Category Archives: community project

Room for You, for me, for everyone.

Bringing art to patients and hospitals for 20 years….

For just over 5 years, as part of my work as a freelance artist, I have been taking art and craft activities to cancer patients and their families in local hospitals. I was the newby, the project itself has been running for 20 years. Covid 19 put a stop to our work in hospitals in 2020 and though we tried hard as a team of trustees, counsellors and artists, it has proved impossible to develop suitable methods to meet our objective of providing emotional support through creativity. So I thought I would share the highlights of the time I have spent working for this amazing project. Firstly, I’ll look at some of the bigger projects I have worked on for Room for You and then I’ll write about some of the ‘Take Home’ projects I delivered with patients and their families.

At St Bede’s Palliative Care Unit, I often made large scale pieces for display around the building, encouraging those who were able to help with the design and construction of the art work. Often this meant working with family members as patients were so very poorly, or sometimes staff would have the opportunity to add some colour or stitch to pieces. The triptych shown here expresses the philosophy of care for the unit and also includes a quote from the founder of the hospice movement, Dame Cicely Saunders. I took my CAD machine in to the unit and this meant that people could choose the colour, press a button and stitch a word.

This project led onto my designing a cover for the little books we gave to patients to record their ‘Thoughts and Feelings’ the textile design was scanned and then printed as postcards which were stuck onto the cover of the notebooks.

My next piece was a special donations box, embroidered with flowers.

The flower theme continued in four panels made for the Quiet Room, in the unit, where patients, family or staff could sit and gather their thoughts.

To make these pieces, I asked participants to silk paint some of the flowers, birds and insects and these were then collaged on to the panels. Most of the flora and fauna are symbolic, or have links to the treatment of cancer patients.

The staff at the hospice worked really hard to fundraise for special furniture in this room to make it a calm and nurturing space for those going through grief and heart ache.

It was enlightening to work in the Palliative Care Unit. The staff were simply amazing; calm, caring and positive although they too sometimes needed to use the Quiet Room. The patients and their families were in such a desperate part of their lives but the care they received helped them to manage this time. I hope that the art work we did there gave them comfort, solice and strength. I know there was conversation, story telling and laughter amongst the paints and projects. I hope the pieces we made together will continue to bring colour, calm and conversation to the unit.

Meanwhile, over in the chemotherapy ward in Newcastle, there were different challenges to work with -patients fixed up to chemo machines that would bleep and fetch nurses running if arms moved too much, work spaces limited as staff obviously needed to get to patients, some people being treated in beds. All sorts of physical and practical limitations to consider.

I did notice that patients and carers would sometimes bring their own knitting or crochet with them and that led to he Wise Birds Wise Words project. Room for You provided patterns and materials for knitting or crocheting little owls…once completed these wise birds carried messenger bags with words written by patients, carers and staff to encourage those going through cancer treatment. The birds were perched on papier mache branches and could be seen through the window by those in the treatment bays. Lots of people got involved, if they were not able to make an owl, they could write a message to include in the little bags.When the time came to take the display down, the owls took flight and settled on the noticeboard by the Nurses Station, so I think they were appreciated!

In Sunderland, we worked with patients having treatment for cancer and other life limiting illnesses, bringing along projects for participants to take away and also projects to decorate the treatment spaces. This silk painted pond was inspired by the Winter Garden in Sunderland. We took the silk frame and paints to patients so that they could add colour to the piece. Silk painting was a good medium to use, no large arm movements necessary and we could either leave the patient to work quietly or sit and work alongside them, chatting as we painted.

Needlefelting was another good technique to use, again, a small work station could be set up on a lap tray and the repetitive action of stabbing the fibres could be relaxing, or stress relieving! The local Souter light house was recreated in needlefelt and framed to go on the wall in one of the treatment bays. The act of needle felting – stabbing the fibres into the backing fabric – helps release tension and is an easy technique to learn; just keep that needle nice and straight and keep an eye on your fingers to avoid unprescribed acupuncture!

Lots of projects were created for the Radiotherapy Unit at the Northern Centre for Cancer Care. Here we worked in the waiting area, with patients and their families, providing a creative activity and a listening ear for people undergoing radiotherapy treatments. The nature of the treatment means that patients attend regularly for several weeks, so often people would be able to help create larger installations. The waiting area has large glass windows looking over an enclosed courtyard. The perfect spot to display silk paintings as the natural light would shine through them and enhance the colours.

One of the biggest projects was to commemorate the centenary of the end of the First World War in 2018. I designed and prepared a silk panel featuring the dates and a soldier in a trench. Each Wednesday afternoon I would set out the panel and ask people to help paint in the colours. To complete the installation I asked people to make red poppies to surround the panel. Initially I left a simple knitting pattern, yarns and needles. This project really touched a chord with people – lots balls of red yarn were donated and each Wednesday we would arrive to find bags of completed poppies that people had made either on the journey to the hospital or on days when we were not in. My one pattern grew and eventual there were a dozen different styles of poppies. All of them were stitched on to black netting and the silk panel was added to the centre of the piece. The hardest job was actually hanging it all – it was very heavy but luckily the radiotherapy engineers had some very strong velcro tape, and tall step ladders, that we used to fix up the display.

Annual events such as Christmas, Valentine’s Day and Easter also provided inspiration for the windows. Using simple craft techniques such as pompom making opened up conversations as people remembered their childhood pasttimes. New style pompom makers made the task much simpler and quicker than in the days of using cardboard milk bottle tops.

As people would often donate yarn to the project we would find creative ways to use it and put across our message that being creative and sharing your thoughts can help. I made bobbins for knitting – similar to ‘Knitting Nancy’ or ‘French Knitting’ kits using cardboard tubes and hairgrips. Patients began to knit long strings in different colours and talked bout what we used to use this knitting for – stiching into rounds to make coasters and mats, very long scarves for fashion dolls, book marks for grandparents…We decided to make them in to words! So we asked people in the waiting room to think of words or sentences to encourage people as the went through their treatment programme. My long suffering counselling colleague became adept at threading wire through the knitting and then we shaped the words and phrases before hanging them in the window spaces.

Another project seems to have pre- empted the NHS rainbows that have appeared all over the country to show the nation’s support for the huge effort put in by all the doctors, nurses and support staff during the current pandemic. We made a silk painted rainbow, emerging from pompom clouds, with needle fleted rainbow raindrops, and stitched with messages of hope and thanks from patients and their families.

Another creative process that always brought patients together to talk, take part and reminisce was proggy or hooky rug making. One of the first methods used by Room for You artists and one that I was familiar with through my work in primary schools. The craft is traditional in the North East, patients would tell us of childhood when they had to cut strips from old woollen clothes for their families to hook into rugs. The cycle of use took new rugs to be (very heavy) bed covers, then to use on the floor and, when too dirty to have in the house, they would line the leek trench on the allotment with them – ultimate recycling!

The radiotherapy waiting area has several large metal columns along the corridor. Initially these were ‘yarn bombed’ but I thought that there was scope for an ongoing project to cover them with proggy rug panels. Using old wooden picture frames as the support, I stretched hessian and drew on designs. We would start the panels in our Wednesday afternoon sessions and then leave them out for patients to continue throughout the week.

For one panel, I drew the 20th century artist, Frida Kahlo. She suffered terrible health problems in her life but continued to find release through her art, so I thought she would be a good role model for the radiotherapy patients. We made several of these proggy panels and then I stitched them together around the columns.

The final large scale project I undertook was for the Palliative Care Unit. As they remodelled their entrance, I was asked to make a panel to cover a window space into the office. We decided to use quotes from Dame Cicely Saunders and involved the patients by asking them to add colour to butterflies and flowers. This meant that it was easy for people to work on the art project whilst sitlling in their beds.

I will miss having this opportunity to share my creativity and to encourage others to use theirs. I hope that some of the projects we have done will continue to make people smile and that the skills and ideas we have passed on might have helped people fill the hours of lockdown with a little bit of positivity.

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

Work in progress

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At the launch of our exhibition for Room for You I had my photo taken by Bill Peronneau

So here I am engrossed in teaching needlefelting. A workshop I often run for patients I work with in hospitals. We had the great news this week that funding will continue for another year. So I can continue to dream up crazy installation ideas like this recent one…

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Patients wrote on the rainbow to share what or who helped them get through Radiotherapy, we needlefelted rainbow coloured raindrops to add to the pom pom clouds – patients always find needle felting therapeutic 😉

British Craft Trade Fair 2017

bubble wrap

Drowning in a sea of bubblewrap as I get everything wrapped up ready to take down to Harrogate on Saturday! I’ve spent an enjoyable day deciding on just how I want to display everything. Pleasantly surprised to discover that I do have enough work to fill my 2 x 1 m shell space. I know this because I mocked up the show in my, almost, 2 x 1 m bay window !!

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There’ll be some jiggling and adjusting but I’ve got an idea now, and in the shell space I’ll have a bit more height so things will have a bit of breathing space. I’m glad I didn’t go for the additional storage unit – there’s no room!!

I did spend/waste quite a lot of time finding the fishing line that I use to find work – why did it take so long to find? Because it was in my exhibition tool kit/vanity case – where it was meant to be but obviously the LAST place I looked for it!

The wholesale price lists, labels and bio are typed up, printed off and mounted on foam board. I’ve still got a whole day to finalise things so I’m feeling quite calm – which feels quite odd!

I’m very grateful to Heaton Baptist Church for the loan of one third of the ‘My Journey’ triptych, and to St Bede’s Palliative Care Unit for the loan of one third of their triptych. I wanted to show community projects alongside my fine art textiles work, and that Heaton Map is just too darn big! (All of these pieces can be found in earlier blog posts).

The rest of the show will be made of recent work and a few old favourites, as I want to give a flavour of everything that I do.

So now its time to pack the tool kit, the step ladders and my trusty flask, and some smart clothes!

I’ll try and do an update whilst I’m at the show..see you in a few days!

Something Fishy & All things Holy (T)!


Getting ready for tomorrow’s workshops- blanks cut and painted ready for participants to add their creativity! 

Some of the demonstration pieces will be for sale at the Holy T Art Fair – to raise funds for the project. See you there 23/24 September!!


And this view of Holy Isle should be framed and ready to go too! 

Summer Time and the stitching is…

The stitching is mostly being fitted around the daughters on school holiday 🙂

We all went to the Last Shift Banner picnic on Saturday afternoon. It was great to see the school banner on display with its bigger brothers and sisters from local collieries!

The picnic was in full swing when we got there, with brass band, folk singing, rapper dancing and shuggy boats. A wonderful way to finish off the festival.

So now its time to get on and develop new work for Autumn shows and exhibitions. I’m really taken with the idea of doing some pieces based on hedgerow flowers. Has anyone else noticed how beautiful, and prolific, the wildflowers are this year? It would be lovely to capture them in stitch and cloth. I’ve been sketching and photographing for a while so I think its time to start experimenting now. Perhaps with soluble fabric as I think the spaces and layers between the plants are important.

These lovely flowers are on the bike route into town, a great border between the bike and foot paths!

I’ve had some time out to see the textiles art that local branches of the Embroiderers’ Guild have displayed to celebrate Capability Brown’s 300th birthday. The teatowel display at Gibside looked gorgeous, blowing in the breeze in the walled garden. There are more pieces on display in the chapel, and another collection at Wallington too. Well done to all my friends taking part in this – we had fun spotting all your work!

 

The Last Shift – all done!

I have so enjoyed  this project, meeting and working with the children at the Primary School and using their designs to complete the banner.

Last Shift Finished

So now you can see how it has all fitted together, I’ll have to add a picture of the reverse but this is the front. There was a lovely ‘Oooh’ from the children and visitors when the banner was unveiled at school last Thursday.

It’s always nerve wracking to take in a finished piece – will they/ won’t they like it?? Its safe to say I was a bit anxious as I drove over to the school, luckily, I think this was a hit!

The central panel is created from those details I shared in my last post, making a stylised view of Greenside and it’s Colliery past. I wanted to use features of the traditional banners, so the children’s block prints form strong contrasting borders and the school name is on a scroll at the top. The panel that shows ‘Today’s Children’ reads ‘Tomorrow’s Future’ on the reverse – a phrase found on the reverse of the updated Greenside colliery banner.

The back is covered in the block prints made by Key Stage 3 classes, arranged in stripes that link to the striped brickwork in the Miners’ Cottages in the village.

All of the children’s prints have been included – if they are not on the main banner then they are stitched like prayer flags to the streamers that hang from the sides. This banner truly represents all of the children in school!

The banner will get its first official outing at The Last Shift Picnic next Saturday, 23rd July. I hope the rest of the village like it as much as the children and teachers!

Many thanks to the Banner Tales team and Greenside Primary School for giving me the opportunity to work on this lovely community project!

 

The Last Shift

Construction begins…

All the workshops are done, so now it’s time to transform piles of print and spiral dyed fabric into a brilliant banner.


I’ve dyed the background fabric and the ribbon streamers.


All the scroll text is cut out. I cut the letters with bondaweb so they’ll stay in position when I stitch them.

The back panel has had its ‘first fix’ with postcard prints from years 3-6. I’ve used a brick wall pattern with stripes of different colours to echo the stripey brickwork in Greenside miners’ cottages.


This will make the back of the banner visually interesting as the children march along the street.

I’m off to do hospital workshops tomorrow – a silk painted sea, amongst other things …so more updates on Thursday 😊

Screen Printing from scratch

screen made from old frame and net curtain!

For the next stage of ‘The Last Shift’ banner project, I’m going to ask the children to screen print dates from the era that Greenside Colliery was open. 

Screen printing can be very technical and complex…or it can be an improvisation challenge- we’re going for the latter!

We’ll be using screens made from old picture frames and net curtain. I trialled two different nets that were in my fabric stash (people give me all sorts of things that will get used one day!)  I’ve stretched most of the frames with the finer net but will use the coarser fabric for the 1950’s design because I think it will work better with that text (B movie horror font!) 


  I’m using Speedball screen painting fluids to make the screens.

I tested out the nets using stencils made from kitchen paper- the plasticised surface makes it stick to the screen so it’s a great temporary stencil. You can cut or tear the kitchen paper to make stencils but they’ll only last for a couple of prints. 


With the speedball process – blue screen drawing fluid is used to draw the design onto the screen.

First I traced the design onto the screen. Then I painted it out with the blue drawing fluid. 


This needs to dry completely.


Then the screen filler is spread over the entire surface of the screen and left to dry. 

The Last Shift begins…

Safely back from the excitements of Essex and Carters Steam Fair (more to follow soon!) Monday was the first day of the ‘Last Shift Project’ to make a primary school banner – and what a busy day it was!

Working with toddlers (and their grown ups!), two nursery classes and a reception class, we ‘spiral dyed’ the fabric that will be used to make the banner. I wanted to use spiral dyeing as it produces similar results to Tie Dye -without the need for knots!

As the project is inspired by the time span of the Greenside Pit – from 1906 to 1966, the spiral dyeing linked to the Sixties. I’ll be linking print and design ideas to the other decades, with the help of older children in the school.

On arrival at school I quickly got set up in the hall and added the auxiliaries to the dye powders in the bottles. The dye  becomes ‘active’ once the chemical water and washing soda solutions are added. So for best results the dyes need to be used on the day they’re mixed. Trying to use them a day or two later results in faded colours.

Dye bottles

Ready to add the auxiliaries

Spiral dyeing is a great project to do with little ones as once the dye is mixed in sports cap bottles the children just have to choose colours and add a few drops to the fabric spirals.

I was kept busy ‘spiralling’ the pieces of white cotton throughout the day, I think there are over sixty of them!  But the hardest task was getting little hands into adult sized vinyl gloves! We managed it though, everyone wore gloves and aprons and, as far as I know (!) most of the children kept their hands, and uniforms, free of dye!

Once the children had finished adding the dye to their pieces of cloth, the spirals were carefully placed in clear plastic bags and kept in a plastic crate. The dye needs to ‘cure’ in the fabric for about 24 hours before washing off to ensure bright colours – its also a good idea to prewash the fabric to remove any industrial finish that might impede the uptake of the dye and then to soak the fabric in chemical water before adding the dye. The chemical water helps the fabric stay damp for longer, so the dyes have more time to react with the fabric fibres.

I took all of the fabrics back to my workshop and rinsed them off the following day.

As you can see its important to wear rubber gloves as quite a lot of dye comes off when the fabrics are rinsed. It’s always nerve wracking – will there be any colour left?? Will the spirals look exciting??

Well, take a look…

On the line

lots of different colours

Lovely colours

beautiful colour mixes

pegged out

sky blue pink!

All the squares will be ironed and then I’ll take them back to school next week so the children can see what they made. Then it’ll be time for designing and printing…after a few more days of sketchbook work for me!