Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Craft on the Grass: Pitt Fest 2015

Unlike the blazing sunshine of previous years, the September morning of our third annual Pitt Fest dawned cold and drizzly. Would the weather dampen the appetite of event-goers? Not at all; more than 3300 people came to make, handle, listen, watch, dance, eat, drink and be inspired on the Museums’ lawn – exceeding last year’s attendance by at least 10%.

Volunteer Tim Renders and the Museum's Director Dr Mike O'Hanlon welcome visitors to Pitt Fest 2015
© Pitt Rivers Museum

So what is the point of Pitt Fest? Of course it’s a great deal of fun but there are more fundamental reasons behind it. Two of VERVE’s aims are to impart a clearer message of what the Museum is (or can be) about, and to increase participation. The project’s interpretation of the Museum is not necessarily one of anthropology or ethnography but of technology. Many of the collections are handmade, pre-industrial artefacts that suggest intimate knowledge of materials, design and techniques. Pitt Fest takes just some of the ingenious craft processes evident in the collections and makes them accessible and immediate outside the Museum, to re-engage people of all ages with their hands, and to see things ‘being made’ to contextualise and reanimate those static objects sitting behind glass.

Romilly Swann of The Outside demonstrates natural dyes © Pitt Rivers Museum

This years theme was 'handmade' crafts. So visitors to ‘Pitt Fest: Handmade’ could learn about dyeing techniques with The Outside, fire-making with Axe and Paddle Bushcraft, see a pole-lathe in action with Alistair Philips, or have a go at stone carving, leatherwork or basketry with Nancy Peskett, Katherine Pogson or the Friends of the Pitt Rivers Museum.

Of course no festival is complete without music, shopping or food, and we tried to inject a global flavour into our line-up; you could try Tibetan dumplings or Peruvian ceviche (raw fish) whilst listening to Ugandan song or Brazilian capoeira, before perusing the market stalls of fair-trade and local artisanal goodies.

Families could have a go at face-painting, object handling making badges or a host of other creative activities run by museum volunteers. All day long, the these tables were filled with people of all ages busy making clay pots, paper hats, stick harmonicas, peg dolls and willow hurdles.

Volunteers and expert paper milliners Emma and Megan (left)
and staff from the Museum of English Rural Life (MERL) from Reading (right) © Pitt Rivers Museum

Krisztina helping a child decorate a peg doll @ Pitt Rivers Museum
Volunteers Liz and Martin teach people how to weave willow © Pitt Rivers Museum

Volunteer Damon showing a visitor an mbira (thumb piano) © Pitt Rivers Museum

To get a taste of the day check out our short film:

Putting on a festival takes enormous amounts of time, planning, brawn, and goodwill. We are grateful to the many staff, collaborators and volunteers who helped make Pitt Fest 2015 such a success. Now time to start planning next year!

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Visible Mending with Tom of Holland

This autumn we ran two 'Darning Masterclasses' with textiles practitioner Tom van Deijnen (AKA Tom of Holland). They sold out almost instantly. Here, Tom explains his techniques and celebrates 'visible mending', many examples of which can be found on objects in the Pitt Rivers Museum collections!

Detail of a gourd vessel, decoratively repaired
using beads; 1979.20.167 © Pitt Rivers Museum
"There is a temporary case exhibit at the Museum (until 3 January 2016) called 'Preserving What is Valued' and an accompanying museum trail. They demonstrate how people from all parts of the world repair their material culture. Conservators study objects in great detail and part of their role is to determine at what stage a repair has been made. If the repair was made by the originating community while it was still in use this provides an additional level of information and can give the object a deeper resonance. Identifying an original repair can raise questions that make us think about the object’s history differently.

"I was invited to run two darning classes as part of the events accompanying this display. My name is Tom and I’m a self-taught textile practitioner, and one of the things I do is run the Visible Mending Programme. Through this programme I seek to highlight that the art and craftsmanship of clothes repair is particularly relevant in a world where more and more people voice their dissatisfaction with fashion’s throwaway culture. By exploring the story behind garment and repair, the programme reinforces the relationship between the wearer and garment, leading to people wearing their existing clothes for longer, with the beautiful darn worn as a badge of honour.

"A mother's work" Repair commission for a private client © Tom van Deijnen

Left: Swiss darning in action by one of the participants. Right: a completed practice swatch,
showing a stocking darn and rows of Swiss daring in bold colours. © Tom van Deijnen

"The darning classes were well attended and the participants were taught two classic knitwear repair techniques: firstly Swiss darning, also known as 'duplicate stitching', which is a good way to reinforce thinning fabrics such as elbows on sleeves, or to cover up stains.

"The second technique taught was the classic stocking darn, using a darning mushroom. It creates a woven patch that is integrated with the knit fabric, and is a good way to repair holes. Of course this is best known for sock repairs.

"Throughout the classes, I shared many hints and tips on repairing, such as what tools and materials to use for best results, examples of my work, and how to look after your woollens. Half-way through  we had a break, and everybody was encouraged to see the display cabinet and follow the museum trail to find original repairs.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is home to many repaired objects from all over the world, as well as closer to home. Shown here are details from a delicate muslin handkerchief with some rather crude darns, and and a tortoiseshell comb mended with a riveted metal strip, both from a collection made in Essex, UK; 1949.9.121 and 1949.9.373 © Pitt Rivers Museum

"I found the repairs very inspiring: an inventive use of locally available materials such as baste fibres, small decorative additions such as beads, or the neat way stitching cracks, the use of staples, or even items made in such a way that they could be easily repaired in the future. I won’t go into too much detail, as it’s fun so go and see it all for yourself!

Tom van Deijnen


The Preserving What is Valued case exhibit and museum trail at the Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford, 29 June 2015 – 3 January 2016. More information."