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.

Friday, 15 December 2017

Campaign for Childhood Creativity

I believe with a passion that being creative as a child has hugely shaped my life.  Like many, creativity in my childhood home was often squeezed by the basics of every day living.  However I was very fortunate to attend a junior school where the headmaster understood that creativity was as important for children as any academic subject.  I will be eternally grateful to Bob Rylands for the encouragement and support he gave me at Christ Church Junior School in Weston-super-Mare.  Bob, who was an artist himself, gave me and undoubtedly many other children a strong foundation upon which to build creativity throughout our lives.

The fact that creativity has given me so much pleasure would be return enough, yet this has been only the start.  The skills I gained from those creative formative years were very much more and innovation, concentration, problem solving, risk taking, are just a few that immediately spring to mind.  This short video by Sir Ken Robson gives an eloquent and amusing account of his supporting views as an educationalist.

A big creative influence in my adult life has been author and educational consultant Tony Buzan.  I stumbled across Tony when I was studying and looking to absorb lots of new information without dull laborious note taking.  His technique of mind mapping technique hugely appealed to me and as soon as I started to use I found taking in information so much more engaging.  I have used mind maps most days for many years and I find them a fabulous way to ponder and plan life generally.  This Amazing Brain video outlines a successful campaign in schools to promote creative thinking by the use of mind maps and I hope this will wet your appetite to find out more about Tony Buzan's work.

I know the sense of achievement from gaining academic qualifications, however, in truth creativity has and continues to shape my life way in excess of any qualification I have achieved.  I'm therefore delighted to give my support to the Campaign for Creativity hosted by the Knitting and Stitching Show.  Please do sign this petition to promote the increase of creative opportunities in schools and do anything you can personally to make creative opportunities for the children in your life.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Creative Christmas at Spring Farm, Moorlinch

I find being creative in the run up to Christmas grounding and that it helps me to stay with the natural slowness of winter.  Living on the Somerset Levels with it's breathtaking landscape adds to this in spades.  Last week I took in this amazing sunset with a friend at Beer Wall just a few miles from home and it will undoubtedly lead to creativity in some shape or form.
I very often come back to the slowness of hand stitches in the winter and each year I find something new to work with my hands.  So far this winter I have started knitting a new scarf design with beautiful silk gimp that I purchased at the Silk Weaving Studio on Granville Island, Vancouver last month.  I'm really enjoying to create 'sea foam stitch' and loving making my creation using my beautiful new yarn bowl by Somerset woodturner David Appleby.
I also recently led an early Christmas Crafts weekend and had the great pleasure of hand stitching Christmas decorations with 20 lovely ladies from all over the UK.  Like me, many found it really relaxing to settle into hand stitching and these are just a few of the fabulous results they came up with using soft wool felt and my hand made metalic fabric.
With this rewarding experience in mind, I'm delighted to offer up a further Christmas decoration hand stitching opportunity on Saturday 9th and Sunday 10th December 2017.  My studio at Spring Farm, Moorlinch will be open for the weekend alongside creative neighbours, Anne Farmer, Jenny Graham and Silver Tree Crystal.
There's also a rare opportunity to blow your own glass bauble with Janey, Jez and Paul in Silver Tree Crystal.  New visitors to my studio this year have been amazed to find this talented trio making the most beautiful high end crystal glass and booking with them early will be essential to secure a place.
Time will tell what the weather will offer up for our Creative Christmas at Spring Farm.  With or without a seasonal snow sprinkling, I promise you that the Levels landscape will be dramatic and sparkling and that a very warm welcome will be offered to all.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

My Stitch Story

We all have stories to tell about their lives and how we have reached any point in time.  I am sure that the story behind my passion for stitch is quite usual for my generation and that many will relate to it.  Born into a hard working family in the North West of England, textiles were a precious commodity and most things to do with a needle were down to necessity rather than pleasure.  I consider myself very fortunate to have had this background, as it means that I will forever cherish all things textile and promote that others do likewise.  Many thanks to Sewing World Magazine for enabling me to tell a potted version of my stitch story in their December 2017 issue.  Long may my story continue.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Vibrant & Invigorating Vancouver

How often serendipity leads us to the most incredible places.  And so it was the day I made an inpromptu journey by the False Creek Ferry from Sunset Beach Vancouver to Granville Island.
A collection of old warehouses located beneath the Granville Street Bridge, I knew nothing beforehand of what Granville Island had to offer.  Then on finding this view soon after arrival, it was clear that the place I was about to explore was going to be creative and lots of fun.
I was also immediately struck by the immense warmth and friendliness from complete strangers and this was a constant on all my visits.  Indeed, it was my standing with a map looking confused that promoted a kindly passer by to stop and direct me to find my first textile find on Granville - the Silk Weaving Studio.
The silken loveliness I found on stepping inside my first Granville textile emporium was breath taking and it was a struggle to decide which direction to point my eyes towards first.
This sumptuous hand dyed Sanjo Silk yarn was one immediate draw and I felt a mild panic arise at the meare thought of having to chose just one colour.
My creative brain kicked in when I spotted this tactile silk paper - there must surely be a project I could bring to mind to use these.
It was a joy to see that this was also a working studio and that I was welcome to photograph products and equipment as much as I wanted - another display of Granville friendliness.
The working tools in the studio were many and I had to keep reminding myself that I had a baggage allowance to observe to get me back to the UK.
A descendant of silk weavers, it was impossible for me to leave without some silken treasures to take home and to work between my fingers.
And so my textile adventures on Granville continued with the continued help of those I met.  Chatting with knitting guru Marilyn Guille in a coffee shop, she took great delight in pointing me towards the textile haven - Maiwa.  Stepping into this store of exquisite Indian textiles I felt the love and care with which they were made ooze from every inch of floor space.  How to take it all in - another friendly Granville resident of course..
I listened to the moving story of how Maiwa has supported the production of the high quality textiles in Indian communities for over 30 years, the most exquisite I have ever seen first hand.  The booklet on this link gives the heart warming account told to me and this photo of Banjara embroidery shows the quality of hand work that my eyes feasted upon that day.
Owner Charlotte Kwon has travelled, researched and written extensively on the textile work of the Banjara, who continue to maintain a strong traditional culture in the face of pressures to conform to modern living in their communities across India.
Oh to travel and explore a culture where textiles are cherished and placed at the heart of living.  Made from organic and hand dyed cotton fabric and embroidered around wafer thing shisa mirrrors, I have yet to decide what I will use my newly acquired beautiful Banjara bag for - travel tickets for another textile adventure perhaps!
After more kindness being shown around the Maiwa workshop, I said my goodbyes at the Maiwa supply shop.  Here I found a wonderland of organically produced textiles and all manner or products to enable textile makers to do likewise.
This collections of organic and hand dyed fabrics was impossible to choose from and I am still amazed that I left the shop without a single metre
What called at me most loudly was the 'Natural Dyes' section, despite having very little dying experience of any kind.  All the same, with much appreciated help from knowledgeable assistant Liberty, I purchased pretty much everything I needed for my first natural dye experience back in Somerset.  Fingers crossed for that luggage allowance!
Inspiration on Granville came in all shapes and forms, including the public market with its staggering array of fresh produce and cooked food.  Intermingled were yet more talented artisans, working in all manner of innovative media.  I'm very conscious that this post gives credit to so few of the talented makers that Granville Island supports.
I am so grateful to the local people who made my trips to Granville Island so pleasurable and fun and who gave so generously of their time.  I can see why Granville is such a creative mecca and I highly recommend to any maker who visits Vancouver.
I found so many invigorating places in Vancouver, it is hard to pick out just a few.   The stupendous Stanley Park with the 9km sea wall walk was fabulous for walking and cycling and autumn was an amazing time of year to see this wonderful wooded park surrounded by water on three sides.
The aquarium at Stanley Park was mesmerising and gave a fabulous insight to the vibrant sea world around the Vancouver coast.
Then there was exhilarating tree top walks at Capilano with its 140m swinging suspension bridge over the Capilano river 70m beneath.  To quash my fear of heights and walk across this bridge twice awakened every sense in my body and I felt a huge achievement.
And a hour and short cable car ride later, I found myself in the wintery wonderland of Grouse Mountain, standing within feet of these orphaned grizzly bears.
By contrast, I equally loved spending time on Sunset Beach with it's many large logs - placed to enable a Vancouver passion for watching the sun go down.
One thing is for sure, you need plenty of time to visit Vancouver to enjoy all that it has to offer - my post has barely scratched the surface.  The vibrant and invigorating experiences to be found are many and they will likely leave a lasting impression, as they have with me.