Friday, 13 April 2018

The Somerset Levels - Theme for 2018

Each spring I set a theme for producing my own stitch work and like spring itself, it has been a little later arriving this year.   I can easily make my choice overly complicated, however, this year my theme is clear and simple - the Somerset Levels.  Even ten years in to life into living and now working in this evocative and ancient landscape, I am mindful that I still have much to learn.  I have recently started a series of new levels walks where each week I pop on my walking boots and set off hoping that my sense of direction will not fail me!  I took this image on my first walk recently on Small Moor near Walton.  I see willow trees most days of my life and they will forever enthral me.

A coastal plain and wetland area running south from the Mendips to the Blackdown Hills, despite what the name infers there are many parts of the Somerset Levels that are not at all flat!   This is Burrowbridge Mump close to home and a subject I have photographed from pretty much all angles.  I call it 'mini Glastonbury' and indeed from the top on a clear day you can see Glastonbury Tor clearly in the distance.

The Levels is renown for its rich biodiversity and Shapwick Nature reserve and the surrounding area is a draw for nature lovers throughout the seasons.  I took this image of Shapwick Moor Rhyne on a beautiful spring day last year and with the weather set fair in the coming week, I am very much looking forward to a return visit.

One of the levels oldest produce is willow.  I have coveted willow products from childhood and was thrilled when I started teaching at the Willows & Wetlands Centre at Stoke St Gregory some four years ago.  With the horrors of plastic now being widely recognised, it is brilliant to see willow products making a huge comeback and to hear about the new orders being received.  I also love that willow is a creative tool in itself and that following a happy 'accident' burning willow many years ago, Coates willow is made into artist charcoal which is exported around the world.

My studio base at Spring Farm, Moorlinch came about a two years ago and I am now well and truly settled there with other creative people.  The name Moorlinch is believed to be derived from the Saxon myrge hlinc meaning pleasant hill and I can vouch that the five minute walk up the hill to St Mary's Church to take in this glorious view is extremely pleasant.  Often watery, and this year snow covered, this is an amazing vantage point to take in the seasons on the Levels.

And so the process of starting new stitch work for the year begins.  The signs of spring warm my heart like no other and is a perfect time for me to bring in the new.  I will be working more with wool fibres this year so these 2018 levels lambs seemed a fitting way to end this post - side baa side!

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Quick Stitch - Basket Pin Cushion

Luxurious Liberty meets Watery Willow - a heartfelt combination for Easter gift pin cushions that I rustled up this weekend.  Make this quick stitch in less than hour for a great sense of achievement and ongoing pleasure for the recipient.

I remembered some small willow baskets I had stashed away- it was just a small matter of finding where I have safely stored them!  They were 12cm at the widest point and 6cm deep.

Next up was choosing some fabulous fabric - something reasonably lightweight that gathered well.  I spotted some charming Liberty cottons in the Spinning Weal in Clevedon this week and I knew in a flash that these would make a perfect combination with willow.

To work out the pattern circle, I measured the diameter of the basket and doubled to get the diameter of the pattern circle - so for my 12cm basket the pattern cirle was 24cm in diameter.  I then traced around a plate of this size onto a slightly larger fabric piece.

Then I used a pop sock and stuffed it tight with wadding.  The cut off end from tights would work equally well - either new or washed of course!  I used a natural wool filling as it was firm, resistant to moisture and allergy free, although cotton wadding cut into small pieces would have worked equally well.  I tested for size as I was filling and when sufficiently filled, tied it off.

After cutting off the excess sock, I hand stitched a draw string 5mm from the raw edge on the fabric with a strong thread.  Leaving the needle in place I then started to gather around the stuffed sock.

Finally I pull the drawstring tight and secured the gathers with a few stitches.

Now just to pop my creation into the basket and add a little embellishment.  Liberty fabric and willow are so beautiful in their own right, less embellishment was definitely more.

Making these simple hand stitched gifts started me thinking about all manner of other interesting receptacles that could be used and a few more creations are likely to appear over the Easter weekend.  Including one for my own workspace.  With my workshop fully functional, it is so lovely to spend a little time making a few decorative things for it this Easter.

I send wishes to all for a restful and recharging this Easter holiday - such a fabulous time of year with the promise of increased daylight and hopefully sunshine in abundance.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

Quick Stitch - Felted Flora

Although the Spring Solstice is only two days away, Spring still feels a very long way off in Somerset.  And so in the slowness and waiting this month, I have dreamt of all the colour and flora that will eventually arrive.  And in doing so, I have come back to a project that has transpired to capture the imagination of other stitchers in Somerset too.  These 'felted flora' are striking, tactile and easy to make in wool fibres.

On this snowy Somerset Sunday, I thought that I would share the joy they have given and pass on the instructions on how to make.  The first task is a most pleasurable one, sourcing some beautiful fibre tops.  One of my favourite sources for fibres is John Arbon Textiles in South Molton Devon, just a touch over the Somerset border.  He stocks a fabulous range of dyed and blended fibre tops which are perfect for this project.  Alternatively, find a friend who spins and they will most likely have some tops oddments to share.

The next product to source is water soluble fleece and the make I use is Vlieseline Solufleece.  I find myself increasing working with this product over water soluble film, at it is possible to use without a hoop - a huge plus for me.  To start you need to cut yourself two pieces of fleece the size of a flower petal and draw a shape on one piece - a Frixion pen is good.  Trap some fibres between this and the other fleece piece and then machine stitch all the way along the line you have drawn.  Then cut back the excess fleece and fibre close to the stitch line.

Repeat this process making around 5 petals of various shapes - I went for seed head shapes in slightly different sizes.  Next to drop the feeds on your machine and do some free stitching - it really can be anything that is relatively open.  You may find it easier to wait to trim back the fleece around the shape so that you have more to hold while you are stitching.  I like to use a rayon thread for this project as it has a lovely sheen against the fibres.

Then to bring back up the feeds and choose a few decorative stitches to stitch lines down the length of the petal shape.  Again pick a stitch that is relatively open so that the trapped fibres can still be seen when finished. Then take a beading wire around .5mm in gauge and starting at the bottom of the petal and leaving a tail of a good 3", stitch all the way round with an narrow open zigzag.  Leave a tail of wire as well at the end and zigzag stitch around several times so the wire is mostly covered and securely attached.

When all the petals are stitched and wired, twist the excess wire together and swish the petal around in a bowl of warm water to removed the water soluble fabric.  This the most exciting bit as you will see what the colours you have chosen will look like.  Leave the petals to dry somewhere warm like a sunny window ledge, or a warm radiator in for many of us in England just now.

When the petals are completely dry, bring them together to make the final flower shape and twist the wires from each petal together to hold.  To finish off, make some little felt balls for the centre or decorate with beads or pom poms.

I have so enjoyed that this stitch project has given much pleasure during the long winter months in Somerset this year.  The colour possibilities of combing fibres and thread are endless and this is my latest creation inspired by the colours around my Somerset studio.  Please do share photos of any of your own creations, I would be delighted to see.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Taunton Flower Show 2018 - Textile Art Competititon

The world of flora is forever be close to my heart and I'm therefore delighted to organise the Textile Art Competition at the Taunton Flower Show 2018 again this year. The oldest running Flower Show of it's kind in the UK, this fabulous floral event takes place every August in the county town of Somerset.  The floral exhibits are stunning, as are the textile art entries and this floral themed cup and saucer was one of my personal favourites in 2017.

Watching the entries arrive last year in the Competition Marquee was fascinating and gave me a great opportunity to chat with a number of talented artists and makers.  I particularly recall meeting Hilary Tudgee, the maker of this fabulous tapestry weaving.  Bowled over by the design and workmanship, I was delighted that it became the 'Judges Choice' for the Textile Art Section 2017.

And so at the end of last year I set the themes for the Textile Art Competition 2018.  There are eight categories this year that textile artists and makers can submit wall hangings and 3D work under.  I have always found long term goals motivating and a great way to spur me into action.  I'm therefore giving an early heads up for this amazing annual Somerset event so that others have the opportunity to do likewise.

The dates for Taunton Flower Show 2018 are 3rd & 4th August and will be held as usual in Vivary Park in the town centre.  I will have hard copy competition schedules and flyers to send out and in my studio at Spring Farm Moorlinch soon and will add details onto this post as soon as they arrive.  Please do get in touch with me with any questions.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

A New View for New Year at Spring Farm

When I set up a studio at Spring Farm Moorlinch in autumn 2016, I could only hope and guess at what lay ahead.  What has panned out in the year and a bit since, has been very happy times of stitch creativity and friendship with the talented artists and makers at Spring Farm.  I was therefore was delighted to take up an opportunity this winter to build on my experiences and relocate across the courtyard to a larger and lighter studio and this is my new view.

And so at the end of 2017, I packed away my stitch paraphernalia out came the paint brushes and all that stuff that comes with them.  My new studio had been home to Somerset painter Jenny Graham for many years and had a brilliant creative feel from the off.  I just needed to 'nest' and so here I am three weeks later all moved in, albeit still awaiting final fabric flourishes.

I will continue to hold a small stock of stitching supplies in my new studio, although I'll be making considerable effort to avoid 'growing' into my extra space and will likely need to be reminded of this!

Eager to start stitching quickly, I made this creative 'copper casket' before the paint was dry!  Free stitched on burnished copper shim and lined with felt, this workshop project is way easier to stitch than might be expected.  Stitching on metal has lots of exciting possibilities and I will be using this interesting medium in other projects this year.

I'm particularly looking forward to running stitch workshops this year at Spring Farm and the dates are now listed on my 'Open Workshop' page.  I'm also very excited about inviting other creative makers to run workshops this summer and first up is Herefordshire creative maker - Sally Boehme.  I've much enjoying working alongside Sally and looking at her beautiful bead work.  Sally's first workshop at Spring Farm will be Shirbori Beading on Saturday 7th July 2018, where a broach or pendant creation can be made with beautiful beads on hand dyed silk - more details on my 'Summer Workshops' page.

I am truly amazed that I'm moved into my new space at Spring Farm and up and running again so quickly.  Much of this is down to lots of help and encouragement through dreary January days, which I'm extremely grateful for.  I wish Jenny Graham creative and happy times in her new studio, and indeed wish this for all of us who have come to know creativity as our lifeblood.

Monday, 25 December 2017

Creative & Colourful Madeira at Christmas

I've long considered a festive break abroad and 2017 finally became that year.  With a love of islands and cities by the sea, Funchal - Madeira with its ambient winter weather and friendly people became my destination this Christmas.

As those who know me would predict, first up on my things to do was to find out more about the main textile feature of Madeira - embroidery.  A product admired by many on visits to this magical island, it is all too easy to overlook the considerable skill and hours of work required to produce the exquisite hand embroidery that Madeira is well known for.

Embroidery has been part of Madeira's culture from the first settlers in the 15th century.  Initially a female home craft, it was a woman of English descent, Elizabeth Phelps, who transformed this long standing home craft in the 19th century into a commercial product.  When vine disease hit the island and damaged the local economy, Elizabeth set up a school that taught women and children how to embroider.  The quality work produced quickly found favour at exhibitions and Elizabeth began to export to England and around the world.

With a little research before my visit, I knew just the place go in Funchal to find out more.  Bordal is one of the main producers and exporters of fine Madeira embroidery and they have two shops in the centre of Funchal.  I visited the shop and factory premises at Rua Dr Fernao Ornelas 7 - just over the road from the main market.  I was greeted by friendly shop assistant Sandra who explained about the quality of the work and how their embroidery is still all hand stitched on the island.

Bordal offers free short tours of their factory premises above the shop where you can learn about the end to end process.  The first stage is the embroidery design, drawn in charcoal on paper and honed to the designers satisfaction - this requires immense skill in its own right.  Then a calculation of the number of stitches is made using a device called a curvimeter.  All the lines to be stitched are traced and the resulting distance is converted into the number of stitches!

The lines on the paper design are then perforated with a pedal powered machine - another of the skills in the embroidery process which takes many years to become fully competent in.

Once completed, the perforated sheet is then used to transfer the design to fabric.  The pattern sheet is placed on top of the fabric and a mixture of indigo, oil and wax is spread across the pattern sheet and pushed through the perforated holes on the paper design with a wooden block.

Then comes the all important task of hand embroidery and the many hours, days, weeks and sometimes months that it takes for a skilled embroiderer to complete a piece of work.  There are around 18 so embroidery stitches that are traditionally used within a design, more often than not done with white thread on white linen, cotton or organza.

The Bordal factory operates an outworker system with more than 400 embroiders across Madeira, who collect their work from the factory and return once complete.  Monies are paid after the completed work has been quality checked and the amount is based on the number of stitches made.

Bordal holds thousands of paper designs, many of which are traditional made with white thread on white fabric.  When designs are in colour, the pattern sheet is coloured by hand with a key for the embroiderer to work from.

When embroidery work is complete, then comes the all important business of removing the indigo dye, either in a large washing machine or by hand where the work is delicate.

And last of all to pressing the completed pieces, a task best done on damp fabric as anyone who has ever ironed linen will know.

It was sad to hear, although not surprising, that this traditional hand skill has no new generation of embroiderers coming through.  I guess in a fast moving world there is little appetite to learn a time hungry hand skill, even to make desirable contemporary products like this exquisite table linen.

And here was another advantage of visiting Funchal at Christmas.  For the past two years, Bordal has organised a fabulous Christmas table display exhibition at the Teatro Municipal on Avenida Arriga and entrance was free.

The table displays made by major hotels with Bordal table linen were just stunning this year and I visited twice to be sure that I had taken it all in!

There are so many striking things to look at in Funchal at Christmas and the main market was another venue packed with colour.  Shopping there for Christmas food was a very exciting experience.

And is course there were colourful Madeira flora aplenty, and poinsettias were the stars of the Christmas displays.

Funchal made for magical night strolling too, with the little food stalls of 'Mercadinho de Natal' and twinkly light displays in abundance.

My most surprising find in Funchal was the Artes Portas Abertus project, where in 2011 artists began to revitalise doors in the old town with all manner of paintings.  I enjoyed a many hours looking at and photographing this tremendous art work in and around Rua de Santa Marie; and the Christmas period was a great time for this, as many of the doors which belong to shops and restaurants were unusually and helpfully closed!  You can see all 75 of the amazing doors I photographed on this link - I am now nurturing an idea for a creative stitch project that they have inspired.

To have all of this and this sparkly blue sea at Christmas resulted in a fabulously creative and colourful experience and I highly recommend for a festive break with heart.

Thank you for taking time to read this post and any of my other adventures that have caught your attention this year.  I wish you happy hours and magical moments too this Christmas time and much creativity and colour in 2018.