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Harriet Raine from the Midlands Textile Forum written by Alex Page

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Works by the Midlands Textile Forum will be exhibited in the museum’s Lally Gallery until April 18th. I spoke with Harriet Raine about her and the rest of the Forum’s work.

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Harriet originally had a career in medicine, but has always been interested in making things and in ‘making things happen’. Taught crochet by her great-grandmother, she soon moved on to bobbin lace and more complex forms of textiles.

The Midlands Textile Forum, consisting of eleven artists based in the West Midlands, have been brought together by a shared interest in the potential of textiles as an art form. Harriet is particularly enthusiastic about the medium’s versatility - feeling that traditional fine art can be limiting - and its capability to produce large and three-dimensional forms.

The Forum uses a wide variety of materials and techniques and the pieces currently on display vary greatly in design and style. Harriet enjoys using unusual materials, such as polypropylene twine; and has discovered a way to make spiral pieces through adaptation of ply-split techniques traditionally used in North-West India up through Mongolia to make strong items such as camel girths.

Experimenting in this way with what can be done with textiles, as well as drawing on inspiration from many sources worldwide, is key to the Forum and Harriet’s work. Techniques used to produce ‘The Year of the Cockerel’ draw on the British tradition of making corn dollies from wheat stalks in post-harvest ceremonies. However, Harriet has also been greatly influenced by Asian countries such as China and Tibet, continuing a life-long interest in that part of the world which has prompted her to visit it repeatedly.

Both these works, as well as showing Harriet’s Asian influences, demonstrate a concern with politics that is common to the Forum’s work. ‘Tibetan embers’ is in reference to the Chinese occupation of Tibet and the use of self-immolation as a form of protest. ‘South China seas’, meanwhile, was produced based on concerns regarding China’s ‘expansionist policies’ in the region.

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Other Midlands Textile Forum works on display relate to various environmental and political concerns significant to the artists, with Harriet commenting on the importance of ‘getting things out of your mind’ as a motivation for art: making something to express inward preoccupations.

This piece combines Harriet’s politics with influences from her father, who had worked in Bletchley Park during the war and taught the family various codes. The beads strung on the ends of the work spell out ‘Oh Iraq, Iraq’ in Morse Code; while the piece relates to Harriet’s concern that ‘Americans with their size fifteens’ would damage significant sites during the invasion. Similarly, the Forum member Judith Rowley’s works on display feature code, with stick-figures representing letters to form an encoded message.

The textiles industry has been significant to this area, with Nottingham’s history of lace being a prime example. The Midlands Textile Forum continues this legacy in an intriguing artistic form: integrating novel, innovative uses of an aspect of local history with our increasingly international modern world.

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