Walking for inspiration

On Friday I took a break from the workshop and exhibition prep’ to get some fresh air and family time.

Taking a break can seem like the worse thing to do when schedules are bursting- it certainly took a lot of persuasion to get the revising one away from her books- but it helps us recalibrate and make more progress.

Sometimes a trip to the local park is all that I have time for but a walk through green spaces, listening to the birds and spotting the wild flowers really helps to untie the knots in my thoughts- and my neck muscles!

On Friday, we took off in search of better weather. It was damp and dreary here but looked promising further south, so we headed to Runswick Bay in North Yorkshire.

I’d been working on this in the morning

And then went walking here in the afternoon

The tide was at its highest when we arrived so we decided to explore the cliff walk. A ravine leads from the south end of the bay up a steep, stepped path to the cliffs, it’s part of the Cleveland Coastal Path – we could have walked all the way to Whitby but we had tweenagers with us !

Looking back to the beach

Halfway up the steps looking towards Runswick

From the cliff top

The cliff path is gorgeous, on our right a field of barley (?) was swaying mesmerically in the breeze with skylarks singing their hearts out high above. On our left, the cliff tumbled down to the North Sea, showing its rusty stripes of iron ore, through recent rock fall scars. Terns flew below us, plummeting into the sea to catch fish before bursting out into the breeze again.

Wildflowers broke the green path lines with brilliant colour – speedwell, stitchwort, pink campion, violets, gorse and birds foot trefoil.

We walked as far as Kettleness before turning to retrace our steps and catch last orders for the cafe in Runswick Bay.

So now I have ideas and images to think about and develop; large scale cliff top scenes and smaller studies of wildflowers to add to the Efflorescence series. Time to get back to the workshop now the Yorkshire sea breezes have blown some clarity into my head .

(And I’ll finish that tiny version of Runswick too!)

Stitching and (more)cake with the Quick Crafters

Honestly, it’s really not written into my contract but it does seem that every fortnight in Chopwell there is crafting to be done and cake to be eaten! I’m only going along to support the ‘Quick Crafters’ group once a month until September, the group are making a textile panel inspired by the village. So far we have tried needle felting, hand dyed fabrics and begun to learn about free machine embroidery.

At this session we began the process of creating the design in fabric – using the cloth that we had dyed in our very first session.

The whole design has been traced onto craft vilene and covered with bondaweb, pieces of fabric are cut or torn to fit, ironed into place and then secured with free machine embroidery.

We all need a bit more practice with the free machine embroidery so after making name badges last time, this week I asked people to fill squares on a simple grid with different marks using the machine stitch. To make the textile artwork come to life, you need to be confident with the machine, so that details and texture can be added on top of the fabric appliqué.

It’s quite common for people to be a bit frightened of the machine – but I’ve only sewn through my finger once or twice! (And thats when I didnt have a darning foot attached!) The real trick is to manage the speed at which the machine runs so that you can control the stitch length and not break too many needles…I recently ordered in 100 machine needles…just in case! Every session at the machine increases skills, the group have purchased a machine for their club and I think that they will soon be confident free machine embroiderers. Part of the idea of this project is that the skills they learn with me will be useful to them in future projects. So I’m expecting to see machine embroidered bunting and bags at future community events!

I’ve got to tweek the design before our next meeting – at the group’s request, the pavillion is being replaced with the fire station, and we also need some more grey fabric to represent the stonework of the war memorial. That’s on my to do list for next week – this week I’ve been doing the final preparations for and taking part in the Hearth Arts Centre Spring Fair.


The Hearth is a lovely venue, there’s a gorgeous cafe and a great range of artists permanently based in the studios there – as well as the visiting artists – this time all selected from Network Artists  the next art fair will be in November but do check out the Hearth website  for great history, music and other social events!

I sold some new work at the art fair and got invited to take part in another event too! So before I set up at Belford Arts Festival in July, my work will be at the Bywell Arts Festival from 21 -23 June – looks like its going to be a busy summer!




Room for You – Exhibition Time!

Room For You is the name of the charity that I work for on Wednesday each week. We visit local hospitals here in the North East and work with patients, their families and friends. For almost 20 years, the charity has been bringing creative activity to those experiencing life limiting illnesses. I have written previously about some of the work I have made with and for patients.

In June, we are holding an exhibition about our work with a special Launch Day on Saturday 1st, when artists and counsellors from the team will be present to meet visitors.RfY launch

We will also be launching a new “Friends of Room for You” project so that if you are interested you can support our work across local hospitals!


It would be lovely to see you there on June 1st – hope you can make it!

Post script….

I’m in a melancholy mood….

I had a lovely afternoon of tea, cake and conversation yesterday as we celebrated the installation of the two textile panels in South Charlton

Here they are looking rather gorgeous in the entrance to the village hall.

This has been a fantastic project to work on. It’s been lovely getting to know the members of WhichCraft- and discovering their baking skills 😊

I shall miss our monthly sessions- but hopefully I’ll see some of you at Belford Arts Festival in July!

Keep on crafting 😊

Changing Places

As the project I’ve been working on in South Charlton, Northumberland draws to a close, I am starting a new project in Chopwell, Gateshead.

There are similarities and differences with these projects.

In both cases the groups involved are women’s craft clubs. ‘Which Craft’ in South Charlton and the ‘Quick Crafters’ in Chopwell.

The aim of each project is to capture the essence of the location and to share textile skills that each group can use in this and future projects.

Autumn/Winter in South Charlton

In South Charlton, funding came from an energy company that has built a wind farm on land nearby. The money has been used to refurbish the Village Hall and the two textile panels we have made will hang in the entrance. if you look closely you will see wind turbines in both pieces to reference the funding sources.

Spring/Summer in South Charlton

In Chopwell, funding comes from a project to improve health and wellbeing. With the additional aim of encouraging community engagement.

The panel will hang in a room in the Community Centre.

Draft design for Chopwell

We have had our final group session in South Charlton, the last few blackberries were stitched on and edges have been neatened. Now the two panels are back on my work table to have their backing panels applied and then, in April the pieces will be hung in the entrance of the Village Hall for everyone to enjoy.

Meanwhile over in Chopwell, at our first practical session we were developing skills for the project. First of all, we dyed fabric that will be used to appliqué some sections of our design.

Then, after a pause for tea and cake (another similarity with the WhichCraft project!) I demonstrated the basics of needle felting. Lots of comments of ‘Oh, this is lovely’ as we learnt to make simple shapes, dots and lines. The merino fibres are so great to use and the colours blend beautifully.

We intend to use needle felting to add details to the wall hanging. I’ve left supplies with the group so they can continue to experiment- along with some ideas for other textile artists to have a look at.

Starting with a task that is new to most participants, dyeing fabrics, helps to encourage team spirit, as everyone is learning together. The method I use is accessible to most ages and abilities- and there’s something magical about transforming plain fabrics into a rainbow palette!

Using small pieces of fabric and working with squeezey bottles of dye keeps the risk of mess to a minimum. My next challenge will be to make this dye process as eco friendly as possible. Currently I use recycled materials and equipment where possible, and only make up enough dye for the project. Natural dye experiments coming up soon though!

Now that the design is finalised ( although the group is already talking about panels 2 & 3! Let’s finish this one first,team!) I will divide it into sections and make a traced pattern for each one so that the group can work on different parts and can also work on their sections in between sessions with me.

Dancing with an Angel

21 years of an Angel Exhibition

Thursday 31 January – Saturday 30 March 2019

The Gallery, Gateshead Central Library

This week sees the opening of the 21 Years of an Angel Exhibition. The show marks the end of Angel20, a yearlong programme of activities in Gateshead which began on the Angel of the North’s 20th anniversary in February.

I delivered a one-day workshop as part of the programme. We made needle felted replica angels. During the workshop, participants learned how to create and felt over, a wire armature.

The basic armature is covered with polyfill – this can be needle felted to build the form, saving the need to use wool fibres at this stage.

The shaping of the Angel was entertaining 😊

It’s important to keep things simple at this stage though as greater definition can be shaped once the wool fibres are added.

We used rust coloured merino tops to match the Angel’s construction materials- it’s made of weather resistant Cor-ten steel, containing a small amount of copper, which forms a patina on the surface that mellows with age.

Details were added with a deeper brown fibre.

Then thread was used to add finer details.

Each angel is mounted on a ‘landscape’ created from a fish tin and fabric

Art of Remembrance II

In my work for Room for You Arts in Health, it is great when I can find a way to engage patients and their families in a common project. The Armistice Centenary provided such an opportunity. I set up a tray with resources to knit poppies several weeks before November 11th. My idea was to have poppies surrounding a silk painting that would include the centenary dates..

To my delight, people really took to the idea, each week we would arrive at the Radiotherapy waiting area where our project is based to find more poppies. The one knitted pattern I left out spawned a dozen patterns in knit and crochet

So with the poppies mounting up it was time to begin the silk painting. I chose to depict a soldier in the trench – to help us remember the event we are commemorating. A sunset sky helps to suggest it is the end of the war and the text ‘We Remember’ is set in a stained glass pattern beneath the soldier.

Patients awaiting treatment in a Radiotherapy helped to paint the image and then I took it away to my workshop to prepare it for display. I also took a selection of the poppies to begin stitching them to a net support.

Finally on November 7th, the installation could take place. Thank goodness for colleagues! It took four of us, cheered on by patients and their families to secure the framework supporting the net of poppies. Once that was done two of us continued to stitch poppies into place. There were a lot of poppies!

By 6pm the final poppy was stitched into place* and the artwork was complete.

We have received so many lovely comments about the installation and we will keep it on display for a month for people to enjoy it.

* we came back a week later to find even more poppies- and added them to the piece 😊

Now I need to think of another project that will be as successful in engaging patients and their families as this has been!


Art of Remembrance

Commemorating 100 years since the end of the Great War has given me the opportunity to work on two wonderful projects with two very different groups.

‘Remember Their Stories’ was a very special project for Chillingham Road Primary School in Newcastle. The school is still in its original Victorian building and has its very own museum looking back at the life and times of the school and it’s pupils. Included in the museum is information about the 66 ‘ old boys’ who went to fight in the Great War and never came home. Their names are recorded on a special plaque, now prominently displayed in the museum.

An earlier local history project records the stories of these boys and maps where they lived.

To reflect the ethos of the school, this art project needed to involve all the children in the school, from playgroup to year 6, and also their families. I had to come up with a proposal that would get everyone thinking about the centenary of Armistice and would let all the school help make the artwork.

The idea

The location of the artwork was chosen by the school, it needed to fit on a tall, narrow wall (approximately 3m x 0.4m) and could wrap around the surrounding walls. This space made me decide to include a figure, a soldier, and poppies- the iconic symbol of remembrance. I wanted to make links between the local area and the soldier and thought this could be shown by postcards written as if from the war to someone back home in Heaton. Then I thought that the postcards could be carried by doves- symbolising peace. Initially I included the dates of the Great War but school asked for this to be changed to the centenary dates. As part of my research I found a clip of an interview with Michael Morpurgo, author of ‘Private Peaceful’ and ‘War Horse’. In the film he visited the war graves and said that he wrote his books because ‘we must remember their stories’. Immediately, I could see how perfectly this line captured the essence of our art project.

So, with the composition planned, and agreed by school, I needed to work out how the piece could be made and who would do what. I made a list of the tasks, discussed them with school and suggested what might be appropriate for each year. School then devised a timetable for me to work with and we were off!

Straight after the half term holiday we began a week of workshops. An initial assembly saw me introduced to the whole school and then we were off!

I had prepared a life size painting of the soldier and an outline of the soldier on the pelmet vilene that was to be the substrate of the artwork

My first workshop guests were the youngest children in school- playgroup, nursery and reception. I explained to each group that we had the very important job of preparing all the colours of fabric so we could make the plain white picture as colourful as the painting.

I had set up 3 work stations, one each to make ‘mud’, ‘khaki uniform and blue sky. We used the squeezy bottle dye method as it is the least messy and as the dyes are made up in advance there’s very little risk of dye powders getting spread about.

(It did get a little messy – apologies if you had blue hands afterwards!)

Next was a change of task as the tinies were replaced by years 5 & 6.

I asked these groups to make doves. They used templates to cut the shapes from white felt and then they customised them with sequins for eyes and beaks.

Tuesday brought workshops for years 1 & 2 and also for families. It was our Poppy Day. The poppies were made by wet felting merino wool fibres.

We used bubble wrap grated soap and warm water to felt the poppies, with some groups using swim ‘noodle’ rolling pins to add pressure to the fibres. After felting the fibres were ‘shocked’ in hot and cold water then left to dry.

Our next sessions were on Thursday. Years 3 & 4 has the task of starting to assemble the artwork, and writing their own postcards from the Front. There were different work stations so groups could take turns at all the tasks. One group was tearing the dyed fabric into small pieces, another was using these pieces to collage the picture and a third group were printing and writing their postcards.

The postcards were made from pelmet vilene cut to size. The children chose a ‘postcard’ stamp another ‘postage’ stamp and then thought about what a soldier might want to write home- lots of ideas about the noise and squalor, rats, trench foot and injuries.

On Friday, years 5 & 6 came back to print their postcards and help with the collage.

We also cut out the letters and numbers for the title and dates.

Also on Friday, Year 6 gave their Assembly on Conflict, including a section where they interviewed me about the project and my work as an artist!

Then the Head teacher led the school outside to the yard where a very moving Remembrance act took place. With the school gathered in a circle, teachers read out the names of all the young men from the school who had died, the Head Teacher read The Exhortation, a two minute silence was observed and the Last Post was played.

Over the weekend, the doves and postcards were attached to the sky and then the poppies were stitched onto the muddy soil

Finally, on Monday we were ready for installation- with help from the head teacher and the business manager our ‘Tommy’ was up in the school museum and the doves were flying over the streets of Heaton, carrying their heartfelt messages to families and friends.

It was fantastic to be able to involve the whole school in this project. Now the work is on display and its location means that the children will be able to see what they achieved every time they walk through the school to the dining hall. I hope they will remember working together in order to make art to remember those young men from a hundred years ago who gave their lives for our future.

A Sense of Place

Saturday is workshop day. This time in Hartlepool with the local Embroiderers’ Guild.

The project involves participants choosing a place or scene that is special to them – a favourite walk, holiday destination, or family home for example. I ask them to bring visual reminders of the place – sketches, photos or similar, and to consider how the location makes them feel.

This group had heard my talk ‘Critical for Creativity’ the previous week so they were primed with ideas on how to emphasise a mood or feeling in art.

After a talk through the process everyone quickly got busy. With scenes from Devon to Dumfries, North America to the Psychedelic lands of the imagination – each piece was unique to the maker (!).

Compositions were adjusted to enhance the form of the work, leading the eye towards the focal point. Scale was considered, in subject matter and stitch size, to create a sense of space and depth in the work.

Working to a small scale and aiming to create a textile piece that would wrap around a miniature canvas. We used bondaweb and needle felting techniques to put together the images before adding hand stitched details. I intersperse talking to participants individually about to develop their work with short demonstrations of relevant processes. My aim is always to encourage people and offer new approaches that might spark motivation for further development

This is a day workshop, the tricky bit is always thinking what to pack – there are the essentials, tracing paper, bondaweb (& ironing equipment!) threads…but as I never know what scene people will choose I have to guess what colours and textures might be useful- this time we could have done with some sheers or metallics to create watery surfaces.

This time the needle felting kit was invaluable/ used to create clouds, mountains and trees in various scenes.

This is the second time I’ve run a workshop at the Athenaeum in Hartlepool- an amazing Victorian building with very high ceilings and rambling corridors. Last time I got to use the chair lift to carry equipment upstairs and this time everything was set out on the (covered) pool table!

The view outside reflects the changes taking place in the area -from one window the peeling paint surfaces of abandoned buildings, from others, the impressive new art school and the old bus station that is now a film studio.

I will soon be updating my workshop list so take a look and see if there’s anything that you’d like to do – or if there’s something I do that is not listed let me know !

Anniversary Celebrations

Creative Workshop preparation on the table today- turns out the Angel and I have both been in the North East for 20 years! That’s got to be worth celebrating 😊

I was actually on the hill in Gateshead on the day the Angel was installed, seeing it rise up was amazing- I think our tribute pose even got us on Look North that evening 🤣

So it seems fitting that I’ll be running this workshop to make a mini Angel in September, celebrating 20 years of the iconic North East sculpture- more details to follow 😄