DIY Theatre Company

On Friday I went to have lunch with the members of DIY Theatre Company  at The Angel  in Salford. Last year I worked with them to create an exhibition to showcase the end of a project they were working on, and they had some photos for me that I had forgotten to collect.

They had received funding to take their play “Ellie’s Story” to schools within the M60 boundary and run Arts Awards projects with the young people. Working with the Friday Group (their outreach team), we designed, printed and sewed banners and cushions to represent the different aspects of the project. We made a banner out of net and sewed comments and photos of the group to it, saying how they felt about the project.  The children had used giant music notes for feedback so we used a roller to print lines of music to display them on, and for the third banner we printed school buildings and made a border of tarmac coloured minibuses to represent the M60.

The photographs below were taken by DIY and are published with their permission. They show Anna, Cathy, Tracey and Joan sewing and printing.  It was a lovely way to work, discussing and making decisions about the practicalities of the event while keeping our hands busy.  I really enjoyed meeting everybody again to catch up.

Do check out their website They really are a professional and innovative outfit, and if you live locally to Salford, try to catch one of their plays if you can.

Cathy, Tracey and Joan with M60 banner, and with Anna sewing and printing.

Salford Open Exhibition

I had some really good news today; a piece of my work has been selected for the Salford Open Exhibition at Cow Lane Studios  and I’m really excited about it. It is the same piece that was selected for the West Lancashire Open at the Chapel Gallery in  Ormskirk last year. I also submitted “Searching for Clarity”, the quilt I wrote about in my post on 7th April, but this didn’t get through, so, even though I love it, I’ve got to assess whether it is a suitable piece for exhibition.

The piece that has been selected “Why Would Anyone Keep a Broken Gravy Jug?” really is a special piece for me, and I think there is something about it that resonates with other people too.  It has a story to tell and I think that shows through.

After my Aunt died, my sister and I had the horrible job of clearing out her house. Going through a private person’s private stuff is very emotional, and she kept a lot of stuff! At the end of a long and tiring day we decided to clear one more cupboard before we left. Amongst her extensively collected Lavender Rose dinner service there was a broken gravy jug. My sister just groaned “Why would anyone keep a broken gravy jug?” which sparked an interesting conversation about the things people would find in our cupboards, and how we tend to keep things for sentimental reasons to remind us of people and events in the past.

This conversation made me realise how much I keep in order to hold on to the past. I have got my dad’s bow ties from the 1960s that he wore when I was little. I keep them in a plastic bag, and when I take them out I can still faintly smell his wardrobe after 19 years!  I decided this gravy jug must have been special or why would she have kept it? So I made it a little rippled comfort blanket to keep it safe and put all the pieces back together.

Nana Knitwit’s Origins

I got my photos from the photographer at the weekend and I am really pleased with them. He has captured the texture and sparkle in my work, which I struggled to photograph myself. My website is really beginning to take shape (thank you Michael),  and now that I have the photos, we can get on with the gallery page.

In my last post I mentioned my festival character, Nana Knitwit. Now I have photos of her I can get on with creating her page on the website.  In the meantime (and because I have done no work whatsoever on my white velvet designs) I thought I would tell you a little bit about her origins.

In July 2010, some of my work was exhibited at Eccles Community Art Gallery. While I was setting up, the manager of the shopping centre came in to talk to Karen (the founder of the gallery), asking if she knew any artists who might be interested in doing an activity in one of the empty shops during the Eccles Festival.  I volunteered to run a Knit and Natter.  Straightforward, I thought to myself.

The weekend before the festival I spoke to Karen again, and in passing she just happened to ask if I was going dressed as a zombie.  I have to be honest; this is not a question I get asked often, so I was taken a little by surprise!

Apparently, during the festival, the shopping precinct was to be the venue for the Zombie Games, a film and multi-media project run by Let’s Go Global. Youngsters from all over Salford were participating and professional makeup artists would be available to make us up.

I thought about it for a while and decided that with an emergency supply of anti-histamines (I react badly to some make up) I would join in the fun. I created the persona of an artist who had been zombiefied in the late 1970s / early 1980s. The makeup took ages but was great. I sat in the shop window with my giant knitting needles as a kind of installation, until people joined the Knit and Natter. Have a look at the photos on Facebook and the film on You Tube.  I make a brief appearance early on.

Nana Zombie "Art Installation!"

I had plenty of visitors including Gail, a contact from Ordsall Community Arts, who I knew from a while back.  She was also disguised as a Zombie so we didn’t recognise each other at first.  Gail had two young people with her who enjoyed the knitting so much they asked if “Nana Zombie” could come to their local festival the following week. As Nana Zombie would not really fit in at a festival where there were no other zombies, Nana Knitwit was born.

Taking Pictures

I had an unexpectedly busy week last week, doing all sorts of different activities that have nothing to do with being practically creative, so I don’t have any photos! Ironically I spent last Saturday afternoon at a studio with a professional photographer having photos taken of my work. I didn’t expect it to be so much fun.

I have been trying for a while to take photos myself and even roped in a friend with a much better camera but still couldn’t capture the detail, texture and sparkle in my work. On the recommendation of Joanne Bowles, a metalworker I met recently, I contacted David Burrows. What a difference proper lighting and a professional photographer makes. I didn’t know that you could get radio controlled lighting for a start! He suggested different ways to view my work and had one piece suspended on fishing line so we could light it from behind, as well as standing on tall ladders to get above stuff and lying on the floor to get the textural detail. The scariest part was having portraits of me and my alter-ego and festival character Nana Knitwit taken to put on the site.

Like most people I don’t like having my photo taken, but he managed to put me at my ease and we had a good laugh. As Nana I was much less self conscious. It must be the pink beret and pompom scarf that does it. We got some great pictures of her juggling balls of wool and doing her brightly coloured knitting on giant broom handle knitting needles. To liven up this post I have put up an image of the knitting!

I should get the pictures next week and hope to get them on the website in the next couple of weeks or so.

Although it wasn’t a creative week, there were a couple of seeds sown for creative stuff in the near future. I was offered a commission to make a wall hung piece to celebrate a little boy’s first birthday, which I am looking forward to making and already have some ideas for, and later in the week I accepted some more facilitation work for Imagine, Act and Succeed (IAS) , a local charity  that supports people with learning disabilities in the community.

Ink drawings for white velvet

I have taken advantage of being cooped in by the awful weather and started the process of creating a design for my white velvet by making some stick and ink drawings. I liked the top half of the photo I posted on the 15th of April because it was less cluttered. I cropped and printed it out and used it as the starting point for my designs.  As I stared at the photo I realised it all fell rather tidily into a triptych, so, as I had the time, I did the three ink drawings below, and thoroughly enjoyed myself, lost in my own little world of thought.

Click on the images to see my comments and ideas.

I’ve not got a traditional art background and have had no formal training in drawing, but I am happy with these sketches and they do the job.

By sketching the tiny detail I can really begin to see repeating shapes and find interesting patterns, and this is the purpose of the drawings. I made a conscious decision to only draw the bold black areas of the photo, not the shading, faint outlines or any softening of the edges by the snow.  The next part of my process will be to scan or photocopy the images and use these new images to add the shading and any area of interest that I left out.  This is a really useful way to continue working on a design without losing or damaging the original.  As I drew them on A3 I will probably get them photocopied at the library, my scanner being A4.  Another benefit of this method is that you can use scissors to cut up and re-arrange designs, so always get a couple of extra copies.

Using a barbeque stick and ink is a useful way to start the design process.  You can’t rub it out and unless you want to start all over again you have to incorporate any mistakes.  Black ink is so decisive; you can’t hide your marks once you have made them, so you start to make decisions straight away about what to keep in and what to leave out.  I use this technique with groups in my “Confidence to Create” classes. Textile groups are more used to this approach, but art groups tend to struggle initially, because they expect to create something perfect to frame and they don’t like “messing about” to start with!  I use the barbeque stick because it is supposed to confuse the brain, making it use different pathways to be creative.  It still works in classes, but I am now used to it so I need to find a new brain confusing method for me!

A visit to Quilts and Embroidery 2012 at Uttoxeter

I went to pick up my embroidery “Searching for Clarity” from the Quilts and Embroidery Show at Uttoxeter on Sunday. What a cracking little show!

It was my first visit and, because I left later than planned and got stuck in traffic on the M6, I only had two hours there.  This was sufficient time to browse the exhibition but not the stalls. If you are used to visiting the big Knit/Stitch and Quilt shows you will find this rather small, but on this occasion less really is more.  I get overwhelmed by the quantity of everything at larger shows, and end up glancing at the exhibitions because there is so much to take in. Everything, no matter how well executed and innovative, becomes much of a muchness.  At Uttoxeter I had time to read the programme, examine the work and take in everything.

The entry categories encouraged diversity and I was pleased to see an overlap between the disciplines of embroidery, quilting and even a bit of knitting!  EQS Ltd provided the materials for the two special categories with the title “Perchance to Dream”. This created a coherence to this part of the exhibition, yet encouraged a breadth of imagination and talent – no two pieces were anywhere near the same. I am thinking of entering this category next year.

I thought the bed quilts were lovely; there were a few I could have quite easily snuggled under, and it’s good to be reminded of the practical application of our skills.  The children’s category was of a high standard, and it must have been very hard to judge.  I happened to pass by as one of the children was engaged in conversation with a workshop leader, having a really good discussion about her technique. I’m not sure you would get this at a larger show.

Hopefully this show will become a regular event in the textile lovers’ calendar while still retaining its local charm. I’m not sure it is worth travelling a long way for unless you wanted to do the workshops but the exhibition and stalls would fill a good half day so I would say it is worth around an hour, hour and a half drive. The train station is next door so it’s really accessible by public transport. The venue is about 20 minutes from the M6 and not much further from the M1 so if you were returning from a holiday along these motorways it would make a lovely journey break.

My entry didn’t win anything but I think it is always worth entering for the judge’s comments which were “good surface texture using inventive stitch” and “Very innovative use of materials which would be strengthened by underpinning of design”.  I wasn’t quite so sure about the second comment when I read it, but having thought about it, they are right. This was a piece I designed about 12 years ago, and it was more an evolution than a design.  My recent pieces are much stronger, but I still love this one!

White velvet beginnings

I have started to think about that piece of snowy white velvet and what to do with it…

As there’s nothing scarier than a blank piece of beautiful and expensive material, I have decided to use my photos of snow as a starting point.  It’s a very different inspiration to the ripples and erosion I have been working with recently, but still has the same elements of layers and destruction by time. It will be good to let my mind wander into new territory.

I’m not quite sure yet what I am aiming to make.  White velvet would not be my first choice for a wall hanging, and I personally think it is a shame to put a textured textile behind glass.  I prefer to make things that are vacuum cleaner friendly. I have previously made a dyed, quilted and beaded hanging in silk velvet, and I did actually buy this piece of velvet with a view to dyeing and making something similar. I do have just enough (100cm x 110 cm) to make a quilt to enter into the Festival of Quilts, particularly if I add a border. The advantage of this is that it gives me a deadline to work to and boundaries!

So working on my principle that you need a plan to have something to deviate from, I intend to start sketching and playing with some of the images I took of snow in Norway and Sweden, with a notion that I will create a contemporary hanging of some description to enter into the Festival of Quilts. It may be that my drawings and experiments will suggest something completely different, which, of course, is the joy of making something for yourself!

Next week I am going to start drawing from my photos taken outside the hotel in Kiruna of the overlapping footprints left behind in the snow by our group as they were leaving, and the pictures of grasses emerging from the snow taken from the train and see where that starts to take my imagination!

Committing to an ending

I have had a very introspective few days completing a piece of work I started 12 -13 years ago. Although technically finished – it was a City and Guilds piece – I never felt it was complete. Any more work on it at that time would have been impossible, and shock/horror the hanging mechanism consisted of 3 drawing pins hammered through the back!

My embroidered work in general takes hours and hours and is almost a form of meditation; I switch off, immerse myself in the original source of inspiration, resolve matters in my head, think about the people I love, plan the future and generally have a thoughtful meander around.  Because of this, the plan I start off with usually goes on a bit of a detour, and never quite gets back to its original destination. This makes planning how the end piece will be and especially how to hang it a flexible affair and a complex task.

Because each piece of work is a journey, they become very hard to finish.  Each piece is an amalgamation of my thoughts, inspirations and literally hours of my life.  I usually work on them from multiple directions, so there is no definite top or bottom. They are quite abstract and I have to wait until the end to decide which way up to hang them, which is why drawing pins are a useful hanging device as I can change my mind easily!

So committing to an ending is really difficult, almost emotional and I do my best to avoid it! I love it when someone takes a piece of my work and displays it how they think it should be, taking all the responsibility off me…  

I decided to enter the Quilts and Embroidery Show at Uttoxeter as an excuse to finish this piece of work based on a film image taken when my twin niece and nephew were born.  The camera stuck and all 36 images were printed on the same photo, creating an opaque mass with what looked like a bit of twig in it. I couldn’t stop staring at it, trying to pick out images that weren’t there anymore; hence its title “Searching for Clarity”.

By entering an exhibition I limited my choice of hanging methods to two, decided which way up to hang it and completed another 10cm of kantha work border in 3 solid days of hand stitching! I am so pleased with the finished piece, and like the twins who were 13 this week, my piece has grown up!

Cherished, Lost, Broken and Found

I am very much inspired by the textures created by erosion and the destruction of time, particularly on the manmade, in the landscape and on the personal objects we leave behind us. This has resulted in work inspired by Whitby Abbey and the Great Pyramid, and by the grave goods and fabrics in the Coptic Collections at the British Museum and the Museum of Textiles in Barcelona.

Although I love these early pieces, I have felt the need to add another dimension to my work by trying to evoke feeling and memory. This came about through my final college collection, “Cherished, Lost, Broken and Found”, where I made vessels to evoke cherished memories and to enfold and repair the objects we keep to remember people and events.

This project was inspired by the landscape and ripples at Crosby Beach, and particularly by the memories and feelings evoked by the Antony Gormley statues.  Although I never visited Crosby with my Dad, the statues created a powerful emotional response of sadness, yearning and happy childhood holiday memories. He loved harbours, beaches, cliffs and piers and was always at peace when he was staring out to sea, lost in thought.  The rows of statues staring out across the horizon reminded me so much of him, and I made my first vessel to evoke these memories.

My creative goal is to develop pieces based on my own cherished memories and objects and make commissions based on other people’s recollections. My collection of 2D textile pieces creating the effect of ripples and erosion is called “Waiting for Time and Tide”. I am developing these techniques into 3D to create vessels that evoke the feelings of time passing, of holding on to fading memories, celebrating the past and looking back with joy.



Snow,rock and sky

 I have just returned from the most fantastic holiday travelling through Norway by train.  The snow covered scenery, frozen fjords, and the most amazing skies were so inspirational that it seems the right subject to finally start this blog with.

I am not used to seeing snow at such depths and over such vast landscapes, the way it envelopes everything. House roofs under two foot of snow peep out from behind vast drifts. Trees lose their definition, and small branches and grasses peep out at strange angles.

Initially the landscape appears a bleak grey and white monotone, but as we slowly travelled through, subtle variations and tones began to show themselves. Rocks with rusts and copper pink, tree bark layered with rusts and bronzes, browns and silver. The fjords and skies were a myriad of greys with hints of pink and everything had the sparkle of sunlight, water and ice.

What I particularly enjoyed were the aspects of colour created in the landscape by man! All the houses are painted red, yellow ochre, blue or green and fit into the landscape well as these traditional colours originate from the local minerals and ores found within.

The more modern colours injected an element of fun such as the bright orange snow shovels and the plastic security fencing I spotted half way up a mountain.



I have a piece of pure silk velvet that I bought many years ago, and have been loath to touch it because I didn’t want to spoil its pristine loveliness.  Seeing all this snow has made me want to work on it, so I am setting myself a challenge.  I usually steer away from using subtle colour schemes as I find them extremely difficult to work with. So I am going to use this Norway colour pallet and come out of my comfort zone by designing an embroidery that uses this piece of velvet.  It may take a while as I am in the middle of working on my “Waiting for Time and Tide” series based on ripples and erosion, but it will be nice to have a diversion.