Sunday, 24 March 2019
Above is a small clip of me stitching a cigarette paper. Why? Apparently the father of vascular surgery, Alexis Carrel, could put 500 stitches into one so it seemed an appropriate challenge.
Things to note when stitching paper;
1.It is not like woven fabric so will tear easily,
2.You are slowly destroying the paper,
3.You are replacing the strength of the paper with the strength of the thread and the moment of that exchange is full of jeopardy.
4.Never take your attention off the work.
5.As with needlelace, the first row of stitches is very important.
Filming done by and courtesy of Paul Craddock
Thursday, 28 February 2019
At the Victoria and Albert Museum in London there is the Bromley Hall Pattern Book a huge old book from 1770 containing fabric designs. It is in a very fragile condition both in its construction and contents and has very restrictive handling requirements. I went to visit this book and found a remarkable parallel. The book itself is approximately 34x40 inches in size and 5inches deep when open and it fills your arms. I was instructed in handling the pages and how to slowly turn them; one at a time and with consideration to their movement and that of the designs glued (or unglued) to the surface. Resting on a giant supportive bean bag the spine had to be carefully monitored as the pages were turned and then assessed every few pages to decide if the book needed to be readjusted. It took time.
I had to listen to the spine as the pages rolled over and decipher sometimes whether it made a good sound or a bad one. It was hard to resist turning them quickly as each page, whether I cared for its contents or not, had to be handled with equal care.
The most unusual thing was realising that I knew what to do. I found that shifting my whole body weight from one foot to the other as I turned each leaf assisted the giant pages to safely fall (not that you ever just let go of the page until it 'lands'). It was a dance-like fluid motion that supported my arms without them moving.
I had to assess the distribution of the beans in the beanbag and understood how to massage and coax it so as to gently support and move the whole book as the weight of pages slowly shifted from one side to the other. My understanding of all this came from somewhere in my previous experience and it seemed to be from a human origin. It was like holding a sleeping baby or perhaps moving an unconscious patient.
You have to watch and wait with something so fragile and vulnerable. It informed you of what it would do not the other way around. Listening and watching and assessing the potential possibilities but not second guessing it. Any wrong or impatient move could have repercussions.
Of all the parallels with fragile materials it was the handling of this book that gave me most pause.
Images of the book by kind permission of the Victoria and Albert Museum.
Saturday, 5 January 2019
The Textile Body has been in the news this week ! Firstly on Front Row on BBC Radio 4
and then today in the Lancet, an article Reframing Surgical Simulation the Textile Body as Metaphor
many thanks to Professor Roger Kneebone, consultant surgeons Colin Bicknell and Sam Gallivan and the team at Front Row.
Thursday, 29 November 2018
A few weeks later a similar operation revealed all those problems writ large and with high drama. A complex operation with weak materials and then a rupture.Heavy blood loss ensued and a room of high emotion as the surgeons worked frantically, the scrub nurse worked frantically and likewise the anaesthetic team. I found that I was holding my breath as this 'piece of silk' disintegrated in their hands and I saw a miracle as they raised the Titanic.
How does an expert work? they cope with deteriorating situations making difficult decisions in the moment. How do you spot invisible deterioration? How do you decide how far to go? How do you decide that you can't do anything, that the mend itself will do more damage than the tear. I know these decisions, they are material. How do you know when to cut your losses? How do you go from a planned small repair to a big unexpected one?There is no hindsight only expertise.
All the while the other team members worked like bees, so quietly and efficiently. The clear liquid in the drip was changed for thick red, then clear red, then two shades of yellow. When the emergency was over it seemed that they all stood quietly and cleaned their antennae.
I realised that pledgets are small promises made with each stitch.
Tuesday, 27 November 2018
I do not takes notes during surgery but rather allow the many new visual experiences to sink in as they happen. Afterwards I will sift through and do a quick diary which is often like writing down a dream; I don't always have a full view of surgery let alone an understanding of what I am watching from an anatomical perspective but I know colour and material and tool use. Above is an image of a piece of my work in progress at a rather confusing moment visually! I know how to translate this but anatomy is another thing so below is an extract from one diary entry made about half an hour after coming out of theatre.
''Vertical incision so different, more solid layers revealed.....thick and compact.
Organs in detail-MANGO-finally named that colour! and pale blue pinks and organic egg yolk,'thought of 90's catwalk shows of bright colour clashes. Food colours in the abdomen, flame colours in the blood. Big crochet structure,uneven bobbles with thread capillaries and single cell clingfilm membranes.
(surgeon)opens out another fan shaped translucent structure with a fat pink edge and yellow centre and the light shines through it.
The cancer feels hard in the stomach lining, a suede beige, but hardly different to its' surroundings-a slight distortion but deadly. (I should point out at this point that once the tumour had been removed I was allowed under supervision to touch it).
Glimpses of pink things,smooth and shiny,translucent and dense......
The smell of someone's perfume mingled with blood stayed with me .A wild aromatic smell, otherness,strangeness,damp places of the world.
Theatre nurses,intense and watchful,quietly fetching equipment,listening.''
Monday, 26 November 2018
It occurred to me that mending this would present parallels to vascular surgery and so I made these initial notes on examining it:
Mending Delicate Fabrics:
Prepare sequence of mending after assessment-washing, shaping, reassessing.
Tiny details almost invisible to the human eye which we disregard,detail was once more important and readable as a language of stitch.
Hand work that now looks to us like machine work so we don't believe it.
Tiny stitches in very fine fabric but no distortion from the needle despite heavy thread.
Raw edge to the cotton itself but so many embroidery stitches that finishing is unnecessary to stabilise the edge.
After gently damping the collar with a wet cloth,(not submerging in water because the weight of water could be damaging) I carefully reshaped it onto a thick towel. It was not the asymmetric design I had thought but a symmetrical one that had lost a part.The true shape was now revealed as rhomboid with an elliptical centre ,the lace still limply edging the whole. Once carefully ironed the original nature of the collar emerged as a 4D shape rather like a mesentery (organ of the digestive system) .....all frilly!!
It is only after these observations that the job of mending the tear was the focus.
Saturday, 24 November 2018
In the art world and related universes much is spoken of process, the strange path by which we create something. We all have our different ways but in general it is almost more important to us than the final product.Our work then goes out into the world as a mystery to all but a few. These mysteries are formed because we have hidden the process which we do for a multitude of reasons. One example is in the recording of music.I enjoy hearing the sounds of instruments themselves as it tells me that the music is human and is being made. In recording the sound though it had been decided that only the 'music' is worth hearing and not the creak of a pedal or sigh of the musician.
By hiding the process, for whatever reason, we begin to lose connection to our possibilities of creation.We begin to feel that making an object is something done by 'others'. We lose sight of how what we do in the ordinary world is connected to more mysterious worlds. This is where the work I am doing with Imperial has relevance. I try and see the parallel world that we inhabit and try and investigate what I find. Some of these investigations are pieces of work like the Textile Body but others are more private.
I have mentioned how I find myself doing garden surgery when planting bulbs but to understand the experience of vascular surgery for myself I undertook a stranger process. For several weeks I had a poached egg for breakfast and each day I had to dissect the yoke out before I could eat it.Each egg was slightly different in texture and fragility and every day I would gently cut the surface membrane of the yoke and then attempt to slide my knife underneath or around it to remove it. Each day was unsuccessful but each day I learnt the feel under the knife of a delicate material which was unknowable in any other way.