Journey Mapping

There are now three permanent home workers in this household, the girls are doing lessons from home and I’m still stitching away as long as the light permits. Sometimes my very civil partner joins us – when he’s not on the rota to teach keyworker kids in his school. It’s busy, its different, but we’re making a new routine. It’s nice to have company at lunchtime! Although our post lunch walk included me piggybacking those with unsuitable footwear over the muddy bits – not easy with teenagers!!

I’m continuing with my Journey Mapping series of small pieces, it’s nice to see them selling well in my Folksy shop. I’m moving towards more water inspired pieces now. The current one is called Rip Tide. These photographs show it’s development, as I add in each layer of fabric and stitch. The part of Arran that I know best looks over to the small island of Pladda, between these two points the tide can be quite treacherous, hiding reefs under the waves that can catch sailors unawares. It does make the sea look very dynamic and that’s what I was trying to show in this piece.

It seems easier to stitch sideways with my machine rather than forward and back to create these stitch lines, good job my machine is a tough and sturdy one!

Journey Mapping – Rip Tide Donna Cheshire 2021

It’s time to do some more drawing sampling now, ready to start on the next series of these pieces. Then I will start to stitch some larger work, hopefully sometime soon we will be able to get out to galleries and exhibit work again and I intend to have a big series of these pieces ready to go.

Onwards

A slow start to 2021, cold dark mornings occasionally enlivened with a magic dusting of frost, or snow. There are applications that I need to write and projects that I need to plan but there is also a need to organise family life as we start another term of home schooling and zoom meetings. We all need a space to work and a space to live. All the aphorisms of a new year seem muted as we need to keep safe and try to get on with our lives.

New work is progressing as I explore landscape in more abstract forms, starting with small pieces that will help me create larger compositions. I aim to produce a large number of these small pieces, learning all the time about how to pair hand stitch with machine, and which stitch format works best for bold or delicate marks. They are like puzzles that I solve, moving pieces of fabric around and adding layers of thread until the balance feels right. The satisfaction of achieving this balance helps to override the constant anxiety running through life at this moment. It is good to focus my thoughts on the places that inspire me, remembering what it is like to be out on the hills or at the edge of the sea.

When the light gets too poor to stitch I have a new mound of inspiring books to mine for ideas and understanding. Reading ‘The Salt Path’ by Raynor Winn has made me want to pull on my walking boots and head for the hills. Not possible at the moment but I can travel through my stitches. ‘Birds Britannica’ and ‘Flora Britannica’ are full of stories and folklore that encourage more ideas for context and ‘The Lost Spells’ is just a beautiful book to get lost in. When its grey and dark outside cozying up with a book and a large mug of tea is delicious, especially when there is Parkin to munch on too.

So for now, I shall pull on my boots to explore local green spaces; I’ve seen the first snowdrops or snow piercers pushing through the leaf mould and frost, soon there will be crocuses and ammonites too. A brisk walk, a mug of scalding hot tea and then on to the work bench, sketchbooks to fill and an exhibition to plan. Bring it on 2021, bring it on.

Stars for the Season

I read today that the best time to see a meteor shower could be next weekend – the Geminids will peak with about 120 meteors per hour being visible! I’m hoping for some clear skies so I can go out and see them.

This reminded me of the hospital arts project I’ve been working on lately, small craft project kits to help medical staff to unwind a little, my one involves making a garland of origami stars, I’ve put together kits and made a little video to go along with the instruction sheet – I’ll share that here!

I usually work one day a week in hospital arts but haven’t been able to do that since March, so the project I work for, Room for You.org.uk has been looking at ways we can still engage with patients and staff. We’ve made a few videos as a team, combining images and discussing progress over Zoom calls, these will be shared on our website soon. We’re working on other projects too. It’s not the same as actually being with people but it does feel good to be doing something that, we hope, will help people through these strange times.

So, why don’t you take a few minutes for yourself, grab some square sheets of paper and a pair of scissors and have a go – the stars look great as a garland but also as gift tags or tree decorations – try using different size squares and different types of paper too!

5 point origami stars
How to make 5 point stars from a square of paper

Responding to Landscape

Arran Coast, evening time.

A weekend workshop with Amanda Hislop gave me a big creative boost. Looking for the abstract in land and sea was the contrast I needed after many hours working on a detailed wild flower piece. I felt I was never going to finish with the tangle of text, leaves and stems but a change of focus gave me the impetus to complete ‘Vagabond Plants…’ in time for a http://www.fusiontextileartists.com exhibition in November. The exhibition will be at the Bailiffgate Museum in Alnwick until January 2021.

Vagabond Plants Content to share the meanest spot. Donna Cheshire October 2020

The workshop took place over Zoom, for a weekend in October. Amanda guided us and showed examples of her work ing methods. Now I am focussing on taking my interpretation of the workshop ideas from paper to textile. First to be completed is a piece mounted on driftwood. This is, I think, going to be the start of a new collection – Journey Mapping, exploring the landscape in a slightly more abstract way. I want to incorporate ideas and objects I find as I walk the land, whether that is here in the North East or in Scotland, although this year all Scottish pieces are inspired by memories of past visits – I haven’t been further North than Bamburgh this year ( but the sea swimming there was great!)

I am working with my preferred processes but interpreting images in a different way, trying to capture the mood and feel of a place rather than a clear visual representation. Here, strong grid marks relate to the division lines found on maps. I’m using hand stitch to soften some marks and also to build texture as with the gold yellow section shown below. Textures refer to the movement of the sea, debris on the shore, and rocks. This part of Arran has geological features known as the Dyke Swarm, long fingers of prehistoric rock, some complete with fossilised dinosaur footprints, that reach out into the sea. These rocks make many inlets along the shore, trapping seaweed, shells and driftwood but also providing lots of basking spots for seals. A walk of just a couple of miles can be filled with wildlife and beach combing ‘finds’.

As 2020 has given me a lot more studio time than usual, I’ve been backing up visual research and investigation with reading, this book, by Simon Barnes , has some wonderful, uncomplicated, advice on how to see more when out walking. I’ll definitely try some of his tips when I’m out next.

Life in Lockdown

I am lucky, very lucky. My workroom, where I make my textile art and plan my workshops, is in my house. As with most textile artists, I have a ‘stash’ of materials that probably counts as dangerous hoarding in non- makers eyes 🙂

When is enough fabric too much?!

My kids are creative and independent enough to keep busy, plus the Circus school they attended back in ‘Real’ life (I know, right!) has switched classes online so they are having daily fixes of Circus activity AND seeing their circus friends on screen which really helps with their (and my) health and well being! And my CP has occasional days at out at work (he’s a teacher) but otherwise is doing the cooking, reading and online courses.

So my creative work continues, the only (big) difference is that there are no paid workshops going on in the real world at the moment and government aid for the self employed seems a little slow to arrive. However, some of my regular hosts are honouring payments for workshops that should have been held now, with the promise that we will be able to run them later. Plus, some events I was booked into are going online too – so I am becoming quite the twenty first century artist!

Whitley Bay Carnival is hosting an online Art Market – come along and join us!

The carnival art market has an upper price limit of £200, so I am making some new, small pieces especially for this event. I have been taking inspiration from my daily dog walks.

Thank you Bobby dog for enabling me to notice daily changes in plantlife in and around our local park. Bobby is not my dog, I am walking him for a friend who is isolating. We go to the local park almost every morning. It has been wonderful to notice the different plants flowering in turn, the trees blossoming and then moving onto producing fruit. All in a park that was once a brickworks.

The park is providing more inspiration for my urban wildflower pieces and I am collecting rusty items from the pavements as we meander along the quiet streets.

Playing around with compositions

I love the bright colour and tenacious quality of ragwort. Apparently it arrived in Britain in the 17th century from Sicily. It was grown in the Oxford Botanic garden but escaped and by the 18th century was growing freely on the walls of Oxford colleges. Then as the railways were introduced it naturalised on the clinker beds at the side of the rails and spread along the tracks around the country!

Ivy leaved toadflax is another Italian immigrant growing in this country since the 17th century – this one escaped from the Chelsea Botanic garden, it loves to grow on walls and in nooks and crannies. Richard Mabey, author of Weeds, talks of this tenacious little plant arriving from Italy via seeds packed in with marble statues being imported, once again, to Oxford. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9522524-weeds

Stitched on soluble fabric

John Ruskin loved it having spotted it growing on the steps of a Venetian church and then seeing it in a painting inside the church! In Italy it is called erba della Madonna, here it is sometimes known as Mother of Thousands or Travelling Sailor. I like the way such a tiny plant is so enduring and so colourful, with those egglike centres, lilac petals and red tipped leaves.

When we get into the park – this sometimes takes a while depending on how energetic Bobby is feeling – the wildflowers are everywhere and ever changing. Back in March we started with wood anenomes and dandelions at ground level, trees starting to regreen and the blackthorn coating itself in bright white, lacey blossom.

April brought blue – bluebells and forget-me-nots in shelted shady spots, then purple as honesty shot up underneath the froth of cherry blossom. By the reed filled pond, king cups glinted golden in the spring sunshine.

So my sketchbook is getting filled with flowers and my knowledge of plants is growing stronger, Lady’s Smock is common but I didn’t know it until this springtime, such a delicate pale pink. It is blooming all over the park now and the vetch is just starting to show its more vibrant pink blooms. Catching up with the potent pink crab apple. And on the way to the park now, the lilac is looking and smelling beautiful.

Daily walks are helping with inspiration and mood, although sunny days definitely help me to feel brighter than grey – and days when I don’t watch the news or Twitter are the best of all!

Hideout in the hedgerow

Developing a piece of work is a slow process, an idea percolates, sketches are drawn and samples made – although in my case the samples often end up being included in the finished piece – not so great for the sketchbook but it does advance the making process!

Hedgerow and Hare 2020

The idea for this hare has been percolating for a long time. Ever since I stitched one for a community project, I have wanted to incorporate a creature into one of my wildflower scenes. My daily dog walks during the current Covid 19 lockdown, are proving inspirational in that I’m noticing daily changes in the wildflowers, bushes and trees in the little local park – though I don’t think my lovely canine companion is going to appear in stitch!

Bobby looking for treats!

He usually gets a treat when I stop to take a photograph, its the best way to keep him still for long enough to take a good shot!

This partial lockdown does mean that I’m not getting to see my beloved wild flower border, though it’s just a mile away from home but seeing wood anenomes, honesty, marsh marigolds, forget me nots and yarrow coming into bloom is lovely. And the number of birds I can see and hear is wonderful.

Anyway, I started with a sketch of this hare in the hedgerow and he has been growing daily over the last few weeks. Collaged from hand dyed fabrics onto pelet vilene and then stitched with free motion embroidery

Now he has been cut free from his background and is ready to fit into the hedgerow, I ve added a base layer of greens to a sheer chiffon ground – recycled fabric already printed with some leafy images.

Starting to build up a grassy hide away…

I positioned the hare and used a contrast thread to mark his outline so that I could matched the stitched grasses to those in my initial drawing.

Now I’m starting to add in the wild flowers, the Lady’s Bedstraw has been stitched on soluble fabric, the knapweed and clover have been stitched onto more hand dyed fabric and then cut away from the base. The tricky bit is to decide when to stitch the wire hoop into the background fabric – I’m using an embroidery hoop whilst I stitch but it is not quite as big as the wire one, I’m just concerned that if I stitch it to the wire then it will be harder to machine stitch if I decide to add more detail – patience required at this stage!

Getting back to my daily dog walk – I started to stitch the red clover yesterday and this morning, saw some growing in the park – it’s as if I have conjured it up – or did my subconscious draw it to my mind on a previous walk?

Community Art in Isolation

A project from some time ago that I thought people might like to try at home – all you need is a cardboard box and a kebab stick!

Watch the Birdie!

Cut out the cardboard to make a bird or animal of your choice- just make sure that the corrugations in the card run vertically up the body of your creature as this makes it easier to insert the kebab stick later! You can paint your animal – we used acrylics and poster paints- or what about collage with old magazines or wrapping paper?

This shows the stick in the corrugated ‘tube’ through the pigeon

If you let one side dry then turn over and paint the other you can stand your creatures up in the window to entertain you and passers by 😊. The birds are fixed into toy blocks but you could stand them in a jar or vase, weighted with glass pebbles, or use some of that stockpiled flour to make a salt dough base!

Continue reading

Pompom Chickens

When I’m not working from home, I work in hospital arts and run workshops all over the place, including for the lovely team at Shipley Art Gallery

I was supposed to be doing a Beautiful Birds workshop there this Friday but that’s not going ahead now. So I thought I’d share my plan for a pompom chicken with you here – something to do if you’ve got some knitting yarn to spare!

I like to use Clover’s pompom makers but you could go ‘Old School’ and use cardoard rings! (My first ever pompom make was ‘Posy Flump’ remember ‘The Flumps’ from kids TV?!) So, are you ready ? Here we go!

You Will Need

6.5 mm pompom maker . Red yarn for face details – 10 g. Body colour yarn – 30 g 

Red felt for cheeks and crown. Orange felt for beak. 2 x orange beads for eyes

1 x pipe cleaner for legs. Scissors. Glue

1. Wrap half the pompom maker with the body colour. The yarn needs to fill the semicircle, try to avoid catching the flat bits of the maker in the yarn. Keep wrapping til this half of the maker is full.

2. To make the head, follow the diagram. at one ned of the next half of the pompom maker, wrap red yarn about 20 times around to make a strtipe about 1.5cm wide. Cut the red yarn and continue wrapping with the body colour. Add about 4 layers across the whole semicircle. Then, just just under half way act=ross from the first red stripe, add another about 1cm wide, 20 wraps of the yarn. Cut the red again and continue to fill this side with the body colour.

3. Fold in the pompom maker so it forms a circle and then cut around your pompom with sharp,pointed scissors. Take a length of the body colour yarn and wrap it twice around the pompom pulling it tightly to make your pompom secure. Tie off with a double knot and release your pompom from the maker.

4. Now you need to sculpt your pompom into a chicken shape. Using those nice sharp scissors (!) first trim a couple of millimetres from all round the pompom, this will make it look denser and thicker.

5. Now shape the wings using diagram A as a guide, trim another 5mm all around the pompom except at the horizontal lines. this should give you a line of longer tufts, or ‘wings’ on either side of the body.

6. Next, turn your chicken sideways and trim from the tail to the head in a curving line see diagram B! Then trim the fron so it is a little flatter – try not to cut the red yarn so it sticks out a little bit to form part of the chicken’s wattle.

7. Keep turning and trimming your chicken until you are happy with it’s shape – go steady! Cut too far and your pompom may COLLAPSE!!

8. Cut the wattles comb and beak from felt, or card if you dont have felt to hand, and fix these to your chicken with a dab of glue. Push apart the tufts where you want them to go, add the glue and then push in the felt shape. Stick the beads onto the red eye patches.

9. Make the legs and feet from a length of pipe cleaner. Cut 2 x 10cm lengths, the first 3 cm are going to be the leg. Concertina fold the rest 6 times to make 3 toes, fold the leg up at a right angle to the toes add a blob of glue to the top of the leg and stick firmly into the under carriage of your chicken!

Cock a Doodle Dooooo!

Hope you had fun making that – remember if at first you don’t succeed…..I have made a dozen of these now and the first ones were NOT pretty! Post a picture of your chicken in the comments !

Home Schooling

This post below was made by a primary school principal on a fb group – my friend, a teacher shared it, our friends found it helpful, so I’m putting it here to help more friends, parents, teachers…

Covid Distance Learning Q&A

**Usual disclaimer, I’m a school principal but I speak only for myself. Others may have different ideas**

I’m seeing a lot of threads online with the same general theme, so I wanted to just given a schools perspective on it all and answer some FAQs. Also happy to answer any questions people have that I can answer.

Lots of people feeling stressed, overwhelmed and under pressure by the work being sent home for kids. I hope this can help with that somewhat.

Few points to note first :

1) This is not homeschooling. This is an unprecedented emergency situation impacting the whole world. Let’s keep perspective. Homeschooling is a choice, where you considered, you plan for it and you are your child’s school teacher in whatever form you choose . This is at best distance learning. In reality, it’s everyone trying to separate their bums from their elbows because none of us know what we’re doing and what’s right and wrong here.

2) You are, and always have been, your child’s primary educator. If you decide that your child isn’t going to engage with anything sent home and is going to spend the entire period playing in the dirt, or baking, or watching TV, that is your choice. That is your right. It is clear in the constitution. There is nothing to stress or feel guilty about.

3) Schools don’t know what they’re doing either. They got no notice, no prep time and we’re told ‘continue to plan lessons as normal and just send them home’ as if that is in any way possible. If it were, we’d all be out of a job very quickly. I won’t rant about my thoughts on the Dept on this, but suffice it to say your school is winging it.

4) It is absolutely not possible to facilitate distance learning with a primary aged child and work from home at the same time. The very idea is nonsense. If you’re trying to do that, stop now. You can certainly have activities where your child learns, but your focus is your job, and survival. Again, unprecedented. Stop trying to be superheroes.

So, a few FAQs:

– My school has sent home lots of physical work. Pages and pages, hours and hours. How am I supposed to get through it all?!

You’re not, don’t try. Your child’s teacher spent a couple of hours in utter panic gathering things to send home so they could say they did their best and there weren’t a lot if complaints that enough didn’t go home. It’s not a competition, or a race, it’s unlikely the teacher will even manage to look at it all.

– My school keeps sending home links and emails with more work. How do I make it stop. Ahhhhhh

See above. These are suggestions and ideas because the school is worried itl be said they’re not offering enough. Use them if they suit you, don’t if they don’t. If you’re getting stressed, stop opening the emails. No one will know!

– X in my child’s class has everything done and we’ve barely started. Will they fall behind?

Even if everything were equal in terms of support and time and number of kids etc (which its not) kids learn at different rates. In the class there’s a wide range of levels in all subjects, there’s different paces and there are many kids working on differentiated level of work. It’s almost impossible for teachers do differentiate at the moment, so you have to do it. By expectation and by time.

Your child will not fall behind. This is all revision and reminder work. If kids could learn new concepts without specific teaching we wouldn’t need teachers. They will cover all of this again, multiple times.

– I’m not doing any work with my kids. All their doing is Lego, cooking and playing outside.

All of this is learning. Very valuable learning. Give yourself and them a break.

– How can I get three different lots of work done with 3 different kids of different ages?

You can’t, stop trying. If they’re old enough, try to get them to do little bits independently. Otherwise try to do something they can all engage with, reading a story together, some free writing, baking etc.

– So what’s the bare minimum you’d expect?

For me, survival mode. I won’t pretend that may be true of all teachers, but you know what if they can’t have perspective in a time like this then I wouldn’t overly worry about their opinion anyway.

My ideal for my kids in our school?
– A bit of reading every day (independent or to them or via audiobook etc)
– some free writing now and then. If they’ll keep a diary or something, great. If not, would they draw a comic?
– Practical hands on maths. Be that via cooking, cleaning, outside or some maths games physical or digital. 
– Some fine motor work. Lego, cutting, playdough, tidying up small toys.
– Physical exercise everyday
– Some art/music where possible through the week. Doesn’t need to be guided.
-Stretch goal, if old enough getting them to independently work on a project is great for keeping brains ticking over. Get them researching in a book or online and putting together something to present to you or family.
– If younger, lots of imaginative free play, the more independent the better.

You are doing enough. You are loving your kids and supporting them through a difficult time. Look after yourself. Minimising stress is absolutely vital in a time like this for mental health. Don’t let this be something that stresses you. Only you can control that by accepting it is in your circle of control, you are the primary educator and this is all your call.

Happy to answer any questions if you have any. 

*Apologies, this post is much longer than anticipated! *