On the scale of things

As many of you will know, I have been working on some pod-like vessels for Hillstone Fibre Arts’ ‘Noticeable Edges’ exhibition in May. If you have read my previous posts, you will recognise the ‘bra cup’ standing strong! These last ones didn’t get hung as I thought they might – I think they look better like this.   They look large but they are not, they fit into two hands.

I haven’t had time or inclination to do the many more I had originally envisaged but I’m happy with this scaled-down collection of oddities. As the last two were finished, I just wanted to see if I could create one involving burnt steel cloth. I’ve been carrying this idea around in my head and it needed to come out. But one afternoon’s work later, I decided to abandon my efforts because it didn’t sit well with the others. Sometimes a collection needs a rogue in the mix to add interest or a variation but the introduction of this material jarred with the paper foundation in my opinion and was way too fancy a thing.  Besides, it was almost harder trying to thread a needle through all these layers of paper and metal than getting a camel through one.  Note to self.  I have other plans for it – I have taken it apart and intend to audition it for a piece about our local mining history where the metal might provide reference to the hardships of that time.


As is often the case, in the playing with the pieces, I started to make a new connection. I happen to lay them onto a piece of bark that had fallen off a log and was instantly reminded of the huge scale of deforestation and the creeping fires that produce such a devastating edge of loss. Maybe my little bits of metal will find themselves in something about this in future…

The other thing I have been doing is staring my torn, waxed lining paper from last Autumn. I had painted strips with washes of black acrylic paint, left them to dry before waxing and burnt little holes in a few patches which I liked. I have moved them, messed around with them, put them back again and left them in annoyance and only yesterday could I see what they might become. It was coming closer and working on a very small scale that proved successful. These tiny landscapes are about 4×5 cms and are simply the edges of the paper where I found and arranged the right colours and intensities to make the little hills and valleys.

Lining paper is a wonderful medium. The way it tears on the edge and takes a battering is great given its low cost. Looking carefully was the key, as there were tiny patches to be observed where the wax or paint took unevenly. These suggested a moon, or mountains, a tree line or a night sky. I have also used a bit of judicious folding to produce lines in the sky and water. Often you just need to lightly crease the waxed paper to get a crack. I forgot I knew about doing this which was exciting to discover again.  I know, I’m easily pleased.

I’m just deciding whether these two bigger beasties will be allowed to stay or not.    The scale is less successful and they are a gnat’s breath away from doom.


I have a week away coming up which is usually a good time for art-making. I’m already quite excited about a new theme I’ve started to plan but more about that next time.
I hope you are feeling curious… 😀

Being and Becoming

I have borrowed these words from Nancy Stewart who is a champion of young children as ‘be-ers and becomers’. She has reminded educators to celebrate children for who they are now as well as helping them to be ready for future school years.   Whilst early childhood involves a huge amount of change and growth, I see times of transition and growth as an adult when I am both a be-er and becomer. I wonder if you recognise these times in your life, too?

I have been preparing for the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycrafts show in Manchester for some time, and last week saw me arriving in the car park with a car packed full of artwork, a large driftwood branch, some scratty feathers, enough teabag paper to make the whole of Denmark a brew and several packs of emergency Freddos. It took a little while to feel settled into my space for the next few days, but it was slowly transformed into something I felt pleased with.

The next few days were just such a wonderful time – folk who stopped to talk about work or the samples that I was demonstrating were delightful. Most of my junior school reports contained the phrase ‘Rachael would do better if she stopped talking so much’. Well, I didn’t stop talking for hours on end and loved every minute. Ha, ha! If I met you there, thank you for taking the time to visit and chat. This was a real time of being and becoming for me.   

I also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to other exhibitors and demonstrators. I learned so much about their inspirational practice and business organisation. I do just have to mention the meal a colleague and I had one evening where the waiters kept clearing everything away before we had finished, including the tablecloth. We could have understood a little more if we weren’t practically the only ones in the restaurant. My companion rightly pointed out that you can judge an establishment by the quality of the mint you are offered at the end. It was conspicuous by its absence. However, a glass pot of Mint Imperials was noticed upon exit and following a hasty dive to retrieve a couple on principle, we went off into the evening rather bemused.
Half way through the show, my daughter disobeyed strict instructions not to give birth whilst I was away. From Friday afternoon, baby was busy with her own becoming and my head was just turned to mush. Thank goodness for the modern miracle of texting! My work never even caught a sniff of bubble wrap at the finish of the show on Saturday as it was hastily packed into the car. Zoe Isabella arrived an hour after I got home, weighing 5lbs 3 and perfect.. So I have become a grandma! 

I am still working on my pod vessels for a group exhibition in May. Most of my ideas will have to stay just that, but I would like to try a large one using a combination of burnt metal cloth and paper. Sometimes my desire to see if something is possible renders me helpless! I think I have recognised that I will never be someone who can remain still for very long – as a ‘be-er’ I am a ‘do-er’ and always will be.  I shall not be able to avoid a little tinkering and if I haven’t burnt my fingers or the kitchen down, I shall report in with my experiments in a couple of months.   But it’s time to make space and breathe in the new things in my life just at the moment. 

Finally, I thought this was something lovely to leave you with from John O’Donohue, along with my favourite view at home:

‘There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is wedded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as blessing’

Warning- Abnormal Load Ahead

Thought I might have a go at recounting the last few days for you and intersperse a few references to my latest creations and a bit of local scenery.

Christmas morning rainbow.

Dec 27th. Day before birthday. We travel south to see parents for a few days only to get stuck in the worst traffic on M25 so came off and wriggled through very posh parts of the world, saying ‘Hello’ to anyone in Windsor Castle (which wouldn’t be the Queen as she is in Balmoral tucked up with a cold). Rather late, we arrive at parents’ and start to unload.  

‘There’s something on the back seat’ says Dad. ‘I’m not quite sure what it is, but it looks like something of Rachael’s’.  

Doesn’t bode well for an artist such as myself.

‘It’s my artwork, Dad,’ I reply.

‘Oh…they look like, like those things, those hats that people…’

Well Him Indoors reduces my makings to two types of apparel (and one of those isn’t a hat) and this is not going to become a family affair. 

I quietly take my pods-in-making upstairs to my room. 

Dec 28th. My birthday. Yeah!

Dad, bless him, comes downstairs looking dreadful and sounding worse. ‘I think you may have an infection’ says I. An hour or so later I’m taking him to the doctors. It was very cold, so I toyed around with offering him one of my pods to cover his head but thought better of it.  

Dad unfortunately consigned to bed, whole family lunch took place. I had a headache so I took something for it and helped make the gravy. Can I offer you a word of advice? Do not tip spoonfuls of gravy granules into a large boiling pan of meat juices. My brother did and Mount Etna erupted all over the cooker. As impressive as it was, I didn’t need to be chipping off gravy lumps on my birthday.  

Eventually, I unwrapped my presents, feeling a little spaced out I have to say.  

Mum was insistent that Auntie Eileen should be shown my book that I have written. I shall explain more about that in a mo. Mum knows it’s something interesting but has yet to decipher the workings of her daughter’s mind. Eileen, who unknown to me wrote and published stories in her youth, understood what I wanted to say and just got it. I was so chuffed to be able to share my musings with her. It was a revelation.

Teatime and I took another pill. Headache still bad. Mum had bought me a surprise birthday cake in the shape of a hedgehog, which came out at lunchtime only to rapidly disappear again until tea, and daughter had gone out especially to get candles. Two pairs of enormous birthday spectacles later celebrations finished in style.  

Brother and family went home and I headed for the pill cupboard again. I had noted that the Paracetamols in the box looked different to mine, but this time my eyes set upon the name of the pills. Not Paracetamol. Let’s just say that the drug of choice would be enough to stun a buffalo and rather explained my inability to find words and remain present in the moment, or indeed awake at all.
Once the house had quietened, I brought a pod down to do a bit of stitching, which was a tad reckless in my condition. 

Mum leaned over, ‘They look a bit like bra cups, how do they work then?’ 

I folded one over, and showed her how the bra cup would become a pod shape once I had stitched it. ‘Oh, you are clever, imagine having a brain that thinks like that. I don’t know where you get it from,’ says she. 

Soon after that I felt it was time for bed, to try and clear the drug induced stupor.

Dec 29th. Day after birthday.  

Almost normal.

Sat in the afternoon stitching French knots over my bra cup. I was wondering if I needed them all over or to leave some spaces when dad says, ‘You know what it reminds me of?…’. My buttocks clenched in anticipation.

‘A whale’.

Could have been worse – buttocks unclenched.
‘Yes, it’s like a fish’ says mum. And to be honest, I had to admit that it kind of did. I didn’t have the courage and personal resilience to show them the other pod-in-making. I could only venture to guess what similes might have issued forth. Best left for now. 

So that brings me to today, heading back home with a half-knotted bra cup which might also double as a hat in a medical emergency if required. I am thankfully in my right mind writing this in the car on the way home, although that is being tested due to queuing behind an abnormal load. If they only knew what abnormal load lay on my back seat!  

So to turn this into something of the blog it’s supposed to be, I have been working on a series of pods. Not bra cups, fish, hats or other dubious items of attire. They are part of a project about noticeable edges and I have in mind to make a few of these which will hang together. Neither of these are finished yet and they will have some company – I’m hoping to make at least five. 

I have recently finished another one which sits rather than hangs. This one took a long time as the large button hole rings can take up to half an hour to make. The body is made from the usual base of teabag paper and cmc paste, and this one has been covered in scrim and then over-painted to emphasise the ridges. The rings were glued around the top in a way I hope makes the eye travel, and some have been cut out in the centres so you can see through. The pods can all be reshaped in the making by spritzing them with water and re-inserting a balloon back in and leaving to dry. This way, you don’t have to worry if the shape changes with stitching, unless you like what’s happening. 

I have to say that Hair n’Swear has been remodelled to become a different shape with a bit of interior interest.   This was mostly due to a couple of anatomical remarks about its previous form which are best left unwritten.  

The other thing I have been doing is writing a small book about the different stages of creative and critical thinking. It has examples of my work in it, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the putting together of it. It is just a very small affair, but will be available in some form in February when I have been given a demonstrator stand in Manchester at the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycraft show Feb 2nd to 4th, Event City, Manchester. 

It’s a subject that I find fascinating and something I don’t believe many may have considered. It’s just about learning some tips for thinking better at different points along the way in creating a piece of work. I hope to have the balance of theory and photos about right and whilst it isn’t a blog, it’s written with a bit of humour here and there.  If you are around, do come and say ‘hello’ and introduce yourself. 

I recently helped organise a workshop which Alysn Midgelow-Marsden led for our group, and spent a weekend sewing into metal. She was a wonderful tutor and lovely to spend time with. Alysn was also at Knitting and Stitching and I hope you may have seen her extraordinary metal dresses and sculptures. Alysn had sourced a large amount of fine steel ‘cloth’ and I have some to play with. Burning it produces some wonderful colours and I’m wondering if I can make a kind of armoured pod of sorts which will highlight the coloured edges?  I may not show mum.  I love the colour combinations produced – they sit well with my love of muted tones. Heated copper is also impressive but I particularly like this steel. 
Here are a few scrumptious edges: 

Well I hope you had a good Christmas, and the New Year brings much goodness for you. It was quite a year for me in moving, changing job role and setting up Hillstone Fibre Arts and there is one more change to come in about six weeks when my first grandchild is due to arrive. Can’t wait to meet her and have my first cuddle. 😊 

‘A stitch in line’

This weekend I gave a talk to the Halifax Embroiders’ Guild and Textile Group. We are all still in recovery.

No, I jest! It was a real pleasure. I love that group – it’s full of the most amazing and talented people with just the right smattering of corporate craziness to light my world. It’s very inclusive and eclectic which in my case, is just as well. I have tried many arts during my life including embroidery, but when I stood up and said ‘Hello, my name is Rachael and I’m a textile artist’ it was a defining moment. It felt good. I’m now thinking of setting up Artists Anonymous.  

The title seemed obvious given my obsession with line and working on the various projects in recent years. I subjected the group to a brief life history and the threads that have been constantly weaving in and out of my arty endeavours including my helplessness towards vertical lines, layers and tones. There is nothing like giving a talk to help you understand yourself a little better and become aware of what is important to you.  

I then talked through my recent experience of Experimental Textiles and beyond to where I am now with the work developing under Hillstone Fibre Arts.  

Life Flight (the feathers I did for my mum), Pebble, Atlantis and Noticeable Edges were all on display as well as my collection of sketchbooks. What a delight to see people enjoying my books in the way I have done with other people’s. I sat in the corner watching having a small out of body experience that this was actually occurring.  

Narratives which I hoped would be honest and respectful explanations about some of the pieces led to a few heartfelt chats afterwards. I have always enjoyed hearing the story behind a piece as it is if a curtain is drawn back and you can understand so much more than you did. Sometimes it’s enough to look and wonder and draw your own conclusions, and occasionally finding out more can be a disappointment if you have built your own meaning into something you enjoy viewing. But mostly, I find it a revelation listening to the artist and their intention. This time, it was me offering my intentions and I left reminded of the power that art has in holding us all together and in revealing shared experiences.  

More than that, my very small event on a dank Friday evening had quite an impact on me personally.  I think it allowed me to recognise 1) more meaning in what I do than I had seen before 2) that others really did see me as another artist 3) that my work was good enough to be presented to such a group and 4) most people are really interested in the story.

I’m still writing this little booklet of mine, and all I really want to do is inspire others to have a bash at something. It was a real joy to hear people come up and say, ‘I just want to go home now and play!’  Job done.

I took a roll of teabag paper along and some of the samples for Manchester to pass round. After whipping up interest in the many uses of this lovely stuff, women of a certain age were seen leaving the town centre later that night with what appeared to be metres of outsized loo roll wrapped around their arms in a zombie-like fashion. I won’t be held responsible.

I also got people to play with the possibilities of a long paper triangle in making something that would stand up. Rules were it couldn’t be folded or creased. Some people had one pin they could use to secure it. So many little lovely curvy shapes around the room. For me, one main difference between textile art and embroidery is the amount of possibility thinking that goes into it, and this was a good illustration. This was something I trialled at a summer school a while ago and I think I shall return to at some point. There is something left to explore about this feeling of being cocooned, wrapped and nurtured. My original thoughts were of cocooning personal wishes and hopes at the time (some of which have come to fruition) but as I write these words I have realised that there is a little life being cocooned and nurtured in my daughter, who we all have immeasurable hopes and wishes for. Oooooh, watery moment coming on….

My final revelation of the evening came when talking about my love of paper and finding out who else had the courage to ‘come out’ regarding their love of magazine sniffing. Yes. Really. I have several sisters who understand the moment you rip open a magazine bag and inhale deeply. Then, you open it gingerly to bury your nose in a middle page for another go. You can savour the smell for some time if pages are gently wafted. There was a greater percentage of fellow paper and magazine sniffers than expected in the room. I shall have to continue my studies of this. I like to think that in years to come I will have done my part in helping people accept that they are completely normal and can sniff away in public without recrimination. I still suffer some abuse from my work colleagues, although my boss now knows to bring in our educational journals in their bag, untouched. I get to have first sniff which is duly allotted a score out of ten.  

Well that stunned you, didn’t it?  

Until the next bout of nonesence takes me over…  

Here is the link to the group’s blog, do have a look:



Black and White in Bakewell

Summer has been amazing and sunny and long but now there is something in the air and a few crunchy leaves on the paths giving away that Autumn is coming.  Which is my perfect time of year. We have just moved house, I have taken on a much bigger role at work and I’m going to be a grandma in a few months. It’s all very exciting but this week we are at a cottage in Bakewell in the Peak District to have a rest and recharge.  It’s taking longer to wind down this time.  Can’t think why!

Bakewell is famous for the Bakewell pie or pudding.  I hate it as I don’t like almonds.  There are so many pie shops in the small town centre but I can forgive that as it’s very peaceful and pretty with the river running through. We just sat gawping back at the size of the rainbow and brown trout in the river Wye a few feet away, and so many of them! I did wonder what they made of my turquoise nail varnish on my toes when I dipped my feet in after a long walk, but I think indifference best described it. Which about sums up the expression on a trout.  

Him Indoors couldn’t remember if salmon could be ticked or whether it was a practice reserved for trout. He couldn’t detect any signs along the river prohibiting trout tickling and therefore deduced that he could probably legally do a bit should he wish to. He was promptly informed that if he so much as twitched in their direction he would find himself in the river alongside them.

But now to arty endeavours and my ‘bag of unruly thoughts’ (India Flint) that I took away with me. My head is always less peaceful, although I’ve been trying hard not to think too much this week.   I took away materials for exploring ‘noticeable edges’ where I have limited myself to working in black and white.

Out t’back of the cottage is a wonderful set of roof tops which caught my attention. Yes, it was me hanging out the toilet window trying to get a camera round the double glazing several times – sorry Bakewell. But it had to be captured in the light, and mist, and dark… I did a bit of sketching one morning (not out the toilet window I might add). I don’t really like sketching because I still believe it won’t look like it should do like so many of us, but I think I’m getting better and it’s just a very good way to understand what you are looking at. It gets into your brain and finger-tips.

This is my original sketch.

And to prove it was still in my visual memory, this is a quick line sketch a day later without looking at anything.

I do believe that over time observation from being interested in whatever you feel  connected to grows your brain. I don’t know about seeing differently as they say, but I think artists see better.

I like playing with photo apps and this was made using Pixlr where you can create multiple exposures with different effects. 

 Layering the roof tops with the ‘difference’ filter creates these odd colours and isolating small areas suggests some possible designs.  If you work from a photo that is in your photo stream as opposed to your camera roll where it offers you a ‘duplicate and edit’ choice, you never lose your original by accident. But the apps are all pretty good and despite saving an edit, if you go back in to the app you can usually undo any changes. 

I started this at home which I have been stitching into. I wanted to explore the inked edges that I’d trialled in my sketchbook. 

This is made with acrylic paint rather than ink and torn bits of fabric. The base is the lining paper I was working on with painted scrim bonded on top. The fabric has all been dampened down and placed on plastic so that I could run a brush down the edges. It’s best to lift paper or fabric that’s been painted with acrylic when it’s still just damp because the paint will stick a bit, especially if it’s not thin. There are some small pieces of chiffon that have painty lines on them made by printing the left over paint using the edge of an empty mixing palette.

I think it might end up as a tall cylinder. So far so good I think, but I don’t want the stitch to compete with the edges. I’m trying to work with darker stitch at the bottom and lighter at the top.   

I took Val Holme’s ‘Collage, Stitch, Print’ book away with me, and thought perhaps my itch hadn’t been scratched, but it did make me want to try a collagraph plate with some available threads. I used the Amazon packaging as the base and made something…ish…sort of…and had a go. I didn’t really like anything as it all looked such a mess, but in order to explore all possibilities before ditching it I started layering the offerings over each other and could see a bit of potential.

Half a pot of gel medium later and many taking offs and ons, these were made and I think I might like them – not too sure about the white?  I will live with them for a while to see if we become friends.  I have bought some double-sided carpet tape from the market to make some more collagraphs at some point. Another path to explore.  

Packing clothes doesn’t take me long. Packing art equipment is a whole other ball game, but I managed to bring my nuking appliances, thank goodness. I harbour a secret desire to burn edges as many of you do…they are just delicious, aren’t they? This week though, having torn up lining paper and made painted edges, I decided I liked them and didn’t really want to burn them, so how was a girl to satisfy her desire? 

By making holes I decided.
I had waxed the strips of paper and did wonder if burning holes would work or whether I’d set the cottage on fire as they turned into great balls of fire. Happily, not. One heat tool on the back doorstep gently singeing away in the afternoon – very nice.  Just playing around now to see how to progress things and how best to show off the holes.   

Maybe some landscapes? Maybe small tea light wraps?

These? Well no idea what I will do with these yet, if anything.  Just a little compulsion to make a long row of them.  It will probably pass once I return home. 

Finally, I made this with the newspapers from under the strips and some layout paper. Sewn, painted, stitched.  Unlike much of the above, this just worked for me and I was ‘in the zone’ quickly plonking bits on and whizzing up lines with the machine.  I enjoyed making this the most. 

I think I have annoyed myself quite enough now with all this playing in monotone. Sometimes you can just go at things until you have completely irritated yourself, or maybe that’s just me?

Anyway, I’m off home today back to real life and having emptied my bag of unruly thoughts for now, I will see you when it’s full again!

New Horizons

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I’m just emerging from a lengthy and arduous house move which theoretically should have been quick and easy, but eight months later… Still, all is well now, and I actually know which piles contain what art materials which is no small thing. I have a new studio space and some creative storage solutions to find which I’m hoping IKEA will help me with.

I actually have a lovely new horizon to look at out the back.  These are the Yorkshire moors (about 20 mins drive away) and they say ‘If you can’t see the hills it’s raining and if you can see them, it’s going to rain!’. But we have had some glorious weather over the last week like everyone else which is making the neighbour’s advice about battening down everything in winter seem a bit unreal. 

Our newly-formed textile art group met this weekend which is a new horizon in itself, but just to be extra cheesy it was also the theme of the day. Some of us have been exploring ‘noticeable edges’ for a while, but with a lot of new members joining for our second meeting we worked on ‘horizon’ as a topic which would fit into the edges theme. We spent the day introducing ourselves, looking at sketchbook work and then using paint and torn papers to tune into colour before starting to translate things into fabric.   

This is a photo from Castle Hill, it’s the most prominent landmark in Huddersfield and we now live at the base of it. There are the most gobsmacking 360 degree views as you walk around it. Our little area at the bottom is called Hall Bower and I’ve just discovered Hall Bower Hookers. I was wondering if Him Indoors would mind if I joined? 

 Oh, forgot to say, they do crochet. 

Whilst I was busy with textiles based on looking over to the moors, the rest of my family went walking up there.  This is Joel’s photo – he’s pretty good with a camera.  

So I’ve just started piecing bits together using some Procion bag-dyed samples from Experimental Textiles which have been waiting for their moment.   I’d like I to try out some more adventurous stitch at some point so this may be a good place to try some.  Not sure, I may be seduced back to the simple. 

I’m also chuffed to bits that the paths around our house are full of ferns and grasses as I want to do a pile of printing over the summer. I have a bit of a thing for ferns, I could fill my garden with them and other architectural greenery but Him Indoors likes a bit of colour. By colour, read ‘municipal park planting’ and you will be getting close. The thing is, I have a spot at the Manchester ICHF show in February and I will need to take little bits of work to demonstrate with. I keep getting nervacitement every time I think about it. The Wise One is largely responsible for encouraging me and I love her for that, but I’ve also had to take up mud-wrestling with my inner critic. 

Some little colourful printy bits using lots of teabag paper. Please say you can’t detect any echoes of park planting… 

Old Man Eyebrows and Hair n’ Swear will also be going along with my more limited palette of pebble work. I’m also trying to write something in time for the show but time is flying past rather too quickly so I shall see. I have in mind to make more smaller forms with noticeable edges which will hang together. 

Well that’s about it. I shall try not to spend too much time staring into distances and get down to some work.  I have a talk to give at our guild in November which may be entertaining – not completely sure they know what they’ve done there. 

If you are going to the ICHF Manchester show in February, it would be great to see some friendly faces or be introduced to new ones!  
Please say ‘hello’.  Just between you and me, there will be a store of emergency Freddos and giant chocolate buttons under the table.  

Feeling Edgy 2

Since dipping paper and fabric edges using India ink, I have found myself making some more pod-like structures. I didn’t dip the edges as I guessed the CMC paste would stop the ink soaking in and there was the small problem of having everything turn back to mush. However, I used the dipping exercise as inspiration and will return to fabric at some point to explore some more ‘noticeable edges’. 

I’m also slowly weaving tiny bits of shredded paper from work into pieces that I’d really like to join together and dip somehow.
I hate weaving but the possibility of this working is driving this particular insanity. 

I’m also experimenting with pulpy paper and dipped edges.  This was a quick experiment but has a bit of potential.  I dipped the edge first and let it dry.  The strips look complete but they are actually little sections pasted together.  The fibres relax enough to reform them together.  One long strip would just buckle when wrapping round.  

I started in a bit of a mad frenzy with the other forms and ended up with a rather gooey offending article that I had no patience with. It looked pretty disgusting and I tried machining it when damp which wasn’t exactly a success. I had used mawata hankies and silk fibres and the inside was too fluffy to sew as well. So I chopped it up and used bits to test some potential textures…

Starting again, I gave myself a good talking to and slowed down to take more care. This time, I used teabag paper to line the ballon I worked on so that if I wanted to sew anything I could. I haven’t actually put any other pods through a sewing machine yet, but I think they would be OK.   

The first one is made with silk hankies and cotton fibres. When dry, I used silk fibres dyed with India ink and pasted them around the edge. I left them long and fluffy but they weren’t quite right. I sewed long stitches along the edge to blend the black fibres in and add some interest. Once the sides were pulled together and sewn I cut the fluff off as it was competing with the stitch marks. The resulting material using this technique is stiff enough to keep its shape and stay rounded.

This next one was made the same way, but having found some natural fibres in a rummage bag at our guild, I used some stiff linen fibres (at least I think that’s what they are).  These made the pod really stiff and crunchy to touch. Having made the previous form with a straight edge, I really wanted a hairy one so I left plenty of length on the edge. These bowl forms look rather strange to begin with but once pulled together they become much more interesting. Before pulling, they are just too tempting not to be worn on the head by Him Indoors. In fact, all my makings seem to be just the right size to be ignominiously reduced to two things, a hat or a butt-flap if 2D. I’m just not given the proper respect. It was difficult work out how to bring the sides together as the material was now really strong. I worked out that small beads could secure nylon threads across and pull the edges together. Having tested some options, I used small round stone/shell sequins and a tiny copper bead to secure each knot. Once the first one was on, the others were easier.   
I give you ‘Old Man Eyebrows’!

I have a head full of ideas for these forms and am just enjoying playing with whatever takes my fancy, so next I thought let’s do a black one with a white edge. I used teabag paper and layered up three layers with paste before a painting it all over with neat acrylic whist wet. I had no idea that it would have this lovely mottled effect inside when the balloon was removed.   

Now I envisaged this one with a white tufty edge frill so I started using sets of the same linen reads to sew pieces through. The paper never tore at any point, it’s just great. The threads were really tangled and it took an absolute age to get them all sorted. Honestly, it took days to do this.  I started and thought ‘What have I begun?’ But I’m a bit of a completer/finisher so I decided to accept my self-entrapment and soldier on through all the effort and annoyance.  I had to be SO patient, and on day three it received its name.   

I give you ‘Hair ‘n Swear’.

(secured with a tiny bead and one nylon thread across the middle)  

Hair and Swear with a side parting… 

The pile of offending fibre

Before pulling together

Some different edges

So there we are, I’m still messing about other ones so I shall post any further friends that get created. I did think a set of black ones would be nice, with knots, then loops and the final one with tufts but I can’t quite bring myself to look at linen thread for a while. My relationship with Hair ‘n Swear has effected me too much…

Actually I lie, I have really enjoyed these. I find 3D irkingly difficult but using a balloon to make a very simple shape was comfortably familiar and has allowed me to play around with design rather than being exercised with construction problems. I’m thinking eyelets, and getting knotted and…and…

Feeling Edgy

Hillstone Fibre Arts has been born. We are a group of friends living around Huddersfield, each with different experiences in textiles, embroidery, and mixed media. ‘Hillstone’ was chosen to honour the lovely West Yorkshire landscape that we live in, and some of you may know that the dominant landmark is Castle Hill – a stone folly up on a hill that overlooks one of the largest towns in the county.
We have now met twice and have started to get to know each other more. As always, I love being part of a group where you can learn so much. The different backgrounds also add a bit of magic into the mix. We have chosen a theme of ‘noticeable edges’ to explore which has already thrown up some fantastic ideas and draft beginnings.

At the moment, I’m interested in using dip dying on different papers and fabrics. I’m not sure where it will lead to, but I know to trust the adventure. 

I decided to employ my logical, scientific side and tore up strips of every conceivable type of paper in my shed, and nearly every type of fabric. These were given a 30 second dip into watered down India ink, only they weren’t actually because some just sucked it up so fast I cheated and pulled them out. Other unimpressive results were left longer in the attempt to encourage them to be a little more magnificent. Good job I didn’t become a scientist – I think a spot of light subversion and championing of the ‘unfair test’ is much more preferable artistically.   

These were placed onto plastic bags to dry. Now this was a very important variable as it meant that the ink made more interesting marks and wicked up the material further than when on paper towel. Time was also a factor and it took about an hour for the ink to find its final resting place in this small experiment.

  •  Cheap printer paper worked well 
  • Crinkling paper didn’t particularly make a difference 
  • Handmade paper wolfed up ink 
  • Some cottons didn’t do a thing, other ones did 
  • Pre-washing fabric is important
  • Wetting edges first was often better, but sometimes marks were too pale 
  • Silk was generally fabulous 

A range of silks…

Two of my favourite – artist canvas and copier paper

Some edges resembled landscapes when placed together 

‘Edges’ seems to be another one of those timeless themes that grabs people’s attention, and many use the wicking of dye into fabric to great effect. At the moment, I want to do something in monochrome so that the edges are kept as the focus but not too sure what yet.

I then took a silk fibre bowl and suddenly had a very unscientific urge to pinch the edges together. I found this unexpectedly amusing. So much so that I let out a small titter in my shed. To this day I cannot explain myself, and no, no alcohol was involved. Just the mad inner world of a woman of a certain age. Following a couple of good slaps and some fresh air, it occurred to me that this might have potential, so I’m wondering if some pod-like vessels with different edges might develop. I’m considering how an inside edge might be done?  

And how this idea might be linked with some previous shapes…

And then, I recently noticed an old shop in Basingstoke (my old childhood art shop actually) which had sadly closed. The sign above the door was now rotten and letting water drip down the paper which covered the door and window. I did a kind of sideways skip across the walkway and got out my camera. What I really wanted to do was break in, but had to settle for a few photos. The couple about 10 inches away from me politely kept quite quiet and slowly edged away from the mad old bat crouching down. But you know, I’m in good company and plead ‘guilty as charged’. 

On the subject of the creative process and how Cezanne followed his goals despite what his peers thought about him, G Petty writes ‘If others think you are mad – you are in good company’.

Finally, I’m trying to finish another piece of pebble work.  The idea is to reference the motion of the sea using small cylinders of different sizes with noticeable edges of blue.   The tea and rust-dyed silk that will be wrapped around also has stitching responding to the edges of the print. Two projects influencing each other.

I’m looking forward to a chunk of time to develop these ideas. I like to think I may be on the edge of something great, but I fear it is more likely to be the edge of reason!

Ta ta.

Pebble at the NEC

This week, the Fashion, Embroidery and Stitch show came to the NEC, Birmingham. My pebble work was displayed as part of the group’s theme of ‘line’ which was very exciting. People were very kind and interested so it was a real joy to chat about it in the moments I was stewarding the stand as I was also helping set up the Vlieseline workshops for Kim and the tutors. There were some truly awe-inspiring pieces of work and plenty of inspiration. Of course, a major attraction of such shows is a spot of retail therapy, but I now look forward to seeing the exhibitions the most. I found the Capability Brown display from the Embroider’s Guild particularly stunning, as well as leafing though the sketchbooks which Amanda Hislop had on her stand near to us.

Having an exhibitor’s badge allowed wonderful access to some interesting conversations with the public and other well-known artists which I thoroughly enjoyed. The other benefit was entrance to a cafe where you don’t have to queue for your cuppa which was a priceless perk.

Being there for a whole show was a good experience and I learned so much about hanging, spacing and labelling. I am really grateful to Kim for the experience of helping out as I do feel I have a comprehensive idea about all that is involved. She has opened up some lovely opportunities for me and it was just fun being together with her and Jayne for the week. We found a brilliant pub for evening meals, sampled most of the puddings on offer in the Birmingham district, and probably cleared Cadbury’s out of Freddos in the space of five days. We managed the temperamental van between us which wouldn’t start for a couple of days, and due to Kim’s uncanny skill of entering almost entirely correct postcodes into the sat nav, we had a very interesting tour of Solihull. I may have also developed a reputation for acquiring tubes. A girl can’t have enough sturdy tubes to wrap her work around.

So having made my purchases, done a bit of selling, and cut up more pieces of parchment than I care to mention, Kim gave a warning as to what breakdown would be like (not ours personally, you understand). Work was stripped before walls were taken apart so quickly by a posse of fine young men that within a couple of hours it was all gone. It was the oddest feeling. Having been immersed in an arty, stitchy world for a few days, it was as if it had never happened.   

But it did. So here are some photos to prove it… 

Our work on the IDC stand, thanks to Brenda.




Alison, Kate and I share a love of lichen so I feel I must just show you ‘The Trouble with Lichen’ from Alison.    

And a few 3D pieces – Kim’s exhibition vessels, and some work from Tracy, Marilyn and Mary.    


Finally, I got back to find Him Indoors had bought me some beautiful flowers, he’s a good lad. What a nice end to the show.  It only took about 2 hours for me to un-chat my way through the last few days, I think he got off fairly lightly 🙂 

It’s the first day of Spring today.  New growth and some new ideas hatching…

Happy Easter! 


Getting a handle on things

I stopped over midwinter. Something of a new experience for me. I always have something on the go, and it always involves thinking. I just needed saving from myself and to give the brain a rest so I just pottered with a cross stitch where I just did what I was told for a while. No tiny endless decisions about placement, shape, stitching, colours…

But now I’m ready for another adventure (‘adventure’ being something where you don’t know the destination as opposed to ‘journey’ where you plan to reach a certain place). 

I have been reading a few comments from those who dye fabric saying that they do so partly because they don’t want to change handle of it. After reading a couple of these, something consciously popped out of my head with the words ‘but you do!’  Sometimes this is what I want as well – to use a fabric with its new colour but retain its other properties that lured me to it in the first place. However, I’ve realised that changing the handle is part of most of my adventures with a material. Changing something about how it works, what you can do with it, and a little bit of ‘what would happen if?’ are all part of the delicious possibilities on an adventure into the unknown.   

I have just finished this piece. It started out as a pile of scraps from bees-waxing most of the Inkberrow Design Centre in Redditch last time I was there. Fabric, bark, paper all change in different ways and having only done this once, I’m definitely going to explore this more. Fabric stiffens and has sculptural qualities as it can be set and reset, bent and cracked. It feels completely different. Putting a needle through feels different. The handle is utterly changed. 

I decided to look for a definition of ‘handle’ on the web and came across a whole world I didn’t know existed. I feel it only fair to communicate some of what I learnt for your edification… 
Essentially, fabric handle is concerned with how a piece feels – how soft, bendy, rough or smooth it is. This was traditionally decided upon by the people in the cloth industry. It was simply about qualities a person felt as they used their hand, and very skilled they would have been at it, too. The handle influenced the tailoring, processing and drape of a fabric but there was no consistent language or measurement and as many of the experienced handlers left the industry, a common and objective approach was sought.

I give you the ‘Hand Evaluation Standardisation Committee’ formed by Professor Kawabata. But what I found interesting is that this was formed in 1972 which seems very recent to me. They argued that if the handle comes from mechanical properties of cloth, if they could be controlled then they could be measured objectively.  So a system was developed to do just that.

Now, Japanese words are very alluring and rather romantic I feel. Shashiko sounds better than darning don’t you agree? Well the professor and the committee came up with some primary hand qualities as follows, the words from which I intend to ruminate on for a bit:

Koshi – stiffness

Numeri – smoothness

Fukurami – fullness and softness

Shari – crispness

Hari – antidrape, stiffness

Sofutosa – soft feeling

Kishimi – scrooping feeling

Shinayakasa – flexibility with soft feeling

Did you see that one? What the heck is a scrooping feeling? I’ve definitely had several of those lately without even looking that one up!! 

But this is my most favourite sentence as a result of intensive research: 

‘A universal quantitative measure of fabric handle should be considered as the basis for considering reliable fuzzy membership functions’. H Behery.

Not quite sure how one responds to that? 

I have found I particularly like painting silk organza with acrylic, using bees wax, layering up fabrics by bonding them together or using a lot of stitch to bring them together into a new whole. I rarely keep a fabric’s softness in what I do and I have no idea why – think it’s just because I love combining lots of things together, although they do get harder to sew.  

I have more printed organza for pebble work, and have been plotting some more ideas.  Just auditioning some pebble prints in the images below, not quite sure about them.  I did think that after playing with this theme for so long, I’d be done with it but there’s a bit more to come out yet. I think I may move away from block prints but the original theme was ‘line’ which I’d like to retain.     

In amongst this is a gel transfer print of some rust at Filey beach.  It has been cut up and combined with fabric and paper. I’m starting to find lines of interest and add texture. The different combinations,  thicknesses and areas of stitch are interesting to handle.  


I thought I’d also share these lovely layers from the allotment round the corner from the Design Centre that I have often snuck onto at lunchtimes.  Always worth a peep around the corners of things…


In celebration of two years working together, here’s one of the girls.  Kim has done a good job with us.  We started out on the same journey, but we have all got our own style and interests now.  She has helped us all find a voice for our adventures.  Thank you xx


We are putting a few bits up at the NEC in March where I shall be helping which is exciting. I have started to plan something locally with some textile buddies and am looking forward to that, but my trips to Redditch are now at an end.

I think I can feel a scooping feeling coming on…