Friday, 1 February 2019

Shadows in Somerset

Waking to sunshine on the New Years day this year called for an outing!  Having just watched a fabulous BBC programme about how trees communicate, my choice for a sunny adventure was very easy; a revisit to the Ashbrittle Yew Tree.  With an estimated age of more than 4000 years old, this incredible yew tree is believed to be the one of the oldest trees in Britain and it may well have been the Bronze Age when it first came into being!

Still flourishing, albeit a little lopsided, it has been suggested that the Ashbrittle yew may have been planted as a symbol of ever lasting life and used in its early life for Pagan rituals.  What incredible stories this tree might tell of happenings beneath the shade of its branches in the centuries since.

I so often find myself drawn towards Somerset history.  On another sunny winter morning, this iconic Somerset hill came into my line of vision and the dramatic winter view reminded me that Glastonbury Tor also has huge history.  It is still unknown how the seven deep and roughly symmetrical terraces on the northern slope of the Tor came about and the theories include agriculture, defence and a spiritual spiral walkway.

The history of some Somerset locations is much more low key, as seems to be for Langport in South Somerset.  Langport was indeed once a port and the medieval Great Bow Bridge over the River Parrett had an incredible 31 arches.  Much of the original bridge still exists, albeit buried under the main road that passes through Langport.  The river that flows beneath the bridge today makes for a peaceful and picturesque stroll and it is hard to imagine that it was once the site of a very bloody English Civil War battle.

As was also the location of my next image of Burrow Mump at Burrowbridge.  A thousand years ago, this natural knoll would have been an isolated island in winter months and Alfred the Great is believed to have climbed to the top to scan the landscape for marauding Danes.  A climb to the top of Burrow Mump today is still rewarded by an incredible panoramic view of the Somerset levels, and thankfully the drainage system that makes for all year round inhabitation!

My early photos this winter have reminded me of how I have always been excited and inspired by strong light and shade contrasts.  Oh to still have some of my childhood pencil sketches to see my early observations.  Strong contrasts have always been present in the stitched images I have most enjoyed creating and thinking as I often do of the shadows of history, Shadows in Somerset feels an easy and exciting choice for my theme for creative work in 2019.  I am off the block with my first piece - which I was amazed to sell just a few hours after I made the last stitch.

Sunday, 20 January 2019

Quick Stitch - Knitting & Crochet Needle Roll

I invariably return to slow stitching in the winter months, and knitting and crochet is pretty much guaranteed to feature.  This winter I have been relishing the pleasure of using bamboo needles and decided that I would make a storage roll for my emerging collection.  It then struck me that pretty much every needle roll I have ever seen has been made in cotton fabric and how strange that is for tools for working with wool!  Ever one to buck a trend, I set about creating this design and thought I would share with others who might fancy doing likewise.

My starting point was a piece of beautiful wool and cashmere fabric from Stitch Fabrics by Rosenberg - I love buying from super knowledgeable owner Geoff as he can tell a story about every bolt of fabric he has in stock - and he has hundreds!  I then dug deep in my basket of spun wool oddments - to help with another aim to always be able to keep the lid on!

Then came a very pleasurable few hours creating a piece of fabric for the outside of my roll.  I felted the spun wool into the wool fabric with my much loved embellisher machine - which is simply a felting machine which 'dry felts' quickly and easily.  Wools could be hand felted down, albeit that it would take quite a while.  Or alternatively wools and cords could be stitched down with a zigzag stitch on a sewing machine.  I cut my final piece to 17.5" wide x 15" height and gently rounded off the corners.

Designing storage is best done with plenty thought, particularly where what you are storing might grow!  I opted to cut the following pocket sizes 17.5" in width and 11", 8" and 4" in height.  Choosing silk fabric I purchased on a trip to the Scottish Borders last year made a little more work for this stage as I needed to stabilize the reverse of all pieces with heavy weight iron-on Vilene.  I then folded over the top edge and secured with a used a decorative machine stitch. 

I then stabilised a piece of silk the same size as the external cover and laid down the 3 pockets, starting with the largest and finishing with the smallest.  After pinning lots through all the layers, I machine stitched pockets lines of various widths, from the bottom edge to the edge of the largest pocket.  I decided against adding a flap at this point to avoid extra bulk.

Finally I bonded the pocket piece to the back of the external piece with Bondaweb and did a final trim all the way round.  I then edged the whole piece in Twool - this is a 100% wool product made in Devon that I use creatively for many wool based projects.  I butted a strand of Twool twine up to the raw edge and used a wide open zigzag stitch to secure and when round a second time to ensure it was caught in all places.  Half a dozen strands of Twool twine also made for a perfect tie.

And finally the moment where my bamboo needles were moved into their new home, along with a few other useful bits such as stitch markers and measures.

I felt very satisfied to have made a project that serves a useful purpose and even better, I get to feel lovely wool in my fingers every time I pick up and remember where it all came from.  I'm really looking forward to seeing this project made by others in my workshops and I would be delighted to receive photos from anyone who makes from these instructions.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Colour Abundance in Adelaide

Every time I travel, I remember all over again how few belongings and little planning I actually need in life!  While I'm still a little way off backpacking, I am well on my way to exchanging consummate planning for the simple joys of following my nose.  And so it was on my first morning recce in Glenelg South Australia, when meandering along I found a fabulous flowering Feijoa tree full of colourful Lorikeets.

This first impromptu colour fix set a pace of colour in abundance on my visit to Adelaide this November.  This was added to in spades on my visit the next day to Adelaide Botanical Gardens.  A 40 acre garden crammed with exotic plants and birds, my first photo stop just in from the main gate was this stunning Agave Gypsophia being ravished by noisy miner birds.

The flora and fauna I went on to find in my three visits to the gardens was a photographers paradise.  I could only hope that each time I clicked the shutter that I had done justice to the view before me - some like this Citris Swallow Tail butterfly on Phlomis Italica were fleeting.

Studying flowers I had never set eyes on before was just thrilling my knowledge of exotic plants developed at speed.  I loved these blousy blooms fluttering in the light summer breeze and thought how fabulous it would be to replicate in textile.

Callistermon is one of my long standing exotic favourites and looked as stunning as I have ever seen against azure blue skies.

I quickly learnt that colourful plants were a sure place to find Lorikeets supping nectar by the beak full.  The jade blooms of this Puya Alpestris, like many other blooms, were quickly ravaged by the bird population and it became clear why Lorikeets and other nectar loving birds were less than popular with the locals.

A favourite tree for Lorikeets was Weeping Boerboon - also known as the Drunk Parrot Tree - and I can confirm from standing beneath this tree full of Lorikeets that this sounded very much the case!

The Yellow Tin Cockatoos in the gardens were more partial to the fruits of pine trees and what fun it was to study them chomping at close quarters.

It was equally delightful to find that coruscating colour continued out with of the garden gates.  Vibrant and skilful street art like this find in Eliza Street adorned building walls all around the city and I often in the most unexpected places.

Visual vibrancy was similarly the focus of galleries and shops in Adelaide.  I particularly enjoyed visiting Tarts Gallery in Gays Arcade.  An artists' cooperative with 35 members, more than half of the gallery was given over to hugely talented textile artists.  The friendly artists in the shop the day I visited very much added to the pleasure.

I was also delighted by the Better World Arts shop a short walk away in Adelaide Market.  Awash with tantalising art and textiles designed by Aboriginal artists, textiles chained stitched in Kashmir in hand dyed wool made for a heartfelt collaboration.

Textiles are readily recognised as an art form in Adelaide and spending time with textile artist Barbara Reinfeld of Studio Stitches gave me lots of insight.  Barbara designs vibrant and eye catching wool needlepoint projects for all levels of experience.  I am very much looking forward to making up my colourful needlepoint kit over my Christmas down time in Somerset.

I learnt that the hills outwith of the city plains has long inspired creativity and my in year passion for wool inevitably drew me towards Adelaide Hills fibre artists by Wren & Ollie and Finch Yarns  Oh how to choose just a few colours in Yarn Trader in Port Adelaide to take back home!

The everyday sights on my daily outings in Adelaide this November gave a huge lift to my spirits and the powerful images will continue to brighten my days through the darkness of a UK winter.

It was fascinating visiting Adelaide in the run up to their Christmas and to see very different traditional sights.  Jacaranda trees were in bloom in the streets across Adelaide and walking miles each day, the number I saw must have reached three figures.

There were also more familiar Christmas experiences, like the heartfelt morning I spent at St Peter's Church, Glenelg, for their annual Christmas Tree Festival.

I will forever remember too my daily visits to delightful Carusos in Jetty Road in Gleneg and feasting my eyes on colourful fruit and veg stands to choose my daily purchases.

The current season and nature aside, I found much common ground between Adelaide and Somerset.  The contrast of flat lands and hills similarly instils a strong sense of place and inspires artists and makers alike.  The familiarity of place names too was charming - oh that this stunning beach in Somerton South Australia with its natural beach art could be replicated in Somerset!

Friday, 9 November 2018

Quick Stitch - Flower Fairy Lights

This project can indeed be a quick stitch or you make it into a longer one!  Winter is a great time of year for creating fairy lights to add a bit of twinkle to low light days.  These flower lights are made in sumptuous silk and they have the added advantage of providing a floral fix and twinkle!

What you need in the first instance is a set of LED lights and some pretty silk.  The LED bit is very important to avoid a potential fire risk and I opted for battery lights so that they could be draped anywhere that took my fancy.  Silk habotai is the best weight for the top of the leaves and petals and the more colour the better - I was lucky to have a friend who traded some bargain pieces with me.  It is very easy to make your own - get yourself some white hatotai silk and a set of silk paints and splodge away!

Habotai silk is generally very soft, so to increase the stiffness I bonded silk chiffon to the reverse of my pieces.  Bonding products like Bondaweb and Mistyfuse etc give the added advantage of minimising fraying edges as well.  Then I traced around my petal shape with a Frixion pen onto the right side of my patterned silk piece.  You will find the template for the flower and leaf shapes on this link.

The next stage will make this project less quick and can be omitted or reduced for those in need to create at speed.  I love free stitching on my Bernina and enjoyed stitching a simple design on the petals in Maderia Rayon thread.  You need 2 petals per light so for a string of 20 lights that's 40 petals in total!  There's no need to be very neat with the stitching as each of the petals will be folded up around a bulb.

You'll see that I stitched a circle at the centre of each petal and I used this to cut into this to make hole big enough to pop the petal over the bulb.  I spaced 2 petals slightly apart and added a touch of my favourite fabric glue, Beacon Fabritac, to hold in place.

Once the glue was dry, I bunched up each petal around the bulb and used nymo beading thread to tie around the petal base to secure.  This is a super strong thread and a few stitches before you wind the thread round helps to hold.

I repeated the same process for creating the leaves, bonding patterned habotai onto silk chiffon and free stitching veins.  It's best to do all the stitching before the petals and leaves are cut out - it's way less fiddly and will avoid fraying the edges.

I glued 2 leaves beneath each flower head and again tied with nymo thread to secure.  A thin strip of florist paper tape was the final step to holding it all together and covering any unsightly threads.

This project has already proved very popular in my Open Workshops - I guess we are in the run up to that certain time of year!  Personally, I reckon that fairy lights add a bit of sparkle during any season and I very much hope that this Quick Stitch helps you to achieve exactly that.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Somerset Art Weeks 2018

This was my third year of taking part in Somerset Arts Weeks, an annual creative event held each autumn.  Creativity in Somerset seems to grow year on year and in 2018 there were 300 Somerset artists taking part in Open Studios.  I'm sure that like me, most were getting themselves sorted right up to the last minute and pondering where to best hang those yellow signs.

Deciding how to out a new space seemed to take me an age and I very much appreciated support this year from fellow stitcher Julie Edwards.  This was the state of play a few minutes before opening on a super sunny Saturday September morning.  Then I could settle to deciding what my fingers were going to be working on for the 16 days ahead.

I like to experiment each year with different textiles and 2018 for me has very much been about eco and sustainable textiles.  I have particularly loved working with eco dyed and printed fabrics by Kim Winter of Flextiles and I am delighted to be collaborating with Kim to combine her amazing alchemy and my textile skills.

My fingers have also recently been enjoying working with wool produced by John Arbon Mill in North Devon and I and my students have used for all manner of creative makes.  This stunning selection of organic merino and silk blends in Harvest Hues, Bazaar, Plantation and Atlantis Lite caught the eye and fingers of studio visitors throughout the two weeks.

Another Devon product I have long worked with is Twool.  A 100% wool product made from Whiteface Dartmoor sheep, I have been using their plaited and twisted rope for bowl making this summer and it is proving a very popular make in workshops.  

In addition to demonstrating these my use of these products, I decided to set myself a  personal challenge.  There is an amazing walnut tree by the entrance to Spring Farm and as the walnuts were just coming to fruition at the beginning of Arts Weeks, this shouted to me to be the basis of a little project.

I decided first off to make a sample leave using wool and stitch - held together in the first instance with a little water soluble fabric.  I had a little fun too extracting dye from the walnut hulls and making cotton, wool and silk fabric text pieces by boiling in a little water for around an hour.

I had a little dabble too with eco printing the leaves onto silk fabric - spritzed with water and vinegar before I wrapped around a stick tightly with string and steamed for a couple of hours.  The final piece is getting close to completion - like most creative work, it is all the better for not being rushed.

Forever passionate about Somerset willow, my Somerset Levels inspired display for 2018 had to include a selection of Somerset Willow products by Coates English Willow  Lovingly embellished with beautiful fabrics by fellow Somerset stitcher Ann, a wider selection can be found in the shop at their visitor centre at Stoke st Gregory.

And last but by no means least, I displayed a selection of my levels inspired pictorial work, including some new free stitch work on wool.  This was a new experiment for me this summer to see how I could 'dry felt' wool fibres and add free stitch to reflect some of the many Somerset views I have photographed - you can find more images on this link.

Thank you to the 450 or so people who kindly visited to see my work this year and for the encouraging comments and feedback.  I had some amazing creative chats over the 16 days and I learnt all manner of interesting things.  What a creative and passionate lot we are in Somerset and long may it last.