The Dementia Darnings

The series of portraits known as The Dementia Darnings were started in 2011 whilst I was a carer for my mum who was developing dementia.

As I began to have some understanding of the illness and how it manifested itself, we explored ways of engaging with the past often looking at old photo albums. I started to use stitching to 'draw' likenesses of family members onto a sculpture of a long dress made from dress netting. She recognised these familiar faces and enjoyed watching me create these simple portraits.

I then challenge myself to make a very large portrait using stitching techniques on fine netting and a familiar family photo. I developed the piece 'Mum with a Spotty Bow' as though I was making a cross hatched tonal drawing. It was originally made without the canvas support, just suspended from the ceiling, but it distorted and stretched so fixing the Darning, (as it then became known) to a canvas support was the solution.

'Transient Threads', Cotley Barn 2011  

Several of the large scale portraits followed as I explored the technique and possibilities, until I started to make likenesses of my mum using current photos. I often started the pieces off in my studio and then would transport the canvases to her house where she would enjoy watching the pieces develop.
Making my mother the subject and focus of my work, while I was looking after her helped me to deal with her decline into dementia. As her situation became more untenable she went into a nursing home and I continued to record and explore ways of describing her decline via the Darnings. I divided the thickness of yarns I was using, trying to emulate her extreme fragility.

My mum died peacefully on September 27th 2015. I hope this series will serve as a testement to her life and spirit.

Go to: Darnings

Jenni Dutton
October 2017

website by Sara Fairfax