Wednesday 18 May 2016

Needle sketches

As soon as I had done the continuous line drawings - drawing (mostly) without looking - of the weathered oyster shells and mermaids purses I collected from the beach at Eastbourne I could see that they would make great stitched designs, and had potential for incorporating into my Narrative Thread work for Diversity.

I want to put them on rusted fabric, as the colours are so sympathetic with the subjects, but I have had  problems stitching into rusted fabric in the past; my 'prima donna' top end sewing machine refuses point blank to stitch through it, with the message STOP FOR SAFETY REASONS. Personally I think it is getting over dramatic, but there's no arguing with it. My workhorse semi-professional machine behaves a little better, but you can tell it's not really happy. I've tried various combinations of fine needles and different threads, but I think the oxidised metal clogs up the weave and makes tension very difficult to control.

So I've decided to stitch first and rust later. The samples are testing out different combinations of quilt sandwich and a variety of background treatments.

I'm pretty happy with the 'drawing', each slightly different but quite recognisable. I wanted to densely stitch the background so that the images gained dimension, 

and I've tried conventional quilt sandwiches with white cotton, hand and machine stitched, linen with felt and linen with felted blanket. 

I though this was going to be too heavy, but once the the stiffness of the quilted background might be a good thing. I think I'm going to leave the edges raw, so it's important how the backing and wadding reacts to the rust too.

Next step layer them up with rusty finds and tea a wait and see what happens!

Monday 16 May 2016

Mid-century at The Oval

On my travels again - this time only to south London for a day looking at things I mainly can't afford, but there's no harm in looking. This is the MidCentury Modern show at The Oval - love the living wall!

Inside is a treasure trove of beautiful design and memories from my childhood. 

I wander round drooling over stunning Danish designed sofas and chairs, either in their original upholstery like this Hans Wegner settee (in order to remove the beautiful rosewood panels to reupholster the arms you'd have to destroy them)

or lovingly reupholstered. 

Or reminiscing about Ladderax modular shelving and mid century ceramics. 

This was the type of furniture that I was surrounded with when I was growing up (we had a cruet set exactly like the one above). My Dad, being an architect, loved the clean lines and contemporary styling of the sixties, and my Mum tells how they spent their honeymoon looking round Heals in London, planning what they needed to save up for. I clearly remember the curtains in our living and dining room when I was probably only about six - a design called Sweet Briar by Barbara Brown for Heals - very striking when you have wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling windows to display them on. Mum says they're probably still in the loft - what a treat!

They had the blue and olive version, which I can't find online at all. The photo above is from the V&A museum archive There were very few vintage fabrics today - those that were there, from Forgotten Fabrics 

tended towards the warm side of the spectrum, typical of the late sixties and seventies, but I was looking for blues and greens, so miraculously managed not to spend any money today.

We rounded the morning off with lunch at a tiny new cafe called The Sugar Pot round the corner on Kennington Park Road. Great light lunches, tea, coffee and yummy gluten free cakes, and service with a smile.

And the star of the show? Undoubtedly this stunning Arne Vodder Triennale sideboard from The Modern Warehouse.

At 2.5m long it was huge - with a price tag to match. But so beautiful, with reversible sliding doors - what looked like Formica (but could have been paint) on one side and rosewood on the other. I just love the detail round the drawers. Now where did I put that lottery ticket?

Sunday 8 May 2016

Summer's here ... I've been working in the garden instead of in my work room ...

Still some rust involved mind. Nice to be able to sit out for lunch at last.

long may it continue!

Saturday 30 April 2016

Rusty plans

In case you've been wondering what I've been doing since the Alice Fox course, the answer is mainly painting walls in Uplyme, in an effort to render them not bubblegum pink!

However, wall decoration of a different sort has appeared in my work room, in an effort to gather my thoughts. This is a mixture of the drawings and some fabric from the course, plus rusted fabric I had already and other likely bits and pieces.

I do find it really helpful to pin things up and then 'visit' them every so often. I can add things and move them around, and having a visual image to mull over whilst I'm doing other things really helps the creative process.

Having said that I have not managed to get organised in time for a couple of juried exhibitions with deadlines earlier than I expected, but I'll be in good time for the Festival of Quilts, where the challenge this year is 'On the Beach' - I really couldn't miss that could I? And of course Diversity's exhibition at Walton on Thames in November.

Wednesday 20 April 2016


Hazel and I have been teaching on a residential weekend in the Lickey Hills near Redditch. Finding ourselves with a few hours to spare we decided to visit the Forge Mill Needle Museum, housed in this wonderful building - an old scouring mill, where needles went through days of polishing. For some reason I had no camera with me so I have Hazel to thank for these photos.

I hadn't realised that there were so many processes involved in needle making. This display shows about half of them.

Or that, like so many industrial processes of the time, it was so dangerous. Pointers could be blinded by slivers of metal or injured if the grindstone shattered, not to mention lung disease contracted from breathing in metal dust. They were the best paid workers in the factory, but their life expectancy was a mere 35 years.

The exhibition showed needles of all types, from tiny suturing needles and hypodermic syringe needles, via sewing needles of all shapes and sizes from betweens to huge mattress and saddler's needles, to fish hooks and ornate hat pins.

These displays are a work of art in themselves . . .

Other sewing related items were equally interesting; an ornate sewing machine . . .

and a bookbinder's jig

revealing the makings of the book - beautiful patterns which deserve to be exposed, which is why we like to make hand-made books with the stitches decorating the spine.

More interesting things - these wooden formers (called mandrels) were used to bend curved needles.

and I couldn't resist asking Hazel to take this final photo ...

Thursday 17 March 2016

On the beach again

On my travels again - this time to sunny Eastbourne and a course with Alice Fox at Studio 11. Right up my street, it's called Adventures in Beachcombing. 

We've started each day with a walk along a local beach, gathering detritus and natural items, plus words, sounds and thoughts into a makeshift sketchbook.

On Eastbourne parade seafront the haul was enormous 

Couldn't detach this wonderful collection though

Next day to the fishermen's beach, to find rusty things (didn't manage to drag the old mattress home either!)

And today to Birling Gap, between the Seven Sisters and Beachy Head.

A strange chalk landscape similar to that at Lyme and West Bay, with towering, crumbling, striated cliffs and flat pavements, but with white cliffs and grey flint pebbles instead of ochre.

Back in the studio came the bit I'm not so good at - actually doing something with all that collected stuff!

We've been rust printing on fabric and paper

Monoprinting and embossing 

Sketching and drawing 

And today we've been looking at weaving and other textile related ideas - no photos of mine, but here's what Veronica (who is a weaver) is creating 

Great to have four whole days dedicated to doing the work - lots of ideas for forthcoming exhibitions ...

See more of Alice's work on her website:

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Varkala beach resort

Hard to believe it was over three weeks ago, but our last day's cycling, having got off the boat at 7am,

was to the beach resort of Varkala. Roads were variable (for which read . . . from huge potholes to bone-shaking stones the size of your fist), and it was quite a long way alongside the Indian Ocean, which we didn't see much of due to a high sea wall.

We did see the local whitebait catch being liberated from their nets

And various boats on the inlet which we crossed on the ferry - Joseph and Rintu were expert at loading the bikes, having done it many times before

Other things glimpsed along the way included a lorry loaded with coir fibre, and this ancient bike, advertising a bike shop . I think the flower is a delicate hibiscus . . . 

Finally, after lunch, another chance to swim in the ocean and a hairy stop at a level crossing (free for all from a standing start, with us on bikes caught in the middle), we reached our final destination - a total of 500km cycled in 12 days.

L-R Bruce, Lorraine, Marcus, Anne, Hazel, Debs, Jackie, Dave, Me, Mike, Gunhilde & Helge, and in front - Rintu, Maneesh & Joseph. 

Next day we explored Varkala beach, which seems to be populated with Nepali people and hippies!

plus tourists, including Indian families 

The beach itself stretches for miles

With strange rock formations - a kind of mudstone with trapped white shells

Rubbish was an unfortunate feature - they just seemed to sweep it over the cliff - turned into an installation in this tree.

And Banksie had visited (or more likely, his imitator)

So we went for an early morning stroll and then spent the rest of the day in the pool by the hotel

 before our final meal together and a 4am flight home! 

All in all, quite an experience!