Twiggy bits

Oooh, there’s a nip in the air these mornings, a whiff of Autumn round the corner, and I feel a little like a squirrel stashing away things for the coming months. I have been getting ready for a few workshops – making samples and gathering resources. It’s rather exciting and I’m looking forward to seeing what people come up with on the day.
It’s also allowed me to test out a few techniques and learn some more about what works and what doesn’t, and I’m continuously making new connections with my ideas. However, Hillstone Fibre Arts has a couple of exhibitions coming up for which I need to be disciplined and get cracking. I have two and a half bower houses finished but I’d like to create a couple more if I can. I haven’t started my piece for the mining museum yet, but it’s planned.

This is a small area of one tree house wall. It’s been to Ireland, Shropshire, Hampshire and back to Yorkshire! I’m not sure the little ‘leaf windows’ will be so visible once it’s made up but it’s still in process and may well change again before I’m finished. My intention is to use some silver birch twigs applied to the outside. The tree sheds a load at particular times in the year and nice bendy ones are easy to find on the floor. I will need a fresh stock for the houses which will be part of our exhibition.

And just look at these little surfaces – these four from along one fallen twig

And this is the top and bottom of another fallen twig. So fascinating…

We usually take a short walk on a fairly daily basis. On saying ‘hello’ to the local bull and a few of his ladies, I remarked that one had grass sticking out of her mouth, whereupon she decided to sneeze it all over the bull’s nose and the jeans of Him Indoors. Now he doesn’t do mess so I braced myself, but happily we had a chuckle. However, I think I noticed a different pair of trousers at teatime.

I’ve been making samples for October, and this looks much better than it really is. It’s a bit smooshed inside and as half of it came away first time, it’s too thin. I was expecting it to have collapsed overnight but it didn’t. Anyhow, it will be used to explain what went wrong and how it was salvaged – it doesn’t come easily to show the less than beautiful bits but I’m trying to practice what I preach and show that mistakes, failures, unsuccessful pieces, call them what you will, are all part of the learning process.

I bought a soldering iron recently.  Who knew the delights of burning when you have the proper tools for the job?  This bit of messing about has got me thinking. I think more will follow…

And on another note, I decided to rise to the challenge at our guild. We had to make a casket with lots of different types of stitch  and techniques. I based mine on the four seasons.

The need to involve measurement, precision and planning very nearly finished me off, I can tell you. My brain just doesn’t do logical. I ended up with two sets of card templates, I cut bits out too small or forgot to back them before stitching on the beads, Autumn got sewn the wrong side of Winter (I mean who does that?) and I forgot to pad all the panels so they had to be re-sewn along one side. I’m still feeling twitchy thinking about it, especially as I’ve just been looking at Michelle Callagher’s website with her amazing Game of Thrones embroidery.  I don’t know how many hours it took – at least twice the length needed for any self-respecting embroiderer but, hey! Dah da! It has pride of place in my downstairs loo. Well, not in it exactly…yet.

I have spruced the site up a bit, hope you like it.  See you in October.   🍃






Land, sea and sky

What an arty adventure I have just had! It began with a weekend workshop with Gizella Warburton at Hawkwood College near Stroud, looking at ‘Colour, Mark and Composition’. The venue was delightful and I have never had tastier food – all local, organic, or home grown where possible. 

 We had a great studio space and Gizella was a wonderful tutor – she taught with a confident pace and just enough challenge and encouragement to make me think more about what I was doing. We sketched and painted and cut and collaged our little fingers off as the walls of the studio began to fill with deliciousness.

 I came away having learned much more about expressive mark making as a starting point and I would definitely recommend her to you. I don’t usually post workshop work on here, but as this was less about someone’s particular technique and more about looking, I’m happy that these marks have arrived from somewhere within me. I hope that makes sense.
I just got a little obsessed with a fir cone. It wasn’t until I took a few in from the gardens that I noticed the tiny bits of lichen growing on this one, and having drawn its shapes and soaked up its colours over a couple of days I can see it just as if it is in front of me. No need to look again if I take this further, which I might. I’m thinking about loopy stitches…

Next was a shorter drive to Mary’s house. Mary is a treasure and we caught up for a day, looking at her amazing quilts and textile creations before flying to Ireland. I haven’t flown for sixteen years – I can’t tell you how nervous I was! I rather wished I had some buffalo stunners to calm my nerves.  I got on the not-so-large propeller aircraft and decided I was OK. Everyone seemed extremely sensible, obviously flew on a regular basis, so I would just pretend to be the young, suit-dressed seasoned international traveller that I was in my parallel universe. All was well until we started moving, then I lost all decorum on take-off when I couldn’t stop smiling or take my head out of the window. I had forgotten how wonderful it is and I unexpectedly loved it! The clouds were astonishing – all billowy and gappy so you could see the land and sea, and Ireland crept up quickly and was full of green and watery spaces.  

Kim’s house is on the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s windy where I live as the wind comes straight off the Pennines in Yorkshire, but there the wind comes from the sea and from different directions, and although it can be wild, it was gentle on my visit and brought clouds and light that changed every minute of the day. Kim’s house is on the Loophead Peninsula in Kilbaha and is really away from it all, nestled near the bottom of a small hill and looks out to the most amazing view. Sitting out to eat breakfast in our pyjamas or eat supper in the evening was a huge treat.

She has swallows and martins chattering about, and a lovely robin. That isn’t what she calls him, but I know she loves him really. She has even made him a disco ball at robin height. She says it’s to stop him coming in the house and making a mess, but we both know it’s because she’s such a generous soul and wants him to party on down.

Kim plans to run some workshops from her lovely home and use some local businesses to share her passion for the area and of course, to make wonderful things. Her Facebook page ‘Land, Sea and Sky’ is loading up with photos from the area – do look in.  

We pottered about the area for a few days, taking it all in and nurturing a sense of place. The cliffs were spectacular around the lighthouse. It was incredibly exhilarating.

The beaches provided a lot of inspiration. These little shells are no bigger than 3 mm. Tiny treasures scattered amongst the huge pavement rocks.

The hedgerows were an astonishing riot of colour and a feast for the eyes. Who knew orange and purple could be so heavenly – normally I would veer right away from such a combination.

Some of the local girls…

I met some lovely friends, including Krys, a local artist living in a little cottage filled with the most incredible work – assemblages, sculpture, textiles and paintings. She spoke to me about a piece she had made in response to stories and art from the Irish uprising where women were rarely featured but of course, always present. Her work was very moving and beautiful and presented a connection to our exhibition that Hillstone Fibre Arts are doing at the Yorkshire Mining Museum in the New Year. I am preparing a piece about the women rising up through the miner’s strikes in the 1980s and how they were changed and empowered – so much so that families split as people grew apart.  

Krys’s cottage and garage wall

We got talking over a pot of coffee and I told her of something I still needed to make- something that’s been there for a while in the back of my head. Krys said ‘some things just keep whispering at you – they keep talking quietly and won’t go away until the time is right’. What perfect words. This thing has been whispering for two years or so, but in these few days away my conversations have touched on it with everyone I have spoken to and I think the time is right to try and make something. Hopefully more of that to come…  

Waiting is hard, but the three of us talked about how you have to wait for art to happen sometimes. I never understood how artists could feel this, and live with a whispering idea for so long, but I do now. I wonder if you have one whispering at you? Let it – you will know when the time is right to do something.  

Left behind cottages with their stories in the stones.

I said I’d be taking something blue away with me. It was green in the end. I have some pieces of a new bower house that just needed stitching without thinking and I have button-holed my way through a few days of delicious peace and quiet.

Finally, I was now prepared for my flight home.  I strutted through the airport with a confident swagger, no buffalo stunners for this girl!  I was determined to be grown up and read a magazine like the lady sat next to me this time. I would not look out of the window for the entire journey.

I did. A smirk just crept up as we took off – I was helpless. The sun was setting over the tops of the clouds this time, and it was too magical for words. I love clouds. I have a big sky at home with awesome clouds. In fact, I will leave you with something I wrote years ago:

‘Clouds come in all shapes and sizes. Some herald fine weather, they are there on a sunny day and make us feel happy and cheerful, they contribute to our ‘feel-good’ factor in life. Other clouds bring the storms – loud and dramatic, swirling about causing discomfort or even damage. Some hang about for ages and we wish they’d move on, they cover everything and depress us. Some clouds are plain boring, some are interesting. Some constantly rain down onto forests, others come once a year, both bringing life. Others are just a tiny part of the scene, hardly noticeable. Some protect us from harm, others get in the way. Some race by, gracing us for just a moment, or vanish in the day’s heat. Some are beautiful, peaceful, clouds that radiate the sun’s rays onto the earth, others illuminate the air with colour at the end of a day. Some are spectacular evidence of energy and others are but a wisp. But clouds are a blessing to the earth, they nourish and sustain a world that could not live without them – we need them.’

If you like, re-read the paragraph but where you read ‘clouds’ replace it with ‘people’.

I have been blessed by a few beautiful ‘clouds’ this week x


Out of the blue

Really just been messin’ lately.  With blue.

I started by painting up a load of tissues which didn’t work. Not even sure what possessed me!  Well I am actually.  I wanted to make some book covers and frankly, just do something messy. The paint looked delicious when they were wet, but most were sadly disappointing when dry. It dried up into the ridges and looked promising…

But they dried so pale. Some were binned, some I’ve saved and one or two I added more fabric dye to which worked better. I liked the indigo ones the best.    

I tore some into strips and added extra fabric dye down the edges, just because I know I like edges. I think I will use these on a small bower house in some way. They look nice laid against the rusty frame.

And now I need some blue for this.  

I’ve been looking at it for a while to let ideas take hold in my head. One is emerging but I need to experiment a little first. These houses are part of my cabinets of curiosities work, and having given myself a brief to work within I’m contemplating whether or not I need to expand it. I shall see.  

I want to take a little something away with me to stitch so I may try and develop things and take a bit of blue.   When life is especially tiring you just need to have a bit of stitchery to trust into your fingers and let them get on with it.  I’m going to Ireland for a few days following a workshop in Stroud. I need to recharge and am so looking forward to a break.   I will be in the depths of some lovely inland countryside, then right on the edge of the kingdom between land and sea.  Can’t wait! 

Here is part of a collage layer for the book covers I restarted, eventually.  I have finished a few now.  

Finally, the most amazing blue the other day.  Awesome evening sky.  

Hoping to have tales to tell from my travels very soon, see you in a few weeks.  

 A Natural Curiosity

I am starting to work on a new theme of ‘cabinets of curiosities’ with my fibre arts group.
I have been interested in the original meaning of ‘cabinet’ which was a small room containing favourite people who would advise and fund kings and leaders. These cabinets were not welcomed by ordinary people or by those who were not part of the ‘in crowd’ but we now associate cabinets positively with our treasures and prized possessions.

I have realised that I have a few little cabinets around my home which I cherish, not only for the things in side but for the cabinet itself.  They are all wood, and all have a little story to tell.  This one is my grandfather’s tobacco cabinet:

A few thoughts started to come together recently when contemplating what constitutes a room. I now live in a small area called Hall Bower, and the word ‘bower’ means ‘a pleasant, shady place under trees’. Could a bower be a room? The original hall and trees have long since disappeared – I still have access to some nice walks through trees although most of the land is now fields. Then there is the rather amusing and very hard-working bower bird, who has a burning desire to attract his girl by building a lovely ‘room’ with a treasure inside which is usually a brightly coloured curiosity. She is very fussy and often rejects his efforts. As if that was not enough, he also has to put up with other suitors regularly stealing his treasure.
These musings have led me to start developing ideas for small bower houses which will act as ‘rooms’ to shelter various natural curiosities, celebrating my enduring love of trees and woods.
I have imagined these little houses all lined up in a hazy vision of wonderfulness but know that a lot of mess, hard work and wondering about what is lying in front of me on the table will be the reality. I have enough trust in the process to know that something will occur though, and me and mess, well that’s a match made in heaven…

Walking down the lane at home, I looked at a few silver birch trees one late afternoon. They stand in front of the distant Pennines where the sun sets. This day, the sky was a watery grey with the sun just a haze behind them. On the ground, a line of bright yellow daffodils contrasted with these silhouetted shapes. I still have the picture in my head, and I decided this would be the inspiration for my first bower house. I sketched out the image and thought I’d look at using the trunks as strong lines of design. I realised that my little bits of sari strips, edge-dyed for a previous project, would be fun to play with. I also wanted to capture the yellow and green so I painted some calico as an experiment. Whilst the resulting trial had some potential, it was too literal. It takes me a long time and several goes at something to sufficiently abstract inspiration to a pleasing level.

I decided that the texture of the bark would be better – to come in closer. I planned to reference the yellow inside the cabinet, possibly on the floor of the bower house. Whilst I wanted it there as part of the memory, it didn’t need to be prominent, it could be somewhere else. Repositioned.  

So then I got me a pile of papers, inks, stringy bits and glue. The dining room table disappeared, along with the floor. I wet the muslin base and painted a bit of black. Probably not the best move. It smudged everywhere when I layered things on top. Some white, more glue, more paper, more mess…

I was certain that this was going to be a disaster. It was so soggy I thought it would all fall off the towel rail it was lolloped over. But I also know sometimes a pile of yuk can be salvaged….

I just had to have a little test of it when I stepped out to the loo in the early morning. As you do. Still there, waiting for a new day’s rescue mission.

Him Indoors bears with all this terribly well. I held my bit of stuff up and turned it round. I could tell it was going to be alright. I showed him in my delight. The look said ‘Very nice, dear’ in the same tone of voice my grandma used when she was called to admire my bits of childhood faffings. I’d show him, he would recognise this as silver birch bark sooner or later.

I rolled some white acrylic over it all resulting in marked indifference on my part. So, I burnt it. I singed it with a heat gun which gave it it uneven brown patches where the paper took. Much happier. Then I applied little bits of tissue which had been soaked in sepia ink over night. These were added to represent bits of peeling bark. I slashed some areas of white and opened up the slits to add some black ink. A few long hand stitches were added before using machine stitch to highlight contrasting areas. The free motion stitching in dark brown picked out the the texture of the bark. Ta dah! I took it to Him Indoors with a look signalling the requisite praise expected. Let’s just say he is still alive and well.

At this point, I was working in a holiday let. It was an old Victorian house on Anglesey and it had a coal fire. On a daily basis, jackdaws would pop a few twigs down the chimney, hopeful they would start a nest. I found the twigs quite interesting. All a similar type, width and length, and all quite wiggly in nature. Him Indoors wanted them for kindling but I have other plans for them. I amused myself thinking that both I and the jackdaws were bringing the trees into a house to make another tiny house with the trees. Something here about nests within nests, shelters within shelters, which will hopefully become another little bower house.

I haven’t used sepia ink before and I think I prefer walnut ink for its colour and translucency.  This sepia ink was thick and cloudy.  I took it along to try some calligraphic mark making which was the usual disaster and re-confirmed that this was not for me.  It did colour the paper and muslin well though, and leaves materials softer than when paint.  Ink comes from such unusual sources; I’m having a go at making oak gall ink at the moment.  But sepia, well we have the secretions of the common cuttlefish to thank for that one.  I’m now  picturing trying to squeeze or constantly taunt a cephalopod.  Actually, the ink sacs are collected when the animal is killed, so that’s a bit unsettling.   However, many are collected by fishermen who use squid as bait.  The ink sacs are dried and sent off to be processed.  Sepia ink is a form of melanin and scientists have found fossilised ink dating back millions of years.  It can still be used as an effective pigment.   The things you learn!

I also tried a bit of monoprinting by smooshing some black acrylic on an old OHP and adding a plop of PVA. The tissues just sucked it up but made nice backgrounds, the calico was great for drawing on so I had a go at leaf shapes and other things. Cotton organdie was also nice, a bit sucky uppy though so it needed a light touch.

I left them to dry and then painted over with Kohinoor. The leaves had some potential when placed on the green tissue and the organdie was a revelation – the reverse was lovely, giving a bit of a see-through effect but it’s a bit hard to show that in a photo. I decided to stitch it a bit. I need to spend some time practicing this more…

I thought about being sheltered under trees and looking up though them to the sky. I think trees are at their most beautiful when set against a blue sky. But when it came to playing with a bit of blue, I was taken with the idea of the blue of the sea and driftwood catching all the beach items, like shells and seaweed and netting etc. I think I may try something with a plain exterior and something more fancy on the inside. I love these marks that some wet muslin left behind. I kept the paper and discarded the fabric!

I now have a few things to take a bit further all being well, and a bag of sooty jackdaw twigs to cherish like a mad woman.

This time has allowed me to think about shelter in new ways: the shelter of a holiday, of a house, a mother’s arms, watching the sheep shelter against rocks and walls, swallows and jackdaws building nests and a moment to contemplate those for whom shelter is lacking or where their bower is a cardboard box for the night.

I wonder, too, where our cabinets of curiosities really exist? In posting this, I feel one more curiosity has found its place into ‘folioandfibre’ which is definitely one of mine.
Could the memories in our heads be one?  The glove compartment in the car or the ubiquitous ‘man-drawer’?  I will leave you to think about some more.

And I recently finished my birch bower house.  I found a pleasing resolution to the yellow I wanted:

Finally, if you would like to see Hillstone’s ‘Noticeable Edges’ exhibition, please use this link:

Noticeable Edges

On the scale of things

As many of you will know, I have been working on some pod-like vessels for Hillstone Fibre Arts’ ‘Noticeable Edges’ exhibition in May. If you have read my previous posts, you will recognise the ‘bra cup’ standing strong! These last ones didn’t get hung as I thought they might – I think they look better like this.   They look large but they are not, they fit into two hands.

I haven’t had time or inclination to do the many more I had originally envisaged but I’m happy with this scaled-down collection of oddities. As the last two were finished, I just wanted to see if I could create one involving burnt steel cloth. I’ve been carrying this idea around in my head and it needed to come out. But one afternoon’s work later, I decided to abandon my efforts because it didn’t sit well with the others. Sometimes a collection needs a rogue in the mix to add interest or a variation but the introduction of this material jarred with the paper foundation in my opinion and was way too fancy a thing.  Besides, it was almost harder trying to thread a needle through all these layers of paper and metal than getting a camel through one.  Note to self.  I have other plans for it – I have taken it apart and intend to audition it for a piece about our local mining history where the metal might provide reference to the hardships of that time.


As is often the case, in the playing with the pieces, I started to make a new connection. I happen to lay them onto a piece of bark that had fallen off a log and was instantly reminded of the huge scale of deforestation and the creeping fires that produce such a devastating edge of loss. Maybe my little bits of metal will find themselves in something about this in future…

The other thing I have been doing is staring my torn, waxed lining paper from last Autumn. I had painted strips with washes of black acrylic paint, left them to dry before waxing and burnt little holes in a few patches which I liked. I have moved them, messed around with them, put them back again and left them in annoyance and only yesterday could I see what they might become. It was coming closer and working on a very small scale that proved successful. These tiny landscapes are about 4×5 cms and are simply the edges of the paper where I found and arranged the right colours and intensities to make the little hills and valleys.

Lining paper is a wonderful medium. The way it tears on the edge and takes a battering is great given its low cost. Looking carefully was the key, as there were tiny patches to be observed where the wax or paint took unevenly. These suggested a moon, or mountains, a tree line or a night sky. I have also used a bit of judicious folding to produce lines in the sky and water. Often you just need to lightly crease the waxed paper to get a crack. I forgot I knew about doing this which was exciting to discover again.  I know, I’m easily pleased.

I’m just deciding whether these two bigger beasties will be allowed to stay or not.    The scale is less successful and they are a gnat’s breath away from doom.


I have a week away coming up which is usually a good time for art-making. I’m already quite excited about a new theme I’ve started to plan but more about that next time.
I hope you are feeling curious… 😀

Being and Becoming

I have borrowed these words from Nancy Stewart who is a champion of young children as ‘be-ers and becomers’. She has reminded educators to celebrate children for who they are now as well as helping them to be ready for future school years.   Whilst early childhood involves a huge amount of change and growth, I see times of transition and growth as an adult when I am both a be-er and becomer. I wonder if you recognise these times in your life, too?

I have been preparing for the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycrafts show in Manchester for some time, and last week saw me arriving in the car park with a car packed full of artwork, a large driftwood branch, some scratty feathers, enough teabag paper to make the whole of Denmark a brew and several packs of emergency Freddos. It took a little while to feel settled into my space for the next few days, but it was slowly transformed into something I felt pleased with.

The next few days were just such a wonderful time – folk who stopped to talk about work or the samples that I was demonstrating were delightful. Most of my junior school reports contained the phrase ‘Rachael would do better if she stopped talking so much’. Well, I didn’t stop talking for hours on end and loved every minute. Ha, ha! If I met you there, thank you for taking the time to visit and chat. This was a real time of being and becoming for me.   

I also thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to talk to other exhibitors and demonstrators. I learned so much about their inspirational practice and business organisation. I do just have to mention the meal a colleague and I had one evening where the waiters kept clearing everything away before we had finished, including the tablecloth. We could have understood a little more if we weren’t practically the only ones in the restaurant. My companion rightly pointed out that you can judge an establishment by the quality of the mint you are offered at the end. It was conspicuous by its absence. However, a glass pot of Mint Imperials was noticed upon exit and following a hasty dive to retrieve a couple on principle, we went off into the evening rather bemused.
Half way through the show, my daughter disobeyed strict instructions not to give birth whilst I was away. From Friday afternoon, baby was busy with her own becoming and my head was just turned to mush. Thank goodness for the modern miracle of texting! My work never even caught a sniff of bubble wrap at the finish of the show on Saturday as it was hastily packed into the car. Zoe Isabella arrived an hour after I got home, weighing 5lbs 3 and perfect.. So I have become a grandma! 

I am still working on my pod vessels for a group exhibition in May. Most of my ideas will have to stay just that, but I would like to try a large one using a combination of burnt metal cloth and paper. Sometimes my desire to see if something is possible renders me helpless! I think I have recognised that I will never be someone who can remain still for very long – as a ‘be-er’ I am a ‘do-er’ and always will be.  I shall not be able to avoid a little tinkering and if I haven’t burnt my fingers or the kitchen down, I shall report in with my experiments in a couple of months.   But it’s time to make space and breathe in the new things in my life just at the moment. 

Finally, I thought this was something lovely to leave you with from John O’Donohue, along with my favourite view at home:

‘There is a quiet light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself though it is always secretly there. It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us that is wedded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as blessing’

Warning- Abnormal Load Ahead

Thought I might have a go at recounting the last few days for you and intersperse a few references to my latest creations and a bit of local scenery.

Christmas morning rainbow.

Dec 27th. Day before birthday. We travel south to see parents for a few days only to get stuck in the worst traffic on M25 so came off and wriggled through very posh parts of the world, saying ‘Hello’ to anyone in Windsor Castle (which wouldn’t be the Queen as she is in Balmoral tucked up with a cold). Rather late, we arrive at parents’ and start to unload.  

‘There’s something on the back seat’ says Dad. ‘I’m not quite sure what it is, but it looks like something of Rachael’s’.  

Doesn’t bode well for an artist such as myself.

‘It’s my artwork, Dad,’ I reply.

‘Oh…they look like, like those things, those hats that people…’

Well Him Indoors reduces my makings to two types of apparel (and one of those isn’t a hat) and this is not going to become a family affair. 

I quietly take my pods-in-making upstairs to my room. 

Dec 28th. My birthday. Yeah!

Dad, bless him, comes downstairs looking dreadful and sounding worse. ‘I think you may have an infection’ says I. An hour or so later I’m taking him to the doctors. It was very cold, so I toyed around with offering him one of my pods to cover his head but thought better of it.  

Dad unfortunately consigned to bed, whole family lunch took place. I had a headache so I took something for it and helped make the gravy. Can I offer you a word of advice? Do not tip spoonfuls of gravy granules into a large boiling pan of meat juices. My brother did and Mount Etna erupted all over the cooker. As impressive as it was, I didn’t need to be chipping off gravy lumps on my birthday.  

Eventually, I unwrapped my presents, feeling a little spaced out I have to say.  

Mum was insistent that Auntie Eileen should be shown my book that I have written. I shall explain more about that in a mo. Mum knows it’s something interesting but has yet to decipher the workings of her daughter’s mind. Eileen, who unknown to me wrote and published stories in her youth, understood what I wanted to say and just got it. I was so chuffed to be able to share my musings with her. It was a revelation.

Teatime and I took another pill. Headache still bad. Mum had bought me a surprise birthday cake in the shape of a hedgehog, which came out at lunchtime only to rapidly disappear again until tea, and daughter had gone out especially to get candles. Two pairs of enormous birthday spectacles later celebrations finished in style.  

Brother and family went home and I headed for the pill cupboard again. I had noted that the Paracetamols in the box looked different to mine, but this time my eyes set upon the name of the pills. Not Paracetamol. Let’s just say that the drug of choice would be enough to stun a buffalo and rather explained my inability to find words and remain present in the moment, or indeed awake at all.
Once the house had quietened, I brought a pod down to do a bit of stitching, which was a tad reckless in my condition. 

Mum leaned over, ‘They look a bit like bra cups, how do they work then?’ 

I folded one over, and showed her how the bra cup would become a pod shape once I had stitched it. ‘Oh, you are clever, imagine having a brain that thinks like that. I don’t know where you get it from,’ says she. 

Soon after that I felt it was time for bed, to try and clear the drug induced stupor.

Dec 29th. Day after birthday.  

Almost normal.

Sat in the afternoon stitching French knots over my bra cup. I was wondering if I needed them all over or to leave some spaces when dad says, ‘You know what it reminds me of?…’. My buttocks clenched in anticipation.

‘A whale’.

Could have been worse – buttocks unclenched.
‘Yes, it’s like a fish’ says mum. And to be honest, I had to admit that it kind of did. I didn’t have the courage and personal resilience to show them the other pod-in-making. I could only venture to guess what similes might have issued forth. Best left for now. 

So that brings me to today, heading back home with a half-knotted bra cup which might also double as a hat in a medical emergency if required. I am thankfully in my right mind writing this in the car on the way home, although that is being tested due to queuing behind an abnormal load. If they only knew what abnormal load lay on my back seat!  

So to turn this into something of the blog it’s supposed to be, I have been working on a series of pods. Not bra cups, fish, hats or other dubious items of attire. They are part of a project about noticeable edges and I have in mind to make a few of these which will hang together. Neither of these are finished yet and they will have some company – I’m hoping to make at least five. 

I have recently finished another one which sits rather than hangs. This one took a long time as the large button hole rings can take up to half an hour to make. The body is made from the usual base of teabag paper and cmc paste, and this one has been covered in scrim and then over-painted to emphasise the ridges. The rings were glued around the top in a way I hope makes the eye travel, and some have been cut out in the centres so you can see through. The pods can all be reshaped in the making by spritzing them with water and re-inserting a balloon back in and leaving to dry. This way, you don’t have to worry if the shape changes with stitching, unless you like what’s happening. 

I have to say that Hair n’Swear has been remodelled to become a different shape with a bit of interior interest.   This was mostly due to a couple of anatomical remarks about its previous form which are best left unwritten.  

The other thing I have been doing is writing a small book about the different stages of creative and critical thinking. It has examples of my work in it, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the putting together of it. It is just a very small affair, but will be available in some form in February when I have been given a demonstrator stand in Manchester at the Stitching, Sewing and Hobbycraft show Feb 2nd to 4th, Event City, Manchester. 

It’s a subject that I find fascinating and something I don’t believe many may have considered. It’s just about learning some tips for thinking better at different points along the way in creating a piece of work. I hope to have the balance of theory and photos about right and whilst it isn’t a blog, it’s written with a bit of humour here and there.  If you are around, do come and say ‘hello’ and introduce yourself. 

I recently helped organise a workshop which Alysn Midgelow-Marsden led for our group, and spent a weekend sewing into metal. She was a wonderful tutor and lovely to spend time with. Alysn was also at Knitting and Stitching and I hope you may have seen her extraordinary metal dresses and sculptures. Alysn had sourced a large amount of fine steel ‘cloth’ and I have some to play with. Burning it produces some wonderful colours and I’m wondering if I can make a kind of armoured pod of sorts which will highlight the coloured edges?  I may not show mum.  I love the colour combinations produced – they sit well with my love of muted tones. Heated copper is also impressive but I particularly like this steel. 
Here are a few scrumptious edges: 

Well I hope you had a good Christmas, and the New Year brings much goodness for you. It was quite a year for me in moving, changing job role and setting up Hillstone Fibre Arts and there is one more change to come in about six weeks when my first grandchild is due to arrive. Can’t wait to meet her and have my first cuddle. 😊 

‘A stitch in line’

This weekend I gave a talk to the Halifax Embroiders’ Guild and Textile Group. We are all still in recovery.

No, I jest! It was a real pleasure. I love that group – it’s full of the most amazing and talented people with just the right smattering of corporate craziness to light my world. It’s very inclusive and eclectic which in my case, is just as well. I have tried many arts during my life including embroidery, but when I stood up and said ‘Hello, my name is Rachael and I’m a textile artist’ it was a defining moment. It felt good. I’m now thinking of setting up Artists Anonymous.  

The title seemed obvious given my obsession with line and working on the various projects in recent years. I subjected the group to a brief life history and the threads that have been constantly weaving in and out of my arty endeavours including my helplessness towards vertical lines, layers and tones. There is nothing like giving a talk to help you understand yourself a little better and become aware of what is important to you.  

I then talked through my recent experience of Experimental Textiles and beyond to where I am now with the work developing under Hillstone Fibre Arts.  

Life Flight (the feathers I did for my mum), Pebble, Atlantis and Noticeable Edges were all on display as well as my collection of sketchbooks. What a delight to see people enjoying my books in the way I have done with other people’s. I sat in the corner watching having a small out of body experience that this was actually occurring.  

Narratives which I hoped would be honest and respectful explanations about some of the pieces led to a few heartfelt chats afterwards. I have always enjoyed hearing the story behind a piece as it is if a curtain is drawn back and you can understand so much more than you did. Sometimes it’s enough to look and wonder and draw your own conclusions, and occasionally finding out more can be a disappointment if you have built your own meaning into something you enjoy viewing. But mostly, I find it a revelation listening to the artist and their intention. This time, it was me offering my intentions and I left reminded of the power that art has in holding us all together and in revealing shared experiences.  

More than that, my very small event on a dank Friday evening had quite an impact on me personally.  I think it allowed me to recognise 1) more meaning in what I do than I had seen before 2) that others really did see me as another artist 3) that my work was good enough to be presented to such a group and 4) most people are really interested in the story.

I’m still writing this little booklet of mine, and all I really want to do is inspire others to have a bash at something. It was a real joy to hear people come up and say, ‘I just want to go home now and play!’  Job done.

I took a roll of teabag paper along and some of the samples for Manchester to pass round. After whipping up interest in the many uses of this lovely stuff, women of a certain age were seen leaving the town centre later that night with what appeared to be metres of outsized loo roll wrapped around their arms in a zombie-like fashion. I won’t be held responsible.

I also got people to play with the possibilities of a long paper triangle in making something that would stand up. Rules were it couldn’t be folded or creased. Some people had one pin they could use to secure it. So many little lovely curvy shapes around the room. For me, one main difference between textile art and embroidery is the amount of possibility thinking that goes into it, and this was a good illustration. This was something I trialled at a summer school a while ago and I think I shall return to at some point. There is something left to explore about this feeling of being cocooned, wrapped and nurtured. My original thoughts were of cocooning personal wishes and hopes at the time (some of which have come to fruition) but as I write these words I have realised that there is a little life being cocooned and nurtured in my daughter, who we all have immeasurable hopes and wishes for. Oooooh, watery moment coming on….

My final revelation of the evening came when talking about my love of paper and finding out who else had the courage to ‘come out’ regarding their love of magazine sniffing. Yes. Really. I have several sisters who understand the moment you rip open a magazine bag and inhale deeply. Then, you open it gingerly to bury your nose in a middle page for another go. You can savour the smell for some time if pages are gently wafted. There was a greater percentage of fellow paper and magazine sniffers than expected in the room. I shall have to continue my studies of this. I like to think that in years to come I will have done my part in helping people accept that they are completely normal and can sniff away in public without recrimination. I still suffer some abuse from my work colleagues, although my boss now knows to bring in our educational journals in their bag, untouched. I get to have first sniff which is duly allotted a score out of ten.  

Well that stunned you, didn’t it?  

Until the next bout of nonesence takes me over…  

Here is the link to the group’s blog, do have a look:


Black and White in Bakewell

Summer has been amazing and sunny and long but now there is something in the air and a few crunchy leaves on the paths giving away that Autumn is coming.  Which is my perfect time of year. We have just moved house, I have taken on a much bigger role at work and I’m going to be a grandma in a few months. It’s all very exciting but this week we are at a cottage in Bakewell in the Peak District to have a rest and recharge.  It’s taking longer to wind down this time.  Can’t think why!

Bakewell is famous for the Bakewell pie or pudding.  I hate it as I don’t like almonds.  There are so many pie shops in the small town centre but I can forgive that as it’s very peaceful and pretty with the river running through. We just sat gawping back at the size of the rainbow and brown trout in the river Wye a few feet away, and so many of them! I did wonder what they made of my turquoise nail varnish on my toes when I dipped my feet in after a long walk, but I think indifference best described it. Which about sums up the expression on a trout.  

Him Indoors couldn’t remember if salmon could be ticked or whether it was a practice reserved for trout. He couldn’t detect any signs along the river prohibiting trout tickling and therefore deduced that he could probably legally do a bit should he wish to. He was promptly informed that if he so much as twitched in their direction he would find himself in the river alongside them.

But now to arty endeavours and my ‘bag of unruly thoughts’ (India Flint) that I took away with me. My head is always less peaceful, although I’ve been trying hard not to think too much this week.   I took away materials for exploring ‘noticeable edges’ where I have limited myself to working in black and white.

Out t’back of the cottage is a wonderful set of roof tops which caught my attention. Yes, it was me hanging out the toilet window trying to get a camera round the double glazing several times – sorry Bakewell. But it had to be captured in the light, and mist, and dark… I did a bit of sketching one morning (not out the toilet window I might add). I don’t really like sketching because I still believe it won’t look like it should do like so many of us, but I think I’m getting better and it’s just a very good way to understand what you are looking at. It gets into your brain and finger-tips.

This is my original sketch.

And to prove it was still in my visual memory, this is a quick line sketch a day later without looking at anything.

I do believe that over time observation from being interested in whatever you feel  connected to grows your brain. I don’t know about seeing differently as they say, but I think artists see better.

I like playing with photo apps and this was made using Pixlr where you can create multiple exposures with different effects. 

 Layering the roof tops with the ‘difference’ filter creates these odd colours and isolating small areas suggests some possible designs.  If you work from a photo that is in your photo stream as opposed to your camera roll where it offers you a ‘duplicate and edit’ choice, you never lose your original by accident. But the apps are all pretty good and despite saving an edit, if you go back in to the app you can usually undo any changes. 

I started this at home which I have been stitching into. I wanted to explore the inked edges that I’d trialled in my sketchbook. 

This is made with acrylic paint rather than ink and torn bits of fabric. The base is the lining paper I was working on with painted scrim bonded on top. The fabric has all been dampened down and placed on plastic so that I could run a brush down the edges. It’s best to lift paper or fabric that’s been painted with acrylic when it’s still just damp because the paint will stick a bit, especially if it’s not thin. There are some small pieces of chiffon that have painty lines on them made by printing the left over paint using the edge of an empty mixing palette.

I think it might end up as a tall cylinder. So far so good I think, but I don’t want the stitch to compete with the edges. I’m trying to work with darker stitch at the bottom and lighter at the top.   

I took Val Holme’s ‘Collage, Stitch, Print’ book away with me, and thought perhaps my itch hadn’t been scratched, but it did make me want to try a collagraph plate with some available threads. I used the Amazon packaging as the base and made something…ish…sort of…and had a go. I didn’t really like anything as it all looked such a mess, but in order to explore all possibilities before ditching it I started layering the offerings over each other and could see a bit of potential.

Half a pot of gel medium later and many taking offs and ons, these were made and I think I might like them – not too sure about the white?  I will live with them for a while to see if we become friends.  I have bought some double-sided carpet tape from the market to make some more collagraphs at some point. Another path to explore.  

Packing clothes doesn’t take me long. Packing art equipment is a whole other ball game, but I managed to bring my nuking appliances, thank goodness. I harbour a secret desire to burn edges as many of you do…they are just delicious, aren’t they? This week though, having torn up lining paper and made painted edges, I decided I liked them and didn’t really want to burn them, so how was a girl to satisfy her desire? 

By making holes I decided.
I had waxed the strips of paper and did wonder if burning holes would work or whether I’d set the cottage on fire as they turned into great balls of fire. Happily, not. One heat tool on the back doorstep gently singeing away in the afternoon – very nice.  Just playing around now to see how to progress things and how best to show off the holes.   

Maybe some landscapes? Maybe small tea light wraps?

These? Well no idea what I will do with these yet, if anything.  Just a little compulsion to make a long row of them.  It will probably pass once I return home. 

Finally, I made this with the newspapers from under the strips and some layout paper. Sewn, painted, stitched.  Unlike much of the above, this just worked for me and I was ‘in the zone’ quickly plonking bits on and whizzing up lines with the machine.  I enjoyed making this the most. 

I think I have annoyed myself quite enough now with all this playing in monotone. Sometimes you can just go at things until you have completely irritated yourself, or maybe that’s just me?

Anyway, I’m off home today back to real life and having emptied my bag of unruly thoughts for now, I will see you when it’s full again!

New Horizons

It’s been a while since I posted anything. I’m just emerging from a lengthy and arduous house move which theoretically should have been quick and easy, but eight months later… Still, all is well now, and I actually know which piles contain what art materials which is no small thing. I have a new studio space and some creative storage solutions to find which I’m hoping IKEA will help me with.

I actually have a lovely new horizon to look at out the back.  These are the Yorkshire moors (about 20 mins drive away) and they say ‘If you can’t see the hills it’s raining and if you can see them, it’s going to rain!’. But we have had some glorious weather over the last week like everyone else which is making the neighbour’s advice about battening down everything in winter seem a bit unreal. 

Our newly-formed textile art group met this weekend which is a new horizon in itself, but just to be extra cheesy it was also the theme of the day. Some of us have been exploring ‘noticeable edges’ for a while, but with a lot of new members joining for our second meeting we worked on ‘horizon’ as a topic which would fit into the edges theme. We spent the day introducing ourselves, looking at sketchbook work and then using paint and torn papers to tune into colour before starting to translate things into fabric.   

This is a photo from Castle Hill, it’s the most prominent landmark in Huddersfield and we now live at the base of it. There are the most gobsmacking 360 degree views as you walk around it. Our little area at the bottom is called Hall Bower and I’ve just discovered Hall Bower Hookers. I was wondering if Him Indoors would mind if I joined? 

 Oh, forgot to say, they do crochet. 

Whilst I was busy with textiles based on looking over to the moors, the rest of my family went walking up there.  This is Joel’s photo – he’s pretty good with a camera.  

So I’ve just started piecing bits together using some Procion bag-dyed samples from Experimental Textiles which have been waiting for their moment.   I’d like I to try out some more adventurous stitch at some point so this may be a good place to try some.  Not sure, I may be seduced back to the simple. 

I’m also chuffed to bits that the paths around our house are full of ferns and grasses as I want to do a pile of printing over the summer. I have a bit of a thing for ferns, I could fill my garden with them and other architectural greenery but Him Indoors likes a bit of colour. By colour, read ‘municipal park planting’ and you will be getting close. The thing is, I have a spot at the Manchester ICHF show in February and I will need to take little bits of work to demonstrate with. I keep getting nervacitement every time I think about it. The Wise One is largely responsible for encouraging me and I love her for that, but I’ve also had to take up mud-wrestling with my inner critic. 

Some little colourful printy bits using lots of teabag paper. Please say you can’t detect any echoes of park planting… 

Old Man Eyebrows and Hair n’ Swear will also be going along with my more limited palette of pebble work. I’m also trying to write something in time for the show but time is flying past rather too quickly so I shall see. I have in mind to make more smaller forms with noticeable edges which will hang together. 

Well that’s about it. I shall try not to spend too much time staring into distances and get down to some work.  I have a talk to give at our guild in November which may be entertaining – not completely sure they know what they’ve done there. 

If you are going to the ICHF Manchester show in February, it would be great to see some friendly faces or be introduced to new ones!  
Please say ‘hello’.  Just between you and me, there will be a store of emergency Freddos and giant chocolate buttons under the table.