by encouraging everyone to “have a try”.  You never know what might happen!

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