We Are Different People Now

I thought I’d tell the story behind a piece of work which is shortly going to the National Mining Museum. In preparation for the exhibition, several of us went to visit to walk around the buildings and read the information permanently on show. However, I had done a bit of digging beforehand (pardon the pun) using the internet and something about the way couples and families grew apart during the strikes stayed with me. I don’t usually represent people in my own work but on this occasion it was what most interested me. I think maybe I recognised something of myself in the women I am about to describe.

In the 80s, mining communities were consumed by the effects of the strikes. The women rose up through the protests and whilst the strikes were times of immense hardship, they instigated change which could not have been predicted. The women found new strength and direction in their lives. It was not easy: relationships were torn apart as courage, education and new choices created different people. Many of them (and the men) went on to undertake education and subsequently jobs which they never would have imagined. I have felt changed by education, personal development, choices and age and through it all I recognise a stronger voice. However, it has not been at the personal cost that it was for many of them during this intense period. The power and resilience the women discovered led to greater expectations about life opportunities – being a miner’s wife was very hard and despite taking pride in the role, it was a life of domesticity and toil. Finding their voice led to greater expectations for their lives but they were not always able to share these with the menfolk. And they ‘just became different people’ to quote one woman.

The piece shows the men in silhouette, shadows of coal dust made by tiny seed stitching, and the background made with digitally altered photos from my visit. The writing is taken from a log book at the museum, recording mining accidents and deaths. These were gel transferred. I used a piece of bonded silk organza which was coloured by rust and tea and echoed the metal of the machinery. I wanted them to be there in the background – to be both present and past for the women in the foreground.

The women were made vibrant in comparison – representing their strong voice and characters. I pinned colourful fabrics, sheers and teabag paper on top of a background of dyed cotton.

Outlines were machined which held the pieces roughly in place so that I could stitch more detail.

The fabric contains script which is actually part of a will. This felt a poignant inclusion which remembered the almost daily loss of lives through the mining industry.

The threads are left loose to show how ties to home life and relationships were cut but conversely small pieces of imagery remain on their appearance linking them to their past. Each woman has a few black diamonds on her clothing. ‘Black Diamonds’ was a colloquial term for coal and aptly described its worth to industry and weekly pay cheques. Despite becoming different people in the end, I wanted them to have something of their former lives as this was their beginning and memory is always part of us through all our changings.

I tested some stencils with Kohinoor and Inktense to see how best to make marks which didn’t bleed too much. In the end, I actually ended up using black acrylic for the diamonds which were emphasised with machined lines.

The women were backed onto Decovil and trimmed. They stand proud of the background, being attached by several sticky foam dots arranged in small stacks.

Like many, we are preparing for Christmas, in our house Him Indoors is much more diligent with domestic chores than I am. I can’t imagine having to scrub his back in a tin bath filled with water I had to boil on the hearth, or washing his coal-stained clothes every single day. I don’t know how those women and men did what they did. We are very fortunate. Anyway, he’s about to come at me with a floor mop so I shall have to slink off as a mopped floor is a sacred space and I shall not be allowed passage even in my slippers. Happy Christmas, see you next year! x


Looking back, moving forwards

I was listening to a textile artist talk about how and where they were educated in their early days. It was a podcast, which makes me sound rather hip and trendy but honestly, I think it was the first one I’ve ever listened to. I love people’s stories though, so I might make this more of a habit. I was listening on stitcherystories.com

Well it got me thinking that I can’t say I went to this college or that one, did this degree or that (not for art anyway), or that I developed my practice under a particular influence. So where would that leave me if I was to be asked about such things?

I believe that if a podcast was done in another 20 years, many of the artists of the day might be describing a very different type of learning history behind their work because of the digital learning platforms we now have and because of education policy, leisure time and social media etc. The way we are educated is becoming radically different and access to knowledge is vast. This in turn is driving the kind of art that we do and what is appreciated.

I do, however, recognise what an in-depth academic grounding gives an artist because you can usually feel it in the way something has been considered – be it design, or abstraction etc. It’s hard to describe, but it’s there in the work.

I’m sure many of you will be like me, growing up in a family where my grandmother and mother sewed because they needed to. They were taught the skills of dressmaking, knitting, darning and crotchet to name a few. They were highly skilled and developed their own love of making through linen tablecloths, crochet dollies, embroidered handkerchief pouches and knitted jumpers etc. All lovingly made and given. Their making spilt over into other areas such as painting and music.

Mum’s and Grandma’s work. My daughter was christened in these tiny shoes with handmade lace, to go with a silk and handmade lace gown.

Mum and Dad spent many years making this together. Absolutely everything inside is handmade by them, and I mean everything.

Details of the dining room. Handmade furniture, tableware and food made out of wood by my dad, tiny needlepoint and lace, wall decorations… I am in total awe of what they achieved and I hope they enjoy the fact that others around the world are seeing it, too!

As I grew up, I had a go at various skills and copied and learnt and started to want to make my own things. Despite wanting to find my own ‘thing’ because dollies were not going to be it, I had been taught all the basic skills which allowed that exploration to flourish later in life. More than that, I had been taught the dispositions and attitudes such as persistence, curiosity and patience etc. For both these aspects, I am eternally grateful as they have bought me so much pleasure in my art life now.

So I grew up knowing how to stitch, and dissolved my elderly grandma into hysterical tears trying to teach a left-handed grandchild how knit. We didn’t visit the arena of crochet! No one was allowed to be left-handed in her lifetime so I’m sure the whole thing was a mystery to her. As a child, I grew to love painting and making things for my small world characters. The agony and ecstasy of time spent at the kitchen table between boredom and creation or getting the paints and paper out slightly afraid to make the first mark never really changes does it?

One thing I always knew was that I wanted to be a Primary school teacher. Long story short, I became one, but my education path was set accordingly and at GCSE choices didn’t involve art. I didn’t mind because I don’t even remember what school art lessons were, they made that much impression. And sewing classes….hated them with a passion. I never want to see a gingham apron ever again, and it took me until my first child to be friends with any sort of sewing machine as they were of the Devil as far as I was concerned.

So I did a bit of this and that, and employed my creativity in my teaching and learnt to machine sew properly when I had my children. I went to adult education evening classes for watercolour landscape painting and to do some ceramics before funding was pulled and read books on everything. I did some mean salt dough and dried flower wall baskets during that period I can tell you. 😀

Fast forward and I discovered the arena of art journaling and mixed media where I could engage in what I found to be my love: bringing lots of things together and working with ideas. Up until then, much of my activity had been around crafts, whereas now I was starting to pursue more open-ended possibilities. For the last few years, I have sucked up learning through books, ebooks, workshops and courses, You Tube, Pinterest and in conversations with others. And this is how I think a lot of us learn now. The time I have spent looking, thinking, honing skills and ideas this way must be immense. Best not count hours on Pinterest, hey?

I do believe Socrates had it right when he said ‘Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.

Speaking of vessels, here is a ceramic basket I made when I decided to make clay twigs. I do like it but I learned a lot, I’m still repairing the bits that break off because I forgot that clay would shrink when it’s fired.

I think it’s about the core ingredients of how to be creative – of learning some theory, time spent, skills and dispositions honed in order to carry you through the process whatever that may be, and in 20 years the stories behind our more well-known artists and their work will recognise a wide variety of learning pathways. We’ve had community or family generational learning, masters and pupils, the crafts guilds ‘journeymen’, academia and now we are learning globally and digitally. It’s exciting! It’s also shaping and expanding our view of art through its visual accessibility and its very platform as an art medium. Here is an interesting read about How David Hockney felt about using the iPad. It raises a couple of questions for me; see what you think.

Whether we learnt from our family, You Tube or college, there seems to be a resurgence within the general public of making things: different and exciting things because we can see how hundreds of others have taken their ideas in different directions and because we don’t need to make, do or mend as much – it’s often cheaper to buy. Whatever your thoughts about that, I think it means we are engaging more in learning art or craft because we recognise it’s good for our souls. And in this way, many of the traditional skills are being honoured and transformed. Some of the hankie pouches and dollies are kept because they have precious memories and because they show such love and skill I can’t fathom. But artists are also valuing those items in their transformation of them into new textile art that we could not have imagined even 20 years ago.

This is a small part of a piece I did about my mum, which used her spare silk and threads from when she made the dolls and lace etc. The pieces of crochet edges were not taken from my family’s cloths but one I bought second-hand. Still, I hope the person who made it might appreciate why and how the work was made if they could have seen it.

My brother, friends and I in our matching outfits. We were all very pleased with ourselves. I’m the tallest one, what a giggle looking back at this!

So bring on the art bombings, slow stitching, eco dying, painting, weaving, heating, burying, rusting….I’m off to kindle my flame and probably actually burn something!

Although come to think of it, I seem to remember that was my brother’s forte…

Natural Selection

I have been celebrating the natural world with a couple of workshops and lots of lovely folk. My guild were brave enough to allow me to practice a new printing, collage and stitch day I have called ‘Natural Selection’ and I have just met folk from the Manchester ICHF show who signed up to have a play. Either arms and bags were presented with hedgerow plants and feathers or people snuck out to exercise a spot of judicious pruning at our venues. I have found that late summer is the best time of year for this, as leaves have lost a little moisture as they prepare to give back their goodness over Autumn. They make a firmer print as a result, and ferns are laden with spores on the underside which make for added texture. I just thought you might like to see some of the work. I’d really like to show it all, but here is an edited set which tells the story of the day. Thank you to everyone who came and for allowing me to post your work in progress. I am thrilled.  
Printing chosen items, positive and negative images… 

Developing some lovely complexity and interest in the ‘waste’ areas at the side of the printing plates…

Tables developing their own delicious colour themes…

Starting to arrange collages, paying attention to colour, balance and moving the eye through a piece…

Using free machine and hand stitch from the front and back to build coherence and emphasise focal points…

A few more treasures…

Next week, I am providing a different workshop at Goosfest, Cheshire. We will be making little bowls for the art festival. Thereafter, it’s heads down with my own pieces as I prepare for the NEC in March. I hope to be able to advertise a couple of workshops there – do look out for them.

When I was six I wrote my sentence for the day which said ‘When I grow up, I want to be a teech’ and I became one. I still have it. It has a picture of me (I think) with some sort of fury coat which is a bit of glued on fluffy fabric.  This has shown me how much I still enjoy being a teech. Not so sure I want to grow up though.

Twiggy bits

Oooh, there’s a nip in the air these mornings, a whiff of Autumn round the corner, and I feel a little like a squirrel stashing away things for the coming months. I have been getting ready for a few workshops – making samples and gathering resources. It’s rather exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing what people come up with on the day.
It’s also allowed me to test out a few techniques and learn some more about what works and what doesn’t, and I’m continuously making new connections with my ideas. However, Hillstone Fibre Arts has a couple of exhibitions coming up for which I need to be disciplined and get cracking. I have two and a half bower houses finished but I’d like to create a couple more if I can. I haven’t started my piece for the mining museum yet, but it’s planned.

This is a small area of one tree house wall. It’s been to Ireland, Shropshire, Hampshire and back to Yorkshire! I’m not sure the little ‘leaf windows’ will be so visible once it’s made up but it’s still in process and may well change again before I’m finished. My intention is to use some silver birch twigs applied to the outside. The tree sheds a load at particular times in the year and nice bendy ones are easy to find on the floor. I will need a fresh stock for the houses which will be part of our exhibition.

And just look at these little surfaces – these four from along one fallen twig

And this is the top and bottom of another fallen twig. So fascinating…

We usually take a short walk on a fairly daily basis. On saying ‘hello’ to the local bull and a few of his ladies, I remarked that one had grass sticking out of her mouth, whereupon she decided to sneeze it all over the bull’s nose and the jeans of Him Indoors. Now he doesn’t do mess so I braced myself, but happily we had a chuckle. However, I think I noticed a different pair of trousers at teatime.

I’ve been making samples for October, and this looks much better than it really is. It’s a bit smooshed inside and as half of it came away first time, it’s too thin. I was expecting it to have collapsed overnight but it didn’t. Anyhow, it will be used to explain what went wrong and how it was salvaged – it doesn’t come easily to show the less than beautiful bits but I’m trying to practice what I preach and show that mistakes, failures, unsuccessful pieces, call them what you will, are all part of the learning process.

I bought a soldering iron recently.  Who knew the delights of burning when you have the proper tools for the job?  This bit of messing about has got me thinking. I think more will follow…

And on another note, I decided to rise to the challenge at our guild. We had to make a casket with lots of different types of stitch  and techniques. I based mine on the four seasons.

The need to involve measurement, precision and planning very nearly finished me off, I can tell you. My brain just doesn’t do logical. I ended up with two sets of card templates, I cut bits out too small or forgot to back them before stitching on the beads, Autumn got sewn the wrong side of Winter (I mean who does that?) and I forgot to pad all the panels so they had to be re-sewn along one side. I’m still feeling twitchy thinking about it, especially as I’ve just been looking at Michelle Callagher’s website with her amazing Game of Thrones embroidery.  I don’t know how many hours it took – at least twice the length needed for any self-respecting embroiderer but, hey! Dah da! It has pride of place in my downstairs loo. Well, not in it exactly…yet.

I have spruced the site up a bit, hope you like it.  See you in October.   🍃






Land, sea and sky

What an arty adventure I have just had! It began with a weekend workshop with Gizella Warburton at Hawkwood College near Stroud, looking at ‘Colour, Mark and Composition’. The venue was delightful and I have never had tastier food – all local, organic, or home grown where possible. 

 We had a great studio space and Gizella was a wonderful tutor – she taught with a confident pace and just enough challenge and encouragement to make me think more about what I was doing. We sketched and painted and cut and collaged our little fingers off as the walls of the studio began to fill with deliciousness.

 I came away having learned much more about expressive mark making as a starting point and I would definitely recommend her to you. I don’t usually post workshop work on here, but as this was less about someone’s particular technique and more about looking, I’m happy that these marks have arrived from somewhere within me. I hope that makes sense.
I just got a little obsessed with a fir cone. It wasn’t until I took a few in from the gardens that I noticed the tiny bits of lichen growing on this one, and having drawn its shapes and soaked up its colours over a couple of days I can see it just as if it is in front of me. No need to look again if I take this further, which I might. I’m thinking about loopy stitches…

Next was a shorter drive to Mary’s house. Mary is a treasure and we caught up for a day, looking at her amazing quilts and textile creations before flying to Ireland. I haven’t flown for sixteen years – I can’t tell you how nervous I was! I rather wished I had some buffalo stunners to calm my nerves.  I got on the not-so-large propeller aircraft and decided I was OK. Everyone seemed extremely sensible, obviously flew on a regular basis, so I would just pretend to be the young, suit-dressed seasoned international traveller that I was in my parallel universe. All was well until we started moving, then I lost all decorum on take-off when I couldn’t stop smiling or take my head out of the window. I had forgotten how wonderful it is and I unexpectedly loved it! The clouds were astonishing – all billowy and gappy so you could see the land and sea, and Ireland crept up quickly and was full of green and watery spaces.  

Kim’s house is on the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s windy where I live as the wind comes straight off the Pennines in Yorkshire, but there the wind comes from the sea and from different directions, and although it can be wild, it was gentle on my visit and brought clouds and light that changed every minute of the day. Kim’s house is on the Loophead Peninsula in Kilbaha and is really away from it all, nestled near the bottom of a small hill and looks out to the most amazing view. Sitting out to eat breakfast in our pyjamas or eat supper in the evening was a huge treat.

She has swallows and martins chattering about, and a lovely robin. That isn’t what she calls him, but I know she loves him really. She has even made him a disco ball at robin height. She says it’s to stop him coming in the house and making a mess, but we both know it’s because she’s such a generous soul and wants him to party on down.

Kim plans to run some workshops from her lovely home and use some local businesses to share her passion for the area and of course, to make wonderful things. Her Facebook page ‘Land, Sea and Sky’ is loading up with photos from the area – do look in.  

We pottered about the area for a few days, taking it all in and nurturing a sense of place. The cliffs were spectacular around the lighthouse. It was incredibly exhilarating.

The beaches provided a lot of inspiration. These little shells are no bigger than 3 mm. Tiny treasures scattered amongst the huge pavement rocks.

The hedgerows were an astonishing riot of colour and a feast for the eyes. Who knew orange and purple could be so heavenly – normally I would veer right away from such a combination.

Some of the local girls…

I met some lovely friends, including Krys, a local artist living in a little cottage filled with the most incredible work – assemblages, sculpture, textiles and paintings. She spoke to me about a piece she had made in response to stories and art from the Irish uprising where women were rarely featured but of course, always present. Her work was very moving and beautiful and presented a connection to our exhibition that Hillstone Fibre Arts are doing at the Yorkshire Mining Museum in the New Year. I am preparing a piece about the women rising up through the miner’s strikes in the 1980s and how they were changed and empowered – so much so that families split as people grew apart.  

Krys’s cottage and garage wall

We got talking over a pot of coffee and I told her of something I still needed to make- something that’s been there for a while in the back of my head. Krys said ‘some things just keep whispering at you – they keep talking quietly and won’t go away until the time is right’. What perfect words. This thing has been whispering for two years or so, but in these few days away my conversations have touched on it with everyone I have spoken to and I think the time is right to try and make something. Hopefully more of that to come…  

Waiting is hard, but the three of us talked about how you have to wait for art to happen sometimes. I never understood how artists could feel this, and live with a whispering idea for so long, but I do now. I wonder if you have one whispering at you? Let it – you will know when the time is right to do something.  

Left behind cottages with their stories in the stones.

I said I’d be taking something blue away with me. It was green in the end. I have some pieces of a new bower house that just needed stitching without thinking and I have button-holed my way through a few days of delicious peace and quiet.

Finally, I was now prepared for my flight home.  I strutted through the airport with a confident swagger, no buffalo stunners for this girl!  I was determined to be grown up and read a magazine like the lady sat next to me this time. I would not look out of the window for the entire journey.

I did. A smirk just crept up as we took off – I was helpless. The sun was setting over the tops of the clouds this time, and it was too magical for words. I love clouds. I have a big sky at home with awesome clouds. In fact, I will leave you with something I wrote years ago:

‘Clouds come in all shapes and sizes. Some herald fine weather, they are there on a sunny day and make us feel happy and cheerful, they contribute to our ‘feel-good’ factor in life. Other clouds bring the storms – loud and dramatic, swirling about causing discomfort or even damage. Some hang about for ages and we wish they’d move on, they cover everything and depress us. Some clouds are plain boring, some are interesting. Some constantly rain down onto forests, others come once a year, both bringing life. Others are just a tiny part of the scene, hardly noticeable. Some protect us from harm, others get in the way. Some race by, gracing us for just a moment, or vanish in the day’s heat. Some are beautiful, peaceful, clouds that radiate the sun’s rays onto the earth, others illuminate the air with colour at the end of a day. Some are spectacular evidence of energy and others are but a wisp. But clouds are a blessing to the earth, they nourish and sustain a world that could not live without them – we need them.’

If you like, re-read the paragraph but where you read ‘clouds’ replace it with ‘people’.

I have been blessed by a few beautiful ‘clouds’ this week x


Out of the blue

Really just been messin’ lately.  With blue.

I started by painting up a load of tissues which didn’t work. Not even sure what possessed me!  Well I am actually.  I wanted to make some book covers and frankly, just do something messy. The paint looked delicious when they were wet, but most were sadly disappointing when dry. It dried up into the ridges and looked promising…

But they dried so pale. Some were binned, some I’ve saved and one or two I added more fabric dye to which worked better. I liked the indigo ones the best.    

I tore some into strips and added extra fabric dye down the edges, just because I know I like edges. I think I will use these on a small bower house in some way. They look nice laid against the rusty frame.

And now I need some blue for this.  

I’ve been looking at it for a while to let ideas take hold in my head. One is emerging but I need to experiment a little first. These houses are part of my cabinets of curiosities work, and having given myself a brief to work within I’m contemplating whether or not I need to expand it. I shall see.  

I want to take a little something away with me to stitch so I may try and develop things and take a bit of blue.   When life is especially tiring you just need to have a bit of stitchery to trust into your fingers and let them get on with it.  I’m going to Ireland for a few days following a workshop in Stroud. I need to recharge and am so looking forward to a break.   I will be in the depths of some lovely inland countryside, then right on the edge of the kingdom between land and sea.  Can’t wait! 

Here is part of a collage layer for the book covers I restarted, eventually.  I have finished a few now.  

Finally, the most amazing blue the other day.  Awesome evening sky.  

Hoping to have tales to tell from my travels very soon, see you in a few weeks.  

 A Natural Curiosity

I am starting to work on a new theme of ‘cabinets of curiosities’ with my fibre arts group.
I have been interested in the original meaning of ‘cabinet’ which was a small room containing favourite people who would advise and fund kings and leaders. These cabinets were not welcomed by ordinary people or by those who were not part of the ‘in crowd’ but we now associate cabinets positively with our treasures and prized possessions.

I have realised that I have a few little cabinets around my home which I cherish, not only for the things in side but for the cabinet itself.  They are all wood, and all have a little story to tell.  This one is my grandfather’s tobacco cabinet:

A few thoughts started to come together recently when contemplating what constitutes a room. I now live in a small area called Hall Bower, and the word ‘bower’ means ‘a pleasant, shady place under trees’. Could a bower be a room? The original hall and trees have long since disappeared – I still have access to some nice walks through trees although most of the land is now fields. Then there is the rather amusing and very hard-working bower bird, who has a burning desire to attract his girl by building a lovely ‘room’ with a treasure inside which is usually a brightly coloured curiosity. She is very fussy and often rejects his efforts. As if that was not enough, he also has to put up with other suitors regularly stealing his treasure.
These musings have led me to start developing ideas for small bower houses which will act as ‘rooms’ to shelter various natural curiosities, celebrating my enduring love of trees and woods.
I have imagined these little houses all lined up in a hazy vision of wonderfulness but know that a lot of mess, hard work and wondering about what is lying in front of me on the table will be the reality. I have enough trust in the process to know that something will occur though, and me and mess, well that’s a match made in heaven…

Walking down the lane at home, I looked at a few silver birch trees one late afternoon. They stand in front of the distant Pennines where the sun sets. This day, the sky was a watery grey with the sun just a haze behind them. On the ground, a line of bright yellow daffodils contrasted with these silhouetted shapes. I still have the picture in my head, and I decided this would be the inspiration for my first bower house. I sketched out the image and thought I’d look at using the trunks as strong lines of design. I realised that my little bits of sari strips, edge-dyed for a previous project, would be fun to play with. I also wanted to capture the yellow and green so I painted some calico as an experiment. Whilst the resulting trial had some potential, it was too literal. It takes me a long time and several goes at something to sufficiently abstract inspiration to a pleasing level.

I decided that the texture of the bark would be better – to come in closer. I planned to reference the yellow inside the cabinet, possibly on the floor of the bower house. Whilst I wanted it there as part of the memory, it didn’t need to be prominent, it could be somewhere else. Repositioned.  

So then I got me a pile of papers, inks, stringy bits and glue. The dining room table disappeared, along with the floor. I wet the muslin base and painted a bit of black. Probably not the best move. It smudged everywhere when I layered things on top. Some white, more glue, more paper, more mess…

I was certain that this was going to be a disaster. It was so soggy I thought it would all fall off the towel rail it was lolloped over. But I also know sometimes a pile of yuk can be salvaged….

I just had to have a little test of it when I stepped out to the loo in the early morning. As you do. Still there, waiting for a new day’s rescue mission.

Him Indoors bears with all this terribly well. I held my bit of stuff up and turned it round. I could tell it was going to be alright. I showed him in my delight. The look said ‘Very nice, dear’ in the same tone of voice my grandma used when she was called to admire my bits of childhood faffings. I’d show him, he would recognise this as silver birch bark sooner or later.

I rolled some white acrylic over it all resulting in marked indifference on my part. So, I burnt it. I singed it with a heat gun which gave it it uneven brown patches where the paper took. Much happier. Then I applied little bits of tissue which had been soaked in sepia ink over night. These were added to represent bits of peeling bark. I slashed some areas of white and opened up the slits to add some black ink. A few long hand stitches were added before using machine stitch to highlight contrasting areas. The free motion stitching in dark brown picked out the the texture of the bark. Ta dah! I took it to Him Indoors with a look signalling the requisite praise expected. Let’s just say he is still alive and well.

At this point, I was working in a holiday let. It was an old Victorian house on Anglesey and it had a coal fire. On a daily basis, jackdaws would pop a few twigs down the chimney, hopeful they would start a nest. I found the twigs quite interesting. All a similar type, width and length, and all quite wiggly in nature. Him Indoors wanted them for kindling but I have other plans for them. I amused myself thinking that both I and the jackdaws were bringing the trees into a house to make another tiny house with the trees. Something here about nests within nests, shelters within shelters, which will hopefully become another little bower house.

I haven’t used sepia ink before and I think I prefer walnut ink for its colour and translucency.  This sepia ink was thick and cloudy.  I took it along to try some calligraphic mark making which was the usual disaster and re-confirmed that this was not for me.  It did colour the paper and muslin well though, and leaves materials softer than when paint.  Ink comes from such unusual sources; I’m having a go at making oak gall ink at the moment.  But sepia, well we have the secretions of the common cuttlefish to thank for that one.  I’m now  picturing trying to squeeze or constantly taunt a cephalopod.  Actually, the ink sacs are collected when the animal is killed, so that’s a bit unsettling.   However, many are collected by fishermen who use squid as bait.  The ink sacs are dried and sent off to be processed.  Sepia ink is a form of melanin and scientists have found fossilised ink dating back millions of years.  It can still be used as an effective pigment.   The things you learn!

I also tried a bit of monoprinting by smooshing some black acrylic on an old OHP and adding a plop of PVA. The tissues just sucked it up but made nice backgrounds, the calico was great for drawing on so I had a go at leaf shapes and other things. Cotton organdie was also nice, a bit sucky uppy though so it needed a light touch.

I left them to dry and then painted over with Kohinoor. The leaves had some potential when placed on the green tissue and the organdie was a revelation – the reverse was lovely, giving a bit of a see-through effect but it’s a bit hard to show that in a photo. I decided to stitch it a bit. I need to spend some time practicing this more…

I thought about being sheltered under trees and looking up though them to the sky. I think trees are at their most beautiful when set against a blue sky. But when it came to playing with a bit of blue, I was taken with the idea of the blue of the sea and driftwood catching all the beach items, like shells and seaweed and netting etc. I think I may try something with a plain exterior and something more fancy on the inside. I love these marks that some wet muslin left behind. I kept the paper and discarded the fabric!

I now have a few things to take a bit further all being well, and a bag of sooty jackdaw twigs to cherish like a mad woman.

This time has allowed me to think about shelter in new ways: the shelter of a holiday, of a house, a mother’s arms, watching the sheep shelter against rocks and walls, swallows and jackdaws building nests and a moment to contemplate those for whom shelter is lacking or where their bower is a cardboard box for the night.

I wonder, too, where our cabinets of curiosities really exist? In posting this, I feel one more curiosity has found its place into ‘folioandfibre’ which is definitely one of mine.
Could the memories in our heads be one?  The glove compartment in the car or the ubiquitous ‘man-drawer’?  I will leave you to think about some more.

And I recently finished my birch bower house.  I found a pleasing resolution to the yellow I wanted:

Finally, if you would like to see Hillstone’s ‘Noticeable Edges’ exhibition, please use this link:

Noticeable Edges

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. 😊