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!

A Community Commission

South Charlton is a beautiful village in Northumberland, surrounded by farmland. I have been invited to work on a new community project there.

The WhichCraft group want to create some textile panels to decorate the entrance of their Village Hall

WhichCraft is a group of women, meeting twice a month to get creative. They have various skills and interests that we can tap into for this project.

I went to meet them at one of their sessions (fortunately before the #beastfromtheeast arrived! A bit further up the A1 this happened!)

Their Village Hall,once the school, is a well loved and well used community hub. They have received some funding to improve facilities and this includes a budget for art.

At the meeting I took along samples of my previous work with community groups and we discussed what might be possible- luckily they liked what they saw!

We got on to discussing the theme for the project and measuring up the spaces we might use.

The area is rich with wildlife and beautiful scenery so as we chatted I made notes listing the flora, fauna and local landmarks.

Ideas soon started whizzing about, with enough subject matter for a dozen artworks!

We agreed on 3 possible panels, using seasonal changes as the theme to enable inclusion of as many of the local treasures as possible.

I will go back to help the group dye fabric to use in the project in April. This will be carefully managed as there’s no mains water or drainage so I will be using my repurposed cat litter trays again (don’t worry they’re clean!) and all rinsing will be done back in my studio.

In the meantime I’ll be developing compositions for the panels based on the landscape and finding ways to include as much of the local flora and fauna as possible.

So I’ll be recording project progress over the coming weeks and months. Let me know what you think!

Meandering on Arran

A few days by the beach at Kildonan, known as Seal Shore.

Silver grey in the morning light and, after a few days of strong southerly winds, a tranquil sea ripples onto the shingle.

Looking to the west, long low fingers of rock reach out into the sea. These rocks are the seals’ basking platforms. From a distance it is hard to spot these Common Seals but then a crescent shaped ‘rock’ will turn and another seal will slip into the water. It is not uncommon to see a dozen seals reclining on the rocks.

The rocks themselves are geological superstars- known as the Arran Dyke Swarm, they’re possible the best exposed example of this geology in the world. Composed of basalt and dolerite, they were formed by volcanic action 60 million years ago. This tough rock forms reefs around the south of Arran. The bays between them forming as the sea and wind eroded softer sandstone between them.

(The seals just find them a convenient spot to lounge on.)

At low tide there are rock pools and sandy beaches. Oystercatchers and Curlews patrol this littoral looking for their lunch.

At high tide what remains of the beach is a tapestry of shingle, rock and seaweed.

Walking along the shore stimulates all the senses. The sounds; waves breaking on rocks and pebbles, wind tickling your ears, birds calling, sheep on the shore meadow. Touch; the feel of basalt as you scramble between the bays, grasses and wildflowers softening the surface, pebbles crunching into gritty sand, water shiveringly cold across fingers (and toes!). The scents; saltwater tang is on the air but face the wrong way and all you get is that seaweed stench. And sight; the light as sun dances off the water, colours so rich and varied,surface patterns etch detail onto the cliffs, the rocks and the sea .

So now I’m back in Newcastle remembering this beautiful beach. The long journey home gave time for reflection, ideas are noted and sketches roughed out. There is an Arran collection to develop as these ideas evolve and mature.

Now and Then

This year’s ‘Blue Monday’ brought me three rejections in one day. There are ups and downs in the career of an artist but it’s hard when the downs come as a coach party!!

Still the positives do tend to outweigh the negatives and later that same week I had a message to say that the commission I worked on last Autumn ( see photograph above) had been received with delight.

This was especially welcome news as the commission came via one of those events that you ‘chalk up to experience’ .

Earlier in the year I took part in a show at a new venue. Few, if any, of the artists present reported good sales. It was cold and damp but I smiled, talked about my work and thought up ideas for new projects for two days in a marquee, in a Northern field. Then, a couple of months later I had a message that someone had seen my work at that show and was interested in commissioning a new piece.

So, whilst rejections are never easy to accept, I try and think positively and move on to the next opportunity- in this case the new Woodhorn Museum Open: Ocean Exhibition

Both the pieces I submitted were accepted for the show and I’m looking forward to the Preview Night next week!

‘On Fierce Days’ (left above) is one of the two pieces I have in the show.

The January tradition of evaluating and planning ahead is also keeping me busy. New work is being developed and I will share it with you soon but my next post will be about a slight diversion from my usual practice.

Snow on Saturday

Leftover snow starkly outlining the texture of ploughed fields whilst overhead cirrus clouds till the sky in mimicry of those fields.

A Magpie, perched on the highest twig of a leafless blackthorn. An avian exclamation mark, it punctuates the pause between land and sky.

My reading is beginning to have an impact on my writing; the next stage, I hope,should see an effect on my textile artwork.

Winter Days

The days are grey and light levels are so low but there is work to be done and plans to fulfill.

This week started with grey morning clouds stretched like thin muslin. Ragged scraps of blue patched in the holes between clouds. Gradually, a wind felted the clouds into a thicker blanket of cover, leaving the blue only as memory.

Snow came swiftly in the night, blanketing streets and fields.

A cold crisp day with the sun burning up through lilac and apricot skies.

So much colour above whilst the landscape is monochrome, damp darkened trees etched out against the snow.

This week has been about plotting and planning- practical everyday things like how to deal with the cold and creative research for new pieces. I’ve been asked to develop new artwork for the chemotherapy ward, so I need to work on compositions and figure out how I can involve patients in their construction.

I’m also thinking ahead to Springtime workshops and shows. To this end, I’ve been restocking my shelves…

Detritus from the streets becomes...

These hub cap wires are important! I collect them as I walk around my local streets- reducing the rubbish in my area and repurposing the metal rings as a frame work for art…The frame for wildflowers growing in the city

Little landscapes

It is cold and dark here in the North East today, so I’m cozied up by the fire doing hand stitching (😱🤣) I know, I know but it seems the right thing to be doing today 😊

I have a series of workshops to deliver in the next couple of months and I want to have new examples of both my tin can pieces and miniature scenes. The new work is more reflective in style of my recent large landscapes, rather than the happy camping scenes that began this series.

This one is inspired by sketches from Dumfries and Galloway- but I didn’t tell you that- it’s so beautiful there but if I keep telling people then it’ll get as busy as the Lake District!

It will be housed in a mackerel tin collaged with papers relating to the area. Working from my sketchbook studies, I’m building up the scene with hand dyed fabrics, then adding detail with hand and machine stitch.

It’s stimulating to switch between large and small scale pieces; having to rethink composition and detail. Although sometimes the difference in the time it takes to complete a bigger or smaller work is minimal!

The next piece I’m working on is a miniature scene of a woodland brook. Usually with these pieces I like to ‘break out’ of the frame somehow, to extend the work beyond the confines of the rectangular support. I’ll be experimenting with how to do this- perhaps the trees or a branch will grow up and out.

I’m already planning how to show the textures of the fallen leaves, moss, grasses and water.

Reading list

I am an avid reader, I love getting lost in a good book- whether it be a novel or factual. Books can influence how my art develops, giving an insight to a theme or suggesting new locations for sketchbook work. I love it when different strands of life give me new reading pathways to explore.

Urban Efflorescence- my new series inspired by wild flowers in the city (see Etsy ) has set me on a trail of reading and research into nature in urban environments.

It seemed prescient that my weekend paper recently had an article about this, giving me a booklist to work through and, as always one book leads to another…

I want to include some collage elements in smaller sample pieces, so this lovely old wildflower reference book will be put to good use. An eBay bargain, I love the illustrations and information. It is hard sometimes to identify the plants I discovered on the cycle path from the black and white images but once I have put names to blooms I will endeavour to include the appropriate pages in the textile pieces.

Esther Woolfson’s book ‘Field notes from a hidden city’ looks into the nature and wildlife of Aberdeen.

She records nature and wildlife activity around Aberdeen over the course of a year, writing about how nature adapts to survive in the city environment. Plants and animals, birds and insects use hidden corners of the city as their habitats. I want to find and record these spaces in my city; to celebrate this ingenuity.

Melissa Harrison writes novels that explore contemporary issues; where the natural world becomes another character in the story impacting on the behaviour of the people.

In ‘Clay’ the natural spaces provide hope and respite. In ‘At Hawthorn Time’ the natural world endured where human life expires.

Next on my list is Alys Fowler’s book ‘Hidden Nature- A voyage of discovery’ although the book seems to have hidden itself in the library as although listed as in stock it can’t be traced! So before I read about Birmingham’s secret nature I’ll be following Simon Armitage’s trail along the South West Coast Path in ‘Walking Away’.

This seemingly endless list of nature books is guiding my research and convincing me that this is a valid theme to investigate. That it’s not just me seeing the value of these urban spaces where nature thrives. So when I have completed my current commission I will be hunting for the wild spaces in my city, starting with that cycle path.

From small beginnings….

Being part of a textile network is so important for me. As part of Fusion, I get to exhibit, talk textiles and take part in workshops. All of this gives me motivation to keep creating and try new ideas.

This weekend has been spent in the company of my Fusionista pals being tutored by the wonderful Alison King

The aim of the workshop was to develop ideas from studying and drawing small natural forms. I took a basket full of inspiration but chose to work with a tiny fragment of seaweed that has been on the shelf in my workroom for some time. I like the tonal contrast, the curving form and the link to my beloved coast.

Our first task was to draw a detailed section of our chosen object

The biro really captured the rhythm and strong tonal contrast in the seaweed. Working small and detailed isn’t my usual style but it was good to have the opportunity to focus on drawing- I always aim to draw regularly but work, family life and deadlines interfere!

This was the drawing that inspired all the work from the weekend. We progressed to working with ink and sticks – I love working this way – the marks are so bold -and there’s that element of risk brought about by using something quite inflexible.

Alison wanted each participant to follow their own route from the initial start point- so I ended up outside with a 6 ft length of paper and my paint brush lashed to a stick !

It was a bit breezy but luckily not raining. It felt very free to work in this way in this scale. It was good to be reminded that I relish working on a large scale.

My next task was to try and convey these expressive marks in fabric and stitch.

After an intensive, immersive weekend I have a full sketchbook and lots of ideas bubbling in my mind….large scale pieces to follow.

Urban Efflorescence

I make most of my local journeys by bike. It’s quick, cheap, healthy and, this summer, inspirational!

My journey into Newcastle takes me along a cycle path with a wild flower border. This summer the border has been absolutely gorgeous; a mass of blossoms awash with colour and buzzing with insect life.

It has been a joy to watch the border grow and develop. Each time I cycled past I thought I must do something to record and celebrate this lovely feature.

I want to capture the way these supposed weeds are reviving our urban landscape. I’ve spotted more, deliberately planted, wild flower borders along main roads and on roundabouts. The variety of flowers is gorgeous to see and I love the lack of order – not ‘unkempt’ at all – just natural!

Another aspect I want to capture is the depth and layers, as the plants grow up, over and through each other. Looking through the bright, verdant leaves to the dark spaces beneath.

I think there also needs to be an element of recycling (no pun intended 😊) in these cycle path scenes. As I cycle or walk around my local area I often find these rings.

etal rings appear on roadsides, pavements and hedgerows; rusty, grimy and misshapen. They are used to hold car hubcaps in place but obviously get dislodged when hubcaps are damaged and fall off cars. I've got quite a collection now and have been thinking about how I might use them.

I have also sourced a very old book on wildflowers that will feature in new pieces of work and, as I'm inspired by cycle paths, I think I will have to include some of my lovely old puncture repair tins too

at is all this leading to? A new body of work, quite different in style to my landscape pieces but still using my favourite processes of appliqué and free machine embroidery. I am busy developing ideas in my sketchbook(s) but here are some of the first pieces in this new series.

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f these pieces are currently in Ripon Cathedral at the Great North Art Show, others will be listed on Etsy.

I'll blog soon about how the series is developing but I'd love to know what you think of them too.