Welcome to another year, and year five of this little blog.

I had a lovely huge easel for Christmas and birthday, boards prepped, paper bought but not a lot happened.

I often know that when I’m going to try something it is likely to work out, and other times when I know it’s just not going to happen. It might be different or unexpected but it is successful in some sense. I didn’t have the green light this time. I suspect it’s all part of the mystery of creativeness but I like to imagine it might just be a superpower of some sort. That said, you won’t find me wearing my pants on the outside any time soon.

It’s not a state of flow, it comes before that. A feeling. I don’t know where that sits in relation to the making of mistakes and graft that is also part of things? Do you have this?

I have read a bit, and really enjoyed family time, and after arty frustration was brought to an end by a good slap round the cheek with a wet fish, I decided that my new acquisition wasn’t going away and that something will happen when it wants to.

I did know not to build up expectations for my few days off but nonetheless, it was plain odd not being able to get something going that I was enjoying when I had so much I wanted to do. All that I have read lately says ‘show up on a daily basis and just do something small’ so I’m going to try and make that more of a habit this year and turn the box off a little more frequently.

This holiday has allowed me to centre a little, and just appreciate being present. There is a lovely quote by Hellen Keller, ‘The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched – they must be felt with the heart’. Not a bad quote for the Christmas season, or from someone who was blind and deaf.

Incidentally, I’m still struggling to bring into being the piece of work about the wall but it will come, eventually. I did enjoy a couple of painty moments – these are a few little patches from a large painting with a view to making backgrounds for the wall. I like the painty marks but I don’t think it will work for this piece, at least not yet, so I have left it for a time.

All that said, I have pottered with a few bits and needless to say, on the very last day something has begun to take shape around the old mill and its state of decay.

I have had several attempts at arranging some stitched and painted papers but nothing worked out until I started working smaller and in more layers. I had painted a very messy, drippy bit of something else on said easel which also found a place here in smaller size. The mill had 600 workers, all doing various jobs as a start-to-finish process saw raw wool being turned into fine worsted over many years. The stitched mill workers I tried in the last blog are just a bit too literal and so simple shadow silhouettes have been placed here and there in the separate components so that they have a quieter presence within the piece. A memory.

I have included small snippets from a ledger showing sales of cloth from around the Second World War and after, and other text to denote story in general. Colours are coming from the the little piece of burnt window frame I have but I’m trying to keep with me the sense of communal memory and impending loss of historical heritage as I’m working: to be mindful rather than having a full mind.

I have bought some papers from our wonderful second-hand market. They look very old. Written on tissue in many cases, the marks are so beautiful. I would love to know how to read them, and even if I have them the correct way up! I don’t feel I can use them without disguise otherwise. It also feels sad that they are here and not there somewhere being treasured. A bit like working with vintage textiles, I think there are ways to honour them in art making. As a lefty, making calligraphic marks has ever challenged me so working with these would be a joy.

And an old shorthand typing book with potential!

I have a few workshops coming up and a couple of exciting arty happenings to share later this year. I also have the body of a goddess to find for my son’s wedding in the Autumn. I may be some time with that so best start tomorrow! 😀

I leave you with a blessing for the year ahead by John O’Donohue, my most favourite of writers:

For Presence.

Awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.

Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.

Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.

Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to

follow its path.

Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.

May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.

May anxiety never linger about you.

May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of


Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek

no attention.

Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.

May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
around the heart of wonder.

A burnt offering

My art group have decided on a couple of themes to work on and I have opted for industrial decay. What a surprise! Down the road from us is a village (now just part of Huddersfield) which grew up around the mill.  The original one burnt down some years ago and another one replaced it.  But that, too, recently burnt down in 2016.  It wasn’t working by that time and as with many buildings around here, if left empty it’s rather vulnerable.  There is quite a lot of strong feeling about trying to save the clock tower which is pretty iconic and must have ruled many hundreds of lives over the years.   It’s leaning I believe so I’m not sure it will endure.  Mills like this really hold a sense of community identity within their walls and that’s what I want to explore, along with various bits of burnt stuff!  I have a small piece from a wall which is interesting.  Clearly there was a lot of green and red, and this bit shows the paint layers well.  I don’t particularly like either colour but it’s all around the site and I suppose typical of the time.  

I thought I’d explore this little bit but a burnt piece won out and I have a mad couple of days with a lot of paint just playing about with it as inspiration.  I think I want to make a piece of work using the textures but also referencing the mill workers in it.   Not too sure if I might sew outlines of figures as below or just use red and green thread with words or half outlines of faces or hands…

The charcoal shining blue in the photos.  I like this, and want to bring this out a bit.

I’ve been experimenting with translating the edges of the lumps.

These are papers I painted.  Acrylic and a credit card – so liberating.  All these textures are made by over-layering or spraying with water at just the right point so that some paint lifts back off.  Some of these squares are close-ups of bits from the paper underneath where I was working.  I just love this little set.

These are some rather fabulous pillars – the only ones remaining from the ground floor.  I like these photos as compositions.


Many of the images have a bit of rust in them and I had a wee go at something abstract using the colours over some of my papers:

Bit of a pickle, room for improvement.

Since then, we have had a play day with Hillstone, and I’m going to keep remaining playful until something emerges.

For some reason squares are drawing me, and there may have to be a bit of rust somewhere.  We shall see.

Bonfire night caused a bit of trouble as Castle Hill caught fire. Fire always demands respect in the end.


Being me, being her

‘To make art is to sing with the human voice. To do this you must first learn that the only voice you need is the voice you already have.’

Bayles D and Orland T, 2001

I love this quote, but you know what? There are a thousand whispers seducing me away from my true voice, and most of them seem to be coming from me.   I have spent a couple of months wrestling with a growing realisation that I have accepted some internal ‘shoulds and oughts’ which have stopped me moving forwards.    I will sum up in one sentence what has taken weeks and weeks; I am committed to being me.   Again.

I won’t go into all the epiphanies and no need to envisage me lying down on a couch in a darkened room, I’m actually eating porridge in bed, so everything’s good.   But one of my decisions is about posting just when it feels right so there may be a few gaps, and that will be OK.

I have been leading a couple of two-day ‘Natural Selection’ workshops and what a delight they were!  The participants were a joy to get to know and I found a lot of pleasure teaching.

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I also had a table across the road from me at a local art exhibition.  It was wonderful to be part of something local, and I will be offering a few taster sessions in the New Year for folk wanting a Saturday morning play with different media.

IMG_0273I have recently spent a day ripping up a couple of sketchbooks.  I started them in attempt that they should like ones other artists keep – ‘proper’ ones.  Some of you will know that I have struggled with a love/hate relationship with sketchbooks as I love looking at other peoples’ and many have enjoyed looking at mine, but in an act of being authentically me I have put everything back into a size I enjoy and in a way I now recognise as my way of recording and keeping information.  I am clear about how I use one now, and what is my ‘sketching’ process because it isn’t sketching.  It’s photographing, smooshing paint around in a frenzy, grabbing a ripped piece of paper and biro and scribbling, or using my digital sticky notes on my phone to note a name, or phrase, or idea…  Bits then find their way into a book for safekeeping retrospectively.

Seriously, how has it taken me so long to learn these lessons?  It would appear that I’m not alone though and I have been enjoying some artist interviews on around some of the same things.   Which brings me to epiphany number two, I think I need to paint more.   I have been looking at a lot of abstract art and watching artists on YouTube which is feeding something deep down inside like an itch.  I have been feeling that paper has taken a bit of a back seat to fabric so I’m playing a bit more in that direction.

A recent exercise I did for a course proved helpful making me research other artists and think about what aspects of art making are important.  These are truly important things as opposed to those I talked about in my last post.  These are things that have I am trying to consider and work with.  They include the use of intuition, abstracting the unnecessary, making a ‘soulful act of art’, enjoying tones and shades, simplicity of form, and the experimental process.   My hope would be that they become recognisable nuances in my voice.

Now enough of being me, I want to introduce you to her.  Helen Keller.  In looking at how we contain ourselves with all sorts of walls (emotional, physical, psychological) I came across the ‘Song of the Stone Wall’.  It’s the most amazing poem from a lady who fell ill at nineteen months old and became deaf and blind.


How she was able to do this leaves me speechless, and very humbled by her life of social concern and campaign for justice.  Her words in this poem describe colours and shapes of stone which are spectacular in her imagination.  I, who can see, feel limited by my sight.  The poem is very long but if you have time, just read a bit.  I love the beginning parts where she describes the wall a little more physically before telling a historical narrative.  She describes the wall as a scroll or Iliad or winding.  I can relate to this living in Yorkshire.  Here are a couple of windings from my photos of the Peak district:

IMG_260418Through a lot of scribbles and photos and thoughts I knew I wanted to create a piece which would reference Keller’s voice and my own, and to represent something of the scroll or winding that provided the vehicle for her song.  Stone walls contain our life in many ways but in Keller’s poem the history of land, community and creation are celebrated so wonderfully that she and the wall become one.   In attempting to abstract the unnecessary I wondered how to represent her and ended up with the idea of using lines in the work to suggest fingerprint lines.  These are how she sings her song and are so deeply personal.   The piece will be lots of individual curves which can be assembled in different ways: one side contrasting with the other, one side her voice with colour and lines, and a bit of text, and the other my voice with textures and a ‘thousand hues of grey’.


Playing with rubbings


Exploring curved shapes

First experiment with paper twists…not too sure about these…

I am talking with a friend as I feel a bit stuck about progressing at the moment.  I think perhaps the above inner wrestling needed to take place before I could work through doing this piece.  I decided to post anyway, I think everyone has times like this.  So I still don’t have much to show at the moment, but it will get done eventually.


In the meanwhile, I have become fascinated with a small lump of burnt wood so more of that next time, which will give me time to explore the bonfire night ashes for interesting offerings.  I feel like an old bag lady, but it has to be done… 🙂

Odd one out

A few years ago now, I was on an extended workshop struggling to translate some prep and inspiration into a form to work with. The tutor said ‘sometimes the thing you think is important, isn’t the important thing at all’. At that time I didn’t have enough experience to fully understand what she meant but I do now. However, recognising that you are struggling with an idea, design or self-imposed limitation which has become an important thing isn’t always easy. I think it’s right to wrestle with something to see if it might be successful but then when it isn’t working I have consciously started to say ‘have I made something important which doesn’t need to be and would things be better if I dropped it?’ I think this is especially pertinent when designing or planning because once you get going you are more committed and it’s harder to change.

I have noticed that I seem to have my best moments of clarity when I’m washing my hair and my head is upside down in the bath or when I’m drying it. I know, it’s weird. I would try and adopt a fetching yoga pose to assume an inverted position more regularly to aid my creative thinking but frankly I wouldn’t want to inflict that on the world.

Now you probably don’t need to dump your head in a bath to consider your own work but if you are stuck with something, you might try making space to ask yourself the question above because it will often turn an idea or design upside down or at least give it a good shake about. These are the times when you find out that sometimes your important thing, isn’t.

I have been at home for a few weeks with plenty of time to think and plan which is good because I needed that for my course I’ve started and I have recognised that several ‘important things’ have died along the way to let better ideas and designs emerge. I will post about the course soon as I haven’t really started any of the ‘doing’ so I have little to show, but letting go of important things which weren’t has definitely been a feature in the planning stage which has taken much longer than I expected. In the meanwhile, I’ll chunter on about something connected to my theme around walls.

Robert Frost wrote a famous poem about neighbours rebuilding a stone wall between their fields. You can read it here. It raises the question of when a wall is considered a good thing or not and it’s something I have been reading about. In contrast, very few would argue that the Berlin Wall was a ‘good’ wall although interestingly when it came down, several leaders of countries including Britain said that they didn’t want it down, a unified Germany was something to be feared. The wall was feared. It was feared by those on both sides but particularly the East where the rhetoric and rules were enforced with alarming power. I have read the story of Thierry Noir, the first graffiti artist to paint the wall and several pieces on the web about the wall, its construction, enforcement and collapse. I was taken with the Mauerspechte, or ‘wall woodpeckers’ who came to chip and knock the wall down. For some it was to get a souvenir, for others it was to participate in a moment in history and for others they were driven to come and tear down this awful symbol of injustice and restriction. Even then, folk knew that pieces of wall would sell and today a small chunk of wall fetches between £10 and £300 on Ebay depending on the the graffiti or whether it’s got barbed wire attached etc. Such is the importance of this world-known wall and what it stood for.

So I started thinking about these pieces and how they would include impressions or marks from those who had raged against and for whom the wall was imbibed with immense meaning and identity in terms of self. To live in Berlin was to live with the wall and all the injustice and oppression it stood for. I also found out the size of the 45,000 slabs of reinforced concrete making up the wall; 3.6m high and 1.5m wide. I worked out that I could make 45 rectangles arranged 9×5 (representing the 45,000 slabs) and make these half-size so that the area of them when joined together would represent exactly half the area of a single slab. I then congratulated myself on such a feat of mathematics because I’m useless at this sort of thing and proceeded to look at how to arrange them. I tried this way and that, but various pleasing arrangements all seemed to require an even number and try as I might, 45 just remained extremely odd. I then got frustrated because this representation of size had become an important thing and whilst in one of my upside down moments I realised it wasn’t. I had to ask myself if size really mattered to what I wanted to say and it didn’t, I had high jacked myself. It was the story behind the marks and impressions which I needed to focus on, not trying to tie proportions up neatly. In a state of renewed excitement I decided 24 pieces would do the job just fine.

Thierry Noir 1986

I find this photo unsettling, the freedom to express on the West side of the wall and the blank, white walls of the East.

I am making 24 small panels. I experimented with making holes in a trial one but found this too literal and decided the small panels could be viewed as the pieces or chunks themselves and didn’t need distressing this way.

The West will be vibrant and colourful. I used Kohinoor to colour the background and Inktense sticks to scribble and write with. It was ironed afterwards but I have to say heat hasn’t fixed the dye completely. I made print blocks where I have isolated small parts of my own rough graffiti and phrases I picked up from research.

One set of positive and negative print blocks

Backgrounds drying


Machine stitching

Hand-stitching detail

I did consider using the positive and negative prints for West and East but it didn’t work out that way. The West was overprinted in black or has stencilled marks and monoprinted text and marks. I wanted the letters, marks and words to be impressions of protest rather than readable phrases.

The East will be white. Some panels have the graffiti on them to represent the fact that people on the East felt just as strongly as the West but were not allowed a voice (colour). There are shoe and hand-marks representing the escapes attempted and several bullet holes. None of these were visible in reality, but history testifies to their presence impregnating the wall nonetheless and this set feel more intense to me.

Bit of hand-stitching detail

These small panels will be arranged in pairs pointing out so that when you view them from the left (West) you see colour. Viewed from the right (East) you will only see white, but be able to make out various marks and impressions from textures and threads. I couldn’t have designed this had I held fast to my thoughts around size and proportion, odd number 45 had to go. It would have completely prevented what I hope will be a successful design.

Well there we have it. One example of an important thing that wasn’t.

I am off to Ireland to with my friend Mary to see Kim and Poppy for a few days. I’m so looking forward to some fun and malarkey with interludes of stitching.

I leave you with a poem about the pieces of wall…

Berlin Wall Peddlers

History on sale

One chunk for only twenty dollars

Look at this one

it’s full of bullet holes

this one is stained with deserters’ blood

and see these two dark holes

they were burned by an anxious gaze

the remains of cold war on this one

still make you tremble

and what we have here

are the dancing footprints of the youth

and the shouting and clapping

when a heavy chain tore it down

Our supply is abundant

after the Berlin Wall

we’ll tear down the walls


the rich and the poor

the fortunate and the unfortunate

the oppressors and the oppressed

and of course we always have

the inexhaustible walls

between the hearts

of indifference

William Marr

source unknown

The cobbles marking the position of the Berlin Wall, present day

An interlude

Try as I might, I cannot get making anything which is frustrating me.

However, I’m not doing nothing.

I have decided that I want to work on an exhibition around ideas that have been been floating around my head for some time. They keep changing, as these things do, but the core has remained an area of interest for a few years now and it’s time it came out – one way or another.I have felt delighted at the reaction the last post received, but frustrated that I couldn’t progress it into my textile and mixed media world. Keeping a blog brings many emotions and I have had to fight the self-imposed pressure I felt to carry on with something similar. It’s just not happening. Doesn’t mean it never will but it’s not right for now. I have played around with the concept some more, and sampled some circular text but it’s going in the ‘waiting room’ for now.This says ‘I’m right’ in the lighter inside colours and ‘you’re wrong’ in the darker text pointing out. I was needing to justify myself over something! It was quite cathartic, but it faces you with issues about being kind and forgiving…I was going to try one where it said ‘I’m wrong and you’re right’ to see how differently it felt and looked. These are bits of leftover stuff, they remind me of Carolyn Genders’ ceramics but they won’t be happening either, because making something like this isn’t enough without passion. I have to be absolutely invested in something to persevere and a body of work will take that.

So… I have enrolled in a higher level course to help me develop ‘me’. The course is a delight as it allows the participant to follow personal themes and preferences without being too prescriptive. Whilst not making for a while has been an interesting frustration, I have been thinking deeply. I do like a bit of thinking as you will know, but it’s hard work. Trusting the open but directed steps of the course is provoking and pushing me which is just what I need. I know that I’m not making because I need to do this preliminary work to enrich what will eventually be. Studying artists from other disciplines is enlightening, writing about what they do, how they work and what I like about them is highlighting what I like to do, and what I like. I never studied art formally at school so it’s all new. The connections made between them and my thoughts somehow sets something in place at a deeper level.

I have a giant mind-map on the table to capture the ideas tumbling around. They are sometimes fleeting so it’s important. Him Indoors says it looks like a neurone which is fine, it being my mind on a page. I’m just surprised that he didn’t choose a less attractive metaphor.

I’m interested in containment and in particular, how our self is contained by physical and psychological walls. In a while, I will have started sketching and exploring possibilities arising from a poem. Researching around the theme of walls and stone walls in particular has been a delight. I feel contained by the stone around me at home in Yorkshire, it gives me a deep peace, so I have started here and will post some work around this next time. I’m on holiday, so these are some Welsh walls. Walls have quite different characters.

I felt the need to say ‘I’m still here and check in as I will be having some enforced rest over the summer following an operation. I will be back blogging as soon as I can.

Full Circle (well almost)

I just have it in me to do things sometimes. I can’t describe it any other way. And this time, I just needed it to be big and to be messy.

I don’t know whether you have seen those young, thin arty-looking artists who lie or kneel on the floor in a beautiful abandoned building and make wonderful sculptural shapes by drawing with their arms out? Well that was me… in my head anyway. In reality, a non arty-looking, podgy middle-aged woman nearly asphyxiated herself by kneeling over her ample bosom trying to breathe as she made an attempt to elegantly draw marks surrounding herself. Then she couldn’t actually get up until the blood made it back to her legs. It wasn’t a pretty site, and the thing is, as I started to use paint I had to take it outside. As it was early on a Sunday morning I was very much hoping my neighbours were enjoying a lie in because at that point there was, and excuse the indelicacy, a touch of builder’s bottom happening at this point as I had to wear baggy trousers just to remotely assume the correct position.

So now you can’t unsee that image, let me take you through what ended up as something I quite liked – surprisingly. I am playing around with some notions for some work I’d like to pull together at some point. It concerns the way we surround ourselves psychologically. And I really want to work big so I taped a load of lining paper together to make a huge sheet of paper to work on before setting to on my nimble, gazelle-like movements on the floor.

I lowered myself into position, charcoal to paper in both hands, closed my eyes in a spirit- calming manner, breathed deeply so I wouldn’t pass out… and my charcoal snapped. Moments later, some marks were happening but I had to peek. I wanted a circle and I needed to peek just a little bit to see how to overlap my arm movements above my head. Ok so far. More charcoal, then more chalk and oil crayons and markers.

Then I remembered a huge lump of burnt something I had outside the back door which I rescued from last year’s village bonfire site. It’s just a thing I enjoy doing because there are some treasures to be found. The local residents might describe me as a treasure, too, I imagine as I’m taking photos of charred remains and carting away bits of burnt stuff.

This lump was great, I mean you really can’t be precise or worry too much what’s happening when you are kneeling and waving something heavy like this across a piece of paper.

So some more stages…

Then, finally, because I had a pile of photos and knew I couldn’t keep this object d’art, I got out some frozen oak gall ink from beside the mixed veg and microwaved it back into life. This was another experiment – but it was perfectly ok. So now you know you can freeze ink and resurrect it again when needed. It make sense actually, because sepia (squid ink) has been found in frozen places thousands of years old and people have been able to use it. This was splattered on and then allowed to drip and dry.

I took the three lengths of paper apart and saved one. This was worked into a little further with Pitt pens and paint. You can see it at the end of the blog. I’m just spending time looking at it at the moment and gathering some thoughts. The other lengths were cut up to play around with, and here are some of those pieces.

I was so thrilled to be working like this, I was thinking happy thoughts as I made my initial marks, but then it just moved into enjoying marks and splatters because I liked them visually. I want to explore developing a vocabulary of marks over the next few months to express things in a more focused way but this was just time for a frenzy.

I also like using some of the photo apps to change and superimpose images. Here’s one.

I now have some ‘proper’ big paper to enjoy so I’m going to do more experimenting and smaller mark making. It will be a while before/if I start using stitch on anything. I’m hoping to be able to pin the paper up somewhere so I can at least breathe next time.

I will see you next month following a course I am attending with Debbie Lyddon on working with sound and mark-making which I’m really looking forward to. Better take some better trousers though just in case there is floor work as we will be outside!

Taking a Stand

Commingle: “To mix or be mixed: to blend”

Well that was the title of my demonstration stand at the NEC. I actually do think that is a very good word for how I approach my art-making. I’m a commingler. Yes, it is a word.

I have spent a very happy few days with friends and colleagues, talking to folk and helping out with the Vlieseline workshops. It has been a wonderful end to a year of making and preparing in which I have learned a lot. I was royally teased about becoming a ‘proper’ artist from a few cheeky buddies but I enjoyed every moment really.

I took a little Bower House with me that I finished recently. You may recall the green walls of this one travelling to Ireland and back; it took me hours to stitch and wrap the colours of May’s bluebells. They were made by wrapping small pieces of art-straws which I discovered I could poke dowel down. A pair of pliers cut them but half of my art group were fired at during a meeting as they pinged everywhere!

I also took a little cabinet of butterflies made from lichen images.

And these small collages.

I also took my Atlantis pieces, and these are where I started my blog a few years ago, making the three panels for Ebb and Flow in my beloved shed.

Sketchbooks and samples…

I took apart Life Flight a few months ago as it was so big. However, a lot of work went into the little feathers so I made some of them into small cards to sell. One of two visitors realised that they had seen the piece before and I treasure the fact that it had been something that they had particularly remembered, it was about dementia which is a subject touching most of us in one way or another.

The other feathers are lying in state, waiting to become small landscapes. I have played around with them, trying to see how they could be used and I have settled on this idea, partly just to have something to stitch in spare moments so maybe more about them later.

I was demonstrating some of the techniques I use with teabag paper, and these are little scrap edges of things commingled into small woven designs which I have been hand-stitching over the days.

I also led a workshop each day demonstrating Vlieseline’s Decovil 1, and folk made their ‘House on a Hill’ brilliantly. In fact, we chatted about all sorts of variations and ideas. I had made some ‘Down the the Sea’ kits as an alternate design for the other end of people’s mantlepieces!

I spent a happy few days chatting through the show with my emergency Freddos hidden under the table. (Small chocolate bars, in case you are thinking I was harbouring a couple young men under my drapery). Thank you to those friends who let me out on good behaviour to look around or pay a visit elsewhere! A table was booked at The Boat (which I would recommend) and a few of us went out for a meal together which was lovely. You may recognise a face or two.

I shall be arranging a couple of workshop dates later in the year, but I’m going to give myself a present of time to start playing again so I dare say the next post will be back to my mad experiments, which it feels about time for. 😀

We Are Different People Now

I thought I’d tell the story behind a piece of work which is shortly going to the National Mining Museum. In preparation for the exhibition, several of us went to visit to walk around the buildings and read the information permanently on show. However, I had done a bit of digging beforehand (pardon the pun) using the internet and something about the way couples and families grew apart during the strikes stayed with me. I don’t usually represent people in my own work but on this occasion it was what most interested me. I think maybe I recognised something of myself in the women I am about to describe.

In the 80s, mining communities were consumed by the effects of the strikes. The women rose up through the protests and whilst the strikes were times of immense hardship, they instigated change which could not have been predicted. The women found new strength and direction in their lives. It was not easy: relationships were torn apart as courage, education and new choices created different people. Many of them (and the men) went on to undertake education and subsequently jobs which they never would have imagined. I have felt changed by education, personal development, choices and age and through it all I recognise a stronger voice. However, it has not been at the personal cost that it was for many of them during this intense period. The power and resilience the women discovered led to greater expectations about life opportunities – being a miner’s wife was very hard and despite taking pride in the role, it was a life of domesticity and toil. Finding their voice led to greater expectations for their lives but they were not always able to share these with the menfolk. And they ‘just became different people’ to quote one woman.

The piece shows the men in silhouette, shadows of coal dust made by tiny seed stitching, and the background made with digitally altered photos from my visit. The writing is taken from a log book at the museum, recording mining accidents and deaths. These were gel transferred. I used a piece of bonded silk organza which was coloured by rust and tea and echoed the metal of the machinery. I wanted them to be there in the background – to be both present and past for the women in the foreground.

The women were made vibrant in comparison – representing their strong voice and characters. I pinned colourful fabrics, sheers and teabag paper on top of a background of dyed cotton.

Outlines were machined which held the pieces roughly in place so that I could stitch more detail.

The fabric contains script which is actually part of a will. This felt a poignant inclusion which remembered the almost daily loss of lives through the mining industry.

The threads are left loose to show how ties to home life and relationships were cut but conversely small pieces of imagery remain on their appearance linking them to their past. Each woman has a few black diamonds on her clothing. ‘Black Diamonds’ was a colloquial term for coal and aptly described its worth to industry and weekly pay cheques. Despite becoming different people in the end, I wanted them to have something of their former lives as this was their beginning and memory is always part of us through all our changings.

I tested some stencils with Kohinoor and Inktense to see how best to make marks which didn’t bleed too much. In the end, I actually ended up using black acrylic for the diamonds which were emphasised with machined lines.

The women were backed onto Decovil and trimmed. They stand proud of the background, being attached by several sticky foam dots arranged in small stacks.

Like many, we are preparing for Christmas, in our house Him Indoors is much more diligent with domestic chores than I am. I can’t imagine having to scrub his back in a tin bath filled with water I had to boil on the hearth, or washing his coal-stained clothes every single day. I don’t know how those women and men did what they did. We are very fortunate. Anyway, he’s about to come at me with a floor mop so I shall have to slink off as a mopped floor is a sacred space and I shall not be allowed passage even in my slippers. Happy Christmas, see you next year! x

Looking back, moving forwards

I was listening to a textile artist talk about how and where they were educated in their early days. It was a podcast, which makes me sound rather hip and trendy but honestly, I think it was the first one I’ve ever listened to. I love people’s stories though, so I might make this more of a habit. I was listening on

Well it got me thinking that I can’t say I went to this college or that one, did this degree or that (not for art anyway), or that I developed my practice under a particular influence. So where would that leave me if I was to be asked about such things?

I believe that if a podcast was done in another 20 years, many of the artists of the day might be describing a very different type of learning history behind their work because of the digital learning platforms we now have and because of education policy, leisure time and social media etc. The way we are educated is becoming radically different and access to knowledge is vast. This in turn is driving the kind of art that we do and what is appreciated.

I do, however, recognise what an in-depth academic grounding gives an artist because you can usually feel it in the way something has been considered – be it design, or abstraction etc. It’s hard to describe, but it’s there in the work.

I’m sure many of you will be like me, growing up in a family where my grandmother and mother sewed because they needed to. They were taught the skills of dressmaking, knitting, darning and crotchet to name a few. They were highly skilled and developed their own love of making through linen tablecloths, crochet dollies, embroidered handkerchief pouches and knitted jumpers etc. All lovingly made and given. Their making spilt over into other areas such as painting and music.

Mum’s and Grandma’s work. My daughter was christened in these tiny shoes with handmade lace, to go with a silk and handmade lace gown.

Mum and Dad spent many years making this together. Absolutely everything inside is handmade by them, and I mean everything.

Details of the dining room. Handmade furniture, tableware and food made out of wood by my dad, tiny needlepoint and lace, wall decorations… I am in total awe of what they achieved and I hope they enjoy the fact that others around the world are seeing it, too!

As I grew up, I had a go at various skills and copied and learnt and started to want to make my own things. Despite wanting to find my own ‘thing’ because dollies were not going to be it, I had been taught all the basic skills which allowed that exploration to flourish later in life. More than that, I had been taught the dispositions and attitudes such as persistence, curiosity and patience etc. For both these aspects, I am eternally grateful as they have bought me so much pleasure in my art life now.

So I grew up knowing how to stitch, and dissolved my elderly grandma into hysterical tears trying to teach a left-handed grandchild how knit. We didn’t visit the arena of crochet! No one was allowed to be left-handed in her lifetime so I’m sure the whole thing was a mystery to her. As a child, I grew to love painting and making things for my small world characters. The agony and ecstasy of time spent at the kitchen table between boredom and creation or getting the paints and paper out slightly afraid to make the first mark never really changes does it?

One thing I always knew was that I wanted to be a Primary school teacher. Long story short, I became one, but my education path was set accordingly and at GCSE choices didn’t involve art. I didn’t mind because I don’t even remember what school art lessons were, they made that much impression. And sewing classes….hated them with a passion. I never want to see a gingham apron ever again, and it took me until my first child to be friends with any sort of sewing machine as they were of the Devil as far as I was concerned.

So I did a bit of this and that, and employed my creativity in my teaching and learnt to machine sew properly when I had my children. I went to adult education evening classes for watercolour landscape painting and to do some ceramics before funding was pulled and read books on everything. I did some mean salt dough and dried flower wall baskets during that period I can tell you. 😀

Fast forward and I discovered the arena of art journaling and mixed media where I could engage in what I found to be my love: bringing lots of things together and working with ideas. Up until then, much of my activity had been around crafts, whereas now I was starting to pursue more open-ended possibilities. For the last few years, I have sucked up learning through books, ebooks, workshops and courses, You Tube, Pinterest and in conversations with others. And this is how I think a lot of us learn now. The time I have spent looking, thinking, honing skills and ideas this way must be immense. Best not count hours on Pinterest, hey?

I do believe Socrates had it right when he said ‘Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.

Speaking of vessels, here is a ceramic basket I made when I decided to make clay twigs. I do like it but I learned a lot, I’m still repairing the bits that break off because I forgot that clay would shrink when it’s fired.

I think it’s about the core ingredients of how to be creative – of learning some theory, time spent, skills and dispositions honed in order to carry you through the process whatever that may be, and in 20 years the stories behind our more well-known artists and their work will recognise a wide variety of learning pathways. We’ve had community or family generational learning, masters and pupils, the crafts guilds ‘journeymen’, academia and now we are learning globally and digitally. It’s exciting! It’s also shaping and expanding our view of art through its visual accessibility and its very platform as an art medium. Here is an interesting read about How David Hockney felt about using the iPad. It raises a couple of questions for me; see what you think.

Whether we learnt from our family, You Tube or college, there seems to be a resurgence within the general public of making things: different and exciting things because we can see how hundreds of others have taken their ideas in different directions and because we don’t need to make, do or mend as much – it’s often cheaper to buy. Whatever your thoughts about that, I think it means we are engaging more in learning art or craft because we recognise it’s good for our souls. And in this way, many of the traditional skills are being honoured and transformed. Some of the hankie pouches and dollies are kept because they have precious memories and because they show such love and skill I can’t fathom. But artists are also valuing those items in their transformation of them into new textile art that we could not have imagined even 20 years ago.

This is a small part of a piece I did about my mum, which used her spare silk and threads from when she made the dolls and lace etc. The pieces of crochet edges were not taken from my family’s cloths but one I bought second-hand. Still, I hope the person who made it might appreciate why and how the work was made if they could have seen it.

My brother, friends and I in our matching outfits. We were all very pleased with ourselves. I’m the tallest one, what a giggle looking back at this!

So bring on the art bombings, slow stitching, eco dying, painting, weaving, heating, burying, rusting….I’m off to kindle my flame and probably actually burn something!

Although come to think of it, I seem to remember that was my brother’s forte…

Natural Selection

I have been celebrating the natural world with a couple of workshops and lots of lovely folk. My guild were brave enough to allow me to practice a new printing, collage and stitch day I have called ‘Natural Selection’ and I have just met folk from the Manchester ICHF show who signed up to have a play. Either arms and bags were presented with hedgerow plants and feathers or people snuck out to exercise a spot of judicious pruning at our venues. I have found that late summer is the best time of year for this, as leaves have lost a little moisture as they prepare to give back their goodness over Autumn. They make a firmer print as a result, and ferns are laden with spores on the underside which make for added texture. I just thought you might like to see some of the work. I’d really like to show it all, but here is an edited set which tells the story of the day. Thank you to everyone who came and for allowing me to post your work in progress. I am thrilled.  
Printing chosen items, positive and negative images… 

Developing some lovely complexity and interest in the ‘waste’ areas at the side of the printing plates…

Tables developing their own delicious colour themes…

Starting to arrange collages, paying attention to colour, balance and moving the eye through a piece…

Using free machine and hand stitch from the front and back to build coherence and emphasise focal points…

A few more treasures…

Next week, I am providing a different workshop at Goosfest, Cheshire. We will be making little bowls for the art festival. Thereafter, it’s heads down with my own pieces as I prepare for the NEC in March. I hope to be able to advertise a couple of workshops there – do look out for them.

When I was six I wrote my sentence for the day which said ‘When I grow up, I want to be a teech’ and I became one. I still have it. It has a picture of me (I think) with some sort of fury coat which is a bit of glued on fluffy fabric.  This has shown me how much I still enjoy being a teech. Not so sure I want to grow up though.