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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. 

Block Printing …with a 1920’s vibe

Remember these lovely fabrics, dyed by toddlers, nursery and reception children?

pegged out

sky blue pink!

This week, the fabrics were handed onto Year 1 & 2 pupils for the next stage of the Last Shift Banner project.Last week, the little ones were doing Sixties style dyeing. This time we were looking back to the 1920’s and 30’s when artists Phyllis Barron and Dorothy Larcher were reviving the craft of block printing on fabrics.

Barron n Larcher blocks                            jane-weir-book

Using hand carved wooden blocks, found objects like kitchen utensils and natural dyes, Barron & Larcher hand printed fabrics for fashion and interiors. There’s a beautiful book of poems about the pair combined with images of their work & inspiration Walking The Block by poet Jane Weir

Inspired by  these textiles, I  I brought along 2 sets of printing blocks carved in quick cut lino. Year 1 pupils worked with blocks inspired by the school logo and class tree symbols, whilst the key stage 1 trip to  Beamish Pit Village inspired a set of blocks featuring items used by miners or found in a pit village.

For each class, I set up a DIY printing table (blanket and plastic sheet taped over a folding table!) and worked with 8 children at a time to block print on the fabrics.

Year 1 children printed the tree symbols in green on to the dyed fabric and also onto plain white fabric.

These colour prints will form an outer  border around the banner, whilst the green on white prints will make small flags for the children.

Year 2 children printed their blocks in black. These will make an inner border around the banner.

Before each session, we listened to some music from the 1920’s and 30’s and looked at pictures of fashion from the time as well as talking about Barron & Larcher’s textiles.

At the print table,we talked about the print process and I demonstrated what to do. Then the children worked in pairs; taking turns to be the printer and the assistant. The printer chose a block, inked it up and placed it on the fabric, then asked the assistant (nicely!) for the clean roller to press down the block. The assistant’s job was to remind the printer of the process and make sure the clean roller didn’t end up in the ink (very important!). All the children did a fantastic job of inking up and printing the blocks.

I had planned the activity to be inclusive and manageable in a tight time scale, each class of 30 had just over an hour to print on the fabric. Working with 4 pairs of children at a time and demonstrating the activity to each group meant that the children took control of the process, supporting each other and letting me oversee and remind of instructions where necessary. Whilst printing, the children talked about the images and their visit to Beamish. We talked about the language miners used – words like Bait meaning food (taken down the pit) and Leet (light). We also talked about the miners’ cottages and how different they seemed to our homes now.


A bit of washing up to do after!

It was lovely to see the children get so involved with the activity. One for fabulous question from Y2 – ‘why does some of the block stay blue when you ink it up?’ helped us to understand how the process works.

(I then managed to ‘lose’ all these lovely fabrics for 24 hours – PANIC!                                        I had packed everything up, taken it downstairs from the classroom in three journeys, then out to the car, drove back to mine, took everything back up two flights of stairs to the attic and at some point didn’t notice that I’d put the bag of print fabrics down separately from the box of equipment when I switched on a light – AARGH! Frantic phone calls to school, hectic searching of car and finally, cool calm partner retraces my steps and finds the bag by the attic door! Sorry everyone! Crisis over…Ö must remember to get some sleep soon!) 

Now I’ll get on with setting out the borders and preparing the next workshops for Key Stage 2 classses!

Fabulous Funfair

I am so excited to be finally paying a visit to the fabulous Carters Steam Fair in June. Given my love of funfairs and vintage style how could i not be drawn to this! I’ll certainly have my sketchbook and camera prepared  as I experience rides like these.

Carters Chair o planeCarters galloper-picCarters Steam yachts-pic

I’ve already stitched some pieces inspired by funfairs, particularly the Hoppings here in Newcastle. I used to visit the funfairs at Scarborough and Blackpool as inspiration for my final degree show back in the day too!

I’m hoping I can put a new sketchbook full of ideas together from my trip to the wonderful Carters Steam Fair. Here’s hoping for sunny weather to capture all those beautiful colours and shining surfaces!


New Beginning and a Sculpture Garden

What to do on a cold, grey Bank Holiday? I know – Start preparing for a new community project!

I’ve been commissioned to produce a banner with the children of a primary school. The banner will be in the style of a Miners Banner as the village is celebrating 50 years since the closure of the village pit – the main mine having been open for 50 years from 1906 to 1966. The banner must be of a size that the children can manage to carry and the idea is to celebrate life in a pit village, rather than the work of the pit itself.

Measuring dyes

Measuring chemicals


Dye bottles

Measuring chemicals

So the dyes are ready, the fixing solutions are mixed and the fabric squares are prepared. The youngest children in the school are going to colour the fabrics that we’ll be using, then I’m aiming to use different print processes with the older children.

Each group will have a different decade as the theme for their work – 1906, 1916,1926,1936,1946,1956 and 1966. They’ll look at the culture of each decade and let that influence their ideas. So, I’m busy sourcing music, fashion and art from each era to get them thinking!

Its not all work though! Yesterday we took some time out to visit Cheeseburn Sculpture Garden. It is a beautiful place. Originally a farm linked to Hexham Priory it now has gorgeous gardens with sculpures placed throughout. Wandering through flower gardens, walled gardens and woodland gardens you come across stunning sculptures and sound installations.

These two can be found on the edge of the woodland garden. Some of our party found novel ways of viewing the sculptures…


I was overcome with Wisteria envy…

Maybe one day my wisteria will achieve such profusion!

Alongside the sculptures and beautiful gardens there are lots of curious and intriguing objects to discover in ancient outhouses and dusty corners…

Rusted metal and moss strewn surfaces all setting creative ideas going…just look at these rusty old bellows…

I love the colour and those strong circles contrasting with that crumbling wood. Think I may have to return with a sketchbook – do check the website though because the Sculpture Garden is only open for a few weekends each year – and yes they do a lovely cup of tea and slice of cake!

Chilli Rd Proggy Rug Complete!

It seems to be a Spring time of finishing projects! The Chilli Road Proggy Rug project was commissioned a couple of years ago now, as part of the celebrations of the school’s 120th birthday!

The project is another triptych – even bigger than My Journey! My role was to work with the children to develop the design, to introduce children and parents to the craft of rug making and to oversee the development of the three panels – each of which is about 2m x 1m. The panels go around a column that juts out into the main school entrance corridor – the back of the old stove chimney! It is now a huggable wall feature!


This is the top part of the panel, there’s the metro line heading out to the sea from Chilli’ Rd metro station. Then below that, there’s Chillingham Road, with a lovely red fire engine  racing towards the ‘Thunder Thursday’ canoeist.Below that are some more Heaton landmarks and then you get into our lovely parks, you can just see one of our regular ‘Proggers’ Helen the ace cake baker next to a tree on the left!

The brilliant Proggy team decided to get into the rug, as it were, so they pop up in scenes on this panel! Well done to Della, Heather, Helen, Ingrid, Jude, Kate and Meera for their hard work on this final panel. Can you guess who’s who in the following images – and yes – they did me too!


Now all that’s left to do is get it fixed to the wall next to the others! Luckily that’s not my job!

Now I’m off to prepare driftwood boats whilst its sunny – an artist’s life is never dull!

Day Trippers

I’ve been adding to the Day Trippers series for a couple of years now. You might remember I wrote an article for Cloth Paper Scissors about them last Summer.

I’ve got a couple of ideas for new pieces to add to the series, moving my focus inland for one and back to the coast for another. I’ll keep you posted on progress but I’m hoping to get them finished in time for the Newcastle Art Spring Fest.

The first is going to be subtitled  ‘High Strung Hills’ and is inspired by all those lovely Northumbrian landscapes. I’ve got this one all planned out as you can see – thats the blue sky I was working on when I heard the news about the Craft & Design Selected Maker Awards!

I think the next will be inspired by the crazy April weather and will be about how stormy days can be the most exciting  – so long as you’re prepared for it!

More to follow on these!


My Journey – Journey’s End

That’s it. I have stitched my last stitch, ends tied in, loose threads trimmed. Photos taken.

All of a sudden it’s done…and I feel quite bereft.

(Then I remember the aching arms and the workroom that really needs tidying.)

My last job is to take it to the framer’s tomorrow. Anxious thoughts..will it stretch well over the frames. Will the three pieces ‘marry up’ as I intend them to? Will there be any last minute ‘touch up’ jobs to do?


There’s been some choppy waters – broken needles, manipulating large pieces of fabric through the small space of a sewing machine, time speeding by…aching limbs after stitching for hours on end, sometimes I felt it would overcome me but I kept on going


Until finally, this week has seen me speeding towards the conclusion of more than three months of workshops, planning, drawing and stitching.


And then all of a sudden, the harbour is in sight, Journey’s End indeed.

I’ve learnt so much through this project, stretching myself as an artist , working around issues of size and scale, incorporating other people’s stories into one theme, planning and delivering everything to a deadline. It has been a joyous task to work on, thank you everyone for the opportunity.

But now its time to move on, the April showers are holding back and I’m off to enjoy the sunshine. The triptych will be unveiled later this month and then I’ll write about the meaning behind the imagery, with photos of it in situ at Heaton Baptist Church.

Now, I think I left my family somewhere under a pile of fabric! Better go and find them!



My Journey – A Flotilla!


I decided to make all of the boats separately so that I can fit them into the waves as I go along. It has been a very nice change to work on something a little smaller and easier to manipulate! DSCF3370

Who recognises this sail?


A complex design develops

Or this spotty cuddy cabin…



And whilst I’m about it, quite a lot of this one went into the cobble stones …


I hope that you will be able to spot some of your fabrics in the final images but I must admit I haven’t kept a full record of where each colour came from – I’d never get finished!

The fabric pile is shrinking rapidly, most pieces have been used in some way already, but I have been saving lots of blues and greens for the sea itself.

That’ll be next weeks task – when all boats and harbour details are complete!


My Journey – along the jetty

This session has been focusing on cobbles!


This involves fixing tiny scraps of fabric in place and then ‘scribbling’ over the top with a circular stitch, fiddly – but the effect is worth it!

I’ve decided to tease you with only close up shots from now on – so that the Grand Reveal in a few weeks will be more exciting.


The scrap pile is growing larger, I’ve almost finished the buildings – just going back and adding details like the rope hand rail you can see in the first photo.

These two photos show how the harbour wall develops – I chose fabrics that were lilac/grey in colour and worked over them with a pale grey thread first to add texture then two shades of green to give the effect of sea weeds clinging onto the rocky surface. There’s some metal rings to be added too.

Unfortunately stitching the harbour wall was quite a tough job, I decided to call it a day when I broke 3 machine needles in quick succession! I think its all the to -ing and fro-ing!