Category Archives: craft workshops

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

Wild flowers and strange times

It’s been a day of getting on with things – workshops to prepare and exhibition dates looming – but all with the threat of postponement or cancellation as the Corvid19 virus swirls around the globe.

I read a very lovely article by someone who has to stay home most of the time for health reasons, advisng on good practice for people new to self isolation or working from home. My big tip after a stressful weekend is to limit news and social media viewing – so I can get on with making rather than fretting! ( Bimblings by Josie George if you’re interested)

So today I have got all ready for a workshop with 60 children tomorrow (I know- right!) We’re going to be silk painting lovely, colourful scenes that the children have designed. So that’s 60 frames filled with silk, 30 pipettes filled with gutta, silk paints packed, palettes and fine brushes packed, samples made and some of my work packed because I’m also going to do a short presentation to the whole school about my work as an artist – they’re on a two week Arts focus – lovely to see!

This afternoon I’ve been hand stitching different elements of my next (Extended) Urban Efflorescence piece – this is one of the words I’m including

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and of course it took me right back to thinking about the crazy ongoing situation where people maybe aren’t thinking about sharing enough as they stockpile toilet paper and bread flour! Wouldn’t it be lovely if we came out of this crazy period as expert bakers! I like the idea of the nation spending their time in self isolation learning the magic of sour dough and plaited loaves! My street has set up a Whatsapp group so we can help each other out if necessary – I’m sure baking tips will soon be flying about but today’s chat was mainly about whether you cn buy a guillotine in Lidl and who in the street might be up for knitting by said guillotine! Needless to say – I’ve had to mute the conversation so I can get on with some work!

Here’s another word that seems relevant  – trying to be content with the shrinking focus of things, I have lots of books to read, sketchbooks to fill and threads to use so that will keep me content!

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We’ve had to postpone a pretty big event we’d planned for the weekend so we’re trying to remain content with the knowledge that it is just a postponement and not a cancellation – at least I’ve got more time to finish the bunting I’ve been making!

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The work I do in hospitals is being postponed too, understandably hospitals are trying to reduce footfall where possible. So, I’m going to post some project ideas on the Facebook page for the organisation I work for – why don’t you bob over and take a look? Its @RoomforYouArtsinHealth you never know, there might be something you’d like to share or have a go at making to keep you contented as we go through this strange time 🙂

 

Do Your Own Thing..

Tuesday was such a lovely day! My first public workshop of 2020 – held at the lovely Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead.

I started out early so I could squeeze in my regular Tuesday swim before the workshop and managed a kilometre even though I forgot my goggles 🥽- tried swimming with my eyes shut NOT a good idea when you’re swimming in lanes !

The workshop was designed to share methods to help develop unique and personal approaches to creating art – in textiles or other media. First, a talk about how looking at other artists work can help us to make progress with our own work. Then some practical drawing exercises.

Working with a lovely group,I talked about what is ‘Critical for Creativity’ using a methodology I learnt in my first teaching post  – last century!!  We explored how to follow up when a piece of art catches our attention, using a bit of detective work to find out more about artwork and artist – no stalking! I used an example from my own experience – talking about how my love of Vincent van Gogh’s work influenced the creation of  my piece ‘Shingle and Stars’

Shingle and Stars

Shingle and Stars, the influence of Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh

Having talked through how to analyse an artwork – and spend longer than 15 seconds looking  at it! We went through to the gallery and everyone chose a piece of work that appealed to then to try the methodology themselves. I then talked a little more about how I continue to use this methodology and how it helps me to develop as an artist – stressing the importance of continuing to ‘feed’ ones creativity and imagination by learning from other artists. I shared the impact that more recent art ‘crushes’ have had on my own work such as Joan Eardley . The power and scale of her work has encouraged me to work bigger, and her use of collage encourages me in my choice of processes.

Then it was time to tackle drawing – now I know from my experience with students and workshop participants that those who stitch often say they can not draw! But I want to encourage drawing as a way of developing ideas, experimenting and… enjoying the process! So, I put together a series of tasks that would encourage the group to engage with their chosen subject matter and think about what exactly they needed to get from a drawing.

We started by working very quickly, with a range of media and NO Rubbers! When there is only a minute to draw, what do you focus on? The form, the texture? Mark making? Working on sketches for a minute or two can be surprising – it’s amazing how much information you can capture and, as you’ve only spent 60 seconds you don’t feel that pressure for it to be ‘good’ or look ‘right’. I encourage participants to make notes about the drawing experience as we go on …. what works, how it feels, what ideas pop into their heads whilst doing the drawing, the process of drawing can help to clarify the ideas of the artwork to come.

We finished the afternoon with a more extended piece – but drawing using collage – a process that really helps me in my applique and free motion embroidery work.

As with any workshop – I wouldn’t ask participants to do anything I haven’t done myself! So here is one of my 5 minute sketches – and the developing textile work. Once again, the magic of drawing has helped me extend the ideas I have for a piece of work and set me off down another creative pathway…lets see where this one leads to!

Weeds

A continuous line drawing – 5 minutes

 

Weeds

Weeds transferred to soluble film and ready to stitch

Weeds - stitched

Free motion embroidery and applique ready to wash off

I think that I will do several fragments in this way to add further layers to my Urban Efflorescence pieces. I only hope the participants got as much out of the workshop as I did!

I will be running more workshops this year, at the Shipley and independantly, please get in touch if you’d be interested in booking a workshop for your group – and head over to my workshop page for upcoming events!

 

 

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

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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!

Friday Dye Day

As I’m busy making new work for several shows at the moment, I’ve been very aware that my stash of hand dyed fabrics is diminishing. 

I dye natural  fibre fabrics with procion dyes so that I can have the same control over colour as a painter mixing their own colours might have. Presoaking the fabrics and then painting on the dyes allows me to layer up the dyes to create primary, secondary and tertiary colours. I can also create textures by using different brushes and sponges to apply the dye. 

Pots of dye mixed and ready to be applied



Greens are going to be important in new work I have planned; as I’ll be doing more landscapes I will need everything from acid yellow greens through to dark olive and bottle hues. 


Then I’ll also need blues; for the ocean- from slatey dark tones to almost Mediterranean turquoise.


There will also be buildings, rocks and cliffs to construct in fabric and thread. 


This is going to be my surprise selection- I didn’t want to waste the dyes left over after the painting session so I found more fabrics and added everything to a dye bath. I haven’t stirred the mixture so I’ll see what happens tomorrow when I wash everything off. 


All the fabrics are wrapped up in plastic so that the dye doesn’t dry out – this means the dye molecules have longer to soak into the fibres and there should produce stronger colours. 

All I have to do now is wait until tomorrow when I can unwrap the bundles, wash off the fabrics and see the results…..

Connections at Gallery 45

Gallery 45 is a gorgeous venue in Felton, Northumberland. From Saturday, the gallery will be holding the latest exhibition of Textile Art made by members of the Fusion Textile Artists Network. The exhibition is called ‘Connections’. The theme has been freely interpreted by the members of the network, so there will be a wide range of subject matter and textile processes to view.

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Kathleen Thompson – Sunset 

We spent a weekend working with Textile Artist Shelley Rhodes in the Long Room at the gallery last Autumn. Some of the pieces in this new exhibition have developed from that workshop.

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Jill Paterson

The work will be exhibited in the main gallery and in the Long Room and will be on display from March 4th until May 5th. There will be an opening event where you will be able to meet some of the artists this Saturday, 4th March, from 11am – 1pm – refreshments will be available!

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Deborah Cooper

The gallery itself is open from 10 – 5 Tuesday to Saturday and 11-4 on Sunday.

For my part, I’ve been exploring the connection one feels with the landscape; how that natural space can be healing and soothing. I love the feeling of being somewhere that is so open, beautiful and powerful. The landscape precedes us and will continue long after we are gone. There is much research to show that connecting with nature is beneficial to our health and well being. I have been visiting and recording the landscapes of Northumberland and Scotland and it is this work that I will be including in the exhibition.

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Donna Cheshire – Glen Rosa;Swirling thoughts, tumbling water, 2017.

All the pieces are created using hand coloured fabrics and free machine embroidery. It is quite a slow process but it encourages contemplation  and I like the painterly effect it achieves.

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Donna Cheshire – Frozen in Time, 2017

As part of the exhibition programme, I will be running my Tin Can Metamorphis Workshop on Saturday 25th March. If you’d like to come along to this please contact the gallery direct!

Grand Designs Workshop

One of the great things about being a textile artist is being able to share my passion for creativity with others, I offer a range of workshops and talks that can be tailored to meet the needs of all ages and abilities.

I’ve just spent a lovely couple of days in North Yorkshire.  The fabulous Snape Textile Group invited me down to teach my workshop on making 3D beach huts and garden sheds.

 

The village itself is gorgeous  – reached via an avenue of lime trees with a carpet of snowdrops and aconites.The village hall, right in the centre of the village, was a perfect venue.

Lots of room to spread out and the newly refurbished kitchen meant hot food and plenty of cuppas were available – big thanks to Mary and Sarah! Having lunch together was a great way to find out more about the group’s interests – even if it did go a bit off topic sometimes (murder and mayhem with your apple sponge anyone!!)

So working with a group of 12 each day we got cracking on converting old tin cans into ‘des res’ on a miniature scale.

The main elements of these pieces are the building (obviously!) the side panel that wraps around the tin and the ‘ground’ that the building sits on. its important to have a good plan of what the finished piece will look like , so that each of the elements will harmonise and make a complimentary whole. Other than that, its up to the maker as to what the finished item will look like – a beach retreat? a gardener’s hide away? There’s lots of fun to be had working out how to make miniature features to perfect the scene – this time I shared top tips for making bunting…and cabbages!

It was lovely to see everyone get stuck in and really engage with the project. I’d sent down a materials list prior to the workshop and I always bring a lot of supplies to help people along, so the hall was soon a colourful hub full of beads, threads, fabrics and tins! (Frist job; check that the templates fit around your chosen tin – if not – adapt them!)

It is easiest to customise the building before it is constructed, so people added doors and windows, embroidered flowers and made bunting. Similarly, the roof can be one piece of fabric, or can be layered with tiles and finished with rick rack or ribbon. Decisions, decisions!!

 

The side panel wraps around the tin lets you ‘set the scene’ of the building, this weekend we had pebbles, flower gardens, fish and boats decorating the surfaces.

After a full day of stitching and constructing we had some very nearly complete Grand Designs, the plan is that the group will get their pieces completed for their annual show at the end of August…I can’t wait to see the final results!

 

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!