Preparing for autumn

My posts are likely to be a bit erratic over the next few weeks so please bear with me! I’m not doing a great deal that’s creative and I’m preparing for the autumn by cleaning the conservatory so I can set up my knitting machine over the winter (it’s far too hot in the summer), tidying up my allotment, making jam and chutney and preparing for a big facilitation in September. I’m waiting for replies to e-mails about the Basque children, but everyone is on holiday and I’m consolidating the information I have already collected about them. So I’m really busy but not in a way that makes for an interesting post! I’ve got a couple of activities planned during the month that should be of interest so will post as and when they happen.

“Croeso”, welcome

“Creoso” is Welsh for welcome and is the title of this commission I recently made to celebrate the birth of a little boy. Inspired by  the work I am doing for my “Waiting for Tide and Time series”, I experimented with layers of silk, satin, organza and metallics. I machined these together in straight(ish) rows which I then carefully cut to reveal the layers below, followed by a quick wash in the machine to fray and rough it all up.

I then embroidered his name, date of birth and “Creoso”, fading the thread colour from mauve to lilac and sand.

This was a present from the mother’s godfather. He was really pleased with it and apparently the family love it.

Consolidating bits and pieces

It’s hard to believe that this is my eighteenth post. I know it’s a cliché, but “doesn’t time fly”. I’ve had a “bits and pieces” of a week and thought I would use this post to tie off a few loose ends from previous posts.  Going right back to the beginning, I consciously left the white velvet snow piece for a while; spring is just the wrong time to deal with snow!  Also I liked my ink drawings so much that I couldn’t move on from them.  The good and bad news is that I used a little devoré paste to test if some of the woven fabrics in my stash were cotton or cotton polyester, and decided to test the white velvet too. It was silk with viscose pile.  Bad because when I bought it about ten years ago I thought I was buying 100% silk, good, because it now means I can now add devoré techniques to the design process.

I went to the Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk where my piece “Waiting for Tide and Time: Crosby Beach” was selected for the West Lancashire Open. Again it was a mix of good and bad news. Good because the standard of work selected was high, so I was very pleased to be selected. Bad because two of the 192 selected entrants were going to have to be displayed in the corner of the vestibule, behind the shop display case, lit by the low wattage emergency light against a dark purple wall and unfortunately I was one of them!  It’s not a gripe with the curators (if it wasn’t me it would have to be someone else). The piece was designed to respond to changes in daylight – suggesting the changing light and reflections at Crosby Beach – and it sparkles when spot lit so I am disappointed, especially as I had said in my post on 16th July how much I was looking forward to seeing it displayed on a white wall in a well lit gallery…


I had a lovely time at the Ordsall Festival as Nana Knitwit, and there’s a one and a half minute video of the festival that includes a little of me and children making pompoms on Salford on line.

I have been working on the prints I made from the Crosby detritus photo. I quite liked them but they have been lurking in a bag as I wasn’t sure where to go next with them. As I haven’t really done any machine embroidery since my City and Guilds years ago, I have decided to use them as backgrounds to refresh my machining skills with.  Yesterday I layered two of the muslin prints, machined around the shapes in straight stitch and then dropped the teeth and started to fill the white areas in pale yellow Madeira Rayon. I deliberately didn’t use a hoop, using my hands to pull the fabric taut, which allows it to distort.

My friend, also called Claire and also a textile artist, is running a textile jewellery making workshop at Gawthorpe Hall in Lancashire and there are still a couple of places available.  So, if you live in the North West check out her blog, Textile Alchemy for details.

Basque Children in Salford – update 1

In my post on June 26th I mentioned a project I have started about the Basque children who came to Salford in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. Thanks to Caroline Allport, the User Development Worker for Older People at Salford City Council, who put my request for information on The Older People in Salford Facebook page, and the Salford Advertiser who printed a letter requesting information, I now have some interesting threads to follow and thought I would update you on my progress.

First of all Ray contacted me to say he had been in a play about the Spanish Civil War at the Working Class Movement Library and that a Basque Lady, who he thought was one of the original refugees, attended.  He is trying to find out how to contact her through his networks, and has given me lots of contacts of people who have researched the Spanish Civil War.

Vicki supplied me with the photograph above of the Spanish Children, taken in the grounds of Harold’s Orphanage. The photograph came from her mother, who used to play with the children. Another contact, Dorothy, remembers walking past the orphanage with her mother and being told that they were children with no mummies and daddies who had left Spain because of a war there.  When she was later evacuated from Salford during the War she thought of the Spanish children and was terrified she might never see her parents again. Jim can remember playing in the grounds of the orphanage in 1941 when it was empty.  There were two old dilapidated rowing boats in the back! He also told me that a bomb was dropped next door to the orphanage during the War.

In addition I have had lots of offers of help, suggestions of where to find information, including the really helpful comment from Richard on my original post, and an e-mail from a chap called Peter whose family had been involved in supporting refugees during the War. I have had lots of encouragement and am going to talk to a local community forum in August to try to find local groups and community champions who might be able to help me uncover more leads.  I am finding this all very exciting and will keep you posted!

West Lancashire Open Exhibition 2012

I have just had some fantastic news. A hanging I made last year has been accepted into theWest Lancashire Open Exhibition at the Chapel Gallery in Ormskirk and I am thrilled. This hanging is part of my Time and Tide series; it is based on photographs of tidal pools and ripples taken at Crosby Beach, which I have been using as inspiration for some time now.

I had been working with knitting, quilting, layering, ripping and embroidery to try to create the textures and patterns of ripples, pools and erosion, but something else was required. In 2010, feeling very stuck, I attended some creative workshops with Dionne Swift at her studio.  Her workshops are designed to boost creativity, which they most certainly did, but also her dyeing and thermofax printing techniques proved to be the breakthrough I needed.  When applied to the work I was already doing, they added that missing ingredient I had been searching for.

I decided to make a quilt for the festival of quilts last year using these techniques. After lots of sampling I designed my quilt, dyed the fabric, hand quilted it for 100+ hours and then applied copious amount of devoré paste to burn holes in it!!!  I’ve mentioned previously that I do hours of meditative sewing and then subject it to some kind of destructive process that could ruin it completely.

It is this quilt “Waiting for Tide and Time: Crosby Beach” that I entered into the Chapel Gallery Open. It is a very delicate hanging that flutters in the breeze.  At the Festival of Quilts it was displayed against a black background with artificial light and no spots, so it didn’t look its best.  Chapel gallery is a white walled gallery with lots of natural light and good spotlighting, so I am really looking forward to seeing it on display as it is the perfect place for it.



The exhibition dates are 21st July to 19th September 2012

An Interesting Facilitation

On Friday I was involved in a really interesting facilitation with a local charity, IAS (Imagine, Act, Succeed) which supports adults with learning disabilities in the community.  They are, I think, quite groundbreaking in their approach to supporting people and are passionate that the people they work with are involved not only in their own decision making, but the organisational decision making too.

It was interesting because they are looking at how to ensure that people participate in social and community activities in a more natural and subtle way, while maintaining a high level of professionalism. This will involve developing a new policy around community involvement, and the meeting was to explain the concept to the group, get their views and concerns and to feed these into the policy.

Adapting the Circle of Friends tool (why create something new if there’s something that already works?), I created a “Rainbow of Participation” in felt that we could attach people and building motifs to, and that could be moved around during our discussions. Starting at the centre, each person discussed what they do as an individual in the community and the interests they share with others in the group.  Then we went on to discuss activities that staff and families engage in and that they would like to try. Finally we discussed activities they have been involved in with people from outside their immediate network of people with learning disabilities, family and paid staff.

This provoked serious and interesting discussion that will feed into company policy.  At what point do the staff, management and company “let go” to ensure people naturally become included in social and community groups?  Where do you draw the professional boundary on the blurred area of paid staff also being a natural and trusted link to social and community activities outside of their working role?

Karen, John, Nick, Karen, Marc and Ian. Some group members willing to be photographed!

Home Studio for a day

The very large conté crayon sketch I made, influenced by the detritus photograph below.

How many of us dream about having a  studio? I would love a dedicated space where I would have everything to hand and could leave behind all the domestic trivia that I use to procrastinate!

Last week I had an idea to turn my home into a studio for a day which took about an hour to set up. I removed anything from the dining room that could be damaged by painterly muck and covered my whole table in PVC table cloths that I use when I work out in the community.  I then created a simple printing area by the kitchen sink by folding an old towel between a PVC cloth to create a wipe clean springy printing area, with the inking trays on the draining board.

My paints, inks, drawing equipment etc are stored in boxes in various secret locations around the house, so the best bit of the preparation was to find all these boxes and set them out in an orderly fashion across the kitchen floor.  I then set myself some rules.  This was now my studio, not my home.  If it was a real studio, I would not be able to nip home for forgotten bits and pieces, so I could only use what I had set out, and would have to make do and come up with a creative solution.

I had the most effective and creative day I have had for ages! I was so engrossed I even forgot to make myself a brew.

I wanted to use the day to start to push my ideas for using the tides, ripples and erosion as a metaphor for fragmented memory and time passing.  This is beginning to feel  a little safe and I want to start looking at the detritus that collects in these eroded pockets and tidal pools.

Crosby Beach Detritus: image used for sketching

I am interested in the objects we accumulate as we travel through time and the meanings we attach to them.  With this in mind I collect photos of beach detritus: a mix of the natural, seaweed and shells and the man made flotsam and jetsam, bits of rope, plastic bags and a variety of items that people “flush” away!  I have wanted to work with these for a while, so I chose the one on the left with its mix of natural and man made detritus to inspire me…

This is the lower aspect of my drawing that I used to inspire my printing.  It has an oriental feel.

I rolled a large piece of lining paper right across the table and wondered where to start.  From my kitchen floor equipment selection I chose a pack of conté crayons and started to draw quite large. Very large in fact!  My drawing filled the full table sized piece of paper.  I had drawn horizontally from right to left, but when I looked at it vertically from the end of the table I realised I had created something special to work with.  I stuck it to a door and then took and printed out photos.  I chose the bottom area to continue working on. I translated this into print and, using fabric paint and a foam print from a pizza base, printed a variety of fabrics.  It was then time to wash up, pack up and put away, but what a successful day.  I will try to timetable a “studio day” every week from now on; it was such an effective use of time.

Basque Children in Salford 1937

I am embarking on an interesting project to find out more about a group of Basque refugee children who came to Salford following the bombing of Guernica during the Spanish Civil War. I am particularly interested in memories of local people who would have been children at this time. Now, I know it’s a bit different to ripples and erosion, and pristine white velvet snow so I’m going to try to explain how someone who found history boring at school has suddenly started to research the Spanish Civil War!

As a teenager I watched the film “The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie” and was struck by reference to the Spanish Civil War because I wasn’t really aware that there had been one, although I had heard of Franco.  I bought the book but didn’t learn any more. Something resonated with me, though, and I had a gnawing sense that I wanted to dig deeper. I didn’t, of course!  Then around 2006/7 I saw Guillermo del Toro’s film “Pan’s Labyrinth” which is set against the back drop of the Civil War. This stirred that old romantic interest in the subject and I followed it up by watching his “The Devil’s Backbone” set in the same period.

File:Panorama Cerbère depuis le col des Balistres.jpgPanorama of Cerbère seen from the French/Spanish border (July 2008) photo: Christophe Marcheux

A trip to Barcelona by train stirred this feeling again, particularly when at  Cerbere, the station on the border where many of the International Brigade entered Spain, the Border Police got on and searched the train!

On my return I taught a printing class and used paintings by Jean Miró as inspiration for print designs. By learning about Jean Miró I became even more aware of the devastating impact the Civil War had on the nation and people of Spain, and how he was affected by it. Picasso too, whose painting Guernica  is a visceral depiction of the horror that civil war can lead to.

So, gradually, I have been building up my knowledge.  For me, the best way into reading “proper” history books is via fiction and biography.  I received Javier Cercas’ “Soldiers of Salamis” (slow start, nearly put it down, but glad I didn’t, really good), Laurie Lee’s Trilogy “Red Sky at Sunrise”  and George Orwell’s “Homage to Catalonia” as gifts, so I had a cracking start to my research.  I then saw a review of Peter Day’s “Franco’s Friends: how British Intelligence helped bring Franco to power in Spain” and put it on my Christmas list! A very interesting book, if a little dry, based on recently released documents from the National Archive, the Imperial War Museum, British library and Private Collections.

At a local festival as Nana Knitwit, I took a quick break during a quiet spell to look at the stall next door – the Working Class Movement Library – and amongst their publications was a little book called “From Manchester to Spain” by Bernard Barry, so of course I bought it.  It was reading this that alerted me to the Spanish children and the Salford connection.

In June 1937, 4000 Basque children arrived in Southampton as refugees and were dispersed around the country in “colonies”.  One of these colonies was in Salford at Harold’s Memorial Orphanage, now demolished but only five minutes walk from my home, and they were taught at the Local Quaker Meeting House, now a British Legion building just a little further on.  I realised that it is exactly 75 years since they arrived. Did anyone remember them? Somebody should organise a celebration I thought!  I mentioned the children to my friend’s mum (age 83) and she was delighted to be asked. She remembered being 9 years old and leaving hospital after a bout of mumps. She went with her friends to look at the refugees because “we thought they would be exotic but were dead disappointed because they looked just like us!”

The former Friends Meeting House (now The British Legion) on Langworthy Road, Salford

I felt I should let people know about this 75th Anniversary because it’s a little bit of Salford history that was overtaken by the war and forgotten, and that maybe someone should do something about it.  I then met a really great guy called Lawrence at the opening night of the Cow Lane Exhibition. He has set up the Streets Museum, an online archive of the 1000 lost streets of Salford – streets that have been demolished over the last 60 years – and their fragmented and dispersed communities, inspired by The District Six Museum of South Africa. He basically did it because it needed doing and it needed doing now before all those memories were lost.  So, inspired by Lawrence, I have decided to make a piece of art based on the Basque children in Salford. Anyone who remembers them will be in their eighties and nineties, and I need to tap into these memories sooner rather than later.

And! After talking to artist Julie Foley an artist at Cow Lane Studios, it does fit in very well with my investigation of memory and the way it changes and fragments over time. I’m just approaching it from a different perspective…

Opening Night at The Cow Lane Studios Open Exhibition

I had the most amazing night at the opening of the Cow Lane Studios Open Exhibition on Friday night.  I didn’t win any of the prizes, but what I got from it was far more important and sustaining than any prize could be.

We arrived early, so the gallery was almost empty, and it was easy to see how well curated it was. The space itself was a form of artwork: an impeccable spatial collage of unique pieces put together in a truly pleasing way. And that was just my first impression!

As I started to look around, the quality of the work selected shone out – a beautiful display of outstanding contemporary art. Then it dawned on me (and this is the bit that is better than any prize) that my piece of work had been selected too!  I cannot explain how stunned I was when I realised that my work was holding its own amongst artwork of this quality.

I have been in a bit of a no-man’s land creatively. At college, I had lots of crazy ideas that were passively discouraged because of the need to follow the syllabus and because of lack of time (it was a practical design/fashion course after all!), and I also have a sense that I stand more chance of earning a living by making contemporary craft products that people understand more easily. And, of course, an absolute lack of confidence in calling myself an artist.

“Why would anyone keep a broken gravy jug?” as installation at         The Cow Lane Studios











Seeing my work placed in a contemporary art setting and how well it sat with the other pieces at the Cow Lane gallery has been a real revelation for me.  It was the only textile there, yet not one single person asked me how I had made it. They wanted to talk about the concept behind it and their understanding of it! What an eye opener.

So thank you Cow Lane Studios for selecting me…

Having a Washing Line Moment

When you work the way I do, which is to put hours and hours of work into a piece and then add a destructive process that could effectively destroy the lot, there is a point at which you let go of it and leave it in the hands of fate, and then a point when you claim it back.  For me, the point I finally let go is usually when it goes into the washing machine, either at a high temperature to felt it or, more recently, with an old rough towel to drag and scratch the last bits of devoré devoured fabric from it.

I take it from the machine as a crumpled mish mash, still not sure whether the end results will be what I imagined, better than I imagined or a disaster.  It is only when I hang it out on the line that I get a feeling whether it has worked or not.

Today I finished preparing three pieces that I dyed, printed and used devoré paste on, using techniques learnt on workshops with Dionne Swift. Then the moment came when I had to relinquish control and put them in the machine.  Hanging them out on the line I had a “washing line moment” and realised how pleased I am with them, even though there is still work to do.

The problem with a “washing line moment” however, is that the pieces are surrounded on all sides with natural light, and look far more ephemeral and transparent than they ever will when finished and mounted. In fact, un-ironed, incomplete and with clothes pegs: to me they are at their most beautiful!A previous “washing line moment”, panels for the IAS Forum Meeting Box. I love the industrial landscape created by the shadows!