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ABCD: Swithering

November 21, 2014

Artists’ Book Club at the Dove met last Saturday, 15th November, with books or bookish objects inspired by the Scottish dialect word “Swithering”, from the verb to swither, defined by the Shorter Oxford Dictionary as “Be or become uncertain, be perplexed or undecided, hesitate.”

Pat had written two poems – Swithering Out and Swithering In, which she plans to cut and paste (literally) onto pages collaged from copies of the Weekend Guardian to make a dos-a-dos book. Here are some of the collaged pages:


Ginny has been preoccupied with dolls for some time now. She’s been studying the work of Botero, who depicts “terribly fat everything”. She expressed indecision about the definition of a doll: is Buddha a doll? Below is a photo of one of my grandson’s soft toys. It’s labelled “My First Buddha, made in China”.


We discussed Lego dolls and the figures made for model railways (used in work by David Gilliver and Slinkachu), voodoo dolls and corn-dollies. Judith told us about Saraswati dolls that are created only to be thrown into the sea and then later perhaps washed up on shore as the bare bones of themselves. Ginny may make dolls and set them into a book with very thick pages, like a cabinet of curiosities or, as Judith said,  “coffins inside a book.” Dolls are not necessarily always for children and they can be disturbing.

Janine’s “Swithering” is a satisfyingly chunky little volume sewn with strips of sari-silk. The font she used is Castellar, and the image on the cover is of one of her embroidered pictures of houses in Bristol.


Hamlet’s soliloquy is a classic example of swithering. I wrote it using Zig calligraphy pens in a “collapsing star” book made from a single large sheet of Khadi Indian rag-paper. Part of the cover can be seen in the first photo of this post.


Ama Unexpected

Here is the book that I hadn’t finished in time for last month’s meeting when the word was “Unexpected”. It’s another erasure project; this time I have made bookmarks, two from each page, from a book I’ve had for over thirty years and which has proved almost unreadable – The Way of Divine Union by A.E.Waite, first published in 1860.

Ama Unexpected 2

The bookmarks preserve gnomic fragments of text reminiscent of the I Ching, the Chinese Book of Changes used for divination. I have made a booklet describing the reasons why I made the bookmarks and illustrating a few of them placed in carefully-chosen books. A set of cards accompanies the booklet; each one carries the remaining un-erased text from a single bookmark. They can be used as prompts for poetry or daydreams, as a thought for the day or even perhaps as a means of divination. The booklet and the cards are contained in a box made from the cover of “The Way of Divine Union.

Ama Unexpected 3

Jane made a swithering beast, unsure of his identity. Is he a bird, a reptile, a mammal or perhaps even an insect? We could imagine him being the subject of a wildlife documentary by David Attenborough.


Judith had been to a Society of Bookbinders workshop given by Diana Illingworth Cook. She showed us some beautiful book structures incorporating tiny magnets. Her “Swithering” was a large and wearable-looking item made from thick layered and painted paper with hot-stamped lettering. She had made an unruly box to contain it.


Clare didn’t exactly swither but she had made another version of “Unexpected”, her book about Shapwick Heath. This one had windows cut in the pages and was contained in a case with a window. There is something of the birdwatching-hide about it. The case is fastened with electric blue gauzy ribbon that brings kingfishers and dragonflies to mind. Go to Shapwick Heath in April for the bitterns and cuckoos, the yellow flags and damselflies.

ClareSwithering 2

Karen made a book referencing the Scottish Independence Referendum, with red and blue paper dolls dancing the Eightsome Reel.


Caroline made a book inside the empty cover of a second-hand copy of the great Robin Robertson’s “Swithering”, winner of the 2006 Forward Prize.
“Is your indecision final?”


Bron is rebuilding the summer-house in the field, and of course this features in her scrapbook/journal. After lunch we went out to look at the little house of re-used doors and windows.


Summerhouse outside

Summerhouse inside

As always, the air crackled with ideas as minds met and sparked off one another. And as usual there was fabulous food, including Karen’s big chocolate cup-cakes decorated with Smarties …

The word picked out of the hat for next month’s theme is “Borrowed”.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Karen Young permalink
    November 22, 2014 8:06 am

    Thanks Ama for once again capturing so many details of our books and the “swithering” day at the Dove on your blog – maybe one day, we could put them all in a book? X

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