Monthly Archives: January 2016

My Journey

A participatory community art project for the weekday users of the Heaton Baptist Church Life Centre.

2016-01-25 09.17.28

And so it begins – with two trolley loads of materials!

This project aims to build stronger connections with the adults and young people who attend groups at the Centre on Mondays to Saturdays. My role will be to engage with some of the groups through art workshops and then to produce a large textile artwork from the source material, for display in the entrance to the building.

The theme for the project, My Journey, is intended to encourage participants to talk about how their own ‘life journey’ has led to them joining a group or groups at HBC.

This week, I have been running ‘Spiral Dyeing’ workshops with the Toddlers Groups that meet on Monday and Tuesday mornings. My preferred textile process is applique with free machine embroidery, and lately I have returned to dyeing fabrics to achieve a specific colour palette to work with. So, for this project, I want to use fabrics that have been coloured by workshop participants. We talked about how colour can be symbolic – in the general and personal sense – for example, red can mean love, or anger – but it might also bring memories of a red dress worn on a specific occasion.

In preparation, I made colour boards that are being used at HBC to get participants thinking about colours that could represent stages in their life journey. At the workshops, I also took along examples of colour in my own work and that of other artists.

Spiral dyeing is a quick and easy way to get gorgeous colour combinations on fabric. I use procion dyes on 100% cotton that has been pre soaked in a washing soda solution and is still damp.


With the dye already mixed and in squeezey bottles, all that’s needed is to twist a flat piece of cloth into a spiral, place it in a tray and add the colour! Its relatively mess free – but still best to wear gloves and aprons -just in case!


Here you can see the first splashes of yellow being added – colours can be made by pouring one dye over another..


where the red and yellow mix, orange will appear – definitely a ‘high energy toddler’ colour!


The greens here have been achieved by mixing yellow and turquoise or navy.


when everyone has added all their colours, the fabric spirals are placed in plastic bags and left to cure for 24 hours before washing off in cold water – I just need to make sure I keep tabs on whose is which!

I’ll be posting pictures of the finished pieces when they’re all rinsed and dried. Two more workshops for this next week and, I think, a slightly different fabric colouration method for the secondary school group on Tuesday.



Needle Felting again!

Another introduction to needle felting  – with a bigger group this time! The trick with needle felting is to get the stabbing action correct. Keep the needle straight or else it’s all to easy to snap the shaft. And remember – the foam block is for protection, the needle should only just go into the foam not drive right through it. 

Once again, a beautiful range of brooches emerged after a couple of hours tuition. Some people chose to use the cookie cutters, a great way to quickly build up a shape and protect the fingers! Others took the plunge and went freestyle. That gives greater freedom to design  a unique piece. Details were added with finer gauge needles – check out the dotty welly! 

Ideas and conversation flowed – along with tea and biscuits! Well done everyone. 😄


Once  again people enjoyed the  workshop and I hope that they will continue to explore the wonderful world of needle felting.


Icy weather, Icy Dyeing…

Three hours ‘stewing’ time to go … Itching to rinse off and see the results….PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE!! 

Ice Magic!

I had heard about ‘Ice Dyeing’ and seen examples online but hadn’t had a go myself- until yesterday!

What better way to spend a freezing January day than messing about with a tub of ice cubes and dye powder? I decided to have a go after seeing some ice dyed fabric firsthand at my machine embroidery workshop last week and discussing the process with the workshopper who’d made the fabric.

Usually I like to paint dyes onto fabrics or screens to get interesting colour combinations and marks, so I was intrigued to see what could be achieved with ice. The principle is that as the ice melts it carries the dye powder throug to the fabric, creating random textures and colour mixes.

Setting Up.


First of all, soak the fabric you wish to dye in a washing soda solution. Dissolve 200g of the soda crystals in 1 litre of hot water (multiply to make enough solution to cover the fabric) and let the fabric soak for 30 minutes. Then wring out the fabric and place some pieces of fabric at the bottom of a large tub. Next, balance a wire rack over this fabric – mine’s balanced on a couple of cans from the recycling! Then add more fabric on top of the rack – scrumple or pleat the fabric to get different effects.

Now pile your ice on top of the fabric – I used 2kg of cubes in this example. You can use crushed ice or even snow (not that there’s much of that here!) I tried to make sure that I covered all the fabric on the rack.

Now add the dye powder, I used 5ml teaspoons of Procion MX dyes (remember to wear gloves and a dust mask) , in yellow, red, turquoise (2 tsp) and navy. Keeping red/yellow mostly to the left and navy/turquoise to the right but allowing some transfer. I decided to add one final piece of fabric over the top of the ice and dye to see if this would come out differently.

Then comes the really hard bit – wait for 24 hours!! 

The ice melted quite slowly transporting the dye powder through the fabric on the rack to form a dark pool at the bottom of the tub, this soaked into the lower fabric pieces.

The top piece of fabric looked quite splotchy at this stage! When the ice had all melted, each piece of fabric was rinsed thoroughly in cold water – until the water ran (almost) clear. Then all the pieces were put in a 40degree wash with soap powder – more waiting!!

But finally…here they are!

This is the fabric that was laid over the ice; I can see Georgia O’Keeffe style skulls top left!

In the photo above, the main blue cotton piece, the silk piece to the left and the wool blanket strip to the right were on the rack during the dyeing process. 

 In this photo, the autumnal piece (cotton again) was on the rack. The deeper blue brown piece (linen) was at the bottom of the tub and soaked in the melted ice dye liquor. The blue/khaki silk piece (top left) was also at the bottom of the tub, the blue/turquoise silk piece (top right ) was on the rack.

My thoughts?  Definitely doing this again! I’m delighted by the effects and the way they change depending on where the fabric was in the tub. The way the patterning looks is very different to tie dye and reminds me of mineral or lichen patterns. I’m thinking of an experiment with natural dyes and rust next too!

Let me know what you think! 

Freestyle Machine Embroidery 

So, what a wonderful creative weekend this has been  (apart from writing this blog post as it keeps deciding to eat itself !)

Friday night was spent on another workshop introducing a new group of people to needle felting – more of that in a future post …but this is all about Saturday and Freestyle Machine Embroidery (FME)

My mission was to introduce a group of budding textile artists and designers to the thrill that is FME. My aim – to get them to try different approaches to FME and to consider how these could be used to further develop their own creative textile ‘handwriting’ – that is to use FME in a way that would enhance the content and meaning of their work as opposed to being just another process in their textile toolkit.

We were working at the fantastic Lynemouth Resource Centre, where a disused function room has been transformed into a fully functioning textile workspace – with industrial and domestic machines, cutting tables, equipment and (almost) everything your textile arty heart could desire!

So we had space, resources, ideas and enthusiasm. Each participant was asked to bring an image to work from – either their own work or another source. As workshop leader I provided lots of kit…below you can see pelmet vilene, fusible vilene, soluble fabric, bondaweb, plenty of fabrics – dyed, printed and plain and a huge array of threads. There were also embroidery hoops, polystyrene blocks and cat litter trays (new ones!) All essential for a day exploring FME! Lets drop those dog teeth and get stuck in!

My objective was for everyone to try several different ways of using FME, working from their starting point to see how stitching densely, combining with applique, drawing in detail and texture or working on soluble fabric would alter the outcome.

I brought along examples of FME in my own work (finished pieces above, work in progress below) and also reference material to show how other textile artists use this versatile process in their own work.

We had a quick discussion of the technical bits – the possibilities of the different materials provided, the importance of using baking parchment to prevent ironing board disaster zones occurring – then it was straight into ‘playtime’ with people using the resources to sample ideas and test the limitations of the process.

Above and below you see two approaches to using bondaweb. Above, the bondaweb has been applied to fabric before cutting out the required shapes – this gives great accuracy and clean edges to the applique pieces as the adhesive also ‘seals’ the cut edges of the fabric. Below, the bondaweb has been applied as a whole sheet to a piece of hand painted pelmet vilene; this allows the artist to place small fragments and torn strips of fabric on the background . The piece is then covered with baking parchment and ironed to fix the pieces in place. Thus making the job of adding the tiny pieces and torn strips much easier, instead of having to cut thin strips of bondaweb and apply them to individual strips.

Work in progress, pieces laid out in front of the source of inspiration to contemplate next steps..

Hooped up and ready to go. Using an embroidery hoop replaces the tension lost by dropping the dog teeth on the machine. This means the fabric is less likely to pucker as stitching is worked over the surface. Here soluble fabric is being used – see how the artist has laid down a base of foundation stitches on the left of the hoop – this helps stabilise the embroidered design when the soluble fabric is rinsed away. The fabric we were using (Romeo Aquatics) was heavy enough to stitch without a hoop but would pucker without it. Source material is kept close to hand to refer to as the ammonite is stitched.


Above, vessel shapes are cut from fabric with bondaweb already applied to the back. Then, below, after ironing to fix in place, the artist uses FME to permanently attach the vessel shape and to add detail.

Further detail is added with FME including the stems and blossoms. Because the artist is working on thick pelmet vilene, no hoop is needed.

Here again, the artist is working directly onto pelmet vilene. The surface has been painted and dried before using FME to ‘draw’ the image on the surface

Here you can see that FME has been used to applique fabric to create rocky headlands. The artist is now using soluble fabric to stitch the more pronounced texture of the shells, capturing fibre fragments in the stitch to enhance the three dimensional effect.

Above is a sample of FME on soluble fabric, the hoop has been re-positioned so that a longer piece can be created. Jute fibres are trapped in the stitching to add bulk and texture to another rocky shore line. Below, a sample of FME on soluble fabric has been rinsed off and placed on a possible background while the artist considers her next steps.

Here FME on soluble fabric has been used to create a decorative light fitting. Once stitched, it has been pinned to a polystyrene block and rinsed to dissolve the ground. Pinning the piece helps it to retain its shape and reduce shrinkage on drying.

Whilst the light fitting detail dries, the artist uses FME to applique the interior scene it will fit into. Working on pelmet vilene means no hooping is necessary and there is greater freedom to work on a larger area. Using fabric to cover the vilene this time so no painting was necessary.

A piece of pelmet vilene was painted in vibrant yellow oranges before applying ice dyed fabric motifs. These were fixed in place with bondaweb and then stitched to create an abstract floral effect

Here flower designs are developed with FME using non bonded shapes on a painted pelmet vilene ground and on dyed fabrics. This means that the petal edges can be left free, adding texture and depth to the pieces.

Here,rather than painting the whole piece of vilene, the artist painted the hellebores directly, embellishing the painting with snippets of green fabric bonded in place over which FME adds further detail and texture. The final intent is to cut out the hellebores and place them on a fabric ground.

Densely worked stitching on calico gives a very painterly effect to this coastal scene. No hoop means the piece puckers under the intensity of the stitch, rippling the surface in a watery way.

Layers of fabric on pelmet vilene are stitched intensively to add definition and link the piece back to its original source. The contrast of dense stitching against the vivid but unstitched green fabric adds energy to the piece.

By lunch time the resources were not quite so tidy! Everyone was engrossed – and Im still not sure that they all took a lunch break!

This artist chose to interpret traditional folk symbols. Here carefully cut bonded fabric has been applied to a plain ground and then embellished with FME

A similar image is stitched onto soluble fabric; the design has been traced onto the clear fabric for guidance.

The motif released from the hoop, prior to rinsing.

We used the last half hour of the day to review the work – it was wonderful to see the variety of outcomes – scroll down and see for yourself!

As I had intended, each participant had tried several approaches to FME, getting to grips with new processes and materials, challenging themselves to interpret their source material with this versatile process. I was delighted and inspired by the enthusiasm and creativity shown by the group. A brilliant day ended with comments on intent to continue to explore and ‘own’ this process.

I look forward to seeing future outcomes as this fabulous group go on to exhibit their work. Well done and all the very best for you future textile endeavors – now don’t forget to go and vote for ME!


Words and Meanings


A lot of the work I’m making at the moment involves text. I’ve done a series of pieces that I call the ‘Day Trippers’ series where text is used below an image to suggest a lovely outing.

Day - trippers series                    On the Beach


Now, the pieces are more about the words. The piece above is a work in progress – it’s going to be scanned and used as a cover for a note book which can be given to patients to write their thoughts in. It uses hand coloured fabric, applique and free machine embroidery.


(Sorry about the reflections on this image – tricky to photograph through glass on a dull January day!)

This piece is part of the triptych I’ve been working on for an ongoing project. It will be displayed in a corridor, so the hope is that the bright colours used will catch the eye and brighten up the space. My intent was to encapsulate the teamwork and support evident at the centre  by linking and overlapping fabrics with colour and stitch.

This second piece of the three (Below) is a quote that is important to the team at the centre, stitched as if handwritten to emphasize the caring intentions behind it. (Again, apologies for the reflections!)

I work on these pieces at the centre, so that all involved there can see the progress and get involved in the project. It’s the best kind of work; interesting, challenging and, I hope, engaging for others.

The final piece (awaiting completion) is composed of text stitch with cad embroider. For each word, the colour was chosen by someone at the centre; staff, patient or visitor. So immediately there is a sense of involvement and engagement. I’ll post it when it’s ready, hopefully with better images too – if the sun returns to the northern skies!


Needle Felting Workshops

You can vote for me in this years Craft & Design Selected Maker Awards!

Craft & Design Selected Maker 2016

Needle felting is a lovely craft to learn on a cold January evening!

Yesterday brought the first frost of the year to Newcastle but I was warm and cosy working with a lovely bunch of people, introducing them to the fabulous art of needle felting.

We were working with Merino wool fibres in a whole rainbow of colours to make needle felted brooches. It’s a quick project – easy to achieve a good result in a couple of hours. People learn the basic principles of needle felting and go home with a unique brooch!

It’s amazing to think that this craft is relatively new – the needles that we use, either individually or in sets of 3 or 5 in hand tools, were originally used in their hundreds on industrial machines to make sheets of felt. The felt might be for munition cases, piano keys or fuzzy felt!

Its important to learn how to handle the fibres we use as well as the felting needle. Merino is lovely to work with and comes in a whole array of colours. The long strong fibres felt quickly and easily, forming a firm base that can be further embellished with beads, stitches and chiffons.

Felting needles come in different gauges for different tasks, although on this introductory course I tend to stick with size 36s which are sturdy enough to quickly mesh the fibres together and also useful for adding some detail and definition.

For a short beginners’ workshop like this, I like to use cookie cutters, it’s a quick way to get a good shape, speeds up design decisions and saves fingers from (most) of the risk of stab wounds! So I have a good collection of metal cutters hearts, flowers, stars and animals in various sizes. Participants choose the cutter and their colours, so everyone ends up with a unique brooch.

The other essential piece of equipment is a foam block, to protect furniture and limbs from those sharp needles! I use upholstery foam of about 5cm depth cut to size at 15cm square. This makes a good size base for a cookie cutter and a foam block will last through several sessions before it gets too damaged. (I must find a good way of recycling the damaged ones…cut them up for stuffing/ moisture retainers in plant pots??)

So with all the essentials, bags of enthusiasm, hot drinks and delicious biscuits (Thanks Ben!) we had a great time and I think all participants are planning to experiment further with this craft…


George Weil is a good source of fibres and other felting equipment. I also use Heidi Feathers for needles. Pinterest is a great place to look for ideas and inspiration too!

If you’d like to have a go get in touch! I bring along all the equipment and materials.

Thanks to all who took part and to SW for organising!

Here’s some comments from the evening:

“I very much enjoyed the evening – learning something new in excellent company was lovely! I’m looking forward to doing some more.
Donna is a great teacher.” JD

“Had a super evening and learnt something new. Not often you can learn a new skill and produce something in 2 hours! ” AL