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.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Quick Stitch - Stab Bound Notebook

For all that I love technology, holding and using small notebooks will always give me immense pleasure. So with my increasing desire for all things natural, I have been dabbling this year with making simple hand bound note books with natural dyed and eco printed textiles.

Now my own eco dying and printing skills are very much work in progress, so to kick start my book binding adventures I have been working with beautiful fabric pieces created by the talented Kim Winter of Flextiles - her scrap bags are a perfect size for book covers.

I'm a great believer in using quality tools to making working enjoyable and less prone to accidents.  There are many bookbinding tools on offer, however, I picked out a this small collection from London Book Arts - they are beautiful to work with and I am sure will last me for years.

The starting point of my books is something a little less glamourous, however, very functional.  I have worked with picture framing grey board for many years and it is still the medium of choice for many for making rigid book covers. I cut 2 cover pieces to the required size with a heavy duty scalpel and scored 1" in from the left edge on both sides of the board - this enables a sharp fold to be made and the book to easily open.  I then marked a further line 1/2" in from the left edge and marked 4 equally placed holes - to work out the spacing take the cover depth and divide by 5.  My sharp awl tool made light work of making holes through the greyboard.

Then I used fabric temporary spray to attach a think layer of cotton wadding to the outside of the cover - so that the cover lifts towards you.  The wadding gives a softer finished to the cover and I trimmed it back so that it overlapped the grey board by about 1/8" - this gave a slightly padded edge when the fabric was folded over.

Then to choose a beautiful piece of fabric for the cover - for this example I chose a piece of Kim's rust marked silk.  I cut the fabric 3/4" larger all round than the grey board piece.  Again I used a little fabric temporary spray on the wadding to help keep the silk in place.

As many will know, my favoured textile glue is Beacon Fabritac, for minimal staining, drying quickly and not being overly pungent.  To start the folding, I glued over all the corners first, letting the glue dry for a few minutes.

Then I glued down the sides, folding in the corners so that they created a diagonal join.

I also used a few small stitches to pull the corners tightly in.

For the inside cover, I cut 2 pieces of fine cream wool flannel made by Somerset's much revered Fox Brothers in Wellington.  I initially to a little larger than the cover and pressed a piece Bondaweb to the reverse.  I then trimmed back each piece to 1/8" smaller in length and width than the cover and pressed lightly to the cover inners.

Then came the pleasure of filling my book with beautiful khadi paper made from recycled cotton rag.  I cut a dozen or so sheets to the size of the cover - around 1/8" less than the width and the height.  I then used the awl tool to push through the holes on the covers through all the fabric layers and used these holes to mark the corresponding holes for the paper pile.   Bull dog clips came in very handy for keeping everything together for this step.

Finding the right thread to bind books proved surprisingly challenging.  Waxed thread is what is recommended for book binding, however, I found that some threads had way too much wax on them and dragged on the fabric and wadding.  These reels from London Book Arts are my favourite so far.

The length of thread to cut for 4 hole binding is 4 times the height of the book.  Starting at the first hole in and leaving a tail of at least 2", pass the needle in around half way through the pages and out the front hole.

Tuck the tail inside the leaves and put the needle into the back corresponding hole and out through the front - any wadding that comes through with the thread can be pushed back in after the stitching is complete.

I then turned the book around so that I was stitching from left to right and brought the needle into the back of the next hole and through the front, then repeating the looping over.  Then the needle was passed into the next hole on the front.

Having made 3 loops over the top of the book, I then looped the thread around the side and continued stitching across in and out to add in where long stitches were missing.

When I reached the other end I made one final loop around the side and brought the needles for the last time part way through the last hole to where the tail from the start of the stitching lying.  Finally I made a tight double knot to tie off and secure both ends.

This process of stitching sounds much harder than it actually is.  The most important thing is to pull the stitches tight as you work, trying to avoid passing the needles through threads that have already been stitched.  Where this happens it will likely prevent pulling the stitches tight and it's best to unthread the needle and pull the thread back and stitch again.

The result for a little time and minimal cost is a custom made notebook that any owner will love to use.  The possibilities for fabric and decorative stitch are many and the start of my book binding adventures have certainly wetted my appetite - I'll keep you posted!