Dancing with an Angel

21 years of an Angel Exhibition

Thursday 31 January – Saturday 30 March 2019

The Gallery, Gateshead Central Library

This week sees the opening of the 21 Years of an Angel Exhibition. The show marks the end of Angel20, a yearlong programme of activities in Gateshead which began on the Angel of the North’s 20th anniversary in February.

I delivered a one-day workshop as part of the programme. We made needle felted replica angels. During the workshop, participants learned how to create and felt over, a wire armature.

The basic armature is covered with polyfill – this can be needle felted to build the form, saving the need to use wool fibres at this stage.

The shaping of the Angel was entertaining 😊

It’s important to keep things simple at this stage though as greater definition can be shaped once the wool fibres are added.

We used rust coloured merino tops to match the Angel’s construction materials- it’s made of weather resistant Cor-ten steel, containing a small amount of copper, which forms a patina on the surface that mellows with age.

Details were added with a deeper brown fibre.

Then thread was used to add finer details.

Each angel is mounted on a ‘landscape’ created from a fish tin and fabric. A spiral of wire is secured to the tin and the Angel is fixed to this spiral.

The tin itself is covered with more polyfill and fabric to represent the hill that the Angel of the North stands on. Decoration is added with felting and embroidery.

I made two Angels, the first ‘Angel Delight’ depicts a summery Angel adorned with bunting. The second shows a nighttime Angel, illuminated with moon and stars.

The whole project was a lovely challenge- working out how to model the Angel shape and display it- there were several armature attempts before I was happy with it and I was really pleased with how effective the polyfill was as a base. The project was especially meaningful to me as I was actually present on the hill, the day the Angel was installed!

Art of Remembrance II

In my work for Room for You Arts in Health, it is great when I can find a way to engage patients and their families in a common project. The Armistice Centenary provided such an opportunity. I set up a tray with resources to knit poppies several weeks before November 11th. My idea was to have poppies surrounding a silk painting that would include the centenary dates..

To my delight, people really took to the idea, each week we would arrive at the Radiotherapy waiting area where our project is based to find more poppies. The one knitted pattern I left out spawned a dozen patterns in knit and crochet

So with the poppies mounting up it was time to begin the silk painting. I chose to depict a soldier in the trench – to help us remember the event we are commemorating. A sunset sky helps to suggest it is the end of the war and the text ‘We Remember’ is set in a stained glass pattern beneath the soldier.

Patients awaiting treatment in a Radiotherapy helped to paint the image and then I took it away to my workshop to prepare it for display. I also took a selection of the poppies to begin stitching them to a net support.

Finally on November 7th, the installation could take place. Thank goodness for colleagues! It took four of us, cheered on by patients and their families to secure the framework supporting the net of poppies. Once that was done two of us continued to stitch poppies into place. There were a lot of poppies!

By 6pm the final poppy was stitched into place* and the artwork was complete.

We have received so many lovely comments about the installation and we will keep it on display for a month for people to enjoy it.

* we came back a week later to find even more poppies- and added them to the piece 😊

Now I need to think of another project that will be as successful in engaging patients and their families as this has been!


Art of Remembrance

Commemorating 100 years since the end of the Great War has given me the opportunity to work on two wonderful projects with two very different groups.

‘Remember Their Stories’ was a very special project for Chillingham Road Primary School in Newcastle. The school is still in its original Victorian building and has its very own museum looking back at the life and times of the school and it’s pupils. Included in the museum is information about the 66 ‘ old boys’ who went to fight in the Great War and never came home. Their names are recorded on a special plaque, now prominently displayed in the museum.

An earlier local history project records the stories of these boys and maps where they lived.

To reflect the ethos of the school, this art project needed to involve all the children in the school, from playgroup to year 6, and also their families. I had to come up with a proposal that would get everyone thinking about the centenary of Armistice and would let all the school help make the artwork.

The idea

The location of the artwork was chosen by the school, it needed to fit on a tall, narrow wall (approximately 3m x 0.4m) and could wrap around the surrounding walls. This space made me decide to include a figure, a soldier, and poppies- the iconic symbol of remembrance. I wanted to make links between the local area and the soldier and thought this could be shown by postcards written as if from the war to someone back home in Heaton. Then I thought that the postcards could be carried by doves- symbolising peace. Initially I included the dates of the Great War but school asked for this to be changed to the centenary dates. As part of my research I found a clip of an interview with Michael Morpurgo, author of ‘Private Peaceful’ and ‘War Horse’. In the film he visited the war graves and said that he wrote his books because ‘we must remember their stories’. Immediately, I could see how perfectly this line captured the essence of our art project.

So, with the composition planned, and agreed by school, I needed to work out how the piece could be made and who would do what. I made a list of the tasks, discussed them with school and suggested what might be appropriate for each year. School then devised a timetable for me to work with and we were off!

Straight after the half term holiday we began a week of workshops. An initial assembly saw me introduced to the whole school and then we were off!

I had prepared a life size painting of the soldier and an outline of the soldier on the pelmet vilene that was to be the substrate of the artwork

My first workshop guests were the youngest children in school- playgroup, nursery and reception. I explained to each group that we had the very important job of preparing all the colours of fabric so we could make the plain white picture as colourful as the painting.

I had set up 3 work stations, one each to make ‘mud’, ‘khaki uniform and blue sky. We used the squeezy bottle dye method as it is the least messy and as the dyes are made up in advance there’s very little risk of dye powders getting spread about.

(It did get a little messy – apologies if you had blue hands afterwards!)

Next was a change of task as the tinies were replaced by years 5 & 6.

I asked these groups to make doves. They used templates to cut the shapes from white felt and then they customised them with sequins for eyes and beaks.

Tuesday brought workshops for years 1 & 2 and also for families. It was our Poppy Day. The poppies were made by wet felting merino wool fibres.

We used bubble wrap grated soap and warm water to felt the poppies, with some groups using swim ‘noodle’ rolling pins to add pressure to the fibres. After felting the fibres were ‘shocked’ in hot and cold water then left to dry.

Our next sessions were on Thursday. Years 3 & 4 has the task of starting to assemble the artwork, and writing their own postcards from the Front. There were different work stations so groups could take turns at all the tasks. One group was tearing the dyed fabric into small pieces, another was using these pieces to collage the picture and a third group were printing and writing their postcards.

The postcards were made from pelmet vilene cut to size. The children chose a ‘postcard’ stamp another ‘postage’ stamp and then thought about what a soldier might want to write home- lots of ideas about the noise and squalor, rats, trench foot and injuries.

On Friday, years 5 & 6 came back to print their postcards and help with the collage.

We also cut out the letters and numbers for the title and dates.

Also on Friday, Year 6 gave their Assembly on Conflict, including a section where they interviewed me about the project and my work as an artist!

Then the Head teacher led the school outside to the yard where a very moving Remembrance act took place. With the school gathered in a circle, teachers read out the names of all the young men from the school who had died, the Head Teacher read The Exhortation, a two minute silence was observed and the Last Post was played.

Over the weekend, the doves and postcards were attached to the sky and then the poppies were stitched onto the muddy soil

Finally, on Monday we were ready for installation- with help from the head teacher and the business manager our ‘Tommy’ was up in the school museum and the doves were flying over the streets of Heaton, carrying their heartfelt messages to families and friends.

It was fantastic to be able to involve the whole school in this project. Now the work is on display and its location means that the children will be able to see what they achieved every time they walk through the school to the dining hall. I hope they will remember working together in order to make art to remember those young men from a hundred years ago who gave their lives for our future.

A Sense of Place

Saturday is workshop day. This time in Hartlepool with the local Embroiderers’ Guild.

The project involves participants choosing a place or scene that is special to them – a favourite walk, holiday destination, or family home for example. I ask them to bring visual reminders of the place – sketches, photos or similar, and to consider how the location makes them feel.

This group had heard my talk ‘Critical for Creativity’ the previous week so they were primed with ideas on how to emphasise a mood or feeling in art.

After a talk through the process everyone quickly got busy. With scenes from Devon to Dumfries, North America to the Psychedelic lands of the imagination – each piece was unique to the maker (!).

Compositions were adjusted to enhance the form of the work, leading the eye towards the focal point. Scale was considered, in subject matter and stitch size, to create a sense of space and depth in the work.

Working to a small scale and aiming to create a textile piece that would wrap around a miniature canvas. We used bondaweb and needle felting techniques to put together the images before adding hand stitched details. I intersperse talking to participants individually about to develop their work with short demonstrations of relevant processes. My aim is always to encourage people and offer new approaches that might spark motivation for further development

This is a day workshop, the tricky bit is always thinking what to pack – there are the essentials, tracing paper, bondaweb (& ironing equipment!) threads…but as I never know what scene people will choose I have to guess what colours and textures might be useful- this time we could have done with some sheers or metallics to create watery surfaces.

This time the needle felting kit was invaluable/ used to create clouds, mountains and trees in various scenes.

This is the second time I’ve run a workshop at the Athenaeum in Hartlepool- an amazing Victorian building with very high ceilings and rambling corridors. Last time I got to use the chair lift to carry equipment upstairs and this time everything was set out on the (covered) pool table!

The view outside reflects the changes taking place in the area -from one window the peeling paint surfaces of abandoned buildings, from others, the impressive new art school and the old bus station that is now a film studio.

I will soon be updating my workshop list so take a look and see if there’s anything that you’d like to do – or if there’s something I do that is not listed let me know !

Anniversary Celebrations

Creative Workshop preparation on the table today- turns out the Angel and I have both been in the North East for 20 years! That’s got to be worth celebrating 😊

I was actually on the hill in Gateshead on the day the Angel was installed, seeing it rise up was amazing- I think our tribute pose even got us on Look North that evening 🤣

So it seems fitting that I’ll be running this workshop to make a mini Angel in September, celebrating 20 years of the iconic North East sculpture- more details to follow 😄

South Charlton

I’m working with the WhichCraft group to make Textile panels for their renovated Village Hall here in South Charlton.

The panels will be in appliqué and stitch and will feature the local landscape, flora and fauna. To make them unique to the venue the group had the task of dyeing a range of natural fabrics with colours appropriate to the locality.

I love doing this dye workshop- it’s so exciting to see how quickly fabrics can be transformed and, in this gorgeous rural setting it was important that there would be no dye waste to get rid of as they are not on mains water or drainage.

So what did we do? I prepped the dyes and auxiliaries in my workshop so I just had to add the washing soda and chemical water to the powder- this means there’s no noxious chemicals for participants to breathe and the dye is really strong and fresh.

Everyone was kitted our with protective gloves and aprons. We wetted out the fabric in a washing soda solution to ensure good colour take up. The dye bottles were given a good shake to ensure all the powder dissolved in the liquids.

The wetted out fabric was scrunched up (#technical term!) and placed in the plastic tub. Then we added the dye a few drops at a time, building up layers of different colours.

Because the fabric is wet, the colours blend into one another making luscious patterns on the surface.

We used different types of fabrics- cotton velvet, sheeting, lace and silk. The velvet took quite a lot of dye and needed to be flipped over to ensure dye went right through the fabric.

There is very little waste dye liquid with this method- any remaining in the bowl can be soaked up with another piece of fabric giving interesting tertiary colours.

Once we were happy with the colours added the fabric was wrapped in a plastic bag ready to take back to my workshop. The best colours are achieved if the fabric cures in the bag for at least 24 hours. This keeps the fabric damp and lets the dye really soak into the fibres.

There were one or two dyed digits but overall very little mess !

These fabrics were left for a couple of days, then rinsed in several changes of cold water until no more dye came out. To save water as I do this, I try to wash out like colours together.

(there were all the plastic bags to rinse out too so they can be reused next time!)

Then everything gets hung out to dry!

So now we have our fabrics- I will finalise the designs and draw them out to scale so that when we next meet we can begin the appliqué – we’ll be using free machine embroidery to piece the images together. In the next workshop we will get the sewing machines whirring and see what we can create.

Make a weekend of it.

A weekend in Durham? Running a workshop for a group? That would be lovely!

Miniature Scenes was the theme for the weekend. The aim – to make a small textile artwork as a memento of a favourite place. Something like the icons or portrait miniatures that travellers might have carried with them on the past. In our case, the stitched scene would be a way to keep favourite places close to us, when we are home.

With any workshop I run, my intention is always that, whilst participants may learn something from me, the work that they produce would be personal- not simply reproducing my style.

So whilst I take a range of my work to display these are to illustrate methods and ideas rather than to replicate.

This weekend I was working with Embroidery 15 a lovely group of textile aficionados based in the North East. Twelve people took part- a nice number to work with – not so many that I feel I’m spread too thinly but enough to spark ideas off each other share resources!

The group had been prepped with a materials list and the task of choosing their location inspiration. I wanted them to use their sketchbooks to plan composition and sample processes before tackling the actual piece.

The first task for the weekend was to dye some cotton fabric and vintage lace in colours that would suit their individual projects. With a limited palette of just 6 Procion dyes a wide range of beautiful fabrics were produced.

This is a quick activity that gives me chance to get to know participants and gives them unique fabrics to use in their work. I set up a Dyeing work station with surfaces protected and gloves provided so that hopefully the dye only coloured the fabrics (though I do always seem to end up with dye splodges on me somewhere!) Fabric is wetted out then twisted into a spiral and placed in a tray. The dyes are premixed (#health&safety😊) and applied from bottles so that colours blend to give secondary and tertiary colour mixes.

At the end of the session everyone had little packages of dyed fabrics to take away with them. The fabrics were rinsed out the next day after a good long ‘cure’ and then dried off ready to cut up and use.

So with ideas and resources in place we could start work. I asked everyone to consider four things whilst planning and developing their piece –

Place- where, why, what does it look like

Images – what comes to mind when you think of that place

Memories- about the place; who do you go there with? What do you do/eat/see/hear for example?

Words – are there words or phrases that encapsulate the place for you?

All this helps to personalise this project. I have lots of scribbled notes in sketchbooks – especially if there wasn’t time to do many drawings. I also find my reading helps – I read a LOT. Currently I’m enjoying the new (& old) nature writers. And I will often use etymology and a thesaurus to find the right words to inspire titles for work.

It’s quite a process to take an idea and develop it into a textile artwork. You may want to include a tree, but how should that tree be constructed? If you want to add text what and where should it be? This is why I think it’s so important to sample ideas – and to keep them in sketchbooks for future reference.

I talked through my miniature scenes sketchbook and used it as a reference throughout the weekend. I also shared various processes that I use in my work:

Needle felted clouds- I think they add a touch of humour and realism to beach hut scenes- all those British Summers of ‘mackerel skies- not long wet not long dry’!

Lettering – I love to add text to embellish the ‘story’ of a piece. Sometimes it’s free machine embroidery, often I’ll use appliqué or reverse appliqué. Usually the text is obvious and a part of the composition. Occasionally it might be hidden; becoming part of the texture of a piece.

Although, this weekend, we were mostly using mini canvases to support our work, I also demonstrated how I treat the surface of tins that I use to ‘frame’ some of my miniature pieces.

In between these ‘demo’s’ there was lots of time for one to one discussion on developing the project. That’s when it’s handy for me to have my samples and sketchbook to support suggestions- ‘I tried it like this’ and ‘have you considered that’ seem to be frequent use phrases!

Everyone put so much effort into their work. It was a delight to see ideas progress over the course of the weekend and to talk with people about their special places. And I now have several new holiday destinations to explore!

We put in the hours over the weekend but were well fed by the catering team at St Chad’s – I’m missing those cooked breakfasts AND not doing any washing up for a whole weekend 😊

By the time we got to Sunday afternoon everyone had created something unique and personal, with artwork to treasure and, I hope, ideas to develop further.

Well done Embroidery15. It was a pleasure to meet and work with you all and I hope we can do it again soon!