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!

Published by Donna Cheshire Textiles

I am a professional textile artist specializing in Appliqué and Free Motion machine stitching. In order to create a unique colour palette, I hand dye my own fabrics and then use these to create the landscapes and coastal scenes recorded in my sketchbook. I often incorporate recycled or vintage fabrics in my work - they add meaning to the story the work is telling. I love being so close to the Northumbrian coast and countryside and I especially like taking time walk and draw these stunning landscapes

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