Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Epiploic Cube part three

  Inside the cube you can see and experience the complexity of navigating a space that is both awkward and movable. I have made an secret passage between two of the sides where a tube, known as a rouleaux loop, can pass. One side shown below has pale lavender organza embroidered folds with a central pocket. Inside the pocket itself there are little surprises but also the fabric tube. This is stitched to another tube in scarlet silk like an anastomosis.

 The tubes can be gently pulled from one side of the cube to the other, this time a rectangle of scarlet taffeta. There is no flat plane to work on and the adjoining surface has tensioned straps which pull the inner surface closed again.

 The tube is then revealed again through a pocket and folds on this last plane.

 This is one idea I worked out by working with  magician Will Houstoun  with whom I spent a fascinating day and will talk more about in the next post, part four.

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Epiploic Cube Part Two

I will  begin this tour of the cube by talking about historical costume detail. The side facing you in the first image has a woven ribbon detail done in a style reflecting the woven detail on a type of button called the 'death's head' button. It is not known how it got this name but it is a visually simple but technically complex woven thread method found on (expensive) buttons around the 18th C.
  The outer sides of the cube although square are formed of groups of squares and rectangles according to the engineering of the folding mechanism This gave me the opportunity to design each themed surface around the folds or openings.One particular side has just two rectangles which seemed far too easy so I added a pocket flap to one half. I now had an inside and an outside or anterior and posterior to play with. Using a shift in colour from grey lilacs to rose reds and greens  illustrated the change. Inside the pocket I placed a mini passementerie trimming such as would have been made to match buttons and silks of the era. In a parallel to surgery (one of many) this has to be removed before you proceed.

  Turn the cube a little and you see a blaze of golden orange.Silk ribbons are threaded through hand embroidered eyelets, tiny pinked edged panels are stitched with French knots and slashed through to reveal golden silk. If this sounds like a fashion article that's because I have recreated the high fashion detail of the 17th C. ,the slashed doublet. The silk ribbons have real silver aguillettes to finish off the ends which then tuck into the eyelets. These move about as you turn the cube giving an uneven weight shift as you feel the ribbons slide and stretch.

 There are nine surfaces to this cube and the other details are;
3. a patched embroidered shift, (tabby)
4. the gussets and reed boning channel stitching of a corset,(shell pink)
5. a quilted petticoat,(merlot)
6. the deaths head pattern on chiffon, (space dyed blackcurrant over magenta orange)
7. the folds on the hip of a 18th C dress, (scarlet)
8. the underarm of a 17th C dress,(liver)
9. a pocket in a 18th C dress. (lavender and sky blue).

 All these details were found in the V&A's 'Historical Fashion in Detail, the 17th and 18th Century, which is one of my favourite books!

Friday, 14 June 2019

Epiploic Cube Part One

  Listening to surgeons speak about operating I would hear them talk about the planes of the body which intrigued me. I also began to hear about spaces in the body that sounded rather strange and then during laparoscopic surgery witnessed spaces being created .Up until about 18 months ago I was concerning myself with trying to understand how basic anatomy worked and what sort of challenges were face with stitching. I had looked at diagrams and museum specimens and seen the live body from inside but now there appeared to be another way of looking at it all, the surgeons understanding of a 3-D organic form.
  Last year I had made myself a magic cube toy in foam and leftover fabrics. As I rotated each surface out I watched my own hands mirror those of the surgeon and I looked at the toy with fresh eyes! In short I decided to make another but this time in embroidered silks. Each surface would use textile techniques of the 17th and 18th centuries and I would use the colours I'd seen in keyhole surgery. Many hours later and a day spent with a magician and I have the Epiploic Cube to present; a textile investigation of surgical conceptual space.
 The next few posts will show some of the ideas in the cube.

Wednesday, 12 June 2019


  The title is a clue, this post contains some descriptions of surgery, not explicit but descriptive ( just in case it bothers you).
  Removing the gunk from a blocked artery saves a life, saves the mind in fact from a stroke. To find the correct spot is not so easy, they know it's there and they know where it should be but it's hiding.
 This is what the NHS website says about this;
 'a small cut is then made along the narrowed sections of artery and the fatty deposits that have built up are removed. The artery is closed with stitches or a patch and your skin is also closed with stitches.'
 This is what really happens; they must gently dissect away the connective tissue, a veil that holds everything in place, hiding structures from the surgeon. Very carefully and gently they part these webs to finally reveal the carotid artery, vagus nerve and hypoglossal nerve. Once it is ascertained which is which and where they continue. Cobweb fibres stretch briefly under the scissors before tiny cutting movements separate their bonds, the unknown is revealed beneath. It is swollen with a yellowish tinge, the healthy sections are distinguished by a blueish tinge.
  The subsequent stitching is what brought me into this project, the tiny spacing of sutures along a patch, a tiny gusset patching a frail artery. There is a discussion about what I would call 'seam allowance' and of how to cut the patch to the right size. The mending is done.

Friday, 7 June 2019


  My presence in the operating theatre is under contract and by permission of the consultant. The unconscious patient is not aware of my being there and I am very mindful of that fact. They don't know that I am there and would they even care? What do they even know about the operation? What do they want to know? There is so much trust in submitting to the knife.
 I am an anomalous presence and maybe that is not important. I do not draw or record anything in theatre but I do see inside them,something they do not. I see it as a privilege. I am there whilst they are not. This aspect of what I am doing goes 'round and 'round my head whilst observing, where have they gone? Is consciousness a conceptual space?

'will ye no come back again,
 will ye no come back again,
 better lo'ed you canna be,
 will ye no come back again'

( the above image is from the current piece of work that I am making looking at conceptual spaces.)

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

It's all about me

  Well, this post is in particular. I have been asked several times how this project has affected my own work and I have evaded the question each time. It's not because I didn't want to but I have been aware from the start that the answer was so big that I may never get to the end. I just didn't want to give one aspect more importance than another. Finally though I have been able to get some coherent thoughts to sit on a page and here they are, briefly. Each bullet point could be discussed at encyclopaedic length but I shall leave that to another time!
1. Like Barbara Hepworth I am a medical artist in residence. My work during this time , like hers, is anomalous to my usual work. We have a shared experience, we witnessed the 'unity of purpose' and it  has a profound and life changing effect.
2. Life filters into your work, everything affects you.
3. The end result hides the process, the real work, work in every stitch. The end result can not be hurried.
4. Expert practise is highly nuanced, it's all about subtleties not nuts and bolts.
5. A community of thought opens up to me, an endangered species.

(the image above is of an old fob watch case that I filled with embroidered moss, tiny fungi and fragments of stories. Like me.)

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Tool use

  I love to watch the use of tools in surgery. Of course they are referred to as instruments which immediately gives them more importance both in the way they are regarded and used. How do we look at tools in daily life, reverently or just taken for granted? Does their cost affect our opinion of them or does it blind us to their place in our lives. As a rule I do not carry mine from room to room neither do I have them on the bedside table. I look after my needles and scissors and they are kept in their places so that I always know where they are.
  It is said that it is our tool use that defines our consciousness as a species, we are tool users. Our hands and brain work together as one which evolves our neural networks; making our own tools pushes that even further.
 After observing how we use our daily instruments I have come to the conclusion that the rules of engagement for all tool use are emotional ones;
1. don't be seduced by it.
2. don't worship it.
3. don't forget who is master.
4. look after it.

( the image above is of my making the first 300 digits of pi in needlelace, it was all about the zero.)

Friday, 31 May 2019


  I was recently approached by an anthropologist, Kaitlin Burton, to study my work with a focus on the Textile Body. There was a visit to my studio and I was observed at work out and about!
  The result is this website with her observations about me and the digital legacy of this particular piece of work (please wait for the site to load).


Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Higher thoughts

  An aspect of this project is simply 'what can the arts offer the sciences' and I often hear how relaxing creativity is for people. Would you be surprised to hear that for artists creativity can be anything but relaxing? It is challenging and full of uncertainties, full of questions.
  It is also an intense space away from the world and this is what attracts people to this idea of it being calming. The space that the mind goes to when absorbed in creating anything is away from the mundane and the base things of life. You are for a time lifted up, in brief you must rise into your creative self. To do this you must let go the worst part of yourself and this is what it has to offer everyone.

( the image above shows a new piece of work concerning conceptual spaces in the body. The stitches are bullion stitches, they make no sense when you do them, they exist in uncertainty until the last moment, but they work nonetheless!)

Sunday, 24 March 2019

500 stitches

Fleur short clip 2 from Paul William Craddock on Vimeo.

  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

Handling the fragile unknown


During this residency I have looked for experiences that would somehow replicate those of surgery for me. On previous posts I have spoken about gardening and poached eggs and the parallel experiences that these gave me but recently I gained more insight into a particular mindset for handling fragile and unpredictable objects.
  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

In the news

 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.
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