Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Woolfest 2019

Being born in the North West and increasingly wedded to wool, I do wonder why it has taken me so long to get to Woolfest!  Held annually each June in Cocklemouth in the heart of Cumbria, I finally visited for the first time this year, on what transpired to be the hottest Woolfest on record.  It was certainly a job and a half for all to keep their cool - particularly the lady stars of show!

As indeed it was for the Woolfest chaps - hansom fellows that they were.  The breed specimens were one of the many marvels of my first Woolfest visit - I have never seen so many different breeds inside the space of an hour and I was enthralled.  To observe at close quarters and to chat to their owners will certainly make working with wool an even greater pleasure.

As for Woolfest people, what struck me from the moment I stood in the entry queue, was what immense passion there is in the North for wool and sharing knowledge.  Doing my usual thing of starting at one end of a sizeable event, the Wool Clip aisle happened to be the first one I wandered down and very much set the high standard for the day ahead.

Wool Clip is a cooperative of 12 Northern based fibre makers including spinners, weavers, rug makers, knitters, crocheters and felters.  The vibrant nuno felting work of member Linda Bennett of Morendfelts very quickly grabbed my attention - her felted Bluefaced Leicester on silk chiffon was stunning.

I also loved these wool lampshades by Ellie Langley who sources most of her working fibre from rescue sheep on her small holding in the North Pennines.  Ellie's creative ideas certainly provide much food for thought and challenges normal expectations of what wool textiles can be used for.

As I took in the many aisles of woolly wonders, I was delighted to find Anna Turnbull of Biteabout Arts.  I have followed Anna's work for a while and it was brilliant see her willow and wool combinations first hand and to chat with her.

I find Anna's creative combination of natural fibres and willow hugely appealing and was further impressed to hear that she also grows most of her own willow.  I know from my own dabbling the amount of strength and energy that both of these crafts require and the workmanship Anna has achieved is fantastic.

With my enduring passion for silk and flora, the fused creations of Wendy Ann Stanger based at Farfield Mill in Sedbergh were also guaranteed to appeal.  Such a creative response to enable pleasure from flora all year round and great for minimising garden waste I imagine!

Indeed recycling was a repeating theme with many of the Woolfest makers and their creative ways of working were hugely inspiring.  This statement piece on the Bapple & JoJo stand was made by an usual 'Quillie' rug making technique - also known as 'standing wool'.

Maker Gill Curwen also works with better known 'proddy' rug making and the effects she has achieved combining these techniques are stunning.  Plus wool is also such a functional fibre for standing and sitting on and it goes to show that beauty and practicality are very much possible.

The quality of stands at Woolfest were such that many visitors had booked a two day ticket and I could totally understand why.  When my aching feet would finally do no more, I popped back for one last look at my favourite live exhibit Hector.  What a star he was keeping his cool in unprecedented heat and how fabulous it was to watch him so at ease with his handler in the exhibition ring.

My first visit to Woolfest surpassed all of my expectations and a return visit is a certainty - even accepting that the Cumbrian weather is normally a little chillier.  For anyone who loves wool and has yet to visit, I highly recommend you get onto your calendar for 2020 - I may well see you there!

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Textile Art Exhibition - Wells & Mendip Museum

I was delighted to take part in a Textile Art Exhibition this summer with fellow Somerset textile artist Hilary Tudgee and we had a fabulous fortnight exhibiting a display of our 'Somerset and Beyond' inspired textile work at the Wells & Mendip Museum.

It was a happy day when I met Hilary at Taunton Flower Show a few years ago.  With my ever increasing passion for wool textiles, I was blown away by Hilary's vibrant and energetic tapestry weaving and this fabulous piece is just one example of her work that has attracted much interest and wowed many textile enthusiasts.

Chatting with Hilary, I realised that we have much common ground - a love of wool, nature, all things Somerset and being organised!  Hilary works from her home studio in Edington, just up the road from my Spring Farm studio.  She uses an organic style of tapestry weaving from the front of the work.  For anyone interested in learning the basics of this tactile and engaging skill, Hilary will be teaching at my Spring Farm studio this autumn.

For my own work, I have continued to derive huge inspiration from the Somerset Levels area that I am so privileged to live and work in.  I can often be found wandering around forgotten places enjoyed by dwellers of time past, such as the ancient woodland at Aller & Beer.  My passion for working with natural fibres continues, particularly silk and wool and pushing the boundaries on what I can achieve with dry felting and free machine thread painting.  My exploration of light and shade is also a strong focus and I am enjoying the depth that these contrasts bring to my work.

My experimentations with plant dyes has also continued and I had much fun creating a new vessel project for the exhibition with hand dyed mulberry silk 'mawata' - silk cocoons that have been degummed and spread over a square frame and when dry can be used for spinning, felting and textile work.  These made for a very enjoyable thread painting project before and during the exhibition and I am looking forward to showing my students how to make at my Open Stitch Workshops this summer.

I was also delighted to exhibit examples of recent pictorial work by some of my students who share my passion for 'thread painting'.  It  is a life's mission to promote textiles as a valid art medium for all ages, male and female, and I am very grateful to Marie, Julie, Sue and Arthur who kindly agreed to take part.

Hilary and I had a very enjoyable exhibition chatting to visitors about our work and hearing about their textile passions.  Textiles are so entwined in all of our lives and everyone has a story to tell about their experiences.  We both felt very honoured that so many visitors came to see our work and that we had the opportunity to hear what they liked about it.

This memorable view from my working table during the exhibition had unquestionable wow factor and it is one that will be very hard to beat.  

The Wells and Mendip Museum has many interesting static and time bound exhibitions throughout the year and it is easily found alongside Wells Cathedral on Cathedral Green - just up from the famous astronomical clock.  They have a brilliant display of Victorian embroidered samplers stitched by children and as the Tourist Information Centre for Wells, the friendly staff are always delighted to advise and help on all that goes on in Somerset's wonderful city of Wells.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Quick Stitch - Silk Flower Frame

For all that I love digital photography, traditional photo frames will always have a pride of place too.  What better subject for this new Spring project in tussah and organza silk than my stitching Grandmothers Emily & Susannah.  The look and smell of raw silk has long been evocative and I particularly love that Tussah silk is produced from wild silk moths who feed on a range of vegetation resulting that produces a wide of range of natural colours.  For anyone wishing to purchase a brilliant selection can be found online in The Silk Route shop.

The first step to this project is to cut a frame front and back from grey board - traditionally used for backing picture frames.  Both the front and back are cut to the same overall size and the aperture on the front is cut slightly smaller than your chosen photo - I slightly offset mine.  Once both pieces were cut, I attached a layer of thin wool prefelt to the frame front and back using a little temporary 505 spray - thin cotton wadding can also be used.  I made the wadding and 1/8" larger than the grey board pieces on all edges - this helped to give a soft edge when the top fabric is applied.

I then stitched 2 pieces of tussah silk together to create a rectangle the size of the frame plus 1/2" all the way around.  I first glued over the corners and then the long edges and clipped to secure until the glue was dry - I aimed to get a reasonable tension on the fabric to be sure that the final

After completing the external edges, I then tackled the front frame inside edge.  I clipped almost into the corners and added a bit of extra glue there to minimise the risk of fraying.

I then created a stand - that would allow the frame to be used either way.  Having covered the side that would be visible, I applied a piece of bondaweb to additional fabric and cut to size to make a covering piece for the other side - the bondaweb will reduce the possibility of fraying.

Then to make a few silk organza flowers - Emily and Susannah would have much approved of these I am sure.  Silk organza is so much more stable easier to work with than man made fibres.  I trapped a piece of ivory organza between 2 layer of Viselene Solufleece.  I drew on my petal shapes and free stitched some markings and satin stitched all the way around.

I cut back the petals close to the satin stitch edge and then gently washed of the stabiliser.  A little gentle swishing in warm water normally does the trick and I leave to dry naturally.

Finally to construct the frame, starting with the stand on the back.  When I covered the back piece, I worked out where the stand would attach and put a little extra glue on all layers - this makes the stand much more stable.

The front and the back of the frame are glued together around the outer edge only - the photo was slipped in through the inside of the frame.  I opted to leave without glass as this would only have detracted from the picture.  Finally I stitched the flower petals together and add a decorative button - mother or pearl worked perfectly.  One last dab of glue and they were in place on the frame front.

This project has quickly been taken up to make in my Open Workshops and I will post pictures of completed work in my Students Gallery soon.  I would be delighted to see pictures of projects inspired by this post.

Monday, 25 March 2019

Taunton Flower Show - Textile Art & Crafts Competitions 2019

Spring has always has been my favorite time of year.  With emerging green growth and increased daylight, winter can be blissfully packed away for many months.  A season where apportioning time between my passion for fabric and flora can be a juggling act, I love making plans where I can enjoy both at the same time.  Even better when I can encourage others to do likewise and I'm therefore delighted to be organising Textile Arts & Crafts Competitions at the Taunton Flower Show again in 2019.

I know from personal experience of putting work on show how easily self doubt can take hold.  I find it really helps to remember how much pleasure I personally get from looking at others creative work and how grateful I am that they have taken to time to do so.  I was lucky to get to chat to many of the creators of textile entries at last years Taunton Flower Show and I met Katey Nix the creator of this fabulous felt and foliage entry when she came to mist it with water each day!

There were many nature inspired entries at last year's show and the subject of this wonderful wool tapestry by Hilary Tudgee inspired by the Somerset Levels was one which very much tugged at my heart strings.

This exquisite hand embroidered and hand bound book was also an absolute delight to look at, and I was amazed to find when chatting with the creator that is was the first one she had ever made.

The stunning colours as used in this cushion design had a real wow factor and go to show that simplicity, limited resources and a little thought can go a very long way.

Terrific texture can also be achieved by hand stitching and shapes and the strong shapes and form of this design made for a powerful and compelling entry.

There are a number of new competition classes this year to reflect current interest such as spinning, weaving, felting and funky knitting and crochet.  There are plenty of creative challenges too for those who enjoy creating textile art.

Full details of these classes and how to apply can be found in the Taunton Flower Show Competition schedule.  I and many others are now holding copies of these and the schedule is also available online on this link.

Taunton Flower Show is the oldest flower show in Europe and it is amazing that it has taken place in  Somerset's County Town since 1831.  The fact that the show is so successful is because of an army of volunteers who happily give of their time.  For anyone who is interested in helping, please do get in touch by telephoning the show office on 01823 332010 or emailing volunteers@tauntonfs.co.uk.

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Rejuvenating in Ireland's Ancient East

For all that I love to be active, I'm ever mindful that inactivity is the vital other side of the coin. A few days out at the end of a hard winter is a great boost and this year I was delighted to visit Ireland's Ancient East on some of the sunniest February days on record!  With its soft colours and contours, it  was quickly evident that this was going to be a perfect destination to rejuvenate from winter weariness.

I am amazed that the stunning Wicklow Mountains had taken so long to come onto my travelling radar.  The ancient monastic settlement of Glendalough nestled in their heart has been a place of peace and tranquility for at least 1000 years!  How lucky I was to experience this on a glorious clear blue sky day with only a handful of fellow visitors.

The Great Sugar Loaf mountain is a draw to the eye from many a stunning County Wicklow viewpoint.  Named for it's conical shape like a pile of sugar, it would undoubtedly have been a key landmark for pilgrims of times past,

Of course there is always a textile story or two to be unearthed anywhere with a history of humans in a typically chilly climate!  My first tale took little tracking down, as Avoca is known worldwide for their wool textile production.  Weaving from the 18th century to produce cloth for workers in the local copper mines, the Avoca Mill in the same name town and alongside the same name river, is still a working mill today.  

Vibrant colour and designs are the hallmark of Avoca textiles and these can be found in spades at their working mill and shop in Avoca village. While today the colours for their textiles come from commercial dye methods, the origins of their vibrant colour palette are very much steeped in nature.

Three sisters, Emily, Winifred and Veroncia Wynne, were first responsible for introducing colour into hitherto functional textiles produced at the mill until the 1920s.  Together they developed a walled garden in their local home to grow natural dye plants and installed vats to test the resulting plant and vegetable dyes before introducing to the mill.

The growth of Avoca was passed in the 1970s into the care of Donald and Hillary Pratt who continued to expand the company for the next 30 years.  A little of the Avoca company history can be found in their museum next to the working mill and it is also possible to glimpse production methods.

My second and unexpected textile find came when I spotted a few balls of tactile 'Cushendale' wool at the back of  Glendalough Woollen Mill .  It took minimal research to unearth Cushendale Woollen Mill, one of the oldest mills in Ireland that is still spinning and weaving with Irish wool.  Their story starts back in the 13th century when Cistercian monks built a mill to make use of the pure water supply from the River Duiske that flows through Graig na Manach.

The lack of lime in the water is still key to the success of the dyeing of Cushendale yarn and these boucle throws are just a few from their vibrant colour palette.

Their knitting yarn range includes double knit, boucle, lace and chenille.  All balls of wool are compelling to touch (and buy), however, what made Cushendale wool all the more special was being fortunate to spend a little time chatting with current mill owner Philip Cushen about production practices and the company's history.

While machinery plays a big part in 21st century mill operations, Philip explained that there is a limit to how quickly wool can be spun and woven.  In reality older machinery can be much easier to deal with when it breaks down, as replacement parts can be more easily come by than a failed computer system.  What really engaged me with Cushendales was the fact that there is a human contact with every stage of the process and those who work the machinery and dye vats are incredibly skilled.

I was also delighted to see a range of long serving stitching machinery and shop assistant Kathleen was very happy to demonstrate a much loved Mitsibishi industrial sewing machine that she tells everyone she has 'put her name on'.  I know from my own machine experiences that getting attached to the tools of your trade is very easy.

Keeping up with the times and the closure of other wool businesses has meant that Cushendale now has to sometimes look further afield for supplies.  However, what an achievement that many of their fibre products are still made with Irish wool.  They have a delightful shop next to the mill at Graig-na-Managh where yarn, fibre, fabric and textile goods will tempt anyone who loves wool textiles as I do.

My third and final woolly Irish adventure was to see the Ros Tapestry at New Ross.  These large wool embroideries have been work in progress for 150 South East stitchers for the past 20 years.  Started as a project by St Mary's Church in New Ross to depict Irish Norman history, this project developed a life of it's own and is now on display in a new home on New Ross Quay.

Worked in just a handful of stitches in Appleton wool, the 15th and last tapestry is currently being completed in Kilkenny.  Those who have lovingly set up this impressive exhibition will be pleased to know that I learnt masses about Irish history from taking the 45 minute self guided tour.  I also left for my return journey home with a huge sense of the passion and diligence of Irish communities working together.

A little fact I learnt during my visit is that there are 4.8 million people and 5.2 million sheep in Ireland.  While I certainly found wool textile stories as anticipated, I was a little surprised that at times I had needed to delve deep for them.  In an era when we are all becoming increasingly aware of the huge negatives of cotton production, there is so much to shout about wool textiles - durable, bio degradable, eco-friendly, soft, warm, shower resistant - to name but a few!

I loved every minute of my visit to Ireland's Ancient East and it was rejuvenating way beyond my expectations and the .  With stunning scenery and hugely friendly people who were always delighted to chat and offer help, my visit was a timely reminder to keep nature and community firmly within my sights.  I feel privileged to have enjoyed such a rewarding travel experience and you can see more of my many photographs on this link.